Never be ashamed of making things easy

Alice

There is nothing more off-putting than being spouted at by a lot of jargon, especially if you’re not familiar with it. It can be very demoralizing to keep asking what ‘x’ means, and wearisome to retain the information and applying it to what you already know.

Therefore if you produce a new product or service to your public, make sure it is easy to understand. Making things simple is not a crime, it is a necessary requisite, if you are to get your prospective customers to comprehend and ultimately to buy it or hire you.

Making something simple is not as easy as it sounds. It does require a large amount of forethought, analysis of how a product really works, or how a service can be efficiently provided. It needs to have volunteers to demonstrate it on first, to watch its performance and recognise any glitches, ready to be amended or adapted where necessary. Only when the result glides by on silken runners will the product or service be ready to release on your unsuspecting public!

And even then you can’t rest on your laurels, as feedback and comments needs to be collected, instigated and prompted, as well as acted upon to make the required improvements. These things can always evolve into a better model as time goes by, so constant awareness and watchful motivation will alert you to concepts that are succesful, or even failures needing attention.

At the end of the day, it is the simplicity that has made the difference, provided the USP and proved its worth. Unless your customers can properly cope with what you have to offer, in a way that they can appreciate, absorb and act upon by themselves, presented in a way that totally relates to the way they think, act and react, all that hard work would have gone to waste.

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Using analogies to explain the technical bits

Alice

Quite a lot of what I do is technical. There was once a time when I didn’t understand what I do, so I had to learn, usually the long and hard way, how to do this technical stuff.

Most of the instructions used jargon, and were written for people who were already technical. It infruiated me that, coupled with American words that had no relation to me as a middle-aged British woman, I sometimes didn’t understand any of it. Like most untechnical people, I explained it in words I knew, which the technical people didn’t understand because it wasn’t on their level. I often came away none the wiser, and feeling very stupid for not using the same language or understanding the instructions to solve my problems.

Eventually I began to understand, and put the information to good use. This was done by trial and error, after much swearing, tearing my hair out, threatening to throw the computer out of the window and shouting at my poor family. Now I do my technical stuff without batting an eyelid, but this is because I have done it several times, and much of it has become second nature.

Now it is me that has to explain what I do to others who aren’t technical in a way that they can understand. This is very difficult if I am to avoid using the associated jargon that goes with these technicalities; just because I now understand it, I should realise how baffling it is for others that don’t – after all, I was once there myself! So I use analogies. I explain using everyday words to get my point across, and I also use them to reinforce a point in another way to get my listeners to understand.

For example, I was explaining what FTP is to Dianne, my colleague here at Appletree, and how I use it with websites. I also tried to explain how I redesign Wordpress blogs for clients, which involves changing their appearance to suit their corporate styles. For Dianne it would normally be uncomprehensible, so I wanted to simplify things so she could understand.

I use FTP as a wardrobe, in which you store clothes. The various elements of a website are like the clothes you put in the wardrobe. Each kind of clothing has a different function, whether to cover certain parts of your body, or to keep you warm in the winter or dry on a rainy day.

Some of these clothes can be altered: change of colour, different buttons, lower neckline, etc, so their appearance can change for the better (this is changing the CSS: cascading style sheets). Some clothes benefit from added accessories, like jewellery or a silk cravat, that can be added to enhance the outfit (this is adding in plugins and other applications). Some clothes require different hangers or mothballs to protect them from harm (security against spam or hackers). Some clothes can be acquired easily from your local shopping centre or have to be ordered in from a catalogue (WordPress installation via Fantasico or via creating MySQL and editing the configuration files in WordPress).

Oops, lots of jargon there! But Dianne was quite satisfied with that explanation, which was my main objective. Now I can refer to FTP, etc, without sensing Dianne wincing from her corner and feeling left out of the proceedings.

What does a website review involve?

Alice

I’m doing several website reviews this week. The main brief is to find out whether each website attracts the right kind of customer, and whether the right message is being put across.

The first thing I look for is whether I understand what the main subject, niche or industry the website is representing. This may be obvious, but some businesses get so bogged down with trying to describe what their business is all about, flourishing as many jargonised words as possible in order to appear impressive, the true concept can be totally clouded and almost impossible to comprehend.

I have seen some websites that don’t even mention the actual subject, eg the word ‘marketing’ on a marketing site, within the first paragraph – in some cases not even on the front page! This is because the authors are so full of their business, they omit the keyword that matters most; it’s almost that because they have the subject in their brain, they assume the website visitors will also have it in their brains too!

The next thing I look for is what the website can offer me. Just me, an everyday, ordinary person who just happened to come across their site. This doesn’t mean banging on about how wonderful the business is, how long it has been running for, how much experience it has, bla bla bla – it’s about what the business can offer me to make my life better.

To be honest, visitors don’t give a tinker’s toot about your business, they only want what they can get out of it for themselves. Customers are notoriously selfish, self-centered and greedy, therefore you must take advantage of these traits and change the way you deliver your product or service. This means you must work out the benefits of what you are offering, and plug those in an easy-to-understand language and layout.

For example, if your business is about printing, why not work out, through marketing research, exactly what your customers want, and give it to them. Such as, offer a simple ordering system for quick and easy business cards, or for several thousand leaflets to promote a pizza bar; adapt your services to make it as easy as possible for customers to get what they want.

Then I assess the website’s call to actions. This involves how visitors respond to these three options:

1) the visitor goes further into the site to find out more (a conversion from the index page);

2) the visitor signs up to something such as a newsletter or gives their contact details for a special report or e-book (collection of data for future communications);

3) the visitor disappears (a bounce).

Of course the website owner doesn’t want the third option to happen, so how the index page is constructed should be geared towards the visitor deciding on one of the first two options. This means the main content should act like a signpost to the benefits the website is offering, how the business recognises the pain or problems the customer has, and what solutions it can provide.

The navigation should be designed so that the visitor doesn’t have to think about what to do next, he just clicks on an obvious link to find out more; and the sign up forms for the contact details need to be so compelling and accessible, combined with the necessary incentives, the visitor provides his information effortlessly, and receives his prize quickly and efficiently.

So, take a look at your website and see if it complies with these criteria, and if it doesn’t, then get in contact for a website review.

Is jargon really necessary?

Alice

I’ve gone back to school again. Getting a qualification in the subject I work in seemed imperative if I am to do justice to Chantal’s clients, so I’ve signed up to do the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)’s Professional Certificate of Marketing at Bracknell and Wokingham College.

After one lesson, what struck me most was the use of jargon. Marketing is absolutely stuffed full of it. Our tutor showed us a past paper of one of the exams we’ll have to do, and I could see my colleagues shifting uneasily in their seats and looking furtively at their neighbours to see if they understood the terminology. I smiled to myself, even though much of the phrases printed in front of me also seemed like gobbledigook. One of my ambitions during this course was to be able to interpret ‘marketing speak’ and relay it back in ordinary language.

So why do professions like marketing use jargon? Why is business, especially corporate, so insistent in the use of it? Why do these up and coming young bucks feel the need to spew forth volumes of the stuff in their reports – do they think it makes them look important and impressive towards their superiors?

Actually, I wonder if they themselves understand the correct meaning of this special language. Jargon can be something to hide behind, and if you’ve successfully let some fall in a board meeting, and it has been met with a favourable response by your peers, this may appear to be a boost towards your career, but did you truly understand what you actually said?

To clarify complete comprehension of your profession or industry’s language, could you describe it so that the man in the street could ‘get’ what you’re going about? Could you relay it in ‘layman’s terms’ so that your clients, who may not all be tuned in to your way of thinking, will be able to appreciate your discourse in a proper and productive manner, rather than have them think after the meeting “now what the hell did he mean?” !

Here at Appletree we pride ourselves in making great strides in explaining our marketing activities to our clients in the easiest possible way. Chantal is an expert in writing copy that succinctly describes a procedure, or delivers a concept in ordinary words that everyone can understand. There is no way we would want to alienate anybody – we want to be able to help all who come to us for advice.

I know this is difficult, as there are obvious words like ‘blogging’, ‘social networking’ and ‘Twittering’ that, to the uninitiated, can be intimidating, but it’s up to us to help these people to understand and then put them into practice to help their businesses.

Does blogging have an etiquette?

Alice

People have various concepts of what constitutes blogging etiquette. Of course there are the obvious ones like being nice to other bloggers, and much of these suggestions are just common sense, so no etiquette is set in stone and does rely on the goodwill of the bloggers themselves.

Here are some to consider:

1. Don’t be rude, show respect and be polite to other bloggers and commenters.

2. Don’t copy other content without asking first. If you are given permission, fully acknowledge the author.

3. Remember to link to your resources and expert sources.

4. Don’t expect anything in return from linking to others, it’s not compulsory.

5. Respond to your comments in a cheerful, positive and thankful manner.

6. Don’t leave spammy comments on other people’s blogs.

7. Use your identity when blogging, don’t hide behind a persona.

8. Own up to your mistakes, it makes you more human and therefore likeable.

9. Stick to the subject of your posts or blog’s niche, don’t go off at a tangent.

10. Use correct punctuation, grammar and spelling, avoid text speak or colloquial language.

11. Don’t pepper your post with jargon.

12. Don’t overdo using keywords for SEO purposes, less than 10% is acceptable.

13. Check what you say is true by researching your facts properly, and never lay claim to content that isn’t yours.

14. Share good posts liberally on social networking sites.

15. Remember everything you publish is on public display, so check whether you really want to say it.

16. Don’t swear or use bad words, it isn’t impressive and can offend.

17. Make sure your pictures are suitably resized, to prevent lengthy downloading of your overlarge images.

How many others so you know of?

How to get your newsletter content read

Alice

In my last post I wrote about how to increase the opening rates of your newsletter, and for this post I am concentrating on newsletter content and how that can increase the likelihood of it being read.

Newsletters should be conversational pieces to educate, entertain and inform your readership. They shouldn’t consist of long technical articles stuffed full of jargon which really should be published in professional periodicals or on suitable article directories on the internet. They should consist of short, sharp, snappy sentences in everyday English; the same concept applying to sections or paragraphs, preferably three rather than five or more, accompanied with apt subheadlines to aid scanning and quick reading.

I mentioned earlier how important headlines were. Some people write their headlines after the content has been created, others think of a headline first and then the content materialises afterwards. Whatever you do, most of your attention should be directed to your headline, and the time taken to revise, rethink and rewrite your headline could pay off dividends. Successful newspapers employ special copywriters just for the headlines alone – they realise the importance of a good headline, and so should you.

Be aware that newsletters are not a medium for sales (the same with social networking), they are there to create and maintain a relationship with your readers. Like networking, you provide information about your business and what you are doing to enable your audience to understand various elements in fuller detail that what is available from your website. This is also the same with a blog, albeit in smaller contributions, more frequently and consistently delivered in a bite-sized, digestible format (and even smaller and frequenter still in Twitter).

Another way to boost interest in your content is to work around a prop like a picture or cartoon. Select a single product, idea, concept or service (too many can be confusing) to attract attention and aid concentration, as well as something to hang your subject matter from. One specific idea or concept, simply expressed, will go a long way towards comprehension and relationship building than long-winded missives full of complicated technical stuff that only results in confusion, turn-off, deletion and ultimately unsubscription.