Your Message Is Everything

Everything is your message. This is step one. From the first words your audience sees on your home page to the button text or even the short email to a potential investor. All content is born from your message.

The words and ideas people find on your website, social media pages and marketing materials are like the clothes you choose to wear in public. What message are you sending when you wear jeans and sandals to a professional meeting? What about dark slacks and expensive leather shoes?

Whether you’re presenting yourself or your product, you should be considering two factors: who’s paying attention and how the impression (or message) you’re communicating will work in your favor. You also want to stay true to yourself. When it comes to your marketing language; style, feel, format, and substance are all determined by the message you want your company to wear in public.

Who exactly is your public? This is one of several key questions you undoubtedly answered while you were developing your product. You should continue to ask this and other strategic questions that will help nurture your message and your marketing strategy as both your product and market evolve.

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Quick Tips on Writing a Blog Post

Sharing Information – This Is What Makes Great Blog Posts Keep your post from becoming a hard sell sell sell for your product. It should be treated as a platform for sharing wisdom, experience (war stories) and suggestions. People are … Continue reading

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Value of Social Networks – in conversation

E-mail between me and a friend…

Rob’s e-mail to me:

“…I feel like I have much more free time though not using a social network. It takes time & attention like adopting and taking care of a pet. You always have to feed it status updates & comments and you always have to clean up after it to keep your online image nice. Lotta frickin work & just so you can get bombarded with ads & make web companies richer? Hmm…well, you know my take on this stuff lately.

Now if someone had to promote themselves as part of their profession, like on the platform Stagee wants to provide, that’s different.”

My response to Rob:

“Maybe there should be a platform for flight attendants. Hmmm… let’s brainstorm. I say that if these social media companies are getting richer, they deserve it. People are using them because they’re fun to use.. or, in the case of Facebook, everyone’s there. But, honestly, Facebook has served me as a good tool for doing certain things I would not have been able to do without it… or that would have been more challenging.

You just have to find the value for yourself. If you don’t, then you stay away, and that’s fine. I have to stay in the loop for my professional life. I would not do it as much if it weren’t for that… also, if you are creating original content, these things can be excellent and easy channels to just get stuff out. But, most people are the watchers and not the creators. Lately, I’ve had an ongoing brainstorm about how to use Twitter in an original way. The idea I had was to write a story in 140 character parts. I told a friend of mine recently that 140 characters really sucks. It has frustrated me a lot. However, there is a certain ingenuity to it. It has changed the way people express themselves on the Internet, just like IM did in its own way. Anyway, instead of “hating,” maybe I should embrace it and try to do something cool with it…”

-J 
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Is Your Website Overweight? Keep it Short and Centered on Benefits

Is your website overweight?

Are you writing too much on your website pages?

Have you crossed the fine line between being informative and losing your reader’s attention entirely?

Three Suggestions:

1. What I like to call “the 50% test”

Take a Web page of text that has 300-600 words (or more) and cut it in 1/2. The chances of your reader absorbing what you want them to absorb will increase substantially!

Added-value benefit: Your writing communication skills will improve 100%.

2. Short Sentences (*15 Words or Less)

A supervisor once gave me a mission: write 15 words or less. It was a big wake-up call. At the time, I was writing marketing copy for a B2B software product. I sometimes wrote long sentences with long-winded explanations assuming it would be ok for “industry” insiders.

My perception was that it might make the company sound smarter or more authoritative. Maybe, but when you’re marketing (to anyone), long-winded sentences disrupt your main goal: to inspire a new audience to TRY or BUY.

The risk of long-winded text is causing BOREDOM or CONFUSION. Once this happens, your reader’s attention span flies the coop, and you also risk an overall negative impression of the company. Fat paragraphs can cause the same problems.

I had 2 realizations:

a. When I stayed to 15 words or less, my writing effectiveness improved. The communication of my ideas became much clearer and more efficient.

b. Enterprise executives and managers are people too. Like consumers, they also do not have much patience. They want to read about a valuable solution to their problems. They do NOT want to feel like they’re doing research in a library!

Lesson: If your solution or product is simple, why can’t your description also be simple?

* There are exceptions to the 15 words or less rule.

3. Do NOT Confuse Benefit with Feature. I see this happen way too often.

  • Benefits - how my life will improve.
  • Features - the tools that will help me get there.

You came up with a really cool idea. You invested years in R&D. You hired a crack team of product development experts. Now you have a laundry list of incredible features you want everyone to know about. That’s great! Just be careful where you put it.

Will potential customers want to read about all of these features? They might. Just not all on a Web page and not all at once. Too much too soon.

Potential customers look for benefits. What will I get out of this solution? How will this product improve my life? If you list too many features without focusing enough on benefits, you’ve lost your reader. They may simply conclude that they don’t need all of this stuff and surf  to a different beach.

How do you know exactly which features they need? You probably don’t. Just do not confuse features with benefits.

You DO know how your product can benefit someone. If you didn’t, you would never have invented it! Help your reader relate. How did you feel when you had a problem? Does your website inspire them as much as you were inspired in the beginning?

Think of writing fewer words as losing 10 or 15 kilos you really didn’t need. Some websites I’ve seen should try losing 50-100 kilos! If I’m speaking to you, you may need to hire a personal trainer.

Imagine the benefits! ;)

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Example of a Short Description: Before and After

To follow up my previous post about writing short descriptions, I have offered an example – a “Before” and “After,” if you will.

I chose this one in particular because it appears on the homepage of  an attractively designed website. The site however fails to present its content in the most readable and actionable way possible.

For now, I will leave the rest of the pages alone and address only the short desciption that makes these COMMON MISTAKES:

  • The overuse of buzz words or industry jargon
  • Sentences that are cumbersome and long-winded
  • Ego-centric or company-centric language
  • Not enough emphasis on straightforward benefits

To the writer’s credit, there are benefits mentioned, e.g. “TCO, paradigm-shifting price performance (which, I believe, are pretty much redundant) and on-board networking capabilities.” However, the reader will not immediately notice them because they are buried inside long-winded, jargon-filled, ego-centric sentences.

For a short description to capture a reader’s imagination, it must speak simply and directly to his pain and how it can be eased. This description attempts to do this, but fails in its lack of simplicity.

“Paving the way for the mobile wireless backhaul revolution, XXX Wireless Communications delivers carrier-grade milimetric-wave Gigabit Ethernet radio solutions with paradigm-shifting price performance. Offering the industry’s lowest total cost of ownership (TCO), and incorporating on-board networking capabilities, XXXX™ solutions from XXX are ideally suited for the both mobile backhaul and carrier Ethernet business services.”

In the following rewrite, I present simplified talking points that should make an interested reader want to read more.

XXX Wireless Communications is easing the backhaul pains of mobile operators and Ethernet service providers with low-cost wireless solutions that dramatically raise backhaul capacity.

XXXX from [Company X] delivers carrier-grade milimetric-wave Ethernet radio solutions scalable to Gigabit capacities with a TCO up to 90% lower than existing solutions.

As two short paragraphs, this re-write is much easier to read. The one long and cumbersome paragraph in the original version might keep surfers from even attempting to read it.

Notice: In the first paragraph, the most sensitive issues in this realm are presented as:

  • Easing backhaul pains
  • Low-cost
  • Dramatically raising backhaul capacity

Even someone who doesn’t know what is meant by “backhaul” can understand these points as worthwhile benefits.

In the 2nd paragraph, I left in the long technical industry name of the solution simply because it is important to identify up-front the specific type of technology being offered.

Finally, I mentioned 90% because it effectively demonstrates what the company means by “low-cost.”

As an added bonus, my rewrite has 7 fewer words than the original. For an effective short description, the “description” must be sufficient and the shorter the better.


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How I Found My Startup Niche

“Should have hired a professional.”

Recently, I read an insightful Harvard lecture published on the Web with a straightforward perspective on how to start a startup and significantly increase the chance of its success. I am not starting a startup (at least not yet), but I gained one or two nuggets of good advice to apply to my non-VC backed venture.

Two important ideas struck me bluntly on the brain. First, if you want to start a startup, think of something in the world that “sucks” and then make it not suck. The honorable guru/programmer/hi-tech entrepreneur Paul Graham delighted in this quite economical word several times, presumably to connect with his young “Generation Next” audience and to make his point clear and simple.

There is no magic or mystery in it, he proclaimed. You’re not reinventing the wheel. The Microsoft’s, Google’s and Apple’s of the world did not invent something that did not exist before. They simply identified something that “sucked” in the world and knew how to make it not suck with genuine technical know-how and limitless creativity.

It’s been almost two and a half years now since I strolled wearily and wide-eyed from an El Al jumbo jet as a new immigrant into Ben Gurion Airport. It has been almost a year since I began writing marketing copy for Israeli startups.

As a new Israeli and someone who appreciates the great spirit, energy and creativity of the startup game, I’m am doing my best to make a valuable contribution.

In the spirit of learning from smart entrepreneurs about improving the world, and in Paul Graham’s cut-to-the-chase vernacular to Harvard computer science students and Bill Gates wannabees, “look at something people are trying to do and figure out how to do it in a way that doesn’t suck.”

With that said, one of the things that drove me to get into this business was my discovery of mountains of marketing copy, mostly on websites, that really sucked. As I browsed and clicked, the opportunity presented itself like a hot summer day to the ice cream man.

The amount of bad Web content writing being published was inexcusable. Call it gross incompetence, ignorance or lack of budgetary priority. Whatever the reason, my mission became clear: help startups communicate their product concepts and offerings as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Note: Israel is not the only place (including my home country) stricken with an epidemic of bad writing about good products.

I kept asking myself the same question. How could businesses expect to be taken seriously with such poorly written and formatted English?  In addition, with an attention span of under 10 seconds, boring, confusing or long-winded copy can cause missed sign-ups and lost sales.

If your writing is sloppy and unprofessional, you’re losing a lot of potential customers to confusion, boredom or impatience. No one has time for undecipherable, unattractive novel length essays.

Granted, we are talking about (non-native English-speaking) Israeli companies with Israeli managers and Israeli employees. But, we are also talking about professional people with professional standards, investment money and a lot at stake on their paths to global dominance.

What’s worse are Israeli CEOs and CTOs with American or British university degrees and fluent English who think they can write their Web content by themselves. After all, they are the founders and/or product developers and should be able to write about it, right? Wrong.

Extensive knowledge on a particular topic does not necessarily equate with an ability to write, and in particular for marketing purposes. If presented in the right way, content can be an attention-grabber, make the right impression and support a brand. The value of great marketing copy must be felt, understood and of course measured. Only then, will it be brought up a few lines in the budget.

Sometimes I have a “hard sell” convincing startup managers of the value of hiring a professional to develop their website content. Most of the time people don’t think twice about hiring a plumber even though they have the right tools at home to do the job.

Let a professional do a professional’s job and in the long run everyone will be happier (and there will be no flooding in the house).

Exception: A lot of so-called marketing writing “professionals” (only because they’re taking money) leave an aftermath of frustration and dissilusionment in their path. Sometimes I have to mop up the mess, rewriting cumbersome and boring descriptions of exciting and innovative products.

Shameful!

I’ve also encountered Israeli executives who assume that just because I am a native English speaker, this alone qualifies me for the job. Granted, it helps, but there are plenty of native English speakers who are mediocre writers at best.

I only bring up the “native English speaking” thing because it is sometimes turned into a justification for bargaining down the price, as if they are thinking, “Come on, how hard could it be? I was going to do it myself. I just need someone to make sure everything is spelled right and capitalized. And maybe throw in a few cool American sounding phrases while you’re at it.” Argh!

Does it sound like I’m exaggerating? Sadly, I’m not. Of course there are Israeli startup executives who do not take this naive approach to their websites. But there are enough of you out there who do, and it needs to stop!

In these shaky economic times (excuse me for sounding cliché or campaigny), often the first budget item that gets slashed is marketing (large companies obviously can avoid this problem).

Cutting marketing, while tempting and seemingly logical in the beginning, can be harmful to a young company in the long term, disrupting the important initial process of shaping and putting out the right message.

If you’ve created the next great software the world can’t live without, leave the marketing content and strategic messaging to a professional. You could probably speak for hours and write volumes about your product and all of its cool features. This is not such a bad thing – in the proper context. Personal blogs, user manuals, or a university lecture series can be wonderful outlets to expouse and expand.

But, for marketing content, spend your money wisely and  find a professional. Your message and content should be crafted carefully for bottom line action.

Let’s leave words to the wordsmiths, technology to the technologists and together we will make the world a more peaceful, prosperous and less sucky place for all of us to share.

Best of luck!

I’d love to hear your comments, stories and experiences, both positive and negative.

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What Actually Came First? The Chicken or the Egg.

Image

“Does it really matter who came first? What really matters is that we’re both here now.”

Today, I will put to rest the chicken-egg argument once and for all. It’s so simple: Breakfast comes before lunch and dinner. There you have it! When did you ever hear of anyone eating chicken for breakfast? Never. But they might have an egg. Why? Well, that’s a different sort of question for culinary enthusiasts.

I know what you’re thinking — “He completely missed the point of the question.” Well, instead of getting offended by your arrogant presumption, I will simply say, ‘you’ve read this far; you might as well keep reading.’

I am perfectly aware that the chicken-egg debate has something to do with how life began; or something like that. Anyone with a proper university education can read Wikipedia. Anyway, in the spirit of openness and honesty, I must admit that my meals-of-the-day example was a mediocre (says me) attempt at humor. Though you must admit that it’s really quite some coincidence! Again, culinary enthusiasts: you’re welcome to dig deeper on that question.

Now, back to the question at hand: What came first? The chicken or the egg. Answer: The egg. It’s so obvious! I don’t understand why people are still debating it.

Putting religiously held beliefs aside for a moment, it is widely accepted and well researched that all living things, including human beings, began as a cell – or something else very small. A cell is more like an egg than a chicken. I’m not a scientist; stay with me on this. Today, livings things still start out in this way. Even plants… even ideas; before they hatch into chickens! Ha! Admit it. You had no idea where I was going with this silly post. But I will say it again. Even ideas start out like tiny eggs before they hatch into living, breathing, fully-functional animals. More proof that the egg indeed came first!

It doesn’t work the other way around. You can’t make a chicken without the egg. If you have the chicken already, that just means that someone else gave or sold it to you after it had already fully developed from it’s beginnings as an egg.

sunnysideup

What is the moral of the story? A good mother hen always guards her eggs. Or, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially if you’re someone who has a lot of ideas and dreams of building chicken farms.

What came first? The story or the moral.

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Apple and Pear Crumble (or an initiation into intuitive baking)

Apple and Pear Crumble (or an initiation into intuitive baking).

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The App to End All Wars

The App To End All Wars

The world has suffered at the hands of war long enough. To stop it, we must first erase the vision of war; then, the practice of war will forever be banished into the dark annals of history.

How do you erase the vision of war? Well, that’s exactly what we asked ourselves before we came up with Peacer!

Peacer is a new social app that lets you create your own image of a world without war and share it with your friends. You can draw or paint from scratch or use our user friendly photo I-magination Editor to add color, texture, light, lines, and other design elements to your photos.

On Peacer, your imagination is our most valuable capital. It is the engine that drives the Peace Bus from town to town, city to city and country to country. Our growing community of “Peacers” are sharing their amazing images across continents and cultures, showing visions of a world without wars.

Our goal in the next six months is to reach one million unique monthly visions of a world without wars. What’s possible is limited only by your imagination. Help us reach our goal!

Download Peacer’s mobile app for Apple or Android.

OR

Sign up now to use Peacer on your desktop!

Peace,

The Peacer Team

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Want Palestinians and Israelis to Live in Peace? This is How You Do It…

An international coalition of nations (including from the Arab League) should disarm Hamas (and other terrorist groups in Gaza) and set up a peacefully democratic nation-state. Gazans do not need military capability. They should be allowed police only, and that’s it! They have no need for a military. They are not under any threat from anyone. Not even Israel.

Israel only goes in because she is attacked by Hamas and other groups. They have their Strip all to themselves – not even any Jews there anymore. They should be putting 100% of their energies into nation building instead of killing innocent Israeli (Jewish and Arab) citizens.

If Iran and Syria weren’t in the picture, this vision might be much more realistic. Unfortunately, the Gazans have been bought, sold and pawned by thug nations and thug extremist ideologues who’s power is fueled by chaos and war.

These are the cards that have been dealt in this never ending cycle of blood sport.

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