6 Editorial Calendar Tools To Help You Crank Out Your Content

As you can imagine, keeping track of all the details of content production in your head doesn't make a lot of sense. There’s no doubt that an editorial calendar is a must to keep your content organized and running smoothly, whether you're just a one person show, or a you're a Fortune 100 company.

The thing is, if you want to produce consistent content - a key piece in establishing your brand voice - you’ve got to have an editorial calendar. A calendar will help you to manage all of pieces of the content creation process, and will quickly become a strategic tool for creating audience-relevant content. Another benefit of having an editorial calendar is the ability to share your content more efficiently across multiple platforms - not only only on your blog or website, but also on various social media platforms.

Have you noticed just how many tools there are out there for editorial calendars? Do a quick search of “editorial calendar” on Twitter and you’ll be inundated with more templates and tips than you can possibly take in. But I have found that the key to implementing an editorial calendar with your team is to use a tool or platform that you’re already very familiar with, AND that every member of the team is using everyday. The last thing you want to do is go through the effort of creating a calendar that never gets used!

If you’re just starting out - think about your team and your needs. Do you need to be able to collaborate virtually with team mates? Do you need to manage a long approval process? What tools are you all currently using that could be leveraged for your content creation?

One caution is that you’ll absolutely want to choose a tool that allows for version control, especially when multiple team members are involved. You’ll be accessing your calendar and making changes and additions on a very regular basis, so it’s a must that everyone has access to the tool and can make changes simultaneously.

Project Management Tools

Asana

I’m mentioning Asana first because over the past year or so it’s become my favorite online project tool. Here at BrandVox, my team and I use Asana to manage all of our projects, so it was a natural fit for our editorial calendar. It works well for us because it allows us to collaborate and assign the various tasks associated with a piece of content to different people. You can also upload documents for editing and review. In addition, we use it for brainstorming to capture new ideas alongside our posts that are already in development. Here’s a peek at our calendar below. What you’re seeing is a high-level view of all of our editorial calendar post and ideas:

basecamp ed calendar.jpg

Each week, Becky and I get together and go through our list of ideas. We move content around to different categories as it makes sense. And here’s the drilled-down look at the tasks associated with a blog post we recently published:

BV Ed Calendar Screenshot 2.png

Basically, our content process goes like this:

When we’re ready to develop an idea, I give Becky a detailed run-down of my thoughts. Sometimes, we’ll record the conversation and have it transcribed using Rev.com, but mostly Becky will take detailed notes and then type them up into a draft. She then assigns a task for me to edit and review what she’s put together. I make sure it accurately reflects my thoughts and I make any changes to make sure it’s in my voice. Then, Becky takes over again to publish the content up on our blog. This has been a HUGE time saver for me, especially since BrandVox’s sister company, Corgibytes, has been needing so much of my attention lately.

Basecamp

Another super popular online project management tool that can double as an editorial calendar is Basecamp. The calendar function on Basecamp has a traditional monthly grid view, so you can visually see all of your content laid out per month. Check out this post from Tiffany Nix on Nactafy which walks you through the steps of setting the calendar. Have a lengthy approval process? She suggests easily managing this by using two calendars - one for drafts and the other for publish dates - both right there in Basecamp. Here’s what the monthly view looks like with the two calendars pulled together:

 Image credit:  Nectafy

Image credit: Nectafy

What’s also cool is that you can set up some handy reminders for each item due that will automatically ping team members on the day of.

Trello

Have you heard of Trello? It’s a popular online project management tool that is definitely worth checking out. It let’s you organize your ideas in a virtual sticky note format. One of my Skillshare class participants, Vicky Cassidy, shared how she uses Trello for her editorial calendar by grouping ideas by topic and then assigning them to specific dates. She then keeps track of how well developed each idea is by color coding each one. Get the scoop on how she uses it here.

Oh, and here’s another good resource from Adrienne Erin over at Markerly on streamlining your content with Trello. She gives the example of how an alcohol and rehab center in Florida uses 5 lists - idea, in writing, to edit, ready to post, and promotion - to track the stages of their blog content. Here’s how it looks in Trello:

 Image credit:  Markerly

Image credit: Markerly

Other Options

Google Spreadsheets

I love Google spreadsheets! When I was in charge of managing all the social media content for a Fortune 100 brand, this was my tool of choice. Each week, I would export the spreadsheet to excel and send it to my client for review. She loved this because the company had a strong firewall and it was difficult for her to access web-based tools. I also had six community managers who would go in and add content for their area of expertise. I liked Google spreadsheets because I could lock specific cells and see the complete history of changes if I needed to.

Google spreadsheets are free and easy to use, especially if you already have experience using a similar program, like excel. Plus, I’ve created a free 2015 editorial calendar template based on the one I used for my Fortune 100 client that you can use for your blog. This calendar includes holidays, seasons as well as sports and entertainment events happening throughout the year to help you plan your content. Just be sure to create a fresh copy before you start editing.

Evernote

Evernote is designed as an online note-taking system. Because it’s such a powerful tool for curating ideas, if you’re already in the habit of using Evernote to clip things off the web or capturing your light bulb moments, you may want to seriously consider adding your editorial calendar. There’s a lot of power in having your ideas side by side with your content plan. Want more tips on creating an Evernote content calendar? Check out Natasha Vorompiova’s idea-packed post over at SystemsRock for a rundown on how she uses it.

Wordpress Plugins

One last note: Wordpress also has some powerful plug-ins with really cool features to use for calendaring. But just remember, unless you're  a solo content creator or your whole team is logging into and using Wordpress everyday, it’s probably not going to cut the mustard.

Want a little more help getting an editorial calendar off the ground? I've put together an online class to help you do just that! Check it out here. And if you’re a Skillshare member, you are in luck - I offer the same class over on Skillshare.

Do you have a special tool you use for your calendar? Any tips on what’s worked and what hasn’t? I’d love to hear from you - share with me in the comments below!

 

What's Your Content Personality?

 Image Credit:  Bigstock

Image Credit: Bigstock

Think of a team you worked on for a recent project. Were there people who you naturally got along with? Maybe some you had to learn to work with? In any team, personalities play a big part of the productivity and overall dynamic of the group — and content projects are no exception. 

I’ve talked about this before, but understanding the nature of how you create content as opposed to your co-workers can help you to more easily navigate your differences.

I've found that most people I have worked with fall into one of four content personality types: The Artist, The Admin, The Analyst, and The Absentee. 

No personality type is better than another; each one brings unique strengths to the team. But when you understand the pros and cons of each type, you can use it to your advantage.

For example, if you identify yourself as an Analyst (you geek out over data and facts), but your co-worker definitely has the Artist trait (a highly creative, visionary type), when you get excited and talk about the facts and figures, it very well may fall on deaf ears. The best thing to do is to be flexible and give your colleague some space to create. You can come back together at a later date and find ways to marry the vision with the data.

Likewise, if you’re an Admin type (you love process and clear direction) working with an Absentee (prefers to have little involvement), you’ll need to remember that your partner is not going to be into following your process to a tee. You'll have to be proactive about getting any information you need from this person. The great thing is that you can run with the project and check in for feedback down the line.

Wondering what your content personality type is? Take this quiz and find out:

Share this quiz with your team mates so they can figure out their type as well!

Choose Your Own Adventure: Create Better Websites With These Two Writing Rules

chooseyourownadventure

Think back to when you were in grade school. Do you remember the types of writing assignments you were given? There were research papers, book reports, project reports, maybe a little poetry, and then there was creative writing. If you look at the different types of writing styles you learned, you’ll see that there really were only two predominant ways you learned to write in school: Research and creative writing.

The Writing Spectrum

I like to think of writing styles on a spectrum. On the one side you have incredible
objectivity for things like academic papers, literary critiques, or anything that's research based. When you write in this style you are employing literary techniques and writing in the third person or passive voice.

On the other end of the spectrum you have creative writing. Creative writing has the most flexibility when it comes to technique and employs more of a narrative because it tends to be written in first or third person.

In school, you learned how to write from both sides of the spectrum and only in first or third person. It’s only natural that when you sit down to write copy for your website, you default to one of these two. Unfortunately, those writing styles are not effective for website copy (or sales copy in general). There is one type of book however you most likely read as a child that you should model your website content after: a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

What Are All These Voices You Speak Of?

The type of voice you write in can have a huge impact on your readers. Without trying to make this seem like a grammar lesson, here’s a short refresher on the different voices.

When you write in the first person, you are writing as yourself. The narrator and main character of your story is you. “I went to the store” rather than “The woman went to the store.” For first person, use the pronouns “I” and “we”.

When you write in the second person, you are addressing the reader. Second person should be written as if the reader were a part of your story because you are talking to them. This entire blog post is written in second person. See how I’m writing to you? Second person uses the pronouns “you”, “your”, and “yours”.

When you write in the third person, you are writing objectively. You, as the narrator are not part of the story. Instead of “I went to the store” you would write “She went to the store”. Pronouns used in the third person are “he”, “she”, or “it”.

When you write in the passive voice, you use the form of the verb “have” or “to be” in your sentence structure. In the passive voice, you make the object of the action the subject of the sentence. For example, the sentence “The fox ate the mouse” in the passive voice would be “The mouse was eaten by the fox.”

When you write in the active voice, the subject of the sentence is performing the action. In the example above, the sentence “The fox ate the mouse” is in active voice.

The Secret to Writing Great Sales Copy

I know what you’re thinking and I promise I haven’t lost my mind! If you want your website to be more effective you need to do two things - the same two things used in Choose Your Own Adventure books:

  1. Write in the active voice.

  2. Write in second person.

That’s the secret to writing great sales copy.

I didn't know that until I became a copywriter. The definition of copywriting is: the use of words to promote a person, business, opinion, or idea. It’s “getting across the perfect message, with the perfect words.” (dictionary.com) In order to do that, you've got to put things in your reader’s point of view. Instead of talking about you, you need to set the scene up and talk about them. Think about the choose your own adventure books you read as a child. Why were they so exciting? Because you got to take an active role in the book. You were in control of the story - you were the story!

Your website should be the same way. It should be focused on the user. Like a choose your own adventure book, your website visitors should have an immersive experience as they dive down the rabbit hole of pages on your website.  

Setting Your Website Up Like A Choose Your Own Adventure Book

Here are three ways to set-up your website like a Choose Your Own Adventure book:

1. Take Them On A Journey

Navigating a Choose Your Own Adventure book would be confusing if there weren’t prompts to help you know where to go. You should do the same for your website. Every page should direct the reader to an action, but that action needs to be spelled out for them. What do you want them to do? Fill out a contact form? Call you? Sign up for your newsletter? It’s up to you to tell the reader what to do.

2. Make the Story About Them

Everything on your website (except your about page) should be written in the second person as if the reader was reading about themselves. You want them to be an active participant in discovering what you have to offer and how it will help them. This can only be accomplished if you write in the second person.

3. Decide How the Story Ends and Then Lead Them There

There are only a few different endings in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. What makes it so exciting is that the reader got to choose how they got to their ending. You’ve got to set up your website the same way. There may be several different paths that each user embarks upon, but you need to set an end goal where all points lead to a conversion. “Yes, I want more info” or “yes I want to make a donation”… whatever that conversion is for you, you need to make sure every visitor gets to it.


Why does this work? Because making it more about the user is that subtle change in perspective that will make world of difference!

If you want help writing your website's own adventure, join me for my class in Richmond. In my hands-on workshop, you will be given exercises and tools that will help you learn copywriting skills while you create content for your own website. If you don’t live in Richmond, consider making it a weekend trip. There are so many fun things to do here! In fact, Richmond was recently named a Frommer’s Top Destination for 2014 and The Next Great American Food City. If you’re coming in from out of town, just shoot me an email and I’d be happy to make suggestions for things to do over the weekend.

Register for my Copywriting Class Today!

Plain Language vs. Legalese in Business Contracts

longerletter

What was your reaction the last time you were presented with terms and conditions - for anything? Did your eyes sort of glaze over at the amount of tiny words you needed to read? Did you start reading, get bored and instead skim through realizing that no matter how hard you focused you weren't going to understand it anyway? It’s ok, this happens to most people (unless you’re a lawyer of course). Terms and conditions are all over the place and are traditionally hard for the average person to comprehend.

Here’s the thing: it doesn't have to be this way! There's a trend towards plain language terms and conditions because companies are realizing that making things hard to understand does not benefit either party. If you haven't documented something in a way people can understand, your “legalese” is not protecting your brand, it’s actually hurting it.

How Legalese Can Hurt Your Brand

Legalese and formal language just plain scares people. When presented with it, most people feel uncomfortable and unsure. That strategy used to work back in the days where you wanted to seem busy and important, but in today’s market, authenticity and clear communication wins. The last thing you want as a brand is to give people that uncomfortable or cautious feeling when interacting with you.

In essence, the foundation of consumer trust has changed. Before consumers were connected in any meaningful way, companies were in control of the message. They didn't need to be held accountable, so they could have as much corporate babble clutter as they wanted in their organization, and still sell their products. Today, customers are demanding transparency. One way to visualize this is with an opacity slider you see in photo-editing software. It’s almost as if consumers have their collective hands on the opacity slider that controls the walls of your business and they’re pushing the slider to a more and more transparent state each year. There's a trend today to align purchases with values and show consumers your authenticity as a brand. Legalese is the opposite of authenticity. If you want to show your values, you've got to be consistent throughout your messaging - this includes your Terms and Conditions.

In fact, not using plain language in your terms and conditions can also harm your consistency as a brand. If you put yourself forward as an authentic, engaging brand but your terms and conditions are hard to understand, it can negate the trust you've worked so hard to build.

Many lawyers I talk to are advocates for clear language, but many feel threatened by this new shift in culture. Mark Cohen, an attorney based in Colorado who specializes in creating plain English contracts, believes the use of plain English in business contracts “lowers costs, improves productivity, increases credibility and reduces misunderstandings.”

With all legal agreements, the goal is to keep risk at a minimum. The law often demands precise language, but that doesn't mean an entire agreement needs to be confusing. As transparency replaces obfuscation as the measure of trust, the companies who choose plain language in all of their communications, including departments like legal and finance, are becoming the clear winners in the market.

How Facebook Lost Credibility

Take a look at the launch of Facebook’s messenger app. Facebook recently notified users that if they wanted to continue using their messaging function, they would have to download their Messenger app. The uproar came when Android users tried downloading the new app and were given a long list of scary permissions without an explanation to what they meant. According to Facebook, Android does not allow app developers to write their own permissions, they write it for them. The language that popped up when users downloaded the app was convoluted and did not reflect the way the Messenger app (and other apps for that matter) use the listed permissions. This caused claims that the Facebook Messenger app would start doing things like taking over your phone, calling people on your behalf, using your camera without permission, etc. Rumors started flying and people started deleting - or not downloading the app at all.

Because of the confusion and nervousness, Facebook lost a lot of credibility. If you look at the ratings in iTunes for Facebook Messenger, it’s currently averaging 1.5 stars with lots of angry reviews. Not good.

facebookmessenger

Do you see now why plain language is so important? Just for reference, here is a Facebook blog post that explains the permissions - in plain language.  

Why Plain Language Is Worth The Effort

Blaise Pascal once said, "I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter." Keep that quote in mind when you go about writing your terms and conditions. Creating contracts that are both legally viable and easy to understand takes extra effort, but it's worth it in the long run. Why? Because when people understand your terms and conditions they don’t feel nervous or confused about doing business with you, or downloading your app. You don’t lose credibility like Facebook did, you gain it because you gain trust through transparency.

Using plain language is worth it in the long run because it avoids potential PR problems or legal repercussions like lawsuits because of misinterpretations or misunderstandings.

Layers and layers of management and a seemingly faceless corporation no longer equals brand trust. If you want consumers to trust you nowadays, you need to develop a personality that consumers can connect with, provide customer service that people rave about, and most importantly, you need to be transparent. This includes your legal and financial content. It’s just another piece of nooks and crannies content that people look at, and it makes a huge difference when they understand it.

Squarespace is an excellent example of a brand that uses plain language in their terms of service. Look at the screen grab below of the first paragraph in their terms of service. The highlighted line in particular just shows that they tried write their terms of service as plain and easy to understand as possible.

squarespace-termsofservice

If you go on to read their terms of service you’ll find that they are, in fact, easy to understand.

For more examples of plain language, here are two great articles to use as resources:

Top 10 Phrases Not to Use in a Contract—A Lesson from Dr. Frankenstein

Freelance Contracts That Anyone Can Understand

If you are a small company, now is a great time to take a look at your legal documents before you become overrun by legalese and corporate babble. If you are a large company, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Train your legal staff about the benefits of plain language and push back if the terms and conditions aren't clear.

Do you know of a brand who maintains transparency and uses plain language in their terms and conditions? I’d love to hear about them! Leave a comment.

Brand Voice Victor: How Chipotle Uses Nooks and Cranny Content to Build Brand Engagement

chipotle-brandvoicevictor

Have you ever read a Chipotle cup? How about the bag your burrito comes in? Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably noticed the intriguing design on their packaging and the large amounts of words. Chipotle has been on my radar for quite some time as a brand I love and respect. Their distinct brand voice can be found on everything: cups, bags, napkins, signs within the store... places I like to call “nooks and crannies”. It’s hard not to notice their unique brand voice or connect with it - which is what makes them such a great brand. Their brand voice is solid, compelling, and makes people fall in love with them.

Here are three reasons why:

1. They’ve build a strong foundation for their content.

There’s a reason this brand connects so deeply with its audience and it all starts with their mission statement. Their founder, Steve Ells feels strongly about serving fresh, responsibly made food and educating people about what that means. Chipotle’s mission statement, “To change the way people think about and eat fast food” reigns true throughout every piece of content the brand has. It’s a rallying cry for employees and lovers of Chipotle that food should be made more responsibly and with local, fresh ingredients. What starts as the foundation is then built upon by their core values (which is also one of their taglines), “Food with Integrity”.

Food with Integrity is our commitment to always look closer, dig deeper, and work harder to ensure that our actions are making things better, not worse. It’s our promise to run our business in a way that doesn't exploit animals, people or the environment. It is the philosophy that guides every decision we make at Chipotle.” - Steve Ells

They've started with a strong and empowering Mission Statement as their content foundation and rallying cry for their brand and reinforced it with core values for everyone in the organization (even copywriters) to stand behind.

2. They have personality.

From their mission statement and core values, they've built a personality for their brand: “Integrity with a side of attitude”. Chipotle’s copy gets your attention! They want to educate you but they want it to be entertaining. Here’s an example from their website that talks about food with integrity but in their own brand voice:

chipotle-foodwithintegrity

3. They don’t neglect the “Nooks and Crannies” Copy

When I say their personality is on everything, I really do mean everything. Their packaging is a perfect example of where you can find Chipotle’s “integrity with attitude” brand voice. The copy for Chipotles packaging is referred to as “passionate ramblings”. It was designed to get people to read while they eat. They use their packaging to share thoughts, humor and ideas.

In a new push, Chipotle has curated things from authors, comedians, thought leaders and artists to create “a moment of analog pause in a digital world”. There are 40 unique stories with matching illustrations that have been curated. Their cups have stories written by different authors called the “Cultivating Thought Author Series”. These stories were compiled as way to entertain and also get people to stop what they’re doing and read something interesting instead of staring at a phone or a tablet. This creates an experience - a distinctly “Chipotle” experience that whether in the store or at the office you will have as you chow down on their delicious food and get entertained (and educated) by their packaging.

What makes people LOVE a brand? When they feel empowered and emotionally connected to it, or when they feel good after interacting with it or purchasing from it. This is how Chipotle wins. They started with a passion, put it into a mission statement, developed a unique personality and voice and put it on everything.

Have you ever read something on a package or a website that made you chuckle, feel good or just smile? That’s brand voice doing its job. What’s incredible about Chipotle is that you can find it on everything. Who are your brand voice victors?

13 Easy Templates For Writing a Compelling Value Proposition

Take a minute and think about one person who could really help boost your business. Maybe they have access to the money, contacts, or influence to take your business to the next level. Close your eyes and see their face. (It's okay. I'll wait.)

Now, what would you say to them?

You only have a few seconds of their attention. How would you get the light bulb to go off in their mind? How would you convince them that you are worth working with, investing in, or talking about?

In this moment, the difference between an "Ah-ha!" and a "Oh...interesting" is huge. And it doesn't extend only to the influential people we imagined above. Every potential customer goes through the same process. You need to convince them that you are interesting and that your product or service is worth exploring. That "pitch" moment is where you would use your value proposition.

Your value proposition is an important part of your foundational content and should be written once you've come up with the features and benefits of your product/service (more about foundational content here).

So what is a value proposition then?

A value proposition is simply a one sentence description of why your ideal customer should use your product or service. It should say exactly what problem your product or service solves, list the benefits to the consumer, and place priority on your point of difference.

Your value proposition is a crucial piece of content for your marketing and sales team because it's basically their conversation starter. It should pique interest and entice the potential buyer to want to know more. Upon reading or hearing, your potential buyer should say "Ooh! Tell me more!"

If you're not the best at sales writing (or writing in general) you're in luck. I've compiled a list of templates you can use to help you write a compelling value proposition. Try all of them or a few of them to see which template works best for your brand.

 

1.  Steve Blanks’ XYZ

This may be the simplest value proposition template we’ve seen:

“We help X do Y doing Z”. The idea is to explain briefly why you exist, and then run it by a few people and see if it makes sense to them. If they don’t get it, give  them a brief explanation of your product and have them summarize it for you.

 

2. Geoff Moore’s Value Positioning Statement

This is probably the most popular one. This template has helped thousands of brands communicate their relative value to their audiences and is used most frequently in Fortune 500 firms. The template goes like this:

For______________________________________________(target customer)

who______________________________________________(opportunity)

is a ______________________________________________(company name)

that ______________________________________________(benefit statement).

 

3. Pitching Hacks

This model uses one sentence that distills your vision, but working off of an already know concept:

“Proven industry example for/of (new idea).”

Here’s an example:

The Walmart of health food stores.

 

4. The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development - Cooper & Vlaskovits CPS

This model suggests describing things in a specific order:

Customer: __________________________ (who is your customer is)

Problem: _________________________________ (what problem you’re solving for the customer)

Solution:__________________________________ (what is your solution for the problem)

 

5. Dave McClure’s Elevator Ride

Keeping to the origins of the elevator pitch, this is the 30-second quick pitch:

  1. Short, simple, memorable – what, how, why
  2. Use 3 Keywords or phrases
  3. No expert jargon – KISS

 

6. Dave Cowan’s Pitchcraft

This pitch should be short enough to deliver in seconds and not include any confusing industry-related jargon, similar to Pitching Hacks above:

(Your solution to market need) and our product is (use metaphor for  something people already know).

Here’s an example:

We are bringing trust to cyberspace, and our first product is a Driver’s License for the Internet.

 

7. Eric Sink’s Positioning

One easy way to think of this structure is to remember the 3Ws: Why, What, Who:

  1. Superlative – why choose this product? (ex. Easiest, best, number one)
  2. Label – what is the product? (ex. Snack food, operating system)
  3. Qualifiers – who is the audience?  Who should use your product? (ex. busy moms )

 

8. Mindtool’s Elevator Pitch

Create a brief, compelling speech that sounds natural in conversation:

  1. Identify your goal.
  2. Explain what you do.
  3. Communicate your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
  4. Engage with a Question.
  5. Put it together.
  6. Practice.

 

9. Peter Sandeen’s Value Proposition

The idea is to “hit people over the head with what makes you different”:

  • What makes you valuable?  Collect all of the most persuasive reasons people should notice you and take the action you’re asking for.
  • Can you prove that? Use studies, testimonials, social proof, etc to prove  your claim.

 

10. Peep Laja’s Value Proposition

Create a short paragraph of text along with a photo:

  1. Headline. What is the end-benefit you’re offering, in 1 short sentence. Can mention the product and/or the customer. Attention grabber.
  2. Sub-headline or a 2-3 sentence paragraph. A specific explanation of what you do/offer, for whom and why is it useful.
  3. Three bullet points. List the key benefits or features.
  4. Visual. Images communicate much faster than words. Show the product, the hero shot or an image reinforcing your main message.

 

11. Marketing Experiments Value Proposition Worksheet

This exercise focuses on identifying the primary reason why a customer should buy from you and then using specific measures to rank your proposition - customer desire, exclusivity, etc. Continue to refine until you have one concise sentence that brings immediately credibility.

 

12. Blend

First, consider what sets you apart from the competition. If you’re unsure, do a competitive analysis.

Then for each of these four components, write down how your product satisfies each one: Capability, Impact, Proof, and Cost. Create one sentence that summarizes all.

 

13. Advisor Perspectives’ Value Proposition

Speak directly to your target audience and tell them specifically why they should buy your products and services. Your statement should incorporate the answers to these questions:

  • Who you are.

  • What you do (not how you do it).

  • What problem you solve. (You want people to say, “This is exactly what I am looking for.”)

  • Who your ideal client is.

  • Why your approach is more valuable than other approaches.

  • Why you can help people reach their goal. (After all, this is your core competency.)

Now that you have 13 great templates to choose from get started on your value proposition and once it's written, please share it with us!

Special thanks to Tor Grønsund for his great round up of  templates and examples.

126 Powerful Action Verbs to Kickstart Your Mission Statement

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: your mission statement is the single most important piece of content you have. Your mission statement is your rallying cry to every person within your organization and the foundation upon which every other piece of content or decision your organization makes.

No pressure right?

I have been moderating and helping visionaries create mission and vision statements since before I founded BrandVox. And with every group I facilitate, the biggest challenge is figuring out where to start. Most would just jump in and start brainstorming full sentences. The problem with this approach is that when we are taught to write growing up, we were taught to use lots of adjectives to describe things. Adjectives are useful creative writing, but in a mission statement they are bulky. If you want to write a mission statement that packs a punch - that is really powerful - you need the right verb.

Here is an exercise that I developed that will help you discover that powerful action verb your mission statement needs to be succinct, engaging, and powerful.

Action Verb Exercise

Below is a downloadable list of 126 action verbs that I took from my Top 50 Non-Profit Mission Statements list and my Top 50 For-Profit Mission Statements list (plus a few more I thought were effective). Download and print this list and cut out all of the verbs into labels. Trust me, this works better than you think!

Next, lay the labels out on a table so that you can see them all. Read each one out loud and do a gut check. Yes or no: Does this verb resonate with your brand?

Now that you have some verbs narrowed down, start trying to match nouns with the verbs. Here’s where a dialogue will start to happen as you try to pair nouns with your action verbs. You will start to form some sentences that may or may not work. What’s important is the dialogue that happens during this process.

From here, you should be able to come up with a mission statement that defines your brand. Be sure that your mission statement is short (under 7 words), has inspirational or aspirational language, and packs a punch. Before you leave the room with the final sentence ask yourselves: Is this a rally cry? Does this drive us to get up every morning and do what we do? If not, go back to the drawing board.

Why does this work?

First, it’s a starting point - the hardest part is knowing where to start. Second, it’s a dialogue starter. Third, the hardest part of the process is finding that first word. In this exercise, your choices are laid out for you. The reason we choose vague words like “help” in our mission statement is because it’s the first word we go to. When you use a verb like “help” or “make”, you end up convoluting the mission statement with adjectives instead of empowering the statement with a strong verb. Using the right verbs lets you avoid all of those adjectives and leads to a better mission statement in the end.

Remember, your mission statement is the most important piece of content you write for your brand.

Try this exercise out and tell me how it went in the comment section.

Here are some other posts to check out:

How to Write a Mission Statement That Actually Inspired Your Employees and Customers

Stop Writing Your Mission Statement and Start Writing Your Rally Cry

The Secret to Writing Copy That Sells

Have you seen the AT&T commercial with the cute exchange between the installer and the girl who is excited she’ll be able to post from the break room? Either way, take a minute to check out the commercial:

I love this commercial -  and not just because it makes me chuckle. The first time I saw it, I was already thinking about this blog post. It’s the perfect example of the difference between features and benefits. The features and benefits of your products and services are two important but different pieces of content for a brand. Having shiny and useful features is important, but when it comes to sales, you’ve got to be able to translate those features into benefits for the consumer.

When it comes to purchasing, the consumer wants to know one of two things:

1. “What’s in it for me?”

2. “How does this solve my problem?”

Listing a ton of features doesn’t answer any of these questions for the consumer - no one cares because no one understands. Just like in the commercial:

“We’re fine tuning these small cells that improve coverage, capacity and quality of the network.”

Huh?

These features, while important, mean nothing to a consumer until you translate them into how they benefit the consumer: “It means you’ll be able to post from the breakroom.”

Features are great, but if you want to make the sale you’ve got to write copy that focuses on benefits.

How To Translate Features Into Benefits

Let’s start with the definition of both:

Features describe attributes or characteristics about your product. They’re factual and tend to be nouns.

Benefits are why your product/service features matter to your ideal customer. Chances are, you’ll see way more verbs than nouns when you’re writing benefits.

Writing features and benefits are are important steps when creating foundational content for your brand to stand on. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Make a list of features for all of your products and offerings.
  2. Write down why those features were created or are important.
  3. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and write reasons why they would care about a feature.
  4. Read each benefit and ask yourself if the benefits you wrote are actually compelling.

Copyblogger has a great post on turning features into benefits (Does Your Copy Pass The “Forehead Slap Test”). They warn against writing “Fake Benefits” and suggest a great test (“The Forehead Slap Test”) to make sure your benefits are true benefits.

The Forehead Slap Test:

“Have you ever woken up from a deep sleep, slapped yourself in the forehead, and exclaimed [insert benefit]?” If the answer is no, then you’re not likely to convince anyone else that your so-called benefit is worth their money.

If you can successfully translate your features into true benefits that either solve your ideal customer’s problems or relate to them on an emotional level you’ll make more sales guaranteed. 

Here’s one more example for you:

Benefits of the Find Your Brand Voice Class:
The BrandVox class, Find Your Brand Voice: Personality for Business Success, will help you gain more word of mouth, more sales referrals, more loyal customers and increased brand awareness by teaching you step by step how some of the world’s biggest brands develop a brand voice that people fall in love with.

Features of the Find Your Brand Voice Class:

  • 53 Page E-book that helps you create a comprehensive brand voice style guide

  • You will learn the research behind how people fall in love with a brand

  • Learn step-by-step how to develop your foundational content

  • Learn how to find your brand voice sweet spot

  • Discover your brand’s personality

  • Gain access to the Brand Character Profile

  • Learn how to have a consistent brand voice across your organization

  • Learn how to roll out your new brand voice to your team

  • This is an online course that can be done at your own pace

  • The project steps make it easy for you to implement what you learn as you learn it

When Features Become Important

So, what do we do with all those features? Do we just throw them out and never use them? Of course not! Like an ace up our sleeve, we just need to know the right time to pull them out.

When people make purchase decisions, they follow a pattern: AIDA. First, they become aware that your product or service even exists. Then, they become curious and interested. In both of these situations, emotionally charged benefit-driven language will help your potential customer move closer and closer to a sale.

But then, a switch flips. In the next phase, the decision making phase, we start looking at things more rationally. We don’t want to be taken for a sucker, so we crave those fact-focused features to help us know exactly what we’re getting. This is particularly important if you have a highly technical audience.

Apple does a great job at this. They use benefit-driven hooks and soundbites to pique interest, but when you dive deeper into the purchasing process, you’re presented with meaty comparison charts filled with features galore.

In the last phase, we are trying to encourage action, so it’s time to ask for them to do something. This is our call to action and the more specific you are about what to do next, the more likely you are to get a result. Typically, a call to action on a website will be in the form of a button with specific text.

So, now that you know the difference between features and benefits, and more importantly, when to apply each one, you’re armed and ready to make some sales. Keep us posted on your progress in the comments!

Brand Voice Victor: Threadless, Wolf Shirts and Using Your E.A.R for Customer Service

I was on the hunt for a wolf shirt.

Why, you may ask? Because I'm a member of a wolf pack — the 804RVA Wolf Pack to be exact. You see, instead of working from home, I'm a member of a co-working space. I love being around other productive and creative people every day. But most of all, I love Larkin Garbee, the owner, who rallies us together with goofy get-togethers like Wolf Shirt Wednesdays. Before joining 804RVA, my wardrobe was noticeably lacking t-shirts of the lupine variety. So, I turned to the interwebs to purchase one and found an amazing collection to choose from on Threadless.

But this is not a story about wolf shirts, it’s a story about customer service emails.

I recently received an email from Threadless alerting me to a problem they had with their systems. Due to a glitch in their system they signed everyone who entered an email address into their system up for their newsletter - even if they clicked the “I don’t want to receive emails” button. Oops.

The way Threadless handled the situation was spot on. They were proactive and kept true to their casual and slightly goofy brand voice. Here's a screenshot of the email I received. 

Customer service is an important channel to think about when it comes to brand voice because your brand is the collection of experiences your customers have with it, no matter whether that experience comes from inside or outside of the marketing department. Receiving this email for me (I actually don’t remember if I opted in or I opted out) was a positive experience because it made me feel like they cared. They could have just ignored the mistake and left it up for people who didn't want their emails to unsubscribe but they didn't. They owned up to the problem and offered a solution. I was so impressed I tweeted about it!

 

 

This is why (among many other reasons), customer service is so important. At the end of the day, you want the collection of experiences each person has had with your brand to be positive.

The most common mistakes in customer service emails

I've seen (and worked through) these mistakes with many customer service departments. Making any one of these can lead to miscommunication and a bad customer service experience.

  1. They are far too formal.
  2. They start with an immediate apology.
  3. They lack empathy.
  4. They don't solve anyone's problems.

This is why I developed the E.A.R. model for customer service emails. Here’s how it works.

Empathy

Customers don't want empty apologies. What they want is someone to let them know that they understand where they are coming from. The first step to empathy is to truly understand what the customer is going through and then to express empathy for the person in your response back. Empathy is such a powerful tool in customer service. Empathy, which is different than sympathy, is the ability to hold someone else’s feelings as your own. Sympathy, on the other hand, is a sense of pity. Sympathy means that you feel bad when someone else is going through a difficult time, but it subtly sends the message of being at an arm’s length. 

Starting a customer communication off with a blanket apology often has the opposite effect that is intended. It can actually put more distance between you and your customer. So instead of starting your email off with an apology, take a cue from Threadless and acknowledge how your reader is likely to be feeling. 

Acknowledge (And If Necessary, Admit or Apologize)

Once you've grounded your statement in empathy, then you can explore culpability. There are lots of different situations that could be at play here. The customer could be wrong, you both could be at fault on some level, or you could be 100% at fault. Not all of these situations warrants an apology.  In fact, apologizing in our communications too much can sometimes be more frustrating than no apology at all. Over-apologizing sends the signal to our customer that we aren't working towards a solution. Solutions, not apologies, are what mend fractured customer relationships.

The acknowledge step is where “Formality by Fright” often rears its ugly head.  When we feel threatened or challenged our immediate tendency is to turn up our formal tone to impress through language. I call this Formality by Fright. It’s a symptom of Red Pen Syndrome (our fear of conversational writing). Formal writing in a customer service email may seem proper but often it's not the best tone to use. The problem with being overly formal in your customer service communications (especially when you have a fun or casual marketing tone) is that it’s often misconstrued as distant, which is not what you want to convey. Using a warmer, more conversational tone makes you more approachable and frankly more human.

Rectify

Beyond empathy, and beyond acknowledgement, a customer complaint is a call for you to fix a problem. Something is wrong and not that it has been brought to your attention, it is in your hands to fix it. I know it seems like common sense but you have to actually rectify the situation when you receive a customer complaint. Customer service isn’t about apologizing it’s about fixing problems, making things right, and mending the relationship.

So let’s get back to that Threadless email. Here’s why it’s so great.

  1. It’s written in a conversational tone that is in the company’s brand voice.
  2. They acknowledged the situation and explained how it happened.
  3. They didn't start with an apology, they started with an upbeat explanation.
  4. Instead of just saying “We’re sorry” they chose to say: “we've been sending you emails you didn't sign up for, which makes us feel terrible.”
  5. They offered an easy solution to the problem.

That’s how you rock customer service. Start using the E.A.R. template in your customer service emails and you’ll be sure to improve your communications and connect deeper with your customers.

84 Words Weird Al Mocks in "Mission Statement"

Weird Al, the parody-loving singer-songwriter (and my new personal hero) just released a new album. On it, he has a song called "Mission Statement" which mocks the jargon-filled buzzwords that are too common in business today.

Check out the video:

Here's a list of the words he includes. Take a peek and ask yourself how likely your mission statement is to be mocked. 

If you find yourself on the receiving end of the joke, don't worry. You can read posts about how to make your mission statement better herehereherehere, and here

  1. achieving
  2. administrate
  3. advance
  4. assets
  5. awareness
  6. best of breed
  7. bleeding-edge
  8. brand 
  9. business
  10. capitalized
  11. chain
  12. change
  13. client-centric
  14. commitment
  15. company
  16. competencies
  17. core
  18. corporate
  19. cross-platform
  20. customer
  21. day-to-day
  22. deliverables
  23. distill
  24. diversity
  25. downsized
  26. effectively
  27. efficiently
  28. enhancing
  29. exceptional
  30. experience
  31. functionality
  32. fundamentals
  33. gaining
  34. globalization
  35. grow
  36. holistically
  37. identity
  38. incentivized
  39. infrastructure
  40. innovation
  41. integration
  42. invest
  43. leverage
  44. management
  45. marketplace
  46. methodology
  47. mission-critical
  48. monetize
  49. networking
  50. next-generation
  51. operationalize
  52. overseeing
  53. paradigm
  54. philosophy
  55. proactively
  56. promoting
  57. proven
  58. providing
  59. purple-poster-flexible-solutions
  60. quality
  61. reputation
  62. resources
  63. robust
  64. scalable
  65. seamless
  66. share
  67. services
  68. shift
  69. solutions
  70. strategies
  71. strong
  72. succeed
  73. supply
  74. synergy
  75. technology
  76. traction
  77. trajectory
  78. transitioning
  79. value-added
  80. viability
  81. vis-à-vis
  82. visualize
  83. will
  84. world-class

50+ Non-Profit Mission Statements to Inspire Your Organization

A few weeks ago, I posted 50+ Mission Statements from businesses that get it right. Now, it's the non-profit sector's turn! So many non-profits have long drawn out mission statements that don't inspire anyone, and that's a shame because many of these organizations are doing such amazing work. Your mission statement isn't something you check off for your strategic plan — it's your rallying cry

Getting to a place where your mission statement is short and concise is no small task (if you're interested in learning how, check out this post.) It takes a lot of effort and politics, but the results are worth it. An inspiring mission statement helps donors connect with your purpose. It makes fundraising, engaging volunteers, and filling programs so much easier. And when we're all working on tighter budgets and deadlines than ever, every bit helps. 

Look through these non-profit mission statements that get it right. See how yours stacks up. Is yours dry and written by committee? Or does it actually do its job to rally people behind your organization? 

  1. "To build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke." -American Heart Association

  2. "To help resource-constrained communities and nations make positive, sustainable changes that improve accessibility to a broad range of high-quality healthcare services and preventive programs." -American International Health Alliance

  3. "To save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease." -American Lung Association

  4. "Prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors." -American Red Cross

  5. "Empower professionals to develop knowledge & skills successfully." -American Society for Training and Development

  6. "To provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States." -ASPCA

  7. "To change the future for all who struggle with autism spectrum disorders." -Autism Speaks

  8. "To be the leader in advancing marketplace trust." -Better Business Bureau

  9. "We help children realize their potential and build their futures. We nurture children and strengthen communities." -Big Brothers Big Sisters

  10. "Provides workforce development services to individuals and employers in Washington State." -Career Path Services

  11. "The world's largest petition platform, empowering people everywhere to create the change they want to see." -Change.org

  12. "Bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations." -Charity: Water

  13. "Improves the lives of young people by providing excellent clinical care with compassion and understanding, and by empowering families, schools, and communities." -Chicago Children's Clinic

  14. "Champion effective nonprofit marketing through pro bono marathons." -Createathon

  15. "To use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities." -D.C. Central Kitchen

  16. "To improve the health and quality of life of women with diabetes, and to advocate on their behalf." -Diabetes Sisters

  17. "To promote the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and in life." -Dress For Success

  18. "To promote the transition to a sustainable energy future by advancing energy efficiency and renewable energy." -Energy Foundation

  19. "To preserve the natural systems on which all life depends." -Environmental Defense Fund

  20. "To end hunger in New York City by organizing food, information and support for community survival and dignity." -Food Bank for New York City

  21. "Serves as a conduit for food, education, and awareness between donors, volunteers, agencies and people in need." -Food Finders

  22. "To preserve and enhance the park as a recreational resource for residents, workers, and visitors in the City of Boston." -Friends of Copley Square

  23. "Defends the environment and champions a healthy and just world." -Friends of the Earth

  24. "To enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by helping people reach their full potential through education, skills training and the power of work." -Goodwill

  25. "We defend the natural world and promote peace by investigating, exposing and confronting environmental abuse, and championing environmentally responsible solutions." -Greenpeace

  26. "To put God’s love into action by bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope." -Habitat for Humanity

  27. "To help former gang members redirect their lives and become contributing members of their families and our community." -Homeboy Industries

  28. "Defends the rights of people worldwide." -Human Rights Watch

  29. "To connect people through lending to alleviate poverty." -Kiva

  30. "Dedicated to improving the quality of life for all people affected by lupus through programs of research, education and advocacy." -Lupus Foundation of America

  31. "To stop drunk driving, support the victims of this violent crime and prevent underage drinking." -MADD

  32. "To improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, infant mortality, and premature birth." -March of Dimes

  33. "To inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education and research." -Mayo Clinic

  34. "Cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage." -National Park Service

  35. "Inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future." -National Wildlife Federation

  36. "Story by story, we bring you the world." -NPR

  37. "To equip and empower our community to prevent and end homelessness through advocacy, education and coordination of services.” -One Roof

  38. "To create a belief that college is an option for everyone, and that through the program, we can make this belief a reality." -Pathways to College

  39. "To create content that educates, informs and inspires." -PBS

  40. "The increase and diffusion of knowledge." -Smithsonian

  41. "To advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment." -St. Jude Children's Hospital Research

  42. "Growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education." -Teach for America

  43. "Leveraging the unique potential of adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves, their families, their communities, their countries and the world." -The Girl Effect

  44. "Celebrating Animals, Preventing Cruelty." -The Humane Society

  45. "To expand knowledge about marine mammals—their health and that of their ocean environment—and to inspire their global conservation." -The Marine Mammal Center

  46. "Empowers veterans facing the challenge of adjusting to life at home to find new missions." -The Mission Continues

  47. "To conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends."-The Nature Conservancy

  48. "To build vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people." -The Open Society Foundations

  49. "To increase and organize investment in protecting and restoring the natural resources and communities of the Sierra Nevada." -The Sierra Fund

  50. "To promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access." -U.S. Department of Education

  51. "Create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community." -U.S. Department of State

  52. "To deliver the best value in real estate, acquisition, and technology services to government and the American people." -U.S. General Services Administration (GSA)

  53. "To honor and empower Wounded Warriors." -Wounded Warrior Project

  54. "To close the opportunity divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education." -Year Up

Why Knowing Your Audience is So Important (And Not Knowing It is So Dangerous)

It seems like a no brainer. When you have a product to sell, you should know the audience you’re selling it to. As simple as this concept is, the process of defining and learning about an audience seems to fall through the cracks for some brands. As a content strategist, I can’t stress this point enough. But it’s hard to find real, tangible examples to show the detriment to your brand when you launch a campaign without knowing the audience you are trying to engage.

Enter Free People.

I was perusing Buzzfeed as I sometimes do (hey, no judgement!) and found this gem: This Is What a Real Dancer Looks Like. Looking further I saw that this is an excellent example of why really knowing your audience is so important. Here's the deal...

Free People is a clothing company that sells multiple clothing lines, but recently launched a new campaign to promote their "Movement” line. This line was designed for three very niche audiences: ballerinas, surfers, and women who do yoga. The article, and the Free People campaign for their ballerina line, are the perfect example of why knowing your audience is so important.

Here’s the Free People ad for their clothing line that targets ballerinas:

To the average person, there’s nothing wrong with this ad. To the ballerinas who watched it, everything about this ad was wrong. Why? Because the actress in the ad is not a trained ballerina. You wouldn’t know it, but to anyone who does ballet it’s glaringly obvious. So obvious, that several parodies surfaced in response to it.

Here are two gif’s side by side that show the difference between the Free People dancer (left) and a real ballerina (right).

 Image: YouTube/Free People

Image: YouTube/Free People

 Image: Vimeo/AKP Film & Media

Image: Vimeo/AKP Film & Media

As you can see, there is a huge difference. This ad enraged the very audience they were trying to engage, so much so that hundreds of comments were left under the ad on YouTube. Here are just a few:

First-Time-Point.png

Had Free People done their research on this segment of their audience, they would know how important the form, and the pointe shoes are to them. This is a great example of why you can’t just launch a campaign without having your foundational content in place.

What is Foundational Content?

Your foundational content is the content that aligns your organization, audience, and products into one clear brand voice. It is crucial to create this content before you do any marketing or write any copy. Just like you wouldn't build a house without first pouring the foundation, you shouldn't build a brand or content marketing plan without first having these elements in place. Here are the pieces of your foundational content:

Organizational Content

Content written to understand yourself.

Mission Statement: Describes what your business does and acts as the rally cry that makes you want to do what you do every day.

Vision Statement: A description of what the world looks like once your mission is achieved.

Core Values: Define your rules of engagement using 6-10 character traits your organization should abide by.

Personality Traits: What are 4-6 character traits that make your brand distinct?

Audience Content

Content written through research to deeply understand your audience and each segment you may have

Segmentation: Grouping your audience into broad categories.

Demographics: Character traits you can measure (age, income, etc.)

Psychographics: Character traits you can’t measure (lifestyle, beliefs, etc.)

Archetypes: Storytelling patterns that transcend time, geography and culture.

Personas: Descriptions of demographics, psychographics, and archetypes, written in paragraph form.

Ideal Customers: A real-life person who represents your persona.

Product/Service Content

Content written to properly define and describe your products and/or services

Features: Bulleted list of attributes that make your product or service distinct or useful.

Benefits: Why your features matter to your ideal customer.

Value Proposition: One sentence description of why your ideal customer should use your product or service.

Elevator Pitch: Script for starting a conversation about your product or service. Gets to the point quickly.

This is what a good foundation looks like. Free People failed to connect to their audience because they didn’t dig deep enough into that particular segment to learn and understand them. Instead, they treated them like the rest of their audience. This led to not only enraged ballerinas, but also to showing their audience that they didn’t understand them. How can a clothing company make clothing specifically for ballerinas when it’s so clear that they don’t understand them? While this may or may not be true, it’s the message Free People sent to this audience segment - who probably won’t be purchasing their clothing now because of it.