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Posts Tagged ‘Business

Documentation Is Part of a Smart Marketing Strategy

Do you see documentation as an important marketing asset? Are you putting your documentation to work as a sales tool? If not, you may be leaving money on the table. (Click image for source and credits.)

In these difficult economic times, companies need all the strategic marketing assets and sales tools they can muster. Did you know that documentation can help you achieve several important marketing goals? Are you getting the most out of your documentation?

One of the strongest arguments for investing the proper amount of time and money to produce effective documentation—the kind that shows you understand your market and your customers—is that you will create several powerful marketing tools in one package.

Want to become a member of the “smart marketing” winners circle? Here are some of the top reasons why great product documentation can set your products and company apart from the crowd …

One, repeat business. Successful documentation helps your company get repeat business in a very economical way. As you know, converting prospects to customers requires a lot of work and money. Once you’ve made the sale – what then? If your customers are satisfied with the product and how it meets their needs, they are likely to buy from you again. Documentation that helps customers use your products and get the most out of them promotes repeat business.

This is low-hanging fruit, so don’t overlook the marketing value of great documentation. As a bonus, if you publish your documentation online, you can build out those pages to encourage even more customer interaction with your company.

Two, analytics. How do you know your documentation meets your customers’ needs? Are you really communicating everything your customers need to know about the product?

Build out your online documentation package to encourage customer feedback, so you can find out what customers really think about your product documentation, and how they use it. Enable comments so users can tell you what they think is missing, what they like, and more. Automated analytics tools can tally and rank page and topic views, for example, and also list referrers, search terms used to find topics, which links were clicked, and so on.

Documentation analytics just might turn out to be your best friend in the marketplace, providing unvarnished, honest feedback and market intelligence. You can use that information to correct weaknesses, build on strengths, make better decisions about product development, gain a competitive advantage—and, ultimately, generate more business.

Three, interactive customer engagement. Who said documentation has to be just static pages lurking on a company website, waiting for customers to drop by? That’s all well and good, of course, but why stop there?

If you know your customers and how they use your product, you can slice and dice your documentation into many different configurations, and push it out onto many devices in various formats.

You can also make your documentation more interactive. Beyond pages of text, figures, drawings and photos, why not add podcasts, videos and automatically updating fields to the mix? Consider a video-game format for a training document, for example. Interactivity keeps customers connected and learning; that can pay off on the bottom line.

Hankering for more information on interactivity? Then you might also like to read Does Your Company Use Interactive Electronic Technical Manuals (IETM)?

Too many companies still view documentation from a limited perspective and, therefore, leave business on the table. You already know documentation is critical for making your products usable and useful. It’s time to take the next step and realize its potential as a powerful, strategic marketing asset.

Talkback: Does your company view documentation as a marketing asset? Do you use documentation to develop and retain your customer base? If you use documentation as a marketing tool, has it helped increase your customer base and revenues? What documentation formats work for you? Share your thoughts and experiences in comments—thanks!   Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Bookstore Nook

The bookstore, such a wonderful place for browsing, perusing and discovering books you want to read and add to your personal library. Brick-and-mortar bookstores may be in trouble, due to declining sales, but think about this: What will happen to online and ebook sales when customers can no longer linger among stacks of books, thumbing through pages, flitting from book to book, each more inviting and enticing than the last? Are online sales driven in (perhaps large) part by our ability to walk into a real bookstore and sample the wares? (Click image for credit and source)

How many wonderful books have you stumbled upon while browsing in your favorite bookstore?

Books you decided you couldn’t live without.

Books you would never have found if you hadn’t been able to roam and wander and poke about among the overflowing tables, bins, stacks, bookcases and displays.

Books that attracted your attention because of their cover, or a chapter title, or a blurb on the inside jacket flap.

Look around the aisles and alcoves and cozy nooks of your local bookstore. The books stand there, waiting for you, promising knowledge, entertainment, connection, enlightenment, pleasure and joy. A book is a journey.

As you look around, how many people do you see reading? Moving from one volume to another? Pausing to lean over and pluck from the stacks a book that has caught their eye?

And how many people do you see actually buying a book?

Cozy Bookstore Corner with Chair

A cozy corner in a bookstore invites reading. How many new books have you discovered in bookstores? Do you buy your books in the store, or online? Do you think it is fair to use bookstores only to shop, but then buy the books you want online? (Click image for credit and source)

The Borders bookstore chain declared bankruptcy recently and is now selling off its assets. In another few months it will shutter its stores for good.

Where once communities had easy access to books and a destination in which to meet and connect over new ideas and literary finds, there will be only empty shelves and dust.

Another outpost of civilization will have gone dark.

Kindle Ebook Reader

Do you buy print books and ebooks on the web? Do you shop for your books on the web as well, or do you go to a bookstore? (Click image for credit and source)

One reason Borders is closing its doors is that apparently more people were shoppers than buyers.

In the many reports I’ve read about Borders’ bankruptcy, one feature really jumped out at me: many of the staff and analysts interviewed said that for some time they had noticed a new pattern taking shape in the book-selling business: people shopped the bookstores, found what they wanted to buy, and then went online to make their purchases.

A number of shoppers who were interviewed admitted they were guilty of “mooching” – browsing at their bookstore, but then buying online.

Borders is one casualty of that trend.

Some trade analysts have speculated that online and ebook sales might actually decrease as a result of physical bookstores closing. Their thinking is that as more and more brick-and-mortar bookstores go out of business, people will have no place to browse and pick up a book to explore it.

Hmm, does this book appeal to me? Do I need to buy this and read it? Oh … maybe that one instead.

Many industry observers have opined that bookstores are the vehicle of book discovery, and that without thousands of actual books all around them and knowledgeable, professional staff ready to offer help and suggestions, most consumers will remain unaware of what is available in the literary marketplace.

What will that do to online and ebook sales of books?

Is there some way to develop a hybrid store that combines physical books, print-on-demand machines, and the on-site ability to buy ebooks (with the bookstore getting a commission on the sale price)?

Could those hybrid stores also offer multimedia viewing kiosks for titles that are only in ebook format?

As the publishing and book-selling business continues to transform, new models are emerging for getting books in many formats into the hands of readers.

We’re approaching a critical juncture, in my opinion, and this important topic deserves some serious thinking and entrepreneurial inventiveness.

What are your ideas for the bookstores of the future?

Now it’s your turn: What do you think of consumers who shop bookstores, but buy online? Do you think brick-and-mortar bookstores will eventually disappear? Do you support your local independent and chain bookstores by actually purchasing books there? How do you feel about the closing of Borders? Join the conversation by leaving a comment – thanks!      Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Offline Strategies for Marketing Your Book

Authors, what sort of successful offline strategies for book promotion have you used?

In one of my online discussion groups, someone recently asked what sort of successful offline strategies for book promotion published authors have used. I’ve adapted part of my response for this post and hope that if you are a published author you’ll share one or two of your successful offline strategies for marketing your book.

When you start to develop the offline marketing plan for your book, your first questions should be:

  • Who is my audience?
  • Where are they likely to look for the kind of book I have written?

How you answer those questions will help determine which offline strategies you might consider. The following suggestions have worked for me as well as for some of my ghostwriting clients who asked for tips on marketing. Of course there are other strategies you can pursue, but these will get you started on developing a marketing plan for your book.

If you are publishing your book through a traditional publisher, the two of you will discuss who does what. (Most authors publish with smaller houses, which assume the author will be responsible for much of the marketing.) Just expect to handle a fair amount of the marketing and promotion yourself, unless you are a celebrity with wide name recognition or your book is so compelling that the big publishing houses are engaged in a frenzied bidding war to land your manuscript. (Compelling? It’s a code word that means “appears poised to make huge sales.”)

If you are self-publishing, then you are the publisher, of course, and in that case will especially want to pick and choose among those strategies that are likely to give you the most return (that is, book sales) for the time and effort invested.

Get all the reviews you can. Work with your publisher to have the book sent around to the most appropriate journals, magazines, digests, newspapers and other publications for review. See if your publisher will actually handle sending the review copies: this is a big job, and if your publisher is willing and already has a database full of contacts, be grateful. (And possibly consider sending your publisher a lovely thank-you note and fabulous flowers or delectable chocolates). If you are really lucky, your publisher will also track and assemble the review clippings, and send copies of them to you. Reviews serve many purposes; one of the most important is to help generate orders from bookstores, book clubs and other outlets.

Get out there and give interviews! Follow up on the press releases and review copies that have already been sent out by contacting local and national magazines, journals, newspapers, and radio and TV stations to set up interviews. Naturally, you’ll want to target those that are appropriate for your book, so when you make your pitch, be sure you know how your book is relevant to the publication’s or show’s audience—in other words, be able to tell them why they should interview you as opposed to another of the many authors who are also trying to snag an interview. Bonus: Since many publications and stations also have a website, your interview just might also appear online in written form or, in some cases, as a podcast.

Some nonfiction books lend themselves beautifully to seminars. If you decide that seminars make sense as part of your promotion strategy, consider structuring the fee to include a copy of your book for each participant.

Would speaking engagements work for your book? Many authors spread the word by speaking to professional associations, special-interest groups, conferences and other organizations. Tip: Ask if they can give your book a plug in their handouts and publicity (don’t assume they’ll just do it; be sure to ask and offer to supply the copy or advertising insert). Also, make sure you always have plenty of books on hand to sell on site; alternatively, you might arrange for a local bookstore to handle sales of your book at the event.

Before and after your book is published, consider writing articles about your book’s subject for relevant magazines, newspapers and journals. If you can manage a column, you’ll derive even more exposure. You might also approach selected publications and pitch excerpts from your book. The point is to get your book and your name in front of your audience, grab their attention, and motivate them to buy a copy. Bonus: Like other authors, you’ll probably find that the experience and the clips will have many future uses.

What about readings and book signings at bookstores, libraries, book clubs and similar venues? Although many writers dreamily imagine reading to large crowds of enraptured fans and signing books for long lines of adoring readers, in reality those events often seem to work best (that is, they produce the most traffic and sales) for well-known/celebrity writers or for topics that attract hordes of readers, no matter who the author is. Test the market for this type of event by talking with your local booksellers and librarians.

Whatever set of strategies you select to incorporate into your marketing plan—good luck!

Now it’s your turn: Have you used any of these strategies to market your book? What worked best for you? What other offline promotion efforts produced book sales for you? Take part in the conversation by leaving comments – thanks! Elizabeth Lexleigh  LexPower  The Write Ideas

Somewhere along the way in nearly every person’s life, there comes a time when it is necessary to write a letter of complaint to someone. A time when you feel you have exhausted all other reasonable avenues, yet still cannot get the offending party — merchant? neighbor? government agency? family member? colleague? — to cooperate and work toward a satisfactory resolution.

Now, assuming you truly wish to find a workable solution to your dilemma, let me share with you the most important secret you need to know and absolutely must use in writing your letter: Avoid emotionalism.

Emotional words are loaded words. They can be loaded with accusations, expressions of anger or hatred, insinuation, libel, spite, self-righteousness, sarcasm, condescension, sneering, blaming, and name-calling. They can be loaded with assumptions and indignation. They can be loaded with fact-free imaginings and derogatory statements.

Think such an emotional approach will help you win your argument? Surmount the problem? Resolve the issue? Enlighten the other person and help them see the error of their ways? Make them realize you are not someone to trifle with? No. Rudeness will only decrease the other party’s sympathy for you and reduce your chances of success. The road to disaster is often paved with emotionalism.

So before you pen the REAL letter, sit down and write the I-Accuse-You-Horrible-Person-Rant-Cant-Whack-‘Em-Smack-‘Em-You’ll-Never-Forget-This-Letter missive. Take out your verbal flame-thrower and scorch the earth. Discharge all your roiling emotions, so that your mind will be free to deal with the facts of the case in a cool, calm and equable manner.

Now, place another sheet of paper before you, and write the real letter, the one in which you methodically and logically state your case in a polite and businesslike way:

  • Explain the problem clearly.
  • Get to the point.
  • Be as brief as possible (save the over-wrought narrative, and do not go into excessive detail).
  • Use objective, neutral words to present the facts as you see them.
  • Stick to the issues.
  • Be honest in your descriptions.
  • Be clear in your objective. What action do you want your reader to take?

Keep the letter overnight, and review it the next day. Delete any shred of emotionalism. Remember, you want to win, and loaded words will not help you achieve your goal.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas   lexpower

If you want to write good business or technical documents, where do you start?

Creating good documents demands that you begin by understanding the subject matter on two levels — the general and the specific.

The “general level” means that one of the initial, critical steps in the writing process is to develop a conceptual design of the subject you are going to deal with in the document. Think of “design,” as regards the writing process, as the logical organization, or structure, or framework. The purpose of the design is to guide the work that will be done at the “specific level,” which is the gathering of detailed audience-oriented information.

Only after you understand the subject matter at both levels do you get down to the actual writing.

Without a competent grasp of the subject, you cannot successfully think your way through the rest of the writing process and produce material that meets the requirements of the project.

As you begin your work, different designs will come to mind. Your subject-matter knowledge at this initial stage will help give your ideas shape. It will help you choose an approach that will guide all subsequent work on the document.

To succeed, first know your subject!

Do you want to take control of what you know and use it effectively? Do you want to get your message across — convincingly? Do you want your products to be successful?

No matter how experienced you are at your job, how much you know about your business and your customers, remember that knowledge doesn’t do anybody any good unless it’s accurately transmitted.

Essentially, then, this means that business, industry and science are in the education and information business.

The demand to understand a product, a process, a subject or a service is part of our life. It is the need to know, the need to close the gap between our current knowledge and the knowledge we must acquire to accomplish our personal and professional goals.

This is particularly true now, when new knowledge is being generated at an ever-increasing rate. Somehow it has to be accurately transmitted, and in a form that is appropriate for the audience, if business, industry and science intend to remain innovative and on the cutting edge.

Everyone needs to keep pace. What is the use of having advanced technology if we are not using it well? And if we cannot use it effectively, what will be the effect on our economy? If we do not really know enough about all the new products, ideas, processes and discoveries to understand them, then how do we use and control them?

The role of good writing is to bridge that knowledge gap.

Within that context, user documentation holds a special place, because it is one of the most direct links a company has with its customers. For example, the written material that comes in the box with a product is the face of the company to the customer who opens the box. And, as we all know, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Good user documentation keeps “user overhead” to a minimum. Consider: How often does your customer have to search for information, flipping pages, wondering what exactly to do next? Does your customer have to guess what certain terms mean? Have to re-sequence steps that are out of order? How easy is it for your customer to accomplish the task for which the product was purchased?

When you consider just how much written material affects our life, our businesses and our economy, the personal, professional and economic impact becomes apparent. Think, for example, of the opportunity cost to a customer or a company of an inaccurate and poorly written software guide:

  • Endless searches for procedural information
  • Calls to the vendor or manufacturer
  • Return trips to the retailer for help
  • Additional out-of-pocket costs for workshops or seminars
  • No sense of accomplishment; frustration
  • The job for which the product was purchased does not get done.

This lack of knowledge creates high “user overhead,” and too much of that means the “system is down.”

If  you intend to produce a successful product, and if customer support and service are important to you, then you must recognize that good writing is an integral requirement for a successful business.

Think of the need for good writing in business,  industry and science in this way: Good Product + Bad Documentation = Bad Business

The other day I received a note from someone who was of the opinion that “good writing” was not all that important in most areas of business — that people generally know what you mean, even when a document is a little rough around the edges. I beg to differ.

Although a product may seem simple to use and intuitive to its creator, customers often do not feel that way about it. Most products, especially those based in complex technology, desperately need user guides and written instructions to make them truly usable. If those documents are thoughtful and well written, they add value by improving customer satisfaction with the product.

Increased customer satisfaction can translate to favorable word-of-mouth advertising and repeat business. Everybody wins!


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