Writing An Article Is Like Creating A Product

writing-an-article-is-like-creating-a-product

Today, I had a random thought about writing, and I’d love to explore it with you all.

The thought: writing an article — or even a book — is like creating a product.

To write something that people would want to read many times, we can think of the process as creating a product.

Let me elaborate.

Start with a problem

The top reason why startups fail is because there isn’t a market need for their product.

These entrepreneurs usually start with an idea. The idea feels so promising that they want to execute it and create the product. They think it’s a good idea but they usually don’t know if anyone needs the product. After they have created the product, they have to search for people who would use the product.

After reading up more about startups, I learned that the better way is to start with a problem. Find a problem a group of users has and then build a solution for that problem. If the product solves their problem, I’d have already found my users. (Of course, it’s harder than I seem to imply it is.)

This is the same for writing. When I’m eager to share an idea, I write a piece without thinking if anyone would need or want to read it. I admit this is the case for this article. The concept hit me this afternoon, and I felt compelled to share it.

That is alright if I only want to share an idea with others. But if I want to write something people would read, I have to start with their problems.

The better option is to know who I want to write for and write according to their needs. At Buffer, we created four personas based on our researchers’ interviews. This gives us a better idea of who we writing for and what problems they have.

buffer-personas

Introduction as onboarding

A good onboarding process guides users to find the core value of the product as soon as possible. Once users experience what the product can do for them, they are more likely to keep using the product. For instance, for Facebook, it was getting new users to 7 friends within 10 days.

If the onboarding process is too confusing, users might stop using the product then. It doesn’t matter if the product provides people a real value. If the onboarding process doesn’t convince them about that, they might not keep using the product.

The introduction of an article feels like an onboarding process to me. It tells the readers what they can expect from the article. If the introduction convinces the readers that the article would be valuable to them, they will read on.

Even if the article has valuable information, people might not read it if the introduction doesn’t hook them.

Design for usability/readability

Good design isn’t only aesthetically pleasing. Good design allows users to achieve what they want intuitively and easily.

An article can be well-designed too. There are two parts to the design of an article — the formatting and the visuals.

1. Formatting

Research has found that people tend to only scan through articles.

On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.

But, if the formatting can convey the key points of the article well, readers might be more likely to pick up the key points. Here’s an example of the difference formatting can make (image by Ash Read):

formatted-text-vs-unformatted-text

A technique we use at Buffer is to highlight the key point of a section using a H3 subheading immediately after the H2 heading.

formatting-with-subheadings

People who scan through the article will notice the subheading — or key point — easily and immediately get an idea what the section is about. If it interests them enough, they would read the section.

This post by Ash Read goes into more details about formatting, but here are the 3 key points:

  • Use eye-catching subheadings
  • Make it scannable
  • Write short paragraphs

2. Visuals

Another part of design is the visuals. I’m guilty of using images and graphics just to break up a huge chunk of text. A huge chunk of text can be hard to read as seen in the image above by Ash Read.

Using images is a common practice to give readers breaks while reading the article. But it’s best when the visual is actually explaining something. This post by Jason Fried does it really well.

jason-frieds-post

The article is about how Andrew Mason described Meetup.com. The image explained the idea really well. I could even understand Jason’s point just by reading the title and seeing the image.

To me, that’s a great use of visuals. A picture says a thousand words. While it might not always replace a thousand words, a visual should help explain an idea I want to communicate so that I can use fewer words to describe it.

Solve the problem

At the end of the day, a great product solves the problem of the users.

That is the foundation for the product. An onboarding process can’t be effective if the product doesn’t provide a value in the first place. Great design wouldn’t save a product that isn’t valuable to the target users, too.

Like a great product that users would use repeatedly, an article has to be valuable enough for readers to want to come back and read it again. It has to solve a problem the readers have. There are articles which I read over and over again.

The content of the article forms the foundation of the article. The introduction and design build upon the content. If the content isn’t valuable to the readers, it doesn’t matter if it has a great introduction or if it’s well designed. People might read the article once but never again.

What do you think?

Great products solve a problem that users have, have an onboarding process that lets users experience the core benefits, and are easy and intuitive to use. People use such products over and over again.

Great articles solve a problem that the readers have, have an introduction that attracts readers to keep reading, and are easy to read and understand. People read such articles over and over again.

To me, writing an article is like creating a product.

What do you think of this idea?

How I’m Learning to Become a Better Content Marketer

how-im-learning-to-become-a-better-content-marketer

I recently became a content writer at Buffer. Buffer is a tech startup relatively well-known for content marketing, among many other things.

(Disclaimer: We gained that reputation before I became a content writer.)

I used to focus on community building. Recently, I had the opportunity to venture into the world of content marketing. A big part of content marketing is writing, and I don’t consider myself a great writer.

So I’m thankful for the opportunity, especially being able to learn from and work alongside some of the best content marketers in the industry.

At the same time, I also know there’s a lot of work ahead of me.

What I Have Been Doing

For the last three weeks, I have been working much harder to improve my writing.

I wrote at least 750 words a day.

I worked on the basics of writing such as spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.

I took notes in my Evernote whenever I learned something new.

But I know that if I want to become a better content marketer faster, I need to do more.

Figuring Out A Plan

When I was thinking of what I could do, I thought of my university days.

My grades were pretty good but it wasn’t because I’m smart (I don’t think I’m smart). It was because there was a great system for learning. And I like to think I’m rather diligent in following the system.

Because I trusted the system, I did everything the system had planned for me. I attended (almost) every lecture. I did (almost) every tutorial before the seminar classes. That served me well.

When I stepped into the “real” world, I realized things are different. No more syllabus, no more lectures, no more homework. I became a little lost.

I thought about it, and I think I might have found an explanation.

Back in university, instead of having to figure out how to learn, I was focusing on learning. With the system, I knew exactly what to do to become better.

Now, without a system for learning, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I have been learning in a disorganized manner.

My gut feeling was that having a system would be beneficial to me if I want to learn faster.

info-vs-knowledge

(Graphic by Hugh MacLeod)

Defining What I Need to Do

Before I dive right into creating a system, I thought it’d be great to define what I need to do.

To become a better content marketer and writer, I know I need to do more than writing regularly.

My hunch is I have to go through the full process of creating a content. Many times. While I have been writing daily, I haven’t been publishing my writing. I haven’t been editing and refining my writing, too.

I’m sure I’m missing out valuable lessons there.

Having considered that, there are two major things I need to:

  • Publish more online
  • Learn more about content marketing

Creating A System for Myself

After I’ve defined what I need to do, I could start creating a system to speed up my learning.

Like the system in my university, I want to have a system which gives me a clear idea of what I need to do to become better.

Thankfully, Kevan Lee, a great content marketer (and my team lead), generously shared how he got into content marketing. I decided to follow his approach.

Here’s the system I’ve come up with:

  1. Publish twice a week: This can be on the Buffer Social blog, our Medium publication, here, or other blogs as guest posts. By publishing articles, I’ll go through the full process of content creation — from ideation to research to writing to editing to promotion.
  2. Create a playground: This blog will be my playground. Apart from publishing articles, I can experiment with new things. I thought of experimenting with email newsletters, re-publishing onto Medium, and more. Also, since few people know about this blog, it takes some pressure off me.
  3. Read more articles and books: One thing I noticed is I can’t tell what a quality article is and what makes it great. I believe reading more will help me improve my judgment. More specifically, I want to read two articles a day and finish one book every two weeks.

my-content-marketing-learning-system

Bonus: To add structure to my learning process, I’m taking HubSpot’s content marketing course as well. It includes about four hours of videos and an exam at the end.

While passing the exam doesn’t necessarily make me a great content marketer, knowing that there’s an exam usually has a psychological effect on my mind to work (even) harder.

I believe this system should adapt as I progress further so I expect it to change in the future.

Keeping to the system

A challenge for this would be to stick to the system.

It’s much easier to say that I want to do all that than actually doing them.

So I thought of a few ways to help me:

  • Writing this post and publishing it is in itself a way. I hope by doing so, I’d feel more accountable to keep with the system.
  • At work, I found that when I tracked the progress of a project, the project would tend to be at the top of my mind. So, I created a spreadsheet to track my progress. (It’s public if you want to check it out!) I kept it simple as I want it to be easy to update.
  • For the last three weeks, I have been tweeting about my daily writing streak. Receiving encouragements from others has motivated me to continue. So, I’m going to tweet about my progress for this too. Perhaps wanting to be able to share my progress with this system could keep me going too.

Over to you

Do you use a system to speed up your learning? How do you keep yourself accountable?

I’d love to hear and learn from you!

How Can A Student Get A Marketing Job?

Warwick Marketing Conference

Today, I attended the Warwick Marketing Conference, organised by the Warwick Marketing Society of my school. It was a full day event filled with amazing speakers. Just to mention a few speakers, Ryan Den Rooijen from Google talked about how content creation is changing; Howard Nead from IPG Mediabrands spoke about how marketing principles have not changed but technology has changed how things are done and Abigail Brown from Cancer Research UK talked about marketing to beat cancer and shared many interesting examples. I’ve learnt so many things today that it is impossible to type them all out in a blog post. Hence, I would like to share one of my most important takeaways from today – Taking actions.

Taking actions

The answer to the question above is simply (well, not so simply) taking actions. I strongly believe that taking actions to develop one’s passion in marketing will help a student get a marketing job that he/she is interested in. When I say taking actions, I do not mean simply reading up about marketing and applying for internships; but real actions where you hone your skills and exercise your creativity, such as practising content creation through blogging, promoting your society and events in school and volunteering to help small charity organisations with their marketing. This is similar to how designers always create their personal portfolio of designs, because they can show prospective employers or people who are interested in their design services what they have done.

This is not just my opinion but it was also mentioned in today’s conference by Jackie Jobes, who is in charge of graduate recruitment from IPG Mediabrands and Sarah Ellis, Head of Corporate Responsibility and Society at Sainsbury’s.

Someone asked about the importance of internships when applying for a marketing job and the Jackie from IPG Mediabrands answered that internships are not the only thing they look for. They are also keen to know about what have you done in your personal time to develop your passion in marketing. She even said that, “We expect that you have a blog.” With the rise of content marketing and the fact that almost every company has a blog nowadays, I can understand why they have such expectation. Hence, she suggested applicants to link their CVs to their own personal portfolio or website.

UPDATED 09/03/2014: Jackie added that it’s not just about having a blog but also ensuring the quality of the blog.

Then, a student asked Sarah Ellis from Sainsbury’s if experiences in a (likely unknown) startup is considered to be valuable, compared to experiences in a well-known corporation when applying for a marketing job. This was her reply:

This reiterates not just how valuable startup experiences are, but also the importance of actually doing something in the field of marketing for someone who is looking for a marketing job.

If you are interested in starting with internet/online marketing, do check out this really informative guide created by Eric Siu of GrowthEverywhere: The Beginner’s Guide To Becoming A Full Stack Marketer. He included several great resources where you can start learning about the various aspect of online marketing such as SEO, PPC, Copywriting and more. Read and take actions!

To end off, here’s a quote from Sarah Ellis:

So in summary,

[Tweet “If you want to get a job in the marketing field, start practising the art now.”]

P.S. If anyone wants my notes from today, let me know and I’m happy to share it.
P.P.S. In my next article, I will write about what I’ve learnt from taking actions. So if you are interested, hang out or subscribe to my articles (:

Should My Startup Do Marketing? WhatsApp Didn’t

As I have found out and written last week, WhatsApp, a company worth $16 billion, has not spend a single cent on marketing. I’m sure, from now on, many people will think of WhatsApp when deciding if they need marketing. So should you do marketing for your startup?

TD;LR: Yes

If you are interested to read on, let me examine the issue for you.

Startup Marketing

Every startup should have some forms of marketing and here’s why:

(Startup) Marketing ≠ Marketing Campaigns

I think the term “Marketing” is often misunderstood as simply marketing campaigns like having advertisements, managing social media accounts, sending promotional emails or giving out flyers. However, it is not! April Dunford of Rocket Watcher Startup Marketing gave a very comprehensive list of things that make up startup marketing. Read the list here. The list is quite applicable to marketing in general too, not just for startups.

There are many aspects of marketing that are overlooked by people or people do them without thinking that those are part of marketing. The most basic one is creating the foundations of a brand, which includes having a name, a logo and maybe a tagline. This is part of marketing too because without them, people will not know who you are and what you do.

Although WhatsApp did not spend any money on marketing, buying advertisements or sending promotional emails, they still have some forms of marketing. They have a blog which they post rather regularly (content marketing). They have a Twitter Account, @WhatsApp, for real time engagement with their users (social media). And most basic of all, they have a brand that we all know – an app that allows us to send messages, photos and videos through data for free, hence making SMS obsolete and that green speech bubble logo.

WhatsAppLogo

So before you say “WhatsApp did not do any marketing and they were acquired for $16 billion. Marketing is over-rated. We don’t need marketing”, think again! No marketing spending ≠ no marketing at all. In fact, I found out that apparently WhatsApp hired a marketing firm, CoveredCo.

The scope for startup marketing is very broad and consists of many aspects. Even if you decided that buying advertisements or sending promotional emails is not what you want your company to do, there are other aspects of marketing which you cannot ignore.

Without marketing, very little people will hear about your product

… unless virality is in-built in your product. Websites like Upworthy is built upon viral content which people share on Facebook and Twitter. I’m pretty sure you have seen Upworthy articles or videos on your Facebook timeline. If you are my friend on Facebook, you may have seen the one I shared yesterday – How A Small Change Dropped A Bridge’s Suicide Rate By 77%.

UpworthyVideo

And if you have clicked on the link, you have been introduced to Upworthy. With in-built virality, it is easier for them to spread their name. Just like Facebook, WhatsApp’s network effect contributes to its virality. As it doesn’t make sense to use Facebook or WhatsApp alone, you will “promote” it to your friends, hence helping them with viral marketing. Remember how you persuaded your friend to use Facebook a few years ago?

However, not every product has such characteristics. Even if they do, they might not be so strong. Hence, without marketing, the awareness of your product will be very low. If few people know about your product, how do you expect to have more customers? Marketing can help to resolve this. Through marketing, you can spread the awareness of your product. And assuming that you have a good conversion rate, high awareness of your product will translate to high sales.

Probably the only counter argument I can accept is that your product is sooooooo good that without marketing, word of mouth promotion is sufficient to spread the awareness of your brand.

However

I advise against spending too much time on marketing before your product is ready or before you validate your product/market. This is because the conversion rate will be too low to make the marketing efforts worthwhile. In other words, although people know about your product, they will not buy or use it. So save the effort, work on and validate your product.

In conclusion

Every startup should have some forms of marketing because

  • While advertisements and promotional messages are not a must (case in point: WhatsApp), there are other aspects of marketing which are necessary (eg. branding).
  • Without marketing, very little people will hear about your product and this will affect your sales even if you have very good conversion rates.

What do you think?

Acquired For $16B, How Much Did WhatsApp Spend On Marketing?

WhatsApp

If you still do not know, here’s the top news of the week: WhatsApp has been acquired by Facebook for $16 billion. Yep, WhatsApp, Facebook, $16 billion. With all the buzz around this news and countless articles written about it, I decided to join in the fun. However, I will not try to explain why Facebook acquired WhatsApp (this is a good article by its sole investor, Sequoia Capital by the way) or contextualise the $16 billion acquisition by comparing it with 7.5 Mark Cubans. Instead, I will take a look at their marketing and business development.

Marketing

0

Yes, that is a zero. That is how much WhatsApp has spend on marketing so far. Judging at how much the CEO, Jan Koum hates ads, I will be surprised to see any ads about WhatsApp. Word of mouth is probably the only marketing they had, and it is not even done by them, but by happy customers.

0. There may be no greater testament to the viral nature of WhatsApp than the fact that the company has accomplished all this without investing a penny in marketing. Unlike their smaller competitors, it hasn’t spent anything on user acquisition. The company doesn’t even employ a marketer or PR person. Yet like the world’s greatest brands, it’s created a strong emotional connection with consumers. All of WhatsApp’s growth has come from happy customers encouraging their friends to try the service. — Jim Goetz, on behalf of Sequoia

As much as I advocate the importance of marketing for a success of a business, WhatsApp has proven me wrong. It has achieved 450 million users with 72% daily active users, without spending a single cent on marketing. This is an important lesson. While marketing is an important factor in the success of a business, the product itself is the basis for success. People are essentially attracted to the value provided by the product. You might then ask, “Is marketing still necessary?” I would still say yes for majority of the businesses. However, creating value for your customers through your product should be prioritised above having a great marketing campaign.

Business Development

For business development, we usually talk about how businesses can grow or acquire new revenue streams. If we look at similar messaging apps like Line, Viber, WeChat, KakaoTalk which are free, we will realise that most of them make money through in-app purchases, especially stickers. WeChat even has e-commerce, banking and wealth management services. On the other hand, WhatsApp do not have such fanciful features as it does not want to interfere with the core user experience.

WhatsApp knows about stickers and Asian chat apps. It doesn’t care about them, and it doesn’t have to. This article gives a good analysis of WhatsApp with respect to other messaging apps, including Facebook Messenger. A key point I want to highlight from the article is this:

If WhatsApp invests time, money, and manpower in developing faddish stickers and games, what happens if its users suddenly get tired of these features, just like how Facebook users got tired of Mafia Wars? The pressure to maintain revenue streams grows much higher.

While businesses constantly seek to find new ways to make more money, it is important to think about whether these new avenues will affect the core business and whether they are sustainable. Instead of developing more ways to make money from its customers, WhatsApp focuses on improving their app and providing a valuable core product. Here’s another lesson. The way you grow your business should be in line with your vision. Do not pick up a new revenue stream if it brings you money but destroys your product. For instance, if you feel that your product is best experienced without ads, then do not have ads! Save the time, effort and resources to make your product better or find ways that grow your business in line with your vision.

In summary, WhatsApp has taught us 2 important lessons:

  1. Creating a valuable product is more important than having a great marketing campaign.
  2. Grow your business in line with your vision, not simply where the easy money is.

Do you agree with these 2 points? Leave your views below (:

Marketing and Business Development Take: Zoom

Recently, my friend shared with me about an interesting product in Singapore. So I decided to share my take about its marketing and possible business development.

The product: ZoomAir, the lightest electric kickscooter by Zoom.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufT-iI6Lifo]

Before I share my thoughts, here is a little bit about the product and the company. Zoom wants to help people to commute more easily in urban areas, where the distance is not worth driving or taking a public transport or you simply cannot drive or take a public transport to your destination. Examples include walking from the train station to your office and walking from your office to another place for lunch. I can relate to this very well since I’ve walked from Raffles Place MRT Station to SGX every working day for 8 months last year.

Essentially, it is like a super portable segway. Here are 3 things I like about ZoomAir:

  1. It is electrically powered. This means there is no need to worry about sweating or looking retard pushing a scooter in a business suit.
  2. It is compact. It can be easily folded in less than 5 seconds. This means it is pretty portable to bring around. (However, to be fair, being 9.8kg isn’t very light for it to be carried it around.)
  3. Its battery can last up to 20km with a short 3-hour charge. Thinking from the perspective of replacing walking with ZoomAir, with a charge, I can save myself from walking 20km. That’s a good deal!

Marketing

When my friend shared this with me, he only gave me the link to the video. That alone was so powerful. The video was professionally done, clear at bringing up the features of ZoomAir and allows viewers to see how is it like to use it. I feel that videos are very powerful tools for marketing. Humans are visual creatures so we are able to absorb information very well through what we see. (Case in point: rise of infographics in recent years) Instead of trying to visualise an image or a scenario from what we have read, videos show it to us. Essentially, we do not even have to think. Just watch.

Also, because the video is well-created, it tells us a lot more things within a short time frame. Imagine Zoom trying to explain how easy it is to fold/unfold the kickscooter with words and images VS demonstrating it through the video. It took Zoom less than 10 seconds to show it through its video. I cannot imagine how much words and images is required to achieve the same effect (not considering the time it will take for us to understand). Hence, well-created videos are very good at helping others understand our product. (Case in point: Dropbox’s demo video). However, I have to emphasise the adjective – “well-created”. Poorly made videos will not have the same effect.

It does not seem like they have any other forms of marketing for now, apart from a website and Facebook page. However, I would say that the video itself is a very good marketing effort, especially as it is professionally made and clear.

From my inference, their target customer seems to be office workers who do not drive to work. The video was taken in the Central Business District (CBD) and the model they have on their website is wearing office attire. Hence, I feel that their marketing efforts should be geared towards this crowd. Some ideas I’ve thought of are:

  • Instead of having test-drive at Bedok, have it in the CBD, especially during lunch hours. This will help to raise awareness of ZoomAir among office workers. Also, the idea itself, a cool commuting “toy”, is pretty interesting. So I would expect people to share about it with their colleagues after they have seen it. This will help to spread the idea quickly.
  • Give out flyers in MRT stations and bus stops in the CBD during lunch time and after office peak hours. Flyers are quite old school but I think it is still effective in raising awareness of the product. Distribution has to be matched with the correct target and time. Be being in the CBD at those times, they can be sure that they are mostly distributing to their target customers. Also, lunch time and after office hours are periods when office workers can finally take a break for the day so their minds will be more open to new ideas. If you give me a flyer while I’m rushing to work, I will most likely refuse or dump it in the next nearest bin.

Business Development

In terms of business development, I thought of some ways they can further their business or build another revenue stream. Here are my suggestions:

  • Collaborate with a company in the CBD for a kickscooter hire service (Think London Barclays bikes). The company will buy/rent the kickscooter for its employees to use for free or for a fee. Another possibility is collaborating with schools. However, for these, security and theft will be huge headaches.
  • Partner with conference centres. If you ever work for any events in a conference centre, you will know how huge the entire complex (all the exhibition halls, not just one) is. I think ZoomAir will be very useful for conference centre staffs in terms of travelling around the entire complex, allowing quick responses if needed.
  • Substitute bike couriers’ bike with ZoomAir (kickscooter couriers). As ZoomAir is more portable than most bikes, it will bring a lot more flexibility to the couriers, without compromising the speed. Bike couriers will not have to worry about where to park their bikes too.
  • Work with neighbourhood committees or the police to have it as a transport tool for neighbourhood patrol by resident volunteers or the police.

These are just my thoughts. I believe that they have most likely thought of their own marketing and business development plans. Otherwise, they can take some of my suggestions 🙂

Orders will be shipped in April this year. Preorder now and you can save $150 from the usual price of $1,099! (Note: I am not related to them. I just want to help them with a shoutout because I like the idea and I support startups in Singapore.)

Let me know if you will use such a kickscooter below!

Making Use of the Need for Sense of Belonging

I can finally order my triathlon club’s casual kits. Before I could order them, I knew that I will definitely get at least one of them. This is because I knew that the kit will have my school’s logo, my club’s logo and my name.

The need for a sense of belonging to something is a strong driving factor.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the need for belonging is one of the 5 human needs. After we satisfy our physiological and safety needs, we seek for a sense of belonging and acceptance to our social groups – schoolmates, friends, teammates, colleagues, etc.

This is a very powerful motivation which should be used in marketing and businesses. After watching the football match between Manchester City and Chelsea yesterday, I feel more certain about it (more on this and the desire to show our identities in another post).

The ICM Research study shows that people like being members of clubs, loyalty schemes and institution because it gives them a sense of belonging, the opportunity to support their community and have their say. – Mindi Chahal, Marketing Week

Consumers prefer to feel that they belong to a brand or business than be to simply treated as customers. Hence, businesses should make use of human’s innate need for a sense of belonging when building their brands and carrying out marketing efforts to build long lasting relationships.

A good example is Apple and its brand. Apple built such a strong brand image that people feel that they belong to the Apple community by using Apple products. “I’m a mac user… I belong to the iPhone community.” Personally, I use the Macbook Pro. When I first got it, the thought I had immediately was “I’m joining the Macbook community in school now”. Furthermore, people don’t stop at having only 1 Apple product. Usually, you will see an iPhone user with an iPad or a Macbook or both. While compatibility between devices places a part, the sense of belonging and identity contributes too.

There are many examples of business making their customers feel belonged. Giffgaff let their members (customers) have a say in things. Sports clubs, especially football clubs, provide customers with a sense of identity unique to the club by selling jerseys and merchandise. Take a look at what successful businesses and brands have done and see if it can be applied to your business.

Is there a brand that you feel a strong sense of belonging to?