BOSTON – On February 22, a panel of marketing and content professionals spoke to marketers and copywriters about strategies, common experiences, and crushing the challenges that can make creative professionals feel as isolated as they feel overwhelmed.

At Boston Content’s Write Now event, marketers and copywriters – and the myriad titles existing betwixt the two – met to gain insight into what it’s like to write right now from folks in similar roles across industries. 

Ann Handley (the world’s first Chief Content Officer, and author of the book Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content) moderated the panel held in Wayfair’s lofty downtown office. Locally made whiskey and sardonic laughter about the death of journalism and use of the Oxford comma flowed freely, and four panelists imparted wisdom learned over circuitous career paths.

What is a content professional?

It turns out most “content professionals” never intended to fill their current “content” roles, but as journalism evolved – some would argue it died – so did the roles available to writers. Writers make up much of the workforce we call content strategists, UX copywriters, directors of content, content marketers and managers, content marketing managers, content writers, UX writers, content specialists, and digital content strategists, to name a few.

Determining the purview of a nascent position can be taxing, and that is why events like the one Boston Content organized are invaluable for marketing, content, and copywriting professionals. Comparing strategy notes and even job function notes is something a one-person content marketing department can’t do at work, but certainly can do in a room of over two hundred peers.

Identifying user needs and wants

Aligning the tone of your content and copy with the needs and wants of your users requires first knowing what your users want. Copywriters and content writers aren’t generally the first company contact a user makes, and that means finding out what your users really want requires some customer experience data-driven gymnastics.

But, before diving into the results of your latest A/B tests, the panelists suggested hearing your users first. To do that, dial in and sit in on support calls, on client success meetings, and whatever other client-facing meetings you can attend. By hearing what users’ wants and needs are – in their own words – you can better refine the tone and message of your copy.

If your site has live chats or chatbots, check out the conversation logs. Peeking at chatbot and live chat logs can reveal a lot about your users’ preferred nomenclature, vocabulary, wants, and pains. Advocating for your users is easier – and better – if you know what they need, in their language.

Content vs. copy

Most of the panel considered content and copy to be more or less the same, with exceptions. The definitions of “content” and “copy” are dependent on company terminology, business applications and other tech, organizational structure, size of teams, and other factors. For example, if you’re the sole content creator at your company, you probably don’t differentiate between the two, but if you’re part of a team that emails marketing copy and publishes content to a blog, you may refer to different labels.

One panelist, however, disagreed. The goal of content, she said, is to tell a story, whereas copy is intended to score conversions. Regardless of intent, label, or channel, this panelist reminded us of a tenet of content and copywriting: Consistency is of paramount importance.

Whether the user (or reader, or audience) is clicking through a slideshow, participating in some eCommerce, researching, or training in your inbound marketing software platform, they signed up for a “story.” Your user expects the same “story” throughout the whole customer experience – from first click, to trial, to follow-up email, to demo, to product launch, to support, and beyond.

Every stage of interaction must tell a consistent story, because every user expects that. Much like you would never promise someone a showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and instead surprise them with “The Exorcist,” you don’t want to provide your user with an unexpected, disruptive, mid-story shift in tone.

Keeping your writing team consistent

Unless you’re a one-person department, it’s important to ensure every writer producing content and/or copy for your organization is leading your users through a consistent story.

To vet for voice and tone, workshop together. Gather periodically and engage in word-nerd discussion about the tone, voice, and messaging you want users to experience. Write, edit, and read aloud together. If you can’t say something comfortably to your coworker, don’t say it to your user; If it doesn’t sound natural in person, it will not resonate with a user.

Skills development

The Boston Write Now panelists suggested skills that content professionals should develop, and – surprise – writing was not one of them.

Writers refine their writing skills every day of work, so instead of working on those skills in free time, the panelists suggested reading marketing books and content strategy blogs. Staying informed of strategies and trends in your industry can influence your work and provide you with a deeper, more holistic understanding of your role in your organization.

Another foundational skill to develop is information organization – beyond a content management system. Adept cross-functional organization of information can help you not only juggle the many forms of content your company produces, but can position you to establish an otherworldly rapport with other departments.

Since we’re talking about skills and success in a content-driven business world, here’s some Aberdeen research on successful B2B and B2C email marketing.

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