Money may well make the world go round, but facts, details and data oil the machine that beats at the heart of it. We supposedly live in the age of information, yet many of us seem unable to use it to its full, and allow ourselves to drift along on a sea of missed opportunities.
If we can take it for granted that you have a good product, it should be a safe assumption that the single most powerful marketing tool at your disposal is information - the simple truth. You're not selling a duff product, trying to convince punters that underneath the rusty exterior lies a power beast... nor are you trying to sell ice to the Eskimos. You're trying to sell your software to people who either need it, or could use it - to the point where they're actually prepared to buy it. So how do we get them? With information tools.
An information tool is any kind of device that you can use to show yourself and/or your product. Like any other tool, its primary purpose is to make life easier and more efficient. In our line of work, the most commonly used is a signature file. Your signature file should be around four to six lines of simple text, to be used at the end of every single email, letter, report or newsgroup posting. No exceptions; in your business correspondence, to your friends, family, everything and everyone.
The text should contain all your critical contact data - at the very least your full name, your company or product, URL of your website, email address, and some sort of slogan or catchphrase. If you have a work phone number, then make sure you include it. Ensure that you also include the email address in the signature - having it hidden away in the Reply-To part of the email client does little good if someone prints out your letter, or even cuts and pastes the content into a new document or file. Have it there for all to see. Have you ever clicked on a link in a signature, just out of interest? You're not alone.
The next tool is the stock text. Chances are that you find yourself writing the same text time and time again - the same phrases, features and pricing information. Write them out in full, so that you have them there for use as needed. As well as saving you time in the future, having them available will also ensure that you're sending out a well-written version of the information, that includes all relevant details, without forgetting a thing. Never rely on your memory alone. When you try and describe your software at the end of a long, problem filled day, you won't do it justice.
The actual content of the descriptions is critical here. Make sure you write the text in the first person - either I or we. There's nothing wrong with referring to yourself as either of the two - but make sure you're consistent. Make sure you also use positive phrasing, and keep it simple. Be as concise and precise as possible; an exact number looks far better than vague-isms such as loads, lots, many or heaps. If your writing skills aren't so good, get someone to help. Chances are you're going to use these texts many times, so it's worth getting the content just right.
A newsletter is another useful information tool, and can be a great way of keeping in touch with your customers or anyone else who may interested in your product. They are fairly easy to setup and administer, but pay attention to a few dos and don'ts. Make sure that you include details of your own product - but don't let it be the main content of the newsletter. If all you're sending is a long-winded advert, people will unsubscribe quicker than you can whisper "lost sale".
Again, content is king. If you can provide some sort of tips or information that people either need or will find useful, they'll want to receive your newsletter, but be careful not to drive them away. If you send out a mailing every week, some are bound to get fed up and unsubscribe. While you're at it, make sure it's easy for someone to subscribe and unsubscribe; it's very bad form to make it difficult to do so. Some sort of stock text explaining how to do this is a very good idea.
Another golden rule is to stick to pure, clean ASCII text. You may like HTML in your mailings, but if the recipient's email client doesn't - they're gone. In brief, useful is good; short and sweet is even better. And before you announce your new mailing list, make sure that you have the time for it. You can end up looking awfully silly when you close before issue one even comes out.
Press releases are probably the most well-known information tool of all. I'm not going to go into the what's and how's here - take a look through past ASPects issues, and check out Al Harberg's tutorial at www.dpdirectory.com. Once you have your press release, use it. Make it easily available on-site, and keep it updated when you have new versions or changes. Long after your press release has been sent, you can still be putting it to good use.
Take Advantage Of Your FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions are another golden information opportunity; chances are that you've already read over a fair number of these yourself, and it may even be one of the first things you look for on a site. I know I do. Practically speaking, you can't throw every bit of information you have on the front or main page of your website. It doesn't look good, and will simply overwhelm most visitors. But when a person goes to read your FAQ, they already know the basics, and want to know more. Feed them.
Use your FAQ wisely. Don't use it as a data dump, but do include the questions you get asked the most. If you can, also make it downloadable, as a PDF or HTML file. Make sure you also put your contact details at the end of the document, something along the lines of "What do I do if I have more questions?" . They've asked for the information, so don't be shy to give it them. I list my email address, website URL, phone and fax numbers, mailing address and ICQ number as standard. All have been used on numerous occasions.
Many email clients also allow some sort of auto responder to be setup - that can send out a stock text when a certain address or specific subject is received. Better still, many webhosts have this sort of feature.
We supposedly live in an age of information overload, where quality loses the battle to quantity on an ongoing basis. Don't let your product become another casualty. Keep it short, keep it sharp, and use it wherever and whenever you can. Think of every opportunity to write an email or note as an opportunity to reach a customer; don't waste it. Be seen, be sold.