Was it 25 years ago I first published marketing material online?

In 1985 British Airways promoted me to the grand position of Sales Information Officer. What did that mean? I don’t think anyone knew. I wasn’t sure myself.

In fact, we were a small department, a colleague and I, who had been recruited to develop the BA Prestel site into an online catalogue. Prestel was the British Telecom videotext system (like Ceefax and Oracle) but more flexible and responsive. 95% of UK travel agents used it to book package tours. BA decided that, as agents already used the system, it should develop its own site to sell scheduled air travel services to agents.

And so we set about developing what grew into a 7,000-screen online brochure with full details of the product illustrated by heavily pixelated diagrams and illustrations. I spent months creating fares tables and editing fare rules for every fare BA sold for travel from the UK to its worldwide destinations. I think the fares section ran to 2,000 pages.

British Airways Prestel: Robert Zarywacz
An article in BA’s TOPICall magazine from way back in 1985.

What seemed amazing at the time was to be able to upload pages from our PC network (an IBM AT PC with a 20MB hard disk linked to two twin-floppy IBM XT PCs) via modem down an ordinary telephone line. It seemed magical that one second the page was on my PC and the next it was accessible for anyone to view on Prestel.

It all seemed so exciting. People could even send us messages, which we printed off on a thermal printer.

But Prestel was not the way forward. Few in the airline saw its potential and both my colleague and I eventually moved to other jobs in BA.

We had been 10 years too early. Later, as the internet developed and web sites appeared, I realised that we had built a massive web site before anyone knew what it was.

I also learned a lot about writing for the small screen, on-screen attention spans and other tips that would stand me in good stead as the world moved online.

It may have been crude compared with today’s technology, but it was exciting for us as we made the rules up as we went along.

Posted via web from z2zine

What can I say about my business?

When everyone else already seems to be saying everything that could possibly be said about business, there are times when the choice of going outside and enjoying the sunshine can appear preferable to thinking about something original to say about your own business.

However, no business survives without customers and most of us have to promote or advertise our products and services to attract those customers.

So what can you say that hasn’t already been said a million times before?

Ideas rarely come out of thin air, so it’s good to start with your business plan and objectives, as all communications should be based on these. If you’ve got a communications plan, this should also give some ideas of what you want to achieve.

Start by listing topics based around products, services, launches, events, achievements, changes or industry developments. If your business is seasonal, do you change your products every quarter? If your business is linked to events triggered within your industry, list key changes about to occur or important dates. If you have product launches or events, list these too.

When you’ve made your list, start to fit these to dates when you need to blog about them, issue a press release, update your web site or produce a new brochure. If you don’t already have a communications plan, this could be the basis of one.

Announcements don’t need to be major, although the appointment of a junior employee is unlikely to hit the broadsheet newspapers and you should have realistic expectations of what each piece of news is capable of achieving. That doesn’t stop you aiming as high as possible, especially when you do have a really good story.

Also, you may have a great story without knowing it. Ask colleagues or contacts what they think about specific issues. If they’re excited about them, will your audience also be interested in them? What appears uninteresting to you could be exciting to your audience.

By creating a store of ideas, which you can add to regularly, you’ll never be short of an interesting topic to write or talk about.

After yesterday’s blog, have you thought about how well you check your written material?

z2zine tomorrow: Think before engaging typing finger!

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Finding your voice

One of the biggest challenges when writing for business is in selecting the right tone of voice, both for you and your readers. There used to be a tendency to write in a very cold, formal, unwelcoming style, while now some people write very informally and can be too familiar. Depending on your target audience, the best style is probably somewhere in between these extremes.

What’s important is to develop a style that feels comfortable for you and your business and which your audience likes too. It’s no good developing a highly individual style of writing which your audience can’t understand, as business text has to be practical. If your main objective is to persuade people that your product is worth buying, they have to be able to understand that easily.

Style develops over time, so don’t agonise over your writing: you can only develop your style through practice. Also, most business materials have a very short shelf life these days, so focus on improving your writing every time you write a new brochure, report or blog.

While it’s important to be aware of the rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling, any piece of writing has to be interesting for people to read it all the way through. Finding the balance between a style that is easy to read and which also reflects the character of your business can take some practice, but it is worth it. There is so much boring text printed and published online that most people welcome the opportunity to read something interesting. This gives you the chance to shine through with an effective writing style.

So think about this every time you write something for your business, whether it’s a report, a letter or promotional material. It will also help you to measure what works as you see the effects of your developing style in terms of increased responses. If responses drop, you’ll know your style isn’t suitable for your readers and can work to change it.

We’ll talk more about this in the future, but bear it in mind for now.

After our last blog, have you thought about what interests your customers?

z2zine tomorrow: Know why you’re communicating

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