Whether in a B2C or B2B setting, many companies struggle to create effective communications that build not only credibility and trust with their audience but also excitement. So if we need help in communicating effectively to our customers, it only makes sense to turn to the author of Writing Copy for Dummies, Jonathan Kranz.

Kranz helps his clients clear the air by showing them how to realize and relate their expertise to customers. But he also keeps them from falling into the trap of talking about themselves instead of keeping the focus on the customer.

Sounds like Kranz is no dummy, and there's a good chance your copy will sound a lot smarter if you give his advice a spin.

Q: You've talked about the need for companies to leverage their "hidden" expertise and utilize the valuable content that they might not even realize they have. How can companies do this?

A: Here's the thing: We're so involved in our businesses—so close to the knowledge we apply every day to accomplish our work—that we no longer see our know-how as something special. We take it for granted. But it's precisely the stuff we take for granted that our potential customers most want to know.

So our first job is to pry the nuggets of expertise out of ourselves. I suggest a simple exercise: Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. Then think of a recent success story, of something you or your company did to help a client or customer. Use the left side of the paper to list all the little elements of knowledge you had to apply in order to make your work, your product, or your service a success. On the right side, list your customers' concerns: what they desire, what they fear, what they hope for, what makes them sweat.

Then connect the dots—link the "what you know" on the left to the "what they need" on the right. Every connection represents an opportunity to communicate—a chance to develop content that has real meaning for your prospects.

Q: What is the most common mistake that you've seen companies make in crafting its collateral, whether it's aimed at potential customers or it's internal communications?

A: Narcissism. We think we can distinguish our business from the competition by talking about ourselves: our company, our mission, our philosophy, our products. Yet the more we talk about ourselves, ironically, the more we sound like everyone else. We simply add more chatter to the overall noise that constitutes 99% of the marketplace. And we lose potential customers as a result.

Q: When crafting communications, in either a B2B or B2C setting, should companies focus on becoming credible to the customer in order to gain their trust? And what are some tips on creating content that makes a company look credible?

A: Trust is essential, especially in any complex purchase—such as those in high tech, healthcare, and financial services—that can be intellectually intimidating. You have to establish trust before you can build a relationship. And you have to build the relationship before you can win real business.

You create credibility that leads to trust by doing three things: (1) demonstrating your empathy and understanding of the prospect's concerns; (2) telling stories that illustrate your value to real people in real situations; and (3) sharing expertise that has immediate, practical value for your prospects.

That means directing your collateral efforts away from "about us" brochures and toward "about you" materials prospects want to read and keep.

Q: Whitepapers, case studies and articles—just how important are these in establishing a company's expertise in a certain area?

A: Think of it this way. You're a prospect researching potential vendors. One gives you a brochure that pounds the drums and tells you how great they are. Another overwhelms you with marketing emails. But you discover the third through an article you've just read in a trade journal. Or through a case study you found on their site—about a customer much like you. Or by downloading an impressive report that's helped you clarify your thinking.

Which of these vendors is most credible? It's a no-brainer: the one that's demonstrated its expertise and usefulness.

You should be that vendor, that resource. By doing so, you immediately distinguish yourself from the pack. Better still, you're pre-sold: The prospect who contacts you believes in you. When you open your first conversation, you can skip the usual sales pitch and go directly into what really matters: their issues, their concerns, how you can help.

Q: Finally, you're the author of Writing Copy for Dummies, so what are some "quick and dirty" tips on how companies can write more effective copy?

A: For starters, you can never go wrong thinking from the point of view of your customers. Put yourself in their shoes; anticipate their needs. Write your copy from their perspective.

Be real. Stay clear of big abstractions like "solutions" and "proactive" and focus on specifics: real things people can touch, see, imagine. Show customers how you solve problems and help them achieve the results they want.

Then always offer a next step. They've read your case study. Now what? Give them an opportunity to join a webinar. Attend a workshop. Talk to an expert. Think of every piece you write as one link in a chain that leads inexorably to you.

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image of Mack Collier

Mack Collier is a social-media strategist based in Alabama. He helps companies build programs and initiatives that let them better connect with their customers and advocates. His podcast, The Fan-Damn-Tastic Marketing Show, discusses ways that brands can turn customers into fans. His first book, Think Like a Rock Star: How to Create Social Media and Marketing Strategies That Turn Customers Into Fans, was published in April 2013 by McGraw-Hill.

Twitter: @MackCollier

LinkedIn: Mack Collier