Tried and tested devices

Black Lives Matter. Indeed they do, and the snappiness of the slogan is an important factor in burning the saying into people’s minds.

It has a nice rhyme, plus the alliteration provided by the repeated Ls.

How about these?

  • Twenty-First Century Fox
  • Apple Mac
  • Starbucks
  • Boris Johnson
  • YouTube, TikTok, Google, Samsung
  • Gone With The Wind (oldie but a goodie)
  • Tyranny of distance
  • Battle with cancer

If you want your name, slogan or saying to be remembered, don’t be bashful about using these devices. Tried and Tested.

Boris sets a rumpled example

What’s Boris Johnson’s main appeal? Anti-slickness.

The new British prime minister is notorious for his undignified stunts and sloppy personal appearance. But in an age of presentation coaches and instant feedback, this isn’t necessarily a liability.

Marketing guru Don Peppers in Life’s A Pitch calls it de-slicking your production. The idea is that a sharp and faultless presentation can intimidate people and work against you. Don recommends injecting a note of humanity, for example by giving some of your pitchtime to an unpolished junior who will likely make a few harmless slip-ups.

SCRATCHING IT

A handsome and imposing manager I met early in my career recommended rubbing your backside on the way out of the room to show you’re just a person.

Boris Johnson metaphorically scratches his ass in public. It’s both funny and deplorable. But slick it ain’t, and that should work in his favor.

The lure that hides a hook

It’s a common marketing technique that also happens to be illegal. Bait-and-switch means that customers are drawn in with an alluring offer, then flicked over to an item that’s more profitable.

This is often done by denigrating the special deal once the customer is in the store. “It’s a nice vacuum cleaner, but we can’t include a guarantee.” Or “Frankly, you’re too classy for that suit.”

PAINFUL WITHDRAWAL

A sophisticated version works like this. You want cosmetic work done on your nose. The first consultation, including a diagnostic examination and X-rays, is very reasonably priced. You’re happy to go ahead.

Then you get the quote for the operation, which frankly looks outrageous. But by then, you know the doctor (who is a nice person) and paid for the preliminary work. You’re in the system.

Bait-and-switch is hard to prove, which is why vendors get away with it. In all cases, you have no obligation to complete the purchase. It’s painful to start again somewhere else – but can hurt more not to.

When your writing won’t work

Stuck with your content writing? If an article won’t flow, chances are that you’re suffering from a common problem, which is that you don’t have a clear picture in your head of whom you’re writing for.

The result is that you can’t think what to say or how to say it.

Stop and consider. Work out who your audience is and try to envisage a typical member of that audience. Start writing again.

This trick is usually effective. Vague sentences are replaced by precise, targeted phrases and everything seems to flow.

You can’t write for everybody. Try instead to write for somebody. The likely outcome is that it will be read with pleasure by many.

Use it to persuade a stranger

The phone is a great but forgotten business tool. It lets you chat informally with people and communicate warmth, while picking up the nuances of their speech.

The more I replace phone talk with email or text, the less cooperation I find. Despite the use of emojis, written words are coolly transactional and don’t convey the human touch.

You can’t sell as successfully by email as in person or by phone. Even when using the phone for that purpose, it’s best not to leave a voicemail asking for a return call. What works is to say, “sorry I missed you, will try again”.

Anything that shifts the onus onto the other person is likely to reduce your chance of success.

Text and email are wonderful for associates, friends and family. But when trying to persuade or convince a stranger, nothing beats the human face or voice.

Comfort is underrated

We’re tired of hearing it, aren’t we? Move out of your comfort zone. The advice is supposed to be a key to personal success.

I prefer to remain in mine – especially if it’s uncomfortable for everyone else.

Stretching yourself to the point where it hurts is based on the notion that unless new horizons are sought, we’ll remain forever stuck on the couch. I’m all for pain avoidance and have got nothing against wallowing, provided it’s productive.

ALBERT’S ZONE

The Swiss mathematician and physicist Albert Einstein spent his days working on complex theorems because he found them to be enjoyable and stimulating. “Get out of the house, Albert! Go put on your skates or climb a mountain.”

Einstein was entirely comfortable with staying inside and solving the mysteries of time and space.

Isn’t simply a matter of grit

The new year is a time for resolutions, in which we decide to begin projects or fix problems that require our attention.

We’ll need persistence to see these thing through, since outcomes can take time to achieve and may face hurdles along the way. Persistence is the key to success.

Or is it?

There are two types of people in the world: those who give up easily, and those who don’t cave in soon enough. Huh? We hear a lot about the first sort, and are encouraged to beat up on ourselves for showing this tendency.

Yet the second type is also common. These folk are inflexible and keep going after they should abandon their effort or change tack.

Here’s a resolution for 2019: If something isn’t working, don’t continue. Stop what you’re doing and think about what’s causing the blockage. Look around for an answer, ask people, read up, and sometimes just wait.

Resolve, in other words, not to let persistence get in the way of success.

Please, no more worms!

Marketing offers can appear like worms after rain, a dozen or more at a time. Why? Because the salespeople are all reading from the same data.

When you buy a house, register a domain name, lease a commercial property or give birth to a child, this action is recorded in public or industry records. Marketers watch for changes in these and use them to initiate sales calls or emails – for goods that may be required downstream from the recorded event.

Such items include home insurance, websites, office fit-outs and family trusts.

TOO MANY MESSAGES

This trick makes sense to salespeople, but can seem ridiculous to prospects, who are flooded with messages for the same kinds of products.

Smart marketers don’t do this. They base their leads on data or responses that other salespeople don’t have and they won’t share this data with anyone.

As a result, theirs is the only offer on the table.

Is it easy to find this unique information? No. Is it fruitful when you have it? Much juicier than worms.

Air karate doesn’t cut it

Hand gestures are a hot thing among television reporters, especially when presenting straight to the camera. Speech alone doesn’t seem to be adequate – they’ve got to emphasise their points.

Trouble is, gestures are a language and an art form in themselves. This fact is second nature to ethnic groups who use gestures a lot, such as people of the southern Mediterranean.

Don’t know hand language? This doesn’t faze many TV presenters. They improvise, opening their palms and slicing the air over and over, framing every point with a two-handed chop.

Boring and meaningless.

Good presenters have a dozen or more useful gestures at their disposal. They use each one appropriately, without overdoing the movements. The effect is subtle, almost subliminal. It works.

People who haven’t yet developed this skill should ease back and practice in private. And save us from all the air karate.

They’re coming anyway

Facebook and Google are being pilloried for misusing the details of our private lives, but the silver lining is advertising that at last is something we can relate to.

Information in line with our interests – what an awesome notion!

This is after a lifetime of television viewing where the advertisers clearly don’t have a clue.

NOT MILES AWAY

Sure, online ads are sometimes out of date. We’ve already bought the goods or taken the holiday. Still, they’re not a million miles off. We appreciate the thought.

We’re also forewarned with cautionary pop-ups about intrusions on our privacy. Well and good, for we need to be reminded.

Who can object to cookies when they dish up ads that are startlingly knowing? The things are going to arrive anyway, so they might as well be apt.

Maybe it’s overdoing things to talk about advertising we can love. But accepting – that’s not too much.

The invisible mouse mat

Pens, diaries, key rings, coffee mugs, juggling balls.

We’ve all been showered with these promo giveaways that are emblazoned with the name of the supplier. The brand is in your face each and every day, so the advertising must be effective.

Or maybe not.

Back in the era of the mouse-mat, there was one on this desk promoting something or other. No idea what. After just a few days, the unchanging copy became unseen wallpaper.

Some giveaways such as t-shirts, baseball caps and pedestrian backpacks are undoubtedly effective. The brand names walk the streets and get in front of fresh sets of eyes every day.

They’re like newspaper billboards and headlines. Do we glance at them as we walk past? Of course.

FRESH WISDOM

A pawnbroker near this office has a whiteboard on which is scrawled some cock-eyed piece of wisdom that he refreshes every morning. Clever.

This leads to the question of how often we should change our marketing messages. Maybe a further question is needed, which is how often do your customers see them.

Daily exposure creates the need for frequent change. Which is something you can’t do with a coffee mug.

Nine secrets of expert content writers

1. They start the story with a hook and end with a punch. If these two parts of the content are sound, the rest of the material will sit easily in between.

2. They treat words like goldleaf. Each one has its own glint. They don’t need to elaborate with adjectives or adverbs, or say the same thing in three different ways. People will get it the first time.

3. They know that writer’s block is a form of stagefright. Practice of your craft will give you the confidence to write under the toughest conditions.

4. They understand that writers also get stuck when they don’t have a clear picture in their mind of whom they’re addressing. Clarify that and the writing will flow.

5. They’re happy for their first draft to be rough. And the next two rewrites. After that, they’re getting close to the finished piece.

6. They find that reciting a story aloud is an excellent way of checking its flow. (That doesn’t apply if you’re writing for The Guardian, where tortuous prose may be a sign of cleverness. For every other media brand, it’s good advice.)

7. They never write on a per-word basis of payment, which is a blueprint for poverty. They charge per article or by the hour.

8. They understand that while everyone can write, few people can do it really really well. Most of us are able to cook a meal, but that doesn’t make us Gordon Ramsay.

9. They’ve found that working to a word limit is a tough but good discipline. Most online articles are fewer than 400 words. Any clown can add more. The hard part is leaving stuff out.

Three Shades of English

There are only three types of sentences in written English.

  1. This is the first sort.
  2. This is the second sort, which has a number of clauses, normally separated by commas.
  3. This is the third sort that is separated by conjunctions and just runs on and on until it stops.

Good writing isn’t hard. Create variety in your prose by using a mixture of all three types of sentences so that the readers don’t get bored with your style. It’s simple, it’s attractive, and it works.

The previous paragraph is composed of these sentence types. See what we mean?

Break it up, thanks

Browsing online isn’t like reading a book, but is more like scanning a newspaper. Most newspapers (yes, they still exist) have short paragraphs because they’re easier to skim through without losing your place.

Online copy tends to be consumed in the same way. Most of it is free, so is often attracting an uncommitted readership. A simple format is therefore a key to holding people’s attention.

This means short paragraphs of no more than two or three sentences.

For proof of this, check the comments section of your favourite online forum. Remarks that are written in huge blocks of unrelieved type tend to be ignored.

Comments displayed in short paragraphs are the ones that get attention. So press Enter to make your copy friendly!

Twit or tweet

Twitter comes under fire for the inaccuracy of its information, for publishing rubbish, and as a mecca for trolls.

Yet the social medium remains popular.

Tweets are brief, often mercifully so. This is Twitter’s virtue. It forces writers to be concise with their messages.

Adding unnecessary words is the most common fault of amateur scribes. Their wordiness and length of copy bores people. Thus Twitter is less boring.

Of course, you can always spread your tweet across consecutive posts, but readers will hate you for it. As well, the messages are less likely to be retweeted or Liked.

“Brevity is the soul of wit,” wrote Shakespeare. It’s also the pulsing heart of Twitter.

Say it loud, say it clear

If you’re unsure that your media release or blog post hits the right notes, try reading the first four or five sentences aloud, as if they’re an item in a radio or television news bulletin.

Do they sound okay? Are there any places in your flow of meaning that the listener would puzzle over?

If so, rewrite your opening paragraphs until the words are a golden, liquid stream of clarity.

Once these initial sentences are sorted out, the remainder of the story should flow along nicely until the end. You’ll have captured the reader, who is likely to stick with you.

Yes, there are a few stylist differences between media stories written for radio or television news and those in the print format – but not enough to negate the value of this exercise.

Write, listen, revise. It’s the mantra of good language.

Quality – or not

A client who is market leader in his category recently told me that he wanted to add the word “quality” to the company’s slogan, to reinforce just how good the products are.

Good idea?

Words like “quality” and “star” and the old-fashioned “de luxe” are used by brands that service the middle and lower end of the market. The purpose is to counter the impression that they are second rate.

Quality Inn, Quality Street (chocolates), Jetstar, De Luxe Motel.

Leading brands have no need for this perceptual trick and should steer well away from gratuitous endorsements of their own product. The market already knows that they are good. Labouring the point is gilding the lily.

So if you’re already tops, best to leave “quality” in its box.

Say less – and persuade more

The more words we use to say or write something, the less convincing we become.

Persuasive writers and speakers are succinct. They use the minimum number of sentences needed to convey their message. They know that using more will dilute the effect they’re seeking, or create an impression that they’re insecure in their verbal abilities.

Along with saying less, it’s also a good idea to slow the pace. In oral formats, this gives the impression of gravity and significance. Insecure speakers have a tendency to gabble and to blur their words, undermining authoritativeness.

In written formats, pace can be governed by appropriate word choice. Readers pause for thought over the correctly chosen word. They skim through material that doesn’t hit the nail.

The best writers and speakers say what they need to, then stop. Silence allows the message to sink in. It also gives readers and listeners the opportunity to respond, which they are grateful for.

Enough said.

8 more habits of expert content writers

  1. They understand that copy should be as short as it can be while properly conveying the desired meaning and tone. Experts hate waffle and padding.
  2. They never write ambiguously, leaving the reader to scratch his or her head. This is especially so when producing instructions, directions or guidelines. The HELP sections of WordPress and Amazon are great examples of clear instructions.
  3. Professionals understand that writing can be improved by leaving it in the computer and reworking it the following day. If they can put the writing aside for a week, so much the better.
  4. Spell check makes stupid errors, often mistaking one word for another. That’s why the pros always proofread their work. Twice.
  5. It’s easier to change copy than to write copy. Therefore giving it to five people to review will result in a mess that pleases nobody. One or two people is plenty.
  6. Expert writers are nevertheless grateful when colleagues find mistakes and point them out. It’s better to have these corrected before the boss or a customer stumbles upon them.
  7. They might be skilled at the written word, but they never criticise colleagues’ writing or make suggestions for improvement, unless asked to. You wouldn’t want these people denigrating your haircut or choice of shoes, no?
  8. The pros are experienced enough to know that writer’s block is a form of stage fright. Starting a piece of writing can be hard. The longer you practice, the more your acquired skills will carry you through.