Catch the breeze

Marketing is like raising sails on a yacht or sailboat. If there’s no wind blowing, it doesn’t matter how much fabric you unfurl, your boat won’t go anywhere.

Might as well leave the sail in the locker.

Catch the breeze by finding a sector of the market that’s enjoying growth or soon will be. Find a favorable position within it. Once this is achieved, you can spend up big on marketing and the wind will carry you along.

Icecream isn’t hard

Next to our office is a coffee and food shop that is about to go bust. It’s the third to do so on that site. This is in a major suburban centre that already has about 100 coffee and lunch venues.

What’s the thinking behind these ventures? Perhaps it’s the notion that if they can make a go of it, so can we.

One hundred struggling casual restaurants.

In a different suburb that we visit, there’s also a surfeit of coffee and snack venues. As well, there’s a single tiny icecream vendor that is so swamped with business that it’s set up a purple velvet rope on the pavement to control the crowds.

Cut back to the dying coffee shop. Out of desperation, it has expanded its offering. The place now boasts breakfast, lunch and dinner with 20 dishes on the blackboard menu. Why miss out on a single potential customer?

But what do people crave after they’ve eaten lunch and coffee? A simple dessert, something sweet.

Such as an icecream.

Amazingly, nobody has set up in competition to this massively successful vendor. Yet.

The numerous restaurants in these two suburbs offer a free lesson in business success and failure to any member of the public who cares to take notice.

A chalkboard menu, the same as all the others? Or icecream and a velvet rope? The answer isn’t hard.

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.

Meet Mary. She’s real

Which are the more effective photographs for your website or newsletter? Handsome executives, purchased as a stock images, or a down-to-earth portrayals of actual staff?

Authenticity is a buzzword, but few of us have the courage to show our employees, uneven teeth and all. Some law firms do. A handful of engineering consultants. And one or two brave hardware chains.

How about the sales rep who has a nice face but is twenty kilos over the recommended weight for a person of his or her age?

Actually, it’s such incongruities that make people come alive and appear real.

The same principle applies to the photographs used with testimonial stories that encourage prospects to buy. An endorsement from “Susan of East Beach”, accompanied by a stock image, convinces nobody.

Companies that have the courage to show actual customers and supply their full names will benefit from this frankness.

This is us, the messages will say. Yes, we have flaws, but these are irrelevant to what our company is all about, which is great products and service.

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.

How to complete an article, podcast or speech

If you don’t know how to wrap up your article or spoken piece, here’s a Mills Blog tip.

Re-read or listen to the opening paragraph. Then, in your final sentence or paragraph, refer back to what you said at the beginning.

This will create a nice start and finish. It bookends your content. You’ll feel satisfied, and so will your readers or listeners.