7 essentials for successful copy

January 10, 2019 § Leave a comment

31959494_1540564399386190_3620031116922060800_nWhen you write copy to advertise your business people will judge you on the quality of your writing. That includes your posts on social media.

You might not think that’s fair because whereas you’re top of your trade – as a tourist bureau, for example – you’ve never got to grips with spelling, grammar and proofreading. Writing isn’t even part of your job – so why would potential customers care about typos? Actually you know the answer – because you do it yourself. If you read company literature that’s sloppy, you’ve immediately got a picture of said company as ‘cheap’ and a business that doesn’t pay attention to detail. If they’ve got their own communication wrong, what else are they going to get wrong? Sometimes the company becomes a laughing stock (see picture above).

Here are 7 steps that cover the basics:

  1. Read what you’ve written – not what you THINK you’ve written. A fresh pair of eyes on the job is ideal. If you’re working alone, go make a cup of coffee and come back to the copy later after a little break. You’re much more likely to spot errors then as opposed to a long hard stare at the same words in one sitting.
  2. Illustrate it – which I agree isn’t copy, as such, but is an essential ingredient for making your post/poster/blog look enticing. Uninterrupted blocks of text are off-putting. If you don’t have a photo to accompany the text,  companies such a Pixabay almost certainly do. Pixabay has a library of free images.
  3. Your headline is critical. Would it attract your attention? Perhaps you’re too close to the copy to know. Again, fresh eyes and an honest second opinion are useful. As a rule of thumb, don’t use your company name in the headline – it classifies the writing as definite advertising and reduces interest.
  4. Don’t talk posh. If you wouldn’t say it like that, don’t write it like that. Conversational rather than ‘stiff’ copy makes it easy on the reader, giving the copy a better chance of being read. I don’t mean slang!
  5. Don’t overlook numbers and little words like ‘to’ or ‘it’ . A department store local to me produced a promotional leaflet and got its telephone number wrong. It corrected its mistake by gluing white paper with the correct number over the error, thereby devaluing all the work it had put into the leaflet. I’ve also seen company literature where complicated words have been spelt beautifully but tiddly words have been allowed to morph into mistakes. Madly, headlines are often overlooked too.
  6. When it comes to blogs, make sure you categorise and tag accurately. Categories outline the subject you are writing about. Tags are more specific and pinpoint the topics within the subject. I like this explanation: a recipe for brownies on a food blog might have the categories ‘dessert’ and ‘baking’ and the tags would be something like ‘chocolate’ ‘brownies’ and ‘walnuts’. Every second around 17 posts are published on WordPress sites globally and you have to give yourself the best chance of being found.
  7. Lists are a great format to attract readers to a blog, either bulleted – or numbered like this one.

 

 

 

My Top Ten writing howlers

November 20, 2018 § Leave a comment

I was trained by a fierce, scary editor and now I’m a fierce, scary editor. These are my Top Ten writing howlers and when I see them in print, I want to scream.

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  1. You’re and your. This easily makes the number one slot because the words are not interchangeable and the mistake is made so many times by so many people. ‘You’re’ is the shortened version of ‘you are’ and ‘your’ means belonging to you. Most people know that but many still get it wrong when they write it.
  2. Apostrophes. An apostrophe is used to indicate either possession (e.g. Harry‘s book; boys’ coats) or the omission of letters (e.g. cant; he’s). An apostrophe is never, ever, ever used to suggest a plural (e.g. 1960’s; BBQ’s). Let those words be and write them like this: 1960s and BBQs. I’m not the only one to get heated about the misuse of apostrophes, the Apostrophe Protection Society  was formed ‘with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark.’
  3. So. There are times that ‘so’ is a useful word and times that it serves no purpose whatsoever. This seems to be a modern invention, as in: ‘So I went down the road.’ Read that sentence without the word ‘so’ and it makes perfect sense.
  4. Capital letters.  We all learned the rule for capital letters in school: proper nouns and the beginning of sentences. And then we grew up and many of us threw it away. For example, you may have only one mother but there are many mothers so mother does not take a capital letter. It is not a proper noun. Your mother’s name, however, does.
  5. Thing. I put this down to my fierce and scary training. I was told that there’s always a better word than ‘thing’ and using it is lazy.
  6. Hey. This is American. We’re British, writing for a British audience.
  7. Who’s and whose. This is like you’re and your. Think of who’s as ‘who is’ and you’ve got it.
  8. Could of and could have.  This can also be ‘would have’, ‘must have’ ‘should have’ and becomes a mistake because people write it as they say it. Drives me crazy.
  9. Commas. ‘I like cooking dogs and kids.’ Don’t be a psycho – use commas!
  10. Bingo. B4 and U2, for example – write English not bingo.

Emirates wins unsubscribe turkey trophy

February 9, 2018 § Leave a comment

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Over the years I’ve come across many a company which makes it difficult to unsubscribe from their emails but Emirates, I think, takes the biscuit.

I’ve written a blog before about this because it takes us all so much time to unsubscribe. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s me being stupid but now I have Twitter to check if I’m  alone. When Living Social UK presented me with so many options I really didn’t know exactly how to unsubscribe, I took to the Twittersphere to see if I was the only one with the problem.

Please unsubscribe me from your database. I’ve tried to unsubscribe from your emails but don’t know if I have because you make it too difficult.

Some poor souls had tried six, seven, 10 times but were still receiving emails (before also taking to Twitter and begging to be removed from the database).

What I don’t understand is this: if you’ve decided you don’t want to receive an email from ‘blah’ company, them making it difficult for you to unsubscribe is only going to make you annoyed. You were mildly disinterested in the first place, now you’ve got real raging emotion. 

The Emirates course of action is to make you ‘work for it’. I didn’t remember I was a member of its ‘Skywards’ scheme (I can’t even be bothered to tell you what that is – but Emirates told me in detail – in the hope, I suppose, of stopping me from unsubscribing. Of course it didn’t.) I struggled on, trying to log into the site, since at some point I had been a member of the scheme – and then it wanted me to remember the password I had created at the time I signed up for a scheme I couldn’t remember. Noooooooooooo! This is too much.

In the end, guess what I did? You’ve got it….broke my New Year’s resolution and just deleted the email. I’ll tackle it properly next time but I have deadlines and I don’t have time to fight with their unwieldy unsubscribe system. They are, by no means, the only company who makes it hard to unsubscribe but they are the worst I’ve come across this year.

And how will companies like Emirates manage when the new General Data Protection Regulation comes into force on 25 May this year. It’s the biggest change to data protection in more than 25 years.

The new General Data Protection Regulation does NOT allow the tacit or implied consent of their clients to be able to proceed with the processing of their personal data. 

I may have signed up for their Skywards scheme at some point in the past. I no longer have any interest in it and the company’s making it difficult for me to untangle myself from it.

The likes of Emirates will surely no longer be able to send us information we don’t want with unsubscription puzzles that beat all but the super-patient with a bit of time on their hands.

Storytelling sells the message

January 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

 

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Queen Victoria and her beloved servant, Abdul Karim

History was my least favourite subject at school. It meant nothing to me – just a list of dates that seemed to have no relevance to my life. I was more a ‘books’ type of pupil where I could delve into a good story or use my imagination and make one up. So English – language and literature –  always appealed.

Only the other week I realised it didn’t have to have been like that. I discovered how I’d missed out on Britain’s richly fascinating history. Shortly after watching an intriguing programme about Queen Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots, I was captivated by a programme on Queen Victoria and her faithful, beloved Indian servant, Abdul Karim, who became known as the Munshi. It talked about how he’d taught her Urdu and the Queen had ignored all protests from her court objecting to her blatant fondness for the domestic help (foreign, at that!)

That tells you quite a lot about how we learn – how we’ve always learnt. Give us a list of facts and figures and many of us will find them easily forgettable.

Slot those facts and figures into a story and suddenly you’ve given them a life. Most of us will now remember.

Think about it like this: we tell each other stories, we pass on stories, we get excited about stories, we analyse stories, we SELL each other stories. We don’t do any of that about a column of facts.

And that’s exactly how good marketing works: what’s your company story? What’s the story behind that marketing campaign? Tell the story and your customers will learn about you and talk about you. Bark your specifications and they’ll quickly forget you.

Just getting something FREE, for example, is going to stick with them for a couple of blinks. They’re not actually going to learn anything about you – as decent as it is of you to offer the free offer – and frankly, they won’t remember your name tomorrow.

You’d almost certainly be better off selling your story to your customers and potential customers (for free).

Do you know your story? You’re living your story every day so it may be difficult for you to be objective and see it, to be fair. You probably need a Bowler Hat person to talk to you about why you are, what you are and when it all began and how?

It costs nothing to call to see if we can get to the bottom of who you are and why you should be writing about yourself! 01753 831604 is the landline and 07946 450708, the mobile – let’s have a chat.

 

Write it like you say it so everyone gets it

January 11, 2018 § Leave a comment

It amazes me how companies use a completely different language when it comes to their written marketing stuff which should be directly connecting with customers. They don’t write the way they talk and people have to work too hard to understand what the company’s offering.

If you see anything on my site that falls foul of what I’m about to say – please pull me up on it. I mean it. I don’t want to write anything I wouldn’t say.

A good example of the ‘different written language’ I’m talking about was nearly used the other day when a friend of mine wanted to complain about the shoddy service she was receiving from a company who was supposed to be supplying some wedding invitations for her. She started writing a flowery email to them and asked my advice, basically about the ‘big’ words she was using. There was nothing wrong with the email but I asked her what she’d say if she was talking to them about the problem. Let’s just say, we got to the point quicker by writing with words of one syllable and her message was all the more powerful for it.

There is a place for formal language – I suppose solicitors still have to use it but not many solicitors read my blog and they’ll ignore what I’m saying anyway. I’m talking to and about the people who are trying to get attention via their marketing and will struggle if they use fancy language.

I know when we’re writing we can be more thoughtful. I know when we’re talking we can often think afterwards ‘I wish I’d said that’. But if we use a mixture of those two elements in down-to-earth language we can get a good formula.

Crafting a direct message that gets to the point and dumps unnecessary frills that the customer doesn’t have time or energy – or will, frankly – to read is a skill. I think it should be a law of marketing.

I suppose a good test is to ask yourself: would ‘I’ read it?

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How do you sign off your emails?

February 22, 2017 § 1 Comment

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I’ve said it before but I’m saying it again because I still don’t know the answer: Do you have a standard sign-off for emails or do you vary it for each recipient?

I would guess that most of us throw out the rules if we’re emailing friends or clients we know well but what’s a good standard sign-off for anybody who falls into a more formal group. I don’t really have a ‘standard sign-off’ and am always finding reason to tailor it.

What I mean by that is that I’ll write the email in a way that Many thanks makes sense as a finishing phrase or Speak soon because both of those seem friendlier than many of the alternatives. I’ll take you through them as I see them:

Very best wishes – It sounds a bit over-sincere, I’ve decided;

Best wishes – alright but a bit stiff;

Best – manly (I can’t really explain why I’m giving it a gender but I said this was how I saw it);

All the best – old-fashioned and somehow too ‘old’ to be coming from someone of my age;

Kind regards – I’m not sure it’s ‘me’;

Warm regards – twee;

Regards – to the point. I feel fine when I receive a ‘Regards’  but signing off with one doesn’t come naturally;

Sincerely – not right for an email, not right for anything anymore – too formal;

Yours – same problem as ‘Sincerely’;

Sincerely yours  twice the problem of ‘Sincerely’ and ‘Yours’;

Take care – I like this, both for friends and for clients I know well. It’s not too personal but it’s friendly;

Love – I write that on birthday cards (because I love the person I’m sending them to. The same can’t be said for all email recipients so it’s not right.)

Name only – sometimes I sign off with just my name, particularly if we’re having an ’email conversation’ when wishes of any kind start to make the messages look clumsy. Otherwise it looks lazy unless you know the recipient well;

Initial only – rude;

Cheers – we’re doing business not buying a round;

Smiley – no;

See you soon – you probably won’t so as a generic sign-off it’s inappropriate;

Thanks for getting in touch – I like that;

Thanks so much for getting in touch – too needy;

Many thanks – a favourite but you’ve got to have something to thank the recipient for otherwise it doesn’t make sense. That’s why this blog started out with me saying I rewrite emails in order to be able to use this sign-off;

Speak soon – I also like this. If you’re emailing a client you know well you probably will speak soon. If you don’t know the client well yet, the sign-off reinforces the fact that you’re opening channels of communication.

So having run through many of the usual suspects I still haven’t found a generic sign-off I feel comfortable with. Something you might say at the end of a meeting goes towards deciding your ideal sign-off but it’s not a standalone decider because often you haven’t met the person at the receiving end of the email so the relationship is different.

Which means that even after giving the issue much thought I haven’t got anywhere with it. There will be some who will say I’m over-thinking the issue. I don’t agree. Every piece of communication goes towards your professional reputation and the way you close an email could be seen as smooth or awkward and that matters very much indeed.

Any thoughts??

Don’t ever rely on your spellcheck

November 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

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I’m surprised I even had to write that headline – I thought everyone knew. Spellchecks are helpful – I use them as a guide – but if I left it at that, it would be corporate suicide.

I was chatting to a friend about this the other day and her reaction was: “Yes, you couldn’t afford any errors – being in the ‘words’ game.” That’s true. If I made mistakes people would be quick to point them out.

On the other hand she’s a gift retailer and her communications output is critical to her business, particularly at this time of the year when customers will be looking for Christmas presents.

She always sends an invite to a list of her customers with a message that says something like:

  • Come along for an evening of wine, mince ties and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, hopping at leisure.

Although only something like that because it actually reads:

  • Come along for an evening of wine, mince pies and a chance to buy gifts for your nearest and dearest, shopping at leisure.

The point I’m making, is that a spellcheck wouldn’t have picked up any spelling mistakes in the first sentence because there aren’t any. The sentence just doesn’t make sense and it takes a human brain to work that out, not a computer.

In short, a spellcheck can tell you when a word is spelt incorrectly but not when it’s used incorrectly. Use it but know its limitations.

I lost faith in the offer because the copy was spelt so badly

October 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

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I want to do yoga – frankly I need to do yoga – so when a Winter sun/yoga offer plopped into my inbox it looked just ‘the thing’. I was nearly on my way to find my leggings and book my place. And then I read the copy.

Seriously?

They wanted me to believe that there were professionals at the end of this venture into yoga which, they explained, means union of “body, mint and spirit.” (Please note: this is the sort of mistake your spellcheck can never pick up because although the word’s completely wrong, the spelling’s entirely right so there’s no reason for the spellcheck to question it.)

‘Whether’ was spelt ‘Wether’, sentences were constructed inside-out and back-to-front and the punctuation thrown randomly at the copy like confetti.

This was a three-paragraph email. It’s not hard to get that right – language/writing clearly wasn’t their strength, and they should have given the job to someone who could have polished it up properly. Then more people would have actually followed through, found their leggings and booked a slot.

When I see a company can’t be bothered to spell properly, I wonder what other corners they’re cutting.

Mind your language – would-be customers will doubt your professionalism if you don’t – and you’ll do nothing for your reputation.

Remember…words can’t smile

September 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

If you’re ever tempted to send a jokey email to a customer – thinking a light-hearted message is going to be welcomed among the masses of corporate nonsense they receive, remember…your words may be taken at face value. Words can’t smile; they don’t have a tone of voice and they can’t see if the recipient is taking the message too seriously when it was only intended to be a bit of fun.

The reason I’m prompted to write this post is because I received one such ‘jokey’ email today and it sent me into panic mode because I thought I’d upset the client. I called immediately and asked if the copy wasn’t quite what the company had expected?

Of course it was, I was told – why?

Err..because they’d asked if I needed a bit more time to think about the wording before sending it over. That seemed a fair indication that they wanted something slightly different.

Oh no – they’d written that because they’d received the copy more quickly than anticipated and they were actually trying to compliment me.

Ah, I see. But.. joke ruined. Compliment ruined. Down to me now to salvage the working relationship. (It’s ok – I have. That’s why I feel comfortable writing about the incident!)

Anyway, it’s a good illustration of how, with the best will in the world, your joke can bomb because it’s written and the written word is completely unhelpful when it comes to delivering humour. That’s why ‘Smileys’ and other similar emoticons were invented, I presume, or why we have to say ‘haha’ at the beginning of a sentence we intend to be amusing.

Of course there are novels that are written with humour (we know that because we’re told in the blurb on the jacket, so we’re prepared) but when a business email comes and out-of-the-blue tries to be funny, it takes a very skilled writer to be able to pull that one off.

The answer? Be friendly and cut out corporate speak if you want to make good contact with you client but leave jokes/humour for face-to-face times. The written word can be so unforgiving.

FRESH FISH SOLD HERE

June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

We live in a world where we use far too many words in the hope that the more we say, the more likely it is some of our message will ‘stick’.

Quite the opposite is true, in fact. The more succinct we can be, the more chance we have of being remembered.

The plain truth is, so many words are unnecessary our consciousness filters them all out so it’s an entire waste of time to throw a lot of words at a subject.

I was taught this ‘back in the day’ at journalism school when a tutor scratched a headline on the blackboard and asked us which word (or words) was (or were) superfluous. He told us it came from a sign outside a fishmonger and read:

FRESH

FISH

SOLD

HERE 

Ok, here we go:

  1. You don’t need the word ‘fresh’ because a fishmonger selling rotten fish wouldn’t be in business.
  2. You don’t need the word ‘sold’ because a fishmonger who gave away fish would soon go out of business.
  3. You don’t need the word ‘here’ because the sign’s right outside the shop – where else would the fish be!
  4. Oh – and you don’t need the word ‘fish’ because you can smell it a mile off…

I know, in the real world, shop signs much like the ‘fresh fish’ one will always exist in the hope of hooking in some extra consumer interest.  But marketing wasn’t the object of the exercise we were given in this instance.

We were forced to examine which words really served a purpose – and out of just four words not one actually did a good job. The exercise certainly made an impact on me and I’ve never written anything since without checking for ‘superfluous frills’ that aren’t going to help my message.

Why don’t you do it for yourself – by having a look at your company website, maybe. Are your words really working for you or could the site be a lot sharper and smarter if you threw out those that are just, frankly, wasting space, clogging up your message and putting some people off from even reading it?

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