Storytelling sells the message

January 31, 2018 § Leave a comment



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?



Don’t ever rely on your spellcheck

November 24, 2016 § Leave a comment


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



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.


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.

I can’t buy from you if you can’t spell!

November 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

That may sound a bit (outrageously even) harsh but I’ve just had an email that’s prompted this outpouring. I haven’t even checked the supplier’s work – it may be fabulous and well-priced. But since they couldn’t manage to spell their introductory email to me properly, I’m not going to be able to find respect for them.

‘Words’ is an area I understand so I can spot their mistakes but they’re offering a data provision service that is much more difficult to check and I would only buy from a supplier who had earned my respect. They managed to trash that in their first sentence.

I know people think I bang on about stuff that isn’t critical in the ‘real world’ of commerce (where do they think I live, by the way…) but how you say what you say speaks volumes about you.


I don’t confine my rants to grammar – but that message is spot-on

So let’s clear up some myths:

  • If you’re in sales/ recruitment/ finance/data provision…should you also be expected to produce word-perfect marketing copy or client communication?
  • Answer: Absolutely yes, if you want to be seen as a professional and top of your game. Children can be forgiven spelling mistakes, you can’t.
  • What if the error has no direct bearing on your offer? Say, the price and other info are essentially right but spelt wrong.
  • Answer: Would you visit a client if you were looking scruffy? Obviously not so don’t send them sloppy communication that suggests you overlook detail.

And the persistent offenders:

  • There (place); they’re (they are); their (belonging to them);
  • It’s (it is); its (belonging to it);
  • You’re (you are); your (belonging to you);

Apostrophes have nothing to do with plurals, for example:

  • More than one RT are RTs (not RT’s)
  • If there are four Emmas in a class, that’s how you write it;
  • The 20s, 30s, 40s etc. simply take an ‘s’ and don’t also need an apostrophe;

The tone of your communication is also really important because if people find it easy to read they are much more likely to do so. If it’s full of jargon and goes over their heads they’re unlikely to invest much time trying to work out what you’re saying. Often you’re too ‘close’ to your company to read what you write objectively and you need feedback from people outside of the business before you sign off any written word about it.

And – probably this sounds politically incorrect but it’s worth saying – if you outsource any part of your work to overseas companies or any of your staff have English as a second language, make sure you have a good look at the language they’re using when they’re writing to your customers. Non-native speakers have turns of phrases that don’t really work. As customers, we worry that you’re looking after the detail.

To some extent, corporate literature and websites can be the easier pieces of communication to get right because you’ll invest time and, almost certainly, money in getting them together. Watch out for the emails that are fired out from your company or the text messages that staff are sending to customers.

Next time I receive a ‘Hope your ok’ message I’m going to name and shame!

It’s not easy to unsubscribe!

July 23, 2014 § 2 Comments

I have no idea why I get half the emails I do.

I don’t want new tyres because I don’t have a car, I don’t speak Spanish so someone’s misread my French surname, anything ‘free’ is only going to make me give away more info and invite more emails so I’m not going to do that, I don’t gamble and of all the cheap offers I want, I DON’T want cut-price eye surgery! The list goes on…

Often I just delete the stuff and motor on with the day.

Sometimes, though, I try to clean up my machine by properly unsubscribing from the stuff but it’s not easy, is it. They don’t want you to go so they make it seem a lot more difficult to unsubscribe than it was to subscribe in the first place (if, indeed, you did anyway.)

The following form is a case in point – with the subscribed bits already ticked!:

Screen shot 2014-07-23 at 12.27.55>

Other attempts are a little less sophisticated. A message will pop up asking ‘Did you unsubscribe by accident?’ That’s highly unlikely, isn’t it. In fact I wonder if anyone has actually done that – scrolled to the bottom of an email, managed to select the ‘unsubscribe’ option that always seems to be in tiny four-point (light) and clicked on it accidentally!

In those cases, I’d like there to be a facility for me to be able to add ‘No, actually, I’ve made a lot of effort and I’m very, very definite about my decision.’

At the other end of the scale there are systems in place which are far more elaborate than the one I’ve illustrated. In the first instance they’ll ask me to give reasons for unsubscribing: Am I receiving too many emails? Am I no longer interested? Or is there another reason? And then (when I’ve ignored all of that) they tell me they’re still not letting me go because they have two special offers that I can’t resist (I can, though!) and therefore they’ll continue to mail me.

Am sure that’s breaking some privacy law somewhere but am too busy to work it out and anyway it added neatly to this blog.


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:





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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