July 24, 2019 § Leave a comment
No you can’t help me!
When I walk into a shop laid out for browsing I don’t want a sales assistant to rush up to me and gush ‘Can I help you?’. Frankly, If I wanted help, I would ask for it.
Why have a shop layout which encourages customers to have a good look around if sales assistants are going to hound them from the time they walk through the door.
Maybe I sound like a grumpy old woman. I’m not. (Grumpy). But I’m definitely old enough to ask for information/advice when I need it – however I probably won’t know what help I need until I’ve had a look around the shop and realised I can’t find what I’m looking for. Or maybe I’ll want “that one in a different colour/size” when I see one in the wrong colour/size. It’s one of retail’s biggest mistakes in my opinion – to get people into their lair and then turn them off by hassling them like it was a bazaar.
There used to be more counters, definite ‘don’t walk beyond this spot’ barriers, where customers expected attention from sales assistants and wanted, actually needed, their help because they couldn’t get what they wanted it without it. In fact, waiting too long before being served was annoying. In that arrangement ‘Can I help?’ was exactly what you wanted to hear.
Then there’s the complete opposite of all this – the shop where it’s hard to find a sales assistant in the first place and when you do, they don’t want to help.
I was shopping for a bra the other day – one to fit with a new dress because none of the bras I owned did the job. I went to my favourite lingerie department, looked through the rails, couldn’t find what I was looking for and went in search of a sales assistant. I imagined a salesperson would know the stock and be able to help since I was looking for something pretty specific.
When I finally found a sales assistant, which wasn’t easy, she was restocking a fixture. I felt like I was interrupting as opposed to wanting to give the store business! Her response was to trot over to where I had already looked and tell me that the bra I had described used to be there but evidently wasn’t anymore. And that was it. She went back to stocking the fixture, giving no advice as to how I might find the bra or paying me any further attention.
(In case you’re worrying, I found the bra eventually – from the same retailer but online. For the men who are reading this, bras are like shoes – better tried on, even if you know your size, so online isn’t ideal.)
I don’t want to get into the ‘every customer is different’ and ‘every shop is different’ debate. There is a one-size-fits-all solution and it should be used. The clue lies in the job title, sales assistant. ‘Sales’ – that bit’s easy: on behalf of the business, sales assistants will handle transactions. Assistant – their job is to help – when the customer needs help but not to mob or avoid helping by stocking shelves. Problem sorted.
April 29, 2019 § Leave a comment
When you speak to someone they know what you’re saying because they can hear the words and, importantly, how you’re saying them.
When you text someone they can’t always be sure of what you’re saying – or, at least, exactly what you mean – because they can see the words but can’t hear the tone of voice behind them. So your innocent reply can be misread.
The same goes for content on a website. It’s a real craft to write content that’s friendly, appealing and easy-to-understand-in-one-reading.
Going back to text messages, I received one the other day from a friend who was replying to a ‘Happy Birthday’ text I’d sent her. It said: “Many thanks” which I thought was a stilted and corporate reply between two good friends. To be honest, I worried about it over a cup of tea and wondered what could be wrong – I’d got the right date, sent her a card as well (and in time) and my text to her was just the cherry on top.
It turned out, I discovered some days later, that she’d been at the hospital accompanying her mum to an appointment and had just been called in when my message pinged through. Rather than not answer it she dashed a reply to acknowledge it – a message that led me to worry for days because it didn’t sound rushed, just formal.
In the scheme of life, a slightly misunderstood text message is not so damaging because you can put it right quickly. Reality is that if you’re texting, you’ll also have the recipient’s number so that you can call to check out the meaning of something you’ve received, if it doesn’t sound quite right.
Not so simple is the website example. Many, many people will visit your site and it’ll be a long time – if ever- that you find out they’re not responding to it because they don’t understand what you’re saying. You won’t have the telephone number of everybody who visits because you don’t know who they are.
The fact here is that website content is best written by someone who initially doesn’t know your business, has to ask loads and loads of questions to understand it and then can craft good written copy to make it sound friendly, appealing and entirely understandable – without the visitor even having to try to work out what it means. I can help you with that – 07946 450708 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
We make the biggest effort to check complicated words that are tricky to spell but so often overlook the little ones that have drifted from, say, ‘or’ to ‘of’. We’ll have been concentrating our proofreading efforts on more challenging words – take something like ‘accommodate’. We’ll make sure we’ve got two ‘ccs’ and two ‘mms’ because we know that’s an easy one to get wrong.
Or if we mention McDonalds, we’ll double-check that spelling, knowing you can buy a Big Mac from the place although there’s never been an ‘a’ in the company’s name. It’s a helpful hint for getting the spelling spot-on.
But…and take it from someone who proofreads every day, the mistake we make time and time again is to forget to check the easy-peasy tiny words we can spell in our sleep/with our eyes shut/without even thinking about them.
And we’re so focused on making sure the body copy reads perfectly the howlers sometimes appear in the headline of the piece. It’s a fact of writing life: people tend to overlook headlines, subheads and captions when they proofread.
Much as I’d like a proofreader to be hired for any job that involves words I can see it isn’t happening. That being the case it’s wise to write your content, save it as a draft, walk away, have a cup of tea and read it again 30 minutes later. You’ll be surprised what you discover and your copy will be all the better for it.
Always – but always – be wide-eyed and alert when you see words like:
To name a very few…
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.
February 1, 2013 § 1 Comment
Have just had a debate with someone who was telling me that he writes his own website copy because he believes that customers will forgive the ‘odd spelling mistake’. After all, he pointed out, he’s not in the ‘words’ business. He’s a life coach.
I don’t get it. Here’s a man who wants us to trust him with our lives and he can’t be bothered to make sure his site’s spelt properly! Or that it’s grammatically correct, for that matter.
“Also, they know what I mean even if I’ve got an apostrophe in the wrong place,” James said. “You’re just being picky because it’s your business.”
I think that’s true – people will understand what his copy is saying. But the same people, in their search for a life coach, without question will be looking at several sites and because James thinks it’s acceptable to present his services complete with spelling and grammatical mistakes, he’s given them the impression that he’s a bit sloppy and not very professional.
They won’t forget that when they come across a site offering a similar level of life-coaching expertise, finished off properly with all apostrophes in the correct places!
“Of course you’d say that – you’re a copywriter,” he said.
No. Come on. Think about it.
There are two messages we (and I’m counting myself as a consumer here) usually get when we come across a badly written piece of marketing copy:
- The company is careless – and if it’s careless when it’s trying to sell itself what’s the rest of the service going to be like?
- The company couldn’t afford to get it right – that doesn’t bode well.
This is how my discussion with James ended: I’ve got a rough idea of what it takes to be a life coach but I wouldn’t attempt to do the job – he, on the other hand, has had serious training and can offer solid skills. I’ve had serious training as a copywriter and offer solid skills.
Your website is your online shop window, people judge you on how you present yourself and a copywriter can help you make the most of your presence. It’s not good enough just to have a website…the content is key.
And it’s corporate suicide if your (sic) getting you’re (sic) message messed up!!!!!
October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
Whether or not you agree with the sentiment of the headline, the statement ‘less clients mean more profit’ is just plain wrong!
What’s even worse, though, is that I just spotted that statement on a copywriter’s website – he was selling a course of copywriting tips and the above was the headline of one of them. I’m telling you (for free) that ‘fewer’ clients may, indeed, make you more profit – almost definitely if one of them is a Coca-Cola or McDonald’s type giant. But I’m not-so-secretly hoping that copywriters, who don’t know that ‘less’ is used to measure a volume of matter and ‘fewer’ is correct when you’re referring to numbers, profit accordingly.
Continuing on my rounds as a self-appointed member of the Word Police, let me now draw your attention to verbs that are misused:
- Try and do (something) = wrong
- Try to do (something) = RIGHT
I see and hear that one often – and why does it really matter, you might ask, because everyone will understand what you mean even if you make the mistake. That’s true. But like it or not, we’re judged on how professionally we present ourselves. Your business may have nothing to do with words but if you don’t use them correctly to explain what you do, the impression you’re giving is less polished than the company that makes the extra effort to get the words right.
Since I mentioned the word in the last par: you’re or your? Stop and think before you decide which version you’re (you are) going to use because your company literature looks amateurish if you plump for the wrong one:
- You’re = you are
- Your = belonging to you
The point is, you can affect (influence) the way people view your business by the way your corporate copy is written. The effect (result) of good copywriting shows you means business.
Have you been in business for ‘over X years’ or ‘more than X years’? Answer: it’s more than x years. ‘Over’ denotes the position of something (over the road) and ‘more than’ relates to numbers. Yes, again, meaning will be understood even if you slip up but your writing will shine out if your corporate literature and website demonstrate a full understanding of your own language.
To recap, use:
- fewer (when referring to numbers), less (when referring to volume);
- try to, NOT try and ;
- you’re (for you are), your (for belonging to you);
- affect (when you mean influence), effect (when you mean result);
- over (when referring to position), more than (when referring to numbers).