Don’t let your mate proofread for you!

July 9, 2019 § Leave a comment

This is the true story of a guy who thought he could save a bit of money having his friend proofread a marketing newsletter for him – and is now counting the cost.

The guy’s an accountant who works on his own and wanted someone other than himself to look at the copy before he sent it out. (I agree it’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look at your copy because the author tends to read what they think they’ve written and not what’s actually there.)

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One of his mates (who really liked English at school….) offered to do a thorough job for him and the problems started as soon as the accountant shared the copy. The duo had ‘creative differences’ – also known as an argument  – about the way the copy should be written.

The end of the story is that I did the job – proofreading only -because Rob was adamant that his words (unless they were a complete pile of nonsense) stayed the same.

He explained the friend story to illustrate how important it was to him to have the spelling/typos/grammar checked but not to receive chunks of rewritten text because he was confident about that side of the newsletter.

He also hinted – and I have no problem with it – that because he was paying me for the service he expected the work delivered to his deadline and redone if he wasn’t happy with it. If your mate’s helping you out, how good to you feel taking him to task if he takes a week when he promised to take a day?

So by commissioning a professional proofreader he didn’t damage a friendship. He’s still wrestling with an explanation for not accepting the many changes to the copy that his friend suggested. He feels he’s nearly out of a pickle – but not quite.

 

 

The secret language of the written word

April 29, 2019 § Leave a comment

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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 julie@bowlerhatmedia.co.uk.

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.

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.

 

Twitter and Stephen Fry’s breakfast!

June 1, 2017 § Leave a comment

77c29fd557c9f62b121bebefb5d180f8.pngIt takes seconds to get yourself a reputation and decades to lose it and that’s exactly what has happened  to Twitter.

Back in the days when Twitter started tweeting (2006), there was an appetite among the Twitterati to post a bunch of stuff that nobody needed to know but lots of people lapped up.

There’d be stuff as trivial as what the rich and famous had for breakfast, for example and there were celebrities like Stephen Fry who just loved tweeting.

So by slapping those two bits of info together people have landed on the notion that Twitter is only about ‘rubbish like Stephen Fry’s breakfast’. It’s an excuse that’s pulled out time and time again by businesspeople who don’t get Twitter – although why Stephen Fry’s breakfast has been chosen as a scapegoat is a mystery.

His breakfast doesn’t feature in his top tweets or even his first tweets.   omelette-2200916_960_720.jpg

 It’s true he has said something about breakfast but, to be fair, he’s said something about a lot of things because he’s a prolific tweeter.

We’ve moved on miles since the first days of Twitter. Some of the early takers have ditched it – maybe to worry more about Instagram. Many other accounts have now joined Twitter not to talk about their breakfast but to talk about their business.

It’s easy to see why. Twitter is a cost-effective form of marketing particularly in an era when print advertising is relatively more expensive and far less interesting. But people who don’t get Twitter still use the ‘Stephen Fry breakfast’ argument as an excuse for not pounding the life out of their Twitter accounts.

Realistically, Twitter takes time to master. It’s a fast-moving beast so accounts have to tweet often and regularly to make their mark. Although there are tools to help everyone spread their message and reach a wide audience throughout the day, these need to be learnt as well. Using the right hashtags will mean tweets are seen in the right places by the right people – potential customers – at the right times. But all this takes the know-how to know how to build up an audience and keep them interested.

It makes more sense for many people to concentrate on the main business of running their business. One answer is to hand over the management of social media to a company whose business is social media and ‘words’. Bowler Hat knows plenty of companies who have decided to do just that, from DIY stores and hairdressers to accountants and webchat services.

Five tweets per day for the sum of £50 per week (that’s what Bowler Hat charges) adds up to good value for an ad campaign for business (and has nothing to do with Stephen Fry’s breakfast!)

 

 

 

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.

I think I preferred cold callers

November 24, 2014 § 4 Comments

Cold callers drive me mad but at least I understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. No, I haven’t been involved in a road traffic accident in the last couple of years, whatever your records tell you. No I haven’t been mis-sold PPI – and I have checked before you ask. But I ‘get it.’  I’m not sure of the odds but one in every ‘blah’ number of calls is a winner and the cold caller can take you onto the next stage. There wouldn’t be a business in it if the numbers didn’t stack up. IMG_0801 There’s also a bit of payback for us. If we’re really angry about getting these cold calls we can vent our spleen at the cold caller and demand that our details are removed from records because we’ve signed up to the Telephone Preference Service and nothing of this sort should be happening. And, frankly, we will feel a lot better for getting that off our chests. (Personally, I always like to see/hear how they’re going to manage with my surname because Lefebve is rarely pronounced properly and few cold callers have developed a knack of dealing with surnames they can’t pronounce. I give good listening time to those that have!) But companies have found other ways of contacting us with offers now and they leave no ranting room whatsoever. I absolutely can’t see how these routes can be effective although someone, I expect, is about to prove me wrong. This morning I answered the phone to what initially seemed to be a dead line but just before I hung up it turned into a recorded message about boilers. I can’t tell you much more than that because then I did hang up. Even if you needed a boiler – which I don’t – how are you going to be persuaded by a dull recorded message which answers no questions and doesn’t tailor information to you. Then there are the text messages that companies presumably believe will motivate us into taking up their offer of….whatever it is they’re offering. I’ve always seen text messages as a very passive means of a communication: if my kids really need me they’ll call; if they’re just touching base, they’ll text. So I don’t see text messages as vibrant marketing. The icing on the alternative-to-cold-calling-cake happened just now though when I answered the phone and a voice, very brightly, said ‘Goodbye!’ That’s an automated system gone bonkers.

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.

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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!

You can’t call this marketing!

August 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

StressI mentioned the other day how difficult it is to unsubscribe from certain emails – some being more persistent than others. And I’ve found a real ‘pulling-your-hair-out’ corker here.

For starters the email is in Spanish so, not being a Spanish speaker, it’s of absolutely no use to me whatsoever. I thought I’d better finally unsubscribe rather than just delete because I’m getting an increasing number of these Spanish emails seemingly about different products. (I wouldn’t know, would I, cos I can’t talk the lingo.)

In fact I had to guess the ‘unsubscribe’ link which I did I was taken to a page that suddenly was a tad more helpful ONLY in that it translated for me.

But then…instead of the usual stuff (this may take blah,blah hours. Thank you for your patience, etc) I got this:

EMAIL TO UNSUBSCRIBE:

TO ENSURE THE PROPER MANAGEMENT OF ARCO RIGHTS (ACCESS, RECTIFICATION, CANCELLATION AND/OR APPOSITION) YOU SHOULD CONTACT THE DATABASE’S OWNER, WHOSE CONTACT DETAILS ARE PROVIDED BELOW.
UNSUBSCRIBE: BAJAS@ARKEERO.COM

Yes I have emailed and I haven’t received word back as yet – but just wanted to share. The cheek of it and really, what’s the point? Why am I on a foreign language marketing list – that wants to make it difficult for me to unsubscribe??

You can’t call this decent marketing – or marketing at all, actually.

People may forgive. They won’t forget

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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!!!!!

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