Marked in over 100 countries around the globe, World Book Day – run by a charity of the same name – is now in its 18th year. The UK celebrated the event on March 5th (other countries assign different days).
Seeing a playground full of kids dressed up as book characters that day did more than raise a smile. It strongly suggested that children really do enjoy reading, which is tribute to the schools, parents and carers involved – as well as WBD itself.
But what does all of this mean for your business and your need for effective communications? Here are some thoughts…
1) Try and keep your joy of reading alive
I hope this enjoyment was instilled in you as a child, since it makes it possible for you to savour each page as a few (or more) moments of happiness.
If that’s the case, then it probably doesn’t matter whether it’s factual or fictional, hard copy or online, or strictly for business rather than for pleasure – you’ll feel good about the time you’ve spent.
2) Reading keeps your grey cells active and broadens your knowledge
Being quick-witted, and having the ability to converse about a range of subjects, are attractive and useful traits in anyone – personally or professionally.
Would you rather spend your leisure time, or working hours, with someone who’s well-read – or a person who’s not?
3) Reading widely allows you to acquire new vocabulary and see different writing styles in action
Picking up and using new words can demonstrate knowledge but, if too obscure, can alienate people too. Try and match the vocabulary you use with everything you know about the readers you’re trying to engage.
While the stream-of-consciousness approach of James Joyce (see “Ulysses“, for example) is definitely not for use in your business writing, the stark and to-the-point crime novels of Elmore Leonard provide better clues. As an aside, Leonard’s famous “10 Rules of Writing” offer great advice too (especially: “If it sounds like writing… rewrite it.”)
4) If you want to read one book about writing…
There are hundreds of books about the art of writing fiction, and about commercial copywriting too. On this latter subject, a great place to start has a title that suggests a slightly wider remit – but don’t let that put you off.
Written by David Ogilvy, arguably the best copywriter of the past 50 years (and one of the original Mad Men), “On Advertising” is a classic that will inform, enlighten and entertain you in equal measure: I highly recommend it.
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The trainer, David Willis, used “cats” and “dogs” as metaphors for the types of behaviours we deal with – and can all identify in ourselves. These metaphors allow you to recognise and adjust to your own (and others’) behaviours, and to improve your communications as a result.
Do you (or someone you deal with regularly) behave like a cat or a dog?
Many of us adopt a “persona” when we’re at work that determines how we’ll behave in most situations. This may be different (or similar) to the way we’d behave in another environment. Sometimes, we might also flip from one mode of behaviour to another, depending upon the context, the reactions of other people, and other factors.
But how aware are you of these behavioural changes? Can you recognise them in yourself, and in others? On the training course led by David Willis, he grouped behaviours into two broad types: dogs and cats.
The former value relationships and want to be liked; to be a part of the family or pack. They’re confused by conflict or changes of routine, and like to receive (and obey) clear instructions.
You can recognise someone who’s behaving like a dog because they’ll tend to put their weight onto one side or another and tilt their head. They also make acknowledging sounds while listening.
People who are displaying dog-like behaviours will also lean forward when they’re talking or listening, maintain eye-contact, gesture with their hands (palms-up) and vary their tone of voice.
Cat behaviours include sitting or standing straight, with weight balanced evenly and their head centred and still.
They listen in silence and display few gestures – except for palms-down hand movements – prefer to have minimal eye-contact and to use a flatter tone of voice.
Although the summary above only touches on the depths of the analysis, you can probably see some truth in it already. Even with this basic knowledge, you can start recognising the two modes of behaviour in the people you’re with (as well as in yourself).
This can help you to improve your relationships – with “cats” as well as “dogs” – and your communication skills, and even your job prospects. That’s because recognition should lead to adjustment.
You can start emulating behaviour, or adopting the opposite style, according to whatever’s most appropriate to the person or people you’re with and the situation you’re in. And you can make similar adjustments to your writing too.
How to write to dogs
If you know that the person you’re writing to tends to behave like a dog (like around 70% of the population do), then your writing job just got a whole lot easier.
First of all, you can adopt a friendly, conversational tone that uses “you” and “you’re” and other variations two or three times more often than “we”, “I”, “our” or “us”. This will appeal to this (dog-like) reader’s need to be part of a relationship and to feel wanted and liked.
When you’re trying to convince this kind of reader about the validity of your argument, and/or sell them a product or service, appeal to their emotional not just rational self.
People displaying dog behaviours want to feel comfortable and safe too, so you should use phrases that play on this fact (as long as they’re true). So, if you’re writing to dentists, then a phrase in your copy such as “hundreds of other dental surgeons already enjoy the benefits of X product; now it’s your chance to grab this opportunity.” will resonate. Why?
Because you’ve given the reader the sense of safety s/he craves – the knowledge of being part of the pack if they take up your offer. Talking of which, you can also be very bold with your call to action when approaching this audience, since those behaving like dogs enjoy receiving – and will follow – clear instructions.
How to write to cats
When writing to someone who tends to display cat behaviour, it might be useful to adopt a more formal, less conversational style compared to your tone when addressing “a dog”. This means avoiding contractions such as “can’t” and “it’s” and using “cannot” and “it is” instead.
In addition, you can take out any relationship-building friendliness that you might include when writing to “a dog” (“How’s the family?” for example) and focus instead on the task or issue at hand.
You can also present the cat with challenges without fear of confusion or flight – those behaving like cats will relish the fact that you’ve trusted them to tackle the issue head on – and ask them to make quick decisions.
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Once Colonel Sanders had perfected his secret blend of 11 herbs and spices and developed a basic cooking technique for Kentucky Fried Chicken, he was able to franchise the business and become successful.
There’s also a KFC formula for copywriting success* that combines different elements and can help you quickly create a memorable product: text that people find satisfying, which they’ll want to read and act upon. For copywriters, the letters KFC stand for Know, Feel, and Commit and they inspire three separate questions:
1. What do you want your reader to know?
Before you start, you need to figure out who you’re writing to – and why. In other words, what’s your purpose or ultimate goal? And who are you informing about it and/or persuading to act upon your message?
Once you’ve settled on these, you can figure out the facts that you need to share. These might include an acknowledgement of the reader’s situation/problem/aspirations and a logical follow-up that – respectively – reveals your empathy and support, discusses your proposed solution, and imparts some information about how best to achieve those goals.
Most organisations are very good at pushing out information to their customers and prospects. Not so many bother to filter that data before dissemination. Think about the needs and desires of your reader (remember, focus on just one reader to make your message more personal) before you jot down the most important facts from their perspective.
Then, string these facts into a logical sequence that counters any likely objections and answers every reader’s most pressing question: What’s in it for me?
2. What do you want your reader to feel?
Very few companies get this right, because they focus on the rational arguments that they believe will persuade a reader. Usually, this rational approach is all about facts and figures, so it’s covered by the answer(s) to “What do you want your reader to know?”- so long as (1) is done well.
While this may persuade the ultra-rational to respond, it’s unlikely to move a mass market to action. Even if your focus is business-to-business, there are still people within your target organisations making the decisions – and people are emotional.
Humans respond to desire, fear, greed, humour, hunger, jealousy and other powerful emotional triggers so your messages should evoke these feelings. Once you’ve identified your purpose and your typical reader, you must then decide which emotional triggers to pull upon within your text.
If you concentrate your text on answering the “What’s in it for me?” question, you’re likely to be outlining the benefits that a reader will enjoy by buying your goods or services. In turn, and perhaps without even knowing it, you’ll probably be using some of these emotional triggers.
For example, a focus on price is essentially playing the greed card – the reader saves money (benefit) and keeps more of it for him/herself (benefit based upon greed). Then again, you can put the spotlight of your message on guarantees (benefit = minimal risk), or a service level agreement (benefit = low risk and recompense if the SLA is broken), or the many other satisfied customers you have (benefit = low risk because it’s proven/successful). With these ideas, you’re now honing in on the reader’s fears: of making a wrong choice, missing out on a good deal/not being “insured”, or lagging behind the market/their competitors.
3. What do you want your reader to commit to doing?
If your communication has a purpose behind it, you’ll want your reader to do something after seeing your message. It may be to place an order, sign up to a newsletter, or phone for more information.
Ideally, you should ask for only one thing. Once decided, make the call to action as clear and simple as possible: “Fill in the attached order form.”; “Complete your name and email address on this sign-up form.”; “Call this number:”.
You can mention the call to action more than once within your communication, and you should certainly include it at the end of your message (maybe even adding a variation of it as a “P.S.”).
* With thanks and acknowledgements to fellow copywriter and friend (and ex-boss!) Andy Maslen who first mentioned this to me way back when.
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If you’ve seen the RichWords report* on “How to write a press release that journalists will read and act upon”, you’ll know that we advocate a two-stage process of (1) planning and (2) writing.
To show that our advice works, this blog will publish both an original release that we created and the coverage achieved in the local press. But first, in true case study style, some background.
What was the issue?
Framlingham Business Association asked RichWords (we’re an FBA member) to write a release about the town’s colourful display of flags. Residents and visitors kept asking shop-owners and market traders about the flying standards, but not everyone knew the answer – or that the FBA was ultimately responsible. The FBA chair wanted to gain some local coverage for the organisation and town, and to acknowledge the role played by one of its members.
What did we do?
After interviewing the volunteer in question, RichWords wrote the release (see below) and sent it to the Chair for distribution to her press contacts (we can put the media list together and do the distribution too, if you prefer).
June 13, 2014 – Framlingham, Suffolk
Flags flying high in Framlingham
The shops and other buildings around Framlingham are all-a-flutter with colour right now as 70 of the world’s flags go on show. Catching the breeze as well as the attention of residents and visitors alike, these national symbols represent many of the countries competing in this summer’s World Cup and Commonwealth Games. The 5’ x 3’ flags will stay in place until the Games close in August.
Bill Bulstrode, who runs a “home, lifestyle and fun” shop in the town, came up with the idea for the displays, and volunteered his time to set them up. “We live in a beautiful place, and the flags brighten it up even more,” he says. “We wanted to celebrate the nations taking part in these events, bring some extra colour to the town, and get people talking. The tourists who come here for the castle and other sights love it when they see their own flag flying,” he adds.
Jenny Stockman, the Chair of Framlingham Business Association (which is responsible for the flags), agrees that the vibrant display adds to the town’s natural beauty and helps to generate business. “Our aim is to make Framlingham as attractive as possible to visitors – and residents – and to support local retailers and other businesses. The flags certainly contribute to our achievement of these goals,” she says.
The flags are bringing an educational benefit too, as local schools ask pupils to match each of the symbols to the right country. “There’s a real buzz about the town, with people of all ages getting involved,” says Mr Bulstrode, proudly. “Everyone seems to have a smile on their face.”
For more information, contact:
Jenny Stockman: email@example.com; 01728 726500
As you can see below, the release was published in the local press almost verbatim – although the journalist or sub-editor did change the headline. Slightly reluctantly, we think that it’s better than our original one!
In this instance, we didn’t supply a photograph since the FBA Chair knew that the journalist would want to organise it.
What’s it all mean?
While nobody can guarantee you media coverage, the best practitioners will follow some basic rules that should at least get your press release noticed. And if that happens, there’s a good chance your story will get published too – partly because your release will stand out from the dross that journalists try to avoid drowning in each day.
* The basic rules are covered in the RichWords report mentioned above. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get it.
Last week, I tweeted about Marketing Week’s Q&A with Innocent marketing director Douglas Lamont and the pleasing match up between the company’s brand promise and the experience of seeing/reading its product packaging and tasting what’s inside.
Over the weekend, I observed the opposite effect while staying overnight in a Best Western hotel near Nottingham. The BW website uses the headline “Hotels with personality” (in a supposedly friendly script font) and explains its thinking by saying: “Every Best Western hotel is individual and crammed full of its own personality… The only thing that is the same is [each hotel’s] commitment to the quality, value and standards of service that every guest receives.”
Even the “in-room amenities” (e.g. bathroom goodies, pens and notepads) include copy – see below – using the same font and adopting a tone of voice that is – allegedly – full of personality. So far so on-brand.
However, a problem arises when the experience of staying in a BW hotel doesn’t live up to this promise – when there’s a jarring gap between the playful branding and the seemingly bored staff who (mostly) display a can’t-be-bothered attitude. I doubt this was the “personality” envisaged by the brand guardian/copywriter who created the line.
Here are a couple of examples of what happened during my stay – and how easily the experience could have been different (i.e. more pleasant and more in keeping with the brand values):
1) I was given a credit-card style “key” for my room, which I put into my wallet, next to my cards, for safe keeping. When I couldn’t get back into my room and trudged down to Reception to find out why, I was told that my own cards had de-magnetised the entry card. My wife had kept hers next to her mobile phone and the same thing happened: we couldn’t get into our room.
It was a slight, yet unavoidable, inconvenience for us… and an expensive waste of time for BW’s staff. Why? Because I’ve no doubt it happens regularly, meaning the staff have to explain the issue and re-set the door cards several times each day. So, you’re potentially annoying your guests and certainly wasting time and money. Perhaps explaining the vagaries of magnetic strips to people as they check-in might be a good idea?
2) I ordered a Sunday newspaper, which wasn’t outside my door at around 7.30am. I checked the in-room blurb – it assured me the paper would be in the breakfast room. I went downstairs but found no sign of life there (despite the same blurb telling me that breakfast was served from 8am). I enquired at Reception.
Without apology, the person behind the desk explained that “the paper boy isn’t allowed to deliver this early, so you’ll have to wait until breakfast time – around 9 o’clock.” A bit peeved, I suggested how useful it would have been to mention this when I checked in and – upon being prompted by a staff member – chose to have a paper. The priceless reply: “You can cancel it, if you like.”
The moral is… make sure your brand experience lives up to your brand promise if you want satisfied (and returning) customers. You might even save yourself some money in the process.
Best Western? More like a cowboy operation if you ask me.
One of my current projects is with a London-based company and so I’ve travelled to the capital a few times recently. I still get excited by the buzz when I go back (I spent almost 20 years’ living and working in London), and love the fact that there’s 3G access to the web in every part of the city.
|Image from Wired website|
A few of my freelance friends have been asking how I’ve managed to keep so busy over the past year, and I guess there are three answers: hard work, good work and good luck.
The hard work involves self-motivation and long hours – getting into the office on time and doing a full day (even when the sun’s shining, like it has been all this week). Sometimes, it can be about working in the evenings or at weekends too, although I try to keep this “overtime” to a minimum. This is because I want to spend time with my family and also relax and re-charge my batteries. This is important for staying fresh and creative – which in turn helps to keep my clients happy, of course.
Good work is all about meeting the brief in terms of timing, budget and creativity (as a minimum) – and trying to exceeed expectations wherever possible. It’s also about being as helpful, approachable and knowledgeable as possible: to be the “go to” guy for a client’s copywriting and marketing communications needs.
Good luck is about being in the right place at the right time, knowing or meeting the right people, or hitting on an idea that resonates with a client at just the right moment.
And the moral is? Doing the first two things consistently can help you get your own slice of good fortune more regularly.
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The moral of the story for all creatives is that watching movies (also going to galleries, reading, listening to music etc etc) is a valid way to seek inspiration.
Take a look at this blog post on Stocklogos.com about the hidden (and sometimes not-so-hidden) messages and meaning lurking within some well-known logos.
The second example – Sony’s VAIO logo – was of particular interest to me, as I was the copywriter working on the pan-European launch materials for the first VAIO laptop PCs.
To expand on the description provided (“… the first two letters represent an analog signal and the last two are the 1 and 0 of the digital world.”), the logo was conceptualised and designed by the Tokyo-based engineers who created those computers.
At that time (1996-7), Sony was ahead of the game in terms of the convergence of the traditional analogue world with the (then) fast-emerging digital sphere. So, the logo carries that message of transition and forward movement, as well as being as attractive and elegant as the machines that had it engraved into their body-work.
By listening to and playing with my three year-old daughter, I’m constantly amazed by the power of learning. We all know it’s pretty effortless at that age, but her ability to recite the verses of a short, rhyming story (“Chocolate Mousse for Greedy Goose” by ‘Gruffalo’ author Julia Donaldson) after hearing it just a few times inspires me.
It also reminds me that continuing to take an interest in people, words, how things work and so on makes you a better writer (as well as a more engaging conversationalist). The more open you are to different ideas, cultures, artistic exploits, commercial endeavours and the rest, the more likely you are to bring a new dimension to your writing – whether you’re creating fiction, or helping a company to communicate with its audience.
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