Category Archives: Copywriting

Engage your customers with a real voice

talking-guys-1428187Just like in consumer marketing, the voice of a B2B company is an essential component of that brand’s identity. It steers all company communication – in person, in print and online – and gives the brand consistency across multiple messaging platforms. Consistency isn’t the only goal, however. Your brand’s voice should resonate with your customers.

So, when your customers are other businesses, do you have to keep your messaging “corporate”?

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Plant some evergreens in your marketing landscape

colorado-ski-slope-1379643Oktoberfest is over. Leaves have begun to fall. We’re preparing for the end of another year – and ramping up to our busiest season. As we deal with expiring budgets, rush projects and holiday travel schedules, creating content for regularly scheduled marketing pieces can get pushed to the back burner.

With a little bit of planning, however, blog posts, newsletters and website content can stay fresh even when other projects demand most of your attention. The solution: evergreen content.

Evergreen content stays relevant no matter when you publish – or when someone finds it on your site. That may not sound like much of a difference, but it could be the key to drawing more consistent traffic.

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Time ‘2 lern some grammer?’ #wordcrimes

word crimes, grammar, proofreading

Heralded as the original pop song parody artist, “Weird Al” has proved his worth yet again, as songs from his summer 2014 album, “Mandatory Fun,” have out-classed thousands of independent YouTube parodies of this year’s top hits. My personal favorite, “Word Crimes,” exposes “Weird Al’s” grammar-loving nature, while avoiding the easier and potentially offensive angles used by many independent parodies of this year’s controversial hit, “Blurred Lines,” by Robin Thicke and featuring artists T.I. and Pharrell Williams.

It’s not surprising that “Weird Al” has a penchant for grammar, as he’s shown time and time again that he knows how to manipulate song lyrics to fit predetermined music – and make it funny. That talent requires a sophisticated understanding of language, including many of the common problem areas that he mentions in “Word Crimes.”

A few of the problems he calls out are:

  • Less vs. fewer
  • It’s vs. its
  • Syntax
  • Dangling participles
  • Homophones
  • Whom vs. who
  • Good vs. well
  • Irony vs. coincidence
  • Figurative vs. literal

While a little bit of “Weird Al” goes a long way for me, I appreciate that he can inject a little grammar lesson into pop culture – you never know what will stick.

Are you surprised “Weird Al” has a thing for wording? Tell us why – or why not – in the comments below.

Watch the official video here.

 

What happens when spell-check can’t help (and what to do about it)

bear

Building relationships and trust with prospects and clients requires a jaw-dropping amount of work. Once you’ve established your organization as a credible, reliable and legitimate source of information, don’t jeopardize your efforts with embarrassing spelling errors.

Quality writing isn’t just for style junkies. If I were trying to earn your business and sent you marketing email with grammatical mistakes, would you hire me? Imagine the message that would send to your audience. If you’re not minding the details, why would they plunk down six figures for your new product?

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How to turn mediocre copy into tantalizing content

OK handWe’ve all been there.

You write the best blog post, ad, white paper, story or (fill in the blank) ever. And then someone dumps all over it. The red sea of edits and corrections makes you wonder what went wrong.

The thrill is gone.

But you can bring it back. Here’s how …

Know the five signs of copy drivel and avoid them like the bubonic plague. They’re content killers and they’ll take you down every time.

  1. Long sentences
  2. Wordiness
  3. Jargon
  4. Passive voice
  5. Random capitalization

Let’s explore these in-depth so that you’ll be able to recognize and fix them in your own writing.

#1: Long sentences

The shorter your sentences, the more readable they are. Aim for a maximum of 15 words per sentence, but don’t be obsessive about it. Look for opportunities to cut when you can. This sentence from a daily writing tips blog (for real) screams for hedge clippers:

“Although variety of sentence length occurs naturally, it’s a good idea, when it’s feasible, to recite your writing aloud to ensure that stacks of sentences of repetitively equal or nearly equal length aren’t slipping through.”

Whoa! I dare you to get through that without stopping for a breath.

How to fix it

Short sentences pack a punch. Use them liberally. You can even write one-sentence paragraphs to help readers breeze through your content.

Push yourself to trim your word count. Turn a 100-word e-blast into 50 words and then slash it to 25. If you’re feeling brave, cut another 10 words.

Now, let’s rewrite the tip above:

“Vary sentence length to grab readers’ attention. Read your copy out loud and then rewrite any monotonous sections to spice it up.”

Got it? OK, let’s move to the next sign.

#2: Wordiness

You can’t help yourself.

You fall prey to deadwood like “in order to,” “in need of” and “at the present time.”

Does this look familiar?

“If you’re in need of a refund, please contact the corporate office immediately in order to get your money back. The local branch is closed for repairs at the present time.”

How to fix it

Resist the temptation to use three or more words when one will do. Trim wordy phrases and your readers will thank you.

Use this cheat sheet to get started:

Avoid Replace it with
As a result of Because
At the present time Now
At that point in time Then
At this point in time Now
Due to the fact Because
In close proximity Near
In need of Need
In order to To
In the event that If
Make use of Use
Subsequent to After

Prune as many words from your copy as you can. It becomes easier the more you do it.

Ready for the next one?

#3: Jargon

Your audience expects you to use inflated words, right?

Wrong.

If you use business and industry jargon, you could alienate readers who aren’t familiar with those terms, as well as bloggers, journalists and others whose attention you’re trying to attract. You want your audience to read and act on your message. That won’t happen if they don’t understand it.

Try decoding this banking jargon:

“We must effect a needs assessment of the downturn in commercial lending package applications.”

Huh?

Translation: “We need to find out why no one is applying for loans.”

How to fix it

Impress readers with clear, concise and benefit-driven content – not bloat. Simple words are approachable and meaningful.

For example:

  • Choose “rules” instead of “methodology.”
  • Use “improve” instead of “optimize.”
  • Select “think” – not “conceptualize.”
  • Pick “avoid” rather than “circumvent.”

OK, on to #4.

#4: Passive voice

Fizzle or sizzle? It’s your choice.

Passive voice goes down like a can of pop that sat open on the counter for three days. It’s impersonal and unfriendly, and often produces ambiguous, unsatisfying sentences.

Here’s an example:

“The database contains 1 million veterans’ records and can be easily viewed and searched online.”

The first half of the sentence is fine. The rest doesn’t tell readers who can view and search the database.

Check these out. They’re all in passive voice:

  1. “Mistakes were made when the cars were produced on the assembly line on March 4.”
  2. “It was heard by Susan that a companywide audit was scheduled.”
  3. “Pat’s new car was driven too fast and the fender was scratched.”

How to fix it

Rewrite your copy in active voice. It’s easy: Determine who or what performs the action and use that as the subject of the sentence.

Now, let’s try those again:

  1. “The welders made mistakes when they produced the cars on the assembly line on March 4.”
  2. “Susan heard that the CFO scheduled a companywide audit.”
  3. “Pat’s son, Blake, drove the car too fast and scratched the fender.”

Last but not least …

#5: Random capitalization

“Hi, my NAME is [fill in the blank] and I have an overwhelming Compulsion to capitalize RANDOM words in my copy. Even Worse, I do it inconsistently. I Need HELP.”

Here’s the thing: Capitalization within a sentence implies a proper name, such as Anita Job or Acme Widget Co.

It confuses readers when you capitalize words or letters at will, such as “our Financial expertise,” and “I TRUST that you have Integrity.”

TRUST me – random capitalization doesn’t make a word inherently important.

How to fix it

If you want to emphasize a word or phrase, use bold text or italics, but don’t go overboard. Emphasize too much and you’ll diminish your point. Better yet, use plain text. It promotes readability and comprehension.

Take this example – it’s jarring to your audience:

“I’m happy to report that we’ve made excellent progress in reducing our PRICING MISHAPS, SHIPPING ERRORS AND BAD DEBT.”

Capitalizing these words is unnecessary and is the equivalent of SHOUTING AT YOUR READERS.

You’ve got this

The first step to turning ordinary copy into irresistible content is to apply these five fixes to your own work. It might take some practice, but everything worth doing requires a commitment. If this list intimidates you, master one or two and then work your way through the rest one at a time.

You can do it!

Do you have tips of your own for making middling copy magical? Let us know in the comments below.

How to take charge of a public relations crisis using social media

focusBusinesses that experience a public relations crisis often turn to social media to help them manage messaging around the crisis. The companies that do it well follow a carefully considered PR crisis plan. In contrast, those that are unprepared could face a difficult time maintaining their brands’ reputation.

Here are three tips to help your organization survive a community or reputational crisis using social media:

  1. Do your homework. Investigate the situation and get all the facts before responding online, but act quickly. It’s best to respond within 24 hours of a crisis, even if it’s only to say that you’re aware of the situation and will provide updates as soon as you get more information.
  2. Be honest. It’s never a good idea to be misleading, but you don’t have to fall on your sword, either. Be upfront while keeping in mind that situations often change. Always leave room for the unexpected.
  3. Keep it professional. When responding to questions and comments, don’t argue or debate with posters. If possible, turn a negative into a positive. For example, you may want to thank a poster for bringing the situation to light and then talk about how you plan to make it right. Make sure your response is thoughtful and not defensive.

If you don’t have a PR crisis plan, start working on one now. At a minimum, you should know who will be responsible for monitoring and responding to social media comments when things go wrong. Make it clear who needs to be notified and who has the final decision about what gets posted.

Have you changed the course of a potential PR disaster using social media? How did you turn a negative into a positive? Let us know in the comments below.

New project: Justrite’s product catalog

Last month, Justrite, the leading source of quality storage, handling and security products, came to us with a new project. After making recent acquisitions, the company needed a catalog that included both legacy and new products. Justrite provided three existing catalogs, and from those, we were tasked with creating one 48-page catalog.

The biggest challenge was consolidating these three different catalogs into a cohesive product. It was really important that the copy was uniform throughout the catalog. To do this, we reviewed all of the provided copy and decided on one format to use across the board. From there, we rewrote and edited the product descriptions to align with the approved format.

In terms of design, Justrite needed a fresh, new look that also worked with the company’s current branding. We gave the existing look a slight face-lift, which was just enough to make it feel shiny and new while still keeping it in line with the brand.

Does your company have a product catalog? How often do you update it? Let us know in the comments below.

TSG-139-JUS

Adventures in the wild, wild West (Side)

young scared woman in bed

Have you taken a risk and were surprised by the outcome?

Not anything crazy, but definitely an outside-your-wheelhouse moment?

It takes a lot of nerve to be vulnerable and put yourself out there. Who knows what could happen? It feels scary, but even if something goes haywire, you will still wake up tomorrow. The sun will still rise and the Earth will continue to spin.

But you’re afraid.

You’re afraid of the unknown, so you imagine a million what-if scenarios that may never come to pass. You’re afraid of failure and that relentless voice inside that says, “I told you so.” You’re afraid of giving up the devil you know for the one you don’t.

And staying in your safe zone has its benefits. You get a predictable (often boring) outcome. You’re reasonably safe from failure. You don’t have to deal with naysayers. So you hunker down and tell yourself you’re doing the right thing.

Not so fast.

It turns out that smart risks can be richly rewarding. You never know what you’ll discover along the way.

When people find out I bike to work through the city’s Big Bad West Side, they look at me like I have three feet sticking out of my head. Although my route is the road less traveled, drivers who bypass the city’s West Side every day are missing an eye-opening experience.

Take “K-Town,” for example. The 16-block area of North Lawndale is known for its streets that start with “K,” and it gets a bad rap for crime. But the flip side is that part of K-Town is on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district features hidden treasures, including stunning commercial and residential architecture.

If flying buttresses, towering greystones and gleaming gargoyles aren’t your thing, maybe you’d prefer exquisite flowers, rare tropical plants and awe-inspiring trees. You’ll find this eye candy at the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest and most impressive conservatories in the United States. It’s open year-round, and while admission is free, you won’t leave without putting something in the till.

Chicago Blackhawks fans probably know about Johnny’s IceHouse West, because it’s the team’s state-of-the-art practice venue. Adult and children’s leagues play there, too. The rink also offers ice skating lessons. I used to think the rink was a beer distributor, thanks to Icehouse from Miller Brewing Co. Tommy Hawk on the side of the building should have been a dead giveaway, but I didn’t notice that on my early commutes to work.

Two weeks ago, the kindness of strangers in the Not So Great part of town totally saved my rump. Leaving work, I faced such a nasty headwind, I felt like one of those cartoon characters running in place. It was mind-blowingly exhausting. Halfway home, I gave up and jumped on a bus.

The only problem was I couldn’t figure out how to work the contraption you’re supposed to place your bike into on the front of the bus. The impatient driver was yelling and pointing, but I couldn’t hear a word he said or understand his confusing hand signals. Maybe it had something to do with the wind roaring in my ears or the honking, cursing motorists stuck behind the diesel-belching beast.

A man waiting for another bus saw me struggling and took pity on me. He lifted my bike up onto the front rack, secured the measly looking tire-holder and sent me on my way. I thanked him profusely, but it felt inadequate. I’m not sure what I would have done had he not been there. The same thing happened when I got off the bus. I tried to wrestle my 50-pound steel Schwinn free without success. Yet another stranger came up and helped me.

See, there’s more to the West Side than you thought, so why not try it? Isn’t it better to go through life enjoying the ride rather than having a so-so experience and regretting what you didn’t do?

It’s not easy to conquer your fears. But envision what could happen if you let go and bust out of your rut every now and then. You might experience life. You might realize your dreams. You might even have fun along the way.

Now, if I could only overcome the terror of singing on open-mic night …

Have you taken a smart risk and done something that scared you? What convinced you to take the plunge? Were you successful? Share your story in the comments below.

 

He chose … poorly. What does your word choice say about your business?

Malapropism is one of my favorite words. It sounds like a deadly disease for old boats, but it means you said something that was really close to – but not quite – the word you meant … and people laughed.

Named for Mrs. Malaprop, the character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play, “The Rivals,” the most commonly identified malapropisms come from literature (for comedy) and the world of the rich and famous (for a different kind of comedy).

Unfortunately, the hilarity of poor word choice is lost on the world of the busy and working.

Woman angry with word choice

So many words are so close, but not right – and that can jeopardize a lot more than your ego if you make one of these errors in a professional setting.

Word choice can make or break a sale, a piece of marketing or an email to the boss.

These commonly incorrect word choices have two dangerous characteristics: they sound or look very similar to the correct word, and spell-check usually won’t catch them, because they are all real words.

If not corrected, frequent mistakes such as these could give the impression that, for you, close enough is good enough. If you’re worried about these kinds of mistakes slipping through the cracks, we’d be happy to help!

Here are a few unfunny mistakes I’ve heard or seen recently. Can you spot the errors?

1. Rose makes spinach lasagna with a blend of mozzarella and regatta.

A regatta is a boating competition. Ricotta is an Italian cheese often used in lasagna.

2. Just as he was ready to leave, Bob realized he had displaced his wallet during the day.

Displaced means one thing was moved when something else forcibly took its place. Bob probably misplaced his wallet, which will be lost until he remembers where he put it.

3. She follows a strict training regiment so she’ll be ready for the marathon in August. 

A regiment is a combination of military battalions. A regimen is a systematic plan.

4. The mail delivery riled up the dog every morning, but delivery trucks didn’t phase him.

A phase is an aspect or stage. To faze is to embarrass or disturb.

5. The consultant was able to keep an objectionable point of view since the decision wouldn’t affect him either way.

Objectionable means disagreeable or offensive. Objective, in this case, would mean he was able to guard his perspective from personal bias.

Have you seen or heard any word choice blunders recently? Let us know in the comments below.

New project: A bright newsletter for Samuel Strapping Systems

TSG-139-SSSEarlier this year, Samuel Strapping, an international manufacturer and supplier, came to us with a new project. They wanted to create a newsletter for their employees. Internal newsletters are important because they motivate employees and build loyalty for the company. Internal newsletters are also great for keeping employees up to date on policy changes and company news.

We created a design that complements Samuel Strapping’s established brand. The existing brand primarily used yellow and dark gray, one of my favorite color combos. We decided to use dark gray throughout and yellow for bright design elements. The result is a friendly design that maintains a professional feel.

We also wrote the copy for the newsletter, keeping the stories interesting and informative. With a letter from the president, employee spotlight, and birthdays, readers can get to know their colleagues on a more personal basis.

Does your company have an internal newsletter? If not, how do employees get company news? Let us know in the comments below.