Low-Impact Statements Won’t Make You Any Friends

Everyone has that friend that makes a mountain out of a molehill.

“Ugh. It’s Monday and the train is running slow this morning. This is going to be a terrible week.” According to ‘that’ friend, a relatively small thing will impact the course of his or her entire week.

‘That’ friend may have positive things to say as well. “Just saw [insert D-list actor] walking down the street. My life is complete!!!”

These are low-impact statements dressed up as things people should care about. In marketing (as in life), there are ways to do this effectively. Hyperbolizing low-impact statements is not the correct route.

People may write low-impact statements because:

  • They don’t understand their audience (or don’t care)
  • The ideas they share are self-centered
  • The main theme or idea is unclear
  • They are drama queens

Not every sentence you write will land with the kind of impact you desire. But that’s okay. In business writing, everything should lead to the big picture. But, if you’re summing up a theme or message, the sentence must ring with impact. Hyperbole is transparent. How do you increase the impact of the statement without blowing it out of proportion?

  • Empathize with the reader by framing the pain-point, problem or situation. This requires a clear understanding of your audience.
  • Clearly demonstrate how your product, service or organization solves the problem. Do this simply but descriptively. Statements that resonate require clarity and relevance — not exclamation points, italics, editorializations or aggrandized concepts.
  • As I’ve mentioned before, shorter sentences often have a greater impact.

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll avoid becoming ‘that’ writer.

5 Weapons to Destroy Buzzwords

I promise you that this innovative, thought-provoking post will create a new level of synergy in your cutting-edge copy.

Alright, so this post is obligatory. But as a man driven to help your business communicate more authentically, I have decided it is a must.

Buzzwords have no place in a writer’s toolbox. Unfortunately, good writers tend to read a lot. As a result, these painful bastards might slip into your diction. It’s the price you’ll pay for competitive research or general goofing off on the internet.

Join me next week for my thoughts on bad puns.

Digital marketing demigod David Meerman Scott helped start the war against buzzwords back in 2007. (Here’s the updated 2009 version.) For the most part, Scott aims his sights at PR folks. And we all know how much I love PR folks. But PR reps aren’t the only ones guilty of using buzzwords. It could happen to you. A good offense is the best defense.

Check out my 5 weapons to destroy buzzwords.

1. If you have no proof, nuke that sucker. We’re often tempted to make outlandish claims about our companies or products. Where’s the harm in calling ourselves leading, cutting-edge, the best, the largest or premiere? In 9 out of 10 cases, you’re either lying or including no proof of your claim. You think you can get away with it by making the claim as generic as possible. I’m telling you right now: it slows down and sinks your point. Avoid these types of words.

2. If it isn’t specific and descriptive, get out the dynamite. Your company and product may be generic. Is that how you want to present it to people? And it’s catastrophic to write generically-worded copy if your product is outstanding. Forget words like unique, customer-centric, dynamic, flexible and revolutionary.  You should even erase award-winning from your vocab. If the award is relevant to the copy, you have better options, like…

3. If you’re telling instead of showing, let the cannons rip. This tip isn’t unique to business writing. Lively writing across any medium requires you to show, rather than tell. Words that tell are usually hollow, shallow and meaningless. Many of the words we’ve discussed so far fit the bill here. If you’re the best or the only, you better be prepared to back those assertions up by showing readers why they’re true.

4. If it’s cliche, give it a swift kick in the balls. FYI — don’t drink the kool-aid if you don’t have the bandwidth to accomodate low-hanging fruit coming down the pipeline. You have an email address, right? You probably hear these kinds of cliches daily. Please, for the love of all that is holy, do not replicate them.

5. If it says nothing, get medieval on its ass. Perhaps this assertion is a culmination of the rest. Still, it’s worth saying: putting words on the page doesn’t mean you’re saying anything. Business is all about communication. Make sure you get your point across. Avoid words that say nothing.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Say Something Constructive

There’s no curing the epidemic of negativity on social networks. You, however, can gain immunity. An apple a day and such.

Your social networks are jam-packed with negativity and passive-aggressive content. It leaks into the blogosphere, too. As a reader, you can sniff out negativity. It usually doesn’t sit so well.

I get email updates every now again from a prominent blog in its space. But I just can’t bring myself to read it anymore. Every post details something you shouldn’t do. It tears down some company or individual who is doing the wrong thing. It reeks of self-importance and a downright negative perspective. There’s nothing attractive there anymore, so I delete the update almost every morning. (I stay subscribed because every now and again, he shares an interesting nugget of information.)

Negativity will naturally seep into your writing sometimes, especially when you’re inspired by a conflicting opinion. Unless it’s done with purpose (for humor, a one-off or a direct response), it may be killing the reader’s will to live.

“I disagree with him, Mr. Trump. Your hair looks like a live muskrat today, not a dead one.”

The real problem with negativity is how it affects the overall tone. You can be snarky without being negative. Sarcasm is more difficult to pull off.

Guess what? There’s a cure for negativity. It’s called being constructive. Remember that short fiction class you took in college? Of course you don’t; you were stoned. The first rule of that class was to always contribute constructive feedback. Use that every single day when you sit down to write. The process is kind of like laundering money: take that negative energy and invest it in a related, constructive concept. It comes out clean on the other side with your point intact.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Five Reasons Mitt Romney Sucks Ass” becomes “Five Ways Mitt Romney Can Improve His Campaign”
  • “I hate everything about the Jersey Shore” becomes “Jersey Shore may be the downfall of America, but here’s what we can do to stop it.”
  • “Someone should punch Donald Trump in the dick” stays the way it is. There’s just no getting around how much that guy sucks.

Now fly, my minions, and spread some positive thinking!

How to Make Your Shitty Headlines Pretty

I think most savvy web users are becoming familiar with effective headlines, even if that familiarity is occurring in your subconscious.

For bloggers, headlines are critical. They’re first impressions. They’re a means for search optimization. They summarize, intrigue and captivate.

Forget the papes, I’m startin’ my own blog.

If you have a sneaking suspicion that your headlines are shitty, there’s plenty you can do to ground yourself. Take a look at some of the tips below.

1. “How to” headlines are a-okay. Kind of an introspective reference there, yes? People love “how to” posts because they’re straightforward. They lead with the purpose (practical advice) and follow with the subject matter. There’s no question about what the content should present.

2. Ask a question. Questions leave an air of mystery to your post. If presented well, they evoke the desired response from the reader: they read on to learn more. Make sure that questions are provocative, accurate to the content and are answered by your post.

3. Tie in trends. You can draw in fresh hits when you keep content timely. Reflect posts that cover trending topics in your headlines. That’ll help your search presence, drawing in readers researching those news topics.

4. Kill the buzzword. Every time you write a buzzword, a copywriter has a seizure. Don’t be that guy. Stay away from buzzwords like “industry-leading,” “innovative,” etc. They can be big turn-offs.

5. Stay positive. When you’ve developed an audience, you can tie in a negative post headline every so often. Until then, try to stay positive. Believe it or not, people aren’t searching for more negativity to add to their lives. They can visit their Facebook news feeds for that.

For a crash-course in writing headlines, check out this post over at Copyblogger. And add that shit to your blog roll! They’re pretty neat.

Corporate Blogging Guidelines: Working with a Writer

This guy started working on this blog post at age 15.

Hey marketers. Here’s a little something for your constant headache.

Businesses new to corporate blogging may think its a brilliant idea to leverage their staff for content. Great! You have an army of people with useful information. It takes the burden off of the marketing coordinator. You’ll just get in there and edit the draft and BOOM. Successful blog. Score one for the marketer.

Then, the sobering reality: you’ll spend more time chasing down staff for things they promised than you’ll spend actually editing & posting content.

Believe me, they’ll be enthralled to take part. It’s happened at every business ever. Especially for high-level members of the staff. They’ll be incredibly enthusiastic about the topic.

But writing takes time. And the deflation of creative enthusiasm happens in mere seconds if you don’t know where to start. That’s why your CTO will never get you his 10,000-word treatise on service-oriented architecture that you’d planned to spread over 20 posts. He’ll get bored, he’ll get busy, and he’ll never return to the page, no matter how much you nag.

May I suggest an alternative? Make use of an internal (or freelance…wink wink) writer to spend 15 minutes interviewing staff with brilliant ideas. Capture the content and let someone who is assuredly undaunted by the creative process take on the burden of its completion.

Relying on your staff for content is a gigantic headache. Do it more efficiently and you’ll have a steady flow of useful insights for your audience.

Why PR Is Broken

Everyone’s a critic. No, seriously.

By now, it’s clear that the editorial landscape has changed, for better or worse. Small newspapers are dying, magazines are going under and a swath of online publications have replaced the old guard.

In the midst of the content revolution, PR firms slowly came to a conclusion: adapt or die. Some have successfully adapted. Others have adapted in ways that mislead their clients.

If you’re considering working with a PR firm, consider this: twenty years experience in public relations doesn’t translate to jack-squat in social media management. It means something for content development and SEO — but chances are firms are working with on-staff or freelance writers to develop the bulk of that content.

Today, PR prowess really comes down to contacts. Like any line of business, it’s all about who you know. That’s part of why PR is a dying industry.

Then he asked me if our PR firm was “full-service.” Bahahahaha!

You have hundreds of channels in your space where you can grab a little exposure. Are you really planning to pay $10k per month for a mention in the New York Times? How do you expect that to affect your bottom line? Even if it does, how can you measure it effectively?

I recently had the accidental pleasure of attending a PR roundtable with some heavy-hitters in the space. It was mainly an opportunity for the sponsor firm to schmooze some potential new clients. I attended with one of my clients and was completely ignored by our hosts. The roundtable eventually spiralled into an orgiastic discussion of self-preservation. The takeaway? “Our communications experience makes us well suited for social media management.”

The truth is that it doesn’t. One of the greatest moments of the discussion was when the firm’s president admitted, “We’re recruiting strong, young talent to help us move deeper into this space.” Because they aren’t native social media users, and they’re simply following the blanket trends. The company was in the process of enacting systemic change across their giant international organization. Without cleaning house, you’re basically positioning your company as experts in something related to but distinct from your actual expertise.

I’m not arguing that all PR firms are doing a poor job. What I am saying is that the value of true PR is lower than you think, especially for start-ups. And if you need a person or company to manage your social media or content marketing strategy, why not work with a more specialized firm?

So, again, if you’re evaluating your need for a public relations firm, think it out carefully. What exactly are you hoping to gain from the experience? Take a hard look at the value of public relations, and evaluate other options like SEO experts, writers and content strategists against it.

5 Reasons to Create “5 Reasons” Posts

The biggest blogs on the web are stacked with “list” posts, or articles that include tips, tricks, favorites and the like. You may recognize list posts parading in such classic forms as “5 Reasons,” “3 Tips,” “15 Blogs,” “4 Ways,” etc.

You see these posts ad nauseam everywhere you go. There’s a reason people use them, like most marketing techniques that are done to death. Except for just about everything in GoDaddy’s playbook. That shit is beyond me.

Short digressions aside, people create list posts because they’re successful. For whatever reason, if you throw a number in your headline, you’ll grab the attention of your audience. Here’s some insight into why.

Courtesy The Official Blog of Gathering Books

1. Easy to read: My personal opinion is that the author projects the facade of a concise, organized post that serves as an easy, useful read. When you’re trying to appeal to an audience of professionals with ever-shrinking attention spans, that’s an important distinction to make right off the bat.

2. Organize your thoughts: Hey, even professional writers skip the “outline” process sometimes. With list posts, you can simplify organization by “skipping” the outline process and merging it with your post. And let me tell you; it’s a huge f-ing time saver.

3. Readers relate: Whether it’s laundry, grocery or to-do, people everywhere create lists to organize their daily lives. Your audience may have the capacity to read long, in-depth feature articles, but they’ll relate better to lists.

4. Attract content curators: Because list posts get so much traction, bloggers and content curators looking for high-quality posts may request to reprint your post. Or they’ll say screw it and steal your content anyway. As long as you get proper credit and a link, this is a good way to bolster dissemination of your content.

5. Why not? You got a better idea?

Content Dethroned: Communication is King

If these kings were content, would they be stabbing themselves in the head?

To those not in the know, this headline could be misleading. Let me clarify: content is still king, but content is also the byproduct of communication.

If you had a simple ability to connect members of your audience, would you actively block it? Would you close the comments section of your blog? If you had an active audience crying out for forums, would you deny them?

Executives with years of one-way marketing experience sometimes impose this hurdle. Before the internet, brand control was job number one. Now, entrepreneurs and executives must accept that people are discussing their brands in public forums.

They obsess over negative brand perception in a company-managed space. “This is my website, dagnabbit, and I’ll be dagnabbed if I’ll let dagnabbers speak ill of my company here.” (That’s how I imagine executives in my head.)

There’s a simple and absolutely critical policy that businesses should adopt immediately or risk failure. Stop trying to control the brand and start controlling the conversation.

If someone has something negative to say, they’re going to say it. Don’t you want the opportunity to respond? While I think this is the key selling point, there’s a ton more to it than just that.

Opening public communication channels like ‘comments’ sections or forums offers you benefits like:

  • FREE content: Yep, you heard it here, folks. Let people chat in a public forum and you gain a raging stream of free content. That means better search visibility, more new and return visitors and less time spent building content on your end.
  • Reduced support workload: How much time do you spend answering questions about your business and/or product? How often do you have to answer the same questions over email? Think of how much time you can save if the answers lived in one spot. Not to mention, other members of the community jump at the chance to answer questions. Don’t buy it? Ask Autodesk.
  • A searchable knowledge base: Beyond support, your content (in a blog or other social media channel) might open up to a wider discussion relevant to everyone in your market. That’s the point of your content marketing in the first place: to draw in leads with valuable content. Let your audience interact and they’ll support the cause.
  • Greater brand loyalty: Empower your followers with a voice and they’ll thank you. If they’re deriving value from your content and making useful connections, they stand a much better chance of becoming brand advocates.

A marketer could spend his or her entire day policing your brand across various venues online. Make your website a place to share and discuss, and you can get a better handle on brand perception.

Copywriting Is Dead

Have you ever assembled a piece of furniture? Reading the directions is like taking a blow to the head from a drunken frat boy.

Reminds me of the old days of marketing. No one talked like a human. Companies loved the sound of their own voices. Business is catching up with the world of social media, and it turns out people would rather hear from real human beings.

Copywriting is dead — at least in the traditional sense of the practice. What I hope this blog will impart on its readership is that you can all finally drop the act. Throw formality out the window and start speaking to your target audience in a voice they can relate to. And don’t be afraid to end a sentence or two with a preposition.

You’re asking, “Who the hell is this guy?” I’m just a man, like any other. I’m also a freelance writer. I’ve ghostwritten a business book, created web copy for entire websites and dabbled in writing mediums you’ve never even heard of.

I write good, and I’m here to help you write gooder. So let’s get this thing started.