Saturday, July 30, 2016

Political Word Play

merriam webster logoPolitics is good for the word business. I'd like to believe that the reverse is true, and good communication is also good for politics or - much more than that - good governance. But this is blog about writing, not philosophy, so I'll leave it at that.

Winning Words? 

In the news lately, in case you missed it:  dumpster fires and dog whistles. (And thanks to CJR, now we all know there's no longer a need to capitalize dumpster.) Before you use the term 'dog whistle,' be aware that it may carry some racist baggage.

While numerous folks have suggested that politics doesn't showcase the best of human thought processes, at least we're trying to learn from the rather bumpy ride that the 2016 Presidential campaign trail has taken us on.

As always, I urge you to choose your words carefully, and read with at least one eye open.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Delicious Content: Do You Know it When You See it?

I'm not a fan of fast food, but I am a content carnivore. And in that regard, Taco Bell satisfies me.

Many have recognized the company's excellent marketing content. Although Yum! brands labeled social media as a "side project" in 2007, it's done a helluva job since then. In my opinion, it's excellent because the company -
  • Knows its demographic (audience/market)
  • Knows itself (strengths/weaknesses)  
  • Uses humor to make its case...
  • ...and delivers on what it promises

Don't Over-Indulge in Content

It's fast-food marketing, folks - not rocket science. And either way, there's such a thing as "too much." Taco Bell doesn't blog at length about how its recipes were developed based on extensive anthropologic research or get overly cute by making us guess which Aztec God ate chalupas.

Taco Bell gets the message just right. It's short. It's cute. And it works, on an emotional and a practical level.

Emotional Content: It's in the Bag

While Hallmark (and lately, gum) commercials aim for our tear ducts, Taco Bell's content hits us in the emotional funny bone.  Which works, because we love to laugh almost as much as we love to eat. We especially like to feel like we're "in" on an inside joke. Taco Bell delivers, from pithy puns on sauce packets to its Secret Menu.

What Can Your Small Business Marketing Plan Steal from the Bell? 

While my local taco place serves far better food than Taco Bell, it doesn't have a Yum Brands-size  budget. Here's where social media helps level the playing field:

Twitter feeds are free. Snapchat marketing works. And if your customers love you, they'll Like (and Love, LOL, sticker and Share) along with you on your Facebook Page. Or Instagram feed. Or...whatever tool comes next.

Figure out your business niche, highlight your strengths, deliver them with personality and humor (as appropriate), and one day your customers might blog about you, too. 

Don't Forget about Operations

Taco Bell's marketing campaigns are not the most elaborate or expensive in the fast-food world, and that's OK, because what the company does works. It's clear that what you see/hear/share about the brand is well-communicated inside, to its employees, as well. The company's online survey program is - like its marketing message - interactive and responsive while being short and to the point. 

If the commercials made laugh and the sauce packets said the most adorable things but the in-store experience stunk, the marketing would fall flat. 

I'm a bit of a stickler when it comes to customer service and operations. Small companies don't get to be big companies unless they have the training, systems, and operational follow-through to take care of their customers, consistently and well. 

So go on, create great content and share it with your prospects. Just don't expect them to become repeat customers unless you've got what it takes to make them happy. 


Need help making your content a little more palatable? I can help you dish up the right message, and make sure it serves your customers. I'll also test it (and test you) to be sure your message is operationally sound.  Ready?  Get in touch

Monday, July 11, 2016

It's Marketing Content Management, Not Online Wizardry

Some marketing "gurus" like to use clever, proprietary brand names for products and services they offer. Don't get me wrong; I like clever as much as the next guy. Certainly, some of those products/services, particularly ones developed for specific industries or niches, are unique and very helpful.

Others make me say "hmmmm."

I'm into plain language and common sense marketing. While I constantly try new tools and apps and stay on top of SEO best practices, it goes against my nature to jump on a new trend just because it's new or worse, because everyone else is doing it.

Online Marketing is Still Marketing

I read a lot (too much?) about social media and content marketing, and I'm annoyed when a hyped-up headline sucks me in to read about a "new approach to online marketing" that's not really new at all. It's basic marketing.

That said, even after 20+ years of playing in the marketing communications sandbox, I've found excellent advice in some of those articles - often buried in hyperbole, but never the less useful.

Here are three I've been glad I read lately. I hope you find them useful as well.

1. NAP consistency is important

In this case, NAP= Name, Address, Phone. And heavens yes, it's important - you can miss listings, create duplicates that will confuse prospects, and over-spend because you're paying for the wrong (or too many) listings or ads. In the dark ages (pre-internet) we managed such things with a tool we called a Style Guide. You can call it barbaric; I say it's rudimentary.

I truly recommend a style guide, and can usually create 
one for your company in just a few hours that will help 
keep your content marketing efforts on track - no matter 
who handles your social media posts. Want one? 
Get in touch

2. SEO Still Matters, But Site Visitors (Readers) Should Come First 

Newsflash: you don't sell to search engines. You make sales to people, AKA site visitors, AKA readers. So, you need to write copy and design for them first. In this article, Jeff Bullas does a nice (if slightly hype-y) job of highlighting some current SEO trends and how to work with them. I can't help but point out that they're on the common-sense side. The fact is that SEO algorithms are getting smarter and more in tune with human thought (search) processes every day. That's a good thing. 

3. Write Good Headlines 

There are hundreds of ways to write bad headlines - and just as many ways to write good ones. Write good ones. Please. While MOZ does a good and thorough job with the details, I take a more personal approach to headlines. I ask myself, Would I click on it if I were looking for this particular article or product? And, If I clicked on it, would I be disappointed or feel tricked or cheated? If the answer to the first question is yes and the second question is no, it's probably a pretty good headline. Only then do I run it through the keyword check and try to wordsmith it a bit to garner extra (qualified) clicks. 

Old-Fashioned Marketing & Common Sense

Know your product, craft a good message, and get it in front of the right prospects. Yep, once upon a time we called that "marketing." Then the internet came along and we fell in love with the tools, almost forgetting that we're still trying to reach people. Readers. Site visitors. 

Whatever you call 'em, people buy stuff, and they're the ones you need to talk to. If you'd like help crafting a common-sense marketing plan and delivering an on-target message to your best prospects, please contact me

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Words & Pictures & the Blurred Lines of Communication

I've written often and recently about (my perception of) the state of journalism and the blurring of the lines between marketing communications and "trusted" editorial content. 

As journalism continues to change, sometimes I cringe; more often I say "hmmm." 

Three articles that have given me a lot more food for thought this week:

How National Geographic spots altered photos

Is Chris Arnade a journalist? I say yes. 

Was the disclosure enough in this newspaper "article?" I say no

What do you think about journalism circa 2016? Do you agree with or bristle at the continuous barrage of insults Donald Trump hurls at the press? I'd love to hear your opinion. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Marketers: Content Works; Readers: Be Smart

Consumers Can't Tell Native Ads from Editorial Content
Article or Ad...No One Knows
Native Advertising on the Rise

As a content marketing writer, you might think headlines like these would leave me gleeful. But I was a reader (and a journalist) before I was a marketing content maven, so you'd be wrong.

I'm worried.

I write content (and some real old fashioned news/ed stuff) for a living. With each assignment, I have a job to do. The content I write is intended to educate and/or persuade in order to convince you, the reader, to take action.

But the content is not intended to brainwash you; it's supposed to be helpful. I hear you snicker. But it's true - marketing content is directed at readers who are already thinking about buying (or taking the desired action). 

I'm not splitting hairs, I'm trying to draw an important distinction. And more importantly, I'm saying - readers, please learn to recognized marketing content and be smart when you read!!

(Aside: it would be great if you learned to recognize 
and appreciate good content. 
If you do, you can tweet this. 
Wink, wink.)

Is Marketing Content Intended to Be Deceptive?

I believe advertising copy is (usually) not intentionally deceptive. In 20 years I've had just one client ask me to flat-out lie about a product. (In case you're curious: the company is still in business, and is no longer my client.)

However, there's a lot of blurring of the lines in content - and that's not a new development we can blame on online content marketing practices. Advertorials existed long before the internet.

Readers need to be smart and know what they're reading. If you want to know why I'm a little wound up about this, read the articles behind the headlines above:

Consumers Can't Tell Native Ads from Editorial Content

Article or Ad? When it Comes to Native, No One Knows

Native Ads on the Rise

Facebook Blurs the Line More

If you think it's hard to categorize your marketing content (and your reading material) now, hold on tight: Facebook's latest update (F8) is sure to blur the line a bit more, and possibly obliterate it completely. 

From messenger bots to video profiles and virtual reality, the future is here. Or at least, it's in beta at Facebook. (Read Buffer's great take on F8 on

What's the Difference Between Editorial Writing and Copywriting? 

As a freelance business writer, content manager, and general wordsmith, I write a  w i d e  variety of "stuff."

Sometimes it's hard to categorize what I'm writing - but the label (advertising? editorial?) is far less important than the intended result. Regardless of the writing assignment, whether it's a case study, white paper, brochure, report, or feature article, my starting point is always the same question:  What should this piece do?

The result, and the intention, should be as clear to the writer (and client) as it is to the reader. That's why I made up my own category for what I do. I call it Writing that Works

If you're interested in getting better results from your marketing content, I'd love to hear from you.