Tag Archives: writing

Mobile: The digital state of play

Where is the consumer? The CX experts want to know. If you’re wondering where your consumers are … look no further than the palm of your hand.

“Look around you. What devices are your colleagues using? Your kids? Your parents, even?” asked Tony Marlow, Head of Sales Insight at Yahoo. “[You can’t ignore] the shift toward mobile.” 

A recent Yahoo survey ranked user preference by device on a scale of 1-to-5, with five representing ‘love’ for the product. An astounding 77 percent of respondents claimed to “love their smartphone.” Nearly 40 percent of 18-to-34 year-olds surveyed claimed to be “addicted.” The lesson: Use addicted Millennials to your advantage.

Their growing presence is no secret. Most of us know that Millennials will account for almost half of the U.S. workforce by 2020. They will also represent about $1.4 trillion in spend – about one third of all retail sales projected for that year. Despite these facts, huge discrepancies remain between where companies are spending their money and where consumers are spending their time.

Exhibit A: Mobile. It is the only channel in the U.S. that is growing in share time by media. Traditional media such as television, radio, print, and even digital, have either plateaued or are decreasing in share time by user. This disparity represents a whopping $25 billion gap in the U.S. alone, according to Yahoo’s research.

It’s time to close the gap. Lobby your company today to better engage Millennials. They are not frugal, but they do know the value of their dollar, Marlow says. Start looking into branded content and couple it with your native advertising efforts to win the race for their dollar. Both streams resonate with discretionary Millennials who, for all their perceived downfalls, are more brand loyal than other generations.

Once you’ve won them, you own them. The icing on the cake is that they will not only be some of your most loyal customers, but they will become brand advocates on your behalf.

Watch out for more on my recap from the CX Impact Summit in New Orleans earlier this month …

Putin’s Cult of Commas

We’ve been struggling with some commas here lately. So, I have enlisted the help of a certain shirtless Russian to put together some top ‘commandments to commas’ as a refresher — and to keep you in line.

1. Commas separate the elements in a series of three or more things.
a. Both the American and Russian flags are red, white and blue. As you may recall from previous grammar posts, the decision to add the comma before “and” is preferential. Its name is the Oxford comma and I personally hate it. I will judge you so hard if you use it.

2. Commas should be inserted after the following conjunctions when connecting two independent clauses: and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so.

Putin in a bubble
Putin pic courtesy of CNN.

a. It’s freezing outside, but I didn’t wear a heavy jacket since I’m in a bubble of my own device. An independent clause means that it can stand alone as its own sentence, even if the two were separated.

3. Use them after an introductory element.
a. While fly fishing shirtless, it never bothers me how arrogant I look.

4. Use them to set off parenthetical elements.
a. The Next Generation Cat Food Supply Summit, your industry’s top event, will never be held in Sochi because I am a dog lover.

Shirtless Putin
Putin pic courtesy of CNN.

5. Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives.
a. Only beautiful, successful, shirtless delegates will be permitted to attend the upcoming Cosmetics Compliance event.

6. Typographical Reasons
a. The event is in St. Petersburg, Russia.
b. Vlad last spoke at the summit held September 4, 2013.

Rule of thumb.

A somewhat general rule of them is to consider where you would take a breath or pause when reading copy in your head. That’s where the comma should find itself.

Create great copy: Things to remember

Who says that writers don’t know science? Writing is a science! If it weren’t, then anything that was ever written for marketing or advertising purposes would do its job and make you fast cash.

Know your audience.

The more you know, the better targeted and relevant your copy will be. Ask yourself:

  • —What does their everyday life look like? Who do they work with? What websites do they read?
  • —What are they passionate about? Hobbies?
  • —What past products/services have they purchased and how does your offering compare? Once this is identified, however, it’s ineffective to use comparison words in the copy itself. For instance, instead of saying “Our vacuum cleaner is better than the common household brand.” You identify how it is better, ie., “Our vacuum cleaner has five times the suction as other brands.” Now you’re showing them, not just telling them.

Identify key motivators.

A gerund is a noun acting as a verb. It ends in
A gerund is a noun acting as a verb. It ends in “-ing.” Awesome cartoon courtesy of Boggletondrive.com.

Great copy motivates people to feel, think or do something. One way of achieving this is by addressing them personally.— I don’t mean to say that you should call them out by name – I mean that they need to trust you. They need to like you.

  • —You can reach users by speaking directly to them – be conversational and as specific as possible. Avoid sweeping statements.
  • —Don’t use passive voice — write in the present tense (avoid gerunds, or, the “ing”)
  • —Short, Simple and Sincere (one way of doing this is by avoiding adjectives)

Layout matters.

The way you position words, pictures and paragraphs in your website copy or email are important.

  • —Indent sections & number paragraphs
  • —Capitalize and BOLD sparingly. Does anyone underline anymore?

What’s next. 

—Include a testimonial.

  • It’s always better to have someone else say how great you are so that you don’t have to. A brief and convincing quote from a respected source adds credibility to your campaign.

—Keep your copy clean and concise.

  • Cut unnecessary words and consolidate ideas.
  • Have someone else read it to see if they understand the message.

—Avoid weasel words.

  • Weasel words include: may, maybe, hope
  • Instead, use words that emote power and prestige:  will and can

Virginia is for lovers, but I love New York

My hair required the full 30-block walk to air-dry into a limp shag. I had fresh bug bites trailing up my arms and I was wearing flats. It was Halloween morning and my first day on the job in my office at 44th St. and Madison Ave.

Hurricane Sandy had made landfall in New York three days earlier and mere hours after I hopped off my bus with a single suitcase from Virginia. My apartment wasn’t ready yet, so I had to stay in a Greenwich Village hotel. By hotel, I mean hostel, as my room was the size of a galley kitchen and I had to share a bathroom at the end of the hall with the other guests.

As the storm rolled in Sunday night, I sat alone watching Mayor Bloomberg on TV as he warned of impending mayhem. And then he repeated himself in Spanish. I was impressed.

Occasionally, I would measure the storm’s severity against the state of a single tree planted on the rooftop of a nearby a high-rise building. As the sky darkened around the potted sapling, it would continue to bow back and forth with growing effort. This is the last image I saw before everything went black.

The transformer supplying power to lower Manhattan caught fire, shutting down the electric grid south of 34th Street and left half the city without power for two weeks. Later, aerial images of the city reflected a brightly lit and barely touched Upper Manhattan, while its lower half was barely visible. It kind of looked like a black and white finger-shaped cookie.

There would be no charging my phone, no hot showers, no hair drying, no warm food, no TV. I was effectively camping in the greatest city in the world and paying hundreds of dollars for the pleasure. I had 40 blocks to trounce in order to plug my phone into the outlet behind the cash register at a deli. I cried.

On Survival

“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. “

Goodness, New York will beat you down until you’re humbled beyond even what you think you deserve.

Virginia is for loversA born and bred Virginian and a native Loudouner, I’ve been told my entire life that I belong in New York. I’m no longer clear on what this says about me. My first job was as a newspaper journalist for the publisher of this magazine. When I left after five years, I left my mark as a glowingly successful magazine editor with a critical eye and a talent admired by young girls near and far.

New York saw me coming and laughed in my face to the tune of Sandy’s strong winds. I’m not the shit, this much I now know to be true.

Sandy launched a long and relentless initiation into the ebbs and flows of this city. The good news is I’m less offended now. I no longer notice when a simple request isn’t cushioned between a “please” and “thank you.” There’s no time for filler words when we’re all existing in varying degrees of survival mode. Just get it done.

I never knew the meaning of a deadline before New York. My new title is “digital content director,” which essentially means I’m still a writer even after having sold my journalism soul to the marketing devil. Such as it is, I now produce more content in one week than I could have ever churned in one month in Virginia.

My ambition hasn’t changed; but my expectations of myself and others has reached such a high level because I now exist in a culture of healthy competition and collaboration. Not only do I want to sharpen myself against my coworkers, but I don’t want to let them down. It’s a daily game of better, faster, stronger. Sometimes I win, oftentimes I lose.

On Manners

“Southerners are nice on the outside, but hard on the inside. New Yorkers are hard on the outside, but they’re soft on the inside. “

A Mid-Westener shared this with me. Here in New York, we from the South, Midwest and, well, basically, anyone who was born outside the borders of the tri-state area — we are different.

The fact of the matter is, New Yorkers don’t have time for pleasantries and some people don’t appreciate that. Smiles are sparse on the streets as a means of self-preservation. The rule is: Do not engage.

They’re not rude; they’re just not opening themselves up to the crazies. I no longer feel guilty for not asking “How are you, today?” to the my coffee guy. On the other hand, Southern hospitality really gives me an edge. When I need something from a coworker, I still lead with “How was your weekend?” or “What’d you get into last night?”

It still gives me pleasure to see them lean back, their body physically shift into a more comfortable position to engage in a chitchat session– like I’m winning at making people softer one day at a time. A manager made a point to commend me for planning a happy hour for a coworker’s birthday. Is that all it takes to move up the ranks here? Am I working late for no reason when I could just bring in some snickerdoodles instead?

A man once stopped me in the office lobby.

“I’ve never seen anyone smile to themselves before,” he said.

I still smile. People still stare without engaging. The implication being I’m likely batshit crazy.

Loyalty

There’s a saying that you’re always in search of three things in the city, “A better job, a better apartment and a better boyfriend.”

Gone are the days when a person will spend his or her whole career advancing through one company. It may be generational, but a New York employee is considered to be loyal if they stay with a single company for longer than six months.

I love nyI only know a handful of people who are happy in their current role. Sure, this is a symptom of “the grass is greener” syndrome, but in New York there’s also the knowledge that there are thousands upon thousands of other jobs out there waiting on the other side. There’s always the next step. There’s always a new opportunity. I’m not sure what this says about the state of our happiness or contentment, but I know the feeling is mutual because companies here don’t reward loyalty. If you’re underperforming, you’re gone. It’s as simple as that.

The struggle to be a woman working and living in New York is real, as the kids say. The truth is the insecurities I felt about my career and talent remain the same – it’s just that now the self-doubt reflected back in a larger mirror. I still don’t know if I’m making the right career choice. I still don’t know if I’m any good. I still don’t really want people who know me to read my stuff.

There will always be better writers. People work way harder than me and they’re much more creative and have better grammar skills. They write without curse words.

I ask myself the almost-daily question as to why the hell I’m here. I don’t really know, other than that New York is all the while accepting of my shortcomings. Knowing that there will always be someone better than me means that I have nothing to lose.

It also means I really have no other choice than to put my fingers to the keyboard everyday. New York allows the room for me to believe that any storm can be faced if I show the ability to bow back and forth and not break.

George Saunders on the writing life

George Saunders published an essay in The New Yorker on the influence of his teachers throughout his writing life. Here are some notable excerpts from the piece:

Writers are often seen as reclusive, shy, keep-to-themselves types. While at Syracuse, George learned a different and perhaps more valuable lesson; that writers are supposed to be interesting to the people they meet. If they’re not interesting in real life, how are they supposed to be interesting in print?

  • “We are supposed to be—are required to be—interesting. We’re not only allowed to think about audience, we’d better. What we’re doing in writing is not all that different from what we’ve been doing all our lives, i.e., using our personalities as a way of coping with life. Writing is about charm, about finding and accessing and honing ones’ particular charms.”

Writers are professionals at rejection. A majority of people can’t handle rejection in any form, but imagine putting in hours and hours of time and brainpower into a piece only to have it dragged through the mud by a reviewer, or worse, not have it see the light of day at all? George recounts a time when his college professor, and published author, Doug Unger faced a bad review with grace:

  • “Doug talks about the importance of being able to extract the useful bits from even a hurtful review: this is important, because it will make the next book better. He talks about the fact that it was hard for him to get up this morning after that review and write, but that he did it anyway. He’s in it for the long haul, we can see. He’s a fighter, and that’s what we must become too: we have to learn to honor our craft by refusing to be beaten, by remaining open, by treating every single thing that happens to us, good or bad, as one more lesson on the longer path.”

And a few other poignant lines:

  • “I’d forgotten: literature is a form of fondness-for-life. It is love for life taking verbal form.”
  • “Good teaching is grounded in generosity of spirit.”
  • [On providing someone undivided attention while they speak and/or share with you] “He is, with his attention, making a place for her to tell her story—giving her permission to tell it, blessing her telling of it.”

10 marketing email phrases to avoid

The Grammar Gram is back. Time after time, I find myself making the same edits to emails across the board – old habits die hard. We all know by now that brevity is key, so if you won’t take my word for the below, perhaps you’ll take Inc. Magazine’s tips?

They say marketers can increase the likelihood of getting a response to emails by avoiding the following trite and ineffective phrases. I agree and disagree with some of the below, so here goes:

  1. “I hope you are well…”

The idea behind this phrase is to express positive concern for the customers so that they will think kindly on whatever you’re about to propose. However, unless you’re actually friends with somebody, inquiring about his or her health rings false.

Hannah’s take: I start most every single one of my personal emails with this line. I would never use it in a marketing email, however, because it’s a waste of precious, precious time and space.

  1. “I am writing to you because…”

These are just wasted words. Customers already know that you’re writing to them with some purpose in mind. Rather than pointing out that you’re writing for a reason, jump immediately to the reason.

Hannah’s take: Agreed. This goes along with my most-hated remarketing email the begins like this – “I wanted to check in with you and see if anything has changed since my last outreach…” If I were the recipient, I’d already be moving my mouse to the delete button. How about instead replace it with, “Have you given a second glance to the materials I sent over a couple of days ago?” “We were wondering if what’s holding you back could be reversed with …” or “Given your expertise, we believe your attendance at the event would be invaluable to …”

  1. “In today’s business world…”

Sentences that begin this way always end in a platitude, like “managers must be cost-conscious.” Telling customers something that’s painfully obvious doesn’t make you seem like an expert. It makes you seem like you think the customer is stupid.

Hannah’s take: I can’t summarize better than the above, but the good news is I rarely see this! Side note: Editorializing (where you’re gratuitously offering an opinion on a matter for which you’re not an obvious expert) is different than leading in with a quote or statistic.

  1. “[Our product] reduces costs and increases revenue.”

Every product that’s sold business-to-business makes these exact same promises. Unless you can put numbers on them, talking about cost savings and revenue growth is just so much empty noise.

Hannah’s take: PREACH. Again, I don’t see this very much, if at all, but could you imagine….

  1. “[Our product] enables/empowers users to…”

Either your product does “X” or customers do “X” with your product. The concept of “enabling” or “empowering” customers to do “X” adds extra verbiage and an unnecessary level of abstraction.

Hannah’s take: This kind of verbiage usually happens when the copy of a marketing email is pulled from homepage copy. It should go without saying, but not everyone on the team is a prolific writer and therefore no one’s writing should be taken word-for-word in your emails. More importantly, however, website copy and email marketing copy are in two different media – therefore the messaging needs to target the intended audience.

  1. “[Our product] was designed specifically to…”

The idea behind this phrase is that “if it was designed to do ‘X’ it must be good at doing ‘X.’ ” However, customers don’t care about your design process; they just want to know how things will be better if they buy “X.”

Hannah’s take: Eh, moot point

  1. “I would like to know if you’d be interested…”

As a general rule, customers don’t care about what you want. Stating your wants and needs keeps the focus on you rather than on what you can do for the customer. Your credibility suffers accordingly.

Hannah’s take: While I agree that customers don’t care about “us” or “our company,” I’m not sure if this phrase really means that.

  1. “I am absolutely certain you will enjoy…”

Really? Absolutely? Either you’re exaggerating or you’re insane, because you can’t predict the future and you certainly can’t read the customer’s mind before the customer has even had a chance to think about your offering.

Hannah’s take: CHURCH

  1. “Please don’t hesitate to call me at…”

In addition to being corny, this phrase is presumptuous. It’s like you’re claiming that you’re so busy that normally you’d resent it if the customer called, but in this case you’d be delighted.

Hannah’s take: I don’t agree with the description, but I do agree that we shouldn’t be putting the responsibility of outreach into the hands of the prospect. You must go after them time after time. Do you all agree?

  1. “For more information, visit our website…”

First, your customers know that there’s information on your website, so pointing that fact out is wasting words. Second, most customer are in a constant state of information overload anyway. Just put the URL after your signature.

Hannah’s take: The URL in your signature thing obviously won’t work all the time, but like I’ve said many times people know what to do when you provide them with a link, email address or phone number. It is wasted space and it is kind of treating them like they’re stupid.

Until next time!

The Writer’s Manifesto – Stop Writing to Be Read & Adored

Jeff Goins“Writers don’t write to get published.
They write for another reason.
This is the first and only lesson every writer must learn.

Real writers don’t write for recognition.
They don’t do it for fame, accolades, or notoriety.
They do it because they cannot not write.”

It’s true, I can’t not write. Read the entire piece from Jeff Goins.

11 phrases you’re misusing

We all fall short, including me (however rarely). This morning a friend sent me a link to some of the most misused phrases and I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait until Friday to send! Please note the first phrase – it’s one of my biggest pet peeves.

I CouB letterldn’t Care Less, (could NOT care less)

“I couldn’t care less” is what you would say to express maximum apathy toward a situation. Basically you’re saying, “It’s impossible for me to care less about this because I have no more care to give. I’ve run out of care.” Using the incorrect “I could care less” indicates that “I still have care left to give—would you like some?”

First-Come, First-Served

The actual phrase is “first-come, first-served,” to indicate that the participants will be served in the order in which they arrive. “First come, first serve” suggests that the first person to arrive has to serve all who follow.

Sneak Peek

A “peek” is a quick look. A “peak” is a mountain top. The correct expression is “sneak peek,” meaning a secret or early look at something.

Shoo-In

“Shoo-in” is a common idiom that means a sure winner. To “shoo” something is to urge it in a direction. As you would shoo a fly out of your house, you could also shoo someone toward victory.

Emigrated From

The verb “emigrate” is always used with the preposition “from,” whereas immigrate is always used with the preposition “to.” To emigrate is to come from somewhere, and to immigrate is to go to somewhere.

Peace of Mind

“Peace” of mind means calmness and tranquility. The expression “piece of mind” actually would suggest doling out sections of brain.

For All Intents and Purposes

The correct phrase, “for all intents and purposes,” originates from English law dating back to the 1500s, which used the phrase “to all intents, constructions, and purposes” to mean “officially” or “effectively.”

By and Large

The phrase “by and large” was first used in 1706 to mean “in general.” It was a nautical phrase derived from the sailing terms “by” and “large.” While it doesn’t have a literal meaning that makes sense, “by and large” is the correct version of this phrase.

Due Diligence

“Due diligence” is a business and legal term that means you will investigate a person or business before signing a contract with them or before formally engaging in a business deal together. You should do your due diligence and investigate business deals fully before committing to them.

Piqued My Interest

To “pique” means to arouse, so the correct phrase here is “piqued my interest,” meaning that my interest was awakened. To say that something “peaked my interest” might suggest that my interest was taken to the highest possible level, but this is not what the idiom is meant to convey.

Case in Point

The correct phrase in this case is “case in point,” which derives its meaning from a dialect of Old French. While it may not make any logical sense today, it is a fixed idiom.

A love letter response to my post …

“It gives me peace of mind to know that our team of producers and marketers will have a resource that is not exclusive or first-come, first-served to conduct ample due diligence on the proper use of idioms that will, for all intents and purposes, improve our overall application of the English vernacular and emigrate from our brutish, rudimentary applications of this form of fixed expression.  By and large I could care less about the grammatical prowess of others but I feel this resource will make us all a shoo-in for impressing our contemporaries and will pique their interest in our events thusly providing a case in point for why the proper use of idioms works like a charm for separating sheep from goats

Idioms are the bees knees, yo!”

Muriel Rukeyser: Effort At Speech Between Two People

From Theory of Flight (1935)

Effort at Speech Between Two People

Poem via American Studies at the University of Virginia.

Speak to me.		
Take my hand.       
What are you now?
I will tell you all. I will conceal nothing.
When I was three, a little child read a story about a rabbit who died, 
in the story, and I crawled under a chair: a pink rabbit: 
it was my birthday, and a candle burnt a sore spot on my finger, 
and I was told to be happy.

Oh grow to know me. I am not happy. I will be open: now I am 
thinking of white sails against a sky like music,
like glad horns blowing, and birds tilting, and an arm about me.
There was one I loved, who wanted to live, sailing.

Speak to me. 
Take my hand.
What are you now?
When I was nine, I was fruitfully sentimental,
fluid   :   and my widowed aunt played Chopin,
and I bent my head on the painted woodwork, and wept.
I want now to be close to you. I would link 
the minutes of my days close, somehow, to your days.

I am not happy. I will be open.
I have liked lamps in evening corners, and quiet poems.
There has been fear in my life. Sometimes I speculate
On what a tragedy his life was, really.

Take my hand.    
First my mind in your hand.       
What are you now?
When I was fourteen, I had a dreams of suicide,
and I stood at a steep window, at sunset, hoping toward
death : if the light had not melted clouds and pains to beauty,
if light had not transformed that day, I would have leapt.
I am unhappy. I am lonely. Speak to me.

I will be open. I think he never loved me:
he loved the bright beaches, the little lips of foam
that ride small waves, he loved the veer of gulls:
he said with a gay mouth: I love you. Grow to know me.

What are you now? If we could touch one another,
if these our separate entities could come to grips,
clenched like a Chinese puzzle ... yesterday
I stood in a crowded street that was live with people,
and no one spoke a word, and the morning shone.
Everyone silent, moving... Take my hand.    
Speak to me.