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What Apple’s website can teach us about marketing copy

Add copywriting to the long list of things Apple does well.apple pen

Click on Apple’s website and you’ll find page after page of great marketing copy. Pick any topic there, even a dry one like “Supplier Responsibility,” and you’ll find good writing.

What so good about it?

  1. It’s easy to read. (Effortless, in fact.) Sentences are kept as short as possible, and crafted to flow rhythmically.
  2. It has genuine, authentic personality. When you read anything from Apple, it sounds like someone is speaking to you in person.
  3. It’s humble. Even when promoting a new breakthrough, the copy is never about how great Apple is; it’s about how much you’re going to enjoy using all those new breakthroughs in your daily life.

Nor does their copy ever try to impress the reader with how smart it is. Apple’s writers don’t write for themselves; they write for their audience. And they avoid self-indulgent attempts at cleverness.

The result is that you actually…read it. And you come away with a good feeling about their brand and their products because they’ve explained everything to you in a simple, understandable way, much as a friend would.

That’s what great professional copywriting can do for a brand.

Why brand interactions are kind of like The Avengers

In the Avengers comics, several superheroes have to team up to beat a single, super-powerful bad guy.

It’s the same with brand interactions: It takes a lot of positives to overcome a negative.

Bad experiences are powerful. They stick with us. We won’t explore the complex reasons for this here, but the fact is, a single negative can wipe out all the positives that came before it. Any positives that might follow had better be pretty heroic – or the customer/brand relationship is doomed.

A quick story illustrates this:

For months I’d been receiving direct mail flyers from a digital services provider. Bit by bit, their beautifully designed and well-written mailers convinced me I should bundle my Internet, phone and TV service into one product they provide.

My wife and I drove to one of the brand’s retail stores to sign up. The store was new, well laid out, and fun to look around in. We started getting excited about how cool it was going to be to have the service.

But all the positivity building up was about to get knocked out cold by a single negative: The guy signing us up for the service wasn’t knowledgeable.

Maybe he was new, but that doesn’t matter. When we asked a question – whether it was about a promotional discount, options or installation – he either didn’t know or looked very uncertain as he flailed at an answer. (I’ve seen deer about to be flattened by semis that looked more relaxed.)

His lack of preparedness gradually unnerved us and made us question if we were doing the right thing. (At one point during the excruciating process we almost said forget it.)

In the end we ordered the service, but with the caveat that we could cancel the order prior to the installation date. We drove home agitated and confused, leaning towards canceling.

Fortunately for this brand, however, all was not lost. It was about to be rescued by the extraordinary technical support person I called when I got home. She was a marvel. She had answers. She had energy. She took ownership of my problems and solved them. In the end I was so impressed I had her get her supervisor on the phone so I could rave. I wouldn’t be surprised if she wears a cape and tights to work; she was that good.

But here’s the bottom line: Had she not used all her powers to overcome the damage done by the store experience, a customer would have been lost.

So let’s remember that every brand interaction counts. Your agency can produce award-winning work for you, but that’s only part of brand-building. The follow-through has to happen at every touchpoint.

 

Three Rules of English that good copy frequently breaks (and why it’s necessary to do so)

You’ve heard the saying, You have to know the rules before you can break them.

It’s absolutely true when it comes to advertising copy.

Writing a good ad (or any marketing message) requires you to understand sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc.

You, know…all the stuff crotchety Mrs. Schneider drilled into your head in high school English class. Or tried to.

But readable copy often breaks Mrs. Schneider’s beloved rules.

In fact, for copy to be “conversational” in tone, breaking them is practically a requirement.

Why? Because people break the rules all the time when they speak.

So you’ll need to break some rules too…if you want your message to be perceived as one human speaking to another.

This doesn’t, however, give us license to butcher the king’s English. The rules we can break are limited to a mere three.

Here they are, along with justification for breaking them:

1. Never begin a sentence with a conjunction (such as “and,” “but” or “or.”).

Copywriters break this rule all the time. And with good reason. Conjunctions provide a connection between two thoughts. But in speech people don’t always connect those two thoughts in a single sentence. They often split them up. And since copywriters strive to write in a way that mirrors the way people talk, it’s natural to do the same in copy.

But that’s not the only reason for putting an “and” or “but” at the beginning of a sentence. Doing so also lets us chop long sentences into two shorter ones that are easier to read.

Take this one, for example:

Going to the movies is a favorite pastime of many Americans, but the price of seeing a movie, combined with their poor quality of late, has many people opting to stay home.

It’s not exactly a run-on. Still it can be made a little less daunting for the reader if it’s divided in two.

Going to the movies is a favorite pastime of many Americans. But the price of seeing a movie, combined with their poor quality of late, has many people opting to stay home.

It’s a minor change, yes, but it makes the copy just a little easier for the reader. And every little bit helps.

2. Write in complete sentences, not fragments.

Complete sentences are great for annual reports and college term papers, but adhering to this rule in copywriting can lead to stiff, unnatural-sounding copy and dull, run-on sentences, such as this example:

Established in 1911 by brothers Bob and Frank Widget, Widget Investments is a respected global player with holdings around the world, a stake in numerous established business enterprises, and assets totaling $100 billion, all driven by a philosophy that always keeps us striving to reach higher, acquire more and do better.

Who’d want to wade through all that? Shorter sentences and liberal use of fragments make the message more palatable:

Widget Investments was established in 1911 by brothers Bob and Frank Widget. Today it’s a respected global player. One with holdings around the world. A stake in numerous established business enterprises. And assets totaling $100 billion. All driven by a philosophy that keeps us striving. To reach higher. Acquire more. Do better.

Ah, that’s better. The spaces between sentences give the copy – and the reader – a chance to breathe. So unless your readers positively adore lengthy Dickensian prose, opt for shorter sentences and fragments as necessary.

3. Don’t use slang.

Use discretion when breaking this one. It’s true that copy directed toward a particular audience has to speak their language. And sometimes that means adopting their lingo. But be warned: Don’t attempt this unless you’re sure you can pull it off. Nothing kills credibility faster than getting caught trying to fake authenticity.

So let’s say you want to announce to an audience of tech-savvy 20-somethings that your company has just developed a new application for the iPhone. You’ll have to judge whether it’s wiser to 1) describe the features and benefits of this outstanding iPhone application or to 2) give ’em the 411 on this killer iPhone app.

Likewise, you can decide whether it’s better to tell a hip youth audience that you’re going to 1) offer them some free merchandise or that you’ll 2) hook them up with some freebie swag.

You feel me?

As in all cases of rule-breaking, good judgment should be used. The goal isn’t to see how many rules you can break, it’s to make the communication as effortless as possible. So take some creative license, just don’t abuse it.

Free your mind…and ideas will follow.

Creativity flows more easily from an unstressed mind.

Creativity flows more easily from an unstressed mind.

Has this ever happened to you: You’re about to say something, but you get interrupted and seconds later you forget what you were going to say.

No matter how hard you try to remember, it’s gone.

So you quit trying…and a few seconds later you suddenly remember what you were going to say.

How does that happen?

Simple: The thought didn’t actually vanish; it was just hiding in your subconscious mind. Once you stopped straining to pry it out, it floated to the surface on its own. Funny how that works.

That same principle applies when you’re trying to come up with an idea for an ad, a product name, a visual, or the answer to a problem. Sometimes the best way to have an idea is to simply stop trying for a bit.

When you’ve been brainstorming for a while, the law of diminishing returns often kicks in. The mind turns to clay; the ideas dry up.

What then?

You stop consciously trying. Your mind has all the information it needs. It’s time to let it do its thing.

So you go do something else. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it doesn’t involve thinking about the project. Here are some suggestions:

Take a nap. Ideas will often emerge as you’re falling asleep or just waking up. Somehow that “twilight” region between sleeping and waking provides a natural conduit for ideas to flow from the subconscious into the conscious.

Take a walk. There’s nothing like getting outside and into the fresh air to give you a fresh perspective. The openness of the outdoors lifts that claustrophobic sense of feeling boxed-in by a project. Getting out and seeing some blue sky lets your imagination soar.

Exercise. It’s not just good for your body, it’s good for your brain. Rigorous exercise puts you in a different mental state and causes your brain to release chemicals that give you a sense of well-being.

Take a long, hot shower or bath. Don’t feel guilty about pampering yourself; it’s work-related. Standing in a steamy shower or letting Calgon take you away puts you in a mode of pure relaxation where your thoughts can freely drift. Those wanderings will often bring back useful solutions.

By no means are these the only methods for freeing your mind to do its best work. You can certainly try your own. Whatever you can do to stop consciously thinking about a project for a while enables your mind to work behind the scenes and to unlock all those ideas you have waiting to get out.

Try it for yourself and let us know how you do.

(Note: You can’t predict when an idea will emerge, so be prepared. Make sure you have a pen and notebook handy to jot down or sketch out the idea before it disappears into the ether. Don’t make the mistake of trying to recall it later on; write it down! Most ideas, particularly complex ones, quickly become cloudy unless captured immediately in written form. The mind is always active; ideas start undergoing alterations the moment you conceive them. Five minutes later, your original flash of insight may have morphed into something less useful. Write it down in its pure form the first moment you imagine it, and you’ll capture its essence.)

5 Steps to Having a Great Idea

Picture 1

The “creative process” is indeed a process.

Some folks think ad agency people “sit around and think up ideas all day.”

This makes the creative process sound random and effortless, neither of which is true.

Agencies would quickly go out of business if they just “sat around” waiting for inspiration to strike.
They need a way to regularly and consistently create interesting ideas for the ads (and other stuff) they produce.

So…here it is, broken down into five simple steps:

1. Preparation

Getting ready to have an idea requires immersing yourself in the product or service you want to promote, learning everything you can about it, asking lots of questions. (Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”)

This may involve talking to engineers about a design, visiting a factory to see how a product is made or interviewing users of a service. It’s a lot of work, but without this necessary step you won’t have sufficient information from which to draw forth a great idea.

2. Incubation

After you’ve loaded your brain with information, it’s time let your mind work its magic. This step is equal parts work and fun, active and passive, conscious and unconscious.

The “work” part is brainstorming different solutions. The “fun” part is doing something completely unrelated, which frees up your subconscious mind to do its thing.

Creative folks have different methods for this: going somewhere quiet and thinking, heading out for a walk, napping, taking a drive, jogging, etc. You’ll need to find what works best for you. But the alternating pattern of working and taking a break seems to do the trick.

3. Illumination

This is where you go, “A-ha!” (or “Eureka!” or whatever it is you say when brilliance strikes). The idea comes to you and you’re ecstatic. You jump up and give yourself a mental high-five, congratulating yourself on your cleverness.

4. Evaluation

This step isn’t nearly as fun as Step 3. (In fact, it can be pretty painful.) It’s time to stand back and throw stones at the brand new, shiny idea you’ve just created.

This is no time to be proud or protective. Take a step back and examine the idea objectively. Look for flaws. Is it strong enough to stand up to scrutiny?

If if isn’t, swallow your pride, kick that idea to the curb and get to work on a better one.

Don’t worry; lightning struck once. If you’ve done your homework it will strike again.

5. Elaboration

If, on the other hand, your idea can withstand the slings and arrows you shot at it in Step 4, it’s ready to be turned into an actual ad.

That means writing the copy, designing the layout, creating the artwork. (In other words, a lot of hard work and effort.) But when it all comes together it’s a thing of beauty.

There’s no more rewarding professional experience than being part of a creative team transforming a single “big idea” into a campaign that impacts thousands or even millions of people.

Acknowledgment: Chapter Four of The Copy Workshop Workbook by Bruce Bendinger provided source material for this post.

A bit of cool Christmas trivia…

Ghost of Christmas Present

I’ve always enjoyed getting to the root of Christmas traditions, and seeing how they were shaped over time.

Here’s an interesting thing I recently learned (and thought was cool enough to share).

Charles Dickens’ description of the Ghost of Christmas Present wasn’t just a random characterization. It was actually a representation of the English “Father Christmas,” who himself was patterned after a variety of mythical characters, including, most notably, Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and revelry.

Bacchus

You’ll notice from the depictions here that Bacchus, Father Christmas, and the Ghost of Christmas Present are indeed pretty similar. You can click the highlighted text links above to learn a bit about each.

And may God bless us, every one.

Father Christmas

 

 

 

The Hidden Costs of Paper Towel Misuse

The following is presented as a public service message.

The photo below shows a typical stack of “multi-fold” paper towels.

Photo[9]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see in the next photo, each sheet in a stack is folded and arranged to interlock with the next sheet so that pulling on one begins to unfold and extend the next.

Photo[8]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This allows the towels to be conveniently pulled from a dispenser, one sheet at a time, for maximum efficiency and hygiene benefits.

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Nevertheless, despite these proven advantages, a full grasp of the function and proper use of multi-fold towels remains elusive in some quarters of corporate America…

ISSUE 1: CARELESS INSTALLATION

It is not uncommon to see a stack of multi-fold towels positioned incorrectly (i.e., upside-down) within the dispenser. This is unfortunate, as it requires the user to employ the clumsy dig-and-pinch method, as shown here…

Photo[6]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…followed by a side-pull extraction, the results of which can range from tearing the towel to inadvertently dispensing multiple sheets, creating unnecessary waste (and hastening the destruction of the planet).

Photo[5]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plus, it leaves an unsightly mess like the one here.

Unsightly mess resulting from side-pull extraction

Unsightly mess resulting from side-pull extraction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nor is mess the only problem. Left unaddressed, a dispenser in the condition described above will become empty more quickly, requiring a premature refill.

ISSUE 2: RELUCTANCE TO REFILL

Researchers recently discovered, to their surprise, that not every person encountering an empty multi-fold towel dispenser will avail him- or herself of the opportunity to refill it.

Among their findings:

1. A small percentage of bathroom patrons may retrieve a handful of replacement multi-fold towels from nearby. Upon returning, however, most members of this group will put the towels on the sink rather than attempt to install them in the dispenser. (The resulting problems from this are described further down.)

2. The majority (73.7%) will simply wipe their hands on their pants and walk out.

Questioning of participants revealed that the decision not to refill is influenced by any of several factors:

  • lack of familiarity with location of refill bundles
  • fear of incorrectly loading the dispenser
  • difficulty locating the dispenser latch key lying in plain sight
  • time pressures
  • cultural issues, or
  • disparities in knowledge regarding corporate restroom users’ rights and responsibilities.*

* See related post on leaving empty toilet paper rolls on the spool.

Regardless of the reason, the practice of placing multi-fold towels on the sink rather than in the dispenser is one that should be actively discouraged by managers, as it negates the towels’ efficiency in two distinct ways:

First, it exposes the towels to splashing, which can quickly render an entire stack useless for the next patron.

Photo[1]

These towels’ close proximity to a source of splashing may cause them to become wet, negating their effectiveness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It also creates the potential for finger-drip water damage. While not as destructive as splashing, finger-drip water still accounts for nearly 20% of towel waste.

This stack of paper towels is exhibiting clear signs of finger-drip damage.

This stack of paper towels is exhibiting clear signs of finger-drip damage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This level of avoidable waste can have a seriously detrimental impact on any company striving to shrink its carbon footprint and heighten sustainability.

In conclusion, it behooves each manager to integrate into their best practices a training course (or at the very least a module) on the engineering, purpose and optimal usage of multi-fold towels. We urge you to work with your Sustainability Officer or Team to develop a long-term plan for addressing this crucial issue.

 

Thank you.

 

 

The Greengrocers’ Apostrophe makes for rotten punctuation.

Greengrocer

These vine-ripened boo-boos can be found everywhere, not just the produce aisle.

Ever seen a sign advertising “Pumpkin’s For Sale”?

How about an arrow pointing the way to “Restroom’s”?

If so, you’ve encountered The Greengrocers’ Apostrophe. It occurs when someone mistakenly adds an apostrophe before an “s” to create a plural (e.g., Pumpkin’s for Pumpkins, Restroom’s for Restrooms.)

According to Wikipedia, the term was likely coined “in the middle of the 20th century …in Liverpool (England) at a time when such mistakes were common in the handwritten signs and advertisements of greengrocers.” (“Greengrocer” is the term our friends the Brits use for produce merchants.)

Unfortunately, the error is not limited to fruit and vegetable peddlers. This vine-ripened boo-boo can grow anywhere, often springing up far from any farmer’s market or citrus stand.

There’s something about seeing such an obvious error in public that makes many people cringe. A Facebook group – the Anti Greengrocers’ Apostrophe Strike Team – has even been established in hopes of eradicating the error.

You can do your part too:

1. Proofread anything you have to hastily scrawl. Taking a moment to check is the easiest way to catch errors you may have unconsciously made in your rush.

2. Remember that only in the rarest of cases is an apostrophe used to create a plural. For example:

• Mind your p’s and q’s.
• A lot of VIP’s attended.
• DVD’s for sale.

Even those last two are optional. The trend these days is to only use the apostrophe if it’s absolutely necessary to avoid confusion.

Which means the next generation of kids could well be learning their ABCs and not their ABC’s.

Here are five ways we’ll let you use us.

 (And there are plenty more where these came from.)

ben-hur-sea

Don’t worry — we get weekends off.

1. You realize your great product is sitting in a less-than-great package. Use us to design the great packaging your great product deserves.

2. Despite your best brainstorming efforts, your new product remains nameless. Use us to develop a name that gives your product a distinct identity in the marketplace.

3. Customers aren’t sure which of your products to select at the store. Use us to create attractive, effective point-of-sale materials that eliminate the guesswork for the customer.

4. Your old company logo is looking pretty, well, old. Use us to update it, visually linking your solid heritage to your forward-looking attitude.

5. Your website isn’t as user-friendly as it needs to be. Use us to make it both easier to navigate and easier on the eyes.

That’s for starters. There are literally dozens of ways you can use a good marketing and design partner with years of experience (i.e., us).

So go ahead; tap us for whatever you need. We don’t mind being used.

We’ll show you five more ways you can use us in an upcoming post.