Wednesday, June 28, 2006

How to Speak to Others So They Will Listen

I got a call from my friend Jason in San Diego last week. He's a very to-the-point kind of guy, so he wasted no time. "Hey Chris, got a question for you. Do I sound condescending?"

Threw me a bit. Usually I'm the one who gets accused of coming across that way when we're in public together. Jason's much more open and charismatic than I am (he's usually the one who ends up with the girl). But condescending?

I asked him where the question came from. He told me about bringing a document to a co-worker the day before, asking about some unclear statements she'd put in it. After he got the message cleared up, he offered a piece of advice on how to make things clearer next time...

I can see you nodding your head already. You see exactly where the conversation skewed into ego-territory.

Yes, the co-worker was miffed at Jason's attempt to help, and reported him to his supervisor. Fortunately, she's a very understanding woman, so she simply gave Jason a heads-up and let it drop.

Jason was, understandably, concerned that he'd gone too far in his attempt. But he was so close to the situation that the reasoning behind the whole miscommunication eluded him. So he called the only person he knew who was a better communicator (I just had to put that in) - me.

I told him that keeping the other person's mindset and pyschology in mind while talking will help eliminate the likelihood of them being offended. There are two things to remember that make that easy to do. This is what I told him:

They're Always Right
Defensiveness has many heads. And they'll all rear if you get even CLOSE to insinuating that a person doesn't know absolutely everything about the topic. Now, none of us know everything. It's very reasonable to assume that if a person did something wrong, they didn't know how to do it right. But do they want to hear that from you? Nope.

The solution? Put them on equal footing with you. This can easily be done with a few phrases inserted mid-sentence to include the other person in what you're saying. The example I gave Jason was to preface an important statement with, "This is nothing new to you, I'm sure..."

Chances are the other person does know something about what you're discussing. Making a rejoinder like that plays on their (possibly limited) knowledge, and neutralizes defensiveness.

What You Want to Say Is Not What They Hear...
(unless you make what you say what they want to hear)

There are always at least two sides to every communication. Two perspectives. Two personalities. The person listening to you is filtering their words through their own biases and quirks. It's not intended to mess up your eloquent explanations; everyone does it. You're doing it right now, reading my words.

The question is, how do we make sure what we want to say is what they will hear? What I told Jason was this: "Take your time, make sure you agree with what you're saying, and ask for understanding."

Take your time when speaking, so you are patient enough to direct your words toward your message. (They WILL listen, honest!) Agree with yourself, in that what you are saying now matches up to what you intended to convey. Ask now and then if you can fill in any holes, or repeat a point you might have glossed over. (You probably didn't, but they missed it.)

Doing all this will put you on equal footing, like the first trick. But these steps also communicate that you value what you are saying. With equal footing, it translates to you valuing their understanding as well. They'll respect you for it, and try subconsciously to assimilate your message.


Some of you have picked up on the other application of these points. You've realized, "Hey, this is true in marketing too!" And you're exactly right.

Every form of communication, in every medium, can be taken down to two people. People wil always be people. Whether you're writing an email newsletter or walking across the office to chat, remember: be aware of their mindset. Use these points. You'll get your message across faster.

Without sounding condescending at all.


Monday, June 26, 2006

Blue Ferret Blog Tip 6-26-06 - BlogPulse Key Phrases

Happy Monday, Ferret fans! Here's today's tip, straight from the BlogPulse Website.

BlogPulse is a blog metrics and search engine, and a darn fast one. It focuses on "trend search" - polling its blog lists for up-to-the-second keywords uses. When I checked the site today, it reported over 30 million blogs, and almost 700,000 blog posts indexed in the past 24 hours.

This RSS feed: BlogPulse Key Phrases RSS Feed gives you the day's most popular keywords (or as BlogPulse would say, "trends").

What's my reasoning for telling you this? To what end could a smorgasbord of frequently-blogged keywords be put? Why, audience research of course!

It's easy to go through the list and trace keywords back (all of them are live-linked to their search queries) through the blogs. Find out what people are talking about. Track their blogs over a period of days, and you can use what you learn to build profiles. Profiles of your target audience's members. VALUABLE.


BlogPulse is a service of Nielsen BuzzMetrics.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Get Some New Language! Why Customers Tune Out Your Ads

Has anybody ever seen a company use the phrase, "Now more complicated and breakable than ever!" in their advertising?

Me neither. So why do companies continually try to differentiate themselves with language like "Simpler, easier to use, better quality than ever!" over and over?

Part of the reason marketing & advertising get such a bad rap is because they reuse language. The same language everyone else uses. How many times do you need to hear, "the best in the business" before you tune it out? Not more than twice, I wager.

Here's a couple examples of what I mean. I pulled some worn-out business language (took a while to find, too - it's so worn out I couldn't think of examples right away!) and put in a better way to say the same thing.
Common LanguageBetter Way to Say It
"We're the best!"If we're not the industry leader in your mind after the sale, tell us. You're the one who decides who's the best.
"Satisfaction guaranteed!"Our return rate is less than 3%, but if you need a return for any reason, we have 2 service reps available 24 hours a day.
"We're dedicated to our customers!"We're proud to have won the Regional Chamber Customer Service Award 2 years running. Want to help us go for 3?

No, the Better Ways aren't as cutesy or snappy. That's the point. Cliches are easy to tune out because you hear them so often. Say something with some facts behind it. It may take another second to read. But if your customer is still paying attention, it'll keep their attention focused that much longer.

The problem with worn-out language is that, like I mentioned earlier, it's so stuck in our heads. People expect to hear cliches and empty words in virtually everything they read about a company. It becomes easy to perpetuate the cycle of old language use when it's literally a generations-old indoctrination.

I was reading John Forde's Copywriter's Roundtable yesterday (highly recommended newsletter - ). His main article was from a well-known travel writer about using descriptive language vs. empty adjectives. The article jumped out at me because I'd had half this blog post written before I started reading - and we were saying almost the exact same thing!

This tells me that others are aware of this language problem (which I'm ecstatic about). Evidently it shows up in travel writing because lazy writers keep using the same adjectives to describe a dozen different places. Doesn't work. Neither does using the same kinds of language for multiple markets. You end up with overworked, shallow copy that sticks in people's mind only because they keep hearing it. Not because it speaks to their personal needs & wants.

Wrong way to gain mindshare.

Marketers everywhere - invest in thesauri. Read more fiction. Go back over your work, your clients' work, and your competitor's work. Can you spot reused language? Cliches? Areas where you lose the buying trance and start to think, "Why'd they say that?"

Then get some new language to fill those spots in. Something meaningful, accurate, and more compelling than, "Don't be the last one to own it!"

How's that for a call to action?


Monday, June 19, 2006

The Blue Ferret 5-Minute Self-Editing Checklist

Like every writer, I sometimes get to the end and find I'm in a different place than where I intended. I use an editing checklist when that happens. So far it's never failed to put my copy back on track.

For Monday's BFC Blog Tip, I thought I'd share this checklist with everyone. For those "I don't have any time at all but this doesn't sound right AGH how do I fix it?!" moments. It only takes 5 minutes to use, and it'll find the knots you need to unravel.

1. What exactly are you trying to say? Read your copy over again. If you can't pull the same message out of the words on the page, it needs a rework.

2. Read the document aloud. If you were listening to this as a speech, would you lose focus and start thinking about dinner at some point? Fix that point.

3. Check your notes. (You did make notes, right?) Can you see where each major point is clearly addressed in the copy? If not, your customer won't either.

4. Use the Web. If it's Web copy, enter the keywords you selected for it into Google. Read one or two of the pages that come up. See how your copy compares. Is there something they mention that might boost yours?

5. When all else fails, ask another writer. Most copywriters I know don't mind taking a quick peek at a colleague's work, looking for a muddy spot. (I don't, at least.) The new perspective may tell you what you were too close to see. It happens.

That's all! 5 points, 5 minutes. Editing doesn't have to be a long, grueling process. Save yourself time and frustration with the Blue Ferret 5-Minute Self-Editing Checklist.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Special Report: The 5 Types of Customers You Meet on the Web

My presentation went over well. I received some nice compliments on my speech, and on the handout i brought (which you lucky blog readers had a day before).

Now, it's time for the second blog exclusive I promised!

The 5 Types of Customers You Meet on the Web

Technically, one's not a customer. But they should be given the same consideration. I've described what all 5 want at your site, and how to give it to them. This PDF will become a secret weapon in your website's arsenal. Spread the word!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

3 Website Content Tricks That Keep Small Business Customers Coming Back - Report PDF

As I promised! A day before I'm set to give my speech, here's the full text of:

3 Website Content Tricks That Keep Small Business Customers Coming Back.

(I've posted it on my site's Articles page, since it's quite long.)

You can also download it here in PDF: 3 Website Content Tricks PDF

For today's post, I'll expound somewhat on why I felt it necessary to write this presentation/report.

I've said before that I enjoy writing for the Web. Case studies, white papers, articles, e-blasts, newsletters, and especially website content. When it comes to the average businessperson, there isn't much difficulty in picturing the value in most of those. Newsletters put you in touch with customers. Case studies show off a particularly effective result. E-blasts make announcements and sell fast.

But website content?

It's a vague term. I say it and people go deer-in-headlights. 9 times out of 10 the first response I get is, "What's that?" They don't connect "content" to "writing." More importantly (in my mind anyway), they don't connect "writing" to "effective marketing."

Hence my presentation/report. It displays some of the strongest characteristics of website content, framed as writing, that serve to increase the effectiveness of a company's marketing efforts. There are more elements to strong website content than the 3 I've listed, but those are the ones that need to be driven home early and often.

Have a look. Take it in. Pass it around. (Get your mind out of the bong!) Writing is the gold standard of the Web. If more people learn how to use it properly, their appreciation of its power will go up. More opportunity for content writers. Better small business marketing. Happy people all around.

Coming on Friday: "The 5 Types of Web Customers" special PDF!


Monday, June 12, 2006

Announcements - New Presentation/Special Report

Today I'm making a couple announcements. There will be extra activity on my blog this week.

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm a member of my local B2B Gathering. Each month, two members present are given the floor for five minutes. Most talk about their businesses, field questions from other members, etc.

This week, it's my turn.

The last time I presented, I gave the Google Local speech. This time, I'm giving my newest presentation, "3 Web Content Tricks That Keep Small Business Customers Coming Back."

But don't worry, ferrety readers! You're included too. In fact, you get a bonus.

On Wednesday - the day BEFORE I'll be presenting - I will publish the report version of my speech here. In full-text and PDF form.

Then, on Friday, I'll post a special PDF, "The 5 Types of Customers You Meet on the Web." This will be an expanded version of one of my speech's major points, for quick reference. Online marketers of all stripes would do well to keep it handy.

Watch and wait, Friends of the (Blue) Ferret! You'll enjoy what's coming.

*Both of these reports are free, copyright Blue Ferret Communications. Please download and share them as you like. Altering or claiming the content is prohibited (but you knew that already).

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Do People Actually Sell Anymore?

I've been dealing with an increasingly-irritating eBay seller this past week. The item I ordered did not work. I requested a refund; the seller pointed me to some obscure return policy he obviously hadn't written himself as justification for not giving me one. I informed him that I would be reporting him to eBay if he tried to refuse me a return of a dead product. He suddenly coughed up 90% of my money and acted like he was doing me a favor.

No wonder a couple I know loathe buying from eBay!

Mind you, these are a couple of very price-conscious people. The fact that they are willing to pay more - sometimes a good deal more - to avoid dealing with snotty eBay merchants is telling about overall eBay sales.

Don't get me wrong - I think eBay is a wonderful place to find things. But like chefs will say, it only takes one bad egg to spoil the bread. (That's not actually what they say, because I'm not a chef, but you get the idea. Hope I don't have any overzealous chefs in my readership!)

Having come across a decidedly bad egg, I'm thinking about salesmanship this week. More specifically, how poorly it's regarded AND practiced all too often. Now, I am not one of those guys who can sell refrigerators to Eskimos. But I think I had a good grasp of an honest way to sell.

So I thought I'd make this week's post about clarifying a few of my sales principles. They may sound odd or maybe even counterintuitive to "sales," but I find they work for me.

1. Selling takes thinking.
I'm not talking about product details here. I'm not even talking about studying your audience's needs and wants, either (though that IS very important to sales.) What I'm talking about here is the moment-by-moment sales process. The interactions that occur while selling's done.

If you're face-to-face with a potential buyer, you need to be studying him. What he's saying. What he's not saying. How his body language goes. Is he getting nervous? Are you being welcoming and putting him at ease, or scaring him off? The back of your mind has to be going during any sales interaction. Relying on rote pitches and reflexive objection dismissals might have worked years ago, but nowadays it's not going to reflect well on you.

Since I'm a copywriter, I'm usually not face-to-face. So what I do is envision the customer as he'd reading what I write. Would a certain passage confuse him? Will what I say fit into his desires at the right time? Would I say such-and-such if I WERE sitting across from him? Thinking like this does help a lot with honest sales. (Takes longer to write while I'm doing it, but the end result's well worth it.)

2. If you're pushing, you're losing.
The harder you push against a potential buyer, the more they'll resist. Law of nature. Pound a mallet harder into a wall, the wall's resistance increases in proportion.

This one might seem so common-knowledge, it would be redundant to even mention. Well, I'm mentioning it anyway. Why? Because it's definitely not that common-knowledge, in my experience. The "Hard Sell" is alive and well in America. I've seen people use pushy, almost disrespectful sales tactics to sell everything from motivational books to boats.

If you're selling, and you find yourself in a situation where you want to push, you need to stop and backtrack. How did you get there? If selling in person, can you defuse that line of thought (hint: ask the customer what they're thinking. It gives you a new track.) If selling in copy, go back and find where the line of thought started. Can you revise it to be less pushy and more divulging? Adding solid information always helps me here (yes, I slip up like everyone else).

3. Hiding behind clouds won't make them trust you.
In my eBay seller's case, the cloud was a jumble of legalese he tried to push off on me. I immediately thought he was playing on a perception - that I was too impatient to read through legalese and/or too dumb to understand it. Which totally destroys any credibility this seller had.

Pick up any good book on sales, and it'll talk about trust. Trust is essential. Trust has to be in every stage of the sales proecss. Would you buy a house from a guy with a Condemned sign hidden behind his back?

Despite its critical nature, many people think trust can be manufactured. Or worse, assumed because of the salesperson's role. And when this assumption is challenged by the customer, they try to use things like ignorance, obscure policies, or outright belligerence to shove the customer back into the pigeonhole.

How masochistic would you have to be to appreciate being treated like that?

4. It's always a simple exchange.
One-two. Buyer/Seller. Online sales have shown beyond doubt the value of treating sales interactions as a one-on-one conversation. Regardless of medium (but especially in your sales copy).

A fellow writer posted one of her favorite writing tips on the illustrious Well-Fed E-Pub some time back: "Write like you're talking to one person." How true it is. That's what sales is, at least to me - a conversation between two people where both intend to come away with something they want. If they do, it's a successful sale. If not, one or both of them miscalculated on what the other one wanted.

Common sense? Maybe. But as I like to say whenever I run across an exception, "Common sense is far from common."

Going back to the topic, I guess I think of the tactics I've mentioned as undesirable as more "subversion tactics" than sales tactics. The whole point of sales is to find the customers that do want what you provide, show them why you're the right choice among the competition, and trust them to make a decision. Being respectful, up-front and always honest. That's the kind of sales I want to see.


P.S. - 10 Flagrant Grammar Mistakes That Make You Look Stupid I run into at least three of these every day in articles online, blogs, or emails from colleagues. Maintaining good grammar isn't hard, if you keep common slip-ups like these in mind. Reeeead, my Web friends. Reeeeeaddd!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

(Late) Blog Tip: Finally, A Reference for "Blue!"

I'm asked time and again where I came up with the name, "Blue Ferret Communications." I like telling the story behind the three words, but I've always lacked one element.

I chose 'blue' because I'd found a list of color perceptions in business. For example, Red is seen as passionate, intense, almost furiously dedicated in the business world. Conversely, Blue is seen to represent integrity, professionalism, and good communication.

Unfortunately for me, the website that housed this color list disappeared shortly after I found it. So I had no reference point. I couldn't tell people, "Well, go to this site and you'll see what I mean."

Until now.

I give you, "Keys to Branding Your Small Business!" MarketingProfs - Keys to Branding Your Small Business

(Note: I don't think you need to be a MarketingProfs subscriber to view this, but if so, registration is free).

This article contains an excellent overall strategy for building a small business brand, and how to see the value in doing so. Best of all, about 2/3rds down the page, there's a Colors List!

No mention of Communication. But Authority and Calm? I'll take those. It still works.

The Blue Ferret is the Authority on Calm, Creative Copy Designed to Build Market Share That Trusts You!

Hey, I think I just made up a new slogan.