Wednesday, January 31, 2007

To Get Anywhere In Our Society, You MUST Know How to Spell

Last week, I read an article that irritated me enough to schedule it into my blog.

It referenced several parts of an extensive study on family behavior, done by Nickelodeon. You can read the full article here:

When I started reading, I saw a few things I agreed with - technology blurring boundaries between work and home, the vast majority of kids spending a good chunk of time online.

Then I got to the 8th paragraph. And I read this:
"The study showed that, thanks to the Internet, a quarter of parents believe it's no longer necessary to spell well, reference printed dictionaries, or read the newspaper. Kids ages 8 to 14 agreed in slightly lesser percentages (an average of one-fifth) about the usefulness of spelling well, dictionaries and newspapers, except when it came to printed maps."


Few things aggravate me faster than willful ignorance. Yet that's precisely what this amounts to - kids and parents (PARENTS!) actively refusing to learn. One of the most basic communications skills, to boot.

(In case you can't tell, this will be a somewhat-angry post!)

Despite this quarter of parents and fifth of kids, spelling is absolutely necessary to learn in a technological society. Many times more essential than in a non-technological society, I would say.

You might think that obvious. You went to school, they taught you this. You know you have to spell correctly. You're right, but I've actually come across people for whom education is not a suitable reason to value things like spelling. (Gee, doesn't seem so surprising now that I read that article...)

So here. I'm going to list some reasons why spelling is essential in our society. Concrete reasons, proof undeniable. Let those parents argue with these.

You need spelling to:
1. Understand Computers. If you can't spell, you will have trouble reading. It's ironic, but the technology these parents claim invalidates the need to spell is one of the areas where spelling is needed just to understand it! For example, reading instructions, websites, documentation, manuals, game screens...need I go on?

2. Understand Each Other. Since we're talking about parents and children here, let me break this one down to school and work scenarios. In school, children need spelling for understandable reports, speeches, and tests. Write something the teacher doesn't understand? Bad grade. In a work scenario, you have things like sending emails, giving directions on projects, training, etc. Write something your boss doesn't understand? Pink slip.

3. Express Your Intentions. How do you expect anyone else to listen to you when anything you write, any effort you make to communicate what you want or need, is unreadable?

4. Understand the World. Nowhere is language more demonstrably important than in addressing others when you do not share the same culture. Basic needs, different customs, unique social protocols all come into consideration. Wars have been fought over simple cultural misunderstandings in language.

I can't emphasize the importance highly enough. When 80% of corporate employees already have trouble communicating their needs to one another, seeing things like the Nickelodeon study results just burns me.

If you'd told me something like this ten years ago, I wouldn't have believed you. Unfortunately, now I know the grim truth. If we teach one generation to ignore communication, the next won't be able to communicate effectively at all. How do we expect to get anything done? How do we expect our society to survive?


Monday, January 29, 2007

Blue Ferret BlogTip 1-29-07 - Some Things Social Networking Proves

Social networking. It's been called the Web's true form, the ultimate collaboration, the universal conversation, etc. I'm not even going to try picking one. Whatever it truly "is" I'll leave up to the historians.

Instead, I'd like to muse on a few things the social networking phenomenon proves. (These are from a writer's perspective, of course.) Simple, basic truisms brought about by this wildfire evolution online. I don't know what kind of value these may bring about for the Web, but I'd like to think putting them out there will help someone.

Social Networking Proves:
  • People want to connect, to communicate meaning.

  • It confirms the Web as a text-based medium at its core.

  • Writers, marketers & consultants have more avenues for research than ever.

  • People want to share what's important to them, and receive acknowledgement.

  • Ask. You will receive an answer.

As was said in the movie "What The Bleep Do We Know?" - Ponder that for a while.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What's the Difference Between a Client and a Customer?

I was working on my newsletter last Friday and happened upon one of those "enlightened moments."

I'd typed out, "Be mindful of scheduling factors in your customers' lives." Then I caught myself. Would it sound better with clients instead? I changed it, and yes, "Be mindful of scheduling factors in your clients' lives" looked clearer.

(Okay, so it was a small enlightenment. Humor me.)

What's the difference here though? What's the difference between a "customer" and a "client?"

I couldn't recall their explicit definitions off the top of my head, so I looked them up. Webster's defined "client" as "Someone who pays for goods and services." Next I looked up "customer." Sure enough - "Someone who pays for goods and services."

Exact same meaning. Or is it? Don't they have different meanings in marketing? Don't they carry distinct impressions about the people we do business with?

When I think "Client," I think more of 'harder' industries. Technical, legal, financial - business-to-business companies. However, when I think "Customer," I think of a broader range. Industries like retail, entertainment, customer service - business-to-consumer.

With a bit more thought, I came up with these distinctions:

A. Clients are relationship-based. They are long-term associations. Effort must be expended to cultivate a client relationship.
B. Customers are transaction-based. They are transient, mercurial associations. Either party can and often does sever the relationship suddenly and at convenience.

So, what's an easy way to illustrate the difference between a client and a customer?

A customer uses formalities when talking to you, and worries about what the project will look like when done.

A client calls you by first name and already knows how your latest project will go.

There's a lot of value in client relationships. Let's all try to cultivate them a little more.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Blue Ferret BlogTip 1-22-07 - Don't Try Too Hard to Convince

Relax - you're selling too hard.

People don't really like being "sold." They like making a decision that benefits them. The mark of a super-marketer is the ability to lean a prospect's decision in your favor. But is there such a thing as trying too hard to do this?

In my experience, yes. You can only persuade as far as they want to go. Keeping this give and take in mind while selling, or crafting marketing material, will help you focus on the points best suited to convince the customer.

I think a perfect balance is the ideal place. About 50/50 between your sales efforts and their willingness. They supply the desire and justification, you supply (as a marketer) the product and reasons for the justification.

Go too far over this medium - say to 75% - and you'll push them away. How would you do that, though? And more importantly, how would you know you're selling too hard?

Some examples of trying too hard to convince someone, I think, would be:
  • Excessive, value-less freebies tacked onto a sale as 'bonuses'

  • Pushy salespeople

  • Outrageous claims in ads/marketing material

  • Passing the buck on sales claims, to anywhere else in the organization

Know any more? Let us know in the comments.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Productivity Links for January 17th 2007

I have absolutely no idea what I want to write about today. So I'll take the escapist route and post some links from my favorite websites.

Run Ubuntu on Windows Systems
I didn't think there would be an easier way for Linux virgins to experience the OS...until now.
What I especially like about this is the automatically-installed option of switching into Linux at boot. Switching operating systems at boot is very intimidating for the computer-wary. Now that worry's gone. Well done (again), Ubuntu Project!

P.S. - BACK UP YOUR PC FIRST if you try this! I'm not responsible (nor is Lifehacker) for cases of "What happened?!"

Web Workers Daily - The Procrastinator's Clock (application)
How evil. I like it. When subtle tricks don't help you fight the demon of Prok-rastin-a-shun, try this out.

As a bonus, if you work online and you don't read Web Worker Daily, start. At least 90% of the posts made there I find relevant to my situation as an Internet communications professional. Here's the RSS feed:

Nick Usborne: How many "best web copywriters in the world" Are There?
The eminent Mr. Usborne makes yet another powerful point - not everyone can be "the best." I'm good, but I freely admit I'm not the best Web copywriter in the world. That way I have a place to grow toward!

The Little Book of Flow
I found this gem a while back, but kept forgetting to include it here. "The Little Book of Flow" talks about thinking, the choices we make, how we see the world and how to find our place in it. An easy read, and filled to overflowing with perspectives you might not have thought of before. For anyone who wants a richer, more satisfying life, I highly recommend sitting down to read.


Monday, January 15, 2007

No Tip Today, in Honor of MLK

Today our nation pauses to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

I have always had great respect for King. Not only for the courage to stand up when he did, but for the foresight to understand what real unity means. Out of acknowledgement for this man's fervent desire to aid our society, there will be no BlogTip today. I'm heading out to do some volunteering.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What To Do If Your Copy Gets No Response

Ever had a project trip out of the gate?

You toil over research, write drafts, move paragraphs around, check some metrics, weigh SEO keywords, dress it up, put the copy out there - and it falls on its face.

Nothing. Cricket-chirps. Celebrities coughing get more attention.

Of course, you want to edit or replace the piece so you'll get a better result, right? But we're left with a dilemma. How do you find what went wrong - when there's not enough response (or none at all) to measure?

You might have already thought of looking at it this way, but -- no response is still *A* response.

It's customers saying, "This doesn't impress me."

They might have read it. But it didn't resonate. They don't feel compelled to respond. (Or they do, but the client is withholding feedback from you. Stingy bum.)

What then should we do? How to go about fixing copy when you don't know what's broken?

1. Re-analyze the purpose. Check your notes for the purpose statement you decided on when you started. Was it exactly what the client wanted? Was it what you wanted? (If my readers would like, I'd be happy to write a post on purpose statements.)

2. Does the copy accurately reflect the purpose? Go through the copy with your "customer's first look" glasses on. Can you, at any point, see the purpose statement reflected back to you there? If not, reworking the copy so the purpose shines through is what's needed.

3. Do your arguments have holes anywhere, or lose their flow? More than likely you'll spot this as you go through the copy for the purpose statement. When my copy fails (yes, I'll admit it), 90% of the time this is the problem. The linguistic equivalent of dropping the ball. A telltale sign? When even your attention starts to wander.

4. Is the call to action strong AND easy to follow? I've read many calls to action that are strong. Bold declarations of what the reader must do to gain all these wonderful advantages. The problem was, the actions weren't easy. Largely this comes from technical problems, especially online. Make sure your client's backing up whatever steps you're specifying in the copy. Talk with your client's host (if a website) about shopping cart departures, for one example.

5. If all of these check out, it's time to start over. Dump the copy and redo it from scratch. Some tiny, nebulous flaw in there is causing a poor return. If you haven't found it by now you're not going to, and you'd only waste time in searching. Head back to the purpose statement and try another angle.

Sometimes we figure out why readers aren't interested. Sometimes we don't. The important thing - and this is a lesson I'm still learning - is to not get personally attached to your copy. Yes, it's the result of your hard work. But it's still subject to the readers' whim. You can tear it apart for a rewrite from nothing. In fact, doing so might make the difference between no response and successful responses?

And isn't that what you should really be attached to?


Monday, January 08, 2007

Blue Ferret BlogTip 1-8-07 - Companies I'd Like to Work With in 2007

Since it's a new year, I thought I'd list a few industries I'm looking to work with in my 2007 marketing plan. Haven't before, but I'd love to try them out. Mostly due to my personal interest in their topics.

Also, these are all industries projected to experience significant growth/attention in the coming year. All the better for me, huh? And for you. Good writers share. Consider adding these industries to your prospect lists for the coming months too. There's a lot of potential in these burgeoning industries - and they'll all need to communicate that potential.

--Alternative Energy Research/Production Companies: Necessity, the mother of invention. By now everyone has an idea about oil prices and the need for alternative fuels. The sheer variety of existing alternatives means this industry will have stiff competition for investments and market share.

--Open Source Software Firms: Open Source's growth staggers me. Every time I go to LinuxWorld I'm amazed not only at the spread of companies, but of how many people go there. The market potential can only improve.

--Alternate-Press Publishers: With RSS, podcasting and webinars breaching the mainstream, niche presses have more audiences. But they have to work harder to get past the junk. That's where Web communication specialists like me come in.

--Biotech: A while back I knew a photographer who started dabbling in biotech images. I never heard from her again - she got so busy she stopped coming to meetings. With recent advances in the science, such as with stem-cell research, I believe biotech will rapidly diversify.

Take a look at these industries in your area. Are you missing profit sources you could easily step into? Also, know any burgeoning industries positioned for big growth in 2007? Drop a comment and let's all share what we know.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Don't Be Afraid to Make Commitments In Your Content

We're back for 2007! I trust I didn't lose any readers this weekend?

Good. Welcome back. And now, onward to a new year of written wit and marketing mayhem!

Today I'll talk about something that clicked in my brain while working yesterday. (Yes, back to the grind like everyone else.) I received some revisions back from a client for their website project. They only wanted a few changes, nothing too egregious. But one caught my eye because of the meaning behind it.

This client wanted to change from declaring a concrete "average service time" - in his case, 4 hours average for a service that often runs 12+ hours - to saying they "respond in a timely manner."

Er. That's like shrinking away from shaking a customer's hand.

It's shying away from commitment in your content. The client was effectively saying, "I don't want to make any definite claims on my site, in case someone calls me on them later."

Let me ask you this - how do you expect customers to trust you if you hide from them behind flat, non-commital language? If you give them no reason to expect anything from you?

Answer: they won't. They'll go elsewhere with their trust. And their business.

Web content is intended to not only make customers aware of what you provide them, but also to give them reasons to trust you. The Web is overloaded with spam, scam artists, phishers and just plain deadbeat businesspeople. Trust has never been more valuable. I'm sure you remember at least one time when you didn't buy online due to lack of trust.

Your content must (not should, must) reach through the screen and lay your hand on their shoulder. Yes, you will have to follow up on commitments. All good companies do. It's what sets them apart.

Nothing to be afraid of. Except doing your job.

How will you make these commitments in your content? Here are a couple ways I've found.

Be Concrete
Use numbers, or clear-cut promises when talking about your services. Both, preferably.
One example - cut out 'can' from your language. It only implies ability; it doesn't cement it. "We can bring you more business." VS. "We bring you more clients." Which sounds more solid?

Back It Up
a) Put in testimonials not just on a Testimonials page, but wherever they'd help your case.
b) Ask for follow-ups from visitors. In this digital age, people love to speak out. Let them know you want to hear what they have to say, and you establish trust between both parties.

Accept Calls
Put contact points up on your major services listings. An email form, or phone number. This way customers can confirm what you're saying or ask for more about it. Again, you're giving them a chance to be heard.

Commitment is not easy to make. Especially in website copy, where your company's exposed to the world and lives (or dies) by your word. Without it though, you give no reason to stay in business. Make those declarative statements. Hold to solid claims. Listen.

If you can't trust your company to deliver - why should customers?