Sunday, 30 May 2010

Choosing your words

We rented a cottage in Cornwall last week. This is what it said about the phone line...

"The cottage telephone (01503 xxxxxx) only excepts incoming calls & calls to the emergency services only."

Ok, so it's fairly clear they mean the exact opposite. But it's still the exact opposite. If we stop caring about using the right word, where will it all end? Well, it could end up here There are worse calamities in the world I know, but this blog isn't about them.

Talking of muddles, here's a new cartoon.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Death by TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms)

I'm working for a goverment organisation at the moment and the acronyms are killing me. I did this cartoon for the employee newsletter, but it hasn't helped.

Monday, 8 June 2009

3 hidden costs of copywriting

When it comes to some things, you know it's best to get the experts in. Need a website? Call the web guy. Need a brochure? Call the designer.

Website building is a specialist skill, as is design. You don't learn it at school unless you choose the course. Unlike writing. We're all taught to write.

With limited money in the pot, copy is a ripe corner for cutting. However, be aware, there are hidden costs.

1. How much is YOUR time worth?
What isn't getting done because you're writing copy?
How much are you being paid while not doing something you're supposed to?

2. Are you delaying the return on your investment?

How long have you been putting off writing that copy? Are you holding up a campaign that could be delivering sales? Is your new website on hold waiting for your words?

3. Sure your copy does your company justice?

By developing your website, having brochures designed and printed, running a mail shot, you're investing in the future of your business. If your prospects leave with an impression of 'style over substance', that expense is wasted.

What you want to say shouldn't be an afterthought.
Strange how having something look right steals priority.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Good news for a change

We still make stuff in this country. But, after the recession, we'll probably make less.

Let's face it, staying in business means moving manufacturing abroad for many quintessentially British brands. Royal Doulton for example, comes from further away than Staffordshire these days.

However, one of my more interesting clients of recent months firmly believe "Made in UK" is worth more to their brand than potential operational savings.

Sunspel have crafted superb quality t-shirts and underwear in Derbyshire for over a century. A brand favoured by the likes of Daniel Craig, Christian Bale and Charlie Watts, we're talking pretty cool stuff - not your average Marks and Sparks undies.

Anyway, this company looks like it could be a British manufacturing success story, despite the economic climate. Take a look at this video on BBC news and be inspired

And finally, the lesson. Before you get too creative when cutting costs, spare a thought for your brand.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Who can still afford wasteful marketing?

You may have noticed a big production ad campaign featuring Bruce Willis, Elle McPherson, Ringo Starr, Macaulay Culkin and others. Yes, Norwich Union feel the need to tell us they're now called Aviva in a big way. You' be forgiven for thinking some financial services providers must still be raking it in to afford such self indulgence.

Don't get me wrong, the company's "Happy" campaign is pretty good. Irritating possibly - but good, yes. It's product advertising promoting specific benefits in a memorable way.

However, the "building our business around you" re-branding campaign is a diamond dusted dog turd reminiscent of Abbey's "turning banking on its head" catastrophe.

The two ads so far have:

1. Compared the corporate name change to the impact of actors' stage names. Irrelevant.
2. Announced a bunch of overused and empty brand values that no-one really believes anymore.

Incorporating the re-branding into the "Happy" campaign would have made a stronger association in my opinion. It would have cost a truckload less money too.

What's more, with the running of financial institutions currently under close media scrutiny, such a wasteful and pointless campaign is a potential PR disaster. Particularly as Aviva have just announced they're cutting 1,100 jobs in the UK. It's obscene. Grrrr!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Questionable creativity

I know I've picked on car ads before but these big ticket items seem to attract big budget drivel.

Ford are airing some particularly pretentious pap on UK television screens these days. For example, people floating their old ugly cars off with balloons once they've seen a Mondeo. Or, more obscurely, a bunch of TVs with art displayed on them driving around a city at night before they turn into the new Fiesta.
Maybe I just don't get it. Maybe I'm being unfair.

It seems that the Fiesta ad presents the car as the "spirit of now". I'm paraphrasing a bit but according to the ad agency's blog, the images on the TV screens are works defining the essence of modern life and culture today by cutting-edge creative talent from all over Europe. You can read more about the ad on the Ogilvy blog here. There's also a link to watch it if you want.

Hmm yes. very clever. Although I'm not sure David Ogilvy would have approved of such an indulgence in his name.

Being called "the creative industries", advertising companies forget their role demands more than making stuff up. They perform a marketing function. Maybe if they were referred to as "the creative marketing industries" they would remember that they were paid to sell stuff.

In contrast, I saw an ad for the Vauxhall Zafira the other day that creatively promoted one of the key differentiating benefits of this product. It showed the vehicle driving around while people made effortless adjustments to their normally static environment to make life easier. For example, two cars needed to pass in a narrow alley, so a man in the alley gives a building a little push to make the alley wider, and so on. Before the ad is finished we see that two extra seats fold out of the floor in the boot when you need them.

Ask yourself - would you choose a car because the ad is arty, or because you can share the school run with one of the neighbours?

Someone tell me I'm wrong.

Friday, 11 April 2008

How much should I pay for a sales letter?

Checking out the competition is always enlightening. I've been looking at websites of other copywriters and noticed a few publish sample fees for common jobs. Being a direct marketing nerd I'm always intrigued by the cost for a letter.

I'm amazed at the number of writers offering one or two page sales letters for £50. Even a cheap writer is only allowing two hours work at most at that fee. Yet the same people charge four or five times as much for a company brochure.

Here's the question - how can anyone get to grips with understanding your business, it's values, your products, why anyone should buy them, your customers, your target market, your competitors and so on; then actually write the thing in a way that convinces those target prospects to respond, all within a couple of hours?

More realistic fees for a researched letter, one that's more likely to get a good response, start around £250. That's about the same as a basic brochure. Think of it this way, the value isn't in the quantity of material, it's in what it does for you.

Or you can waste £50 plus the cost of paper, printing and postage.

So, if you need a letter or email to promote your business, my advice is to look for a copywriter who knows the difference between selling and telling. A marketing or agency background is usually a good sign. Direct Marketing experience is even better, but then I would say that.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Working without briefs

Nope, not talking about going commando. Saw this excellent piece of advice in Marketing Week yesterday:

"The brief is the most important piece of information issued by a client to an agency.It's from this that everything else flows, so it's vital that every effort is taken to prepare the best documentation of what is required. Creative thinkers need the tightest parameters to produce the most inventive response."
Scott Knox, Marketing Communication Consultants Association

There aren't many excuses for not bothering to write a brief. If there's time to reject first concepts and drafts, there's always time to write a brief. Here's a few brief tales from both sides of the divide.

It's a rush job
During a stint in an agency I was given a rush job - 2 days to come up with concepts and 1st draft copy for a mail pack.

The AM (Agency Muppet, otherwise known as the Account Manager if they're any good) met with the client for a half hour meeting. He fed this back to me in 2 minutes and gave me his extensive notes, which nearly filled the post-it. He rejected 1st concepts without going back to the client because:
  1. "Oh yeah, there's no budget for photography."
  2. "Actually, I now remember that they specifically didn't want to say that."
  3. "Or that."
Day wasted. Deadline missed. Yep, muppet.

Chinese whispers
Freelancing often throws up some odd situations. Last year I worked on a letter for a copywriting agency who were working for a design agency who had been appointed by the client.

The client met with the design agency and briefed verbally. Probably over a nice cup of tea
and some biscuits. The design agency then passed the materials provided by the client to the copywriting agency with some basic instructions. The copywriting agency forwarded what they had to me. The first draft of the four page letter I wrote was rejected outright as the client said "it didn't meet the brief". It became a rush job.

If only the brief had been an actual piece of paper that you could hold in your hands and share. Written communication is what separates mankind from the animals. Still, it was only the big Christmas campaign for a charity so it wasn't like it was important.

Make 'em earn it!
I swear this is true.

Working in a marketing department some years ago I stated my intention to write a brief for a project to my manager. Her commercially retarded response still makes me twitch, "No, make them (the agency) earn their money." Hmm, imagine having a builder start work without plans, would you get your money's worth?

No surprise, the job fell in a vat of poo and started running up chargeable re-work fees. And there's my final lesson - no brief, no guarantees.

If you're in a hurry - write a brief.
If don't' want to be disappointed - write a brief.
If you don't want to pay for extra work - write a brief.

If you need a bit of help with your briefs (chuckle), have a look at the Chartered Institute of Marketing's guide here.

Monday, 3 December 2007

How to compete in a crowded market

I've been scribbling cartoons again.

I met this guy at a seminar who was so focused on his competitor that he forgot to be different. Fortunately the seminar helped him realise this, so I was there to witness that moment of epiphany. Or, as the great Homer said "doh!".

His next question was "how do I compete in a crowded market?". Hmm, tough one. If the product is similar and the price is about the same, there's not much left. Except perception.

Product features and price are rational considerations. But people bring emotions into buying decisions. Call it gut feeling if you like. Have you ever based a choice on something you couldn't put your finger on? That's the power of favorable perception.

Good news. You can manage perceptions through your communications. But, you need to know what your customers will favour. It could be something that you and your competitors all offer - but no-one else has made a selling point out of it. Do you have a service department? Tell your prospects how big it is - their perception will be that you care a lot about service.

Just one word of warning. Watch out for any gap between the perceptions you create and the experience your customers will get.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Marketing doesn't work - all is lost!

"I've tried everything"

You see this a lot on the business forums.

No explanation, just desperation. When you've poured your life savings and 60 odd hours a week into something you had absolute belief in, desperation is putting it mildly.

A bit of fishing reveals that yes, they have tried many forms of promotion, but not in a planned way. Mostly out of desperation. Funnily enough.

Here's the tip: Have a plan. For the love of lemmings, let planning be your guide. Plan.

Meeting the needs of customers profitably
That's how the Chartered Institute of Marketing define marketing. So, start with your customers.

1. Who are they?
2. What do you want them to know?

3. What do you want them to do?

and the really important one...

4. Why should they?

Alright, there's a teeny bit more to planning than this like, knowing your market, watching your competitors, predicting the future (seriously!), blah blah... buy a book, there's loads.

But, before you get bogged in detail, just keep those 4 questions in mind. Especially the first and last - they're the ones you might forget in desperation.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Slogan Toss

A Gaelic dish of fish giblets and turnips?
Actually, no. This is Slogan Toss...
"In the race for value, make sure you choose Citroen"
Saw this on the telly last night. The race for value? Is that like the queue in Poundland?

Someone got paid to write that. Actual real money. Probably a lot. I blame the buyer.

The Slogan Toss Top Ten of Shame - Call for entries...
You're already thinking of something you've seen that's worse. Go on, lets hear it.

Post a comment now, while it's still making you twitch.

Why Slogan Toss? Because they are thrown together with such careless abandon. And, because they're complete toss.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

VAT rules OK! to avoid VAT on direct mail

Don't you just hate paying tax?

Tax on earnings, tax on savings, tax on spending. It feels like they get a cut of everything. But they don't.

The government kindly lets us off on "essential" things like food, postage and the print and fulfilment of mail packs in certain formats. What?

Yep, don't ask me why, but there are ways of avoiding the VAT on direct mail. I'm not just talking about charities here, I've done VAT free direct mail packs selling mortgages.

It's like getting 17.5% of your print and fulfillment budget back!
All you need to know are the rules. Sounds too easy doesn't it?

Well, there are no rules as such - but if you know how to make a strong case, your money is safe.

How it works
You need to have more non-VATable content in your mail pack than VATable.

Whats VATable
All envelopes (including enclosed, reply paid envelopes), anything addressing the recipient by name (that's "Dear Mrs XXXX" but not the address), anything that is designed to be kept (tear offs, gifts, samples), reply forms.

Whats NOT VATable
Anything ephemeral (read it-chuck it) and without personal salutation. So, flyers, brochures and letters with "Dear Customer" (yuk!) or no salutation at all.

There are more ways to argue for VAT free than you think
Agencies without much DM expertise will suggest stuffing a couple of flyers in with a personalised letter (to outnumber it), whether they are relevant or not.

The trick is to remember
that you need to have more non-VATable content in your mail pack. That means that you can measure the comparative significance of VATable and non-VATable items.

For example, you also have a strong case if
  • you have a non-VATable brochure conveying the bulk of the necessary information and the personalised letter refers to it
  • your your non-VATable items are more of the total cost of the pack.
You can even make a case for a VAT free follow up postcard as long as the copy refers to the previous mailing eg. "Don't forget your car insurance. I wrote to you last month and...".

Just remember that these are strong cases, not rules. If in doubt, get your mailing house to check your pack design with their local Tax Office. A good mailing house will have a pretty good idea of what will fly and what won't.

One last thing, try to be consistent. Don't use one rule for the initial mailing and another for the follow up.

If anyone has had any different experience, or has some advice to add, please do leave a comment.

Good luck.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

How to get recommendations

Following on from the last post, if you are ever in Dinan and the thought of another crepe makes your intestines quiver, there's a cracking alternative.

Just off the Place des Cordeliers is a little place that looks like a sandwich shop called "Sur Le Pouce".

Know this - They make THE BEST fish and chips!

Fish and chips, in France, and yes, the best I've had for years. Not believable is it.

Fear not, the secret of greasy British delicacies has not escaped our shores - the place is run by a Yorkshireman. This also means you get a nice cup of tea. Heaven.

A recommendation well earned.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

So what... (a cautionary tale about communication)

The dramatic story of this post starts in the pretty medieval town of Dinan, Northern France. It's a bit of a tourist trap, but the place still has a little bit of magic.

Especially in the morning, when it's still fairly quiet, and the cool air is warmed by the delicious odour of fresh bread. The smell oozes through the tangle of cobbled streets like a charm, and soaks the pores of the half timbered houses as it has for many lifetimes.

However, this is merely background to the event.

Besides, by lunchtime you can hardly move for kids on school trips and English tourists looking for something, anything, to eat other than crepes. Times change.

Lovely place though.

But it's only the setting.

Ground zero was where we stayed. A tiny haven of tranquility. A little town house snuggled in a side street. There it is in the photo, the one with the green shutters.

It was an old house with crooked walls and aged wooden floors, whose boards gently rubbed together, giving a satisfying percussion to even the softest step. And water would patter soothingly down the spiral staircase, whenever my wife's auntie or uncle used the shower in their room.

But this was little cause for alarm. You see, we could call Dennis, the ex-pat key holder and handyman. After leaving only three messages, Dennis was round in a flash, a couple of days later.

From our amateur description of the event, he was immediately able to deduce that the shower was was leaking. He went on to advise us, with every fibre of sincerity and reassurance that he could muster, that there was no-one staying in the house the week after we left, so he would fix it then.

"So what do we do until then?"

Dennis had clearly not anticipated this question. A little crestfallen, he thought for a moment and decided that the second shower in our bathroom was probably working fine, so we could all share that one.

OK, obvious solution, but it was an afterthought. He was thinking about it all from his point of view:
  1. Plumbing needs fixing.
  2. The owner will want it fixed before the next guests arrive.
  3. Need to leave quick (I wonder what's for tea?).
Pleased with the solution to his problem, Dennis had assumed that ours was much the same.

And yet we have all smelt the pooey end of this stick at some time or other. I'll bet even Dennis has sucked such a lemon in his lifetime.

This is when we become most aware that we are a "customer" - when something goes wrong. What an opportunity! Ironic isn't it.

In the grand scheme of things, ours wasn't much of a problem at all. But see how easy a drama of poor communication develops. And that's what gets remembered.

If only he had used the "so what?" rule. That is, if you think your audience is likely to say "so what?", your message might well be off target.

We had a lovely time though. If you get the chance you should go.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

The truth about blogs

I've made some discoveries about blogs.

It took a few hours to find them out. Now I'd like to share them with you. Exciting or what!

You see, I keep getting told "...yeah, you need a blog. No-one looks at websites any more".

Right then. I'd better get cracking.

I like to prepare, so I spent an evening googling away - bouncing from one blog to another.

This is what I found...

Many blogs share news with family and friends. Which is nice.

The remainder are put out there for the edification of all. And here's the thing - most are complete toss. Don't people realise that some things are best kept to ourselves?

Now don't get me wrong, there are some absolute gems.

The good ones, they communicate something useful, interesting or entertaining. The best ones do all three.

So, I hope you found those observations useful and interesting, and the cartoon entertaining. I'll settle for 2 out of 3. It gives me something to aspire to.