Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.

11 Jan
by Deborah Brody, posted in advertising, Communication   |  No Comments

The Washington Post runs an advertising campaign with the slogan “if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.” And on Monday, I did not get my print copy of the Post. I called the re-delivery number and left a message. Five hours later, I had not yet received a replacement copy so I called again, and left another message, asking for a call back. Then I went to the online complaints, and left two messages–one about the missed delivery and one about another delivery issue I had during my end-of-year vacation.

I didn’t get it

I heard nothing from the Post. Not one word. No call back and no redelivered paper. No apology. No credit. No nothing.

Subscriptions matter

The Washington Post has seen an increase in digital subscribers and a decrease in print subscribers. This isn’t surprising since most people seem to prefer to read their news online. However, in terms of advertising sales, which is what pays the bills at the Post and most every other newspaper, circulation numbers are what sets advertising rates. Fewer print subscribers means smaller circulation numbers, which means lower advertising rates. Obviously, the less the Post charges Macy’s and the various other advertisers, the less revenue it generates.

Disregard is disrespect

So subscriptions matter. And yet the Post continues to treat its subscribers with, if not outright disdain, complete disregard. Prices are increased every few months, credits are no longer given even though the print subscription charges for delivery costs, and customer service has been outsourced to Asia, where the agents barely speak English and don’t know K Street from Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Washington Post would prefer if you never called them, so they’ve created an online account/customer service portal. Except it sucks. Every time you want to do something, you  have to sign in, and then somehow, you are signed out of your digital subscription. And not everything works. I tried to change my vacation hold dates, and was not able to. I had to call an unhelpful customer service agent.

When I got home from vacation, I discovered that of the six days I was gone, four days of newspapers were delivered. My vacation stop was not honored. I complained online and nothing. Again, no apology, no credit, no acknowledgment of a mix-up.

Here’s the bottom line: The Washington Post can advertise for new subscribers all it wants, but until it fixes its broken customer service, it will continue to lose print subscribers (and by extension advertising revenue).

Customer service matters more than marketing in retaining customers. Marketing is about acquisition and customer service is about retention. If you acquire customers just to lose them because of poor service, you are wasting money marketing and you are threatening your bottom line.


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Please, don’t tell me more about you

18 Nov
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication   |  No Comments

Of books and how people just want to talk about themselves

Last night I attended my first meeting of a book group. Around the table were a dozen women. One lady, who had also never attended the group, decided she would take the reins and introduce herself. And so she did–telling us her story, her children’s stories and her grand kid’s stories.

As we went around the table, some women shared their name, occupation and where they live, while some women went into great autobiographical detail, even into the TMI (too much information) territory. We heard about what high school they attended, family secrets, divorce, how their ancestors got to America, angst about the kids (there was a lot of emphasis on their children), and very little about their reading or book interests.

But, let’s get back to me

When we finally got around to discussing the book, one (self-absorbed) woman kept bringing it back to her experiences, her life, her likes, her dislikes. Everything someone else said made her want to share something irrelevant to the book and only relevant to herself. At one point, she digressed into discussing whether her second son (who is probably in his early 30s) had attachment issues because he spent a few weeks in the NICU after being born prematurely. (Yes, this really happened.)

I began to think I had mistakenly attended a group therapy session.

Are you being social?

Imagine that instead of a book group, this was Twitter or Facebook. Among the stuff in your feed is a bunch of self-promoting, self-analyzing, self-absorbed stuff. Do you pay attention? I bet you don’t. Because when you are in a social setting, like a book group or social media, you are there to share and discuss and interact. It is a multi-sided conversation–not a one-sided discourse.

Now, take a look at your marketing materials. How much is about how great you are, and how many awards you’ve won? How much shows you understand and empathize with your readers (customers, donors, etc.)? If the balance is tipped in your favor instead of your reader, then you are talking way too much about yourself.

Who cares?

To be a more successful communicator (or book group participant), start listening more and talking less. And when you do talk, make sure you aren’t being self-absorbed.

Here’s the thing: Nobody cares as much about you as you do.




About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Always start with the reader in mind

10 Nov
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, Email marketing, Event marketing   |  2 Comments


Photo by

Photo by

It seems obvious that you should always write your marketing and communications materials with your readers in mind. After all, if you are trying to communicate with them, you have to understand what they need to know.

And yet, how many times have you received a letter that doesn’t say anything? Or an email that lacks crucial information? How many times have you had to call up a company because you didn’t understand something it sent you? I bet you’ve had many a moment like this, which left you frustrated.

Missing information

I had such a moment last week. I had signed up for an editing workshop from the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) being given on November 5 in Washington, DC.  Here’s the email I received a few days before the event (note that I blocked out the names of presenters and a phone number for privacy):

This message is to confirm that you are registered for the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) Boot Camp from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 5, at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The workshop will take place in the Funger Hall auditorium, room 103, located on the Foggy Bottom campus.

Lunch will be provided by the local chapter of ACES.

Presenters XX, XX and XX look forward to welcoming you on Saturday.

If you have any questions or find yourself lost on Nov. 5, please feel free to call 571-xxx-xxxx for assistance.

Notice anything missing from this email? How about the address for the building? Or how about directions and parking information (or links to those)? How about an agenda and/or schedule for the day? Is there any information about what you need to bring with you?

Trying again

The next day, ACES sent another email, regarding parking information. It is basically the same email as before, except for the addition of parking and Metro information, which I bolded for you to see more clearly.

We look forward to seeing you at the American Copy Editors Society (ACES) Boot Camp from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The workshop will take place in the Funger Hall auditorium, room 103, located on the Foggy Bottom campus.

Lunch will be provided by the local chapter of ACES.


The closest garage to Funger Hall is the University Parking Garage/G Street Garage, located at 2028 G Street, NW Washington, DC 20052. There is access from both 20th Street and 21st Street between F and G Streets. The self-service garage is open 24/7, accepting MasterCard, Visa and American Express for payments (no cash). The full day rate is $12.

The closest Metro stop is Foggy Bottom-GWU, with service on the  Blue, Orange and Silver lines.

If you find yourself lost on Nov. 5, please feel free to call 571-XXX-XXXX for assistance.

This attempt was a better than the prior email, but still, no address for Funger Hall. It’s as if ACES thinks that everyone is intimately familiar with GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus. For those of you who aren’t in the DC area, GW’s campus is a city campus. Buildings have street addresses–they are not in quads as in traditional colleges.

I looked up Funger Hall on Google, but  I forgot to note the address, and when I got to the parking garage on Saturday, I didn’t know where to go. I looked it up on my phone and the address I got did not correspond to the building. I called the number on the email, but there was no response.  I was able to get directions from a student I saw on the street, and I then got to the workshop several minutes late.

How helpful are you being to your reader?

If ACES had started with the reader’s needs in mind when writing this email, it would have realized that providing an address and links to maps and directions would have helped recipients of this email.

It’s about the 5 Ws

When you write a press release, you should think like a journalist and answer the five Ws: what, why, where, who and when. You should also answer the how.  This advice is also applicable to most any communications material you create.

If you need help creating effective communications materials, contact me!

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Why you are failing to communicate on social media

03 Nov
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, LinkedIn, social media, Twitter   |  No Comments

A few weeks ago an acquaintance was coming to town from the West Coast. She posted on Facebook (along with about another five posts the same day) that she was free on a given afternoon and if people wanted to see her, to please message her. Now, I hadn’t seen this person in a couple of years, and since I was free on the afternoon she mentioned, I would have liked to get together. But, I hadn’t seen her post until it was too late.  By the time I messaged her, she had already made other plans since she said that nobody responded to her post.

In my opinion, she failed to communicate effectively. There are several potential reasons why.

Why #1: Not understanding how social media works.

Chances are good that only a few people in your network will see what you post.  First, social media is a continual flow of information from many sources. Nowhere is this more obvious than on Twitter, which shows you everything from everybody in real time. If you missed it, you missed it (unless someone re-tweeted it and it gained traction). And to make that more complicated, the different networks use algorithms to show you what the network thinks you want to see. On Facebook, the default algorithm is set to show “top posts,” which are the posts that more people have “liked.” LinkedIn has a similar algorithm, also showing what it deems are “top” posts.

Additionally, social media provides controls for people to “hide” or “mute” certain users. It’s quite possible you’ve been hidden and thus your posts won’t be seen at all.

In order to work around social media’s constraints, you have to provide relevant content that gets liked and shared, and therefore becomes “top” content.

Why# 2: Not using the right channel for your message and audience.

In this case, this woman was trying to communicate with a handful of her Facebook friends (the ones who live in this area). She may have had better luck by using a more targeted approach. For example, she could have used Facebook messenger to talk directly to those people. Or she could have (gasp) emailed or texted the people she wanted to see.

Different channels and media have different audiences. You probably wouldn’t put an announcement that you are giving away your kittens on LinkedIn, but you might post on Facebook. LinkedIn is about business opportunities, and Facebook is more personal. You could also try sharing a picture on Instagram of those cute kitties looking for a home.

You have to choose the right channel to make sure you message reaches the right (more receptive) audience.

Why #3: Forgetting that social media is only one communications channel.

If you were trying to, say, promote a new product, chances are good you would use a mix of channels to reach different target audiences. You would also adjust your messaging accordingly. You might choose use an email campaign. Or you could do media outreach. Or you could run some advertising, including Google Ads. Or you could try promotional give-aways. Or sponsorships. You get my drift.

For social media to work, it can’t be your only communication channel. It has to be part of a larger communication plan. Social media is just that–a medium that has social aspects that help amplify your message. It is not a substitute for other media.

You want to get your message to the right people at the right time.

For any communication plan to be effective in this way, you have to use a mix of media depending on who you are trying to reach and when. You need to understand each medium, and what type of audience responds best to that channel. And you will need to adjust your messaging (e.g., length, complexity, benefits you highlight, etc.) for each medium.


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

If a tree falls…

06 Oct
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication   |  No Comments

You’ve all heard that famous question: if a tree falls in a forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?

Let’s change that question: if you are telling a story, but nobody can hear you, are you still communicating?

I was considering this second question during Rosh Hashana services this week. The synagogue I was attending does not have microphones, and the rabbi there is not good at projecting his voice. As he was giving his sermon, I was having a hard time hearing what he was saying. I am sure the further back in the synagogue that people were sitting, the less they could hear.

If you couldn’t hear the rabbi, then you would not know what he said, and therefore, it was like he never gave a sermon at all. So, was this rabbi communicating? In short, he wasn’t.

In essence, communication is the exchange of information.  If you can’t hear the information being shared, then you do not know what that information is, therefore information is not being exchanged.

The rabbi may have had some greats insights or inspirational messages to share, but if nobody heard them, then he failed to enlighten or inspire his congregation.

Make sure they can hear

The takeaway from my Rosh Hashana experience is simple: It’s not enough to have good information to share, you have to make sure your intended audience can receive that information.


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

What does that mean?

18 Aug
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication   |  No Comments

Yesterday, after Pilates class, I was chatting with another student for a couple minutes as we gathered our stuff. In the background, I heard a bell ringing. I noticed it but didn’t know what it meant. We kept on chatting. The bell rang again. Again, no idea what it was. Then, one of the instructors tapped me on the shoulder and said we were being too loud, to please leave, and that the bell means be quiet. I turned to her, and after apologizing (#sorrynotsorry), told her that I had absolutely no idea what her ringing bell meant. Neither did the other student. We went outside,  feeling a bit peeved.

In my experience, a ringing bell indicates something is starting or ending. In yoga classes, teachers often ring a bell to indicate final relaxation is over. I do not associate a ringing bell with the need to be quiet.

I’ve been going to this Pilates studio for several weeks. Not once has my instructor ever rung a bell, even when there have been other people chatting. There’s no sign indicating that you need to be quiet or that a bell will be rung if you’re not. There’s nothing about it on the studio website. In fact, this is the only instruction regarding behavior:


Clients must sign-in at the Front Desk upon arrival. Please remove your shoes and silence your cell phone upon entering the studio. Pets are not allowed. For your safety, clients who arrive more than 10 minutes late to a group class will not be permitted to join the class.

This studio is quite small and there’s no separate waiting area. It’s one big room. If noise is a problem (and mind you, Pilates, unlike yoga,  lacks a meditative/spiritual aspect), you need to remind students to be quiet. You could put up a sign saying something like: please, no talking or cell phone use (or whatever else).

We all understand what this means, right?:

skotan-No-sign-800pxThat’s because some symbols/signals are universal.

Here’s the thing: if you are going to use a symbol or signal that is not universally understood to mean what you intend it to, you will have to define it and educate people about what it means.

If you want to communicate clearly, you cannot make assumptions. You’ll have to keep in mind that other people have different experiences and understanding than you.



About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

How to undermine your credibility

09 Aug
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, Email marketing   |  No Comments

An important message for Deborah

That was the exact subject line of an email I got this morning from AT&T.

Since I have my cell phone service through AT&T, and the email clearly was designed to sound official, and I thought it was service-related news about my usage or bill. But no, it wasn’t about my cell phone service at all. Instead, the email was an advertisement for a “flash sale” on AT&T’s home security services.

Let’s review: A company with which I have an established (and may I add, quite long) customer relationship sends me an email that claims it’s important. The subject line is personalized, but the purpose of the email is to sell me other, unrelated services.

A case of misdirection

In other words, the subject line of this email was misleading. The email was neither important nor specifically for me. It was a promotion that required a subject line that would hook me into opening it.

Entering the realm of unintended consequences

Today’s misleading email from AT&T had two unintended consequences:

  • it eroded my trust in AT&T, undermining the company’s credibility
  • it caused me to unsubscribe from their promotional emails (all of them)

Raise interest but not at the expense of your credibility

Yes, companies and organizations need to have email subject lines that will raise interest and make people open the email. That’s the purpose of email marketing after all. But when the subject lines are misleading–designed specifically as click-bait–the organization’s credibility takes a hit. No longer will readers believe emails with words such as important, or urgent. Down the road, this can have negative consequences.

Bottom line

Cultivate your credibility, even at the expense of potential sales. Once you’ve destroyed your credibility, you will have a very hard time getting it back.


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

It is about feelings

21 Jul
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication   |  No Comments

There’s a quotation floating out there that has been often attributed to Maya Angelou, but which may have other sources. It’s this:

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

If you are working in communications, especially marketing communications, you should take that quote to heart. Perhaps, even print it and post it where you always can see it.

As a communicator, your job is to elicit positive feelings from your audience. Perhaps you want them to buy something, donate money, advocate or like your company. If they feel positively toward you or your organization, they are more likely to take the action you want them to. On the other hand, if they feel negatively toward you, they are less likely to want anything to do with you.

Organizations that “get” it are the ones that have the more engaged, loyal supporters.  Organizations that don’t are the ones that ignore customers or that communicate with them in ways that are not customer-friendly.

So remember to take your customer/supporter/donor’s feelings into consideration. Think about how you want your audience to feel the next time your write an email or website copy or anything else. If you focus on that, I can promise you will  have better results.


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Poor grammar is poor communication part 3

22 Jun
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication, Writing   |  No Comments

Grammar matters

This is a lawn sign that has appeared around my neighborhood:

Lawn sign

Lawn sign

I believe what they meant to say was “No Townhouses on Historic Chestnut Lodge.” Or maybe they meant to say “Not More Townhouses on Historic Chestnut Lodge,” which would still be awkward.  I am not sure. Perhaps the people behind this campaign were not sure either. But what I do know is that this sign is wrong.

It’s spelled A-L-A-N

U.K’s Vision Express had a major typo, transposing the L and A, in a letter to a customer. It was quite insulting.  You have to read this Daily Mail article to see what I mean, but suffice it to say, a proofreader would have saved the day. (Thanks to Leslie O’Flahavan for sharing the article on her company’s Facebook feed.)

Copy edit your work, or at least, do some proofreading

Having poor grammar, or a typo (or two or three) in your marketing materials is poor communication. Your message will be muddled and any mistakes will distract from what you are trying to say.

Typos and grammatical mistakes are fixable, and if you don’t catch them in time, they can be costly. There is a solution and that is to copy edit and proofread your written materials.

Watch this space next week for the next On Writing interview, with a pro who certainly knows that grammar and spelling matter.

About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.

Asking the wrong question is poor communication (part 2)

14 Jun
by Deborah Brody, posted in Communication   |  No Comments

This post is about how Delta Airlines compounded a bad experience by asking the wrong questions. Here’s the story:

International flight on Delta

A few weeks back I was returning to the United States on Delta from a trip abroad. My first port of entry was Delta’s major hub, Atlanta. If you’ve traveled internationally you know that you must claim your suitcase and then pass with it through customs, to then be able to check it back through to your final destination. However, on this occasion, my suitcase never arrived in the customs baggage claim. And even though I asked several Delta agents and baggage claim workers, not one person was able to tell me where my bag was, if it had been loaded off the plane or even if it had arrived in Atlanta at all.

Tweeting doesn’t help at all

I was forced to check with Delta’s customer “service” counter outside the customs area, where I was quite unhelpfully told my bag would “automatically” be transferred to my Washington bound flight, since it was tagged to DCA. I tweeted Delta to see if they could help me find out the whereabouts of my bag. Their response was to ask me if I had spoken to a manager. That was not the right question. The question should have been “how can we help?” If I had spoken to a manager (which, I would have had one been available and I did not have to catch my next flight), why would I be tweeting @Delta?

Do you really want to know what I think?

Well, my bag did not arrive at Washington with me on my flight. It was delivered to my home the next afternoon. At which point, Delta sent me the following email, with the subject line “Deborah, We Value Your Opinion:”

Dear Deborah,

We are very sorry for the baggage mishandling you experienced on May 05, 2016.

As a valued SkyMiles member, your feedback about your experience is important to us and will help us continue to improve. We ask that you please provide feedback on your experience by answering the question below.

How likely are you to recommend Delta Air Lines to others?

Definitely Will Probably Will May or May Not Probably Will Not Definitely Will Not
5 4 3 2 1

Your feedback is important to us and again, we offer our deepest apologies for this inconvenience.

Gil West
Chief Operating Officer

There are literally countless other questions they could have asked such as: was my bag delivered in good shape, as promised, was the delivery service professional, did DCA baggage services handle my claim correctly, did the service met my expectations or anything at all about the actual incident. Delta would have had to ask questions like that if it actually cared about its operations and customer experiences. Instead, Delta only wants to know if, based on this experience, I would recommend it to others.

That was not the right question. It showed me that Delta is only interested in its reputation and not even vaguely about their operational efficacy or customer experience.

I wrote Delta a three-page letter (not an email) about this travel experience (there were other issues too). I enumerated the various things that Delta should look into and correct (customer service, their Twitter presence, among others). I got a two-paragraph email back, basically repeating what I had mentioned and offering me some Delta SkyMiles for my troubles.

No, really, what do you think of us?

And then I got another email from Delta with the subject line “Deborah, We Value Your Opinion.” This is what this email said:

Dear Deborah,

We recently sent you an email regarding your Delta Customer Care request. It was our pleasure assisting you.

Our goal is to deliver the very best service possible, so your feedback is important in helping us recognize and improve our quality. Please begin this short survey regarding how I did by answering the first question below:

How likely are you to recommend Delta Air Lines to others?

Definitely Will Probably Will May or May Not Probably Will Not Definitely Will Not
5 4 3 2 1

Again, Delta is mostly interested in whether I would recommend Delta. Which, again, is not the right question. The question should be whether I was satisfied with the response to my letter (I was not) or whether the response had addressed any of my concerns (not to my knowledge).

Do you really want to know?

Companies that are serious about improving ask for real feedback. To ask me whether I would recommend Delta is not a good or useful question. It is poor communications and even poorer customer service.

What do you think? Would you have answered this question? What benefit does it provide the company and does it provide any benefit to the customer?


About Deborah Brody

Deborah Brody writes and edits anything related to marketing communications. Most blog posts are written under the influence of caffeine.