Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

Deborah Brody

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

Do you need a proofreader or a copy editor?

What are you trying to accomplish?

Recently, I saw a query on a listserv looking for a copy editor. The author said she needed a “basic proof” done for spelling, grammar, and for the “missed half sentence in the middle of a paragraph.” In fact, she didn’t need a copy editor—what she needed was a proofreader. Proofreading is a different skill than copy editing. While copy editors can be proofreaders, that is not their main function.

How to get your writing from draft to finished product

When you are creating any type of written work, you should follow these steps:

  1. Write a rough draft
  2. Review and rewrite
  3. Copy edit
  4. Incorporate edits
  5. Produce final document
  6. Proofread
  7. Publish

 What is copy editing?

Copy editing reviews your work for clarity, consistency, style, and accuracy. This can include everything from fact checking to rearranging copy for flow to flagging duplicate content.  Copy editing allows your thoughts to be expressed in the clearest way possible. A thorough copy editing job will shore up your thesis by making sure your main points are clear and supported.

What is proofreading?

Proofreading checks your copy for errors, such as typos, misspellings, and missing punctuation. The best proofreaders will  fact check to make sure dates and numbers are accurate, and names are spelled correctly. Proofreading does not rearrange your copy unless it is a spacing issue. More importantly, proofreading is not designed to make your writing clearer but to ensure your copy is error-free.

Keep in mind that using your word processor’s spell check is not the same as proofreading. Spell check checks the spelling of a word, not its usage. For example, you could’ve typed “fair” instead of “fare” in an article about subway prices, and though the word is spelled correctly, it is not used correctly.

So many (preventable) mistakes

Too many folks skip the copy editing and think that they can get by with doing a proofreading. For sure, you should always proofread, since it prevents your work from being riddled with typos and other embarrassing mistakes. A copy edit would improve the content.

Here’s a sampling of errors I’ve collected over the past few days.  Proofreading before publishing would’ve prevented these:

Using the word isles instead of aisles in an article in today’s Washington Post.

A email subject line that says “Stay on top of the governor’s rack” (instead of race).

Or an email that tells me to “Pre oreder your set today.”

Or a survey (from a professional editing association, no less) answer option that says “Professional Devlopment

And so many more. It’s as if most organizations have given up on proofreading. Perhaps they don’t think it’s worth the time, effort, or cost.


Bottom line: If you take your work seriously and want to give it credibility, spend the effort required to get your work both copy edited and proofread before you publish.

About Deborah Brody

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

Proofing to improve your credibility

It seems not a day goes by without me spotting at least one typo or other error in blog posts, newsletters and other communications (generally the digital type). I’ve even seen errors on the chyrons for the local news.

Here’s a sampling from the past couple of weeks:

In a sub-headline on a TV news website, it said baht instead of bath (and spellcheck didn’t pick it up because baht is the currency in Thailand).

On a headline on WETA’s Tellyvisions blog, there’s mention regarding the new season of a show called Saniton (which, in actuality is called Sanditon). (I just checked and this typo has been fixed).

In a newsletter from a restaurant it says a new menu will debut on Wedensday.

The call-to-action button on a communications agency’s newsletter says, “Read the full case study on our wesite.

Those are glaringly obvious typos. There are many other not-so-glaring mistakes on stuff such as grammar (e.g., using the wrong pronouns or having a dangling modifier) and wrong information (e.g., saying an event is taking place on Tuesday when it is really taking place on Thursday).

It’s human to make mistakes. We all do it.  But when you make mistakes on professional or official communications, it undermines your credibility. It makes you look unprofessional, and sometimes it makes you look ignorant.

This need for checking your work is summarized beautifully in the The Freelance Creative article “Why Marketing Writers and Editors Need to Master Fact-Checking” when it says:

“The more reliable and high-quality [the content] is for readers, the more it confers trust in and value of the brand behind it,” Dimond said. “If a reader can’t depend on the basic facts of a blog post, it’s a clear message that they can’t trust the brand.”

In other words, copy that is accurate and error-free helps build your brand. Yet lately, I’ve noticed more mistakes  than ever. It seems nobody is bothering to proofread, let alone fact check or copy edit.

What is causing this?

I think there are three reasons that account for the avalanche of mistakes I’ve seen lately:

1. Speed

The biggest culprit is most likely speed. People are under pressure to get things done quickly, at the pace of social media. But rushing to get a newsletter out or post an article invariably leads to sloppy or no proofreading.

2. You don’t know what you don’t know and you don’t even know to ask

I got a newsletter a few days ago from a journalist. In it, he writes he made a mistake spelling a subject’s name in the previous day’s newsletter, something which was pointed out to him by a reader. This says to me that this journalist didn’t even do basic fact checking (e.g., Google subject’s name to see how it is spelled) nor had a copy editor look at his copy (copy editors routinely check spelling and other facts).

3. Lack of quality control

Too many times people overestimate their abilities and don’t take the step to have another person read/proof their work. Sometimes, there simply is no process in place to create a quality check before a communication goes out to the public.


Bottom line

Mistakes hurt your credibility. You can minimize the damage by creating a proofreading/fact checking/copy editing process that you follow before sending or publishing every single piece of public communication.

About Deborah Brody

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

3 actions to improve your marketing communications

Improving marketing means making it effective

It’s not enough for your marketing efforts to include a clever headline, a fantastic design or great graphics. Your marketing communications need to be effective. To be effective, your communications must resonate with your intended audience. That is,  audiences must understand what you are saying, agree with the premise, and then act  (e.g., buy your product, donate to your cause, vote for your candidate).

But sometimes, marketing communications efforts don’t achieve their goals. Here are three actions you can take that are guaranteed to improve your efforts. And improving your marketing communications could improve your results.

1. Explain the why

Your primary task is to explain why your customer should do business with you. Is it because you have the best quality,  the best prices, the highest reliability? Do you solve an issue your customer has? You also have to establish why someone would choose your organization over another organization that does the same thing.

2. Use plain language

Plain language is about making it easy to understand what you are saying. Perhaps you think using big words and industry terms makes you look more knowledgeable. It doesn’t. It makes it harder for your audience to understand what you are saying. So lose the jargon and the multi-syllable words. Focus on making things easy to read and understand.

(Read my post on plain language: People should understand)

3. Pay attention to details

The other day three packages were delivered to my door. I wasn’t expecting anything, and when I opened the door, I saw none of them were for me. The delivery truck  was still outside so I called out to the driver. She claimed that the GPS sent her to my house. The house number on the packages was the same as my house, but not the street. If you don’t pay attention to details, you end up delivering packages to the wrong address.

You have to check and double check. Fact check and proofread everything, from the headline or the subject line to the website link to the caption. EVERYTHING. If you don’t, you risk making sloppy mistakes.

Mistakes (sloppy or factual) result in lost credibility. Lost credibility results in lost support. Yes, details do matter.


Here’s the bottom line: Prioritize the basics of communications to improve your marketing efforts and boost your results.

About Deborah Brody

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

One attribute to improve your marketing efforts in 2022

First, a story

Over the holidays, I flew in and out of Dulles Airport, which has an (exclusive?) arrangement with the Washington Flyer taxi company.  I made a reservation for a Washington Flyer taxi to pick me up and drive me to the airport.  The driver arrived early to pick me up. He carried my suitcase down my front steps to the car. He asked me if I had everything I needed and then we were off. We had a nice chat, and before you knew it, we were at the airport, where he wished me a safe journey. It was a five-star experience.

On my way back, however, my experience rated two stars at best. Why? It was the same company (Washington Flyer), the same route, but a different driver. The driver on the return stretch did not speak to me. He would not engage in any small talk about the weather or the traffic. So we traveled in silence. And then, when we arrived at my house, he took out my suitcase out of the trunk and left it there, not offering to carry it up the stairs for me. I am not sure if he didn’t speak English very well, or perhaps was hard of hearing, but the lack of engagement made the taxi ride tedious and the driver’s lack of attention was irritating.

Your experience matters

Having a friendly interchange makes a difference in how you feel about your experience. Think about when you go to a store and the clerk can’t be bothered to help you. You probably just buy what you came for or you just walk out of the store. Then think about the store where you go in and you are greeted with a friendly smile and a “what can I help you find today?” You feel welcome, which may lead to you spending more time in the store or even buying more than you planned. Or when you go to a party, and the host greets you warmly and introduces you to others. Or when you are a networking event, and someone smiles and comes over to speak to you. Or when you are traveling, and can’t find an address until someone offers to show you the way.


Photo by Belle Co from Pexels

What is it to be friendly?

Friendliness is a positive attribute.

Merriam-Webster provides several definitions for the word “friendly,” among them:

showing kindly interest and goodwill

 cheerful, comforting

serving a beneficial or helpful purpose

easy to use or understand

designed or intended to accommodate particular needs, users, etc.

 

What is friendly marketing?

Friendly marketing creates a better, more positive experience for your audience.

  • Friendly marketing considers you (the audience/end users) its first priority.
  • Friendly marketing makes things clear and easy to understand.
  • Friendly marketing gives you the information you need to make a decision.

What’s not friendly marketing?

Unfriendly marketing creates annoyance and frustration, and results in a negative experience for your audience.

  • It’s not friendly to overwhelm your audience with email marketing messages.
  • It’s not friendly to use jargon and hard to understand language.
  • It’s not friendly to make your website visitors struggle to find what they need.

 


Bottom line: Make it your marketing resolution for 2022 to be more friendly

 

 

 

About Deborah Brody

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

People should understand

It seems obvious that your readers should understand whatever it is you are writing for them. But it only seems that way because too many writers, especially those who write legal documents, don’t stop to think whether their readers will get it. I know this because I’ve attempted to read contracts and other legal documents. Although I understand most of the words, sometimes I can’t fathom the meaning.

Do you speak medical jargon? I don’t

Same goes for medical stuff. A few years ago, I had an MRI done. I got the report from the radiologist and try as I might, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. In this case, it was the vocabulary. I gave it to the doctor, and I told him that I didn’t understand the report. This doctor, as is usual with any insider, gave me a look indicating he thought I must be very slow because it was obvious to him that this report said I had a torn rotator cuff. But it wasn’t obvious to me. And it’s not because I am slow. It’s because the radiologist wrote this using medical jargon that I don’t understand.

Plain language required

You’d think the plain language movement were new. It’s not. In fact, government agencies are mandated to write in plain English since President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act in 2010. But the directive to make things clearer goes back to the 1970s (read the timeline at plainlanguage.gov).

But there are  no such mandates for other industries. Sure, writing in plain language should be common sense and many businesses strive to make their writing clearer and more user friendly but others write (and speak) in industry jargon, making it hard for the average person to understand.

Of all the posts I’ve shared on LinkedIn, the following from Bloomberg Law really struck a chord:

Use Plain Language in Contract—No One Wants Legalese

It was viewed hundreds of times and shared by many readers, making it my best performing post of all time.


Here’s the bottom line: There’s a real need for people to understand what you are writing. If you need help, there are some courses available online. You may find the “Oxford Guide to Plain English” by Martin Cutts helpful. Or you could hire someone like me to copy edit your documents with plain language in mind.

About Deborah Brody

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

3 steps to clear customer communications

Clear communications provide accurate and up-to-date information. Being clear will help your audience know what is going on and what to expect from you. This requires making sure that  you are not undermining your message by having different information in different places.

Pandemic challenges

The pandemic has created some macro communications challenges around vaccine hesitancy and public health measures and mandates. On a micro level, I’ve noticed issues for businesses and organizations in communications changes to their customers and patrons. One that keeps cropping up is mask wearing rules. In Montgomery County, Maryland, where I live, mask mandates were dropped in the late spring/early summer and then brought back in early August in response to the Delta variant. These zig zag changes made it difficult for organizations to keep up. When the mask mandates went out, they changed certain webpages and email templates and when they came back, they may have not changed all their communications to reflect the new reality.

Take for example a yoga studio I go to which requires proof of vaccination for attendance. When you go to its website, it tells you that you can unmask because everyone will have shown their vaccine cards. But when you get your class enrollment confirmation email, you are instructed that you must mask up in class.

Is that your latest menu?

But it is not only around COVID and masks that we see different information from different sources from the same organization. It could be different hours of operation on a sign versus the website. Or a spring menu being listed on a restaurant’s website when it’s already fall.

Be accurate and consistent—here’s how

You can make sure that your communications are accurate and consistent across all your channels. Following are the three steps you’ll need to take.

Step 1: Create a trigger list

What kinds of things do you need to tell your audience about?

  • Changes (including updates) to:

    • Policies
    • Staff/personnel
    • Hours
    • Location
    • Dates
  • Additions
    •  For example, you’ve added new classes or staff members
  • Deletions
    •  Perhaps your pool is closed for the season, or you are no longer offering a product.

Step 2: Audit your communication platforms

You’ll have to do an in-depth assessment of all the places you communicate with your customers, patrons, or donors. You want to know everywhere that people get information about you. While you are doing this, take the opportunity to make sure the information is consistent and updated. This includes (and is not limited to):

  • Website (and remember to list ALL pages/areas of the website where information is listed). For example, you may have your hours listed on your homepage and then on your contact page.
  • Email communications
  • Signage
  • Advertising and other marketing materials
  • Staff (e.g., receptionist, information desk personnel, etc.)

Step 3: Create a checklist

Create a checklist that you follow whenever a trigger occurs. You may choose to make this very specific. If your organization changes board members every year, you would list it followed by the places you need to update, such as the website about us or leadership page, the organizational letterhead, signage in your office, and so forth. The checklist could be a Word or Excel document that is accessed each time one of your trigger list items occurs. You’ll then have a systematic way to make sure that each of your communication platforms is updated at the same time.


Bottom line is that  maintaining all your information updated, accurate and consistent keeps your customers and other patrons in the know.

 

 

About Deborah Brody

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

Storytelling versus writing

I am a huge Scandi-noir fiction fan. Recently, I was reading (yet again) a mystery by an Icelandic author (in translation, of course).  I noticed the writing was a bit stilted. Some of the phrases didn’t sound right, and I can only imagine this was a translation/translator issue. Translating is hard work. You need to understand the language, obviously. And you also need to understand author’s tone and intent so you can choose the best word or phrase when many will do. This is especially true with colloquial expressions that don’t translate directly. And I am sure these colloquialisms, and some peculiarities of Icelandic culture didn’t quite make it in the translation. And yet there was a blurb on the book jacket by an American crime author, praising the Icelandic author, saying she was a “magnificent writer.” I doubt that the American read the work in the original Icelandic, so she had no way to judge the writing. What she was judging, and rightly so, was the storytelling.

Storytelling versus writing

Good storytelling is not the same as good writing, and neither is good writing also good storytelling. Writing and storytelling are two different, albeit related, skills.

Good storytelling pulls you in. It makes you want to know more.

Good writing is about knowing how to use language and its mechanics to communicate ideas clearly.

Can you have one without the other? Yes, you can. And I would argue that the best stories are also the best written.


Photo by Yaroslav Shuraev from Pexels

Think about your favorite book

If you’ve ever read a book with an intriguing plot, but with utilitarian writing, you understand that storytelling is a skill separate from writing. Books written by good storytellers who are mediocre writers are readable because you are interested in the story and you want to know more.

If you’ve ever read a book that’s so well written, where the words sing, but there is no discernible plot or the story being told is boring, chances are you stopped reading or read the book super slowly. Beautiful writing alone does not make a readable book.

And I would bet that your favorite books, the ones you recommend or perhaps even re-read, are the ones that have a great story and are well written.

Here’s the bottom line for content writers

For those of us who write any sort of content, focusing on what we are trying to say should come first. Then, we should think about how to say it. If we get both these elements—storytelling and writing— done right, we’ll create content worth reading.

About Deborah Brody

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

Marketing by attrition?

Is your idea of marketing to send out the same offer over and over and over and over again in the hopes that your target will get so tired of hearing from you that they’ll just pay up to get rid of you? No? Well, it seems to be the force behind a lot of marketing, especially direct mail and email marketing. I call it marketing by attrition and I think it is probably the least effective type of marketing there is (not too mention the most annoying to recipients).

An example

Case in point is Sirius XM. A few months ago, I bought a new car that included three months free of Sirius XM radio. Before I even had the car a couple of weeks, I got a letter from Sirius that said I could sign up for $5 per month for a year(!). But then, I read  in the small print, I would be charged $16.99 per month after.  SiriusXM  sent me this exact offer in a letter several more times. Then, when my three-month trial was over, they sent me another slew of letters. So many in fact, I don’t have an exact number.

The offer is always the same. I am still not interested, but I bet they will continue sending me letters for the next year or more.

 

Is there a strategy?

What is the strategy here? Is there a strategy? Or is it a mandate that hasn’t been ever reviewed?

It seems to me that there’s some sort of mandate or directive at large companies, which have hundreds of thousands of potential clients, to keep marketing the same offer to each person who doesn’t sign up for the product or service. And keep sending it until they sign up.

But what happens if the target doesn’t respond?

Experience says that if a target doesn’t respond to your marketing, you may need to change something. Perhaps you need to revise the offer. Or perhaps you need to change your marketing tactics. In the marketing by attrition “strategy,” there seems to be no course correction other than eventually giving up. I wonder if there is a certain number of mailings that these companies send out, perhaps based on cost, after which they conclude the cost of having you as client is too high.  This method seems highly ineffective and costly.

What would work better?

Perhaps what would work better is to really understand what motivates each particular potential customer. This could involve sending out a survey or having a better sense of each customer through demographic and psychographic data.


Bottom line

If you are marketing by attrition, you may be fighting a long and losing battle.

About Deborah Brody

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

4 Avoidable Pandemic Marketing Failures

When the pandemic forced the country into lockdown last year, yoga studios were among the many non-essential businesses forced to close.  Although yoga is best practiced in person with close instructor supervision, yoga studios adapted to the situation and figured how to provide classes online.

Having good email lists became essential as yoga studios had to contact students to let them know how to proceed. Good websites were also important. There, yoga studio owners could post new COVID policies and new schedules. Most yoga studios were already using the online Mindbody software for people to enroll and pay for classes, so that aspect was seamless.


Photo by Dmytro from Pexels

Up to this point, all three studios I have attended in the past couple of years were doing the same. Each studio was offering  classes on Zoom and registering  for them was easy to do online. Studios would send out links to the Zoom class and with the click of a mouse, we were doing yoga in our spare rooms and basements.  In June 2020, Maryland started lifting restrictions and began allowing non-essential businesses to reopen with capacity limits. Also,  the weather got nicer. And that’s where these three studios showed their business savvy.

Studio A found a nearby park and negotiated a permit with the city to start providing outdoor classes. Outdoor classes cost $25 ($5 more than the pre-pandemic drop-in cost) but were offered several times a week over the course of the summer and into early fall.

Studio B found a several locations that were willing to host outdoor classes, including a brewery and a plant nursery. Pretty soon, they were offering various outdoor classes. This studio charged regular drop-in ($18 or donation) and offered a minimum once a week outdoor option in addition to its Zoom offerings.

Studio C kept doing Zoom and found a place to offer outdoor classes on a limited basis (four times total in the summer of 2020) and charged a workshop price of $30 for these. Drop-in classes at this studio had been $18, and it offered a $15 Zoom drop-in rate.

As cooler weather started and Maryland further scaled back pandemic restrictions, Studios A and B started offering limited in person classes, with few students, air purifiers and open windows, lots of social distancing,  and masks required. In the spring of 2021, as more people were getting vaccinated, Studios A and B added more in-person classes and as the weather got warmer, also added more outdoor options.  Studio C opened last, but not before announcing a GoFund Me campaign to raise funds to be able to open its doors.

I don’t know the financial situation of any of these studios, but it seems to me Studio C’s situation was precarious to be asking for donations. And not coincidentally, out of the three, Studio C did the worst at marketing.

Failure #1: Failure to adapt

Studios A and B were the quickest to figure out that people wanted to do in-person yoga instead of over Zoom, and the only way to do it was to hold classes outdoors. Studio C, on the other hand, was very slow to figure out how to offer outdoor yoga, and when it did, it only did so infrequently and at a high cost.

Failure #2: Failure to communicate

Studios A and B sent weekly email blasts about current classes and upcoming changes and generally to stay in touch. Studio C only sent emails sporadically and instead spent the pandemic redesigning its website. When Studio C sent out an email announcing its new website it failed to announce (disclose) that it had also raised prices. During the pandemic, there was a Zoom drop in rate of $15. From one week to the next, the drop in rate for Zoom classes became $19, a 25% increase. Once Studio C opened its physical location, it started sending out semi-weekly emails announcing “new in studio offerings” and a link to those, except that link never worked. Studio C didn’t use email marketing to its potential.

Failure #3: Failure to check out the competition

If you don’t know what others are doing, you can’t effectively compete with them. If Studio C had taken a moment to sign up for other studio’s emails or even check out their websites, it would have seen that these other studios were offering in-person classes outdoors.

Failure#4: Failure to seek out reliable business advice

When interviewed by a local TV station about pandemic effects, Studio C’s owner admitted that she did not like to ask for help but that she was forced to run a GoFund Me campaign to be able to pay back rent and open. If Studio C’s owner had sought out business advice early on in the pandemic, she may have been in a better position. We are not all born with business sense, but we should have sense enough to know we don’t have it and that we should seek it.


The bottom line

Keeping your business open, and by extension, doing a good job at marketing, was hugely challenging during a global pandemic. The businesses that survived were all able to adapt to the changing circumstances. And those that did the best job at marketing, not only survived but thrived.

About Deborah Brody

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

The one question you must answer in marketing

There’s so much bad marketing out there: Ads that don’t convince. Unconvincing pitches that get ignored. Generic email marketing that gets discarded.

All of them fail to answer one simple (not easy) question: Why?

Give a reason to make me want to connect on LinkedIn

Recently, I got a LinkedIn connection request from someone I don’t know. She’s a marketing manager at a local service provider. We’ve never met and we don’t have any connections in common. And she didn’t personalize the invitation. In other words, she didn’t say why she thought we should connect.  I clicked ignore. And I clicked ignore on another half-dozen requests I got this month that weren’t personalized. None of those people thought they should provide any reason why we should connect.

A politician who is an outsider. So what?

In the recent Virginia primary, the Republican candidate for governor was running an ad touting his experience and background. Then he said this: “It’s going to take an outsider [to fix Virginia’s issues]” What he didn’t address is why. Why would it take an outsider? What does an outsider bring to the situation?

It’s about answering the why

To market your product or service effectively, you must tell your audience why they should choose your offering. People need to have a reason (preferably a good reason) to act.


Here’s the bottom line: Provide an answer to why, and you will improve your marketing. It’s really that simple.

About Deborah Brody

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

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