Council campaign to eradicate jargon

Jargon signI stumbled with interest upon this article, which I hope is more evidence of a backlash against jargon and management-speak. Apparently, the chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Simon Milton, is encouraging all employees to avoid “non-words” such as those on this list.

The offending words include: incentivising, coterminous, subsidiarity and synergies. It’s good to see that the anti-jargon movement is taking hold in government departments.

Years ago I worked in a sales department where the sales people often used expressions like “moving forward” and would try to persuade customers to buy a product with the weak statement: “it’s been a very strong line for us”. I always wondered how much more they would sell if they spoke honestly and directly, and just said “this product consistently sells in the thousands”.

What does “strong” really mean anyway? It won’t break? Any language that you have to decipher can be considered jargon, and ripe for editing.

(Picture courtesy of Adam Dorrell)

Bloggers vs. Journalists

This recent article from the Guardian suggests that journalists should learn lessons from bloggers, and adapt.Lego Blogger

While I agree with the author’s assertion that journalists should be less suspicious of bloggers and their work, I don’t agree that "there is no perfect example of journalists and bloggers working in harmony". Surely bloggers and journalists are working in harmony all the time? Journalists write articles which appear in news outlets, and then bloggers discuss them. It seems like a happy union to me.

For a business that is blogging, or considering blogging as a way to increase the life around their website, the important point to take from this article is the reminder that blogging is a conversation . To quote Adam Tinworth :

"Most media people don’t realise that blogging is a community strategy. They think of it as a publishing process… They certainly don’t think of it as a conversation."

You’ll have much greater success as a blogger if you invite discussion, allow comments and refer to other bloggers. Although, if you prefer, you’re quite welcome to sit and talk to yourself .

(Lego Blogger picture courtesy of minifig )

Don’t be boring – copywriting tip #9

Bored Gorilla

Your copy might be correct, but is it boring?

It’s easy to get obsessed with marketing principles when writing copy – there are lots of rules to follow, and all kinds of advice to cloud your thinking. So it’s easy to forget that you also need to be interesting.

It’s worth re-reading your copy to make sure it isn’t so mind-numbingly dull that it sends you to sleep before you can finish the first sentence. Yes, your customers need information, but there are ways of presenting information that will keep people awake, if not entertained.

Here are three quick tips for keeping your readers awake:

  1. Surprise them. Say something in a weird way. It might stick in their head, like a persistent headache.
  2. Edit. If you waffle, you will definitely bore people.
  3. Avoid clichés. If your writing is full of clichés, people will get the feeling they’ve already read your copy. And they might not want to read it again.

Check back next week for another quick copywriting tip, or plug in to my RSS feed and never miss a post!

Bored Gorilla picture courtesy of Fabricio Braga

Corporate Communication Catastrophe

This isn’t really a catastrophe; the alliterative headline was irresistible.

Corporate communication is a difficult thing to get right. There are endless possible ways to say something and invariably many people choose the wrong way.

I’d like to show you a couple of examples that I noticed recently, and explain why they could be better. The following two signs are from the toilets of a popular chain of coffee shops. This one:

Bad Sign

doesn’t make sense. The first sentence stops before it can be finished. We know what they mean, but only because we can piece together their intention from the fragments of thoughts they give us.

I don’t know how many of these signs were printed, but it’s incredible that nobody tried to read the sign before it was approved for printing.

As if one confused sign wasn’t enough, we come to exhibit B:

Bad Sign 2

This sign suffers from a common complaint. The language used is anachronistic. Nobody speaks like this, yet we all feel obliged to get all fancy and archaic when it comes to anything official.

It would be easier for everyone if the sign writer had simply written: “Please don’t flush nappies or sanitary towels down the toilet. Please use the bin provided.”

Of course, the sign also contains another blunder: it should say “disposal bin” rather than “disposable bin”. A disposable bin is a strange concept. Rather like a flammable lighter. But even “disposal bin” is too much. “Bin” will suffice.

The most common flaw with corporate communication occurs when organisations forget that a business is made up of people, and that customers are people too. So really we should remember that we’re just people speaking to people. Drop the veil of formality, and write as you would speak.

10 ways to instantly improve your copy

Parking FeedbackI’m going to be posting a series of copywriting tips that should help anyone who writes copy. These are simple tips that aim to make your copy more readable, more persuasive and more effective at selling. I’ll publish one a week, so check back regularly for more free advice in the coming weeks, or plug yourself in to my RSS feed.

So here’s the first of ten:

Get Feedback

Ask someone to confirm that your copy makes sense. Does it make them want to buy? Do they understand what you’re selling? Can they spot any spelling mistakes?

While it’s a great idea to ask for feedback, be careful that you don’t end up writing copy by committee. Five people might have five opinions on your copy, but they probably aren’t all right. If you’ve done some research into what makes effective copy, then you’ll be able to decide which opinions are worth heeding, and which aren’t.

It’s a good idea to ask someone to review your copy who is “naïve”. By that I mean someone with no prior specialist knowledge of the product or service being offered – someone who represents the target audience for your copy. A naïve reader will provide a tough test for your copy, and if anything is unclear or poorly explained, you’ll find out.

Listening to criticism can be difficult, but stick with it and your writer’s skin will soon toughen into a thick hide, and you’ll find constructive feedback nothing but useful and interesting.

(Picture courtesy of Mixed Species)

Freelance Farming

Farm Website

Brighton is a great place to work, especially if you’re a freelancer or in any way connected to the geek community. There are lots of regular networking groups and loads of opportunities to get involved with interesting projects.

One of these networking groups is the Farm. Aimed at connecting and supporting freelancers and small businesses, the Farm meets weekly at a Brighton pub. I started going a few weeks ago and have now been invited to join the mailing list, and was given a rather fetching profile on the Farm website.

So if you’re working in new media and want to do a bit of low-key, super-relaxed networking with Brighton’s friendliest bunch of geeks, get on down to the Farm.

The future of online advertising?

The Future of AdvertisingWill McInnes and a commenter (Jonathan Hopkins) on his blog have got me thinking. Will’s post was about the future of advertising, and how advertising might best evolve in our digitised world. Jonathan suggests that businesses might do better to focus less on themselves and their products and instead try to help people.

Jonathan suggests that companies could use their advertising space to provide useful information that is still relevant to their products. So, for example, the Financial Times might offer statistics on shares. Tesco might provide recipes, or cleaning tips. Ikea might give free room-furnishing advice.

While it seems like a fine idea to be helpful, and build relationships with the people that may become customers, I’m not convinced that this kind of advertising will work. Obviously it will work to the extent that people will use the information provided and may recognise the organisation that provided it. But will they remember what the organisation does? Or what they’re selling?

Advertising doesn’t just exist to forcefully sell products – it often does a great job of informing people about new products and services. So advertising that forgets the product and focuses on providing useful information, may neglect to provide useful information about the product.

I suppose the obvious solution is a marketing strategy that cleverly combines useful content with product information and brand messages. And I think many brands already do this – perhaps the evolution will be into even less obvious advertising, with the useful content at the fore and the brand and products in the background (or perhaps blinking too fast to be visible to the naked eye, but having a rather powerful effect on your subconscious).

(Picture courtesy of Goribob)

Having trouble selling?

Spam Fritters

While I hold writing and the persuasive power of words in high regard, it is worth remembering that the words that represent your business are not the only things you need to be concerned about.

A recent commenter on this blog (Jon McCulloch ) mentioned that copy is not the only important factor in determining the success of your marketing; your audience and your offer should be considered before you start thinking about your copy.

And I think Jon has made a very good point. I often write about the importance of professional copy, but we shouldn’t forget that if your product or service sucks, and people don’t like it or want it, then the best copywriter in the world will struggle to sell it.

So if your marketing is failing to sell your product, and you’ve investigated possible sticking points, it might be time to examine the product itself.

Are some copywriters’ techniques unethical?

I’ve been reading Maria Veloso’s excellent Web Copy That Sells. Much of her advice is in line with standard copywriting principles, but Maria also strays into Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) in her quest to write copy that sells.

Maria discusses embedded commands, presuppositions, linguistic binds and reframing as methods for writing irresistible copy. All of these techniques, if properly applied, can work to persuade your reader without them quite knowing why they’ve been persuaded. In Maria’s own words:

“These are tactics that fly beneath the radar of your readers’ perception, producing an almost hypnotic effect that actually makes them want to buy what you are selling – often without knowing why.”

Maria goes on to counsel copywriters to use these techniques “discreetly, responsibly and ethically”, but is it really possible to use such techniques ethically? Are they not unethical by their very nature?

I’m not saying I think Maria’s techniques are unethical; I’m just asking the question because it seems like a very grey area. Even if you’re selling something wonderful and your customers will indeed be better off for buying it, surely that’s for them to decide. If you use tricks that work on a reader’s subconscious, are you not taking away part of their ability to make a rational choice? At what point, if any, does persuasive copy become unethical?

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