Monday, August 31, 2015


You can hire a hack with an app, so why not a PI?

Washington, DC-based Trustify disrupts the burgeoning market for private eyes by offering an app that, according to the startup's website, "makes it easy for anyone to hire their own private investigator on demand and at an affordable price."

The app eliminates retainers, making gumshoes no longer a luxury of only the rich.

"The customer simply taps a button on their phone or computer, provides a few key details and is then linked up with a private investigator, who gets to work instantly," the company claims.

Coming next: Uber adds a button reading, "Follow that car!"

Sunday, August 30, 2015

All We are Saying

In a full-page ad this week in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, Burger King called for a one-day halt to the "burger wars" with its rival McDonald's.

The Whopper shop wants to "get the world talking" about the UN's annual International Day of Peace next month.

Wasting no time, McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook posted an 87-word "No thanks" on Facebook, spurring critics to call him a wet blanket.

Easterbrook might have replied with one word, "Nuts," like American General Anthony McAuliffe did at the Battle of the Bulge, and proved at least that his company values efficiency.

Branding gurus are unanimous about linking your brand with a cause: just do itWant to shake down those activist do-gooder Millennials?  Wear "capitalism with a conscience" on your sleeve.

But Burger King's cheesy stunt, by sugarcoating a serious issue, shows why you should take gurus' advice with a grain of salt. 

Easterbrook's reaction, though sound, isn't savory, either.

The whole episode, in fact, leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

All we are saying, is give peace a rest.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

3 Words You Should Never Ever Use

We reward disruptors like Uber and Airbnb for obliterating needless stuff.

You can reward audiences by eliminating these three needless words from your writing.


Writers too often use “that” without purpose. Whenever you use the word, ask yourself whether you can ditch it; chances are, you can. I think that you will find that our prices are competitive becomes I think you will find our prices are competitive.


Writers hope to intensify words by slapping "very" in front of them; but the word adds no value. Our CSRs are always professional reads better than Our CSRs are always very professional.


Overuse has sullied “awesome.” The word once meant "inspiring" or "daunting," and was reserved for descriptions of mountains and miracles, not candies and cupcakes. So avoid it. Our cloud suite is awesome is less credible—and more cheesy—than Our cloud suite is first rate. (Least cheesy might be Our cloud suite is comprehensive, reliable and easy to use.)

But never say never: needless words can enhance your writing.

E. B. White, a crusader for concision, once advised a fellow writer:

"It comes down to the meaning of ‘needless.’ Often a word can be removed without destroying the structure of a sentence, but that does not necessarily mean that the word is needless or that the sentence has gained by its removal. If you were to put a narrow construction on the word ‘needless,’ you would have to remove tens of thousands of words from Shakespeare, who seldom said anything in six words that could be said in twenty. Writing is not an exercise in excision, it’s a journey into sound. How about ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow?’ One tomorrow would suffice, but it’s the other two that have made the thing immortal."

Now that is very awesome!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Good Storytelling isn't Measured in Words

When it's concise, even long-form writing seems short.

Magazine writing proves the point.

Nonfiction writer Joan Didion mastered concision by writing for magazines like Vogue, Mademoiselle, and Life for decades, says Louis Menand in The New Yorker.

Didion, the "quintessential magazine writer," drew readers into her stories by leaving things out (the fiction writer's trick).

She developed "methods of economizing the exposition and managing the reader’s experience, ways of getting the reader to participate in the job of making sense of whatever it is that the writer is trying to think through," Menand says.

Didion mastered concision because she was forced to. When a writer works for a magazine, Menand says, her ability to write concisely gives her a Darwinian edge.

"The job of the magazine writer is never to give readers a reason to stop before they reach the end. The No. 1 sin in print journalism is repetition. Pages are money; editorial space is finite. Writers who waste it don’t last. Conditions demand a willingness to compress and a talent for concision."

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Top 2 Mistakes Millennial Exhibitors Make

Ask 100 Millennials if they think trade shows are worth their time and money, and 98 will say "Yes," according to the Center for Exhibition Industry Research.

But, like their Boomer forebears, Millennials continue to botch their participation.

Millennial exhibitors' Number 1 mistake?

Presuming the sale.

Like many Boomers, Millennial exhibitors pose questions only as a pretext to presenting.

Rushing to close, they impress attendees as pushy; and attendees flee the booth as quickly as they can.

Young exhibitors who close presumptively leave the show each night complaining about the "terrible traffic."

Millennial exhibitors' Number 2 mistake?


Like many Boomers, Millennial exhibitors idly chat—a lot. But, while banter beats aggression, it doesn't do much for sales. Attendees learn plenty from exhibitors who love banter—but only about football scores, the weather, and the price of food in the convention center.

Young exhibitors who act like social butterflies leave the show each night complaining attendees "only came for the tchotchkes."

What's the answer?

Quit presuming the sale, nix the small talk, and ask good questions.

In other words, try a little progressive qualifying.

And be sure to ask attendees questions they might actually answer:

  • How did you reach this point in your career?
  • Whose idea was it to shop—the boss's or yours?
  • What happens if you don’t find a solution?
  • Do you have a favorite vendor?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Can Your Brand Pass the Cool-Test?

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart defined his pornography-test by saying, "I know it when I see it."

Consumers also rely on Stewart's standard when judging whether a brand is cool, according to Professors Margaret Campbell and Caleb Warren.

Their article in the Journal of Consumer Research, "What Makes Things Cool," pinpoints five cool-tests for a brand:
  • Cool is whatever consumers think is cool
  • Cool is distinct from simply likable
  • Cool expresses self-styled independence
  • Cool grants social standing
  • Cool varies by consumers' ages
Because cool is subjective, it's hard for brand marketers to anticipate consumer response to their products and promotions. 

But, based on their studies, the professors believe there are three ways for a brand to pass the cool-tests. A cool brand must:
  • Portray itself as rebellious, but in a nice way (endorsing personal, but never political, revolution)
  • Associate with cool spokespeople
  • Introduce innovative products and product packaging
Can your brand pass the cool-test?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A $49 Cure for Tone Deafness

Tone deaf? 

Well, good news: there's an app for that.

For only $49 a month, Crystal will provide you the empathy you sorely lack.

A Gmail add-on, Crystal scrapes your colleagues' social media posts; analyzes the posts; and attaches to each individual one of 64 different personality types.

Then, whenever you craft an email, the app prompts you to revise your words and ideas, so they sync with the reader's personality type.

Autocorrect, meet Myers-Briggs.

Crystal also suggests when to tighten your message; toss in an emoji; or use a little humor to soften things.

The end result? All your emails turn out more pleasant and pithy.

Crystal's developers claim their algorithm assigns personality types with 80% accuracy.

You can boost that accuracy, too, by answering multiple-choice questions about a colleague (such as, "If there were a conflict at work, how would he or she react?").

Friday, August 21, 2015

Express Editors Eliminate Leads

Mirroring bloggers, the editors of Express, the anorexic sister of The Washington Post, have eliminated lead paragraphs in news stories, as the following article shows:

Palmyra scholar beheaded by ISIS

Khaled al-Assas, 81, spent his life protecting the Roman-era ruins

DAMASCUS, SYRIA. The aging antiquities scholar dedicated his life to exploring and overseeing Syria's ancient ruins of Palmyra, one of the Middle East's most spectacular archeological sites.

Islamic State militants who now control the city beheaded him in a main square Tuesday after accusing him of being the "director of idols," then hung his body on a pole, witnesses and relatives said Wednesday.

Journalists used to sweat strong leads.

Pulitzer Prize winner John McPhee, in The Wall Street Journal, called the strong lead "a flashlight that shines down into the story" and, because it bears an illuminative role, "the hardest part of a story to write."

Alas, no longer.

In the race to the finish line, there are no more leads.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Please Kill the Zombies

Clichés are writing's walking dead.

You can pretend they're harmless, but soon they'll take overand come back to bite you.

A scrupulous writer kills clichés when they begin to pop up in her work.

"A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions," says George Orwell in his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language:
  • What am I trying to say?
  • What words will express it?
  • What image will make it clear?
  • Is the image fresh?
A scrupulous writer will ask, in addition:
  • Could I say it in fewer words?
  • Have I said anything avoidably ugly?
"But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble," Orwell says. 

"You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you—even think your thoughts for you, to certain extent—and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself."

Before you click publish, do readers—and yourself—a favor.

Please kill the zombies.

Monday, August 17, 2015

All Web Journalists are Liars

Jon Stewart convinced usas if we needed convincingthat all TV journalists are liars.

Ryan Holiday, minus the laughs, is the Jon Stewart of the web.

After reading the first 40 pages of Trust Me, I'm Lying, you will never read news from Business Insider, The Daily Beast, Drudge Report, BuzzFeed, Politico or Huffington Post with your old credulity again.

A recovering PR practitioner, Holiday explains how starving web journalists work; and how greedy publishers and wanton publicists exploit their hunger every hour of every day.

"Bloggers eager to build names and publishers eager to sell their blogs are like two crooked businessmen colluding to create interest in a bogus investment opportunity—building up buzz and clearing town before anyone gets wise," Holiday writes. "In this world, where the rules and ethics are lax, a third player can exert massive influence. Enter: the media manipulator."

With the same aplomb that Silent Spring laid bare corporate greed and The Pentagon Papers government secrecy, Trust Me, I'm Lying exposes the utter corruption that plagues web journalismand the noxious effect it has on all of us.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Save $26,041 per Employee with this Simple App

A 2008 study by SIS International Research showed that an employee squanders 17.5 hours a week deciphering faulty communications in the workplace. The researchers estimated the wasted hours to cost a small company $26,041 annually.

No surprise. 

Communication, like every business activity, is prey to Murphy's law. 

Any message that can go wrong will.

But there's a simple app available that will staunch the flow of red ink.

It's called clarity, and it's friendly and easy to use:
  • Turn long sentences into two or three shorter ones.
  • Chop big blocks of text into separate paragraphs.
  • Use connectors—words like although, but and becauseto join ideas together.
  • Avoid pronouns—words like it, we, they and this. Use pronouns sparingly and you won't write a sentence like: Advise customers they are guaranteed to work 24/7 when we upgrade our servers.
  • Be careful with directions—words like about, before, on and over—and you won't write a sentence like: Before lunch with the client we should hash out next year's price increases.
You can get the full download on clarity from "grammarphobes" Patricia O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman's You Send Me: Getting It Right When You Write Online.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Booming Business of Selling Books

You can take the boy out of Madison Avenue, but not vice versa.

Earlier this year, madman-turned-author James Patterson launched his thriller Private Vegas with a bang, by selling a single advance copy rigged to explode 24 hours after the reader opened it.

Patterson asserted that the reader who started the book would experience a veritable "race against the clock" to finish it.

The novel's price tag: $294,038.

At the same time, Patterson offered 1,000 free copies of Private Vegas on his website, digital versions rigged to "cinematically" self-detonate 24 hours after they were opened.

Patterson's experiential social media campaign racked up 419.8 million impressions, and thrill-seeking readers spent 13,896 hours reading the advance copies of Private Vegas, according to CMO. 

Paul Malmstrom, a creative director with the author's agency, bragged in a news release“For this launch, we aimed to create the most thrilling reading experience ever. One that takes the suspense of Patterson’s new novel to a crazy, new level."

Yup, crazy… like a fox.

Patterson has sold more than 300 million copies of his novels in the past 25 years.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Alpha Dogs

I'm as much a fan of Larry Page, CEO of newly formed Alphabet, as the next guy.

Without his efforts, I'd still have to haul around dictionaries and encyclopedias; and I'd be writing blog posts with software other than Blogger.

But Larry overstates and overwrites, as shown in his August 10 letter to investors.

While exemplary in tone, the letter is littered with dogs.

Borrowing from some new-age infomercial, he tells investors (twice) that he's "super excited" about Google's prospects, and "really excited" to announce Alphabet.

Who wouldn't be? The reorganization lets him put "tremendous focus on the extraordinary opportunities" at Google, and lets him continue to work alongside its new CEO, a diversion Larry is "tremendously enjoying."

And why not? Google's new CEO brings about "amazing progress" and "incredible growth."

It all adds up to a "very exciting new chapter" in Google's life.

And it all spells "hooey."

Overwriting betrays under-thinking.

Overstating strains credulity.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

We're All Water

Streetwise Americansmy spouse among themused to vie for MBA degrees in international marketing.

Then globalization happened, and there were no international marketers, only marketers.

The value of those MBAs evaporated, and the people holding them had to find new ways to distinguish themselves.

Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson predicts the same fate's about to befall anyone claiming pedigree in digital marketing.

"Digital has changed the world so much that it has become the world," Ritson writes.

The very word, in fact, is a "dodo," Ritson saysdoomed to disappear from business's vocabulary.

There are no international marketers, there are no digital marketers.

There are only marketers.

As Yoko Ono sang, "We're all water in this vast, vast ocean. Someday we'll evaporate together."

Saturday, August 8, 2015

3 Easy Hacks to Make You a Great Writer

Imagine earning $1 for each encounter you have with some grifter hawking simple hacks for turning your mediocre copy into gold.

You'd soon be another Warren Buffet.

But life's just not that easy… until now.

You've reached Mecca on your journey to $1 million every month.

That's because I'm pulling back the curtain to reveal the three most awesome writing hacks ever offered:

1. Read. 

2. Read. 

3. Read.

These three magic bullets come endorsed by a NOBEL PRIZE WINNER.

On April 16, 1947, novelist William Faulkner led a Q & A session in the English department's creative writing course at Ole Miss.

During the session, a student asked him, "What is the best training for writing?"

Faulkner advised, “Read, read, read! Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad; see how they do it. When a carpenter learns his trade, he does so by observing. Read! You’ll absorb it. Write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.”

So that's it. Read, read, read. 


Wait, there's more in my pipeline!

In my next post, I'll share the greatest hack in the history of modern media.

For now, here's a teaser.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Your Content Marketing is Broken

Most marketers treat mobile as a poor cousin, even though 61% of online content gets viewed on mobile devices in the US, according to comScore.

Websites, blogs and ads are still designed by rote, looking swell on desktops and laptops, but broken on mobile devices.

The majority of marketers also ignore the fact that customers often switch throughout the day from mobile phones to tablets, designing content for just one of these devices.

By failing to design "adaptive" content, marketers are merely distracting chronically distracted customers.

Analysts call the right content marketing strategy for today a "mobile-first strategy."

Maybe it's time to get smart about your strategy.

If the shoe fits.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

How Did We Function before Autocorrect?

Before autocorrect made us all morons, there was the malaprop.

Named by Lord Byron after the fictional character Mrs. Malaprop (as in "inappropriate"), the malaprop is a familiar brand of verbal slip.

Malaprops are funny because, though unintended, they seem to work.

Mrs. Malaprop, for example, advised a woeful Lydia Languish to illiterate him from your memory.

Rick Perry once called state governments lavatories of innovation, while an anonymous office worker called a colleague a vast suppository of information.

Speaking of which, Richard Daley once praised Chicago's members of Alcoholics Unanimous.

Boston mayor Thomas Menino called his city's parking shortage an Alcatraz around my neck.

Comedian Norm Crosby worried when he misconscrewed what you said.

President George W. Bush warned we cannot let terrorists hold this nation hostile.

And my boyhood pal Mookie called the corroded faces in monster movies decroded.

But that was just a pigment of his imagination.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Pen as Mighty as His Sword

In his masterful Mask of Commandthe late military historian John Keegan makes the case that Ulysses Grant's dispatches were as much responsible for victory as his grasp of tactics and infamous determination.

General George Gordon Meade’s chief of staff Theodore Lyman once wrote, “There is one striking thing about Grant’s orders: no matter how hurriedly he may write them on the field, no one ever had the slightest doubt as to their meaning, or ever had to read them over a second time to understand them."

It was clarity, simplicity and directness that made Grant's dispatches so astonishingly effective.

Lyman said Grant's dispatches "inclined to be epigrammatic without his being aware of it,” chiefly because the general used “plain and unmistakably clear words.”

Three examples:

In February 1862, hunkered before Fort Donelson, Grant sent this note to Confederate General General S.B.Buckner:

Sir, Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.

In April 1864, while advancing on the Wilderness, Grant dispatched the following order to Meade:

Lee’s army will be your objective point. Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.

And after Spotsylvania, in May 1864, Grant sent the army's chief of staff, Henry Halleck, this note:

We have now ended the 6th day of very hard fighting. I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.

When your goal is clarity—to write so that your readers will understand exactly what you mean—write like Grant, with simplicity and directness. 

Clarity eliminates ambiguity and confusion, and makes reading effortless.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Why Success Stories Rule

While you keep dishing out vainglory, only success stories "spark imagination and generate discussion," writes Theo Priestley in Forbes.

"There’s a definite sense of pride behind retelling a company history, or the deep technical passion in the product itself, but the solution only comes alive when there’s a story," Priestley says.

A product-design and marketing consultant, Priestley bristles over the naiveté of most marketers, who honestly believe their bluster is convincing.

Stories trump marketing megalomania, Preistley says, for three reasons:

Stories show how your brand is perceived in the market. Success stories illustrate clearly how your product differs from competitors'. 

Stories allow you to express an opinion. "Opinions matter, even if they’re controversial," Priestley says. They matter, because opinions ask customers to think.

Stories connect marketing and sales. Success stories let marketers and salespeople work as a team to deliver concise, consistent messages.

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Big Short

Potent speakers and writers lean on livelyand fewerwords.

I once heard Lew Ranieri, perturbed by a long-winded attorney for Freddie Mac, ask her, "Could you please talk faster? I'm having a bad day."

Emerson wrote in his Journals"All writing should be selection in order to drop every dead word."

Emerson wondered why more speakers and writers didn't edit themselves, erasing all the "flat conventional words and sentences."

"If a man would learn to read his own manuscript severely—becoming really a third person, and search only for what interested him, he would blot to purpose—and how every page would gain! Then all the words will be sprightly, and every sentence a surprise."

Lively speaking and writing is short and concise. 

Conciseness will keep your audience.

But don't go overboard, and prune vital information.

The Ancient Roman poet Horace said, “In trying to be concise, I become obscure.”

Want to be concise, without becoming obscure? 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Aim for the Heart

You'll earn an inimitable advantage over competitors if you link your brand with customers' hearts, says Michael Hinshaw, a customer experience specialist, in CMO.

Hinshaw cites research from The Disney Institute showing that companies that rouse good feelings have customers three times more likely to repurchase a company's products than the customers of other companies.

Customers develop feelings about your brand based on experiences with it. And try as you might to win them over with slogans, cheap prices, bribes or warranties, feelings are facts for customers, Hinshaw says.

So how do you forge heart-felt ties with your brand?
  • Learn the features of your brand that customers care about. Do they care about choice, reliability, durability, speed, comfort, convenience, neatness, or other features? Delivering unimportant features well won't improve how customers feel.
  • Track each customer's expectations of your performance on these features. Customers' expectations differ at different times, and for different transactions, Hinshaw says. To catch a customer's fancy, you need to meet her expectations in the moment. At first, you might have to show the customer that your products are fun and safe (you market party favors, for example); while at a later time, that you can deliver them overnight, in any style and color (just in time for a birthday).

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Brands Faring Best on Facebook

Americans trust marketing content on Facebook more than marketing content delivered by other media channels, according to new research.

E-commerce consultancy The Acquity Group asked 2,000 Americans to score channels for trusted marketing content (1=most trusted; 10=least trusted).

Leading the pack, Facebook earned an average score of 4. 

Magazines and newspapers earned a 4.4.

Email and TV earned a 5.3.

In addition, young Americans (18-30) are twice as likely than old Americans (52-68) to rank Facebook as the most trusted channel for marketing content, the study reveals.

They're also more likely than old Americans to buy a product after encountering that content on Facebook.

NOTE TO READERS: Copy Points turns five years old this month!
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