Saturday, October 31, 2015

Terms of Endearment

The role terms play in the marketing mix isn't discussed outside the pages of the Harvard Business Review.

But your terms matter to prospects.

Here's a case study.

Recently, Bob (yours truly) shopped Craigslist for the services of a freelance editor, on his employer's behalf. Based on his Craigslist ad, Steven seemed a capable choice. Bob phoned Steven, described the project, and sent him background materials.

Below, verbatim, is their email exchange immediately after that call.

From Steven to Bob

I've read over the attached documents and have a good grasp on what you want in terms of the scope of the editing. I can realistically accommodate the edits for the 400 documents you've stipulated for $475 and have them ready within your two month time-frame. Or, if you'd like them ready within one month's time, I could accommodate that for $599. Just let me know which option you choose. Also, if there are any other stylistic recommendations you have for the revisions go ahead and send those over to me. I accept Google Wallet for payment. To proceed, go ahead and send your payment, via Wallet, to me and then I can confirm, put this on my schedule and get started.

From Bob to Steven

Wow, I think you are underpricing this project. A few thoughts:
  • How much time do you think you’d devote to each document?
  • Advance payment on line won’t work. We can pay in installments or a lump sum, but only as satisfactory work is delivered.
  • Doesn’t the style guide I sent you make clear the “stylistic recommendations” desired?
From Steven to Bob

You're right. I sent you a quote meant for a different client. Realistically, I could accommodate this within 2 month's time for $3,500 or within one month's time for $3,999. However, I do not accept checks (they have that pesky ability to bounce...) and I do not do work without a payment, or at least a serious deposit, in advance. You came to me so please abide by the processes that I work by. Otherwise, I'd have to deny this request due to lack of seriousness. The only other payment methods I accept are Square Cash, Chase Quickpay or bank transfer.

As the Harvard Business Review might put it, "Steven's terms erected a considerable obstacle to Bob the Buyer's consideration."

By insisting on online prepayment, Steven demonstrated he works only with students and, perhaps, the occasional entrepreneur. He failed to grasp, in this case, his prospect represented an 88 year-old, multibillion company with customers like McDonald's and Microsoft.

The rest of their email exchange follows, again verbatim.

From Bob to Steven

No thanks, Steven.

From Steven to Bob

No skin off my nose. You're obviously a joker or a scammer. Before you waste more time trolling the Craigslist ads like a desperate prostitute, you should know that no self-respecting professional is going to be doing any work without payment upfront. Perhaps if you weren't a senior citizen you'd realize this is how commerce in the 21st century works.

Do your terms cost you customers?

How about your manners?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

All the Money You'll Ever Need

The noted playwright Robert Anderson once wrote, "You can make a killing as a playwright in America, but you can't make a living" (for that, he stooped to screenwriting).

While crowdfunding could put an end to "starving artists," no amount of money will spare us sniveling ones.

At grad school, I worked for a professor who counted among his friends many renowned intellectuals.

One day, he invited me to join him and a neighbor for lunch in his home. 

The neighbor turned out to be best-selling novelist Herman Wouk

I thought our lunch conversation might revolve around love and war. But Wouk spent most of the 90 minutes kvetching about the sum ABC had just paid him for the rights to make The Winds of War into a TV epic. (Wouk lived in a stately townhouse in Georgetown, but still resented the fact that stars Robert Mitchum and Ali McGraw received more money than he.)

On another day, my professor recounted a visit he'd made to the posh Left Bank apartment of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre. Instead of discussing his Critique of Dialectical Reason, Sartre spent the whole hour griping about his royalties.

When it comes to money, even giants in the humanities can feel discontent. 

"Money isn't everything," novelist Lillian Day wrote. "Your health is the other ten percent."

Or as comedian Henny Youngman said, "I've got all the money I'll ever need. If I die by four o'clock."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Exorcize This

Few people know I played a bit part in the 1973 horror film The Exorcist.

It's true. I appear with two of the stars, Ellen Burstyn and Max von Sydow, in a wide shot that's on screen for a full three seconds.

Don't cover your eyes, because you'll miss me. Don't blink, either.

Want to know what's super-scary?

I'm always playing bit parts.

Edward Bernays used to warn students who were considering a career in marketing to think twice, because his was strictly a "sidelines job." 

Your sweat will go into glorifying others, Bernays warned. All of it. And that's as it should be. Marketers are paid to make non-marketers look good. 

But most social marketers have never heard of Bernays, nor heed his advice. They continue to break social marketing's Number 1 rule: It's not about you.

Get with the program, please. Quit striving for stardom. Get used to bit parts. It's about the glory of others.

As Geoffrey James puts it in Inc, "Stop talking about yourself. Stop thinking about yourself. Stop trying to be unique. Put yourself in service to the world. Figure out how to help other people."

It's the perfect time of year to exorcize your ego from your social marketing.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Bread and Circuses

For 25% of Americans, entertainment trumps accuracy in content, according to a new study by Adobe, The State of Content: Expectations on the Rise.

And the younger you are, the more entertainment counts, the study shows.

Entertainment is more important than accuracy for 10% of Boomers; 20% of Gen Xer's; 35% of Millennials.

In his new collection of essays, Notes on the Death of Culture, Nobel Prize winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa laments the fact we've become puppets of “emotions and sensations triggered by an unusual and at times very brilliant bombardment of images that capture our attention, though they dull our sensibilities and intelligence due to their primary and transitory nature."

Our addiction to spectacle shows its worst side in politics, today a “mediocre and grubby activity that puts off the most honest and capable people and instead mainly recruits nonentities and rogues," he says.

Instead of leaders, we settle for clowns, ready to do anything to grab a moment of our attention.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why is So Much Business Writing So Bad?

Why is so much business writing so bad, irritating customers and wasting workers' time?

It begins with box checking.

In the race to "get it done"—and check yet another box—marketers and product managers flout good-writing fundamentals.

Foremost, as journalist Shane Snow points up, is simple diction.

Readers are impatient drivers. Simple diction lets them speed. They want writers to keep the highways open. And they prefer the ones who do.

To prove the point, Snow entered passages from a variety of popular writersincluding Cormac McCarthy, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwellinto five proven calculators of "reading ease."

The resulting scores showed:

  • McCarthy, King and Rowling write for people with fifth-grade reading skills; and
  • Godin and Gladwell, for people with eighth-grade skills.
Snow asks: Do readers love only these writers' story-telling abilities? Or do they also love their approachability—in other words, their simple diction?

With half the US population reading at no better than an eighth-grade level, the answer's obvious. 

Yet most business communications are written as if we all could read like grad students, who don't slow down for Latinate words, jargon, run-on sentences, and page-long paragraphs.

But unapproachable diction isn't the only problem.

Good writing takes time
Time and the determination to inform, research facts, and think critically.

It takes more than the urge to check another box.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Ing-lish Spoken Here

Junior copywriters love to add "ing" to verbs.

Poor souls. 

No one's told them it weakens the most powerful words in our language.

In Writing Tools, Roy Peter Clark gives two reasons why "ing" sucks strength from writing:
  • It adds a syllable. Simple's better. Adding syllables complicates verbs.
  • It often appears in a crowd. Writers who love "ing" tack it onto every verb they use. The words quickly begin to resemble each other.
In a 2002 article in The New York Times, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg first named the latter habit "ing-lish."

The junior copywriter's defense: "Marketing copy breaks the rules. Ing-lish is fine. No, it's even better. It's perfect."

Lovers of ing-lish think "ing" strengthens every verb by adding a sense of the here and now; of progress; of the urgent.

But, before you decide whether ing-lish is perfect, consider a few alternate taglines:
  • Avis. We're trying harder.
  • Nike. Just doing it.
  • California Milk Processors. Getting milk?
  • M&M: Melting in your mouth, not in your hands.
  • State of New York. I'm loving New York.
  • Burger King. Having it your way.
  • Hamlet. Being, or not being, that is the question.
NOTE: Thanks go to graphic designer Clif Dickens for his "honest" tagline above. Enjoy more honest taglines here.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Edward Bellamy's Incredible Crystal Ball

Marty McFly Day” is as good a day as any to look back at another time-travel entertainment—one that electrified our grandparents' grandparents.

Published at the height of the Gilded Age, Edward Bellamy's 1888 utopian novel Looking Backward became the Number 1 best-seller of its time.

It tells the story of a Boston Brahmin who time-travels to the year 2000 and discovers that life in the future is pretty comfortable:
  • War, waste, global warming, crime, unemployment, income inequality, gender differences, advertising and political parties have disappeared.
  • Everyone is at least bi-lingual. People speak a native language and the universal language.
  • The only form of money is the debit card. People use it to shop at vast warehouse clubs like Costco, but act with civility towards one another, because everyone's well educated. All purchases are delivered to shoppers' homes, via pneumatic tubes.
  • Employee engagement approaches 100% and job promotions are based solely on merit. People who refuse to work are imprisoned, and receive only bread and water.
  • People retire in comfort at age 45.
  • Housework is fully automated.
  • Congress meets only once every five years.
Bellamy sold more than a half million copies of Looking Backward. His blueprint for the year 2000 was so talked-about, over 160 "Bellamy Clubs" sprang up across the US.

Forty-seven years after the novel's appearance, Columbia University named it the most important book by a 19th century American.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Tomorrow's B2B Sales Professional Needs a Blue Ocean

One million B2B salespeople will lose their jobs by 2020, replaced by e-commerce systems, according to a study by Forrester.

The job-loss can be blamed on Millennials, who prefer what I call M2M (Millennial to Machine) over F2F (Face-to-Face).

First on the chopping block are entry-level "order taker" jobs.

For over a century, order-taker jobs have allowed high-school and college grads to readily enter the workforce as salespeople.

But the tightening market means tomorrow's wannabe sales pro must find a fresh opening gambit.

Inventiveness will be key.

You might have to think like comedian W.C. Fields.

To drum up business for Atlantic City hot-dog vendors, Fields worked one summer in his youth as a professional drowner. 

Twelve times a day, he would wade into the surf and begin to scream and flounder.

Mammoth crowds would rush to the scene to witness Field's "rescue"—and buy lots of hot dogs from the nearby vendors' carts.

Here's a great source for more innovations: The Sales Blog.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Battling Bullies

As a small business, you have no greater leverage than content.

My blog Copy Points, which reached a milestone today—100,000 pageviews—proves the point.

David-size businesses can effectively combat Goliaths in the Bizarro World of social media, and build a proprietary audience of followers, fans and advocates.

But how?

In a study last year, software provider Curata identified 428 bloggers it dubbed members of the “10K Club,” because they attract 10,000 or more pageviews a month. 

Two-thirds of 10K Club members represent small and mid-size businesses, with revenue below $100 million.

Curata concluded that six factors made these David-size bloggers successful:
  1. They know all the effort, one day, will pay off.
  2. They create content that targets a specific audience.
  3. They avoid product-pitches.
  4. They post at least once a week.
  5. They promote their blogs on other channels.
  6. They study their pageviews, to learn what kinds work best.
With 100,000 pageviews under my belt, at last I have something I can boast about to my granddaughter. 

Once she's old enough to know what a blog is.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What's the Most Revealing Interview Question Employers Could Ask?

What's the most revealing interview question employers could ask—the one that would guarantee they hire the best talent available every time? The killer question you should ask every job seeker.

With apologies to the management gurus, it's none of these:
  • Why will you thrive in this position?
  • What's your greatest weakness?
  • Who's your role model?
  • What did your parents do for a living?
  • What things do you dislike doing?
  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • What's your spirit animal?
  • What's the most significant thing you've done since breakfast?
  • What would you like to ask me?
I learned the killer interview question not from an HR manual, but a former boss; and it worked like a charm.

Adman Bill Kircher, founder of Fixation Marketing, posed the killer question at the close of every candidate interview he conducted. 

With it, he built an exceptionally creative, productive and tight-knit team; one that attracted loyal and prestigious clients, enjoyed a reputation for high quality, and earned handsome profits.

His killer interview question: What book are you reading right now?

What makes the question killer?

It's simple. Candidates didn't have to ask Bill for clarification.

It's tricky. The qualifier "right now" essentially disqualified as honest answers To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, and other sophomore-year reading assignments.

It's decisive. Hesitation, blank stares, or answers like "I mostly watch TV" eliminated candidates from consideration.

It's nondiscriminatory. Any title sufficed as a correct answer. Bill didn't care what you read, as long as it was sandwiched between two boards. After all, John F. Kennedy loved From Russia with Love. Ronald Reagan raved at a news conference about The Hunt for Red October. And friends spotted James Joyce in a cafe once reading Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Reading books proved to Bill's thinking a job candidate was curious, diligent, self-caring and culturally engaged.

And his results proved he was spot on.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Come as You Are

In the 1970s, hirsute posers—there were many—who showed up at sit-ins, rallies and music festivals were labeled "plastic hippies."

They'd take time off from their jobs, let down their hair, don their best tie-dye, pack a bong or a bottle of Boone's Farm, and make the scene.

People today are spared the need to package themselves in order to infiltrate happenings.

Brands are another matter.

To rate with Millennials, brands have to protest against global warming, epidemics, racism, homophobia, fat-shaming and unequal pay—or at least pretend to.

Henk CampherSan Francisco-based publicist and author of Creating a Sustainable Brand, calls the pretenders the "quick and dirty"—campers on the bottom steps of a "sustainable-brand pyramid" populated by:
  • Snake oil sellershypocrites (Volkswagen, for example);
  • Blah brands—big talkers (Apple); and 
  • Offset brands—penitents (Starbucks).
Not surprisingly, 99.9% of companies, according to Campher, lack any sustainability gene.

But at least they're honest about it.

My advice to plastic hippies: Come to the party, but come as you are. The rest of us—your customers, employees and investorsprefer the real you.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Coming Content Arms Race

Marketing strategist Mark Schaefer coined the dystopian term "content shock" to describe audiences' adverse reaction to content marketers' handiwork.

If you've felt a little content shock now and then, seek shelter now.

A "content arms race" is about to commence, Schaefer says.

By 2018, we'll be awash in content, as marketers' annual spend on web ads catches up with their $215 billion spend on TV ads.

Besides flooding the web with content, the spending shift will usher in an arms race, whose victors will be deep-pocket companies.

Small-time players, who until now have considered content their secret weapon against major advertisers, will be buried.

"Those with more money generally are in the best position to create more and better content, as well as pay to have it promoted and distributed," Schaefer says. "Will they always win? No. All things be equal, will they usually kill off the smaller guys? Yes. History bears this out."

Schaefer points to Chipotle's content marketing efforts as proof. "That kind of multi-million-dollar quality is not sustainable for most businesses and will hasten the exit of marginal content producers."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Meet the New Marketer

Most content marketers "live in a delusional bubble of branding hype," claims web designer Gerry McGovern.

He's proven his point with his delete key, boosting clients' sales by expunging 90% of the content on their websites.

"Organizations in general publish far too much of ego, vanity content that’s high on hyperbole and low on information," McGovern writes in his blog New Thinking.

Today's marketer crows about his inestimable edge over old-schoolers like Don Draper.

Today's marketer brings a data-driven, likable, personalized, "un-marketing" approach to the craft.

Yet fewer than 10% of B2B executives say they trust web content, according to a study by the CMO Council.

The revolution brought about by todays 's new marketer, so far, reminds me of lyrics by The Who: "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

24 Things You Should Never Say to a Welsh Woman

Why do lists lure more readers than other narrative modes?

Human cognition craves lists, says web analytics guru Neil Patel, citing studies by neuropsychologists of the brain's structure.

Our hunger for specificity drives us to click headlines that promise a list. 

What's more, reader-survey and test results show:
  1. Headlines promising a numbered list are 71% more popular than headlines merely promising a list.
  2. People value the clarity of headlines that promise a list.
  3. Women like lists more than men.
  4. Longer lists deliver greater reader satisfaction than short ones.
  5. Odd-numbered lists outperform even-numbered ones.
  6. The optimal number of items in a list is 25.
These results make lists "a content marketer’s go-to technique," Patel says.

But lists have a dark side.

Lists advance human misery, according to Right Life Project, promoting clutter, instant gratification and thoughtlessness.

As Zig Ziglar once said, "The person who dumps garbage into your mind will do you considerably more harm than the person who dumps garbage on your floor, because each load of mind garbage negatively impacts your possibilities and lowers your expectations."

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Danger in Dangling

And this news just in from

While Shooting This Video, A Homeless Dog Comes On Set And Literally Adopts The Singer!

A clear case of the "dangling" modifier.

A modifier dangles when it isn't pinned to the noun it's supposed to describe.

When Groucho dangles a modifier, audiences laugh ("I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I'll never know.").

When an unwitting writer does it, audiences scratch their heads:
  • Before rebooting the computer, the power should be turned off.
  • The employees were told they had been fired by HR.
  • By inserting keywords into the text, statistics show that SEO improves.
  • Though only 14 years old, the company made Han a developer.
  • Having driven 20 years without an accident, the CEO welcomed Ruth onto the stage to receive the award.
Beware of those doggone dangling modifiers!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

All Hat, No Cattle

The world is filled with big, stupid companies.

When it comes to the customer experience, they're "all hat, no cattle."

A story to illustrate.

I encountered a bug in the software from one of today's top 10 providers. The bug is so serious, it prevents any use of the product. 

My first plea for help spawned this canned email:

Thank you for submitting your case. My name is Henjie from Support. I have taken ownership of your Case number 12483149. I understand that you need some assistance. I won't be able to call you. For now, I will need to have your case endorsed to a team to make sure that we will be able to assist you further with your concern. Thank you for choosing [name withheld].

Four weeks, hours of my time, and 31 comparably inane messages later, no remedial action has been taken.

Disney likes to say, "no employee ever 'owns the customer,' but one employee always 'owns the moment.'"

At stupid companies, employees own neither customers nor moments. The only "owners" are the legal ones, who spend all their moments minding the share price, while buzz-talking auto-responders are left minding the store.

Entrepreneurs can take heart.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Prevent Slow Burn

In the 1930s, film-goers loved comedian Edgar Kennedy for his mastery of the "slow burn."

When thwarted by a foe, Kennedy would glower, then slowly rub his hand over his face as he fought off—and inexorably succumbed to—his fury.

I find myself doing the slow burn whenever I encounter a self-indulgent blogger; the writer who, rather than informing me from the get-go, drowns me in silly eyewash.

A prime example can be found in a recent post on Hubspot, "Why Blog? The Benefits of Blogging for Business and Marketing."

The author uses 118 words to tell us why she's telling us what she plans to tell us. Her long warm-up leaves me cold:

I had a co-worker email me the other day asking for a blog post about the benefits of business blogging. "It's for a friend," she said.

Sure it was.

I told her I'd shoot over one of our up-to-date blog posts about why businesses should blog and... I couldn't find one. Whoops. Quite the meta mistake.

So I'm doing it now. If you're trying to explain one of the core tenets of inbound—
business blogging—to your boss, a coworker, your mom at Thanksgiving, whomever, then send them this post. I hope it helps. For even more reasons why you should blog for business and marketing—and how to get started—download our free e-book here.

Please, spare readers false starts—especially jejune ones.

Remember, only you can prevent slow burn.

Maybe I'm Amazed

This month, were he alive, John Lennon would have turned 75.

Fans can only imagine what he'd have to say about life, love, and the lunacy rampant in our world today. Or how marvelous his musical output might have been during the 35 years that have passed since his murder.

Not long ago, I rediscovered a 45 year-old solo album Lennon's partner Paul McCartney made entitled, simply enough, McCartney.

It contains Sir Paul's own all-time favorite composition, "Maybe I'm Amazed," plus a dozen other songs he penned, all quite wonderful.

Listening to the album and remembering just some of the nearly 200 songs McCartney wrote and performed with Lennon, as well as all the fabulous music each Beatle produced after the band's breakup, leaves me in awe of their talent.

If only I had a shred of it, I'd be a happy camper.
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