June 14, 2018

The power of 15 minutes.

15 minute stop watch

Tell me this hasn’t happened to you:

You have something important to write…could be a sales pitch, press release, email newsletter, note to your boss, marketing program, ad copy… anything. It may not even need to be lengthy – just important in some way. So, you sit down to your keyboard at the precious time slot you’ve squeezed out of your packed to-do list and you force yourself to begin typing. And then…

You type a few words. Backspace over them. Type a few more words…keep going… then backspace over all of them too. Then you stare at your monitor trying to focus, while your to-do list sends invisible smoke signals to your brain, reminding you that you DON’T HAVE TIME for backspacing nonsense…you’ve got a ton of other things to do, and you’re running out of the window you’ve allotted to write this damn thing and youknowwhatyouwanttosaysowhywon’tthewordsjustflowout#*%#@?

People. Chill out. In reality, you DON’T know what you want to say, and that’s the trouble. You know what the assignment is, but you haven’t decided how to approach it. And so you sit down to write before mapping out a game plan…and then you freeze because you’re about to start the car for a road trip, and you have no idea where you’re going once you pull out of the driveway.

Here’s a tip that will make writing less painful and more productive. Before you write, sit quietly for 15 minutes and just think about what you’re planning to write.

Sounds easy, right? Nope. When was the last time you sat quietly in your office for 15 minutes and did absolutely nothing else? Not check email, scan your list, get sucked into social media, read something, jot down 15 things you remember you wanted to add to your to-do list… literally just do nothing but think. To very busy people, 15 minutes of complete stillness feels like a jitter-inducing eternity. And in a way, it is. It’s 25% of an entire hour.

Sitting still and thinking for 25% of an entire hour – when there are 200 tasks awaiting your attention – could, at first glance, seem like squandering productivity. Not so. In fact, investing that quiet time in thought will actually UNLOCK your productivity and make your writing more effective.

Try it. 15 minutes may feel like an eternity, but in reality, it’s not a lot of time. You probably squander that every day without even being aware of it… chatting about reality TV, tracking the progress of the #mprraccoon, reveling in historic sports moments like Justify winning the Triple Crown or the Caps FINALLY winning a Stanley Cup… maybe even just checking out your favorite Instagram dogs.

But see the pattern? All of those things feel like “doing something.” Somewhere along the way, “thinking” lost the right to be considered “doing something.” Reinstate it. You won’t be sorry.

Want more writing tips? Here…we’ve got a few.

May 17, 2018

What makes you ding-worthy?

So…I feel a bit like a soulless drug pusher on this one, but hear me out, ok?

A growing issue is causing serious angst in today’s society:  people are addicted to their phones and they know it…and they don’t like it. There’s a movement afoot for these addicts to “resist the ding” and wean themselves from craving the need to keep checking their phone. And the psychological battle cry of “how to take back control” is a hot topic at business conferences, therapy sessions, family dinner tables, relationship counseling, and in mainstream media.  If this is news to you, here are two useful articles on the subject from NPR and Psychology Today.

But it’s a marketer’s mission to cut through clutter and get attention. And so we ruthlessly hunt for standout ways to infiltrate their phones: emails, text messaging, location-based promotions, social media (organic and paid), social media direct messaging, and <insert shiny marketing-tool-du-jour here>.

We WANT to be the ding that gets their attention. We WANT them to stop what they’re doing and embrace our message.

But think of the psychology:  more and more people are taking control of their own “ding dial,” fiercely curating which dings (if any) get their immediate attention, and – whoa – even turning off the dings completely in order to neutralize messages that masquerade as urgent.

Worse (for us)…in an effort to reduce the overwhelming daily assault of information through intrusive dings and silent accumulation, they are more discriminating in scrubbing their access points.  This means YOU (soulless, message-pushing marketer) are being judged continuously, and you are always just one frivolous ding away from getting banished.

So here’s what you need to ask yourself, marketers:  what makes you ding-worthy?  And you can’t do this effectively by looking at a single message’s value (i.e. this post, this email). You need to respect your role in the relationship with people’s phones and your value in their overall information landscape.  What earns you the right to continued access?  How do your dings foster Pavlovian-level satisfaction?

I’ll tell you the answer:  always-relevant content, and choosing frequency wisely.  Quite simply…don’t waste their time (or mental bandwidth) and make every ding meaningful.

Is this harder for you?  Yep. Does this mean you have to care more about THEIR needs than YOUR sales goals?  Yep.  Is this annoying because now you have to think more, and sometimes resist sending messages you REALLY REALLY want to send?  Yep.

But here’s the alternative:  would you rather be banished?  Because that’s what’s at stake now more than ever.

Marketing was never effective when it was too frequent or too frivolous. Desensitization and annoyance have always been at risk. But back in the day, those risks just wasted your money and time. People may have gotten annoyed, but they hadn’t yet – en masse – felt empowered to do anything about it.

But these days, technological assault has made people feel like victims and addicts, so when you annoy them, they not only feel empowered to banish you…they do it with a sense of righteous justice. Kicking you out of their phone grants them a joyous feeling of liberation.

And so yay for you, marketer!  You created a positive encounter with your target. The downside is that it came from them slamming the door in your face…and locking it.

So what’s the moral of this story?  Don’t ignore this growing social phenomenon, and adapt your approach accordingly.

In short:  Please ding responsibly. 

March 16, 2018

Five opening lines that sabotage your email’s success.

You want people to read your emails, right?  Then be mindful of these two powerful words:

PREVIEW PANE.

That little teaser allows people a glance at your email’s content before they open it, which makes your first sentence vital.  It can either hook interest and make readers want to open it instantly, or it can say nothing worthwhile and prompt them to triage its importance for another time (if ever).  This actually holds true even if the recipient is NOT using preview pane… who gets jazzed about reading an email with a boring opening line?

Here’s a hard truth:  most people begin emails with boring sentences simply because they’re being lazy.  It’s a crutch for warming up to writing what they REALLY want to say… a way to get their fingers moving on the keyboard.  But the fact is, you’re doing your email a huge disservice by overlooking the importance of your opening line.

Here are five of the most common “wasted” opening lines:

I hope you are well.
My name is (x) and I’m the (x) of (x) company…
I wanted to write you today to…
I am pleased to attach the document…
Hope you’re enjoying this weather!

Why are these lines wasted?  Because they’re either stating the obvious or making irrelevant small talk.  You may indeed truly hope the person is well, and you have my blessing to say that… at the end.  And you may indeed be pleased to attach that document…but who cares?  Perhaps instead, say why the document is/should be important to THEM.

Yes, it takes longer to come up with a compelling opening line (and please, for the love of Pete, please don’t start with the word “I”).  But it’s worth it.  I may not know you, or anything about you and your email recipients, but I’d bet the ranch that you’d rather have folks open your emails than glaze over them or just hit delete.

Bonus writing advice:  also be wary of the word “great,” using exclamation points, and the request to have things sent to you “ASAP.”  Check out these and other quick writing tips here.

 

June 28, 2017

The key to making a business announcement successfully.

Say you’ve just overhauled your guest service program.  Or completed a design renovation.  Or created a new HR program in response to staff issues.  Or launched a new brand.  Or website.

And then you sit down to write the email, press release, or speech to unveil it to your key audiences.  Here’s the one vital tip you need to make it effective and powerful:

No one cares how hard you worked.

Think about it. How many times have you heard a brand or company representative say

  • We’ve worked tirelessly to…
  • Our team has worked long and hard to…
  • We’ve been working day and night to…

Does that make their message any more meaningful to you?  Nope.  In fact, a few hard truths about human nature conspire to subtly undermine the successful reception of your announcement:

What’s In It For Me?:  Saying how hard you worked is blah-blah to the audience.  Your dedication is irrelevant…what’s the result that impacts them?  Wasting air time with blah-blah just risks losing their attention.

Skepticism Trigger:  The moment someone draws attention to how hard they worked, we subconsciously doubt it.  If you truly worked hard on something, the results would prove it.  Proclaiming it just makes the audience wonder why you’re trying to hard to convince them that you did your job.

Soliciting Gratitude is Resented:  Revealing how hard you worked – especially when you’re fixing a negative situation – only makes it look like you’re seeking a head pat.  And only adorable dogs can credibly get away with begging for head pats.  In humans, it usually just inspires exasperated eye-rolling.

Instead…just share your news straight up, including the benefits to them.  Like so:

On the new Redpoint website, you can explore our expertise with easy one-click sorting relevant to your needs, catch our company vibe instantly through photos and videos, and listen to music from our office live concert series.  Go check it out…we hope you find it fun and useful.

See how easy that was?  Now please DO go check out our new website…because it’s fun.  #ResistTheHeadPat

 

November 5, 2015

Your belly button is a marketing tool.

Consumers suck, don’t they?  They need to be rewarded for everything…liking things, sharing things, buying things, answering things.  It’s maddening.

Well marketers, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  We’ve conditioned people to chase carrots and respond to hoopla…which means we’ve ALSO conditioned them to ignore stuff that’s boring, predictable, trite, and unrewarding.

Where does this leave email subject lines?  At the top of your “spend brainpower here” list.

Think about it…all the time and energy you spend creating the perfect email content is 100% for naught if people don’t open it.  And when sifting through the barrage of daily incoming emails, consumers use three main criteria to determine which ones will get their attention:

  1. How much they care about you vs. how much they care about the rest of the senders sitting in their inbox.
  2. How much time they have available when your email arrives.
  3. Is the content going to be worth their time?

And #3 is why subject lines should get your brainpower.  If your marketing email subject lines are things like “August Newsletter” or “News from (company name)” or even something a little more specific like “Winter Packages at (company name)”… you are relying on the first two criteria – which are beyond your control – to supply the magic open sesame of consumer response.

But if your subject line is something like…

We don’t make linen. (Chilewich, a textile company)

I hate purple. (Also from Chilewich)

The ecosystem of your belly button. (American Museum of Natural History)

Have you ever wanted to create a chocolate sculpture? (South End Kitchen, VT)

Get serenaded by Harry Connick, Jr. (Hotel on North, MA)

…you’re using the subject line as a lure to snap desensitized recipients to attention.  It’s likely that 80% or more of the emails they receive each day have boring subject lines.  Make yours interesting and you’re one notch closer to seducing them into hearing your message.

Here’s the best part.  If you pay heed to #3 (teasing interesting content)…and then you actually ensure that the content IS interesting…over time, it’s going to positively impact #1 and #2.  Remember: marketers train consumers.  And the more you train them that your emails are interesting, the more that #1- they will care about you and your messages, and #2- no matter when your email arrives, they will make the time to read it.

It’s a delicious cycle of persuasive marketing goodness.  And soon you will find that consumers – those picky, aloof, what’s-in-it-for-me monsters we marketers have created – will suck just a little bit less.

February 5, 2015

Four quick tips to strengthen your writing.

Writing is a skill that needs practice, just like your golf swing or your skiing technique.  However, unlike golf or skiing, very few people devote their Saturdays to grammar and phraseology.

Here’s the equivalent of installing a putting green in your office.  Work these four tips into your everyday writing, and give those stagnant brain muscles a workout.

Stop beginning your sentences with “I” or “We.”  You’ll be surprised how often you do it, and making this one tiny change will enhance the power of your message.  Here’s why and how.

Choose descriptive words that pack a stand-alone punch.  There are – give or take – a million words in the English language.  It’s a safe bet that “great” can always be replaced with a more meaningful word (get some help on that here) and the words “very,” “really,” and “extremely” are unnecessary; very happy = ecstatic, pleased, delighted, and so on…extremely upset = livid, furious, incensed, and so on.

Condense wordy phrases into compact ones…or better yet, into a single word.  This reduces the burden on your reader’s attention span and illustrates your point with instant clarity.  For example:

Coming at the wrong time = ill-timed

Covered with decorative elements = ornate

Make this process smoother = streamline

Almost ready to put the finishing touches on = poised to complete

Hard to find = elusive

Aspire to cut your document length by a third.  This measuring stick will serve you well:  in any first draft, at least a third of the words are poorly chosen.  That’s because it’s really hard arduous to write and edit at the same time simultaneously.  Keep your thought process intact while the words flow, and then attack your phrases with a critical eye afterward.

I hope you find these tips useful.

Reprogramming your writing style using these four tips will take awareness, patience, and a thesaurus.  Keep practicing, buy a red pen, and eventually new habits will form.

October 24, 2013

One “great” way to improve your writing.

Would you rather go to a “great conference” or an “informative and entertaining conference?”  And would you rather stay in a hotel that’s “great”…or one that’s charming, impeccably-run, intimate, luxurious, filled with character, chic, rustic, or a culinary delight?

Here’s the thing:  often times, the word “great” is just a lazy nod to positivity that doesn’t actually do justice to a description.  Saying something is great gives the reader no indication of WHY it’s great, which is really the information most useful to them.  You could tell a friend that the food was great at a restaurant you tried, but “great” to you could mean spicy and rich, and “great” to your friend could mean mild and tame.  You can tell your guests that they’ll have a great shopping experience at your store, but do you mean the service is gracious, the layout is simple to navigate, the prices are easy on the wallet, or the selection is extensive?

This matters most when you’re writing a piece of communication that intends to persuade your audience, for three reasons:

  • Using “great” instead of actually describing what you mean is a lost opportunity to make a connection that resonates with them and engages their attention
  • If you say something is “great”…and then you just have to go on to describe it using other words anyway…then you’ve wasted words with an unnecessary comment, and created a trigger that could relax their attention span (nothing sabotages attention faster than perceived “blah blah” in writing)
  • Relying on the word “great” too often snares you in the trap of sounding trite.  And trite never rings true, so your words won’t be effective.

Here’s how to use the word less frequently:  be aware of it.  Every time you start to write the word “great” in a sentence, just ask yourself…what do I really mean?  Take a moment to find more suitable words/phrases and your writing will transform into richer, more sophisticated communication.  This is likely to annoy you at first (flexing your vocabulary muscles takes time and practice), but soon it will become second nature.  Make the site thesaurus.com your new best friend.

There certainly may be times when “great” does the job (Q: “Can we meet at 8pm?”  A: “Great!”).  But a heightened awareness of using the word at all will prevent you from using it as a crutch.

And if you’re thinking of cheating by just adding a bunch of exclamation points to make the word “Great!!!!!!!!!!!” seem more powerful… here’s why that won’t work.

For more great insightful writing tips – from how to apologize effectively to why you should stop asking for things “ASAP” – visit the writing tips section of our blog.

October 11, 2011

Take the “No I Challenge” to strengthen your writing in one week.

Harder than a triathalon...the "No I Week Challenge."

When it comes to communication, we humans are a selfish bunch.  As writers, we strive to get our own point across…and yet, as readers, we always want to know:  what’s in it for me

This opposition is one of the key things that make persuasive writing so difficult.  When writing, we sit down to pour out thoughts from our own perspective.  But when you get right down to it…in the world of persuasion, unless you’re the mafia, who really cares about your perspective?  Some recent examples that have crossed my desk:

In a cover letter applying for a job:  I am looking for an opportunity that will help me to grow. 

From a printer looking to sell his services:  I would like a few minutes of your time to introduce you to my company.

From an industry colleague asking for a favor:  I need this by 2pm or I can’t make my deadline.

As a reader, to all of those statements I say (affectionately)…who cares?  Have you seen the length of my to-do list lately?  Do you honestly expect me to grant your request just because YOU want it?  A more compelling reason is needed to break through my clutter and raise your request higher up in my triage pile.

To be more effective in your persuasive writing, try this:  stop using the word “I” as much as you can.  Using that word pretty much forces the communication to have a selfish perspective.   All sentences can be rewritten without it…they just need to be rephrased to adopt a different approach.  A growth opportunity like this is highly appealing.  With just a few minutes of time, you’ll learn how XYZ Company can save you money.  This is needed by 2pm or the deadline won’t be met.

Rephrasing sentences in this way takes the “you vs. me” conflict out of the equation, and infuses some third-party credibility into the content.  It’s also far less emotional, and certainly more objective.  And all that combines to make the content more effective.  This strategy alone won’t make your audience drop everything and do your bidding, but it definitely starts to stack the decks in your favor.

Ingrained habits are hard to break (especially selfish ones), so here’s a tip to help you jump start this approach to writing:  have a “No I Week.”  For one whole week, make a conscious effort to not use the word “I” at all.  Rephrase every single sentence to have a more objective point of view.  And don’t cheat by simply replacing “I” with “we” because that follows the letter of the law, but not the spirit.  Like so…

I am hoping you will help me as soon as possible.  OR… We are hoping you can help us as soon as possible.  OR… These answers are needed as soon as possible.

We recently had a “No I Week” challenge here in the office at Redpoint, and even we – who write for a living! – had a hard time achieving the goal.  You will get frustrated, you will feel like you’re sounding ridiculous, and there will be times when you stare at your computer screen forever just trying to reword something mundane like “I have a doctor’s appointment at 10 am tomorrow, so will be in a bit late.”  Stick with it.  By the end of the week, this extreme heightened awareness of the “I” perspective will temper your writing moving forward.  You will certainly have cause to use the word “I” in your writing, but you’ll be far more judicious in how you employ it.

Of this, you are assured by me. 

For more quick writing tips shared within redpointspeaks.com, click here.

April 13, 2011

Writing tips…but not donuts.

So, after handing out donuts to all 300 people at the Vermont Travel Industry Conference during my keynote address yesterday, I feel as if I showed up to lead today’s writing workshop empty handed.

Happily, I had a handful of Redpoint signature chocolate mice and five copies of my favorite pocket Thesaurus to hand out to all people who actively participated in the dialogue…but it still didn’t feel like enough.

So…I promised the attendees I’d post some essential writing tips and tools here this afternoon.  (And if you weren’t there with us today, you can enjoy these with my compliments.)

Here are two PDFs to download:

Self-Editing Tips

Life Cycle of Drafting a Document

You can also check out some of my favorite writing tips that have been posted on our blog by clicking here.

These may not be as tasty and exciting as donuts, but they’ll be significantly more helpful when you are trying to craft a strategic document.

Though, I admit that a chocolate frosted donut (or 2…or 3) has helped me tackle a difficult writing project in the wee hours of the morning more than once.  So if these tips aren’t doing the trick, put them aside in favor of donuts and watch the creativity flow like frosting.

February 24, 2011

Stop using this phrase…ASAP!

Did you ever ask someone to do something “ASAP” and then not get what you want, when you wanted it?  Here’s why that happened:

The phrase ASAP lets people choose their own deadline.  It means “as soon as possible,” which – in their world – might be now, tomorrow, next Wednesday, or never.  Everyone has their own to-do list and method of prioritization, so the vague direction of ASAP puts the power in the recipient’s hands to judge the level of urgency.

And this is a no-no for getting people to do what we want. 

YOU keep the power, or else your own to-do list will always be at the mercy of other people’s timelines.  This doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible in your deadline…but if you don’t give one as a starting point, how will the person know where it fits in their to-do list?

There was a time when ASAP implied “immediately,” but those days are over.  We’ve abused the phrase too much for it to have any real meaning (see how we also did this to the phrase “I’m sorry”).

So, if you want to greatly increase the chance that your deadline will be met, be clear in your request and state the specific day/time you would like to see results.

Want to comment on this post?  Do it…right now, immediately, without delay, before doing anything else, this instant, before 10:30am EST on 2/24/11.  (But you can do it later too, if you want…I’m flexible.)