If I had to pick one blog to take with me to a deserted island, it might be Brain Pickings. Maria Popova is a curator like no other, bringing us fascinating posts about creativity, knowledge, science, art, culture, and more. She describes herself as “an interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large.” That’s what I want to be when I grow up.

Somehow I stumbled upon a post of hers from earlier this year: A 5-Step Technique for Producing Ideas circa 1939. She writes about James Webb Young’s method for “a productive creative process, touching on a number of elements corroborated by modern science and thinking on creativity: its reliance on process over mystical talent, its combinatorial nature, its demand for a pondering period, its dependence on the brain’s unconscious processes, and more.” Popova’s links within this post will take you down an “endless rabbit hole of discovery.”

John Perry would approve of the time I spend procrastinating over at Brain Pickings. He does the same thing all over the web. In his Wall Street Journal article, How to Be a Better Procrastinator, he says, “The truth is that most procrastinators are structured procrastinators. This means that although they may be putting off something deemed important, their way of not doing the important thing is to do something else. Like reading instead of completing their expense report before it’s due.” Exactly!

Steve Buttry may have written this post for journalists, but it shows the potential Twitter has for all kinds of professions and organizations, ahem, associations, I’m talking to you. I’m willing to bet that you’ll find something that resonates with your digital strategy in 10 Ways Twitter is Valuable to Journalists.

Dr. Susan Weinschenk (aka @TheBrainLady) writes about 47 Mind-Blowing Psychological Facts You Should Know About Yourself. I admit, I’ve only read about ten of these facts. I’m slowly savoring them. They’re part of her series of “100 things you should know if you are going to design an effective and persuasive website, web application or software application.” I don’t do any of those things, and maybe you don’t either, but, like me, you might be in the business of persuading. Soak it up!

I have a love/hate relationship with the word “awesome.” I have no problem using it when I see a sight that inspires awe, like the landscape of southern Utah. But too often we – yes, me, you, and everyone else we know – reach to it because we’re too lazy to find another word. It’s become shorthand. “Awesomesauce” used to be really special, but now it’s slathered indiscriminately.

In The Unfortunate Culture of Awesome, Deanna Zandt laments how “awesome” has taken over our social lives. “We are creating wittier, snappier, sometimes angrier, humblebraggier avatars. Everything is awesome.” (Yeah, I had to look up “humblebraggier” too.) I’m reminded of the Louie Herr post I featured last week: That’s Not the Real Me: How Vanity Sabotages Facebook Advertising.

Zandt misses the ordinary, little bits of life that people used to share more regularly. “Maybe it’s not critical to my existence that I know you like Chobani yogurt, but together with lots of other pieces of information, I can see what kind of person you are. And that’s critical for developing relationships with one another, digitally or otherwise.” Just so you know, I had cheesy grits for breakfast, and will probably make a smoothie after publishing this post.

Happy Friday!

Park Avenue, Arches National Park, Moab, UT

Now, that’s awesome. A hike through Park Avenue, Arches National Park, Moab, UT.

That’s Not the Real Me: How Vanity Sabotages Facebook Advertising by Louie Herr

I find this idea both hilarious and accurate, especially this: “We are actors on a stage. Shakespeare, as ever, proves prescient.” We’re a crafty bunch, showing off our best selves on Facebook, sometimes cool, sometimes not. Recently I’ve posted several photos of backyard wildlife – turtles, spiders, lizards – not sure what I’m telling advertisers and the rest of my Facebook friends with that display. I’m sure to return to posting oh-so-fascinating snippets of my life soon. After all, I have an image to maintain.

Example of a Humanized Culture by Jamie Notter

The Netflix Culture slidedeck has been around a while but it rocked my world only this week. There’s a lot in there – 126 slides – but it’s well worth scrolling through — a peek into an inspirational workplace. Jamie says, “It’s not about values that just sound nice (integrity, honesty, diversity, etc.). It’s about behaviors and skills that are literally valued by you and others in the workplace.”

Use Your Brain: Why Marketers Must Understand Neuroscience by Mary Beth McEuen and Emily Falk

Marketing never gets boring because it focuses on what makes us tick. McEuen and Falk tell us to follow the RULE: Reframe, Understand, Listen, and Engage your audience.

You Can’t Start the Revolution from the Country Club by Anil Dash

A new paid platform, App.net, could be a rival to Twitter, after all, all the cool tech kids hang out there. And why not, the masses have invaded their precious Twitter so they need a new place to hang out and stroke each other’s egos. Life continues to have moments of high school. But I don’t completely blame them. I’ve had issues with Twitter lately, too much broadcasting (guilty) and not enough conversation. I’m determined to change my behavior and reclaim Twitter for conversation.

Dash says these “gated communities” like App.net risk being exclusive. “Building a social tool for “just us geeks” permanently privileges the few people who get in the door first, which means you’re giving a huge leg up to those who already have a pretty good set of advantages to begin with.”

Why Web Literacy Should Be Part of Every Education by Cathy Davidson and Mark Surman

Web literacy should be part of every adult’s toolbox too, but sadly it isn’t. Davidson and Surman make a call for web literacy in K-12 education. “…if web literacy, including web programming, was adopted by every school as a fourth basic literacy, kids would not only learn how to code, they would learn about interactivity, collaboration, the melding of the artistic and the scientific, creativity, and precision.”

And, in other news…

The web is full of chatter today about Lance Armstrong, a fallen hero for many, a relentless bully for others. It’s time to turn away from that era of cycling and its doping culture, and focus on cleaning up the sport. That’s the mission of Jonathan Vaughters, one of Armstrong’s former teammates who now manages the Garmin-Sharp cycling team. Check out his NY Times op-ed about his thoughts on (and experience with) doping.

Meanwhile, the magnificently beautiful state of Colorado is hosting the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. Yesterday, one of my cycling heroes, Jens Voigt, won the stage. Jens is known in the cycling community as the guy who will “go full gas” and sacrifice himself, in terms of pain, to help out the team leader. “Shut up, legs!” is one of his mantras. His quirky sense of humor comes through in his tweets, his blog at Bicycling magazine, and interviews. This lovable beast, and I use that term with respect and affection, turns 41 in less than a month, and has already announced that he’ll race again next season. Not bad for an old guy.

Jens Voigt after winning Stage 4 of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge – screenshot from Bicycling magazine video

Whoops, it’s already October, how did that happen? Here’s my selection of customer service and marketing smarties who impressed me in September.

Don’t you love spreading the word about a smart business that knows how to take care of its customers? So many businesses seem to forget who pays their salaries. “Word of mouth isn’t dead,” says Alan Belniak at Marketing Profs. No, it isn’t, especially when word of mouth is turbocharged by word of mouse. Alan tells us how Roche Bros., a Massachusetts supermarket chain, exceeded his expectations on a miserable day.

Andy Sernovitz’s blog Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That, is one of my favorite sources of smart marketing stories, like this one about an Austin running store, RunTex, that understands how to build awareness in their target market while also building goodwill. If you work in sponsorship sales or if you’re a business looking to spend your limited marketing budget wisely, take a look at this story and start brainstorming about how you can do something similar.

When I read this New York Times story I immediately thought, aha, marketing genius. Concierges and waiters at several upscale hotels and restaurants in Manhattan and Hampton wear clothes provided by Lacoste. “As a consumer, you’re sitting there and Lacoste is all around you,” said Charlie Walk, a partner at RJW Collective, a marketing agency based in Manhattan that works with Lacoste. “But it’s not in your face screaming to you that there’s a branded moment here in the middle of your meal — it’s an elegantly disruptive activation.”

How can you translate an idea like this for your world? How can you infiltrate your target customer’s life in a subtle yet noticeable way like that? Where do they hang out? What other products and services do they use? Here’s an idea that’s screaming to be the seed of a good brainstorming session.

Has anyone ever asked you, “do you think most people are good or bad?” I suppose your answer might depend upon your level of happiness, personal behavior and religion. I believe we’re good and stories like this reaffirm that belief for me. Couture Cakes, a small bakery in Newport News, raised $12,000 in two days, all their sales plus customer donations, for the family of an 11-year-old boy who was killed by a falling tree during hurricane Irene. They didn’t know the family; they just felt compelled to do it. Warms my heart.

A Fast Company article about how Whole Foods “primes” you to shop has been making the rounds. It’s a fascinating look at smart, not deceptive, merchandising practices. I can’t help but admire that company, and not just because their cheese section is my paradise on earth. We make decisions throughout life, but especially during the purchasing process, based on emotions and perceptions. What are your customers seeing when they walk into your store or office? Or browse your website? How are you influencing, and, dare I say it, manipulating their perceptions and emotions?

Despite what Peter Shankman says, Morton’s Steakhouse’s delivery of dinner to his airport arrival gate is not the greatest customer service story ever told. It’s an example of great social media monitoring leveraged into a PR coup. Why not go above and beyond with a regular customer who has nearly 111,000 Twitter followers? You’d be a fool to miss that opportunity. The real message to this story is that they listened. Any kind of response would have put them in the winner’s circle, like “Sorry you’re having a bad day, next time you’re in, let me buy you a drink.” Little gestures like that go a long way, although they won’t get you as much hoopla.

And the idiot of the month award goes to….. ConAgra Foods. The absurdity of this bonehead move made me laugh, but, lordy, how pathetic. Where do I even begin with this one? Invite food bloggers to a nice Italian restaurant for a VIP dinner with a celebrity chef and serve them frozen Marie Callendar’s lasagna? Enraging. Bloggers who cook with organic ingredients, not chemicals and dyes? Blech. And film them without permission with hidden cameras? Creepy. Scott Hepburn examines all the ways ConAgra and their agency, Ketchum, screwed up with their blogger outreach.

Every time The Most Interesting Man in the World advertisements for Dos Equis beer come on TV, we stop talking mid-sentence and listen. We can’t get enough of him. We love that guy.

Everyone loves that guy. Since Dos Equis first introduced the campaign, their U.S. sales have increased 22%, while other imported beer sales fell 4%. The Dos Equis Facebook page has 1.6 million fans. I’m telling you, it’s the Man.

Dos Equis is going after the same market as all the other gargantuan domestic and imported beer brands: young guys. Not me and not the middle-aged guy watching TV with me. So why are we so captivated?

The commercial’s unexpected sophistication and wit gets our attention. Its smooth music and vintage video clips and photos add a hip yet classic feel, distinguishing the campaign from the other frat-boy brands.

And there’s the Man himself. I may not want a relationship with him, but I’d sure like to spend an afternoon on his boat followed by dinner and dancing. Come on ladies, you know that’s true.

What young guy wouldn’t aspire to be like him? He has what they want: a life full of experiences that sets him apart from other men. The Man is a great example of aspirational marketing.

Good stories capture our imagination by making an emotional connection. In the Most Interesting Man in the Word campaign we meet a worldly character with an air of mystery and authority, sort of an Ernest Hemingway meets Sean Connery. We get a peek at his jet-setting life of adventure and are teased with just enough to make us want to know the rest of his story.

As if the fictional Man wasn’t interesting enough, the actor who plays him, Jonathan Goldsmith, has also led an autobiography worthy life: “rescuing a stranded climber on Mt. Whitney, saving a drowning girl in Malibu, sailing the high seas with his friend Fernando Lamas.”

The witty commentary accompanying the Man’s exploits takes Chuck Norris-isms to a more cosmopolitan level:

  • “Running in place will never get you the same results as running from a lion.”
  • “At museums he is allowed to touch the art.”
  • “The police often question him, just because they find him interesting.”
  • My favorite, on manscaping: “I have no idea what this is.”

The Man’s parting line is recitable: “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Stay thirsty, my friends.” Many viewers think, “Hey, I don’t always drink beer either, I should give Dos Equis a try.” Brilliant.

The money question: do the ads compel the viewer to take action? The sales figures say yes, and I also have personal proof. Someone I know, not a young guy (sorry, honey), occasionally strays from his usual brand and brings home a six-pack of Dos Equis.

brand spokesman aspirational marketing

Yes, you’ve got to read these posts…

Do you make time for Twitter every day? I schedule two 30-minute sessions for weekdays, one in the morning and one at the end of the day. I make Twitter part of my daily schedule so I can get my random tweets of knowledge and deepen and extend my network. What if you have only 20 minutes a day? The folks at Bufferapp have a 20-minute Twitter plan for you. Here’s one of my Twitter tips: maintain a Word document of posts and retweets to share with others. When you get on Twitter, you’ll have a ready supply of valuable and interesting tweets.

Allison Boyer at the BlogWorld blog put together a collection of 25 social media posts everyone should read. This post has been making the rounds for good reason. It’s especially helpful if you’re new or rusty with social media. Save it for the weekend.

Here’s a list for your bulletin board: 100 spam trigger words that can kill your email copy by Dean Rieck at the ProCopyTips blog.

Need marketing inspiration? With limited resources, savvy nonprofits have to get creative. Kivi Leroux Miller collected dozens of examples of quirky, kooky and off-beat approaches to nonprofit marketing and fundraising.

Lots of people know just enough about marketing to be dangerous. They make it difficult to distinguish wishful thinking from facts. “If you give your content away for free, prospects will never buy your full-fledged offering.” Wrong! In fact, “Sharing free, relevant content online helps search engines & prospects find you.” Pamela Vaughan at the HubSpot blog will set you straight in 42 Tweetable Facts to Squash Marketing Fantasies.

Are you sick of hearing about innovation? I hope not. Although a buzz word, innovation is healthy for organizations. Frank Fortin, Chief Digital Strategist at the Massachusetts Medical Society, discovered The Sexiness of Unsexy Innovation. Although written for the association community, he gives solid advice that any business should heed.

Kickstarter is inspiration central. Brilliant creative people use it to seek funding for project ideas. 150 years ago Mrs. Isabella Beeton wrote THE authoritative Book of Household Management. Whiskey and Wheatgrass Productions hopes to bring the original domestic goddess back to life in a new video series, but they can only do it with your help. Head over to their Kickstarter page to get a taste of the education and entertainment they promise with Bella Beeton.

reid all about it freelance writer copywriter

photo by Fergus Ray Murray (Flickr)

I get my ideas for articles and blog posts by thinking about readers. Yes, you, you’re always in my thoughts. I think about how I can help you solve a problem or make your job (or life) a little bit easier. Or I aim to share something interesting and valuable.

When I begin work on a copywriting project, I also think about the ultimate readers — my client’s customers, prospects or members. I can’t communicate effectively to them unless I first get to know them. If only I had Vulcan mind meld skills, this part of my job would be a lot easier. Instead I rely on consultation with my client and lots of research and reading.

Studying customers is only the beginning, but let’s stop there for a moment. What if you’re on your own without a marketing vice president or a freelance writer, what do you do? Like me, you must completely understand your customers before you can determine how best to communicate with them.

I’ll share with you some of the questions I usually have; perhaps they’ll help you create a list of your own.

First, create a descriptive profile for each type of customer (or member) you serve. Heck, give each one a name too. If your customers are businesses, the profile will include characteristics that a consumer profile wouldn’t, and vice versa. Here are some suggestions to start, but you’ll end up with others specific to your business:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Employment status
  • Marital or family status
  • Interests and hobbies
  • Lifestyle
  • Purchasing history
  • Memberships
  • Career stage
  • Position in organization
  • Role in purchasing process
  • Place in conversion process
  • Educational background
  • Comfort with technology

The most interesting part of customer research comes next – the big meaty questions. Again, these will vary depending on your business. Since I usually work in the business-to-business sector, my questions have that slant.

  • What are your customer’s biggest problems at work?
  • What keeps her up at night worrying and stressing?
  • What does she fear?
  • What annoys her? What frustrates her?
  • What would make her life and job much easier?
  • What does she yearn for?
  • Why does she have these problems? Why aren’t these problems solved yet? What are the obstacles to solving them?
  • How do prospects like her usually find you?
  • What type of questions do your prospects and customers frequently ask your sales, social media and customer service staff?
  • What do they search for on your website? What search terms bring them there?
  • What hurdles (mental or real) prevent them from taking the next conversion step?

Spend some time where your customers hang out – blogs, forums, Twitter chats, face-to-face meetings, radio shows or podcasts – so you can get a sense of the language they use and their industry’s or profession’s culture.

The whole point of this exercise is to get into your customer’s mind to understand their perspective and needs, so you can connect their desires or worries to a solution you provide.

There are many more questions I must answer before I start writing, but that will be a topic for another post.

customer persona profile understand copywriting marketing

A Vulcan understands his customers.

Since this is a four-day work week, there’s no time to waste. You’ve got to hit that to-do list hard. No dilly-dallying. How would you like to learn the best procrastination tip ever? Leo Babuta (aka @zen_habits) has the answer.

Andrew Hannelly of TMG Custom Media dug into a research study and pulled out five stats showing the power of content marketing to build relationships with customers. What is content marketing? According to Junta42, “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

A blog is one content marketing tool that will attract website visitors and hold their attention. Rebecca Corliss at HubSpot shares five reasons your blog needs more than one contributor. And, saving your sanity is not one of them, although it could be.

Once you collect a stable of writers for your blog, how do you manage it all? John Haydon provides excellent advice on managing a successful multi-author blog. John writes for the nonprofit crowd, but his smart and practical advice will work for any business or organization blog.

Anna Caraveli provides excellent advice for any website, a five-step, five-minute website copy retooling. It’s not about you, it’s about your customers or members. “Begin by changing your thinking and conversation with members (or customers) from what you do to what you can do for them.” Does your website copy reflect that?

How often do you unplug and pay attention to those you love? David Leite’s reflections on life, love and what really matters was prompted by the recent and sudden death of food blogger Jennie Perillo’s husband. I must share one of his paragraphs with you to make sure you and Iread it again and again because this is important.

“I know I must wring dry every moment of time I spend with those I love. I must push back from my desk at 6:00 p.m. and make dinner for The One. I must refuse to work on the weekends. I must slow down. I have Jennie–a woman I don’t even know–to thank for that realization.”

Thank you, David, and Jennie.

content marketing blogging website copy

photo by Lee & Chantelle McArthur

When my boyfriend asked me out for the first time, I replied, “Dinner? Why not find a minister and get married instead?” But he explained that I should get to know him first, learn more about him and grow to trust him. He used that approach successfully in sales, he said, so we should give it a try.

No, I did not try to drag my boyfriend to a chapel on our first date, but there’s sound advice in that silly story. I’ve been thinking about how we grow to trust and invest in a person, for example, a presidential candidate, or a cause, organization or business.

In the next few months the presidential campaigns will take over our papers, computers and TV sets. We’ll soon learn more about each candidate’s stance on issues and plans to solve problems. We’ll find out about their experience and get a feel for their character. We’ll get to know them better. We’ll grow to trust some of them. And we may even take out our credit card and make a donation.

Why do presidential campaigns attract donations from people who never give money to any other political candidates or causes? It always confounded me that our PAC had such trouble raising money from most of our members. The members who were regularly involved in the association were staunch PAC supporters, but the average member usually wasn’t. Yet those average members often gave liberally to presidential candidates. What were Obama and Bush doing that the PAC wasn’t?

Two reasons jump out at me:

  • The candidates practice content marketing. They educate their market through constant exposure on the news, in publications, online and in person. We absorb their stories and messaging. We have time to get to know them — their personality, background, opinions, beliefs and plans. They establish credibility. We grow to trust them. When they ask for a donation, we’re ready to give.
  • They communicate effectively. If they’re not a good communicator, they will be gone by Super Tuesday. They hire professional writers to craft their speeches, website content and campaign materials. They provide enough data to appeal to the logical part of our brains, but they focus on appealing to our emotions. They empathize. They instill hope or fear. They promise solutions to our problems. They paint a picture of a better life. Sounds like a good copywriter, doesn’t it?

If a candidate, cause or business doesn’t give us the opportunity to get to know them and trust them, we won’t make that big donation or purchase.

When’s the last time you answered a cold call from a roofer and said, “Yes, come on over, I’ll have a check waiting for you.” We don’t buy from cold calls. We research first to determine if we can trust the roofer. We ask around. We check out his website to get a feel for the company. What can we learn there? What messages do we get from the site’s content?

The next time you want to ask someone for a donation or a sale, imagine you’re dating them. How well do they really know you? What kind of life stories have you told? Have you been listening to them? Do you understand where they’re coming from? How will you improve their life? Can they trust you?

If you’re not ready to pop the question, think about ways your prospects can get to know you better. Take a hard look at your website’s content and your marketing collateral. Make your website more robust and Google-friendly by adding a regularly updated blog where you share content that helps you establish credibility, authority and trust with your market. Make it easy for your prospect to say, “I do.”

raleigh freelance writer content marketing

photo by Phil Hawksworth