7 Tips to Instantly Give Your Content Personality

Content with personality sells. Brands spend big bucks developing a distinct voice that makes them stand out. Conversational words engage your prospects instead of putting them to sleep, or worse, buying from someone else. This idea of copy that is personable and professional at the same time is what I built my career on. And here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to help your brand stand out from the pack.

1. Keep words and sentences short.
Big words do not make you sound smart. (I actually had to re-write that sentence. Originally it said, “Big words make you sound pretentious.” I have to keep even myself in check.) Long sentences make you seem boring. Readers, especially savvy web-oriented ones, don’t actually read — they scan. Short sentences keep these scanners more engaged, which leads to more sales. I try to keep most of my sentences to one thought, or clause. Sometimes two. More that that, and I try to break it up into separate sentences. Another way to put this idea is, “write like you talk.”

2. Use contractions.
When we’re talking casually, we use contractions — those “shortcut” words like can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, etc. We say – “I’d love to join you, but I can’t. Maybe next time, when I don’t have a conflict.”  In conversation, we’ll use the non-contracted form when we need to clarify or make a point. For example, “Joe, for the last time, I will not go on a date with you. Please, do not ask me again.” Using contractions instantly lightens the tone of your communications, and (you guessed it) makes your readers feel more engaged with your content.

3. Choose the “sparkle” word.
Which has more personality? “We’re happy to announce…” or “We’re thrilled to announce…” They essentially mean the same thing, but “thrilled” jumps out just a little more because it’s more exact. Happy is generic. It’s probably the first word you’ll reach for. Stretching just a little bit for that vibrant word can make your copy sing.

4. Write in the present tense, active voice, second person.
In non-academic terms, this means – avoid the words “have” or “been” and use the word “you”. Writing in this style is one of the most powerful ways to connect with your reader. It puts them in the here and now. It makes it feel like you’re having a conversation with them through the screen. Compare, for example, these two sentences: “We have enjoyed working with wonderful clients like you.” Versus, “You are a wonderful client. Thank you for your business. It makes ours more fun.” See the difference?

5. Know which (few) grammar rules you can break.
On occasion, I’ll start a sentence with “and”. I sometimes end with a preposition, too. That’s because these grammar rules help facilitate the conversational style. But there are some rules that when broken, make you look silly, or stupid, or ignorant. Here’s just a small sampling.

  • Your (you own it) vs. You’re (you are)
  • There (not here) vs. Their (it belongs to them) vs. They’re (they are)
  • Assure (give support) vs. Insure (to buy or sell insurance)
  • Affect (verb) vs. Effect (noun – can you put “the” in front of it?)
  • “A lot” is two words.

There are plenty more, and feel free to vent in the comments below. To keep your writing neat and tidy, try typing your opposing words in a search engine with “vs” between them. You can also check out The Grammar Girl.

6. Accessorize with styles.
Not to sound like your high-school English teacher, but rhetorical styles such as alliteration, metaphor, similes, rhyme, and repetition are marks of great writing. So use them. A word of caution though; too much of any of these styles, and you can easily swing to the other side of the personality pendulum (the one where you sound like an amateur and we don’t want that). It’s best to think of these styles like an accessory — add enough to accentuate your content, but not too much where you overwhelm the message.

7. Read out loud before you publish.
And by “out loud”, I don’t mean “really loud and slow but still in my head”. It means with your voice, at a natural volume. In addition to catching typos, this form of editing is perfect for making sure your content is conversational. Does it sound natural? If there’s a sentence that just doesn’t flow, work with it until it sounds right. Then, give your content to someone who hasn’t read it yet. Ask them to read it out loud. Then, massage any phrases that tripped them up.

With these simple tweaks, you can transform writing that’s bland and impersonal, into content that brings your readers closer to your brand. These are great tips for all sorts of business communications in both print and web. Have a question about how to implement these styles? Have a story about how you turned your copy around? Want to vent about your grammar pet peeves? Put it in the comment below.

Thanks, and happy writing!

Increase Brand Awareness with Clever Copy in the Nooks & Crannies

Hiding in the corners beneath the bold headlines, under the compelling benefit statements, and around the action-packed verbs are bountiful opportunities to inject your brand with personality. A recent trend is “nooks & crannies copy” as I’m calling it, because it often pops up in unexpected places. Here are three examples:

1. Yahoo Chat

Yahoo Chat Screenshot \

While it may be difficult to see in this picture, Yahoo has brilliantly introduced humor into their chat feature. Between the conversation above and the text box below is the status report indicating if the other person is typing a message. However, instead of a plain and boring “Apple123 is typing a message….”, yahoo has sprinkled clever anecdotes such as:

  • Apple123 really should learn to type with more than two fingers…
  • STAND BY FOR A MESSAGE FROM APPLE123
  • Apple123 is about to drop knowledge…
  • Apple123 is hammering out a wicked comeback…
  • Bate your breath, Apple123 is typing…

among a plethora of others.

While not directly selling anything, introducing conversational wit in this unexpected place allows Yahoo! to showcase their brand’s personality. It gives the user the impression that Yahoo! is a fun, easy to work with company that doesn’t take itself to seriously.

2. Verizon Wireless

Verizon Highspeed Internet Loading Icon

Located directly before a purchasing decision, this otherwise overlooked loading page has been transformed into a mini flash ad that reinforces the product’s effectiveness right before the sale. The ad shows an animated film strip loaded with a series of technological leaps. The last one, “From Dial Up…To High Speed Internet” subtly suggests “You wouldn’t live in a cave, would you? Then why on earth would you have dial up?” An effective suggestion, I would imagine.

3. You Need a Budget (YNAB)

YNAB screenshot

Jesse Mecham, the developer of YNAB, tells the story of how he and is wife needed a personal budgeting system. They developed a simple excel spreadsheet that over the years has developed into a sophisticated yet user-friendly budgeting tool. While the site has been dramatically improved on the design side, Jesse still maintains the heartfelt honesty in his conversational copy, as evidenced by the “Download Update” screen for his product. He is an accountant, and occasionally a grammatical error will pop up in his copy, but it doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to the bottom line. His conversational style is obviously effective due to the growth and endorsements of YNAB.

Related Links

Three Tips to Make Your Copy Conversational – by Mila Sidman

How to Make the Online Sales Copy for Your Website More Conversational – by Evelyn Lim

The Right Way to Write Sales Copy – by Anthony Vicenza

A Potential Adieu

cat-out-of-the-bag-2.jpgWell, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. I’ve accepted a position as a Senior Copywriter for a large Fortune  500 company and I’m super stoked about this opportunity.

See, landing a job as a full-time copywriter is sort of like a singer who makes it to Broadway. There are simply too few organizations who can afford a full-time position that most of us end up freelancing to make the best of it. I’ve certainly enjoyed freelancing and I’m looking forward to working with and learning from a team of top talent.

So….the question remains. What am I to do with my blog? I won’t have the time to dedicate like I did when I was freelancing. Yet, my readership is decent and I don’t want to disappoint. I’m considering continuing to post once a week or so as long as I have people who are getting value out of what I have to say. Like I said in my bio – I don’t want to be blogging just to hear myself type.

So, please, let me know your thoughts. What do you enjoy reading the most and how can I continue to serve you through this blog? Leave your answer in the comments below.  🙂

To your success,

Andrea

Write for free? I don’t think so.

Barry Gluck wrote a magnificent post about companies who try to solicit writing services for free or next to nothing. I highly suggest reading his post in its entirety by clicking here.

Barry makes the point of how,

“In this country, there are almost twice as many neurosurgeons as there are ‘professional’ copywriters. There are eleven times as many certified mechanics. There are seventy times as many people in the IT field.

So tell me…why do you think it is okay to live out the same, delusional, ridiculous fantasy of getting something for nothing (or next to nothing) when seeking someone whose abilities are even less in supply than these folks?

Given that they are less rare, and therefore individually less in demand, would it make sense to ask your mechanic to work on your car for free? Would you look him in the eye, with a straight face, and tell him that his compensation would be the ability to have his work shown to others as you drive down the street?

Would you offer a neurosurgeon the ‘opportunity’ to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him a few bucks for materials. What a deal!)

Would you be able to seriously even consider offering your web hosting service the chance to have people see their work, by viewing your website, as their payment for hosting you?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re obviously crazy. If you answered no, then kudos for living in the real world.”

Cheers to you, Barry for putting it out there. Copywriting is a talent – and worth compensation.

Die, Jargon, Die!

When you find yourself in a conversation and someone squinches their eyebrows in confusion – chances are, you’ve uttered some jargon.

For years I’ve been telling clients that jargon is a surefire way to confuse the heck out of your customers. I think recently I’ve been spending too much time among creatives in the marketing world and I forget that people don’t understand the definitions of industry terms. I need to start heeding my own advice, because recently I’ve seen a lot of squinching when I describe what I do.

People outside the marketing/writing world simply don’t understand what “copy” is. Needless to say, when I mention I’m a “copywriter” most people hear “copyrighter” and think my services have more in common with a trademark attorney than a writer.

So, here are some ideas to replace the jargon that has creeped into my vocabulary.

Old New

Copy Words

Copywriter Writer

Branding Corporate Image

Spin/Hook Theme

Have any other copywriters run across this issue? If so, I’d love to learn how you explain what you “do” for a living to those living inside the box.

Related Links

Double-Tongued Dictionary – A lexicon of fringe English

You Write What You Read

Good Jargon and Bad Jargon

Cranking Out Quick Copy

pictures-for-blog.jpgI’m lucky. I’ve been inundated with projects over the past week (which explains the slump in my posting schedule).

But yesterday I found myself taking way more time than usual to get my ideas out of my head and into the computer. I was stressing, feeling the pressure of an impending deadline compounded with the need to be absolutely brilliant. At the end of the day, I felt drained – knowing that I wasn’t nearly as productive as I needed to be and seeing deadlines piling up for the next day.

Today I awoke determined to make it a better day. I remembered a post I wrote a few months ago about covering your computer screen when you feel writer’s block. I debated in my mind as to whether or not I actually had the time to brainstorm ideas today. With the deadlines piling up – I was still feeling the time crunch.

So I made the decision to take 5 minutes to color a black piece of paper with the words “Just Think” in big letters. Then I scattered inspiring phrases around the page:

  • You’re an excellent communicator!
  • Just type it.
  • There are no bad ideas.
  • Edit later.
  • Just get it down.
  • You’re brilliant!
  • Don’t overthink.
  • It’s already there.
  • You can do it!
  • Listen to your muse.
  • Write like you talk.

The result? I’m caught up. After allowing about 10 minutes of pure brainstorming, a phrase jumped out that inspired me.

I’m not sure why I stopped this practice in the first place, but I’ve learned my lesson – brainstorming time is essential to cranking out quick, quality copy.

How to Get Your Name in Print

market-square-in-alexandria.jpgEver wondered how people are chosen for feature articles in the newspaper? Here’s how it worked for me.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my “satellite office” at Market Square in Alexandria, VA. I go here on warm summer days because the granite benches surrounding the water fountain have power outlets right next to them. With my Sprint Broadband service and my power outlet, I have everything I need to work productively. And, might I add, the scenery calms me down and makes me appreciate my life as an entrepreneur.

During the lunch-hour, this place gets pretty packed, and strangers pass by, look at me and remark, “You look like you’re actually working – wow, I wish I had your job!” On this particular afternoon, a gentleman sat down on the bench next to me. He inquired as to the nature of my job and I replied that I was a “freelance writer and marketing consultant and I focused on Online writing like websites and blogs.”

Turns out this gentleman was a reporter with the Alexandria Times. We carried on for a bit with a conversation about the difference between “old media” and “new media”, I mentioned my involvement with the New Media Nouveaux Conference and we casually exchanged business cards.

Fast forward two weeks and I see in my inbox the following e-mail:

Hi Andrea, it was nice meeting you the other day. I want to write an article about you and blogging – what do you think? Let me know when is a good time to sit down and interview you – maybe at Starbucks or out on the market square like when we met the first time.”

So, if you want to get your name in print, be prepared to:

1. Do something different. Reporters need an angle – something actually worth reading about. If you’re doing the same-ol-thing as everyone else your chances for an interview are slim.

2. Have a tight elevator pitch. Be prepared to explain exactly what you do, how it is different from everyone else, in bulleted benefits and in less than 15 seconds.

3. Don’t be afraid to talk to strangers. You never know who you are going to meet. Networking is not reserved for places with nametags and an open bar.

4. Be yourself. Reporters (make that most people) can tell when you’re being authentic vs. when you’re being a flack. People like to work with people who are genuine.

5. Follow up immediately. If the media calls to ask you for an interview, drop everything you’re doing and reply right away. Otherwise, they will move on to somebody else.

Related Links:

Execupundit.com – Make it Pithy

Modern Magellans – Elevator Pitching

Scott Ginsberg – 10 Different approaches for your 10 second commercial

PR Squared – Pitching in Public

Toby Bloomberg – Relationships are the New Currency

Conversation Agent – Media as Connectors of Ideas and People