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

Jott and Google Calendar – A Techological Match Made in Heaven

logo_beta.gifHooray for increased efficiency! Jott.com announced today the official link of the Google Calendar Jott Link. According to an e-mail I received this morning from Jott.com,

“We’ve been working hard on the official release of the Google Calendar Jott Link, and we’re happy to announce it’s finally here. Why is this cool? Because you can now create a Google Calendar event in a single step, from anywhere, simply using your voice. Just call Jott, say “Google Calendar”, and then the time of the event and what it’s about….and you’re done. We’ll take your voice, convert it to text, and insert it into your calendar for you. “Meet Cathy at 9 am next Thursday” is no longer a to do that needs another step, it’s something that’s recorded in your Calendar.”

How cool is that?

You can check out other apps that Jott links with here.

Oh, and if you don’t know about Jott, you can check out a post I wrote in April.

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

Are you a Sheep or a Mountain Goat?

The Sloan Brothers over at Startupnation.com posted an interesting insight into entrepreneurship. After spending time with Seth Godin and his new book The Dip (side note – even though it’s short, it’s a great read and motivational if you find yourself in a “dip”) Rich Sloan poses the question,

But for me, there was a bigger message that jumped out from my time with Seth, and that’s a choice we all have to make as entrepreneurs:

Are you with the rest of the sheep or are you a mountain goat?

Do you identify with this?

sheep.jpg

Or this?

mountain_goat__01_640.jpg

What an excellent visual association. I left the corporate world (where I felt like I was among sheep) and now work in what feels like almost isolation as a freelance writer/marketing consultant.

It’s good to feel reassured that I’m right where I need to be.

By the way, if you’ve recently started a business – I’d highly recommend checking out Startupnation.com. It’s a wealth of useful, well-organized information.

Which New Media Tools are Worth Your Time?

newmediaimages1.jpg

I don’t know about you – but I feel like I’m a pretty savvy person, yet my capacity for online gadgets and social media tools is starting to reach the breaking point. I think Steve Rubel says it best.

So with all of the tools out there, which ones are worth your valuable time and attention?

Well here’s my brash, unbridled, no-holds-barred opinion on some of the popular sites you may run across:

MySpace.com
I use myspace to keep in touch with all of my friends and family. That’s it – very little business (although I do have a link to my business website). I like myspace because I can send out event invitiations to everyone at once. For example – my birthday is coming up (June 28th in case you’re feeling generous) and I wanted to get a bunch of my friends together. Instead of calling each friend individually, I sent an event invitiaton through myspace (similar to evite.com if you’re familiar with that). Myspace then emailed all of my friends and showed them the invitation. My friends can RSVP and leave comments.

Which businesses can profit from a campaign on myspace? Well, most of what I’ve seen that has worked is restaurants and nightclubs. Check out my friend Dougie at the Element Lounge in Richmond, VA. He posts which bands are going to be on which night – so patrons can properly plan their partying. The other use I’ve seen for myspace is entertainment – book authors/publishers, bands, comedians, etc. So if you’re an accountant do you need a myspace page? Not really, unless you’re going to keep in touch with your friends and family. (P.S. – If you don’t have either – you may want to start at Facebook.com – they’re poised to become the #1 social networking site)

Linked Innewmediaimages2.jpg
This is the one site that I can absolutely say did make me money this year. I’ll get to how in a minute. Let’s first talk about what Linked In is.

The main complaint I hear about Linked In is how it doesn’t DO anything. People say they have a profile and contacts just sit there. Well, it’s kind of like potential vs. kinetic energy. Linked In is a database of your networking contacts and their history. I use LinkedIn as a followup to networking events. Instead of sending an e-mail I send a LinkedIn invitation. It’s all about building the database (potential energy) and using it strategically (kinetic energy).

Here are three ways I use LinkedIn. First, if I have two contacts who need to meet eachother and they’re both in my Linked In network, I forward the LinkedIn profile instead of an e-mail. This way the person who’s receiving the referral can check out the other person’s history & recommendations. They can also e-mail them directly.

Secondly, If I have a question I can send it out to my contacts. For example, I was doing research for an article about websites that make businesses productive. I sent out the question to my contacts and got some great responses. I only had to post once, and the information was sent out to everyone – great time saver.

Finally, the way I made money – when I left corporate and started my own business I updated my LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn automatically sent an e-mail to all of my professional contacts letting them know that I had changed my profile and was now self-employed. Within 24 hours I received 15 phone calls, set 8 appointments and landed my first 3 clients. Granted, this is a one time event – but again – it’s the kinetic energy.

***Update***

If you used Linked In in the past where you had to pay to send e-mails (which was a big fat pain and kickout for many people) check it out again. Linked In changed their business model to generate more users by allowing anyone to e-mail without charge (smart move, I think).

newmediaimages3.jpgMeetup.com
I started using meetup for personal use, but have to say that I have made some amazing professional contacts through this site, so it’s high up there on my value scale. Basically, meetup is an online tool to help you meet people in real life. You may want to check out my previous post where I discuss in detail how to use meetup for business.

Twitter
I’ve tried it and think that this site is a complete waste of my time. Why do I need to post what I’m doing all the time? Who gives a rip? Plus, I can’t even search to see if my friends are already on the site, which gives twitter a real big thumbs down for me. I know some people swear by it – I just can’t figure out why I should bother.

SpinThicket
A listing of PR/Marketing/Advertising news stories. Thanks to Geoff for turning me on to this great site.

MyRagan
Kind of like Myspace.com but for MarCom professionals. I like it because it’s easy to use and has a lot of rich content. Granted, if you’re not in the marketing/advertising/PR field, you probably won’t find it as interesting as I do. I wrote a longer review that you can check out.

Squidoo
Ok, I kind of get the concept and I started my own lens. It’s kind of like a website meets a blog and you get paid based on the number of visitors who come to your page. Frankly, the cutesy names are a little much – it’s not as intuitive as I’d like. Looking at the top lenses (my favorite one is about tofu) I noticed that the content isn’t really all that rich – I mean, I could definitely post a bunch of stuff there. I just feel overwhelmed and don’t have the time. I guess one bonus is that once your page is created you don’t have to bother with it too much after that. Unlike a blog, the work is definitely on the front end – which is why I just haven’t taken the time.

Blogsnewmediaimages4.jpg
The biggest mistake I made when I started my blog was going to wordpress.com (they host and it’s free) and not wordpress.org (I host, it’s still free but I can use a blog promote my links). About 2 months ago I got a slap on the wrist because I was including a link to my website at the bottom of each post. Now it’s difficult to switch because I have dedicated readers and I’m not sure if they would follow me to a different site. I tried downloading the software and uploading my previous posts, but it came out all wrong. The frustrating part is that WordPress.org has importing shortcuts for a Typepad or Blogger blog – but not a wordpress.com blog. Argh.

But enough about wordpress (who I really do like – it’s open source). Who should use a blog and how often should you post? Well, it’s kind of like a gym membership. Any business can benefit from a blog – but if you’re not using it it’s pointless. Keeping with the metaphor, I advise my clients to start slow when beginning their blogs. Have you ever joined a gym January 2nd, told yourself you were going to go 4 times a week and then that eventually turned into basically twice a year because you burnt yourself out? Same thing with blogging. Start slow – once a week. Once you have that under your belt go to twice a week. Then you’ll eventually become addicted and be posting all the time. It’s better to be consistent than to push yourself towards unrealistic expectations.

newmediaimages4.jpgDel.icio.us, Reddit & Stumble Upon
All these sites basically do the same thing – they allow you to bookmark your favorite webpages so you can refer back to them later. It’s good to include links at the bottom of each blog post so your readers can easily “tag” your posts and improve readership. It’s a habit I’m trying to get into – the blog I’ve set up is a template and I can’t seem to do it automatically. Argh again.

My favorite of these is Stumble Upon because it allows you to “channel surf” the web. I highly recommend downloading the toolbar – it makes surfing & tagging ridiculously easy. Basically, you enter the categories you are interested and every time you press the “stumble” button on the toolbar a new page will come up. You can also rate sites to refer to them later. The more people that positively rate the site, the more often the page comes up. I found how useful this is first-hand when stumble upon readers sent over 800 visitors to my post Put Your Mind In the Gutter in just hours of posting.

Bloglines, Google Reader, My Yahoo! & Newsgator
All RSS (Really Simple Syndication) readers so you can read all your favorite blogs in one place – BIG time saver! If you don’t know what RSS is, click here for a brilliant video – RSS in Plain English. I switched from My Yahoo! to Bloglines and I’ve been really happy.

I know there’s a bunch of new sites up too – so if there’s one that you love (or hate) post it in the comments section below. I’d love to check it out.

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Andrea Morris is the Chief Idea Officer of Write Ideas Marketing and specializes in helping visionaries, entrepreneurs, consultants and small businesses use high-ROI strategies to get the right message to the right people. For more information, please visit writeideasmarketing.com

Myragan.com: Here’s Why I’m Totally Addicted

I belong to a LOT of social networking sites and I love it. My latest craze is myragan.com – a social networking site specifically for communicators (folks in Advertising/Marketing/PR, etc.)

What sets myragan apart from the gads of other networking sites I belong to?

1. Industry focus – Marketing folks seem to have their own crazy way of doing things (which is part of the reason why I find my job so fun.) It’s engaging to be plugged into a community that genuinely “gets” the way you operate.

2. Content Quality – Myragan is resource-rich and well organized. The forums are outstanding and the quality of the posts reflects the professionalism of the community. My favorite spot to visit is the funny pages – where I can find clips from youtube or other media to make me laugh.

3. Community Involvement – Most social networking sites are pretty laissez-faire when it comes to direct communication with users. Not so with myragan. They have a dedicated staff that reaches out and makes you feel at home – so if you’ve never ventured into the online community, this would be a great place to start.

4. Intuitive Navigation – The menu bar makes myragan easy to navigate and operate. This may sound simple and “duh”, but trust me – with lots of sites it feels like you need to learn a second language just to understand the navigation. Myragan’s simple design has me sold.

So, if you’re a member you can check out my profile. Feel free to send me a friend request if you’d like to network. Cheers!

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Andrea Morris is the Chief Idea Officer of Write Ideas Marketing and specializes in helping visionaries, entrepreneurs, consultants and small businesses use high-ROI strategies to get the right message to the right people. For more information, please visit writeideasmarketing.com