Every word has an emotion attached to it.
Every reader, regardless of profession or IQ, has an emotional reaction to your words. It is hardwired into the brain.
So when you are writing a blog post or other content for online marketing, your choice of words is important. Need convincing?
Legendary copywriter John Caples made a life study of persuasive writing. Once, he changed the word “repair” to “fix” in an ad and achieved a 20% increase in response. One word!
That illustrates an important rule of word choice for writers: When emotion meets intellect, emotion always wins. Analytical words activate the reader’s analytical brain instead of triggering an emotional response. Here is an example.
How would you respond to getting this email?
YOUR NAME HAS BEEN SELECTED BY COMPUTER TO PARTICIPATE IN A PRIZE-AWARD PROGRAM IN WHICH PRIZES ALREADY HAVE BEEN ALLOCATED. TO RECEIVE YOUR AWARD YOU ARE REQUIRED TO PHONE FOR AN APPOINTMENT BEFORE THE EXPIRATION DATE ABOVE.
It is loaded with intellectual words like “selected,” “allocated,” “receive,” and “required.” I think anybody with a pulse would be left cold by this message.
What if we replaced the intellectual words with emotional words? We might get something like this:
We have great news for you. You’re already a winner.
Here’s how you claim your award …
It is essentially the same information. But the words are far more likely to trigger a response.
Weeding the content garden
Like weeds in a garden, intellectual words can creep into your copy, choking its emotional impact. It is so unnecessary. When you are on the lookout for them, it is easy to shift word choice in favor of emotion. Here is a reference guide to get you started, courtesy of my copywriting hero Herschell Gordon Lewis.
Boring or persuasive? You choose
Every good piece of copy has an emotional outpouring of words. But there is a big difference between writing with emotion and dumbing down your message. It comes down to understanding people.
People make judgments about you, your ideas, or your brand based on emotion. Then they justify their response with logic. It happens in that order.
Your challenge as a blogger is to choose words that arouse their senses and lead them to their logical conclusion. Intellectual words don’t do that. They make you sound smarter. They also make you sound boring.
What would you add to the intellectual/emotional word list?
On the night of April 14, the ocean liner Californian has progressed to within fifteen hundred miles of her destination, Boston Harbor.
Second Officer Herbert Stone is due for watch on the bridge.
Reporting for duty, Stone finds his apprentice seaman glued to a pair of binoculars, staring toward the black horizon.
He, the apprentice, has sighted a steamer in the distance.
He can make out the ship’s masthead light, her red light, and a glare of white lights on her afterdeck.
Stone asks the apprentice to try for communication by means of the Californian’s Morse lamp.
A bright beacon signal is flashed.
No answer from the steamer.
“Will that be all, sir?”
Stone nods; the apprentice leaves to make record in the patent log.
Now Second Officer Stone is alone on the bridge.
Glancing idly over the water, a white flash catches his eye—a white flash of light in the direction of the distant steamer.
Stone scratches his head, picks up the binoculars. Four more white flashes, like skyrockets burst in the heavens.
Stone notifies the ship’s captain.
Over the voice pipe, the captain asks if the flashes appeared to be company signals.
Stone cannot say for sure.
The captain then requests further communication attempt through the Morse lamp.
By now Stone’s apprentice has returned to the bridge. The beacon signal is employed once more.
Still no answer from the steamer.
Lifting the binoculars to his eyes once more, Stone observes three more flashes in the continuing light show, but now his attention is drawn to the steamer’s cabin lights.
They seem to be disappearing, as though the steamer were sailing away.
At 1:40 a.m., Stone sees the eighth and last white flash in the night sky.
In one hour, all the steamer’s lights have vanished into the blackness.
It is not until 4:00 a.m. that anyone on board the liner Californian learns the rest of the story.
The curiosity hook
So begins The Light Show, one of hundreds of stories told by radio personality Paul Harvey. One of the hallmarks of his storytelling was the ability to build curiosity that made you pay attention until the last word.
Listeners would eagerly sit through the commercial break just to hear the rest of the story. Isn’t that the desire of every blogger and content marketer, to hold readers’ attention through to the last word of your content?
It is one of the great challenges in content marketing today, and cause for concern. Here is why.
Recently Slate magazine did an online readership study that quantifies the problem:
- 10% of readers don’t scroll through an article at all
- Most read only 60% of the article
- Most of the most-tweeted articles are not read completely
The antidote is to build curiosity into your copy to keep readers reading. I learned a copywriting trick that works wonders for this. I call it the curiosity hook. Never heard of it?
Let me explain.
A curiosity hook is a short sentence that signals something important or surprising is ahead. It is a transitional phrase that links two paragraphs either at the end of one, the beginning of the next, or as its own one-line paragraph.
There is a simple reason it works.
It introduces a question in the mind of the reader that can only be answered by reading on. Let me give you some examples:
- And that’s not all.
- There’s one more thing.
- Then I made a discovery.
- Let me explain.
- You won’t believe what happened next.
- Here’s why.
- That’s when things got weird.
- So read on.
- But there’s another reason.
- Now here comes the good part.
- Then it got interesting.
- The story doesn’t end there.
- Here’s the twist.
- It gets better.
- But I didn’t stop there.
- Then she came to a decision.
- I couldn’t stand it any longer.
- And then inspiration struck.
Each of these hooks creates curiosity by teasing the promise of new information. It pulls the reader into the next paragraph. The curiosity hook puts a question into their mind that needs closure: What? Why? How? Closure comes when they read on.
Done well, your reader can’t escape without reading to the end.
And now, the rest of the story
If you have read this far, you’re probably curious how the story ends. Here is what happened.
Neither the Captain nor the Second Officer aboard the Californian had interpreted the white skyrocket flashes as cause for alarm.
It was a matter of coincidence that they had been seen in the first place. For earlier that night – the night of April 14 – the Californian had reversed engines and parked as a precautionary measure, halted in her course by an immense field of oceanic ice.
That unscheduled stop in the middle of the sea had provided the Californian a ringside seat to an unimaginable drama.
The distant steamer had intended those rocket flares as distress signals, and the Californian – only nine miles away – might have rushed to her aid.
Except for one thing. The steamer was sending other distress calls by radio. And the Californian was well within range of those messages.
But her radio operator was asleep.
The Californian’s fledgling radio operator – fresh from training school – was fast asleep in his cabin. And that night the ship’s Second Officer, from his vantage point on the bridge, unwittingly watched the sinking … of the Titanic.
As Paul Harvey famously said, now you know the rest of the story.
Now that your curiosity is satisfied, will you help satisfy mine? Let me know if you think curiosity hooks will help you engage your blog readers. Or, if you have others you’d add to the list. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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For starters, don’t make it a discussion about your hourly rate.
In a tough economy, marketing agencies, consultants and freelancers face a daily battle against having their talent and intellectual capital commoditized. I saw this happen early in my career.
In the 1990s I worked for a B2B direct marketing agency that did very well. We had several long term accounts with Fortune 100 companies. We did many ongoing customer relationship programs for them that generated profitable sales over periods of 5-10 years.
We also had a few kinks in the business model that made me uncomfortable.
At that time it was still fairly common for an agency to land full-service business. We were fortunate enough to be one of them. Over time, we got too comfortable with the margins from printing, mailing and fulfillment services while selling creative and strategy services near cost.
Related: The triage marketing death trap
On top of that, the sales model for new business gave away strategy. We would present a complete marketing program, with all the research, analysis and creative rationale at the proposal stage. Many times I would walk away from those presentations thinking, “We’ve given them the whole strategy. They could take the plan, thank us, and then do it themselves.”
When economic hardship hit our biggest client, this came back to haunt us.
In response, they implemented a centralized procurement policy to cut costs. They unbundled all of the printing, mailing and fulfillment services from our programs, pulling them in-house. The body blows didn’t stop there.
Since we had been giving away the strategy work, it showed no value on their ledgers. Eventually we devolved from a full-service agency to a creative vendor. Party over.
I remembered that lesson years later when I became an independent consultant. I resolved to never give away the strategy or creative ideas in a marketing proposal. Instead, I use a proposal format that sells the plan and value I bring. It’s much more than a one-page cost estimate, though. Check out this slide deck to see what I mean.
7 steps to proving your value to prospective clients
Including these seven components in your marketing proposal helps to steer the discussion to how you will help solve a business problem rather than how much you cost. It follows a logical flow that more often than not gets the client to say, “Yes, let’s work together.”
Here’s how it flows:
1. THE OVERVIEW
The overview is a high level summary that tells the client (I’m using the assumptive close, here) you understand their business challenges. And it states the problem you will be solving together.
2. THE OBJECTIVES
Sometimes I refer to these as “starter objectives” to get the conversation started. The goal is to get written agreement on specific outcomes and how they will be measured. For more on writing smart objectives see this post. Everything that follows is based on the objectives, so getting agreement on them is most critical.
Related: When execution beats strategy
3. SCOPE OF WORK
This part details the specific work you will be doing, and when appropriate, what is not included.
4. WORK PROCESS
Here is where you explain the steps you will take to complete the work and identify all the parties and responsibilities required to make them happen.
5. COST ESTIMATES
Now it makes sense to show the estimated costs. They are based on work process, which is based on the scope of work, which is based on the objectives. This gives a value basis and strategic rationale to the costs. Discussions about the budget can be focused on scope rather than your hourly rate.
6. WORKING AGREEMENT
The purpose of the working agreement is to establish the legal aspects of working together before they become an issue midway into the project. It covers cost estimates, ownership of work, confidentiality, payment for services and other elements of doing business together. Addressing this up front shows you are a professional.
7. BIO/ABOUT US
This is the place to end on a positive note. Don’t make it fluffy boilerplate propaganda. Direct your narrative to the skills, knowledge and experience you have specific to the industry and the assignment.
Getting to ‘YES’
The important thing to remember is the proposal is not the marketing plan. It is a discussion tool to set and manage the expectations for the project. And it is a tool to help you establish the value of the strategy and work you bring. It is your best bet for getting to ‘yes.’
Tell me what you think.
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One of the greatest marketing challenges for businesses large and small is to balance short-term tactics with a long range strategy. If you’re not mindful, you can get permanently stuck on shortsighted priorities.
I call this triage marketing.
It’s like triage in the television program M*A*S*H. Many a calm moment was cut short by the sound of approaching helicopters and Radar O’Reilly announcing, “In coming.”
What followed was managed chaos.
Outside the operating room was a doctor in triage, whose role was to examine the wounded to determine which needed immediate surgery. The rest were patched up temporarily and helped later. It was the epitome of a short-term strategy.
The marketing equivalent is to focus on quick hits: generating immediate leads for the sales team, running a promotion to spike direct orders, or other scattered activities. The trap is sprung when short-term strategy becomes the constant mode of operation.
Marketers walk a fine line here. To win at content marketing and online customer responsiveness requires real-time execution or you miss opportunities. Who wouldn’t want to be the next viral marketing or newsjacking success story?
However, in the heat of battling day-to-day priorities, it is easy to lose sight of the important long range vision for growing the business. In many cases short-term thinking is ingrained in the corporate culture.
A triage culture
I first observed this as a front line marketer in a large company years ago. There were two aspects of the culture that perpetuated a short-term mindset and shortsighted behaviors.
The first was the budgeting process and learning to game the system.
See if this sounds familiar. Your marketing budget was set in January, after a month long planning process. In April, senior management and the finance wizards would make the first of quarterly adjustments. This meant they were looking for unspent money to take back. This evolved from quarterly to monthly exercises.
How did marketers adapt? You spend or lock in everything you could in Q1. If you phased your budget to customer purchase preferences – in this case, they spent most of their budgets in the last quarter – you lose large parts of your marketing budget. It fostered a mindset that said ‘Responsible planning be damned; use it or lose it.’
A second, equally powerful culture driver was the compensation plan.
Like most companies, bonuses were paid out for reaching ever more aggressive revenue targets. The targets were based largely on new sales revenue. Since compensation drives behavior, this resulted in activity focused on acquiring new customers and new product sales.
I’m not opposed to bonus incentives or driving growth. Not at all. In my time, I made the company tens of millions of dollars and earned some great bonus checks. I also witnessed some chaotic, shortsighted and nonstrategic behaviors in the race for revenue.
One example was the pricing policy behind some of the year-end automatic shipments to subscription customers. All products were sold on subscription with the agreement that updates would be automatically shipped and billed. Want to guess where this is going?
Pricing for updates were set by the finance wizards based on the revenue needed to make revenue goals. That meant some customers where charged an exorbitant amount for very little value. In the process of meeting the short-term goal, we incurred high cancellation rates. This alienated customers and set us back for the upcoming year.
It’s too easy to forget the customer when in triage marketing mode. In the short-term, there is no incentive to invest in customer relationships critical to sustained business growth. You give short shrift to:
Triage marketing focuses on acquisition over retention. One study at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia found that retention pays dividends. If your business has a 70 percent customer retention rate, every revenue dollar today will be worth $4 in ten years. And an 80 percent retention rate will increase today’s revenue dollar to $6 in ten years.
Triage marketing focuses on promotions over customer loyalty. Promotions sell a product trial, but not ongoing brand loyalty. They may even attract the wrong customers, who never become loyal. It costs six-to-ten times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to keep an existing one. Conversely, a Harvard Business School study found that an increase of five percent in customer loyalty can increase overall profitability from 25-80 percent.
CUSTOMER LIFETIME VALUE
Triage marketing allows little time to create deep relationships with your best customers. Relationships continue to grow, encounters do not. For example, an automobile dealer once calculated that a lifetime of cars sold to one customer would be worth $322,000. The 80/20 principle, where 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your market (i.e. your loyal customers), literally takes a lifetime.
In the past 10 years, there has been a fundamental shift in the balance of power in the marketplace from seller to buyer. Customers have greater access to reliable information on the Internet. Social networks give them unprecedented power to talk about your product and service. They don’t care about your short-term objectives.
Marketing strategies based on short-term thinking won’t win you customers or sustain your business in the long run. Back in 1973, Peter Drucker said the purpose of business is to create a customer. If you’re in triage, you need to get back to the basics. Your survival depends on it.
What are you doing to combat the perils of short-term thinking in your organization?
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American business leaders have a perception problem about how innovative we really are. Harsher critics might call it denial.
Recently, Forbes ran an eye-opening article on American competitiveness that is must-reading for every CEO and front line marketer in business today. It is a detailed assessment of a Harvard Business Review study that explores the causes behind lagging growth in business and job creation in the U.S. over the past decade.
Two findings from the study point to startling disconnects between business leaders’ perceptions and reality. While businesses are not competing globally:
- Leaders rate management as both strong and improving
- Leaders rate innovation and entrepreneurship as strong and improving
What do leaders think are the reasons we don’t compete or innovate as we should?
The most common problems business leaders cite are government regulatory policies, tax and fiscal policies and an inadequate talent pool. These are all factors, but the researchers identify a root cause leaders will not like hearing: short-term thinking by leadership.
You are what you measure
The study tracks how corporate governance began to change in the 1980s. In response to globalization, managers adopted a mindset focused on stock price and short-term growth and profitability. Over time, innovation came to be about achieving greater efficiencies and cost reductions more than creating value to customers.
At the same time, business schools reinforced this mindset. By defining profitability in terms of ratios to be measured across industries, they trained a generation of MBAs to measure short-term performance as the gauge for success.
As a result, business leaders define innovation as incremental process improvements rather than breakthrough product ideas. That is how they can determine they are strong innovators when their companies are not competitive.
Think like an innovator
To revive innovation in business, leaders have to change the way they think. Beyond resetting priorities to more long-term objectives, they need to start using the other side of their brain.
Singular focus on productivity and profitability metrics give a limited perspective of your business. Creative inspiration does not fall out of a spreadsheet or accounting ledger. 3M learned this the hard way. In the last decade, it applied Six Sigma principles for manufacturing to the innovation process, and severely stifled new product development.
Analysis has its place, but innovative ideas come from the side of the brain where you explore, experiment and imagine.
For many, this is a new approach to problem solving.
Research by psychologists Joy Paul Guildford and E. Paul Torrance has identified two primary thought processes we use for solving problems: convergent and divergent thinking.
In business, we are most familiar with convergent thinking which is analytical and logical. It is characterized by arriving at the one right solution. Accountants and business analysts excel at this kind of thinking.
The other, divergent thinking is flexible, intuitive and based on associations. It is characterized by arriving at multiple, unique solutions. Artists and inventors excel at divergent thinking. This is where we get innovative ideas.
Research shows remarkably few people engage in divergent thinking. This has to change starting with the C-suite.
Leaders have to lead
This shortsighted focus is nothing short of a leadership crisis. As the proverb says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
To bring about a revival of business growth and competitiveness, leaders must make a dramatic shift away from the short-term vision that has dominated the past 20 years. Awareness of the problem is the first step. But leaders must lead change.
The starting point is a renewed vision for serving customers, workers and shareholders. That means putting the wellbeing of the business ahead of their short-term rewards. Leaders must challenge the status quo of compensation that drives their behavior.
The Forbes article provides a stark account of this situation:
In his book, Fixing the Game, Roger Martin notes that between 1960 and 1980, CEO compensation per dollar of net income earned for the 365 biggest publicly traded American companies fell by 33 percent. CEOs earned more for their shareholders for steadily less compensation. By contrast, in the decade from 1980 to 1990, CEO compensation per dollar of net earnings produced doubled. From 1990 to 2000 it quadrupled.
With incentives based on short term value and stock price, executives earned more while shareholders earned less and companies innovated less. Leaders have to turn this around. They have to start thinking – and leading differently.
We need from them a new vision of success and innovation, and how to achieve it.
Without it, the people – workers, shareholders and society at large – as well as the economy will perish.