Sunday, August 20, 2017

Bending the Rules of Copywriting: When the Wrong Words Are Right

One of the things I hear most often from business owners who engage my freelance copywriting services is, "I never do my own writing because I just know I'll get the spelling and grammar all wring." Well, of course effective copywriting requires a lot more than just a firm grasp of spelling and grammar. In fact, some of the most powerful marketing content deliberately plays fast and loose with those rules. Let's take a look at those instances in which breaking the rules can be good.

We've all seen examples of riotously incorrect ad slogans over the years. Half a century ago, Winston offered up the famous declaration "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should," sparking immediate controversy over its misuse of "like" as a conjunction. Would it have been more correct to say "Winston tastes good as a cigarette should?" Certainly. But would the slogan have been swept into the public consciousness to anywhere near the same degree? No way!

(The tobacco industry seems to have had ongoing issues with grammar. "Us Tarrytown smokers would rather fight than switch!" was another faux pas that nevertheless caught on with the public. Perhaps a new medical study is in order....)

Geeks worldwide know and love (or hate) Apple's encouragement to "Think Different." I was just beginning my writing career when that campaign first launched, and I remember some English majors sneering about how Apple's proofreader was asleep on the job. Surely the company meant "Think Differently!" But they missed the point entirely: Apple was using "different" as a concept -- a way of life, not a modifier. 

My various writing instructors used to insist that you have to know the rules before you can break them. In other words, if you understand a rule and then break it intentionally, you're creating a deliberate effect and not an ordinary screw-up. If you're quoting a certain famous cartoon bird, for instance, you can't correct his speech to read "I thought I saw a pussycat," because you'll lose the whole pop-cultural context and you won't be making your point (whatever that is).

So, yes, you can break the rules. You may even want to. But let us know, somehow, that you know what you're doing and why you're doing it -- and make sure the result is genuinely compelling. Heed the wise words of the members of Spinal Tap: "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever."

Monday, August 7, 2017

On Vacation? Keep On Marketing!

Many years ago, an underground cartoon character by R. Crumb made a big stride into mainstream popularity. You may remember him as that dude sticking a big giant foot out in front of him, accompanied by the immortal slogan "KEEP ON TRUCKIN'" (which was also the name of the comic). Here was a guy who was going keep making his forward steadily, no matter what the circumstances. Many of us entrepreneurs and one-person shops promise to put that kind of persistence into our own marketing efforts -- until vacation time ambles along, when we gladly pack our bags and run off to enjoy a well-earned vacation. Unfortunately, when we stop marketing, we find ourselves "on vacation" even after we return from vacation.Why? Because we weren't marketing our products and services while we were gone.

Now, that doesn't mean you have adopt a life of servitude to your business, laboring away 365 days a year. But it does mean that you'll want to think about ways you can keep promoting your brand even while you're out relaxing and enjoying yourself. Here are some strategies to consider:

Network on the road. Surely there's enough room left in your overstuffed suitcase for a stack of business cards. Take them along with you, and be ready to hand them out when you get into a potentially-lucrative conversation en route to (or at) your destination. Seek out casual networking opportunities such as mixers and Meetup groups. Food, drink, and interesting chats are always welcome additions to any vacation -- and they're also pretty good for greasing the wheels of commerce.

Stockpile your marketing content. If you want to stop thinking about business entirely during your vacation, put a little extra thought and effort into your marketing content before you take off. For example, you may want to pre-write a stockpile of blog articles (or outsource them to a freelance copywriter) so you or you team can simply post them (manually or automatically) according to your usual schedule. Those steady updates will help maintain interest and enthusiasm from your target market, while also helping you avoid giving the impression that you totally abandoned your online marketing efforts.

Keep your social media activity business-centric. Business owners seem to love posting tweets and Facebook pictures of their feet stretched out on a beachfront lounge chair: "Ha ha, you're working and I'm not!" But bragging about your laziness isn't necessarily a brilliant marketing move. At the very least, it certainly doesn't communicate the image of a present, fully-engaged professional. And if you're obviously the heart and soul of your company, your audience may decide that there's no point in even contacting your enterprise for the time being. Keep in mind, too, that no matter how much fun you may be having, any social media posts via your official channels need to remain aligned with your brand image and values.

Have a great vacation -- and do some great marketing at the same time!