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Business Communication Writing Skills Benefit From Originality and Media Based Marketing Training

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.”
~anonymous high school essay

Greetings. Thank you for indulging me in yet another example of analogies collected by high school English teachers. I do so because the language we all share is a treasure chest of words that in the odd combination can make us smile, chuckle, even laugh out loud. And, like Larry the Cat — whose house we share and whose antics are just plain goofy — the best humor is unintentional humor.

Anyway, the gaffe above resulted from a sincere, albeit immature, effort to be original and evocative. Good for him or her, I say. At least the brain has been engaged. But what about the way us adults fall into shallow “copycatism” when we communicate in a professional setting? And how does that reflect on you and your business communications when you mindlessly insert those phrases in your website text or emails? Do you really want to sound like a faceless, unimaginative bureaucrat when it comes to writing skills?

Herewith some inaugural entries in my Language Hall of Shame:

o Negatively impact, as in “Our failure to fabricate even one paper clip that actually holds two sheets of paper together is negatively impacting our sales performance.” First of all, “impact” became a verb only about 30 years ago, even though the verbs “affect” or “influence” did the job quite nicely. But now that it’s here, why compound the damage by adding an awkward adverb (fellow Mainer Stephen King said in his book on writing, “The adverb is not your friend.”)? Why not rely instead on unambiguous, active, space-saving standbys such as “harm” or “hurt?”

o Core competencies, as in “Our core competencies include a flexible attitude about quality control and a collective tendency to stretch the lunch hour beyond normal parameters because we adhere to the principle of saving personal energy.” Does anyone realize that by using the adjective “core” to define “competencies,” you’re implying that you have other “competencies” that might not be so “core?” And that a careful reader could deduce that those other competencies might actually be subpar, or least rather pedestrian? Here’s a solution, in plain English: “What we do best is…” or “Our reputation rests on the way we…” or “We are known for…”

I bring this up because I don’t doubt that your readers are critical thinkers (at least that’s what I tell my writing seminar students to expect), which means they will view phrases like “core competencies” as lazy, unproductive thinking.

o Skill sets, as in “Our employees can bring the most unique set of skill sets to finding a solution to your problem, which is why we consider ourselves a high-end firm that can justify overcharging you for our services.” First of all, you can’t be “most unique” because “unique” means one of a kind. I used to think that foolishness was restricted to the sports broadcast booth, but now I’m seeing it on websites, which was probably inevitable.

Anyway, I ask you: What’s wrong with just using “skills?” How can adding “sets” possibly add anything beyond the useless appendage of another four-letter word? If you use “skills sets,” ask yourself: “Why? What have I gained beyond the obvious tendency to imitate others unthinkingly?”

The News Media…Not Always Nosy Busybodies

“Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be grasped at once.”
– Cyril Connolly, English writer

Learning to deal with the press constructively need not be limited to traditional definitions of news. Some realistic role-playing in a media training setting can, in fact, help you frame and sharpen your message for commercial purposes. That’s where I can be of assistance. As a former newspaper and magazine reporter, I like to know how things work and what sets them apart. Then I try to pass on what I’ve learned in succinct prose, as Connolly noted.

Let me describe the sort of training I do. A couple years ago, a clever nurse in Maine came up with a blend of four aromatic oils that she said eased the nausea of first-trimester pregnancy, chemotherapy and motion sickness. To help with marketing, I put her through questions a reporter for the business section of a newspaper or magazine might ask. Then I wrote an article about her “aromatherapy,” which we discussed in detail for lessons learned.

The result? She and her marketing and investment associates came out of the exercise with a much clearer view of how the public would perceive their unusual product. The questions I asked were born of healthy skepticism, and she said she planned to adjust her pitch accordingly.

Beginning a Home-Based Business Can Create Many Challenges and Obstacles

Feeling Overwhelmed By All The Home Business and Internet Opportunity Hype? If so, you are not alone. There is so much out there and every opportunity promises the moon! If you are like me, you get a little bit suspicious of those sites that promote outrageous personal riches using slick images of fast cars and large homes. To me, it plays in peoples’ greed and looks like a fly-by-night vehicle to take your money and run.

Perhaps I am wrong. I know some of those sites have been around for a few years. Others pop up every day, are heavily promoted by affiliates, and then drop off into oblivion with nary another glance. So, where do you turn?

In the past year or so, I’ve noticed an up tick in the next generation of Internet promotion sites. Instead of offering you seemingly unlimited income overnight simply by signing up, this new breed actually offers to teach you the ins and outs of internet marketing! (And of course, some sites incorporate both the education and slick images of wealth.)

Most of these sites appear to genuinely want to help people succeed. And people ARE succeeding. The Internet has opened new and unprecedented opportunities for individuals to obtain wealth in ways we could not fathom even as recently as 10 years ago. The catch, of course, is you need to actually take the time to LEARN the tricks to effective Internet marketing. That takes effort on your part. And time. And often times–although not always–Seed Money.

I am always looking for ways to increase my knowledge and productivity as I navigate home business opportunities in cyberspace. But some of these sites seem to make me more confused than before. The content is difficult to access or the site isn’t terribly concise. And they generally all require membership fees. So if you don’t have the budget and don’t know how to start, where do you go?

There are some excellent ebooks out there that show you step by step on how to market yourself and successfully build an online business. However, sometimes you need someone to hold your hand and guide you through the process, a service which an e-book usually cannot provide.

One way to get started online is to begin marketing other products as an affiliate. This is typically done through ClickBank. If you’ve been looking at online opportunities for a while, you undoubtedly are familiar with this company. They offer training too! And that part is free. Getting started and building momentum with an online business has a rather large learning curve for the newbie. The more solid knowledge you can get, and the more diligent you are, the more successful you will be!

Find a mentor or two you trust and use them for guidance and as a beacon for what works and what is a fad. Also, take your time looking into the myriad of opportunities floating around. Complete your own due diligence as much as possible. If you don’t understand the concept or business model, steer clear until you do. And if you are “sold” on a product or service, only invest what you could afford to lose, and pull out your seed money as soon as possible and play with the “house money.”

Weak Business Logo Or No Brandmark at All – Is Your Brand Visually Fit to Survive the Recession?

Many entrepreneurs still hang onto a weak brandmark (logo) that was created before the recession with clipart or by an under-qualified “expert”. The maestro usually turns out to be the entrepreneurs’ spouse’s sister’s brother-in-law’s daughter who has just bought a PC with CorelDraw, an equally inept art student or the jack-of-all-trades web developer that claims logo design as part of his or her many specialist skills or an under-qualified “designer/graphic artist” at an advertising agency.

A website with all the technical bells and whistles and search engine optimisation is not enough to ensure on or off-line commercial success. Weak or no visual branding of an enterprise will almost certainly put it in danger of appearing on the list of extinct businesses during this recession. A visually fit brand and brandmark boost not only your website’s success but extend beyond and across all media and will help your brand and in turn, your business survive the recession.

According to Netcraft the well-respected Internet research company, active websites have grown from around 60-million to around 78-million for the period June 2007 – June 2009. That means, in spite of the recession, your competition on the World Wide Web has increased by 30% over the past two years. However, did your potential market increase by 30%? Chances are it decreased by 30% or at best remained at around the pre-recession level.

Birds are clever dinosaurs

Businesses that have done well before the recession with a weak brandmark or without proper branding, now face brand stagnation that will lead to brand extinction. Because you never had any real brand equity, it is so easy for a newcomer with a good branded product or service to step in and take over your market. By the time you find out about the new kid on the block (and that block could be in Albania), he will already be one step ahead of you and you would have lost the only advantage you had: time to build a brand.

No matter how good your product or service is without the B word, in today’s world you have only half a business and are in danger of extinction. Now that the World Wide Web gives everyone an opportunity to shop around without leaving their homes, clients and customers have choices – that increase by the minute – they never had before. Suddenly they are able to buy your product or service virtually anywhere in the world and get it delivered in 24 hours or even instantly.

If you want to survive the extinction of the poorly branded or unbranded product or service that the cataclysmic recession is causing, you have to evolve in the way some clever dinosaurs did to avoid extinction. They grew wings, became warm-blooded and ended up as birds, soaring the skies in wonderful plumage, advertising their brand of species. Get your product or service brand fit before it becomes a fossil even unsuitable for a museum. In addition, it will be your insurance policy that will help form an entry barrier against competitors targeting your clients or customers now and after the recession. So how do you get your brand and brandmark visually fit?

Creating a successful brandmark

A brandmark is formed by a symbol (the face of a brand), the brandname set in unique type and a descriptor. This should all be in a single distinctive and dominant colour and in the correct visual format. A slogan – also referred to as a by-line, tagline, strapline or pay-off line – is used as part of the brandmark to position or promote the brand. Ideally, the descriptor and the slogan should be a combined unit.

If done correctly at the outset – good design does not have a sell-by date and is future-proof – the brandmark should never change. I have seen a perfectly good brandmark changed, just because a new CEO or marketing executive wants to make his or her mark. Or the brandmark gets the blame for the poor performance of the executives who manage it. The egos just can’t leave the most important part of the business alone. All the money and time spent to date and still to be spend on the origination of a new brand plus the investment needed to promote this new image are all wasted.

A successful brandmark starts with the right name, followed by the arrangement of the correct combination of visual elements, resulting in an elegant solution that does not date. Brandmarks should talk the walk, walk the talk and be positioned for tomorrow. Today’s fashion and fads should not be part of your brandmark. Reserve that for your advertising to promote, position and protect your brand.