Category Archives: social media

What’s the story with ‘storytelling’?

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There’s nothing digital marketers like more than a new buzzword. And the latest one is ‘storytelling’. Apparently your website or digital marketing is missing a gigantically effective trick if you’re not using storytelling.

Er, OK. So what actually is storytelling, pray tell?

When you scratch the surface of this latest fad you discover that it’s nothing more than a loose description for a load of well-tried and well-tested copywriting techniques that good copywriters have been using for centuries.

(The insularity and ignorance of many digital marketeers would be endearing if it wasn’t based on epic laziness and an epic failure to recognise that, you know, people were actually quite good at selling stuff before the WWW came along. Much better, actually.)

So storytelling is simply using things like customer testimonials and (pretend or actual) real-life experiences…in fact, as far as I can see, anything that brings to life the human element of the sell you’re making.

And of course there is absolutely nothing new in this, whatsoever.

Some of the most successful direct marketing pieces ever have used ‘storytelling’ to sell by the barrowload. Think of the famous ‘two neighbours’ copy platform. This tells of two chaps who were born brought up next door to each other but one made the wise decision to buy X and is now rich and famous. The other didn’t and isn’t. Look it up.

Or the brilliant One Legged Golfer ad by John Carlton, possibly the best copywriter alive today now that his mentor Gary Halbert isn’t. It tells of a one-legged chap who developed an amazing golf swing and ultimately sells you a course of lessons to make yours equally effective.

Or the John Caples one “Do you make these mistakes in English?”. Or the David Ogilviy one (nicked from an earlier ad) “At 60 mph the loudest noise in this Rolls Royce is the ticking of the dashboard clock.”

These are all storytelling, folks. They bring the product or service to life. They use social proof to demonstrate that other people are buying the product.

They are engaging, involving, motivating, intriguing. Everything that highly effective direct marketing copywriting needs to be.

 

 

How to tell your customers bad news. And how not to.

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Received an email newsletter from Waitrose today. The subject line was: Free tea & coffee update. So far so good. But ‘update’? What an odd word? Hmmm….

In the body of the email they start blathering on in classic client-speak…“Just in the same way as a friend might offer a hot drink when you visit their home, we think it’s what a caring business should do when a loyal customer shops with us”.

Ignoring the gobbledook grammar (“Just in the same way”???), this kind of nonsense immediately switches on the reader’s radar…oh, hello, there’s some bad news on its way, isn’t there….

They then give me “a short guide” about “free tea and coffee etiquette”. This is a three stage process, apparently. Get a My Waitrose card, shop with us, get free tea, swipe card.

Yes, that’s what you do. Get on with it. What the hell has this got to do with etiquette?

But of course, the answer is absolutely nothing.

The poor agency writer has been asked to write an email with bad news and has tried to dress it up as friendly good news. (And I sense the heavy hand of a nervous client here.) The hapless wordsmith has been asked to hide the bad news under a blanket of fluffy, meaningless nonsense.

And, yep, here it comes…

Turns out, from Feb 9th, you can no longer get free tea in the caff unless you buy something else ‘such as a sandwich, cake, biscuit or piece of fruit. This change will enable us to continue to offer our customers the enjoyable service they expect’.

No it won’t. It’s got nothing to do with giving customers enjoyable service. If it had, they wouldn’t have stopped it.

I imagine the real reason is that their cafes are losing business because the customers claim their free teas and coffees and sit there drinking it to the exclusion of other customers, and without buying anything in the shop.

So they decide to serve up this contrived, patronising pile of drivel to the customers they purport to value so highly (see para 2).

Why not be honest, instead? We’re grown ups. We know there’s a recession on.

Why not explain that, unfortunately, trading conditions have changed and we won’t be able to offer free teas and coffees in the cafe anymore. But, hey, good news, you can still get one while you’re doing your weekly shop.

And most importantly of all, why not say We’re Sorry.

Apologise. Easy.

I might believe they really do care about their customers, then. This email actually made me a little angry. I thought the John Lewis organisation was better than this. They are treating me like an imbecile, not a customer.

But for so many companies, as Elton John said, sorry seems to be the hardest word.

Has copy become simply space filler?

 

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Last week, a client referred to a piece of copy I’d written as ‘content’. As in, ‘I’ll see if anyone has any more comments on the content then get back to you’.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t care less what my clients call my output. I’m simply happy and grateful that they’ve chosen me to help them out. So if they want to, they can call my work Pea Soup with a Cherry on Top. (I’d rather they called it brilliant, cutting-edge, highly-effective, a bargain at twice the price etc but let’s not be picky.)

What I do is write lots of words that sell lots of stuff. (And I’ve lost track of the number of times people have asked me what a copywriter is. So it’s a stupid job title anyway.)

But this was the first time I’d heard the term ‘content’ used in a non-digital context. It’s been fairly common for a while to call website copy ‘content’ but not advertising or direct mail copy. The client was actually referring to a sales letter I’d written.

But does this throwaway client comment actually mark a sea-change in the advertising/marketing industry? (This isn’t a rhetorical question, I’m genuinely interested to know.)

Has the power of well-crafted, strategically powerful copy been completely relegated to a position of simply space-filler?

Has the designer and mac jockey finally climbed to the top of the perceived heap, so that pretty pictures and impossible-to-read typography are now the dominant consideration when you’re trying to sell your wares?

Has copy simply become that annoying stuff that goes in the boxes on the wire-frame marked ‘copy here: 50 words max’?

Even worse, are the words on a website now considered simply SEO fodder?

You see outfits calling themselves ‘communications agencies’ or ‘creative agencies’ or ‘marketing agencies’ everywhere now.

But scratch the surface of their glossy website and, remarkably often, you’ll find they don’t have a single copywriter on the team.

Not one. Not so much as a fresh-faced junior straight out of college.

Never mind a senior, highly experienced writer running the creative side of things.

(In the olden days, the copywriter was king. And it was very rare indeed that an agency would have an art director as the top dog in the creative department. In fact, if you’ve ever seen Mad Men, you’ll know that for a long while the writers simply sent their copy down to the art department who added some nice visuals to the copy. They knew their place.)

But things, as Bob Dylan pointed out, have changed.

Call me old-fashioned (you won’t be the first, I promise you) but how can an agency selling advertising or website creation services possibly be the real deal if there’s nobody in the building who can write some great copy?

More strangely, how can clients look at the agency and think they’re going to get some great emails or a fantastically compelling website or superbly effective advertising if the agency doesn’t have a writer on board?

Odd, isn’t it?

 

Social Media: why it’s a PR medium not an advertising medium

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These days, you can’t do an advertising pitch to a potential new client without including some soshul meeja, innit, content.

So the copywriters and art directors come up with all sorts of cool and groovy uses for Facebook, Twitter, Vine et al and, depressingly often, an App relating to the client’s product or brand (which, needless to say, never gets made).

The problem is, in the real world social media isn’t an advertising medium, it’s a PR medium. Companies that recognise this crucial distinction are able to use social media effectively and very cost-efficiently.

That’s because they realise that, exactly like ye olde media like newspapers, the most effective place for your sales message is in editorial.

Editorial is the stuff people WANT to read. The stuff that gives them useful information or entertains them with gossip. Ads are what people do their utmost to ignore.

So when you try and shoehorn your advertising campaign’s messages and tone of voice into social media it just screams I AM ADVERTISING PLEASE IGNORE ME.

Advertising people don’t understand PR. (And, to be fair, most PR people can’t do decent advertising, either.) Advertising people generally think PR is something that’s done by airhead toffs called Giles and Camilla. And that it’s easy. And somehow less important than advertising.

Wrong.

Get your new product into some editorial, because it’s relevant, interesting, entertaining, and you get a million times more bang for your buck. (Well, perhaps not a million, but a PR person will give you the actual data.)

Effective Twitter campaigns provide a constant stream of useful information. Be it recipes, links, tips and techniques. Nobody will re-tweet your, oh-so witty, ad campaign headline.

Ditto Facebook. Sure you can drag people to your Facebook page with an offer or promotion. But don’t be fooled into thinking bribing people to Like you has got anything to do with effective use of the medium.

Get some important journalists or opinion formers behind your brand, however, by using social media properly and you’re suddenly on a different planet results-wise.

Which is why clever clients, and clever ad people, know that it’s the PR agency who should be running their Facebook and Twitter activity. Not the ad agency.