Category Archives: copywriting

Relax, I’m here to circumcise your content

long formthinksmall

One of the last bastions of what I call Old Marketing (aka “pre-digital”) that is slowly and finally giving way to 21st century best practices is long-form content. It’s been a long haul, and a few out there are still resistant to the change.

Remember the word-laden marketing campaigns that were popular before the 1960s? (OK, it was before my time too, but trust me, I’ve studied this.) Then Volkswagen came along and set marketing on its ear with Think Small.

In the 1990s, Volkswagen took that concept even further, cutting the original Think Small word count significantly in keeping with the exploding Internet culture. And this was before 140 characters was even a gleam in Jack Dorsey’s eye. . .

But who’s been left in the dust of all this anti-copy revolution? Those folks are still out there:

  • Claire, that woman in Marketing who is asking the writing team to crank out 4- and 5-page case studies that no customer will ever take the time to read
  • Phil, the technical sales guy who is getting ready for a trade show by producing six 22-page white papers that no customer will ever take the time to read
  • Lorelai, the CEO who is directing staff in an update to the 40-page Corporate Backgrounder document that no customer will ever take the time to read

Are they dinosaurs, or just uninformed? I’d like to think it’s the latter.

Often, an organization will call me in for a project, and I’ll find that a Claire, Phil, or Lorelai is large and in charge—and insisting on long-form copy that will end up getting deleted or trashed by the intended audience. It sometimes takes a bit of doing, but usually I can help them see that longer-form content today is a very specific choice. It only gets results in certain situations, like content marketing, omni-channel campaigns, and eBooks.

As far as case studies go, 2 pages max—there are even some brave and forward-thinking companies that are willing to pare it down to a 1-page solution brief. Scannability at its best!

White papers? Studies say that they usually don’t get read no matter how long or short they are, but if you must, 4-6 pages and no more!

Corporate Backgrounder? Meh. That’s what your website is for, Lorelai.

Today we move fast, we think fast, and we read (or better yet, scan) fast. Don’t waste your time developing long-form copy that burns through your marketing budget, doesn’t get read, and makes your company look like the T. Rex of its industry.


Famous last words

Last sign

Today I want to talk to you about last words. There are a lot of them, including “I now pronounce you man and wife, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” and many others.

But in marketing, your last words take on a whole new meaning. They usually involve a call-to-action of some sort, trying to get customers to click, call, subscribe, register, or whatever.

Unfortunately, they often get tossed off with an uninspired “Click here!,” “Hurry, which supplies last!,” or “Spaces are limited–sign up today!”


The husband of an old friend died suddenly and very young earlier this week from a massive heart attack. He must have known what was happening to him, because the last thing he did was look into his wife’s eyes and say, “I love you.” Because they were heartfelt and personal, she will carry those last words with her forever, and they will comfort, inspire, and energize her in the decades to come.

Last words matter.

Which brings me to my point: In business, the last words of any email, post, or website can’t just be a throwaway, a handy verbal bow with which to tie up the content so you can get out of the office on time. They need to resonate personally with the audience, and comfort, inspire, or energize–just as those three last words, spoken in the early hours of Monday morning, did for my friend.


K.I.S.S. (Keep It Short, Stupid)

Last week, I brought up the subject of long- vs. short-form copy, and which might be preferable. Which of course begs the question, “Just what makes good short-form copy, anyway?”

Well, I’m here to give you some insight.

Depending on the product, the audience, price point, and the objective of a campaign, crisp, spare copy can be the way to go. Here are some examples:

  • “Think Small” (Volkswagen)
  • “It’s the real thing.” (Coke)
  • “I want YOU” (U.S. Army)
  • “Where’s the beef?” (Wendy’s)

Now, these were all used as headlines/taglines, but any one of them could easily stand alone. Why? Because they all had standout visuals associated with them: cute little car, frosty bottle of sugary goodness, grumpy old man, grumpy old lady.

Yes, the true magic of short-form copy can really only be unlocked with a killer visual.

Are there exceptions? Of course. Check this:



Size Matters—But Does Length?



Can’t get much more direct and actionable than that. But in marketing, is short-form copy the way to go in 2014, or not? There are good thoughts on both sides of that issue.

Those who favor long-form copy will tell you that it better qualifies prospects because it answers more of their questions and addresses more of their roadblocks to purchase upfront. It can also be seeded with keywords so that it’s much more discoverable in a web search.

Short-form advocates believe that customers get bored or overwhelmed when faced with a waterfall of copy, and will click away to find something more scannable and digestible. They’ll also tell you that short-form copy can provide a successful “hook” that will lead readers to links for further information if desired. Shorter copy can also be perceived as friendlier and less threatening and heavy-handed than copy that approximates a novel.

So where do you fall in the copy length debate? Are you a shortie, or a long-john?


Guest Post: A Copywriter’s Biggest Gripe

Zombie woman on the grass lawn reaches forward

Today, I’m pleased to share with you a post written by my friend and colleague, Anne Hurley. Anne is the brainz behind the force of nature that is, a site dedicated to surviving in an economy that’s more than a little cray-cray. This post in particular deals with the plight of the copywriter:

Let’s also take a closer look at the current market-rate value of writing, shall we?

  • A talented copywriter I know, whose personality and flair have informed the entire tone and voice of a very popular retail site that you may know and love is paid barely over the minimum wage. She’s a fulltime staff writer there. She has a mortgage that is threatening to sink her.
  • Another talented writer, editor and content strategist friend recently filled out a profile on Elance, the site where freelancers can post their services for whoever needs a writer. He was contacted today by someone who needed two “longish articles” for which he could pay a grand total of… $3. That’s $1.50 per article. My friend Mark might as well have offered to pay that potential “client” to do the work.
  • Postings from respected recruiting agencies on the West Coast seek “talented, experienced web writers” and “social media content managers” and hope to pay them $15 an hour.
  • And if you really want to be depressed, go to your local Craigslist and click on “Writing/Editing” jobs.

I admit this bothers me more than it probably does most people, since this is my background. But the power of using the right words to connect with the right audience at the right time, even for commercial websites, is not a trifle. Smart companies, like Microsoft, will pay prime rates for content jobs. But many more seem to think that since “everyone can write”–write an email, say–why should writers be paid a living wage?

As I posted recently on the Poppermost Facebook page, “Copywriting: if pretty much anyone can do it, everyone would. . .right?” Huh.

To read Anne’s full blog post, just click on over to the Zombienomics site.


Keeping Your Foot Out of Your Mouth Internationally


Now that we are functioning in a digital economy, reaching international customers is no longer just the realm of the established global powerhouses. Today, even Mom-and-Pop stores, small professional services organizations, and other small businesses are online, marketing to customers around the world.

Great opportunity to level the playing field, yes. But make sure that when you are marketing globally, you are also thinking culturally. Look at some of the cross-cultural boo-boos major brands have made in the past, and learn:

  • In Sweden, someone somewhere in the Ikea corporate headquarters thought that the name for their new desk should be. . .Fartfull (that’s a pic of it up top)
  • The US computer pioneer Wang chose to use the slogan “Wang Cares” in a campaign back in the 1970s; say it fast–the British were not amused
  • An Italian mineral water producer named its product very carefully, not realizing that the word it chose was slang for “drug dealer” in Spanish
  • And don’t even get me started on why the Australians might have wanted to globally market their Wack Off insect repellent. . .

So, thing to take-away here is to choose your words very carefully when you are marketing to an international audience. A little due diligence now could save embarrassment (and a lot of back-pedaling) later!

Oh, and are you following me on Twitter? Why NOT?!


Freelancers in the post-Wild, Wild West

Young woman hitchhiking with cowboy hat covering her face

Now, to cover my beheinie, I just want to say upfront that I’m not advocating for anyone to go out and fire or lay off their writing staff. (Unless they suck, and in that case, you can do better: Bombs awaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!) (PS: Call me.)

When the economy crashed and burned several years ago, many marketing organizations were forced to downsize, turning many creatives out into the marketplace. And it was not a place anyone wanted to be at that point. Writers, designers, marketers, and others—many who said they’d NEVER want to freelance—were doing it gladly, for no other reason than that they had to in order to survive.

It wasn’t easy; in fact, it was kinda like the Wild West for a while. Freelance gigs were again and again going to the lowest bidder, and many were working for a fraction of their true worth. Recent grads were of course, screwed, because why pay a newbie $10 per hour, when you could practically trip over desperate, unemployed creatives with 20+ years’ of big-brand experience in the streets?

But now the tide (and the economy) is shifting. Housing prices are on the rise, employment is bouncing back (although more in some areas than others just yet), and many creatives find themselves with numerous interviews when they float their resumes out into the employment pool.

And in an interesting move, many of the “forced freelancers” are electing to remain so for the foreseeable future. Why? Well, it’s taken a while (decades, actually), but employers are finally realizing the value–beyond just dollars and cents—of working with contract creatives.


Freelancer portal Elance has predicted that 54 percent of small business employees will be online contractors by 2017. And the above chart, from the popular online talent exchange oDesk, outlines jobs that employers are currently seeking freelancers to perform.

Writing. Right up there. Wow. (PS: Call me.)


Zombienomics – Making a Living in a Living-Dead Economy


Branding, Copywriting, and Litterbox Odor

Branding Irons Being Heated

When it comes to creating killer copy, a lot of it comes down to brand voice. Say it with me: Braaaaaaaaand. Voiiiiiiiiiiiiice. Yeah, that.

What exactly is “brand voice?” It’s personality. It’s what you hear in your head when you’re reading the copy of a popular brand. It’s the first thing that pops to mind when someone starts talking about that fantastic ad for XYZ Company when you’re out at happy hour. It’s essential for building relationships, and for marketing that works.

What do you need for fab brand voice?

  • Crisp copy – Keep it short and simple. (<–See what I did there?)
  • Humor – Funny makes friends, and funny sells. Unless your offering involves something that in no way lends itself to any kind of humor without offending your entire target market, be funny.
  • Smart wordplay – Unless your target market consists of three-year-olds, don’t dumb down your copy. Your audience is smart, and they will be drawn to and appreciate content that rises to the occasion.
  • Intrigue – Curiosity doesn’t just kill the cat; it also draws in the customer. Be provocative; make them wonder exactly what you’ve got up your sleeve and what they might see when they mouse over and click that link.
  • Humanity – Simply put: Talk to them, not at them. Be conversational. Don’t think that you are going to sell more silk casket liners by adopting the warm conversational style of Mr. Spock. Be a friendly neighbor or a trusted colleague. Chat.
  • Delicious benefits – Is that cat litter simply going to smell better, or will it transform your litterbox into a fragrant oasis of unmitigated vanilla sweetness that will transform and eliminate any hint of Mr. Fluffypants’ smelly bad business? OK, not quite like that, but you get the idea. . .right?

And please, please fight the urge to position any copy as “6 Easy Ways to. . .” Nobody’s falling for that trick anymore. . .


Writing with your big-boy pants on


Today, this li’l exchange over on The Twatter prompted a rash of conversation about words. Apparently, some alleged copywriters think that using a boatload of tired, clichéd slang, and using words just flat-out incorrectly makes you a super-cool, hipster wordsmith. And that people should fight for the privilege of paying you big, juicy bucks to do it.

Rookie move. (Not to mention complete bullshit.)

These days, every writer and their grandma are looking for ways to differentiate themselves in this crowded and smelly elevator of a market. They drop F-bombs, they splash sexual overtones on everything. . .

. . .and sometimes, they talk like 11-year-olds. Awesome-epic-rad-amazeballs-amirite?

Unless you are working on a quirky campaign that calls for it, check the dude-speak at the door and use all those grownup words you learned in college in a really clever way. Earn your money.

OKthxbai. <— See what I did there?


Free to be. . .

Friends gathered in living room and using mobile phone

What makes your friends your friends?

  • Thrown together by circumstance? Maybe, that that won’t keep you interested in the long-term, will it?
  • Common interests? Maybe, but again, you don’t necessarily want to build a deep friendship based solely on an interest in vintage ‘70s macramé patterns.
  • Geography? Definitely not. I’m sure there have been times when you’ve looked at your next-door neighbor and thought, “Wow, if I’d only known about him before we bought the house!”

So happenstance can play a part in introductions, but it isn’t necessarily enough to keep you coming back for more. Essentially, you want to build connections with people who are familiar to you. They may think like you, talk like you, or remind you of someone you care about.

It’s the emotional triggers that reach out, grab you, and suck you in. So why are you determined to keep your marketing copy so sterile?

Your brand’s personality is what’s going to resonate with your audience. And if they don’t like your personality, you’re clearly targeting the wrong peeps!