Archive for the ‘Copy Writing’ Category
What would business communication be without catch phrases? (Other than clearer and more authentic.) Those bits of business wisdom or profound insights captured in clever metaphors are indispensable to the corporate world. Who doesn’t want to take an idea offline and bounce it off the wall to see what sticks, every now and then?
The problem of course is that over time, such phrases go from popular to common to annoying—much like an over-played pop song (anybody want to whoop it Gangnam style just one more time? Call me maybe).
Travis Bradberry recently compiled a list of 25 ridiculously overused phrases on Inc. Inspired by that, here are 31 more cliches to shun (the first 10 from a subsequent Twitter conversation).
To avoid sounding like a character out of Office Space (yeah, that would be great), try to stay away from these long-in-the-tooth, over the hill, Elvis (has left the building) expressions.
Some catch phrases come from the sports world. It would be better if these were all left on the field.
11. Slam dunk (as in an obviously great idea or foregone conclusion)
12. Skate to where the puck will be
13. You miss all the shots you don’t take
Some (many actually) come from the movies. Thankfully, almost no one says “make my day” or “surely you aren’t serious” (yes I am—and stop calling me Shirley) any more, but some of these moldy quotes refuse to disappear.
14. Carpe diem
15. You can’t handle the truth
16. Life is like a box of chocolates
17. These aren’t the droids you’re looking for (using any other word in place of “droids”)
And some come from the world of advertising. After 31 years, people have (generally) stopped asking where the beef is, but one still occasionally hears an updated product described as “not your father’s (fill in the blank).” (That’s #18.) Ugh.
Change is the only constant (19), so there are catch phrases describing different degrees of it:
20. Move the needle (a small but significant change)
21. Game changer (an idea with a larger impact)
22. Paradigm shift (a really big change)
And some come from…elsewhere. News events, misplaced metaphors, late nights at the bar, etc..
25. Make the pie bigger
26. Place at the table
27. Preaching to the choir
28. Drinking the Kool-Aid
29. Put on your big boy (or girl) pants
30. Open the kimono (please, no, this one hits a trifecta: overused, creepy, and vaguely racist)
Finally—catch phrases don’t have to be old to be annoying. They can reach eye-rolling, wince-inducing, fingernails-on-chalkboard status quickly through overuse, misuse and abuse. Case in point:
31. Growth hacking
What catch phrases would you advise others to avoid?
While content certainly doesn’t always end up as written words on a screen or page, it almost always starts with writing. Not just articles and blog posts, but video storyboards, podcast scripts, and infographic creative briefs rely on effective writing.
There’s no question that attention-grabbing headlines are vital to standing out in a sea of content, but what are the best techniques for crafting them? What are the secrets to getting and holding a reader’s attention? With all of the recent changes to search engine algorithms, what are today’s best practices for writing content that appeals to both human readers and search engines?
Find the answers to those questions and more here in seven noteworthy copywriting guides from seven content experts.
Tips for Headlines and Copywriting
How to Create Viral Worthy Content Every Time by Assist Social Media
Pauline Magnusson outlines three key principles for writing compelling, share-worthy copy, including “Be bold. While I’m getting tired of the saying, ‘go big or go home,’ there’s something to be said for the willingness to make an audacious claim online, if you have research, experience, or a well reasoned opinion to back it up.”
Jayson DeMers explains how to use the principals of journalism to write compelling brand content, such as writing a “show-stopping headline” and a great lead-in to the story: “Your piece’s introduction needs to grab your reader by the brain or by the heart strings and not let go until the last word.”
5 Back-to-Basics Principles for B2B Storytelling by velocidi
Christopher Stella shares five principles for crafting B2B stories, among them making your customer the hero (“Showcase your customer’s success, and how your services empowered them to make an impact”) and knowing your role (“You’re not the hero of the story, but your brand and services are the critical tools that set your customer on the path to heroism”).
Aliens Converge on Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in Quest of Killer Headline by Business2Community
***** 5 STARS
Lou Hoffman’s must-read guide to writing headlines combines humor with solid fundamentals in a concise package. His advice on far to take a headline: “as far as possible without losing sight of the actual story.”
Tips for Writing Search-Optimized Content
How the Google Zoo Has Forever Changed SEO Copywriting by Just Ask Kim
Copywriting for SEO has changed from the old days of “writing for keyword density ratios, including key phrases in every file name, every page name and every tag,” and Karon Thackston here supplies a concise but excellent summary of which old practices to throw by the wayside, and the new practices copywriters should embrace.
The Ultimate Content Marketing Myth by FindandConvert
Josh Smith identifies what he terms the biggest myth in content marketing—”if you post it, they will come”—and explains how to promote yourself and build an audience to draw traffic from a well diversified collection of sources.
Send the right search signals with social content optimization by Success Works
Dana Lookadoo shares five tips for generating more social sharing and search traffic for your content, such as making your posts look good (“Once you hit the Enter key to share your post on Google+ or Facebook, you want it to look attractive with an eye-catching image and descriptive text”), and identifies “the most important aspect that applies to both social and SEO.”
This was post #4 of Content Marketing Week on Webbiquity.
Content marketing represents the most fundamental and widespread rethinking of marketing practices in decades. Unlike other modifiers attached to the discipline (consumer marketing, b2b marketing, trade show marketing, digital marketing), the term “content marketing” doesn’t describe an audience, tactic, or channel, but rather a completely different approach to marketing.
Content marketing turns the dominant paradigm of the last half-century—interruption-based mass marketing—on its head. Rather than interrupting prospective customers with content they generally didn’t want (product pitches) while they were consuming content they did (entertainment or news), content marketing entices targeted buyers with entertaining (consumer) or informative (b2b) content that also happens to reflect the company’s brand messages or product/service strengths.
Disruptive as it is, this philosophical shift has spread widely and quickly: according to recent research, “86 percent of companies serving consumers and 92 percent of ‘business to business’ companies now use content marketing.”
Since content marketing itself is no longer a differentiator, practitioners are asking questions like: how can I efficiently create a steady stream of fresh, relevant content? What types of content are most valuable to my sales prospects? How can content be optimized to support search engine optimization (SEO) efforts? What metrics are most helpful in measuring success and support continual improvement?
Discover the answers to these questions and many more here in more than 30 of the best content marketing articles and blog posts of the past year.
Content Marketing Guides, Tips and Tactics
5 Ways to Clone Great Social Media Content by SteamFeed
Helpfully pointing out that “You likely already have strong content on hand (either on-line somewhere or even stuck in a file cabinet in your office.) Instead of developing new stuff from scratch, riff on/reuse this stockpile of awesomesauce and use it more strategically,” Jennifer Kane proposes a handful of techniques to get more mileage out of existing content, such as “Drill down or spiral off on your content themes…if a piece of your preexisting content has resonated with your audience, consider using it as source material for a more in-depth examination of the topic or to jump off on a sub-topic tangent that will enable you to expand the perception your audience has of your brand.”
Digital Natives: How They Are Changing the Content Marketing Game by Content Marketing Institute
Patricia Redsicker presents six strategies content marketers need to embrace in order to address the information needs and wants of digital natives–those born “between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s, (who) have grown up during our current golden age of digital technology. Now in their mid-teens to mid-thirties, people in this generation came of age knowing how to interact with technology and are comfortable using it to their advantage.” Among her recommendations are focusing on content that builds trust, that efficiently answers simple questions quickly, and that makes content consumers feel valued.
Corporate Content Marketing for Best in Class Results by Creative Marketing Channel
Noting that “Best in class companies utilize content marketing for brand awareness, customer acquisition, lead generation, and customer retention” and that most companies plan to increase budgets in this area, Catherine Lockey answers six key questions about content marketing, such as “How do best in class companies create all of their great content?” The answer to that one is outsourcing; roughly half of all small companies and three-quarters of large firms outsource at least a portion of their content creation efforts.
Seeking Marketing Alpha by Propel Growth Blog
Though the panel discussion this post was written to promote is long past, the thoughts about content marketing shared here by Candyce Edelen are still well worth a read. “The Internet and email make it easier and cheaper to make noise, resulting in a virtual cacophony of marketing claims barraging customers every day – with everyone claiming to be ‘the leading, number-one, unique, value-added, trusted provider’ of ‘robust, innovative, cutting-edge, high-performance, ultra low-latency technology….’ Yawn. How can every vendor be the ‘leading provider’ anyway?”
Content Marketing in 6 Steps by Social Media Today
Steven Van Belleghem lays out “the 6 crucial steps to take in order to end up with a good content strategy,” starting with topic selection (determining what’s at the intersection of your company’s unique internal expertise and the information needs/wants of your market) and proceeding through measuring marketing performance (based on the content marketing objectives you’ve established).
Long Live Content Marketing by Rebelations
Rebel Brown offers practical guidance on how to avoid self-promotion and salesy content that “will send your audiences running” and instead focus on providing value: “For example, let’s say your audience is challenged by performance problems with their applications. Don’t send them a piece of content all about your faster processor, database, system or whatever. That’s obnoxious and pretty blatant self-promotion! Instead, share a piece of content about the key aspects of their infrastructure that they might want to check for problems. Share your expertise to guide them through the process to better understand their issues.”
5 CEO-Worthy Metrics for Demonstrating Inbound Marketing Success by Marketo B2B Marketing Blog
Jon Miller outlines five key inbound marketing metrics to measure and continually improve content marketing success, such as lead generation by content and channel: “Beyond core organic traffic and leads, track lead generation by content asset and source. What sources are driving the most traffic? What kinds of content drive the most leads? The most revenue? It can also be insightful to track how these vary by product line or business unit.”
Noting that two of the biggest challenges content marketers face are “producing sufficient content” and “having enough budget to cover the cost of content,” Heidi Cohen has compiled almost two dozen recommendations for developing content cost-effectively, from repurposing speeches delivered by company executives and soliciting employee contributions to reworking content from your distributors and suppliers.
What Tech Buyers Want From Content by Marketing Interactions
Ardath Albee reveals three key attributes that technology buyers value in marketing content, including freshness: “58% (of technology buyers in a UBM TechWeb survey) said they wanted content that was timely and current (while) only 11% said they’d consider content more than 18 moths old.” If you’ve got older content that is still relevant to buyers, refresh it to keep it current with the state of your industry.
Don’t Forget the ‘Marketing’ in Content Marketing by The Content Cocktail
Christina Pappas shares a seven-step checklist for making sure that your content contributes to company goals, without being too pushy or salesy, among them “Make sure there is an offer or connection to your product in every piece of content…every piece of content you publish should have some tie-back to your company and the solutions you provide to the market. This doesn’t have to be obvious and it doesn’t have to be smothered all over the thing, but it should be there somewhere,” such as links to white papers or other related assets at the end of a blog post or report.
Exploring the Five Cs of Content Marketing at Cisco by IT Services Marketing Association
Sherri Liebo identifies the “5 Cs” that Cisco Services looks at to better listen to customers when creating and sharing marketing content, including Customers (“What are customers looking for?”), Competition (“What is the competition doing? How does Cisco Services compare?”) and Collaborators (“What is happening with our channel and strategic partners?”).
Research: B2B Buyers Want Content by Social Marketing Forum
J-P De Clerck summarizes findings from Base One’s Buyersphere Survey regarding the content needs of business buyers. While the study focused on Europe, its findings are more broadly applicable, such as that “87% of…buyers look for advice before buying…The first source when doing so: Web searches. With 71% of respondents who look for information, searches are by far the main source of information.” Among other findings:
- • Business buyers are most active in sharing content on forums, LinkedIn and blogs;
- • Younger members of the buying team are most likely to read white papers and blogs, and attend webinars; and
- • Buyers “who are working in IT were more likely to have downloaded whitepapers (36%) or read blogs (28%)” than those in other industries.
J-P has also launched a blog, Content Marketing Experience, focused exclusively on content marketing issues and guidance. His post Five Reasons No One Shares Your Content is spot on and well worth a read.
Content Marketing: 3 tips for how to get started by MarketingSherpa
Daniel Burstein dispels three myths than hold content marketers back or prevent them from getting the support they need within the organization, such as “‘We don’t want to give away our secrets.’
If you can’t give potential customers enough information about how you do what you do (whether that is fixing plumbing leaks or improving marketing performance), then why should they trust you with their business?” And McDonald’s “secret sauce” is (shhhh)…Thousand Island dressing.
4 secrets to successful content marketing by iMedia Connection
Writing that “the digital world allows us to measure just about anything, including three factors that help marketers gauge the success of their content: click-through rates, time spent on content, and shares via social media,” Jacqueline McDermott Lisk outlines strategies for producing high-quality content that will both improve these statistics and drive business results.
Because not all “leads” are ready to turn immediately into buyers, Shelley Pringle outlines a four-step process for converting those leads into customers over time. The process starts with understanding your prospects’ buying cycle and creating content for the top, middle and bottom of the sales funnel.
Marty Weintraub presents “11 timeless content creation examples that have always worked,” among them demystifying myths (“Nearly every sales process is up against some level of customers’ misconceptions and other informational obstacles. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and address these sales impediments head on”), covering industry events in real time, excerpting white papers (a great content idea), and interviewing industry experts.
Content Marketing and SEO
10 Reasons Why You Need an Optimized Content Strategy Now by iMedia Connection
Krista LaRiviere, CEO of web presence optimization software vendor gShift Labs, explains how recent Google algorithm changes (including more emphasis on social signals, the clampdown on low-value backlinks, the Google +1 button, and freshness updates) now make optimized, user-focused content more important than ever for search rankings.
How to create search friendly content by Bing Blogs
This post explains how to create optimized content more efficiently by creating a template or repeatable process for content development, and presents seven tips for discovering tinely topics to write about, incorporating keywords, using hooks to capture readers’ attention, and more.
Noting that “From an SEO viewpoint, the interest in great content is to attract links, where as a lot of what Google is looking to eliminate are examples of where content is used to build links”—particularly in the wake of its Panda and Penguin updates—Kieran Flanagan steps through an approach that puts business objectives first, with links and shares tracked but not viewed as the primary goal.
Infographics, Images and Video
5 Content Marketing Ideas Worth Stealing by jeffbullas.com
Jeff Bullas recommends five content marketing techniques for obtaining and retaining the attention of your prospective buyers by going beyond text: “Sometimes you need some inspiration and you need to try some new ideas and different media that may provide a nudge to try something different and creative outside your comfort zone…Images and photos are much more likely to be shared than an article or a white paper. Videos or infographics will be shared at high velocity compared the the humble ‘written word’ that have been with us for millenia.”
Infographics can be great for generating re-posts and inbound linke—if done properly. Slavik Volinsky explains what works (e.g., start with a great idea and great distribution plan: “To create a great distribution plan, approach your industry’s ‘big minds’ and ask for their feedback with full intention of listening & improving the infographic”) and what doesn’t.
The History of Content Marketing [Infographic] – Corporate Storytelling is Not New by Content Marketing Institute
Content marketing guru Joe Pulizzi presents a fascinating history of content marketing, from cave paintings and 19th-century “customer magazines” through the emergence of corporate blogs, business video, microsites, and the proliferation of content marketing sites, books and resources.
Content Marketing and SEO: The world doesn’t need another blog post by MarketingSherpa
Advising marketers to “focus on the message, not the medium” Daniel Burstein (again) offers half a dozen suggestions for taking content beyond blog posts and white papers, like creating a mobile app or a useful online tool “Like the ESPinator from ClickMail Marketing, which helps email marketers choose an ESP that helps them best fit their needs.”
The future of content marketing by iMedia Connection
Rebecca Lieb reports on research showing that larger, more sophisticated content marketers are gradually “lessening their dependence on text-based channels” and focusing more on video and images. Interestingly, she also notes that “Search, email, blogging, digital PR, and even (brace yourself) advertising have, and will continue to have a place at the table as content marketing grows in importance,” or in other words, that web presence optimization will get more attention.
7 Rules For Writing Awesome Content by Small Business Trends
Lisa Barone presents seven writing rules to help in crafting content that will inspire customers to act, including telling stories (“If you want to improve your writing, stop lecturing to people and to start telling them stories”); experimenting (“Improve your writing by experimenting with new mediums [videos, infographics, contests, polls, Twitter chats] instead of getting caught in the same pattern of content”); and to avoid generic messages, “write as if you’re writing to one reader.”
Is Content Marketing The New Advertising? by Forbes
***** 5 STARS
Michael Brenner shares a highly bookmark-worthy infographic that positions 16 different content formats along the dimensions of attention required from the audience and ease of implementation. For example, social media generally requires little attention from the audience (being very short form), and also little effort, while something like an app, telecast or interactive game is at the other end of the spectrum on both dimensions.
How You Can Use Infographics to Tell a Story by Social Media Club
Mireille Massue offers six steps for creating a compelling infographic (such as making it sharable by submitting it to Infographic Directories); nine resources to learn more about infographics; and (of course), an infographic outlining eight steps to create an infographic.
The 6 Best Slideshare Decks on Content Marketing by B2B Marketing Insider
Michel Brenner (again) passes along half a dozen noteworthy slide decks about content marketing, from experts like Rand Fishkin, Joe Pulizzi, and Rebecca Lieb and Charlene Li, whose Winning Content Strategies presentation notes that “77% of Internet users do not engage with online advertising. A shift from ‘push’ to ‘pull’ marketing is imperative to brand survival.”
Expert Copywriting Tips
Harvard Lesson: Verbs Beat Adjectives by Neuromarketing
Roger Dooley, commenting on one of the toughest sales jobs of all—”selling” yourself to Harvard Business School, where nine out of 10 applicants are rejected—concludes that verbs sell more powerfully than adjectives. Verbs persuade more effectively because they “require actual examples of the behaviors or characteristics in question…These specifics will increase the credibility of the copy, in addition to providing more information than when the adjective-driven shortcut is taken.”
Using Great Storytelling To Grow Your Business by Fast Company
Former McKinsey consultant Kaihan Krippendorff outlines two approaches for producing more compelling content (or presentations): using LOTS (“language of the senses…When telling a story, share with us what you see, smell, feel, taste, and hear. When you trigger a sense in someone, you bring them into the story with you”) and building on your story spine–a structured approach to use in opening a presentation or throughout a longer document.
25-point Web copy checklist: How to write for Google by Success Works
***** 5 STARS
Heather Lloyd-Martin provides a remarkable checklist for creating content that will appeal to human readers and search engines alike, from starting with a customer persona and keyword/topic research to crafting a compelling title and meta description to effectively “sell the click” to searchers.
Copywriting: How to improve headlines on landing pages and blog posts by MarketingSherpa
Adam T. Sutton, noting that “people are busy. You need to write a headline that convinces them to ignore distractions and pay attention,” outlines four attributes of value to consider when crafting headlines along with five tips for writing attention-grabbing headlines, such as front-loading (start with the most valuable phrase, e.g. “Get Paid to Take Online Surveys” is a much better headline than “We Can Help You Get Paid to Take Online Surveys”).
Write the Best Titles for Content Marketing: A 10-Point Checklist by Content Marketing Institute
Roger C. Parker recommends 10 questions to ask when writing headlines, such as “Does your title clearly promise a desired benefit?,” “Did you emphasize your intended readers in your title?” (for example, “C. J. Hayden’s ‘Get Clients Now: A 28-day Marketing Program for Professionals, Coaches, & Consultants’ targets readers by occupation”), and “Does your title include the keywords readers use searching for information online?.”
With more than 80% of b2b and high-value consumer purchasing decisions now starting with online research, content marketing is hot. Consider:
Buyers want content. According to J-P De Clerck, “87% of surveyed buyers look for advice before buying a product, service or solution. The first source when doing so: Web searches. With 71% of respondents who look for information, searches are by far the main source of information. Search and content are by definition very integrated.”
Marketers are producing more content. Recent research from MarketingProfs found:
- • On average, B2B content marketers are spending 33% of their marketing budgets on content marketing, up from 26% last year.
- • 54% plan to increase content marketing spending next year.
- • All content tactics are being used more frequently than they were last year, with the use of research reports, videos, and mobile content having increased the most.
Content is replacing advertising. Writing in Forbes, Michael Brenner explains how content (which buyers seek out) is more valuable than advertising (which many buyers ignore or even try to avoid): “Great content and engaging stories help your company’s content get found and get shared. When great content is shared, commented on or liked, it is no longer your content alone. It is their content. And user-generated content is trusted more than advertising or promotion.”
As content proliferates, standing out becomes more difficult. It requires originality, deep understanding of customer needs and motivations, and the cultivation of a network to share and amplify it. But most fundamentally, it has to flow well, to follow the basic rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Faced with an overwhelming array of choices, buyers first prune their lists of any obvious “no” options. Vendors can be excluded out of hand for many possible reasons: their prices are too high, they lack expertise in the buyer’s industry, their products are missing critical features, or…their content is sloppy. It’s similar to a human resources manager reviewing a hundred resumes for a single open position: those with spelling, punctuation or grammatical errors get tossed in the first review cycle.
Though marketing content can come in a wide variety of forms—text, video, podcasts, infographics, animation—virtually all content starts with writing. Poor writing leads to ineffective content; content that doesn’t get shared, doesn’t get ranked, doesn’t get (widely) read, and doesn’t compel action.
So, the basis of producing interesting, shareable, actionable content is solid writing. To help make your content “must read” rather than “just toss,” avoid these xx unfortunate, grating and all-too-common writing mistakes.
1. “A lot of.” Granted, there are times when it’s okay to use this phrase (and a lot of people would agree with that), but in general, it’s abused. Avoid unless it’s really the best fit in context. It’s informal and imprecise, e.g., “a lot of marketers are embracing content marketing.” That’s true, but not helpful. Is 100 “a lot” of marketers? Is 72%? Or better yet, 72% of b2b marketers in small to midsized companies?
2. “Things.” Ugh. This is bad—rarely do we write about “things.” Features, attributes, concepts, attitudes, perspectives, capabilities, options, topics, specifications, qualities, and benefits yes, but “things” no. This is particularly awful when combined with #1 above. Which is better? “A lot of things make XYZ software stand out” or “Several unique features make XYZ software stand out.”
3. “Good.” Double ugh. This is one of the most overused words in the English language, despite a wealth of superior and more precise synonyms. A “good” meal may be delicious, tasty, scrumptious, satisfying, delightful, lip-smacking, or even extraordinary. A “good” writer may be brilliant, skilled, creative, original, capable, expert, talented, accomplished, prodigious, adroit, adept, widely published, often-quoted…you get the idea.
4. Misuse of “over” vs. “more than.” This one is somewhat subjective and tricky, but one general rule of thumb is to use “more than” before numbers and “over” before units, e.g., “We got more than 12 inches of snow” but “we got over a foot of snow.” Grammar Girl does an excellent job of describing the subtleties in this word choice:
“The AP Stylebook encourages you to look at your particular sentence and then pick whichever phrase sounds best…You always want to evaluate your phrasing for each specific sentence you’re writing…The AP guide suggests that ‘She is over 30’ sounds better than ‘She is more than 30.’ The AP’s second example is ‘Their salaries went up more than $20 a week.’ I do think it would sound odd to say ‘Their salaries went up over $20 a week.’ I would definitely pick ‘more than’ in that sentence. If you choose to agree with the majority of the style pros and use more than and over interchangeably, always read over your work and make sure the phrase you’ve chosen sounds right in your particular sentence…There’s ‘more than one opinion’ about this. I do think it would have sounded odd if I’d said, ‘There’s over one opinion.’ Don’t you agree?”
5. Misuse of hard / difficult / challenging. As the Oxford English Dictionary makes clear, as with “over” and “more than” above, the use of “hard,” “difficult” and “challenging” is subjective and depends to a degree upon author preference and which word sounds best in a given context. There are no hard and fast rules (though one would never speak of “difficult and fast” or “challenging and fast” rules).
Generally, “hard” is used with physical actions (e.g., “it’s hard to move a pile of rocks by hand”), “difficult” implies trickiness (“maneuvering a large boat through a narrow waterway is difficult”) and “challenging” is used in intellectual and sporting situations (“it’s challenging to out-coach Bill Belichick”). Ultimately though, this word choice requires judgment; it can be hard, difficult or challenging to select the right word at times.
6. Misuse or non-use of adjectives. Too often, writers skip needed adjectives or use fluffy, pointless descriptors in place of meaningful words. “XYZ provides the best service in the industry” is an example of both sins. First, “best” in this case is worthless puffery. Now, if XYZ won a Best Customer Service award from a recognized organization, then by all means, let people know! Otherwise, skip the self aggrandizement.
Second, the sentence above begs the question: the best what service? Dental service? Excavation service? Software implementation service? Prospective customers actually search for phrases like those, so including the most specific adjective is essential for search optimization. But no visitor worth attracting ever searches for “the best service.”
7. Incorrect subject/verb agreement. Skilled writers knows what this means. See the problem?
8. Improper use of single vs. double quotation marks. “Quotes are always set within double quotation marks.” Single quotation marks are used only for quotes within quotes, e.g., as Chris Smith wrote, “in my interview with Pat Jones, Pat insisted ‘Capable writers understand the proper use of quotation marks.’ I think that’s true.”
9. Mistaking your vs. you’re. This is elementary English, yet it’s disturbing how often the wrong term is used in place of the other. “Your” is possessive, “you’re” is a contraction for “you are.” You’re going to look like an idiot if your writing includes this mistake.
10. Improper hyphenation. Hyphenation is another practice that’s not that difficult but nevertheless often done wrong. Hyphenate terms when using them as adjectives (“she’s attending a high-level meeting”) but not when using them at nouns (“he is performing at a high level”).
11. Mixing first-, second-, and third-person voice. No writer should mix voices, writing from different perspectives within one piece. We don’t often use first-person voice on this blog. You should be consistent in your writing.
12. Using passive vs active voice. Is it improper for one to employ the passive voice, needlessly adding words to a sentence? Yes, so use the active voice.
13. Incorrectly spelling out (or not spelling out) numbers. Spell out numbers less than 10 (one, two, three) but use numerals for larger numbers (39, 139, 1,339, etc.).
14. Getting “you and me” vs. “you and I” wrong. This is another area of common confusion that should be easy. When in doubt, leave out the “you” and then see whether “I” or “me” fits the sentence. “You and I should go to the park” is correct because “I should go to the park” is correct. “She sent it to you and me” is right because otherwise she would have sent it to me, not sent it to I.
15. Improper use of “who” vs. “whom.” So many people find this situation so confusing that the use of “whom” is rapidly disappearing. Shame though, as it’s a perfectly fine word, and the rules for using “whom” vs. “who” are in general no more complex than those for the proper use of “you and me” versus “you and I” above.
In this case, determine whether the sentence in question would make more sense using he/she versus him/her. For example, “To whom should I mail this?” (I should mail it to him.) “Who will sign for the package?” (She will sign for it.)
16. The unnecessary use of “that.” Unnecessary “that”—let me assure you that we don’t make this mistake. Necessary “that”—we don’t use this word improperly because that would be annoying.
17. Repetitive word usage. Consider the following two examples:
Facebook is on a roll. Facebook now has more than one billion users. It’s hard to imagine any competitor overtaking Facebook.
Facebook is on a roll. The world’s largest social network now has more than one billion users. It’s hard to imagine any competitor overtaking Mark Zuckerberg’s creation.
Synonyms are a writer’s (and reader’s) friend. Use them. Sometimes it requires a bit of creativity, other times it’s as simple as checking thesaurus.com, which should be a prominent bookmark in every writer’s browser.
Proper writing alone won’t win every battle for business or search engine rank, but shoddy, sloppily produced clients will often guarantee a loss. Avoiding the sometimes simple but too-common mistakes above is a baseline for content marketing success.
For an expanded and far more amusing list of common writing mistakes to avoid, check out How to Write Good. Among their words of wisdom:
- • Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
- • If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
- • And always be sure to finish what
I took several creating writing courses back in junior high and high school. For a while, as a teen, I even considered pursuing a career as a novelist—until I did some research and realized that the probability of becoming a best-selling fiction author is on par with the odds of winning the lottery. While being attacked by a shark. And struck by lightning. Simultaneously. Twice.
So I went into engineering instead. But my love of writing and storytelling eventually drew me into marketing and PR, where I could bring true customer stories to life and help people understand the transformative potential of technology.
As it turns out, many of the elements of storytelling apply to writing customer stories, new releases, blog posts and other marketing content as well. A customer story or news release shouldn’t read exactly like a novel or movie script of course, but keeping in mind the elements of proper storytelling can help add life and draw readers in to your PR and social media marketing “stories.”
Setting: creating the context or setting the scene is the essential first step in storytelling. Almost everyone of a certain age can identify, verbatim, the setting for Star Wars (“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”). A fictional story can be set in any place or time. A social business story, however, is always set in the present, the very recent past, or just slightly in the future, and always in your customers’ world—though the setting changes slightly for the different buyers of your product or service (e.g., the C-level, finance, technology or business buyer).
Protagonist: the hero of the story; in fiction, this can be a person, a group, an animal or even a thing. In a social business story, the hero is always your buyer, or in the case of a customer story, an existing customer whom you buyers can relate to.
Antagonist: the villain, the enemy, the bad guy; again, in fiction, the antagonist can take a wide variety of forms, from a person or group to an apparition, an object, the weather, or a monster. In a social business story, the antagonist is often a business problem (excessive costs, low or declining sales, inefficient processes, unhappy customers) but can, effectively, also be more personal (low compensation or recognition, long/late hours at the office, excessive travel, lack of advancement).
Conflict: a key element of plot, conflict is what draws us into a story, makes us wonder what will happen next, the source of suspense or uncertainty; it’s what creates the dramatic tension that makes a story interesting. Suppose someone were to write a story along the lines of: “Fred woke up one morning, then a bunch of good things happened to him, then he went to bed and thought about what a good day it had been.” That’s all fine and good for Fred, but it’s not much of a story. There’s no suspense, no mystery, no wonder, nothing to interest us. Too often, marketing materials are written that way: “blah, blah, our product, blah, features, blah, benefits…” As with Fred, that’s nice for the product or service in question, but not terribly interesting. When writing a news release, blog post or other content, ask yourself—what’s the “hook” that will draw readers in and make them care?
Plot twists: an unexpected turn of events, a surprisingly revelation about a key character, an unforeseen obstacle—these are often what set a good story apart from a great one. Business stories often have plot twists too: a budget cut, the loss of a key customer, an unexpected move by a supplier or competitor, a change in the market landscape, or other events that the alter the course of, complicate, or add urgency to a story.
Resolution: the hero triumphs, the smoke clears, the alien flies off back into space, the bad guy gets what he had coming, the boy gets the girl (or vice versa)—basically, the conflict is resolved and the dramatic tension is eased. How does your product or service help the hero (your customer) to emerge victorious, in a believable manner?
Denouement: the wind-down, the epilogue, the final resolution, the hero riding off into the sunset, the happy ending. In social business writing, this is where you explain how your customer/hero’s life ends up better than before, how their situation is improved, how their world is changed by what you provide.
Obviously, that’s not to say you should literally write a business story like a novel—that would be cheesy—but rather that business writing can be enlivened and inspired by considering the story elements of great fiction.
And don’t be formulaic; stories that are formulaic (Halloween) can degenerate into ironic, self-aware imitations (Scream) and then into parodic farce (Scary Movie). Don’t let your business stories turn into Scary Movie. Be original! But consider incorporating the elements of classic fiction to add life to your PR and social business stories.