How to ensure your copy does not get read.

How to ensure your copy does not get read.

Copywriting is easy.

That is what you tell yourself, after all, you can write, you are a professional, very used to communicating, and doing it successfully.

My sister is a writer, and every now and again she grabs one of my posts over which I have slaved (yes, it is OK to have family subscribed) and goes into what I call her ‘Teacher mode’

Out comes the red pen and professional editor and she rewrites my posts.

They are subtly altered, so the intent of the post is clearer, makes a greater impact on the reader, and ends up being way, way better.

It galls me a bit that it is a skill beyond mine,  but on the other hand, she makes me feel better by telling me she could never dream up the topics and angles that I do, all she does is polish it a bit.

We are inundated with copy, it comes at us at all times, through all our devices,  and now is increasingly visual  as a means to fight the war for your attention. However, like most things the volume going up does not have any real impact on the quality, if anything the average has dropped as we become ‘do-it-yourselfers’ in order to keep the volume up.

The headline is the most important element of copy in any piece. If you fail to cut through, catch attention, and create an urge to read on, it does not matter how good the rest is, it will not be seen.

There is piles of advice around on how to write a great headline, most of it pretty good, but also so much that we tend to get tunnel vision, and forget most of it, so following are 4 basic things I see continuously that ensures I do not open a piece.

Talking about yourself.

Nobody cares about you, except perhaps your mother, or in my case, my sister. They care about themselves, their lives, and their problems. A good headline reflects those needs, pain points, and offers help to a specific group that you wish to communicate with, and at  the very least, creates interest.

If you are a dentist, do not talk about how modern your equipment is, or how many degrees you may have, address the reason someone  may be looking for a dentist. They have broken a tooth, their child has a crooked bite, or they have a toothache that needs attention.

Using jargon.

Every industry has jargon, it acts as shorthand for insiders, so if you want to grab the attention of your competitors, use the jargon they understand, but if you would rather catch the attention of those who might want to act on what you say, avoid it like the plague.

Last week I saw a headline that promised: ‘to deliver a sophisticated customer centric e-commerce solution to SME’s’ . How much better would it have been if the headline simply promised to make it easy from small businesses to get paid.

Showing how clever you are.

For your potential customer, clear beats clever every single time. It may not get a chuckle from your mates in the pub after work, but so what, they are already your mates, and not required to pay your bills. The most common offender is the use of a pun, never as funny in a headline as in the pub, followed closely by the use of ‘digital shorthand’ such as ‘gr8’.

Allowing grammatical and spelling errors.

Perhaps it is just my age, but a spelling or grammatical error in a headline or sub head ensures I do not open it. Not only does it offend my sense of what is right, it demonstrates that the writer is either too stupid to understand the basic rules of written communication, or that they have so little concern for my time that they did not make the effort to get it right. Why would I read it in either case?

The difference between ordinary copy, and great copy is a big bagful of money, and a lot of effort, experience and specialist skill.


The marketing flip, with pike & twist.

The marketing flip, with pike & twist.

The marketing degree of difficulty has exploded, making getting a good score  exponentially more difficult.

There used to be a few TV and radio stations, newspapers and magazines by which to reach potential customers, and supply them with the information you thought they needed to buy your stuff.  It was mass marketing, with little to no ability to customise, personalise, or engage.

The name of the game was scale.

Scale of capital to control the means of communication and mass produce products for sale

Scale of financial resources  to afford the advertising costs demanded by the communication owners

Scale of markets, mass consumers

Scale of intermediaries like supermarket chains, and suppliers of capital and equipment.

Scale had all the power.

In 15 years, less than half my working life, marketing has flipped.

Individuals now have all the power

Marketing has to be personalised, one on one, or it will be ignored

Media channels are now virtually infinite, and the cost can be modest to free

Brands are only as good as the last delivery of value to the individual

However, the objective remains the same, just as with the fancy dive. It is to go through the surface with as little splash and disturbance as possible, a good old fashioned, well executed and relatively simple swan dive can achieve that objective as well as the fancy risky, and hugely complicated combinations of tricks.

Next time you are contemplating a complicated marketing dive with a pike and twist, consider the benefits of simplicity.


7 ways to avoid a hiring failure.

7 ways to avoid a hiring failure.

The small and medium businesses I work with are usually pretty wary of the recruitment consultants that chase them, promising to deliver the ‘Perfect ‘ hire for just 20% of their annual salary. They are usually seen, usually rightly, as just short term  ‘body shops’ that add little lasting value.

As a result I often get to have some input into the hiring decisions they make, as the ‘go-it-alone’ strategy using one or more of the on line job boards is becoming more common.

Taking on a new employee is a significant decision for a modest business. When it is a senior management decision it can be a make or break choice, and more often than not, once the gloss of the interview and enthusiastic references from the candidates friends masquerading as referees wears off, there are holes.

Making that right choice has two parts:

  • You need a realistic and detailed understanding of the job you are filling, its frustrations and challenges, along with the technical skills necessary to get the job done.
  • You need a good understanding of the underlying emotions, attitudes, and perspectives of the person you are considering.

Sounds simple, but we all know it is  not.

Over the years I have developed through experience and observation a set of personal criteria I look for when involved in this exercise. It is important for me to help get it right, as my clients rely on me for  the advice that is improving their businesses, so making a mistake can badly damage my position with them, and more importantly, compromises their efforts to change, and evolve the business.

The list has 7 elements, after the technical parameters of the job have been adequately addressed. All are hard to assess in an interview type Q&A, but can emerge in a more casual conversation, that is less about the role, more about the person.

  • Curiosity. In a world changing as rapidly as ours, domain knowledge cannot be static, so being curious about what is going on around them, about other people, technologies, environments, is a core part of a person who will continue to learn by absorbing new information, and keep being able to contribute.
  • Absorb blame while passing on praise. We have all seen the destructiveness of someone who does the opposite.  The ability to give credit for success, while making others feel ‘safe’ to experiment, think laterally, and risk failing is a powerful leadership quality.
  • Action oriented. There are those that talk, and those that do, and we all know which is the better. Being prepared to take decisions, often without perfect information, recognising not all decisions will be right, but doing something, learning as a result, and adjusting as necessary is way better than waiting for perfect information. Mixed in is a recognition that due diligence in risk assessment is crucial, the widely accepted ‘failure porn’ is to my mind destructive.
  • We all want leaders, but we usually hire managers, to get stuff done, to exercise organisational power. Far better to have a group who are able to lead without the authority, who inspire performance, and create an emotional commitment.
  • Prepared to prepare. Generally, the more preparation that is done, the easier things look. Playing football (Rugby, the heavenly game) in my youth at University, we had a coach who used to drive us into the ground at training. He used to say at least 10 times a session, ‘train hard, play easy’, a lesson that has served me well.
  • ‘CUR’. My personal acronym for ‘Cock-Up Recovery’. Everyone makes mistakes, except perhaps those who do nothing, so the measure of the person is the manner in which they recover, address the situation, and as the saying goes, ‘get back on the horse’.
  • Operate well under pressure. Let’s face it, life is a roller coaster of deadlines, demands, and crises, so being able to operate optimally under pressure is critical to good and consistent performance.

Keeping the conversation casual is important, and I usually end by asking something like, ‘what have you accomplished that makes you proud?’ In most interviews, no matter how casual, people default to what they do, or have done.  ‘Accomplished’ is a bit different, the word elicits a more personal response, something that may offer an insight into the person, and what is important to them.




Leveraging the flip side of an elevator pitch

Leveraging the flip side of an elevator pitch

Honing an elevator pitch is something we all should do, and many spend hours writing and practising a pitch, following one of the many templates around, most of which are similar.

Grab attention.

Describe the product.

Articulate the benefit.

All in 30 seconds.

We fantasise about catching that mystical perfect customer alone in an elevator, enthusing him/her to such as extent that they rush out and buy.

Rarely happens.

More often, you get the opportunity to deliver your pitch at a networking meeting, or some semi social gathering.

Still rarely happens that your perfect customer is there, listening, but we are happy to be delivering a pitch perfectly in that hope.

However, most people, somewhere in their networks, will know someone who will be the perfect customer.

The question then becomes how do make the pitch sufficiently memorable, that they are able to recite it back to their networks.

Do this successfully, and you will have  a host of sales people out there pitching for you, and we all know  the most effective marketing is still person to person, word of mouth endorsement.

It comes down to being able to articulate your differentiator and value proposition, in one sentence, in simple words.

It must be memorable, simple, and describe why they should be interested beyond any apparent alternative.

In the early days of Uber, founder Travis Kalanick described Uber as “Push a button and in 5 minutes a Mercedes picks you up and takes you where you want to go”

Nothing about platforms, technology, marketplaces, or any of the other buzzwords we slip into so easily, just the benefit. More recently it has been further simplified into ‘Push a button, get a ride

One of my clients in Sydney, Planet Press  that I met after I was ‘constructively rude’ about a botched elevator pitch delivery has a rare differentiator. It is a medium sized printing business with a highly experienced and skilled design function, combined with digital and offset printing, a wide range of die cutting, perforating and assembly options, along with a slick distribution service, all under the one roof. How do you make that lot sufficiently memorable that someone hearing the pitch will be able to relate it to their networks?

Quality printed communication from under one roof’?

Perhaps not quite there yet, but closer.



Budgeting: The crappiest time of the year

Budgeting: The crappiest time of the year

It is that time of year again, budget time.

In most businesses around Australia, at least those that will be around in a year or two, people are wondering where they will find the time to do the budget preparation for the coming fiscal.

To make it easier, following are some simple guidelines to apply to your thinking.

Where are you  now.

Before you set out on the planning of any journey, it is useful to know the starting point. This tends to avoid a lot of wasted effort and cost, and unnecessary frustration. Having a very clear picture of your current position is vital, but if you have left the development of that picture to the planning sessions pre budget, it is probably too late. Developing a deep understanding of your current situation, and most importantly the drivers of that outcome, needs to be an incremental and inclusive process that is happening in real time, all the time.

Where is it you want to go.

Again, obvious, but often overlooked. Good businesses have a strategic framework in place that delivers clarity and priority to the long term outcomes being sought, so the annual budget is just another step along the path. However, in the absence of a strategic framework that makes sense, a disturbingly frequent situation, set yourself some goals to be achieved, and the annual budget is the operational plan to get there.

How will you know when you get there.

Measurement for measurement’s sake is dumb, but having the few key measures of performance that really tell the story of your progress towards the end point is essential. Knowing what ‘success’ means is a core part of the planning process, but again, when that is left to the planning sessions, it is too late.

1/10 is not enough.

Another of the mumblings of my old Dad who used to say, ‘Son, you get 1/10 for  the talking, the other 9 are for the doing’. In a business context, the planning is essential, but of no value unless it is implemented. Just like a holiday, you can have some fun planning it, but the real fun is when you are actually on the holiday.

Profit is a two way street.

To make a bob, you have to sell something to people who really want at a price that is more than it costs you to produce and deliver it. Pretty sensible, and pretty simple, but understanding your costs and really understanding the value your product delivers to the specific target markets is a touch more complicated.

Everyone is in marketing.

The days of marketing being relegated to the back office are gone. Customers now have all the power, and they are exercising it in all sorts of ways not contemplated just a decade ago. Highly sensitive, fragmented, and focussed communication channels are being used by everyone, and amplification happens at the stroke of a social media pen. Everyone who comes into contact with your products can have an influence, and everyone in your business  is an agent of marketing. For heavens sake do  not leave it to the kids who have marketing in their title, thinking they have it under control, because nothing could be further from the truth. The most valuable asset you have is the position your product holds in the minds of your customers and potential customers, commonly called your ‘brand’. It is not normally listed on the balance sheet, as the accountants cannot agree how it is to be valued until a business is sold, when it is called ‘goodwill’ but it is the leverage that enables you to be able to stay in business.

Count outcomes before dollars.

Financial results are just that, results. Dollars are just easy ways to count the outcomes of more complicated stuff. Spending time understanding the drivers of the outcomes being counted is a far better way to invest your planning time that just manipulating the variables in spreadsheets. What is it that persuades someone to buy from you and not the opposition, how can you reduce the hidden transaction costs in your business, how can you increase your stock turn and reduce your working capital, and thousands of other questions that need your time and attention before the budget profit and loss is locked away.

The smartest people are not in the room.

No matter how big you are, and how much money you spend on expertise, the vast majority of the smartest people, and those who could influence your outcomes are working somewhere else, some of them for your competitors. This simply means that you have to find ways to be sensitive to the competitive, strategic and regulatory environment in which you are operating, and feed that intelligence back into the way the business is run. From going to local networking events, to travelling to leading markets and suppliers, to hiring expensive consulting knowledge, to ensuring the operators in your business have a voice at the table, all serve to add to the store of ‘education’ the business has to call on at budget time.

When you have done all that, it becomes time to go and punch the spreadsheets, not before. One last point, seems to be a common last point in my various musings, look after the cash. It is the lifeblood of the business, if you do nothing else, look after it as you would your first born.


Consider the moment of Opacity

Consider the moment of Opacity

We are all familiar with the ‘lightbulb’ moment, that time when suddenly, all seems clear, the idea that has been buried in the depths of your brain, unable to be born, suddenly sees the light.

Ever thought of the opposite?

The moment of Opacity?

That moment when you suddenly realised that something you had accepted as the norm, the way things were, a certainty, was suddenly revealed as a Furphy?

This is not something many of us think about much, if at all.

Perhaps it is not fashionable, but the moments of opacity are as important as the lightbulb moments.

My job is working with businesses to facilitate change, to move from the status quo, to something new, something that is almost always considerably outside their comfort zone.

To do that, I have to create those moments of Opacity, when my clients recognise that the way forward is different to the way they have followed to date.

Usually they are not moments, that is just a convenient metaphor.

Change is normally a process of recognising and revising the assumptions and behaviours that drive activity and priorities to accommodate a new reality, small bit by small bit.

Einstein is reported to have said something like ‘The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest’  and the legend of the chessboard is a well known example of just how powerful compounding really is.

Change is no different.

Small changes, compounded over time make a huge difference in time. The hardest bit is getting started, generating some momentum, but when that has happened, compounding can become an unstoppable force.