No Pride in “Pretty Sure”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I learned about taking pride in my work in the back of a 1970s station wagon. That just sounds wrong, I know. But it’s true, and I apply what I learned there to copywriting, content development and dozens of other tasks for my clients every day.

It was my Uncle John’s old wagon, a Chrysler, I think, or maybe a Dodge, and I was tasked with cleaning it. Well.

If you’ve been around long enough to recall what was on the roads in the ’70s, you can picture it. Big as a freakin’ boat. Drove like one, too, floating on struts and shocks that made the huge, heavy car feel like it was rolling to and fro over waves. Faux wood paneling down the sides over that awful, dull pea-soup green that was so popular at the time. If my uncle had been a family man, this baby would have been the epitome of the fabled Family Truckster.

I was a broke teenager. Uncle John needed his roadster cleaned. He said he’d pay me $30 to clean it. I figured it would only take a couple of hours. Yeah, the car was big, but how hard could it be? Remember, this was the early 1980s; $15/hour was doggone good money.

A couple of hours later, I called it. And my uncle called the job what it was – crap.

I hadn’t vacuumed out the crevices, cleaned the insides of the windows, wiped down the dashboard… I thought he’d never get done pointing out all the things I hadn’t done, or hadn’t done right.

You’re not finished. / What? / The deal was you’d clean my car. It’s not clean. / But…

I whined. Kicked a couple of stones out of the dirt driveway. Uncle John stood firm.

“No use whining about it,” he said, “If you want to get paid, you have to finish the job and do it right.”

No one has better summarized work ethic, taking pride in your work and good customer service since.

I finished some time later, irritated as only a teenager can be. But I got paid.

I think of the old wagon and my uncle’s lesson every time I get shoddy, careless service. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. Like recently, at a home improvement store –

Excuse me, I’m looking for some plumber’s tape. / If we have that, it’ll be down aisle nine. “If,” I thought to myself. What “if” I go there and don’t find the plumber’s tape. Then what?

Or the thousands of times I’ve called a store in advance to find out if it stocks a certain item – Um, yeah, I think we have those. / You think? / Pause. Yeah, I’m pretty sure. / Pretty sure? / Pause. / Can you check, please? / Harrumph. Yeah, hang on….

One of the worst examples unfolded in front of my wife and me at a local grocery store over the past holiday season (and this was an exchange with the manager on duty, for cryin’ out loud) –

Hi. I’m trying to find the Keurig machines you have on special. / We don’t have those. / But I called earlier today and was told you have several on display and more in the back room. / Oh. Well…

She walked away, but stayed in our view, pushing empty carts toward the stacks near the front doors. She didn’t bother to call anyone to ask or send anyone in search of the Keurigs. Finally, I went searching myself, not for the Keurigs but for a stockboy. I was a stockboy once, so I knew that the stockboy knows or can find just about anything in the store. The young man I lassoed looked up and down several aisles, then went in the back and found a stack of about a dozen of the machines. Cheerfully. He’ll have her job in no time.

The manager on duty was the face of the store. Her service was crap. She was the face of crap.

If you want to get paid, finish the job and do it right. I always keep in mind that the result of the work I do will be associated with me forever. I want to be able to take pride in it.

To put it another way, I don’t ever want to be the face of crap. Who does, right?

Doesn’t matter if it’s copywriting or cleaning out a car, always do the best you can, and you won’t be.

 

Personal logo for Fredricks Communications owner, Martin C. Fredricks IV

© 2017, Fredricks Communications. All rights reserved.

Creating and Evaluating Advertising and Marketing Taglines

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Your brand positioning line, a.k.a. tagline, is more than just a catchy phrase. It’s the first message your customers and prospects get from your company or organization. As such, it can be a key to the success of your advertising and marketing.

A strong brand positioning line tells prospects, customers and other stakeholders what a company or organization does and why it is different from or better than the competition.

Or, if it doesn’t tell, it at least hints at what sets your company apart and serves as a springboard for broader messaging. It also can begin to communicate elements of what the company values or its culture.

So, what goes into crafting a good one?

Fredricks Communications Criteria

Brand Illuminating

A strong positioning line addresses and provides a platform for conveying a brand’s core and extended identity elements. The core is what your company is all about; the extended elements are key messages that expand upon that core identity. They put some clothes on the emperor, if you will. It’s not necessary for a line to completely encompass or convey all the key messages, but it should provide a strong basis for introducing and more fully explaining them.

Interesting / Compelling

A positioning line can, and should, spark interest among prospects, customers and other stakeholders and nudge them toward wanting to learn more.

Differentiating

As we strive to claim a specific position in the marketplace, we need to explain how we are different or superior to those who provide the same or similar products or services. Your differentiators are what allow you to own a specific position in your competitive environment; no line can accomplish this alone, but a good one will set the stage.

Based on Fact / Speak the Truth

A positioning line should be solidly grounded. One that blatantly contradicts stakeholders’ perceptions will not work and could harm the brand. An effective line builds on indisputable strengths and potential to convey what a company is today and what it is striving to be tomorrow.

Provide a Central Theme

A good positioning line provides avenues for expanding upon the extended identity elements that give the brand its full meaning. In doing so, it can become the lynchpin for a strong advertising and marketing campaign.

Explainable

Traditionally, a positioning statement is one sentence that defines a company and its direction. In this context, a positioning statement is a more thorough explanation of why a particular positioning line makes sense, fits for the company and can be applied in moving the company forward. If a line is difficult for the marketing team to explain, if it feels forced, it should be reworked or discarded.

Time Is Money

You only have a few seconds to grab someone’s attention, if that. Same goes for web-based marketing. According to a piece on Hubspot, 55 percent of the people who visit your website spend 15 seconds or less on before they bounce. When you only get a second or two, your tagline can make a difference. Will it be a good difference or a not-so-good one?

“No man can walk out on his own story.”

I love that quote from the film “Rango,” spoken by The Spirit of the West (watch the full clip), who looks and sounds an awful lot like Clint Eastwood as Blondie (a.k.a. the Man with No Name) in his spaghetti westerns, like “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.”

What it’s all about. What your company values, stands for or believes in. What the culture is like. Whether your organization is playful, professional, cocky, welcoming… these are all things that can come through in a tagline.

Make What’s First Truly First

There is no second or third point, no more seconds or minutes after the first few, if you aren’t able to move someone further along. Your tagline might be the first thing that people learn about your business or organization, and it can be something that makes them want to move on to the second and third. Or – if it’s lame or makes no connection – it can be the only thing they learn.
You are who you are, your company is what it is – great at providing a specific set of products or services.

It’s your story; a good tagline can help tell it well.

Case Study Copywriting: Create the Vision

Icon for the Red letter blog

The ultimate goal of any marketing piece should be to create a vision in your prospects’ minds that points them to your product or service. A great place to start is a well-written case study.

I say “ultimate goal” because the sales process is often long and complicated, with multiple contacts or marketing pieces required to close the deal. Any one piece – whether it’s a brochure, a blog post, a proposal, a presentation, a print advertisement or a website – isn’t going to do the job by itself.

The key is to write a compelling story and tell it through multiple, complementary delivery channels, as well as phone-to-phone or face-to-face contacts.

Case in Point

One of the pieces of the show-a-solution matrix that companies often ignore is the case study.

Good case studies succinctly show prospects how someone in their industry has already overcome a challenge by working with your company, your product or service. They can take many forms, but they all strive to do one thing – show prospects a solution you provide that’s better, faster or less expensive than any offered by your competitors

“Fine and dandy,” you say, “but no one customer has the exact same problem or challenge as any other. We customize our solutions for each and every customer.”

Granted. And kudos to you.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use case studies. In fact, case studies might be even more valuable to your sales process.

Since you can’t illustrate an exact remedy, illustrate a solution to a similar problem, something that points to a larger category of challenges that your business has expertise in tackling. You want your prospects, and even your current customers, to think, “Hmmm…. that’s like my problem. Maybe (your company/product/service) can help me, too”

Be The Problem Solver

Here’s a case study format I often use to make clients look like expert problem solvers:

  • Customer Profile – An overview of my client’s customer, what that company does and for whom.
  • Situation – The problem the customer was facing and its cause.
  • Critical Issue(s) – The negative implications of the situation.
  • Solution(s) – What my client provided, and how it solved the problem. Whenever possible, focus on fixes that differentiate your company or offering.
  • Results – Improvements realized, quantified whenever possible (number of hours shaved, inputs reduced, days or weeks cut off of project completion, dollars available for reinvestment, etc.).
  • Quotes – What your customer says about the quality of the product or service and the ease of the working relationship can be powerful, and valuable, because it’s from someone who presumably had no bias prior to working with you.

Through all of this, be humble.

Your writer should go easy on the superlatives and avoid over-the-top, pat-yourself-on-the-back content. Remember, this is about your customer and your prospect. (And, ultimately, your sales.)

Keep It Brief

Six hundred words is best. One thousand is the max. Period.

Make It Look Good, Too

As a writer I don’t admit it very often, but a picture really is worth a thousand words. A white sheet of paper with black blocks of content is, alas, not especially inviting. Incorporate your case study narrative into a pleasing layout, with images that help tell or at least support the story. A design with a hero shot at the top and smaller supporting images or graphics is much more inviting, genuine and, therefore, effective.

Where to Use Them

OK, so you have your case studies. They’re well written and nice to look at. Now what? I advise my clients to get as much mileage as possible out of their case studies. That means using them in as many of the following as makes sense.

  • Website – Obviously. You’ve done a great job for someone; now it’s time to tell anyone and everyone. Create the vision where the process starts – online. In addition to providing persuasive information, case studies can boost your site’s SEO when written properly.
  • Social Media – Share your case studies on Twitter and Facebook and use them to drive traffic back to your website. Do this sparingly so your content maintains a good promotional-informational mix. LinkedIn might be a good avenue, as well, but that’s a case-by-case judgment call. You need to make sure the content is valuable to your connections, and a customer-facing case study might not fit that bill.
  • Sales Packets – Arm your salespeople with good stories to tell, or at least leave behind, when they meet with customers and prospects. Make sure they know how to present them in a way that clearly makes the connection between the case study solution and the prospect’s challenges. Have the case studies printed professionally, not on your office machine.
  • Emails – The human-to-human portion of the sales process usually begins via email or telephone, and these initial interactions often end with, “Can you send you something about you guys and what you can do?” Attach a case study or two before you hit send.
  • Proposals – Case studies make great complements to proposals because they tell your story in a way that’s very different from the dry, facts-only content you’re required to include. And, as a form of third-party endorsement, they give the evaluator a… well… third-party endorsement.

Close More Deals

Well-written case studies can be a big part of effectively selling your company, product or service, not to mention a big part of closing more deals. And that’s a vision worth writing about.

Marketing Consultant – “I’ll Help You”

The Red Letter – What’s in the Name?

The name for The Red Letter grew from the hair on my head to the copywriting, strategic messaging and brand consulting services I provide. In other words, it combines a number of Fredricks Communications brand and personal-identity ideas.

The first is as plain as the red hair on my head. I come by it honestly. My grandfather, the late Martin C. Fredricks Jr., was a district court judge in Jamestown. He also was a redhead, and for as far back as I can remember, everyone called him “Red” instead of Martin. As his namesake and a fellow redhead, it was an honor to also take on his nickname and put it to good use in terms of marketing my company.

So, whenever someone reads The Red Letter, they are literally reading a letter from “Red.”

Second, when I started FredComm in February 2004, I knew I would offer several interrelated communication services, but that my primary offerings would match my strengths: writing and editing. The colors of writing and editing are white (paper), black (ink) and red (editor’s ink), so I selected those as my brand colors. In addition, you’ll notice that my logo contains an editor’s mark in the page icon– the three lines under the lowercase “fc” indicating that they should be capitalized.

Before I left my day job for the freelance world, I noted what some established freelancers were doing. One, in particular, caught my eye. She published a simple, one-page newsletter that reported news about her business when there was any. Mostly, though, she filled it with simple communication tips and ideas.

I also noticed that, without fail, one of the account managers in the advertising agency I worked in at the time copied and distributed that little one-page tome to everyone in the office every time it arrived on the fax machine. I thought it was a great way to stay in touch with clients, prospects and others, especially if you could make the newsletter funny, informative, a little quirky…basically quick and fun to read. So, I launched my own newsletter within a month of starting my own business.

The Red Letter has evolved with the times so that, now, rather than being a printable PDF sent by email, it’s become a blog for anyone to see any time.

Now, as for the name, The Red Letter –

You might be familiar with the term “red-letter day.” Historically, calendars denoted holidays or special days with red ink while regular days were in black. Those days came to be known as “red-letter” days. Over the years, the definition evolved into regular use to describe a really good or great day in a person’s or organization’s life, a day in which something happened that was a cause for celebration.

Today, any day in which something really positive happens can be a “red-letter day.” I have tried to extend that literally and metaphorically; a day someone receives The Red Letter in his or her in-box is a red-letter day. Stretching it even a little further still, my hope was to achieve a more substantial message: a day working with FredComm is a good day, a red-letter day.

Tying the whole thing together with a great nickname which has a literal meaning (my red hair) that helps people identify with and remember me on sight – that’s just the icing on top, so to speak.

There, more than you ever wanted to know. Hope you have a Red Letter day!

Tortoise & Hare Write-Off

“Do you have any tips for writing copy and content faster?” a colleague texted recently.

My response probably seemed to contradict the question:
Sloowwwwww doowwwwwn.

Wha-? How does slowing down make one faster, especially when it comes to getting characters onto a blank screen? It makes no sense!

Who ever said writing is supposed to make sense? Certainly the writing, as in the words and narrative that eventually wind up in front of a reader, yes, that has to make sense. But how you get there, the process you go through – that’s another matter altogether.

Hurry up, you’re thinking now. Explain yourself!

Hey, man, like I said. Sloowwwww dowwwnnnn. Or, as many a Brit might say, “Chilllllll, Winston.”

Before I explain what I mean, know this: ask 10 or 100 or 1,000 copywriters how to write quickly and you’ll get as many different solutions for being faster. Writing is an individual, solitary, every-mind-for-itself endeavor. Everyone does it differently.

With that caveat out of the way, here’s what I mean by “slow down.”

For me, most writing doesn’t happen on a keyboard, show up on a computer screen or result from pen on paper. I’d say 50-65 percent of writing occurs long before that, in discussions with clients and conversations with experts, and online doing research.

After that – and for me, this is the lion’s share of that 65 percent – it all happens between the ears, baby.

It’s tempting to dive right into a project, figure it out as you go. For some, that’s the best and fastest way to write.

For everyone else, myself included, here’s my advice: take a breath and figure out where you’re going before taking those first fingertip-toes across the keyboard. In a word, think.

  1. That’s right. Think the project through first. Ask yourself questions like:
  • What is the objective for this piece?
  • Who am I trying to reach?
  • What motivates them?
  • What is the main message?
  • What are secondary messages?
  • How does this tie into the client’s bigger story? Or how can I massage it into the client’s bigger story?
  1. Think some more. How can you turn all of this into a story, something compelling with a beginning, a middle and an end? (Sounds familiar, right? Sort of like the old English teacher’s dreaded outline.)

Sometimes – and I realize this sounds a little crazy – I visualize the finished piece. I imagine how the words and paragraphs are going to look on the paper, how they’ll flow logically or creatively (ideally a mix of both) from one to the next to the next to the end.

Hey, why not? It can work for a basketball player about to take a free throw or a pole vaulter charging down the approach toward a really high bar; it can help a copywriter beginning a piece, too.

  1. Put your outline on paper. Shift thoughts around, reimagine the flow, consider quotes you need or already have and where they’ll fit in.
  1. Write. Just write. DO NOT self-edit as you go.
  1.  If you’re having trouble, just tell the story. Sometimes we walk into the  booby trap of worrying about style or how this relates to that or  whether the client would actually say that in a quote or… Never mind  all that. Just tell the story. When I start writing astray, I repeat it to  myself like a mantra: Just tell the story. Just tell the story. Just tell the story….
  1.  This next step can be the bugger of the bunch. It’s tripped up many a copywriter, myself included, and wasted valuable time.

When you’re done, stop.

There comes a point when anything more you write, any more jiggering you do, any more I-have-to-work-this-in-somewhere, is just going to screw it up. When the story is told, stop telling it.

  1.  Set your first draft aside for a day or two if possible. If not, squeeze out an hour, at minimum.
  1. Revise.
  1. Edit.
  1. Let someone else read it. Take their feedback for what it’s worth. Keep  what’s good about it. Ignore what’s not.
  1. Repeat steps 8 and 9. As many times as necessary.

All of this takes time, it’s true. And, man-oh-man, the last thing you needed was a marketing writer’s retelling of an Aesop’s Fable.

But here’s the thing – when it comes to copywriting, the determined turtle is always faster than the random rabbit. By slowing down you’ll get closer to the true mark of every piece earlier. You won’t need to experience the crushing defeat of being told your draft isn’t even close. You won’t have to return to the keyboard in humiliation after a discussion with an account manager or creative director. And you’ll never need to go back to step #1 on that particular project.

Follow these steps – many of which most writers have heard a million times before – and you’ll become a faster advertising, marketing and public relations copywriter and content creator. As for developing that hard outer shell, well, we’ll get to that one later.

The “Duh” Metric for Blog Posts

Circular Logic in Content Goes Nowhere Fast

Online marketing and social media people write thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of words each day about blogging, copywriting, SEO, content development, inbound marketing, social ROI, metrics and on and on.

A couple of weeks ago I read a few hundred of those words that… well…. let’s just say when I was done, all I knew for certain was I wanted to get back the time it took to read the post.

The “expert” was trying to get at metrics for measuring success. More specifically, he wrote, most people are not measuring the best metric. OK. Stage set. I wanted to know what the “right” metric would be. I read on.

The problem, he said (I’m paraphrasing here and will be throughout), most people think the best measure of success for a post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or their company blogs is engagement. Not how many views, but time spent, likes, comments, mentions, shares, @replies, click-throughs, retweets and the like.

Yep. With you so far.

The problem with that, he continued, is that none of those measurements gets to what is really important in the online marketing game: value. It’s one thing for site visitors to spend time reading a post, article or page, but are they getting any value out of it? Do they learn something useful? Most importantly, when they’re done are they a little closer to making a purchase or seeing your company as a leader in your category? If not, then your post was pretty much worthless.

To really make a difference to business growth, you need to deliver content that provides real value to prospects and customers. Further, he wrote – and by that point I was imagining someone glaring at me, gnarled hand vigorously shaking a ruler in my direction – companies and organizations MUST MEASURE VALUE.

Value! Of course. So, how do you –

But the problem with that, the venerable Social Media Guru went on, is there’s almost no way to measure value. At least not yet.

Huh?

So, what social media marketers really need to do is measure –

Wait for it…

– engagement!

That’s right, he said. Until someone comes up with a reliable way to measure online content’s value to prospects and customers, the best one can do is pay very close attention to engagement. You know, retweets, likes, comments and the like.

Well. Hmmmm. Gee.

My reading on social, inbound marketing, blogging and so on has been educational. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Everyone wants to be seen as an expert. Not everyone is. Clearly.
  • Regurgitation is the rule. Many so-called experts are re-writing content someone else wrote a year, a month or even a week ago. I’ve read what’s essentially the same post presented in different ways more times than I care to recall.
  • There’s a lot of garbage out there. Not everyone employs ham-handed circular logic, but there’s a lot of superficial, obvious and even nonsensical content floating around.

Which brings me to my 1 Tip for Online Marketing “Experts” – Never write a post that takes your readers in a circle, right back to the point where they started, with nothing of – ahem! – value to be found on the journey of the circumference.

DUH.

But hey, it’s easy to play the critic, right? Fact is, there’s a lot of good content out there, too, written by really smart people who know which way is up and try to help you move a little further in that direction (and pay for their services). That just wasn’t the case this time around.

I have to give the circular post writer credit for one thing, though. His piece was the ideal illustration of his point. I spent four to five minutes reading it (good engagement), but gained nothing, didn’t feel a nudge toward deeper thought on the subject and definitely was not entertained (zero value).

Well done, Sir.

To avoid this kind of thing in your content, contact Fredricks Communications today.  

Explosive Copywriting

by Martin “Red” Fredricks

Ka-BLAM!

That’s the reader reaction you should strive for every time you write a headline or copy for an advertisement, marketing piece, blog post, website advertisement or blog post. Words should figuratively blast off of the page, hit members of your target markets hard right between the eyes and make them want to take the next step in the buying process.

To make it happen, I use C4 (explosive copywriting).

I shoot for explosive copywriting one every project:

  • Clear – Simple, easy-to-comprehend, everyday language will maintain readers’ attention.
  • Compelling – Powerful words combined with active voice and style will effectively describe the benefits of your company, product or service to the people you want to spur to action.
  • Concise – No one takes time to read these days. Short is sweet.
  • Consistent – I will ensure the messaging supports your branding strategy and complements your other communications.

A fifth “C” – Creative – is a bonus that will help generate even more positive repercussions for your business or organization.


Let’s energize your communication with C4 copywriting and content creation today!

Building Your Brand House

by Martin “Red” Fredricks

You know who you are, what you do and what you do better. Now you need to tell everyone else. Repeatedly and consistently.

Consistency is one of the keys to branding. In terms of copywriting and content development, that means making sure you’re saying the same things in the same and complementary ways through all message delivery channels and to all target markets. It does not mean the words or tone are exactly the same in everything; it just means you stay true to the message and to the key messages.

So how do you do it? Especially if your business or organization is more than just you, when prospects and customers are having brand-relevant interactions with lots of different people and materials and experiences? You build, and almost maniacally apply, a messaging framework. The messaging framework should guide the development of all your content, from copy for ads and brochures to content for blog posts and websites. Before your copywriter ever strikes a key, s/he should have this document in hand.

So what is a messaging framework?

Think of it as the house that encompasses your brand’s voice. You have to build the house before it’s possible to invite anyone in.

  • The positioning statement is the foundation. This should not be confused with what is commonly called a “tagline.” The brand statement describes – often in very clear, plain, non-sales languages – who we are, what we do and what makes us different or better. This internal statement helps us all get on the same page before we take our communications to external audiences.
  • The key message is the roof, the high-level overview of our business. If we can only convey one thing, this is it.
  • Message pillars are load-bearing walls. They support the key message and begin to fill in the picture of our business and its benefits for our target markets.
  • Message support points are the floor, the walls and the ceiling. They are fact-based messages that “prove out,” or support, what your message pillars convey. It’s one thing to say your product will save Joe Bloe money; it’s quite another say it’s going to save Joe cash by doing or enabling X (where “X” is something specific and, whenever possible, quantifiable). The support points fill in the gaps in our messaging by validating the pillars.
  • Tone is the confluence of everything that gives the brand personality – the paint colors, surface textures, floor coverings, curtains, furniture and so on.

Once your brand messaging house is built, you can make decisions regarding how much of the building members of particular target markets want or need to see, how much time they are likely to spend in each room, and which pillars and support points are likely to motivate them.

Strong copywriting and content development on every message delivery channel will get them there.

Want to have a house warming party? Contact me.

So this guy walks into a bar…

by Martin “Red” Fredricks, Dec. 1, 2015

So this guy walks into a bar….

So begins the story I wrote about Trevor Cronk, an alumnus of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., and co-owner of Lift Bridge Brewing in Stillwater, Minn. (Man, have I been waiting a looooong time to write that line and get away with it!)

The story fun to write and more fun to see in the Fall 2015 issue of Concordia Magazine, which hit our mailbox this week (my wife is a Concordia Cobber, too).

Funny… all these years, and it’s still a bit of a thrill to see my byline.  Check it out on page 12. And lest I forget – Cheers!