We’re celebrating a few distinctly Northern Irish copywriting mistakes. Most of them happen when regional dialect or accent creep into the written word.

It’s a bit of fun more than anything, but it’s still probably worth a look to make sure none of these appear on your website or in your company brochure!

1. Where and were
This crops up on almost a daily basis. It’s an accent thing caused by the Northern Irish voice in your head!

Where and were are regularly muddled when NI folk put finger to keyboard, resulting in people who don’t have a clue were they where going when they started the sentence. Read the rest of this entry »

Image: gordonramsaysubmissions

You’ll no doubt be familiar with the business guru TV format in one form enough.

Perhaps the best example is Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, but Ruth Watson, Mary Portas and a host of other personalities follow a very similar formula in their own shows.

The expert in question visits a failing business and tells them precisely what they’re doing wrong. The business then makes the recommended changes with varying degrees of resistance and success.

More often than not, one of the things they’re doing wrong is offering far too much choice. Read the rest of this entry »

Like it or not, we all need rules.

Does that sound a bit too regimented for your rebellious side? Guidelines any better?

OK, we all need guidelines. In just about any aspect of your life you know there are boundaries that you can’t cross. That’s why you should set some for your business’ written content too.

You will already have words that you find particularly irritating and will avoid regardless, but why not make your banned words list a bit more formal? Writing is a creative process and there is a danger that some of your would-be banned words might slip into your copy if you get a bit carried away.

If there’s more than one person contributing to your business’ content then your need is even greater.

The benefits of a banned words list

  • It discourages cliches. We all succumb to a hackneyed word or phrase from time-to-time. If you know the ones that your business is susceptible to, they are easier to avoid.
    Words you might like to ban: innovative, revolutionary, passionate
  • It stops corporate nonsense. Business websites are littered with management-speak: words that are widely overused, probably due to some over-enthusiastic use of Microsoft Word’s thesaurus at some point in the dim and distant past. Somebody decided that it was better than saying it in simple terms, and it caught on.
    Words you might like to ban: solutions, facilities, synergy
  • It makes you focus on what your business is and isn’t. If you start hunting around for synonyms to describe your business while you’re mid-project, the search for variety might result in you taking desperate measures. Life’s a lot easier if you’ve already got rid of words you know you don’t really want to use.
  • It helps your colleagues. Think of the banned words list as an indication to your co-workers of the hymn-sheets from which they shouldn’t be singing. It should help you to get more of a collective grip on your brand’s persona. It will also save lots of ‘tsk, tsk’-ing.

Do you already use a banned words list? If not, what words would you ban?

You probably receive emails from your boss and find it’s difficult to decipher precisely what they are trying to say. That’s because it’s written in management speak gobbledygook and the reason you can’t understand it is because it’s nonsense. It doesn’t mean anything.

The good news is that you too can now become proficient in management speak thanks to this buzz-word generator, which is credited to the Canadian Defence Department.

Its creators boast that it will provide “instant expertise on matters pertaining to defence”. We’d argue that it can be – and sadly is being – used across a wide range of industries!

It’s simple to use. To get “that proper ring of decisive, progressive, knowledgeable authority”, simply pick one number from each column.

For example, I could go for a 442 and claim that this blog post will provide functional digital capability to communicate with your boss.

Try it out for yourself, have your fun and then never use it again. Please.

COLUMN A COLUMN B COLUMN C
0. integrated 0. management 0. options
1. overall 1. organisational 1. flexibility
2. systematised 2. monitored 2. capability
3. parallel 3. reciprocal 3. mobility
4. functional 4. digital 4. programming
5. responsive 5. logistical 5. concept
6. optimal 6. transitional 6. time-phase
7. synchronised 7. incremental 7. projection
8. compatible 8. third generation 8. hardware
9. balanced 9. policy 9. contingency

Via The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers

1. You don’t have to use everything
Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday was the day to use up all your leftover ingredients and fill yourself with some stodge ahead of Lent. Nobody enjoys reading stodgy copy, so – unlike pancakes – it’s equally important to think about what you ought to leave out.

2. Remember to flip
Don’t just write about what you do. Instead, flip your copy on its head and think about how your business benefits potential customers. That’s what they really want to know.

3. Your filling might not be to everyone’s taste
You’re not the only person who will be consuming your ‘copy pancake’. Make sure you fill it with the goodness that people outside your business will appreciate, and not the sort of jargon that’s only understood by you and your colleagues. It’s often best to keep it simple: lemon and sugar copy.

Image: Magnus D

With the January transfer window due to close in a few hours, today seemed like the perfect opportunity to discuss hyperbole in copywriting.

Unless you’re Sky Sports News, whose reporters have managed to carve an irritatingly endearing reputation out of their distinctive brand of hyperbole, exaggeration can be off-putting to your customers.

There is a balance to be struck. Many businesses find that their copy suffers because they fail to sell themselves. Just like we all struggle to fill out self-appraisals, a lot of business owners underplay themselves when writing about what they do.

Unfortunately, there’s often a tipping point. Once people start blowing their own trumpet, they don’t know where to stop and end up passing off someone else’s concerto as their own.

The aim of the game is to convey the benefits of your services without resorting to overstating them.

Here’s a few common sense tips to help your tread the hyperbole tightrope in your content.

1. Don’t lie.
The lie will probably get found out and it probably isn’t very convincing in the first place. There’s also a good chance it breaks at least one law.

2. Focus on your good points.
Make sure these are good points from your customers’ point-of-view, not what you perceive on your good points. There is a difference.

3. Avoid the buzzwords you think make you sound good.
Lots of people hit the meaningless marketing spiel dictionary when they set about explaining how effective their business is. Steer clear of the buzzwords. They come across as fake, arouse suspicion and are likely to deter readers from giving you there business.

4. Find an angle.
There’s always a positive spin that you can put on any content to show yourself in the best possible light. It must stop well short of lying (it shouldn’t even be close), but can be a very favourable account of the facts.

5. Don’t over-egg it
Make sure that positive spin doesn’t go too far. Is your new product genuinely revolutionary? Overstating the impact of whatever it is you’re writing about can be counterproductive. You need people to trust what they’re being told.

If you’d like help to explain why people should work with your business, please get in touch.

It’s time to address a Voz Media pet peeve: email marketing systems (or at least the illogical approach some businesses take to email marketing systems).

It’s not uncommon for companies to throw thousands of pounds at an all-singing, all-dancing system to reach thousands of leads in the hope of bringing in a raft of new clients. They might even chuck a few hundred quid after it to secure a database or mailing list to target.

There’s nothing wrong with many of these email marketing systems in terms of their functionality. It’s just that so many people take the Ronseal approach when signing up for them: they read email marketing on the tin and assume that’s what it does.

What you’re paying for is the technological ability to deliver lots of emails. That’s pretty much it.

In most cases the ‘marketing’ side of things is down to you. Delivering all the emails is the easy part; you’ve then got to worry about convincing people to part with their hard-earned cash.

Considering the importance of the content and the message in achieving what you would assume to be the key goals of an email marketing campaign, the amount of time and consideration afforded to it is disproportionately low in many cases.

It’s like paying to hire a very fast car from a rental firm only to find that there’s no petrol in the tank. In theory, you’ve got all the technology you need to achieve your aims but your campaign can’t run on that alone.

If you’re happy honking your horn on the forecourt, that’s fair enough. If, on the other hand, you’d like a chat about how we can fuel your email marketing campaign, please get in touch.

1. It will make your life easier
Not working with a copywriter is an immediate inconvenience to you. You will either be expected to write the content yourself, which probably isn’t your area of expertise and for which you probably won’t be getting paid, or you will find yourself waiting for client-supplied content. And waiting, and waiting.

2. You’re inadvertent internet wardens
For the vast majority of people, a web designer is the first and only port of call for questions, queries or quandaries relating to their internet presence. They probably haven’t thought of using a copywriter. They might not even know what a copywriter is. Pointing your clients in the direction of a copywriter helps your client, helps you, helps the internet and, last but not least, helps copywriters!

3. Bad content detracts from your design
Yes, you’ll predominantly be judged on your web design skills, but bad content can reduce your work-of-art to a laughing stock. As previously mentioned, many people believe that web designers ‘do’ websites. Poor copy can unfairly detract from an otherwise brilliant piece of design work.

4. It’s in your interests for your sites to get lots of traffic
It’s ultimately the content that people will visit a website to consume. Since your name/logo/website link is at the bottom of the page, it makes sense to want the website to be seen by as many people as possible. Great content will bring more people to the site and increase the potential for your work to be noticed.

5. It might make you more money
Whether you put a mark-up on copywriting quotes, agree a referral fee with a copywriter or arrange to get referrals from a copywriter in return, there are lots of ways to think about using copywriting as a new revenue stream for your business.

If you’re interested in linking up with a copywriter on your web projects, get in touch.

One of the key functions of a professional copywriter is to take a business’ jargon and terminology and present it clearly and concisely in a way that can be easily understood by non-expert readers.

It is quite ironic then that the word used to describe this service actually baffles many members of the public.

The ‘writing’ part is fairly self-explanatory, but ‘copy’ throws some people off the scent. That’s because it is essentially a piece of trade jargon of the kind we would probably scribble over in red pen if it related to a client’s business.

Throw in the copywriting / copyrighting confusion and things don’t get any easier for the unaccustomed observer.

Copy is a fairly catch-all term for written material. Journalists submit copy to their editor, as do authors. Advertising agencies refer to any written material in their campaigns as copy.

As far as we know, the usage of the word has its origins in the days of the typewriter, when you would make carbon copies of whatever it was you happened to be writing. You’d no doubt keep the original while filing your copy to your editor. The phrase has stuck (at least among professionals).

In essence, copywriting means the writing of written material. The clumsiness of that particular phrase probably explains why the word ‘copywriting’ has survived this long.

If you’re coming into contact with the word copywriting being used as a noun, the chances are it’s referring to content that is being written for marketing, advertising or promotional purposes.

As with most trade jargon, copywriting is an unnecessary complication of a pretty straightforward concept.

We’d like to take this opportunity to wish a Merry Christmas to all Voz clients, friends and associates.

We don’t know how you found it, but we thought 2011 was a cracking year and we’re looking forward to 2012. There’s a few exciting project already lined up for early next year that we can’t wait to get stuck into.

If you’d like us to help you find the right words for your business in 2012, drop us a line and we’ll get in touch after the holidays. Other than that, have a great Christmas and enjoy your mince pies.

[If you like our Christmas card, you should check out the website of the very talented Chris Wood.]