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MIT Advertising Lab

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Presentation Zen


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Books every professional copywriter should own

In my contacts with other writers, I am continually amazed at the lack of interest in the mechanics of writing. It's as if Word's spellchecker, appalling grammar checker and an unused dictionary and thesaurus will do – anything else is either irrelevant or simply garnish.

Of course, they will often also have been given Eats, Shoots and Leaves for Xmas (and may have read it) but that's about it. Many will not even know of the existence of other guides that could make their lives simpler, their writing better and arguments with clients easier to win.

The following are the reference guides I use pretty much every day.

Once you've got a book that tells you how to spell, the next thing you need is one to help you put your words together correctly, punctuate them accurately and maintain consistency. Enter the style guide. Some clients will go to the time and expense of creating their own (I've written one myself). However, with a very few exceptions this is a waste of time and money. Instead, simply buy one off the shelf.

By far the best style guide on the planet is The Chicago Manual of Style. It's very easy to use, clear, concise and right 99.9% of the time even though it is aimed at US English writers (double check spellings if you use it for guidance on word usage).

If you want to be a stickler for UK English, there's The Oxford Style Manual but, in my experience, it's a bit old-fashioned and leaves a lot to be desired in the usability stakes.

Beyond this there are a bunch of others: Guardian Style (a bit lightweight though good on confusing words), The Penguin Writer's Manual (again, a little old-fashioned but with a good style section), and Chambers Good Writing Guide (a little basic in some places but a good overall guide). Then there's the Economist Style Guide which, in my humble opinion, should be pulped.

Finally, another American interloper – The Elements of Style by Strunk and White – a cheap, pocket-sized guide that's worth reading just for its chapter, 'An Approach to Style'.

Of course, some things are just technical. Sometimes you need to know 100% what's right in UK English. For that you need The Cambridge Grammar of English. Yes, it's almost a thousand pages long but it's surprisingly usable and will more often than not give you the definitive answer you are looking for.

So, if you're serious about writing (or even not that serious but don't want to look like an idiot in front of a client), pop over to Amazon and buy The Chicago Manual of Style, The Cambridge Grammar of English and The Elements of Style – it'll be the best £60 you'll spend this year.


5 B2B marketing trends for 2011

So the goose is cooked and eaten (and probably re-cooked and eaten again), the presents are being crammed into cupboards and we’re all back to work. The new year brings its usual bright eyed, bushy tailed exuberance and the dawning realisation that the deadlines that looked so far away before Xmas are not so distant now. And we‘re all beginning to think about how 2011 may shape up for the B2B marketer.

Rather than make some hard and fast predictions for the year ahead (and look like a complete idiot in 12 months time) I thought I might point out some of the trends that I see bubbling up for the year ahead. There’s no science here, merely observations from current projects and discussions with clients and agency folk.

1: The return of brand

There are many that have enthusiastically trumpeted the death of brands and branding. It is, they say, fatally undermined by the more open conversations of social media. These days there’s simply no place for companies to craft images of themselves that won’t be tweeted into oblivion the next day (Gap logo anyone?).

Well, yes, to a degree this is true. At least it is when brands try to be something they’re patently not. But what about when the brand is a relatively accurate depiction of the company behind it? What about when it resonates with customers?

When the media are as hyper-fragmented as they now are, you cannot be everywhere, engage in every conversation, befriend every commenter. And neither should you. You need to be where it matters most – in the mind of the customer when they think about shortlisting, buying or recommending your product. Everything else is garnish.

Curiously enough, of course, this is where branding comes firmly back into the picture. It provides that layer of comfort and reassurance, a degree of personality and a bunch of emotion that can just tip buyers over the edge into purchasing. And while it is more difficult than ever to reach your customers, the effects are both longer lasting and more valuable.

2: The marketing automation chasm

I’m quite seduced by marketing automation. I love the theory, the on-demand capabilities it offers, the way you can evolve a campaign over time. The thing is though, I’ve now been in meetings with half a dozen or so clients who have bought into the theory and are now left utterly frustrated by the reality.

They’re finding implementing automated campaigns so complex and time-consuming that the frustration is palpable. As a result, despite spending oodles of cash on one of these systems, many are still basically doing the same batch-and-blast campaigns as before (albeit with slightly better analytics).

Note to marketing automation vendors – it would be a tragedy if this chasm means that we’ll never get to the kind of smart, dynamic campaigns we all know are possible.

3: The de-hyping of social media and a focus on what works

We’ve gone through the giddy excitement of social media as the bright shiny new thing, the panacea that will sweep away traditional approaches. We’ve counted the followers, fans and likes. And we’re blogging and tweeting our little hearts out trying to keep up. What next?

This year, I think we’ll see the absorption of social media approaches and techniques back into the overall marketing mix. Yes they’re important but they’ll have to fight for their place at the table along with everything else.

There is plenty of good sound research available on what works with B2B and tech buyers. It’s time we all started taking note of it so when the board asks what we’ve done with the marketing budget we can look them in the eye. Who knows, we may even get more money to work with.

4: Utilitarian marketing (or helping people get stuff done)

Most of the time, people do not care about your product. Most of the time, there are a hundred and one other things they need to think about before getting to you. In fact, most of the time, they’d really rather get home on time to see their kids.

While this could be an excuse for some collective wrist-slashing it is also a massive opportunity. While not new – see the explosion in apps of all sizes – this year will see more efforts by smart marketers to help their customers and prospects get stuff done faster and easier. This needn’t be about apps, it can be about how-to guides and videos, podcasts, ebooks, whatever. It’s the intent that matters.

5: Mobile everything

Okay, so mobile has been predicted as the next big thing for marketing for a few years now. But with the growing dominance of the smartphone for B2B buyers, surely now is the time to really get it right.

This can be as simple as making sure your content plays nicely on tiny screens but it could also be about putting the right information in people’s hands just when and where they need it (see trend 4 above).

One thing to note, while us fluffy marketing types are all in love with our iPhones and their lovely big screens, the vast majority of B2B buyers (especially in tech) use Blackberries (see trend 3 above about doing what works).


That’s it, now to get on and see how much of it actually happens. Happy new year.


Essential marketing charts and graphs from Hubspot

Just a quick post to link to a fantastic resource from the lovely people at Hubspot that rounds up a whole bunch of useful stats and research they've compiled.

Among other things, you'll discover:

  • the most linked to words are: recent, insights and soon
  • the most retweetable words are: you, Twitter and please
  • for the tech marketers among you, the 5th least commented on word is virtualisation
  • semicolons are the least retweetable punctuation (and colons the most)
  • most offers are perceived to have about the same value
  • the optimum number of form fields is three (five comes in second)
  • 'click here' on buttons performs about twice as well as 'download'
  • most Facebook sharing happens on Saturday (the least on Thursday)
  • 'facebook' is the most sharable word on Facebook
  • companies that blog, on average, get 55% more traffic than those that don't
  • those on Twitter who set a profile picture have on average eight times the number of followers of those that don't

And that's just the start. Check out the embed below.


Does content really matter?

Noah Briar has put up an interesting presentation on Slideshare – Everything is media. It's a good roundup of the way that everyone can now be a content creator, how quality doesn't matter so much any more and how the distribution channel/media is just as important as the content itself (in fact more so).

I loved the presentation but disagree on this last point. Yes there is shed-loads of content being uploaded every minute, enough to keep us all watching almost forever. And yes, most of it has pretty low production values. But, most of it is consumed by hardly anyone. While Charlie bit my finger has over 250 million views as of today, the vast majority of long-tail content only manages 10s or 100s.

While the medium is important – and those who ride the wave of new developments benefit from being bigger fish in smaller ponds – the advantage is limited. It is an endless game of catch-up. Now everyone is tweeting, the novelty is wearing off and it's on to the next thing (geolocation anyone?).

The message of any medium may well be the change it creates in human affairs but that isn't the same as the role and purpose of content. The right content attracts attention, creates bonds and can change behaviour. The medium adds value and power to this but doesn't in itself replace it.

Having said all that, it's a good presentation and IMHO most of the recommendations are sound.


Why do managers and meetings suck so badly?

There's a lovely video online by Jason Fried (of 37Signals / Basecamp / Rework fame) on how offices and meetings and managers are so toxic to getting stuff done.

It certainly strikes a chord with me. One of the things I found over the years as I became more senior and began managing people and overseeing projects was that I could go whole days where I'd go from one meeting to another.

Thing is, many of these meetings were utterly pointless. Or twice as long as they needed to be. Or at just the wrong moment. Failing which they'd contain six people, four of whom didn't need to be there and didn't add anything to the proceedings. And, yes, many times I was one of those who didn't need to be there.

The result was that my real work (I never had the luxury of purely managing stuff) would end up starting at 6pm as the office emptied out and the only distraction was the cleaner asking if I'd finished with my cup.

Jason makes excellent points but I'd say misses one fact about office life. In the companies I've been at with the best cultures, the best team spirit, time and physical space is invested in just hanging out. No, it's not productive in the traditional sense. But it pays enormous dividends when the shit hits the fan and you need everyone to pull an all-nighter. And it makes the business a nicer place to work too.

Check out the video below.

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