When writing for clients or mentoring people wanting to write I do not ask them to reveal their history and ambitions. Not at first. That will come out soon enough.
First I will provide a writing prompt. For creative writing workshops, it might be a prompt about a local landmark and their first or strongest memory of that place. It’s amazing what comes from this and how much and how quickly we all learn about each other. The exercise also reveals where each person is at with their writing and their feelings about their writing.
Prompts are only that. Some students bend my prompts far out of shape. I don’t care.
A writing prompt is a catalyst not an English exam! ME
For clients I am helping with business copy, one of the most important things for me to discover is not only what their services are but what sparked them to go into this business. Yes, they want to make money but there is always a moment, often way back, that set them on this path. Discovering that answers many other questions and opens even more.
For a property agent, the question might be what was the third house you sold? As they answering that we will learn about other properties sold and what they learned.
For a trucking firm, it might be ‘what was the first truck you remember as a child?’
For me, it was a love of stories. In primary school, I read a book a day from the library in primary school and I wanted a job telling stories where no day would be the same = Journalist, my original career.
I’ve also been asked for recommendations for reading on storytelling.
Tristine Rainer’s Your Life As Story reveals that the arc of writing a novel is helpful for writing memoir and how the autobiographic process will open a memory chain reaction. She discusses The Nine Essential Elements of Story Structure. It is a brilliant list and a book I dip back into time and time again.
The other is Hegarty on Advertising. I can’t begin to tell you how helpful this book and how I turn to it every time I am working on a project that I fear, secretly, is beyond me. Want to work together on one of those?
In reality, a brand only ever exists in the mind of consumers Hegarty.
And a brand exists in the stories we live and share.
The topic of messaging is close to my heart having given my life to personalizing content and storytelling. I stand against anything that diminishes content; I embrace advances. Is RightMessage an advance? It can be an incredible advance.
Brennan Dunn and Shai Schechter are the founders of RightMessage. I met them both at the Double Your Freelancing Conference in Sweden last June, and on again soon.
This new software can personalize copy to every reader of your email campaign and websites. Changing copy in real time to suit every reader is invaluable. But it means original copy has to be sharper and clearer than ever so that it presents smoothly for the reader wherever they may be.
Content Teardown: RightMessage.io
I prepared a teardown (well, my own version) of the RightMessage website. Right messaging is essential for this product. The main areas I worked on :
Where copy was waffly and old-fashioned.
The impact of not personalizing needed sharpening (and needs more).
It doesn’t need coding but it’s unclear how it works. i.e what do I need to know to use this? This needs personalizing!
Sell more by personalizing your website for every visitor.
Personalizing your website to your visitors’ unique needs is ‘critical’ to sales. That’s according to 94% of businesses we surveyed.
Yet most companies do little, or nothing, to personalize their website. They create a monoculture for the masses.
What do customers and prospects do when they experience a bland web environment? They click away and they don’t buy. Messaging that seeks to reach everyone reaches no one. That’s right. No one! So if personalizing the visitor experience is critical, why does it happen on so few websites? Well, personalization is hard. Content management systems are inflexible. They offer no easy way to change the content depending on who’s looking. Until now!
If you wanted to personalize your company content in the past, you had to build your own system from scratch. Customizing your content to every type of visitor demanded a ton of writing.
According to Mark Yolton, Senior VP of Digital at Cisco, targeting just three types of buyers requires the creation of 30 times more content!
Let’s say you have five types of core customer that fall into three groups:
Knowledgeable about your products
Little knowledge of your products but an understanding of the problems they solve
No knowledge of your products or why people need what you offer.
To reach all types and groups of customers with three levels of knowledge, you’d need to create 15 pieces of content. And with more than one page needed on your website, you could need at least 15x more content than you have now!
“Screw it. I don’t have the time for this.”
Little wonder companies that personalize content are the exception!
But if you accept this conclusion, you are saying it’s OK to lose out on sales. Seriously?! Is that really OK?
With RightMessage you can personalize your website — without coding!
Our software sits on top of your website’s template tailoring your content (copy and images) to each visitor, we take into account information the viewer’s browser shares with us such as:
The website your visitor came from
Interests based on the kind of content your viewers have engaged with before
Subscriber data that you store in 3rd party apps.
Best of all, RightMessage needs no programming. It works with any content management system, and even if there is no CMS.
You simply point to the element you want to change, click the option you want to change, and tell us how you want it to change. That’s it!
RightMessage will never slow down your website. All personalization happens within your client’s browser. So even in the unlikely event our site goes down, yours stays up. The only difference to the end user is that general (bland!) copy will display until normal personalized service resumes.
Sell more by personalizing the experience visitors have on your website.
94% of surveyed businesses say that personalizing their website to suit each visitor’s unique needs is “critical” to success. But most companies do little to personalize the experience of their prospects and customers.
If personalizing a website visitor’s experience is so critical, why do so few companies invest in it?
The simple truth is that personalizing is hard. Content management systemsdon’t include a way to change the content loaded into the website depending on who’s looking, so companies that do personalize need to invest in building their own system from scratch.
Customizing your website to speak directly to each visitor often requires writing a ton of content. Mark Yolton, Senior VP of Digital at Cisco, said that trying to target just three types of buyers required Cisco to create 30x more material.
Let’s say you have 5 types of core customers. Each of these customers falls into 3 different groups: highly knowledgeable about your products; little knowledge about your products, but an understanding of the problems your products solve; or no knowledge of your products or why people need what you offer.
If you wanted to speak to each of these types of potential customers (5 types of customers, each with 3 levels of knowledge about your product) you’d end up needing to create 15 pieces of content. And since you have more than one page on your website, you’re looking at 15x more content than you have now!
“Screw it. This is hard. I don’t have the time or energy to personalize my content.”
Unfortunately, this is the conclusion a lot of companies have come to—and it’s why so few personalize.
But by accepting this conclusion, you force yourself to be OK with losing out on sales of your products. Why? Because people want content written for them, and if you’re speaking to everyone you’re speaking to no one. And when there’s a disconnect between what people want and what you tell them, you’re losing people and sales.
RightMessage allows you to personalize your website directly from the browser—no coding required.
Here’s what our software does:
It sits on top of your website’s template and dynamically tailors your content (copy, imagery, etc.) depending on who’s visiting. We take into account:
Information the viewer’s browser shares with us (like what website they came from.)
Interests based on the kind of content of yours the viewer has engaged with in the past.
Subscriber data that you store in 3rd party apps.
Best of all, no programming is required and it works with any content management system (or lack thereof). Point on the element you want to change, tell us who you want it to change for, and tell us how you want it to change. That’s it.
And because RightMessage personalizes within the client’s browser, your site won’t slow down and if we were to go down, the end user wouldn’t notice anything (except that they’d be reading bland content written for a general audience.)
Copy Verdict:RightMessage.io promises an exciting future. Content personalization and how it might work is new so it needs to be explained clearly. The site left me with questions about how it works. Will RightMessage reduce your need for creating original content? As a writer who has spent three decades personalizing copy, I am saying no. Obviously!
People are perceptive. They responded to authentic stories and messaging specifically for you. Readers switch off copy that:
Is all about features and not benefits
Is about a generalized user
Good writing and editing were always the answer so software like Right Message puts even greater onus on us to script original and creative copy from the outset. We don’t want poor content going out to every viewer’s individual browser. Every piece of content, every story starts with empathy for your reader or end user.
Image: RightMessage, Section 1 on Word Doc with Hemingway App edits. Yellow denotes somewhat difficult to read. Pink denotes very it is difficult to read. Blue shows adverbs and words that are not needed or could be omitted.
These edits are ‘amazing’ — the most common adjective I hear! I (show you how to) slice through the waffle to personalize copy for your readers. Let’s get ‘personalized’ together!.
My 2016 working year was punctuated by an event, and there was a before, during and after. Before the event, my work was tracking more slowly than it should. I could see things had to change, and I had to change.
One day in May I mentioned to the designer of my architecture writing website that I did not have enough work and yet I am an expert at my work. He sent me a single line reply, a link to an event. He followed it up with the sentence in the headline. ‘You’ll be locked away with experts with direct access to coaching advice worth thousands of dollars’ Powerful eh? It was a nudge to get out of my studio and see people. Cabin fever is hard to self-diagnose.
After five minutes, the light got in. “That’s not so silly.”
My financial advisor saw it differently. “You could network closer to home?”
“Or do both,” I said.
I saw an answer in Sweden, even if I didn’t yet know the question.
But I didn’t jump immediately.
I emailed Brennan Dunn and Kai Davis to ask if the conference would be too techy and Euro-US-centric for me? Although an internationally-experienced writer with years in Europe behind me, I am based in far away Australia.
Not. At. All. “The focus will be on positioning and niching,” came the replies.
OK, that makes sense to me. Does it make sense to you? When I speak of positioning or niching to people in my life but not in my business, they often say: Have you ever thought about dropping your prices? As if riches are found in a huge unspecified pond.
Sometimes you need to go to Sweden or someplace to find the people who get you. Even if the people who get you turn out to have acronyms for job titles and inhabit hitherto unknown to me software niches.
So, in Yasuragi, Nacka, I entered a room (well, first of all, a bar) full of creative and digital consultants all wearing yukatas. And in spite of some people wearing the same robe through to the fourth day (hello, hotel laundry) they turned out to be among the best people I’ve ever met.
Solving expensive problems with experts, hot pools, and warm sake.
We talked about how we as consultants can help to identify and solve client’s expensive problems. In hot pools, and over eggs, fruit, sushi, and fragrantly complex sake served by Marcelo (probably the world’s best and most friendly bartender), we talked ideas and how to overcome realities.
From NickD I learned about enforcing boundaries with clients and myself. Although, if I followed NickD’s strict business hours it would mean never talking to clients in the UK. From Kai Davis (NickD’s partner in the Make Money Online podcast), I found out my email outreach doesn’t register on any scale for persistence. Tip: Stop only when you receive a contract or NO.
From Nathan Barry and Reuven Lerner I was reminded to teach everything and always, and create. And from Mojca Mars I found out that an animal onesie is hot, oven-hot if worn on stage (so I will abandon my plans to do that!). Vitally, I learned that Facebook could be your friend if you use adverts well.
Eric White took us through consumer insights into the purchasing decisions with an elaborate reconstruction of a suitcase purchase by Gavin Ricketts. A week later in a London Muji store, I gazed at the elegant shiny blue case just like Gavin’s. That was until my Italian host shook his head and said, “No, no, Marian, you can’t spend that on a suitcase.” A few days later as I rushed from the Rolling Luggage store at St Pancras to catch the Eurostar train, I wondered what Eric would have made of my blue Americano Tourister, stuffed with the contents of two Longchamp bags.
There’s much more to say… For a comprehensive summary, read Blair Wadman, strategist and master trainer of Drupal. Blair is also in the mastermind (MM) group four of us formed after the event. The MM group is emerging as one of biggest benefits of all providing wisdom, empathy and support, a rock in the bustling world.
The midsummer days at the archipelago will stay with us. We will never forget where we were the morning after Brexit, a result incongruous to our unity in Europe (then and future.)
There has not been a week since June without interacting with people met at the event. I recently edited a speech by #dyfconfeu attendee Daniel Siegel that beautifully drew together the stalling pace of aviation innovation and the limitations of computers and devices linking a single fingertip to a small glass surface. We are far short of the forefront.
I am putting the finishing touches on the copy for a European scientific website that I worked on for Laura Yeffeth. Our working together would never have occurred without the Swedish connection.
What did I learn for myself?And what happened next?
Coming back from the highs of DYFCONFEU in Sweden, the highly useful Life Time Value Conference in Brighton, UK, and the Venice Architecture Biennale, I was bursting with ideas. But the old times were not done with me. There were an awful couple of months where I had not yet implemented the new, and the old patterns were hanging about.
I was afraid yet kept going. I repackaged my proposal service for architects and started work with some new architecture clients. That’s a niche on its own and feels better in its own compartment.
Drawing on my businessjournalism background, I started looking at how to help fintech companies who often let themselves down with their copy. I am still editing/redrafting novels for clients booked in this year. I am reviewing this work in 2017 as it is hard to find a viable timeline for all parties. I may do more editorial consulting than editing.
I started to help consultants who must write for business but doubt their technique and skill. The most important element is editing. The greatest challenge is in reaching people who can’t yet see how well their copy can connect clients.
In Sweden, Brennan Dunn conceived and put together an event in a complete reinforcement of its positioning and niche. The people might have come from India, Russia, Belgium, Finland, Slovenia, the UK, Italy, Germany, the US and Australia (hope I did not miss anyone?) but values, goals, and joking were as one. All we had to do was to get out of our cabins and meet.
So what are my goals for 2017? I like my recent work as a kind of ‘editor-at-large’ for a customer software group in London. I work with their content manager to improve their story gathering and quality and am pleased they are punching above their weight and outclassing bigger teams. I like the role of providing ongoing mentoring and support to help build something great.
A great archive of content is important to any service or product provider.
I will be rebuilding my content up too. I wrote daily content for newspapers but lately have spent much of my time behind the scenes helping others. I look forward to building and presenting a resource here throughout 2017. After a year focused on business reinvention, I want to build in time for memoir and creative writing. After all, fiction is where you can often find the truth.
I will be launching an app in 2017 to help web designers and developers ask for and receive great copy from their clients. It will help business people and consultants create web copy that serves their clients. Before June, I knew there were ideas I could develop to help people, and that I needed to scale up. I did not know where to start. I am fearful and excited.
It is only the beginning. Again.
Thanks for reading. All the best for a peaceful transition from 2016. See you in 2017. Get in touch to learn more about any of these items. Or sign up for my newsletter where you will be the first to hear everything!
Hemingway screen of this post in progress. Pic: Marian Edmunds
Is your copy ‘very’ hard to read? Get your text edited on the Hemingway App by an experienced editor.
An friend told me they use the Hemingway App but still end up with a lot of red highlighted text. Red highlights mean the sentence is ‘very hard to read’. The purple highlighting of ‘very’ means that Hemingway App recommends a simpler word alternative.
I have a simpler alternative which is not to use the word ‘very’. I stopped using it ‘very’ soon into my training as a journalist. In print journalism every word counts and ‘very’ has no value. Here is an example.
You could say, “It is very cold.” Or you could say:
It is: chilly, cool, freezing, icy, snowy, glacial, wintry, crisp, frosty, frigid, bitter, cold, biting, piercing, numbing, sharp, raw, polar, arctic, or Siberian (but only in Siberia).
The exception to the ‘very’ rule is if quoting direct speech. I won’t choose a quote containing ‘very’ unless it is otherwise compelling. I would look for a direct quote that gives the reader a sense of the speaker and what they are describing. ‘Very’ pales beside a strong descriptive word.
“Very. Use this word sparingly. Where emphasis is necessary use words strong in themselves.”
William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style.
My friend said he couldn’t see how to cut more red highlighting from his text. I could see it. Streamlining his text and removing adverbs (another post) made his writing voice distinctive.
It’s not compulsory to remove all red highlights. You are within your rights to include sentences that are ‘very’ hard to read if they express what you would like to say and are of use, or enjoyment, to your reader. Enjoyment doesn’t alway mean simple. Think of the best plays or Shakespeare.
You are the authority but do you need help?
Can you rely on the Hemingway App? It depends on how you use it. The Hemingway App is a tool, not an authority. Improving your readability helps your readers. They are your business. You are the master of your readability. I want to help you with editing to make your copy, bold, clear and fun to read.
I PROVIDE EDITS INCLUDING HEMINGWAY VERSIONS OF YOUR COPY.BOOK YOURS HERE .
I will send your copy as text and the Hemingway App version. Receive great copy that contains few, if any adverbs, and no jargon or excess words.
I write with you or for you.
The first designer I worked with downloaded the design from his mind to mine. We sat in the studio at desks littered with sandwich packets, with a balsa model of a past project on a tilt atop the paperwork. I translated his vision into words. Together we refined the narrative and next morning it was ready for the presentation boards. It had to be — it was the deadline. A couple of weeks later we heard ours was the winner.
We’ve worked on many projects since, mostly via phone or by email, with one of us, mostly me, working into the night.
Your story draws people to your vision.
My complete focus is on ensuring a proposal, narrative or content is clear and interesting, and reflects your personality and purpose. I bring to this work principles and standards instilled in me as a journalist and editor at the world’s best quality papers including the Financial Times.
Success in storytelling about design (or any topic) falls to the designer and relies on openness. What is the expected profit for the investor? How will it affect the user?
In managing messages we can easily forget to tell the story.
A story puts people in the picture. Jargon alienates. Show someone a rendering of a large building and they are likely to pull a face and liken it to a part of the anatomy. But sketch a possible life and they will imagine awakening there.
There’s an appetite for stories of design yet many designers receive little or no press. You rush on to the next project rarely pausing to bring people with you. Yet people are fascinated about how you think and want to see how cities and places could be. We want live to be smoother.
What stops a designer from sharing a story? Is it nerves that your vision is too out there, or not out there enough? Are you unsure of how to reach people? Or, is your relationship with the semantics of design uneasy?
Many designers aren’t completely fluent in writing the language of design. Some would rather walk across hot stones.
The KISS rule of design writing
There is an old rule of writing called KISS, no not a smooch, it’s keep it simple stupid. There is another device, an editor. The guiding principle is to tell a simple story.
Step away from the jargon
Architectural terminology is OK. Yes! As long as it serves the story. Every word must take the narrative forward.
Are you being self-indulgent or striving to impress?
Don’t! Just choose the right word.
The best architectural writing uses words as building materials. It ensures two things: that the house stands up and shows its character.
You can remain true to your technical ambitions but remember while engineering ingenuity impresses, other forces move people. Will this project be profitable? Does this house feel like home? Could I work here?
The best stories come from the source.
Narratives adapted for the press.
Working with architects and designers, I make texts and narratives ready for clients and that can be carried over to PR & marketing.
Recently, I collaborated with a designer on a project that had already sparked big excitement. It unites sensory and spatial experiences of an emerging urban lifestyle, and all from a small green footprint. In the process, we encountered a new name for the project and an image in people’s minds of a possible life. We had fun taking it as far as we could. What’s the point to do otherwise? We don’t want to make the same thing that has been made before. Not unless it’s a fine dinner.
On the way, we encountered a new name for the project and a possible life. We had fun taking it as far as we could. What’s the point to do anything less? We want to make a place like none before.
Marian Edmunds, writer, writer for architects, journalist, writing coach @ The Writing Business. Telling your story online, in feature article, a narrative, a white paper, books or through winning proposals.
One of my jobs is ghostwriting and luckily I seem able to leave my ego at the door. But my ego jumped up recently when over cranberry juice, breakfast trout and bustling cafe noise, my client shared the ‘amazing’ reaction to our recent writing project. I was thrilled and proud, and then, for a nanosecond, I felt flat. As it did not carry my name, no one would know I’d worked on the ‘amazing’ project. But the writer and the writing should be invisible, so that the reader thinks only of the story.
I chose to keep my name out of it so the client’s prospects and clients would see only their expertise in their field.
I’ve had many journalism bylines, and that feels good when you’ve completed good work but quiet satisfaction from a report that exceeds expectations is also good. Nevertheless, I expect my ego will spring up at times and cry, “Hey what about me? It isn’t fair.”
I don’t know the background to this signage. Share the knowledge if you do.
But for some of my jobs, it just doesn’t work to add my name. This is usually the case when working with architects — a room containing the egos of designers and writer’s ego can be a crowded space — but more to the point, it’s about the client’s design and what my client’s client needs.
To reach this requires collaboration. They can be dynamic, creative, and all-consuming with normal life falling away until the deadline is met. It happened with an architecture proposal last Christmas. The team worked day and night, with many changes made on the drawing board. From this a strong sense of a team emerged, a group of people that shared something unique. It is one of those benchmark experiences, the stuff of legends for the group that can never be erased. In several drafts, amid much fine tuning, and working remotely, I drove the development of the narrative. Presented in an exquisite book with gorgeous images, it ultimately reachs a niche audience of the 20 or so people in the world who needed to see that book. And for a nanosecond, I wished that book had my name on it. Then I remembered, it’s not my book. It’s a team book. And there will be books that are known, and books that are unknown. Not all of our work can, will, or even needs to be known. It is enough to do that work.
This work gives me the privilege of seeing the life and work of other people from the perspective of themselves and their clients. I am often invisible. And it’s OK, it’s better I am not in the way. My voice has its own place in my own writing.
So replete from breakfast and compliments for my work, my momentary craving for fame having passed, I set off with a silly smile, like the one spotted in the city that very day.
Acclaim is never assured, and is outside of our control, but the mastering the task and putting the words or pictures in a very particular order is in your control. It is what we are here to do.
Marian Edmunds is a writer working with architects and designers, a journalist (ex-Financial Times) and a writing coach working with businesses and individuals.