The 3Ls That Can Kill Your Brand. Forever.

As marketers, most of us pride ourselves for adhering to truth in advertising and being honest in all we say about our products and brands. Copywriter, strategist, social or content marketers, we always tell the truth. Right? Actually you shouldn’t be so quick or sure to answer that question.

"Red Bull Gives You Wings"
This “Red Bull Gives You Wings” image from Michelle Ramey Photography via DeviantArt.com illustrates a brand slogan that cost the company millions.

As marketers, most of us pride ourselves for adhering to truth in advertising and being honest in all we say about our products and brands. Copywriter, strategist, social or content marketers, we always tell the truth. Right? Actually you shouldn’t be so quick or sure to answer that question.

In many cases, we marketers unwittingly lie about our products all of the time.

Remember that adjective in a social post about being the “leading” brand in your category, or claiming that you have a “scientifically proven” solution because one survey with a small sample was in your favor? We can say these things if there is at least one incidence of truth, right?

To many marketers, little claims which can be substantiated in at least one incident, e.g., leading for just one month’s sales reports, or scientifically proven in a study that only covered a small portion of your markets, are perfectly acceptable. Yet to many consumers, these claims are fodder for lawsuits, let alone the lost loyalty from those who don’t sue you.

Here’s a couple of examples from a Business Insider article, March 2016, about how those innocent words or “suggestions” can get brands in big trouble.

  • Tesco, a SuperMarket in the U.K., got caught up in a scandal for using horsemeat in its “beef” products. So the company decided to run an ad explaining how this happened. However, Tesco also chose to imply that this was happening industry-wide. That resulted in the U.K. advertising regulator banning the ad and about a $300 million drop in the brand’s value.
  • Kellogg’s got its hands slapped by the FTC for claiming its Rice Krispies could boost a child’s immunity as the FTC couldn’t find anything but dubious data to back that up.
  • And one of the most interesting lawsuits that actually cost a brand a lot of money and respect was over Red Bull’s tagline claim that their drink could “give you wings” and intellectual energy. Obviously just a fun slogan to most. However, a consumer claimed he had been drinking Red Bull for 10 years and had no wings to show for it, or improved intellect (that last claim rings true). But a judge bought it and Red Bull had to pay out $13 million and $10 to every customer buying its drink in the past 12 years. True story!

If you Google “honest advertising that works,” you’ll get a few articles featuring logic-defying “honest” ads that expose a product’s flaws, almost to the point of dishonesty of how bad something is. These include ads for real estate and hotels saying how awful their places are in ways that are so bad they spark curiosity and make one want to experience the property to see for themselves. So yep, they worked. By being “honest” to the edge of being “dishonest” about your product, some clever copywriters have discovered the power of sparking curiosity to sell products. But there’s a deeper lesson here.

Does Your Copy Have a ‘Human’ Voice? Or a ‘Copywriter’s’ Voice?

The other day I got an email from someone I hadn’t heard from in a while. The subject line was a casual “Hey Gary.” Wow, I thought! I haven’t heard from this person in a long time, so I eagerly opened the email. But in a split-second, I realized this wasn’t a personal email. It was an autoresponder. And it didn’t sound like the person I know who sent it. It felt like it had been written by a copywriter.

The other day I got an email from someone I hadn’t heard from in a while. The subject line was a casual “Hey Gary.” Wow, I thought! I haven’t heard from this person in a long time, so I eagerly opened the email. But in a split-second, I realized this wasn’t a personal email. It was an autoresponder. And the voice didn’t sound like the person I know who sent it. It felt like it had been written by a copywriter.
business_personalThat experience jarred me into wondering about my own copy: Does it sound human? Do I capture the right “voice” of either the sender or the organization?

Sometimes copy gets lost by overthinking it, making sure every “t” is crossed and “i” dotted. Sometimes the tone gets lost through input from other marketing team members, rounds of approvals, and review for compliance, where the tone degrades into being less human and more unnatural — to the point of being distracting or off-putting.

So today I share a few thoughts about copy’s “voice.”

I’ve come up with a scale that might help guide you to the “voice” or tone of copy for you. It’s a scale of 1 to 3. One is the most casual. Three is the most formal. You might find there are more than three for your situation. These are examples of how you might greet someone, ranging from a close friend, to casual acquaintance, to someone you’d meet for the first time:

  1. ‘Sup my brother/sister?
  2. Hey there, <name>! How are you?!
  3. Hello, <name>, nice to meet you.

In the example email from a friend I cited earlier, the subject line was a casual “Hey Gary.” But the tone shifted, once the email was opened to a more canned, more formal, “Hello, nice to meet you” approach.

It was distracting. And disappointing. These unintended — but very real — impressions overwhelmed whatever impact was hoped for about the message content. So my advice is this:

  • Know your audience. When you know your audience, you’ll know if your voice can be casual or formal. Settling on the appropriate voice can be based on past transactions, the type of product or service you offer, or what you know about your customer’s age, demos or behavioral data.
  • Distinguish the level of relationship and product awareness. The voice of a subject line of an email, and headline of any copy (website, landing page, letter, etc.), should be based on the awareness and relationship your prospective customer has with your product or its category.
  • Choose the right type of lead. The relationship and awareness (or lack thereof) dictates if you should use a direct lead (offer, promise or problem-solution) or an indirect lead (secret, declaration or story). I’ll share more about these six lead types in a future blog post.
  • Be consistent. Don’t shift from one voice type to another within the same promo. If the copy has been significantly edited, be sure to read it aloud so you can hear if the voice is consistent throughout.
  • Be consistent across channels. If you’re using email, make sure the voice is consistent from the subject line to the email body, and from the email to the landing page, and yes, consistent all the way through the order page.

Finally, let someone read your copy who is unfamiliar with what has been written, to make sure the voice is appropriate and, probably most importantly, that it sounds like it was written by a human.

Just curious: do you feel my “voice” in these blog posts is appropriate? I invite your feedback.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!,” available from the DirectMarketingIQ Bookstore. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

7 Secret Formulas for Getting Free Earned Media

A few days ago, I read Neil Patel’s blog post: “How to Give Your Content Wings: We Analyzed 11,541 Viral Articles from 2016 to Uncover the Secret Formula.” Excluding articles considered “complete spam,” Patel’s post discusses ideas and confirms formulas that every marketer and copywriter should know. The secret? Killer headlines. The formula? Actually, it’s more like seven formulas.

article-71342_1280The right combination of truly shareable words and ideas will energize marketing without crossing the line of becoming fake news. So even if you don’t use content marketing to support your overall campaigns, every marketer and copywriter can learn something from an analysis of 11,541 viral articles that reveals the top seven formulas that not only grab your readers’ attention, but gets shared to their friends.

A few days ago, I read Neil Patel’s blog post: “How to Give Your Content Wings: We Analyzed 11,541 Viral Articles from 2016 to Uncover the Secret Formula.”  Excluding articles considered “complete spam,” Patel’s post discusses ideas and confirms formulas that every marketer and copywriter should know.

The secret? Killer headlines.

The formula? Actually, it’s more like seven formulas.

Even if you don’t write content articles, there is something here to be learned for copywriters.

Here is an overview of Patel’s top seven data-driven tactics in headlines that drive more social shares:

1. Use Numbers

Patel says, “Use numbers in at least half of your articles.” In his analysis, 61 percent of top-performing article headlines had a number. A reason people click on titles with a number is certainty of what they will read. Another observation: You don’t necessarily need the number at the beginning of the title.

2. “This Is What…”

Because headlines with the highest engagement have 16-18 words, Patel looked for phrases that have been repeated. The phrase “this is what” was used often. Again, probably because of the certainty created with the definitive and authoritative phrase.

3. 500 +/- Words

More traffic may come from longer articles (due to higher rankings and traffic). But for sharing, shorter works. Images also impact social sharing. If you are publishing breaking news, write articles around 500 words.

4. “How to” Still Works

The phrase “how to” has been known to work for generations. No surprise here. An article in the vein of “how to” is usually informative, and teaches.

5. Question Titles

Two-word phrases forming questions like “Do you…?” “Can you…?” and “Is the…?” work. So does this three-word phrase: “Do you agree…?”

6. Controversy

2016 was certainly a year of controversy, especially with a nasty election. But controversy sparks curiosity and interest, according to Patel. His recommendation? Create a title that contains a controversial issue.

7. Video

Another non-surprise was that using the word “video” resulted in higher shares. That’s been true of email subject lines for some time. So, whenever possible, post videos and include “video” in the title.

If you’re looking for something new to test, start your search with what works, and add to it from there. These formulas, revealed by analysis, should energize your messaging, whether you’re writing online articles, email subject lines or direct mail headlines.

Who’s Minding Your Social Media Store?

Whether an organization is big or small, the sad news is that, despite social media celebrating 10 to 17 years of history, very few brands today really “get” how to use social media effectively.

Social Media Customer ServiceAs a strategic marketer and copywriter, I’m always delighted when I see great social media posts by a Fortune 500 brand. But I’m even more impressed when those posts are from a tiny, little company, where you know the person posting is also answering the phone, dealing with orders, and possibly working the cash register.

But whether an organization is big or small, the sad news is that despite social media celebrating 10 to 17 years of history (depending how you look at social media being a marketing opportunity), very few brands today really “get” how to use social media effectively.

Perhaps it’s because, in the big scheme of things, companies are still wrestling with what they should say or how they should say it. For many, social media is merely another way to push advertising content that’s being used in other media channels. Consider Twitter posts like this: “Check out our new television spot!” with a link to a 0:30 spot. Does this inspire you to click on the link? If you’re a huge fan of the brand, perhaps, but does the post add insight and value to the brand? The short answer is “NO!”

In many mid-sized or smaller businesses, social media posts are considered “grunt work,” and thrown to the current intern to figure out. Or, running out of fun and engaging ideas, the social media manager gets desperate and perhaps loses their sense of appropriateness — like the famous Twitter post from Home Depot that got the employee and their marketing agency, fired.

If You Make a Misstep, They Will Come (in Droves)
Social media is the ideal platform for customers to express their immediate frustration with a brand. Pre-internet, if something happened, you’d write the company a letter (good luck getting a response beyond a form letter!), or call the customer service line and vent to some hapless inbound telemarketer who was empowered to do absolutely nothing about your complaint.

But in 2016, all it takes is access to a Facebook or Twitter account, and with a few keystrokes a consumer can generate an extremely damaging and embarrassing message to practically any brand in the world. And all eyes are on the brand as to how they’re going to handle this potentially messy situation.

Sometimes the brand need do nothing in response. It seems that there are a lot of sympathetic brand protectors out there, who often swoop in to save the day (without being endorsed by the brand at all).

Take the anti-gay bigot bashing Facebook user named Jessica, who was angry over the new Campbell’s Soup campaign that featured two gay Dads feeding their son Star Wars-inspired soup while taking turns mimicking Darth Vader’s quip “I am your father.”

Without waiting for Campbell’s Soup to officially reply to her post, another Facebook user created a Facebook account called Campbell’s ForHelp and tackled Jessica’s comments head on, virtually shaming her while building a positive following and support for the Campbell’s brand.

Often brands simply ignore or take down inappropriate posts to their Facebook accounts. But if a brand takes down a legitimate complaint, they’ll often get bashed for that action as well. In fact, a recent survey found that 42 percent of consumers that are complaining on social media expect a response within 60 minutes. And when they don’t receive one, they continue to complain with more posts.

Many companies are now turning to their customer service departments to run their social media sites. Personally, I think this will lead to dull and disinteresting content as it turns the channel into a reactive, rather than proactive, one.

Welcome the Newest Addition to the C-Suite
I think the answer to the problem is crystal clear. There needs to be a new job function created: Chief Social Media Officer (CSMO).

Skilled as a writer, classically trained as a marketer, deeply committed to exemplary customer service and empowered to take on and resolve customer complaints, this brand maven would represent the organization as well as (or better than!) any existing company spokesperson.

A highly sought-after position, this individual would clearly love and champion the brand while developing strong relationships both internally and externally in order to share customer insights (gleaned from social media chatter), and elevate customer issues for fast resolution.

They would be clearly versed in the company’s strategic vision, business operations, products and services (including what was coming down the pipeline), and would be always ready to speak as the organization’s brand ambassador but in a way that leveraged the power of social media.

What do you think? Are you up to the task? Ready to apply?

6 Questions to Ask Your SEO Copywriter

Have you decided that outsourcing your SEO copywriting and content development strategy is the best bet for your business? (If you’re not sure, see last month’s blog post.) Now here comes the hard part: Finding the right SEO copywriter for your needs.

Have you decided that outsourcing your SEO copywriting and content development strategy is the best bet for your business? (If you’re not sure, see last month’s blog post on how and when to outsource your SEO.) Now here comes the hard part: Finding the right SEO copywriter for your needs.

SEO copywriting professionals can have a wide variety of skill sets, from the newbie who is just getting her virtual feet wet to the uber-experienced direct response professional who is also a whiz at SEO. If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are six questions to ask any prospective SEO copywriter.

1. What kind of experience do you have?
SEO copywriting is different. Someone may be a fantastic direct response copywriter. But if he doesn’t have SEO copywriting experience, he may not be your best choice. Why? Because SEO copywriting is part geeky knowledge, part creative brilliance. Not only will your new hire have to have “normal” copywriting skills, but he’ll also need to know how to choose keyphrases, set a strategy and weave keyphrases into your copy the right way. Some folks are self-taught, but the best SEO copywriters have had some hands-on training. A combination of solid experience plus additional training (for instance, being Certified in SEO copywriting) ensures that you have a quality candidate.

2. What do you charge, and what’s included in the price?
You may think that a writer’s price is incredibly inexpensive, but make sure that you know what’s included in the rate. Just like when you buy a plane ticket, some writers charge a low per-page rate, but then add on “extras” like keyphrase research, a per-page keyphrase strategy, and creating titles and meta descriptions. That’s great for some clients. But if you need lots of extras (such as when you don’t have a per-page keyphrase strategy in place), know that you’ll be paying more per page.

3. How has your writing boosted your clients’ revenues?
Yes, we all want top-10 search engine rankings, and your SEO copywriter plays a huge part in making that happen. However, there’s a bigger question to ask: Will your copywriter make you money? Ask your copywriter how her writing has helped to increase conversion rates. She may tell a story about how one landing page generated $25,000 in almost instant revenue. Or how SEO copywriting training helped to increase revenues by 27 percent. If a copywriter can’t give you specifics, dig deeper. Sometimes, the copywriter doesn’t have access to analytics, so his non-specific answer isn’t his fault. At the same time, he should have one heck of a testimonial portfolio and other street-cred to make up for it.

4. Do you outsource to other copywriters?
You may have felt an instant connection when you chatted with the copywriting agency. But will the outgoing and whip-smart woman you spoke with on the phone be the same person writing your copy? Maybe. Ask your copywriter if she outsources. If she says “yes,” ask for a writing sample from the person who will be doing the writing. Outsourcing isn’t a bad thing. But as the client, you have a right to know the players and the process. (Side note: If you don’t hear the “main” copywriter discuss how she evaluates every piece of copy before a client sees it, run away fast.)

5. What kind of ongoing education do you receive?
SEO copywriting is not a “set it and forget it” kind of skill set. The search engines are ever-changing and what worked six months ago may not work today. Plus, new neuromarketing, eye-tracking and information-processing research is changing the way copywriters write content. Ask what kind of sites, conferences and research your copywriter is tracking. If she says, “I don’t keep up with techie stuff,” she still may be an awesome copywriter … but she may not have the necessary SEO skills to really do the job (depending on the skill level you need).

6. What other skills do you bring to the table?
Some SEO copywriters can take on a full-scale SEO campaign and thrive, replacing your need for another SEO company (this is especially true for small businesses.) Other SEO copywriters can train your team, build links and even write that e-book that’s been on your “to-do” list for years. Once you love and trust your new writer, explore how else she can help you. You may find that your SEO copywriter can help you grow your business in many additional ways—and you’ll have a trusted marketing partner who can create killer, high-converting (and positioning) copy.