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By Trevor Campbell on 30/03/17 | Copywriting


When writing to a client yesterday I thought about using the phrase "back of a fag packet”.* Partly for a bit of fun, to conjure up a time when such kooky expressions were common. But it reminded me that when we are communicating, how important it is to use the language that people are used to.

Many of the torpid rules about writing can be safely tossed aside. The hoopla about the minutiae of grammar and beginning a sentence with this and that shouldn’t bother you too much – saying what you mean to say clearly is much more important.

True, it is often the case that you have to know the rules of grammar before you can break them. But once you get the tone right – the bedrock of one-to-one communications – don’t sweat about ending a sentence with a preposition (unless you really want to).

As we often say to impish kids, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. So more than anything your tone must be appropriate.

Consider the reader. Whether you are addressing institutions, a B2B audience, high net worth clients or high street shoppers, you have to give them what they expect in terms of knowledge and confidence – you have to show you know their business and your subject.

But you should remember that – like you – they probably enjoy diversions and surprise. So sometimes it’s fitting to lob in a phrase that they might not expect. To rouse them. Great direct mail practitioners do this all the time because they focus on the one-to-one experience.

And language evolves, sometimes at emoji speeds, so it’s best to keep up.

Don’t get me wrong, precision is essential. You still need to hone your arguments so they are as sharp as shark’s teeth. And you should be wary about being overfamiliar until you get to know people a little better.

But don’t worry so much about the writing rules of yore.  

 * I didn’t use the phrase in the end, not because it was inappropriate, but because I wasn’t making a calculation.

By Trevor Campbell on 15/03/17 | Copywriting


Much talk about branding is dubious. Hopping aboard the brandwagon is a prolific pastime causing the true nature of branding to be often shrouded or positioned ephemerally by those keen to avoid scrutiny. But building a brand is not just about your logo, your followers, your palette or your public face – your identity – and it applies to all businesses.

A resilient brand is largely powered by one fundamental thing: your promise to your customer.

Keeping your promise is essential. Even in an era of fancy-pants metrics and whizzy analytics the strength of your brand is crucial. While a Forrester Research figure – 57% of a buying decision is made before your client is even in contact with you – is often touted, this shouldn’t be taken strictly at face value. For example, it depends on the product and whether you simply want to get something quickly and cheaply.

Many of us don’t care if our headache tablets don’t have a swish logo, as long as the basic ingredients do the trick.

Nonetheless, if you intend to be in business for the long haul, what you bring to the table before prospects sit at it matters a lot.

Once you crack brand gold, the result is emotional. This is driven by your customer experience. Drink and food companies build strong brands by creating consistent products over and over for loyal consumers.

And as much as it is difficult to build a great brand, they can be destroyed faster than a ‘total crap’ comment. Remember the great brand Orange built? Even before it was gobbled up by EE it had become just another inaccessible, unfriendly telco.

While many in marketing don’t have a say over the quality of a brand’s products, the elements within our control are most aspects of customer contact.

- Your advertising and marketing must reflect the values of your brand, not just engage in fleeting trickery.

- Your website and other comms need to live and breathe those values/promises throughout.

- Your contact points have to be suitable and approachable – if you trade on personal service and you have no contact name, an info@name sets a rubbish tone.

It doesn’t matter what kind of business you operate, your interactions with your customers have to deliver on the promise of what you stand for.

For some delicious insights on branding, John Murphy founded Interbrand and pretty much reinvented and popularised the whole game. He’s written a book about his experiences – Brandfather.

By Trevor Campbell on 02/03/17 | Copywriting


Many of us work for companies that genuinely do good things. Not on the level of saving the planet, yet there are usually elements of our products and services that are worth shouting about. But we often hide them – so it’s worth it to first, get digging and then, to grab your loudhailer.

Digging deep benefits your customers and you.

In sectors (eg, finance) where points of differentiation are not always immediate, unearthing the gold which sets you apart is critical in prompting people to choose you.

You may have lower fees than most of the competition, have research capabilities that are almost unequalled, investment pros living in more countries or offer extraordinary service.

Identifying these things is the first step. Then you must dig down to really show how they are better and how they make a difference to clients. Say it, then back it up.

You may indeed do nothing that sets you apart from your peers, but the fact that you talk about factors that matter to people – when others don’t – could easily tip the nod in your favour.

Digging and shouting also makes it easier for readers to decide within a sector. Because it helps them overcome what psychologists call choice overload. Too much choice (or similar choices) means we often make no decisions at all. (Think of all that money getting hammered by low interest rates because people can’t decide between money managers!)

All sectors, whether B2C or B2B, benefit from careful excavation. Many carpet providers brag about the 1000s of carpets in stock. So what? But if you say your chief buyer spent 15 years cranking a loom in Persia that could matter. Or if your rugs are 20% softer because of a special weaving process and typically last six years longer. Etc.

So the next time you are thinking of saying that you offer a tailored service, think about how much more meaning you could add by a little digging.

And if you combine the gold you dig up, with triggers that confidently nudge people to act, you could have a very powerful proposition.

Just get in touch to find out how.

By Trevor Campbell on 23/02/17 | How we behave


Ever wondered why dentists are often used to recommend toothpaste? Or why doctors in the US advertise a wide range of pills and potions? It’s because of the powerful effect of authority – and it’s one that almost any business can use.

The concept of authority in behaviour stems from a form of social learning (or social proof) – where we look to others to see how we should behave.

It explains the rise of ‘influencers’ and is related to what psychologists call the ‘halo effect’ – where our overall impression of a person or a company influences our thoughts about their character. So, by association, we may also rate a company or product highly if we value or like the person linked to them.

This is especially the case when we are unsure about a situation or need to take a mental shortcut. We look to those who are perceived authority figures – or experts in their field – for guidance. And we all trust experts, right?

While the capital of so-called experts has taken a battering (pollsters didn’t predict Brexit or Trump, economists were foxed by the 2008 financial crisis), there are many cases where the perceived wisdom of experts can help you.

 - If you are sending out a financial report, make sure it comes from the CIO or a fund manager rather than someone in marketing or sales. (Even a quote from a Buffett, O’Neill or Woodford figure may raise your credibility by association.)

 - If you have a car dealership ask a well-known rally driver (assuming that an F1 driver might cost mega-bucks) or motoring journalist to head up a campaign, write a blog for you or even pose for pictures in your forecourt.

 - If you work for a tech firm, a well-known engineer, inventor or tech company owner who praises what you offer boosts the integrity of your product.

 - If you sell organic foods, you could leverage the kudos of a well-known chef or food blogger.

 - If you’re a first-time science author a blurb from Hawking or Dawkins works wonders (personally, I discovered Don DeLillo after a nod from Martin Amis).

  The situations where you could benefit from an authority nudge are almost endless. Whatever field you are in, try and weave in an endorsement from someone who is either an expert in that field or who benefits from using what you offer.

Mo Farah may not know about all the ins and outs of mycoprotein (used in Quorn products) – but he is certainly an authority when it comes to being fit and healthy.

Even the illusion of authority works. US actor Robert Young (who played a doctor called Marcus Welby) advocated the health benefits of a brand of caffeine-free coffee. The ads ran for years even though readers clearly knew he wasn’t a real doctor.

The fake approach is not recommended. If you're using an authority figure, make sure they have the badge to go with the walk.

                         "Authority without wisdom is like a heavy ax without an edge." - Anne Bradstreet

By Trevor Campbell on 15/02/17 | Copywriting


Hyperbole wrecks the good work you do. And while it’s rare for a reputable company to brag outrageously, everything you say can potentially make a reader doubt you. But there are ways to ensure you keep building a solid case – and help people avoid niggling hurdles.

One of the main roles of marketing (and copywriters in particular) is to help a reader overcome their natural objections. This can be tricky to do as the default option of most people is inertia. Readers don’t want to buy, read, explore, invest, sell, donate – not a sausage – unless you give them a good enough reason to do something.

So if you make an assertion – even the teeniest claim – you must be able to back it up.

Here are some examples of what you say that may cause a reader to think twice about considering you.

We guarantee it – if you pepper your literature with talk of guaranteed service or guaranteed satisfaction you must explicitly reveal what the guarantee is. And then stick to it without question. Same thing with awards: show what you have won (with links) if you say your service is award winning.

We care – smaller companies (and firms which make this a lynchpin of their business) can offered a tailored service, but bigger firms should tread lightly. It’s not believable for a high-street bank or phone provider to say everyone matters. Nor should it be. Promote something else like convenience, freedom or price.

Offering exemplary customer service – another claim that should be backed up with proof (testimonials work well) and rigorous adherence to that ethos. If you say you’re here to help, you must show this.

Sign up quickly – barring a simple email capture, many registrations are tedious and time consuming. Don’t make out that signing up for something is easier than it really is. (But saying it takes 3 mins, for example, really works.)

Free monthly newsletter – you sign up for something and after the initial flurry of useful content, the nuggets dry up. Customers feel short-changed when this happens, and feel you don’t deliver on your promises.

We’ll get back to you straight away – the dreaded info@ (or web-form) on a website makes readers feel their note or query slips into a black hole. If you use these devices, monitor them – and get back to prospects as soon as possible.

Call times and opening hours – if you say you have someone at the end of the phone 24/7, an answerphone at 6.15am won’t cut it. Or someone who sounds like they just stumbled out of bed.

So we know that making exaggerated claims about what you do is an absolute no-no, but even fairly innocuous statements demand your interrogation.

If you can’t balance your statements (‘ could also lose money’), it’s best to understate and over-deliver. This thinking was behind one of the most successful headlines of all time, by the legendary copywriter (okay, in copywriting circles) Gary Bencivenga.

"How to get rich slowly”

By Trevor Campbell on 09/02/17 | How we behave

Social proof is the idea that people respond to how others behave. Because we believe the actions of groups in particular are generally correct, it’s one of the most powerful ways to convince someone to favour you. No matter what your business is, social proof should always be in your communication mix.

First off, it’s not you chattering about how good is your service or product – social proof adds crucial third-party credibility to what you offer. If enough people use a service, or recommend it (especially friends), it must be worth exploring.

Social proof (what psychologists also call ‘informational social influence’) is another mental shortcut to help us navigate our days without having to think too much. If there is a queue around the block for burritos, doesn’t that make you peckish for one? Or if a book in a genre you like has 4.5 stars on Amazon, don’t you want to curl up with it?

Practical ways you can use social proof

(Aside from asking friends to line up outside your new pulled-chicken-and-sourdough pop-up…)

Testimonials and case studies – never underestimate the power of others enthusing about your product or service. Direct marketing specialists have been using this tactic for years. With good reason – it works.

Awards – whether from an industry body or voted by the public, awards are a great rubber stamp of assurance to put on your website or marketing materials. Even if some of them can be bought :-)

Voices and faces of authority – whether a dentist advocates a toothpaste, or a super-investor endorses a commodity fund, a nod from an expert is hard to beat. They don’t even have to be real authorities for this to work (eg, someone wearing a doctor’s coat is immediately more trustworthy).

Trade association or quality kudos – just the logo of a respected trade body, or a quality mark, associates you with a trusted organisation.

Celebrity power – if you can afford it (and because it combines with the psychological force of likeability) it’s easy to see why celebrities are used to plug everything from satellite TV to coffee to cruise ships.

There are downsides: social proof explains the rise of cults and sects, may act as a catalyst in riots and can contribute to herd behaviour when shares are sold off without logic. So you should always question the actions of others if you don’t want to fall victim to some of its more mindless interference.

But social proof in some form is essential if you want to put out a message with an independent vote of approval. Just ask your friends.


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