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Wednesday, September 21 2011
Good, persuasive writing is clear and simple. It avoids wordiness that makes it hard to grasp the meaning quickly.

The beautiful literary writing we all learned in school spoils us when it's time to write for marketing. There's a place for that kind of writing. However it can make your marketing materials sound too academic and emotionally unappealing.

Often there's a tendency to use more words or bigger words than necessary because we think it sounds professional. But potential clients are not going to take the time to figure out exactly what you mean or boil your words down to their essence. It's up to you to present them with clear ideas in words that are easy to follow. 

Most of us use simple language in conversation. I always advocate writing in a very conversational tone, so that your potential clients feel that you're chatting with them.

Below I give you examples of words and phrases that make writing sound bloated or pompous: they take away from the clean, clear, conversational tone that marks effective marketing materials.

Examples of words that can be simpler

Replace 'utiliize' with 'use'
Replace 'endeavor' with 'try'
Replace 'finalize' with 'finish'
Replace 'impact' with 'affect'
Replace 'inoperative' with 'doesn't work'
Replace 'interface' with 'meet with' or 'work with'
Replace 'terminated' with 'finished'

Examples of wordy phrases that can be shortened

It's easy to throw in words that don't add anything to the your meaning. Kill them!

Replace 'at first glance' with 'at first'
Replace 'simple and easy to use' with 'easy to use'
Replace 'on an annual basis' with 'yearly'
Replace 'your own home' with 'your home'
Replace 'in the month of June' with 'in June'
Replace 'it has come to my attention' with 'I heard'
Replace 'at the present time' with 'now'
Replace 'in spite of the fact that' with 'although'
Replace 'in the event of' with 'if'

When you review your materials for flow and language, look out for words and phrases that sneak in and may sound impressive, but prevent your audience from getting your message quickly and succinctly.

With a bit of thought it's not that difficult to come up with terms that will be more quickly understood by your audience - and more appealing too.

Copyright 2011 Maggie Dennison. All rights reserved.

Posted by: Maggie AT 04:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, February 18 2010
You have a killer product or service, people seem to need it but they turn you down.

What's going on?

The old saying "it's not what you say, it's how you say it" comes into play here. What it comes down to is the language, the "voice" of your content.

Often we're so glued to WHAT we do, we want to describe it in detail and we want everyone to know the process we go through to get the results they want.

It's natural, because as entrepreneurs we're so passionate about what we do that we want the whole world to know. But it turns people right off because we fail to connect with them on an emotional level.

People make buying decisions emotionally first. Then they justify with logic. To get them to the decision point, you have to speak to their emotions.

Think about it. When you buy chocolate, do you buy it because you know that cooca is supposed to have health benefits, or do you buy because the divine taste makes you feel warm, fuzzy, luxurious [insert your own reasons here!] or it reminds you of something pleasant? I'm guessing that most of you do not buy because of the cocoa factor, which represents the hard facts.

People buy for their reasons, not yours. When you tap into the feeling response they hope to get, you have a much better chance of getting them to take action because you'll come closer to THEIR reasons for wanting what you offer. Because you'll relate to them on a personal level and not with intellectual ideas. Because they'll feel you understand them, that they're important to you and they'll be excited about what you can do for them.

Not that the facts aren't important. They are. But when you show that you genuinely relate to your prospect's experience, or the experience she wants to have, then you're more likely to get a positive response.

Once you understand and use this, you'll be ahead of most of your competitors who are selling only facts.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:11 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, November 01 2009
 You're ready to sit down and write that content for your brochure or website. What frame of mind are you in?

It may seem like a trite question but it's really crucial to your success. If you're in a bad frame of mind, your writing will not flow the way you need it to. Not only that, but whatever you're feeling is likely to come through in your words.

It's impossible to create if you are uptight, tense, worried, angry, nervous or if you are experiencing any other negative emotion. It's not that they're bad or wrong; they just don't help when you need to turn out creative work.

Here are some things that help me when I'm in a funk and I'm up against a looming deadline.

Physical exercise
Go to the gym, take an energetic walk, ride your bike, dance. Do anything that will work that energy out of your body, get the endorphins flowing, and shift you into a more vibrant space.

If you have a regular meditation practice, do it. Otherwise just sit quietly and focus on your breathing. Follow your breath as it flows in and out. Don't try to change or control it. Just observe it. If your mind wanders off, bring it gently back to the breath. It's astonishing how quickly this will take your focus away from the negative emotions.

Run a film in your mind in which you are the central character. See yourself in a comfortable setting completing the writing you want to do and bask in the sense of accomplishment when you've done it.

Do yoga, autogenic training or any other relaxation technique. One old standard is to lie down, focus on one part of your body at a time, imagine it relaxing and sinking heavily into the floor. Start at the feet and work your way up your body to the top of your head.

Call a friend
Or call someone else from your support network. Often a conversation with someone who listens well will give you a different perspective that will help lift your spirits into a more receptive place.

Think of a time when you felt really energized and dynamic. Imagine yourself reliving that moment. Reconnect with the energy you felt at that time.

The trick is to begin writing immediately you feel a shift so that you ride the wave of positive energy and it flows into your words.


Copyright 2009 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:21 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, July 02 2009
 Have you seen those pieces of advice that encourage you to use specific words that promise to make your writing jump off the page and persuade potential clients to beat your door down? Words like "you", "free", "because" and others, often presented as "The 3 (or 5 or 7) most powerful words in writing."

Lots of information on writing marketing materials focuses on these individual trigger words that have been proven to be persuasive if you sprinkle them throughout your content.

Sure these words can work for you - but only if they are embedded in a framework that makes sense. How do they fit into the overall picture that you want to paint? Without a strategy to follow and a concept to fit into, they're just words that don't create the effect you want.

It's like giving a speech. You can be skilled in using gestures to underline your points, or speaking quickly to create a sense of urgency, or dropping the volume to make people really concentrate to catch a critical point.

However, if the speech does not have a core message that's presented in a cohesive and compelling way, those single skills don't matter because there's no bigger picture for them to fit into.

It's the same with those trigger words when you throw them higgeldy piggeldy into a piece of writing that is not built around a basic concept.

What do you need to be able to incorporate these trigger words effectively?

First create a core message that:

  • Appeals to the wants, problems and emotional needs of your target audience.
  • Underscores what makes you different from others in your field.
  • Supports what you want to achieve with that particular marketing piece.
In other words, get clear on the basics.

Without this foundation in place, the best words are only tricks that can backfire.

Once you have a message with these basics in place, you can incorporate trigger words in a way that works and will put you on a solid path to persuasive writing.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:04 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Saturday, October 11 2008
 How do you know if your writing is compelling and will get people excited about what you're offering?

When you're engrossed in your writing and you've pondered and obsessed over every word for days, it's hard to step back and take an objective look at how well it works. I don't know about you but when I'm so involved I often can't even see my own typos!

No wonder then that it's difficult for you to judge the effectiveness of your words. There's nothing wrong with this. It's simply that you are too close and too emotionally involved in your words take a step back and hear what they're really saying.

There's an easy solution.

Read your writing aloud, preferably to a friend.

Call a friend and ask "would you just listen to this. How does it sound?" Now this is not the opinion of a seasoned professional who can dissect exactly what is or is not working. But the feedback you get is invaluable.


The advantages of reading aloud to someone are that:

    • You hear whether your words have rhythm.
    • You hear whether you've struck a really conversational tone or not.
    • You notice when you stumble over longer words. If this happens, substitute shorter ones.
    • You notice whether you have to take a breath in the middle of sentence in order to finish it. If you do, the sentence is too long and you need to shorten it.
    • You feel if there's excitement in you as you read. If it doesn't excite you, then why should it excite anyone else?
    • You notice if you get bored while reading. If you get bored, then why would it keep the interest of a potential client?
    • You get feedback from someone who can tell you where you lost them in your reasoning, where their attention wandered because it wasn't emotionally compelling. Go back and fix those places
    • You hear if your copy is vibrant and has life in it. If not, then go back to the drawing board.
Reading aloud to someone else beats reading it aloud to yourself. When you know someone is listening, your mind-set changes. And that makes all the difference in the world to how you read and to your reactions.

Try it and see!

Copyright 2008 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:18 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, August 22 2005
 When you scan the morning paper, how do you decide which articles to read and which to ignore? I bet it's the headlines. A great headline hooks you in and keeps you reading. A ho-hum headline will, at best, get a polite "so what?" 

It's the same with the headline in your sales or marketing piece. It has to promise your reader something she needs or wants, and create such excitement and curiosity in her that she just can't avoid reading on. It doesn't matter how punchy or grabby the rest of your copy is, if your headline doesn't get her attention quickly (within 3 seconds) she's gone, maybe forever. 

Here are a few ideas to help you craft attention- getting headlines:

    • Build your headline around your biggest benefit. Show how your product or service can solve a problem for the reader.
    • Create a mystery with the headline so that you arouse curiosity and make the reader want to read on to find the solution.
    • Use figures or statistics. Odd numbers work better than even. Percentages are also good.
    • Rephrase a well-known saying or quote.
    • Ask a question the answer to which points to, guess what? Your product or service.
The format you use depends on your product or service and the target market you're writing for. Think about which approach is most likely to appeal to them. 

An idea I picked up from master copywriter Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero is to set a timer for 20 minutes and brainstorm on paper as many different headlines as you can. Don't stop to edit or evaluate. Use the format suggestions above to light your creative spark. Go all out. Dump all your ideas on the page, no matter how wacky they may seem. When the timer goes off at 20 minutes, stop. Go back and review them. Discard the ones that are irrelevant. Then take your time to play around with the rest, tweaking and combining until you come up with one that stops you in your tracks. 

To see excellent examples of good headlines that pull you in, you need look no further than the papers and magazines at the supermarket checkout counter. Prevention magazine is particularly good, as is Reader's Digest. And the National Enquirer, whether you like it or not, certainly has a way of coming up with headlines that get your attention. 

Happy headline hunting!


Copyright 2005 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: AT 03:40 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, July 22 2005
 So be reassured if your words land on your computer screen in less than perfect form the first time. Be reassured if you spend hours adding, deleting and shuffling phrases, sentences and even whole paragraphs around your document and back again. And be reassured if you're just plain frustrated because it takes longer than you thought to get across the mood and meaning you want. Welcome to the writer's world!

For me there are 3 clearly-defined steps in the writing process.

Step 1 - Getting The Words Down On Paper

All you are doing here is putting information on paper. Everything you know about your topic. Every idea you have about your ideal client and how you can help them. Do it without censoring yourself. Keep writing until you have exhausted all the ideas you believe belong in your piece. Don't worry if you end up with seven pages of information and you only need three. You can go back and edit later.

Step 2 - Editing

Time to review and refine the content. What is absolutely necessary? What can be discarded? Are the ideas organized logically? Does it flow smoothly? Does your content precisely reflect the point you want to get across? Where are there gaps in information: are you making assumptions about how much people already know about your business?

In this step you're also looking for the right words. Not just any old words that say roughly what you want them to say, but the exact words that get your ideal clients excited about your product or service.

Step 3 - Proofreading

Here you're checking for consistency, spelling, punctuation, and the rules of grammar. Make sure that the company name is spelled correctly. Are you using the same format for the phone number each time it appears? Are periods and commas where they should be? Run it through a spell- checker.

You can get yourself into trouble by trying to do all these steps at once. But go about it in a systematic manner and your content will come together much more easily. Each of these steps can involve several rewrites until your material is polished and you're satisfied that it presents you to your best advantage. Be patient with yourself.

Mark Twain is reputed to have said: "If I'd had more time, I'd have written a shorter letter." That's the crux of the matter: it takes time and many rewrites to craft a focused, concise piece that gets your message across with clarity and no distractions.

Now it's your turn: take a look at whatever piece you're working on right now. Which of the above steps are you working on right now? Or are you trying to do them all at once?

Copyright 2004 The Dennison Group.

Posted by: AT 03:43 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, May 22 2005
 Cutting through the clutter and actually getting your prospects to sit up and pay attention is no easy feat given the amount of information that's thrown at us every day. When you swamp your prospects with unnecessary information it works against you: it clouds their minds and confuses them and confused people don't buy.

     So, how do you decide what to include and what to leave out? It depends on lots of factors, but here are two main ones to get you started. 

1.   Your target market

      All your materials need to be geared to your target market. What are their pains and problems, hopes and dreams? That's what you need to talk about. They have to be convinced that you understand what makes them tick (and what they need to tick even better!), and that you have a solution to their problems. For your purposes, that's all they want to know. Before I ever put a word on paper I spend a lot of time researching my client's target market and figuring out how to hit their hot buttons.

2.   What do they need to know in order to be convinced to hire you?

      People don't need to know everything you do. For example, you know me as a copywriter and marketing consultant. But did you know that I'm also a business coach? OK, so some of you did! But for those who didn't, I usually don't tell you that when I'm talking to you about my writing services. It's just not relevant to you when you're worried about the quality of your brochure, wondering how on earth to put an informational booklet together or sweating over the right wording for a sales letter. Resist the temptation to include details about every aspect of your business. Keep your material focused only on what's relevant to the problems of your target market and the solutions you can offer. 

     This information will be specific to YOUR service and YOUR target market.

     Obviously all the above applies to marketing pieces whose purpose is to generate leads. It's a whole different matter if your purpose is to dispense information or to educate. I'll talk about those in a later issue.

Copyright 2005 The Dennison Group

Posted by: AT 03:44 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Friday, April 22 2005
 What's a clincher? It's a statement at the end of your promotional piece, that motivates the reader to take the next step. 

Up to this point, your material is focused on persuading the reader that he or she really needs your service or product. Now, when they're teetering on the brink of a decision, it's time to use some nifty phrases to help push them over the edge. 

Here are some examples for you to copy. Or to use as patterns to adapt to your own situation. 

· Why settle for [this] when you can have [that]? 
· What do you have to lose? 
· We have only a limited supply. 
· You'll wonder how you ever lived without it. 
· That's all it takes. 
· Don't miss out! 
· Put these ideas to work for you. 
· Now it's time for you to make a winning decision. 
· Don't miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! 
· Reserve your [item] today. 

If your goal is to have people contact you, here are some clinchers that will help get them to pick up the phone or make a beeline for your store. 

· Please don't hestitate to call us. 
· We'd love to hear from you. 
· Just give us a call. 
· All you have to do is fill out the enclosed form. 
· Come in and introduce yourself to us! 

Often promotional materials leave you thinking "What now?" When you use a powerful clincher, the reader knows exactly what's expected of her. Without any direction, she's at a loss to know what happens next. When you don't give clear instructions, she'll be confused and is likely to leave your website, discard your letter, or just dump your ad in the trash can. 

It's up to you to make sure she doesn't. 

Copyright 2005 The Dennison Group.
Posted by: AT 03:45 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, March 22 2005
 Writing for sales and marketing purposes is not primarily about "good writing." It's about human behavior, the psychology of sales and using words that sell your product or service.

Think about it. It's not organizations that buy your products. It's not government entities. It's not anonymous faces. It's people.

People do business with people they know and trust: this is as true when writing as when you're talking to someone in person. How do you begin to establish that trust? By writing in a form and language that they can relate to quickly, that make them feel they're having a cozy chat with you over a cup of coffee.

- When you speak, you don't always honor the rules of grammar. Often you don't speak in full sentences. 
- When you read, you hear the words in your head as you read them. If your writing is conversational, the reader will hear it as if you're having a conversation with them.

Dangling participles, contractions, and sentences ending with prepositions: these are some of the things that were drilled into us at school as forbidden. And in good literary writing, that's correct. However, for our purposes in marketing, breaking those rules is often a step in the direction of conversational copy.

Or course, the language also has to be appropriate to the audience and the product. But in the end it doesn't matter how flowery, elegant or beautifully poetic your language, if it doesn't affect your audience and make them feel that you know and understand them, chances are it just won't work.

Here's a really famous example of bad grammar that works. The Rolling Stones had a major hit called "I can't get no satisfaction." Would that have been as appealing if they'd followed the rules of good grammar and written, "I can't get any satisfaction." I don't think so.  Because good grammar destroys the rhythm that made the title catchy to begin with.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting you throw away your grammar books, or never open Strunk and White again. What I am suggesting is that hanging onto the rules of good grammar out of principle may make your marketing materials less attractive to your ideal clients than you'd like them to be. Be flexible. Be willing to overlook the rules in favor of the effect.

Remember the old adage that there's an exception to every rule? Create your own exceptions! And watch how response shifts.

Copyright 2005 The Dennison Group.

Posted by: AT 03:46 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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Maggie Dennison, M.A

My Marketing Message
The Magic Of Mindset And Marketing

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