Tuesday, 14 March 2017

How to choose a conference theme that motivates

Every conference needs a theme. Clients want something that conveys the key message simply and memorably. Here are seven tips to help you go about it.

Make it snappy

A conference theme needs to be catchy, and it needs to work well in spoken conversation. To test this, just see if it can be used as noun: “Are you going to the Total Performance conference in March?” That’s punchy – it rolls off the tongue. “Are you going to the Making sustained progress: building on success conference in June”? Not so nifty.

"Erm, I know we said make it punchy..."

Answer the brief

Somewhat surprisingly constraint is great for a brief. It demands focus. So make sure everyone’s clear about they want to communicate.

Keep it concrete

Conference themes are typically abstract: they mention things like strength and growth and success. They’re about building on this and striving for that. The trouble with abstract ideas is, they are harder to imagine, because there is nothing to imagine – they’re ideas, not things.

So try to make your theme concrete. One way is to describe a real situation. Why not imagine the world as it will be when your goal has been achieved? Microsoft’s mission statement when they were starting out, was a PC on every desk. Everyone can get that without having to think too much. It gives a clear focus to everything, which is what a theme is.

Consider a call to action

If it worked for him...
Often a good route to strong a theme involves rousing the audience to do something. Straplines often do this: “Just do it” or “Eat Fresh” (Subway). If a delegate spends eight hours seeing “Let’s drive growth together”, it might stay with them when they go back to work.

Know your audience 

If they’re sales professionals, they’re going to want it snappy and positive. If they’re academics, they might appreciate something longer and more complicated. (But, then again, shouldn’t we be encouraging them to keep it brief and accessible?) Find out exactly what kind of bums will be on the seats, and write for them.

Think Big

What’s thinking big? Paul Arden, former creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, wrote a book called: It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be – and he subtitled it The world’s best-selling book by Paul Arden.

Thinking big means you’re not a ‘Shelf Stacker’, but a ‘Stock Supervisor’; not a ‘Dishwasher’ but a ‘Director of Subaqueous Ceramics’. Conferences are usually about a company’s future ambitions or next year’s big plan to drive growth. Make sure the theme bigs it up.

Make it memorable – find an alluring promise

Why do some lines stick around for years and others get dropped?

Think: Never knowingly undersold (John Lewis have used this for decades) or The ultimate driving machine (BMW).

Not quite as legendary was one we wrote for BodenGood times, great clothes - which was used for eight years.

The strapline that replaced this one was Wear life out. It only lasted six months, probably because reminding customers of their mortality doesn't sell.
What gives these lines staying power? They make an alluring offer. Try and find a compelling benefit and create the theme around that.

Getting a conference theme just right isn’t easy but it could make the difference between a hit and a conference feeling a bit flat. It’s worth the effort to get it right.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Seven ways to improve any copy brief

You know the feeling. A brief comes in and it just hits the nail on the head. But what exactly makes a brief spot on? Here are seven things to look out for that’ll guarantee your next brief is up to scratch.

1. Go deep: reveal how your audience ticks

Getting to know your audience...

If you don’t get to know your audience inside-out, you might as well be playing a game of marketing pin the tail on the donkey, and that’s a bleak birthday party no-one wants to go to. Tell us what makes your audience tick.

2. And take a long, hard look in the mirror: be honest

Is your brand really that strong?
You might know exactly what you want customers to think, but what are customers thinking right now when they encounter your brand? What are you doing right – and what are you getting wrong?

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, says, 'Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room'. To produce a strong creative brief, a brand needs to be honest with itself about its weaknesses, warts and all.

3. Be clear about your objectives
What change are we trying to achieve in the customer? What thought, feeling or action? You will need a deep distaste for waffle, vagueness, platitudes and flim flam – a strong preference to get to the point.’ So says Maurice Saatchi in his 2011 book Brutal Simplicity of Thought – and he’s right. As we’ve mentioned before, the tighter and more focused the brief, the better the outcome. And don’t try to do too much.

4. What's going to change the audience's mind?

Is there a big idea? Is the positioning unique, or at least distinctive? We need to know what’s going to excite the audience and make them take some notice. What exactly is it that will move them from what they think/feel/do now to where we want them to be.

5. Don't forget the benefits
Why does someone buy a Porsche 911 – because it can reach a top speed of 205.1mph? Nope. Someone buys a Porsche to feel the thrill of driving again. And all the layers of associations built up by the brand over the years. So a brief needs to turn ‘features’ into ‘benefits’. Ideally, these should be emotional. Here's why...

Take these adverts produced for the Welsh Tourist Authority, which aim to encourage more tourists to visit from London.
Wales: cheaper than a marriage counsellor.
Instead of pushing the feature - that Wales is two hours from London by train - the ad entices the viewer with a benefit, in this case offering the chance to de-stress or mend a strained relationship with your partner.

As we've mentioned, emotion is key, so it's vital not only to identify a feature ('two hours') but also to turn it into an emotional benefit ('the picture of bliss'). It might even save a few smashed plates. If this way of thinking is built into the brief right from the get-go, you stand a strong chance of coming away with an exciting, engaging message.

6. What's the tone?

If there are tone of voice guidelines, could we have them? Is there a recent ad campaign that has a certain tone we might want to follow? How does this brand speak in this context when using this medium? Are there examples of what's been done before?

7. Give great feedback

Even with the best of briefs, your writer might not nail it in one. But to improve, we need to know what needs refinement. ‘I don’t like that’ is the feedback equivalent of a chocolate teapot. The more single-minded and direct the feedback is in relation to the brief, the easier it will be for a copywriter to make the revisions needed to make your message shine.

Not all briefs are made equal, but if a brief nails these seven key points, a copywriter should be able to turn around a dazzling message in no time.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

5 easy ways to become a better writer

The secret to good writing? Good editing. No one gets it right the first time. But if you know what to look out for when editing your own work, you’ll be able to transform your copy from vague to vivacious. Here are five quick tips.

1. Remove ‘that’

The decision that we are faced with…
It made me realise that my earnings were sufficient…
Taking into account new information that I have collected…

If I had a biscuit for every time I removed an unnecessary ‘that’ from a sentence, I’d be the CEO of McVities. This is a writing tic affecting most people. But it’s the easiest thing in the world to correct. Keep your eyes peeled for the T-word.

1. Cut unnecessary words and phrases

Due to the fact that…
Be that as it may…
For the most part…
In a very real sense…
It goes without saying…
Of course…
What I mean to say is…

Inexperienced writers (and everyone, really) often feel the need to ‘elevate’ their writing by using long words and abstract language. But good writing is plain, clear and simple. Look out for these common phrases, and cut them.

3. Use active language

Passive: A freelancer was used to complete the project.
Active: We used a freelancer to complete the project.

Passive language disconnects the action from the actor, making statements vague and non-specific. Things just happen: no one is responsible. That makes writing sound a bit remote. Active language is shorter, more direct and involves the reader more.

4. Stay positive

Negative: Our food isn’t made off-site, avoiding the risk of stale sandwiches
Positive: All our food is made while you wait, meaning it’s fresh every time

The subconscious doesn’t distinguish between the negative and the positive. So if you mention something negative, there’s a risk it will become associated with your brand. So, the next time you find yourself pointing out a downside, stop. Reframe it as a positive.

5. Be definite, specific and visual – and avoid the abstract

When they set out, Microsoft nearly had a mission statement along the lines of ‘Working towards the global adoption of information technology’. But they realised this was about as motivating as a damp biscuit, and found something a little easier to visualise: ‘A computer on every desk and in every home’.

"I meant a Microsoft computer on every desk..."
Their current mission statement, unveiled in 2013, is ‘To create a family of devices and services for individuals and businesses that empower people around the globe at home, at work and on the go, for the activities they value most’. Oh well.

For messages with impact, keep it concrete.

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Thursday, 3 November 2016

Messaging first. Grammar second.

When it comes to choosing between proper grammar and impactful messaging, there can only be one winner. And it ain’t the semi-colon.
Last week, I received an email from my father. The subject line – ‘HAVE YOU SEEN THIS?’ – could mean one of two things. Either a rogue intern had glued down his caps lock, or someone was guilty of breaking the Holy Rules of Grammar. Turns out it was the latter.

Monday, 10 October 2016

8 tips to getting your emails opened and acted on

We train recruiters in how to write first approach emails to candidates they’ve never met. Bit niche? Well, these tips are pretty useful for any ‘cold’ sales email.

Professional networking site LinkedIn has made finding good candidates easy. But it’s also made candidates more discerning. That means you have to work harder than ever to get their attention.

According to LinkedIn, the average InMail response rate is just 25%. Whether you’re a full-time recruiter, or just looking to improve your response rates, these tips will help you cut through the noise.

1. Quality not quantity
A bigger mailing list doesn’t necessarily equal better results. Instead of taking the ‘spray and pray’ approach, concentrate on a smaller number of high-quality prospects.

Stalk them online before you sit down to write your email or InMail. If you know what time they shower in the morning, you’ve gone too far. But checking out their LinkedIn and social media profiles and post for any shared connections or interests is a must. That’s because you need to…

2. Find a connection
If your email looks like a copied-and-pasted job spec, it will either:
A)   Be ignored
B)   Be deleted

Use the information you discovered earlier – like a shared language, hobby or employer – to create a personal connection. Weave it into a catchy subject line. Then follow it up in the first line of the email before getting to your pitch.

“Hello Tony! I hear you’re a fellow craft beer enthusiast…”

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Why tone of voice should be about the brand - not just writing well

Tone of voice guidelines should help make a brand unique. But all too often they consist of generic writing advice arranged under me-too values. Here are five common brand values along with the standard advice that’s typically offered up.


Also known as ‘Warm and friendly’, ‘Approachable’ or ‘Personable’. Guidelines with this brand value encourage you to use accessible, non-corporate language and write like you speak. You’ll achieve this by referring to your organisation as ‘we’ instead of the company name and using contractions like ‘it’s’. To sound friendly, you must address the reader as ‘you’ rather than with the remoter, third-person ‘his’, ‘her’ or ‘they’. All good advice, but every consumer brand and most B2B ones are doing this. It’s hygiene. You won’t differentiate your brand with this one.

Barnaby Benson tone of voice


Also goes under the names ‘Open’ and ‘Honest’. Advice for sounding ‘Straightforward’ include favouring short words over longer ones, avoiding abstract words, explaining technical terms and making sure you stick to just one idea per sentence. Commendable writing advice – essential, even. But it provides nada for a brand hoping to stand out from the crowd.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Let advertising direct your tone of voice

Any tone of voice guidelines should look to the brand’s advertising for direction. Most don’t and their TOV suffers for it.

Let me state two true observations. Then see if you can spot the glaring inconsistency they reveal.

  • One: any brand’s advertising campaign is the highest profile communications a brand has. It therefore sets the tone of the brand’s voice as it’s the thing most consumers think of when they think of the brand.
  • Two: most tone of voice guidelines are not written by the advertising agency and do not significantly influence the creative direction of the brand’s advertising.

The disconnect between these two statements struck me last week when I was asked to create a tone of voice guide that stipulated the advertising headline style and structure – very precisely. Wow, I thought, the ad agency isn’t going to like this! We’re telling them what their next campaign will look like. More than that: we are telling them what all their future campaigns will look like.