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Everyone Awesome Wants My Great Writing

William Shakespeare asked me to co-author a play with him but I'm not sure if it is to be or not to be. Then the musician Sting called to ask me to write lyrics for him but I called the Police. Ken Blanchard also wanted to write with me. I told him to wait one minute. During the wait Tom Peters texted that my writing's good. "So what?" I texted back. "I'm in search of excellence."

Of course, Malcolm Gladwell wanted writing advice from me. I told him, "What's the tipping point?" I had to chuckle when Napoleon Hill said that if I'd write with him he would think and grow rich. Poor Charles Dickens. He and I actually started working together but he fell ill. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. And I just know Norman Vincent Peale would love to write with me. Now that's the power of positive thinking.

So who's dying to work with you and why? Send me your list.

Business Lessons From A 16-Month-Old

When you need business inspiration just start thinking and acting like the typical toddler. Among the marketing and creativity lessons you'll learn are:

Learning new things is fun!

What you couldn't do yesterday you may well figure out today.

There are lessons in everything.

Work hard. Play hard. Nap often.

Eye contact and facial expressions communicate much better than texts and e-mail.

Make lots of mistakes. Get over them. Keep crawling forward.

What other business lessons have you learned from a toddler?   


Free Makes You More Money

In his book, What Would Google Do?, Jeff Jarvis makes the case that business owners in this age of the internet can make more money by giving things away.

 One example Jarvis mentions is the New York Times. In 2005, the Times began charging for some online content. They killed that idea two years later. At least three reasons caused the Times to free its content: 1) Free content increased the number of site visitors; 2) advertising revenue went up because the online audience grew; 3) free opened up the "Googlejuice", bringing greater SEO, more clicks and more links.

Jarvis quotes Rich Barton, the founder of online real-estate service Zillow as saying, "The internet is a great big race to free. Anyone who has built a business model with a price above free for something that can be free is in a tough strategic position."

What do you think?

Claim Permanent Mindshare with Your Clients

What if your marketing was so great your clients passed it around the office? What if people prominently posted your marketing on their bulletin boards? What if C-level officers brought it to friends and raved over it? Great-beyond-great marketing pieces are so striking that clients admire and collect them.

Take Andrea Obston Marketing Communications for a terrific example. Every year Andrea's agency produces a holiday card that features Andrea and her staff on the cover as characters in a recent hit movie. Get Smart, Toy Story, Brave, the Harry Potter movies, and more have served as fun, engaging avenues for Andrea staying on desks, hanging on walls, and staying in minds.

People eagerly look forward to these cards. People laugh. They call to express appreciation. They remember the card (and the agency that sent them and not the "marketing") months and years later. And Andrea gets cemented even further into hundreds of brains as a creative, intelligent, innovative business resource.

Could your next marketing piece possibly earn a powerful position next to your client's favorite family picture? Can its value make it worthy of being passed around the office as required reading? Can it earn you a few "Thank you, you made my day"  phone calls?

If not, wait until December for Andrea's card and admire. I think you'll be calling her at 860.243.1447.

Your Guaranteed Best Seller

Recently I tried reading a book acclaimed as "one of the greatest books of the last 100 years." It sold millions. It had a great title and subject. The testimonials on the back cover were awesome. Everything was terrific except the book.

That made me think that I could create one of the greatest books in the next 100 years  without even writing a very good book. All I need is a good book title, fascinating subject, cool cover, clever paragraph description, and a back cover with glowing quotes. Inside the covers could be a 500 page water soup recipe. So I've already completed this great best seller. I'm just waiting for the accolades and the money to roll in. Here's the whole thing:

Book Title: Word War Won
Subtitle: A Savory, Succulent, Sweet, and Sweeping Story 
Description: In Word War Won Amorosino reveals the gut-wrenching, brain-draining, life-sucking spelling and grammar decisions business writers battle through every day. From the life-threatening horrors of waiting for late-paying clients to the sweet satisfaction of meeting deadlines, every assignment described in this classic  bursts with tension and drama.
"If my only two choices in life were to continue breathing or to read this masterpiece by Amorosino, my joy-filled response would be, 'Bury me under the roses and hand me my reading glasses now.'"

"Never before has there been such a tome and I hope never again!"

"Who is Twain? Who is Hemingway? Move over, small men, and make plenty of room for the big man, Chris Amorosino."

Bloody Creativity

The creative have bloody knees. In writing and in business, the creative fall down and get bruised. For they thrive far from the safe haven. To reach creativity, they travel the road of imagination with courage. They live Albert Einstein's statement: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Risk some bruises. Break free from the standard.

Cheese-eating Surrender Monkeys

Calling someone a monkey wasn't new. But, calling the French cheese-eating surrender monkeys was new in 2003. We all knew and used those same words thousands of times before, but never in quite that combination and situation. Which brings us to a point about the art of words. Much of that art lies in combining old words in new ways. For example, one company got a marketing edge by dropping the word “crispy” from its description of its potato chips and substituting the word “noisy.” Go take something old and make it new again. You'll attract more attention AND sales.

When Pain Produces

A client recently asked me, “Is it more powerful to start a message by identifying a need (or pain) or should I start with a benefit?” My rock solid answer was, “It depends.”

If your market has a pain; if it's painfully aware of that pain; And if your product addresses that pain, Then start with pain. The stronger the agony, the stronger an anguish-based opening: “Do you suffer from migraines?”

But often your audience doesn't feel pain. They're living quite torment-free without your product, thank you very much. In these cases, start with a benefit. For example, if your target is relatively fit people, the headline, “Can't Fit Into Your Clothes?” isn't strong. Try a benefit headline instead: “Lose 3 Pounds in 3 Days.” Now, reading this wasn't painful and it did provide a benefit. Ta-dum!

Writing That Breathes

Why do we embrace one message and hurl another into the trash? Perhaps because one breathes and the other's dead on arrival. Some business writing's cold crustiness can't pierce the hard shell of our armor of marketing skepticism. The heat and beat of other messages drill deep into the depths of our desires and needs. It's like the difference between the website that begins: “Blank is a company of professional writers,” and the competitor's site that opens, “Mediocrity kills.” Breathe fresh vibrancy into your messages. Deep six the embalming fluid.

Writers Do Windows

Think of your business as a building made entirely of bricks. You're inside the bricks doing what you do - making whackados; whatever. Even if you make the world's best whackados you'll fail unless you put some windows in those brick walls. Windows let people see what you're doing; see what you're all about. Windows are communications to the outside world - investors, employees, prospects, clients, and more. Let the light shine on your work. Build more windows.

Marketing Strategy

God As Your Financial Advisor

A certain financial advisor's capability brochure mentions God, quotes Scripture, and references Biblical stories like the parable of the talents. Is he crazy? No, he's smart.

Try to appeal to everyone and you will attract no one. This advisor avoids that common mistake. By speaking directly to people who believe in God, read the Bible, and let their spiritual values guide their investments, this advisor distinguishes his agency. It's a Christian agency for Christians. You know this approach will bother many people. But others, the advisor's target market, will embrace it.

Take a stand. Let your business openly reflect what you most believe in. You will attract business from and the loyalty of people who feel the same as you do. Amen.

Don't 20th Century Me In The 21st Century

Radio, TV, the Internet--no doubt the 20th century brought great innovations to business marketing. But some 20th century techniques come across as cave man tactics in the 21st century.

A few days ago I receive an enticing offer: "Call now to get your FREE Samsung Galaxy S 5!*" Where do I begin to explain what's horribly wrong with this direct mail piece.

Perhaps worst is that tiny little asterisk. It screams, "What we just said isn't the whole truth and the whole truth is a whole lot less than what the headline implies." The nine word headline requires more than 700 words of exclusions, limitations, and other parameters. (FREE Tip: When lawyers and compliance officers love, love, love your marketing, your marketing stinks.)

I don't trust exclamation points in business marketing copy. As a general rule, they mean that the content is not really that exciting but we've added this exclamation point to try to fool you into think the content is exciting.

This is 20th century Venus flytrap marketing. It whispers, "Come on in here, you sweet little bugger." The deeper you explore; the more you breathe in our offer; the more trapped you'll feel.

Please don't do this to your 21st century clients and prospects. They'll smell a skunk.

What Works In Social Media

Social media scientist Dan Zarrella cites 10 top things to do on social media:
1. Talk about others. People want you to talk about them. Dan says the most retweetable word is "you."
2. Be original and educational. Social media isn't a sales plaza. New ideas and new educational insights are more likely to be passed on (as opposed to items viewable elsewhere and items seen as promotional.)
3. Keep it simple. Complicated stories are less likely to be posted on Facebook and elsewhere.
4. Use punctuation. Zarrella's research shows that retweets contain more punctuation than tweets.
5. Add links. Links improve your likelihood of being retweeted by 200%.
6. Talk about what people care most about. Topics that get lots of attention include work, religion, money, and celebrities.
7. Be positive. Most people have enough negative news to read already. We want to be lifted up, not brought down.

8. Prime people. Zarrella says people are more receptive to ideas they've already been exposed to. Send teasers of upcoming posts.
9. Test post times. Try to find a "quiet time" to post. Avoid the social media traffic.
10. Analyze your audience. What topics do they respond to? What post times work best? What do you see them reposting? Analytics are your friend.

What Web Success Looks Like

Web success looks like River Pools and Spas in 2011 when the average pool builder lost 50-75% in sales but River Pools increased by 20%. How? By answering every conceivable customer question on their blog (and attracting 100,000 unique visitors to the blog in one month.)

Web success looks like Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry after they paid a web-savvy person to live for 30 days inside the museum and write online observations. Her YouTube channel earned 240 subscribers, tons of views, and the museum's official Facebook page grew to 111,517 likes.

Web success looks like's inbound marketing campaign that resulted in their creating a consumer luggage report that Reader's Digest picked up. experienced a 20% conversion rate among website visitors who visited the report page (20% downloaded the report.)

How's web success looking for you?

Great Business Technology Isn't Key

I hate it when business people say today's world is all about great new technology and instant communication and using the latest tools like Evernote or Twitter or (your favorite here.) These smart, zealous but slightly-off-focus people are like tennis players who spend thousands on their tennis equipment and zippo on practicing the game's basics.

New tech tools are cool but they're just stuff. What matters most in business isn't new; it's old. It's timeless proven principles. Principles like speaking clearly and directly. Telling the truth. Giving great customer service. Filling a need. Writing about your audience not about your company. These ancient principles have worked for decades and will continue to work for decades. So use the latest and greatest technology and tools. But honor and stake your business on the classic principles.

Fundraising Greatness

What makes a fundraiser great? I hereby nominate the Klingberg Family Centers' Vintage Motorcar Festival as a prime example of a great fundraiser.

Klingberg Family Centers is a private, nonprofit multi-service agency providing help to thousands of people each year. Its mission is to give hope and healing to children and families whose lives have been traumatized by abuse and/or neglect, severe family problems and mental health issues. Here's why I think their motorcar festival fundraiser is so good:

1. It creates memories.
People who come once to the car fest tend to come back. They have good memories of something (the cars, the dancers, kid activities, music, all of this or something else.)
2. Attendees make the festival into whatever they want.
A festival like this allows people to participate and make the day theirs. Young families enjoy the face painting, bounce house and other kid activities. Car enthusiasts observe and talk cars. Car collectors and restorers enjoy showing off their work and winning awards. Photographers like the abundant snapshot-worthy opportunities. Outdoor lovers like the walk and the picturesque campus.
3. People who give receive.
Pay the admission fee and you receive an immediate reward of fun and entertainment. You can learn about Klingberg's work. You can feel good about giving to help children who need care. You can enjoy lunch.
4. Klingberg owns the day.
Road signs throughout New Britain point toward the show. Past attendees mark next year's vintage motorcar festival on their calendar. People talk. "Did you see the Pope-Hartford car?" "I never knew cars were once manufactured in Bridgeport and New Britain."
5. The nonprofit builds a volunteer army.
In 2014, more than 100 volunteers set up the 22nd festival on Friday and worked it on Saturday. The volunteers are invested in the auto show. They become champions of the Klingberg message.
6. Business relationships get strengthen.
About 90 local businesses choose to sponsor the event. That gives Klingberg an ongoing relationship with major corporations and their employees.
7. It produces results.
The bottom line with a fundraiser, of course, is...the bottom line. Every year the auto show is Klingberg's biggest fundraising success. In 2014 the show produced more than 0,000.

Here's a 2:18 musical slide show celebrating the event. The 2015 Klingberg Vintage Motorcar Festival is Saturday, June 20th, 2015. Are you going?

The Interviewer Wins

We tend to think it's the interviewee (not the interviewer) who receives the gift. I beg to differ. Give people a forum and often they reveal their deepest thoughts and highest wisdom showering the interviewer with precious gifts.

An 85-year-old man whose life included breaking his neck at age 14 and later managing 1,300 employees for 10+ years told me, "If you do what you do a little better than you need to do it, people will know and will reward you for it."

I was blessed to hear the story of a man who barely graduated from high school (#365 in a class of 375), had seen many friends’ lives ruined by drugs, and had suffered years of emotional and physical abuse from his father. That man today is a Magna Cum Laud graduate of Quinnipiac College and a  million dollar investment adviser for a major national securities firm.

At a school for emotionally and behaviorally challenged adolescents, I ask a student if she and her best friend were a "rock" for each other. She replied, “We’re not each other’s rock, although [Sarah] does rock. There’s no one here who is my rock. There’s a lot of great pebbles.”
An eight-year cancer survivor who's raised ,000+ for cancer research said her first thought after her original diagnosis was that she was going to die. Then she talked about laughter. “Laughing is important,” she said. “There are enough tears in life. You have to enjoy the laughter.”

A 10th grade boy who was born deaf and struggled with anger issues his whole life said in an interview, “I like the quote: ‘Every 60 seconds you spend angry, upset or mad is a full minute of happiness you lose.’"

Being granted the privilege of asking questions of good people often fills the interviewer's mind with gems of lives well lived.

Disagreeing with a Renowned Marketing Expert

I love two of his marketing books but Jack Trout's The Power of Simplicity simply doesn't work for me. In fairness, some of what Jack says in this 1999 book (Ah, there's the rub! This book is from another time, another century) rings true to me. I didn't think I'd agree with him that "Goals are like dreams. We need to wake up and face reality." After reading that chapter, I did buy his argument.

At least two main ideas in this book are wrong. Jack sums up one chapter by saying, "It's not about knowing your customer. It's about your customer knowing you." Jack doesn't want to dazzle customers. Don't go overboard on being customer oriented he says. Tsk, tsk. Jack, the customer is the boss. Every business must put the customer first. That's how we get them to notice us.

Worse for me is Jack's chapter that says business is war. He advises us to focus on the competition, avoid their strengths, and exploit their weaknesses. To the corner, Jack, and put this little pointy cap on. If you see business as war, you're in a negative, confrontational state of mind. You'll get others to fight with you all right, but unnecessarily so.  Business is less war and more cocktail party where we're all waiters flitting about trying to entice the crowd to try the goodie on our tray.

Focusing on a competitor's strengths and weaknesses pulls precious resources away from understanding, perfecting, and  displaying our own strengths. Focus on where your business has the most talent, the biggest advantage. Damn the competition. Learn from them, yes, but don't try to conquer them. This is a world of abundance, not scarcity.

I do like Jack's chapter on language. He's right that big ideas almost always come in small words. And I agree that power comes from transmitting information, not from hiding it.

My book shelf has two special spots for other Jack Trout books (The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind). I won't need space for a third. Fortunately, it's a library book.

How Marketing Will Ruin Baseball

I have seen the future of baseball. Broadcasting games will go something like this:
“Good evening, Micrasoft Red Sacks baseball fans and welcome to tonight’s game against the ATee & Tee New York Yonkers. I’m Erza Noend with my game analyst partner, Adzer Everywear.”
“Thanks, Erza.  Fans, sit back, relax, and enjoy pure baseball pleasure. On the Peter Paul Mound tonight is Jake Clark wearing the new uniforms from Lord & Sailor’s.  With the potent lineups these two teams boast, I’m looking for a high scoring contest tonight. The sluggers on both teams are going to break a lot of Vinman Windows. Here’s Erza for the play by play.”
“Jake’s first pitch is an AMF Bowling strike. From the huge break on that pitch it looked like the Curves Of Woman ball.”
“Jake stares in for the sign, winds, and fires. There’s a slow Starbeck Coffee grounder to the Super Shop & Drop.  He picks it up and throws it to the First Niagara Bankman for the out.”    
 “Batting second, in the attractive Nukee shoes, is the center fielder, George Smith. Smith hits the first pitch for a Singulair single up the middle.”
“Erza, George put the House Depot hammer to that pitch.  If it was hit any harder it would have broken the APE Audio sound barrier.”
“One on, one out as Mike Curtis strolls to the Pottery Burn plate. I’m sorry, this is the former Mike Curtis, now known as Eat at Joe’s. Eat at Joe’s is hitting .314 and leading the league with 21 product endorsements.”
“Eat at Joe’s swings and hits a high Pop Tart into shallow Right Garde field. That’s out number two with the runner holding.”
“Batting clean up is Brett “The Cannon Copier" Cooper, the designated and GMC authorized hitter.  Brett’s been on a hot streak lately. He hits a long drive deep to center, it’s over the Duelin’ Donuts, over the CVVS, and it’s over the Cap Code fence. A two run homer for the Cannon and a trip to Casino City for all you lucky fans who put your money down on the Cannon in the first.”

“Now let’s take a break from the game for a short commercial from major league baseball.”

Joy, Kindness, & Good Writing

Run away as fast as you can from the grouchy doomsayers. If you study our business world you'll easily find joy, kindness, and good writing. Focus on that, not on the curmudgeons.

A February 2016 feature article by Rex W. Huppke says successful managers and workplace experts know through many studies that being kind and nice to the people you work with leads to loyalty, great work effort, and efficiency. See Rex's article here or read about the work of Mary Rowe of the MIT Sloan School of Management.    

In January, Fortune revealed the sales success of kitchen and bath retailer, Pirch, a company that teaches its employees to work with joy and that hires people based more on who they are rather than what their skills are.

Then there's the wonderful articles written about the writing talent of the late Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia. Scalia will join the short list of the best writers to ever serve on the Supreme Court.

In one opinion, Scalia said major changes in law do not arise from minor, vague provisions. Congress does not "hide elephants in mouse holes," he wrote. It's one of the most quoted comments in legal briefs and judicial opinions. Another piece of good writing is his: " What is a moderate interpretation of the text? Halfway between what it really means and what you'd like it to mean?"

Look for kindness and joy and good writing in business and you'll do more than find them. You will promote them. What are you promoting now?

When You Fail

What's your next step after you suffer a business failure? I've been there, looking at what I thought was the gnashing teeth of business doom about to devour me forevermore. Can you relate? If so, consider these steps:

1. Verify and accept.
Do make sure your business defeat is real but then stay in reality. Accept failure and move on to #2.
2.Conduct the autopsy.
Understand the defeat. Learn the whys and the whos and the lessons. Wrong market? Bad timing? Mediocre product? Lukewarm marketing?
3. Step away.
Once you accept the failure and understand the causes, put it out of your mind for a while. One failure doesn't define you. Gain perspective. Many business failures seem fatal but are not. Up close and down low, a mole hill can seem like a mountain.
4. Remember and celebrate your successes.
When I'm sad it helps to sing. When your business fails it helps to replay the memories of your triumphs. Too often we rush past our successes without breathing them in and enjoying them. We take failure to heart but we dismiss success. Do the opposite.
5. Get back in the arena.
Nothing removes the stench of defeat better than the fragrance of victory. Get back in the marketplace--wiser and more determined than ever.

If he hadn’t failed thousands of times, Thomas Edison might not have become America’s most well-known and prolific innovator. Failure is a bump in the road to success.

Toothpaste Failure

I once stopped buying a brand of toothpaste because of the gloppy, gooey, gross mass of toothpaste that spilled out of the cap after I used it and thought the cap was on. I stopped donating to a charity because they seemed to call me every other day. And I won't visit a certain wonderful institution because the restrooms are filthy and disgusting. What's wrong with me?

Nothing. The toothpaste I banned from my house is a fine toothpaste. But part of the experience of using it is terrible. As business people, we need to remember that our customers and clients judge us not just on what we're selling but on the overall experience of dealing with our company. 

For 15+ years I've loved working with a certain good but not great graphic designer. This designer makes everything easier for me. I've driven my 100% healthy wife to a hospital so we can wander the art gallery-like halls and enjoy the paintings and sculptures. A family member uses a financial advisor who gets just above average results but is always there when he's needed. 

Make a good product. Better yet, build a positive and rewarding experience and relationship with your customer.

Your Biggest Marketing Issue Is Yourself

It's crazy but true: you get in the way of your message. So many companies make the grave error of talking about themselves rather than talking about the benefits they bring to their clients.

Deliver a clear, benefit-orient message. Face it. No one cares if you've been in business 100 years or 100 minutes. The market doesn't care if you just bought state-of-the-art equipment. Don't talk about you. Talk about the market's needs and what you can do to meet those needs.  Stop admiring yourself in the mirror. Reflect the market need instead.

Bland Beats Brilliant

What if you had to choose between: 1) Great writing, a superb visual, and a mediocre strategy; or 2) Ho-hum writing, bland visuals, and a great strategy? What would you choose? Knowingly or not, most of us create finely tailored wording with a stylish look on a mediocre strategy. Rarely do we spend as much time crafting the strategy behind a communication as much as we do on the delivery of that strategy. Yet a great strategy delivered so-so beats an average strategy delivered with aplomb. Don't be a victim of premature keystroking or graphic design infatuation. Do the core work, the mind work, first and best.

Don't Leave Home Without It

Even though the phrase above first appeared to promote a product in 1975, you still recognize the line and can name the product. That's the power of a great tagline. And you don't have to spend millions to have people remember yours.

I still remember the tagline a plumber created on his own some ten years ago: “A royal flush beats a full house any day.” So devote some time to creating a memorable slogan about your business. Think different. Because you're worth it. Try it, you'll like it. And don't leave home without that tagline.

How Do We Become Worthy?

At a networking event, Kim Kasparian asked 40 of us small business owners, “How do you become worthy?” I love her answer. We become worthy by giving. We build business not by making contacts but by making friendships. It's our relationships and our attitudes that determine our altitude. What does this have top do with marketing? Our marketing will be worthy if it gives value to the prospect. We'll be successful if we treat the prospect honorably -- like a friend. Market the truth. Market clearly. Market to benefit the prospect.

“I've Got A Great Gimmick!”

Renowned ad writer Bill Bernbach once said, “I've got a great gimmick -- Let's tell the truth.”

Whenever we communicate with whomever about whatever, the truth produces. We build trust and relationship with honesty. I wouldn't lie to you.

Never Write To Your Target Audience

I don't care what they say - don't write to your target audience. If your target is males ages 21-35 with incomes of $60,000 to $75,000 think of one person within that target. Write to that person, not to a group. Because your message gets read one person at a time it should feel personal and individual. Write to a person not to some numbers.

Reaching The CEO

Delivering your message to the chief executive officer is like catching a certain movie star when she's not in rehab - near impossible. Yet, like glaciers in Bolivia, it can be done. Skip the small talk. Get down to business. Don't sell. Let the CEO buy. Avoid words like “typical,” “average” and “standard.” Use words like “exceed,” “success,” and “creative.” Talk about actual results not hypothetical situations. Be specific. CEOs will pay attention to your writing if it adds value to their day. If not, why are you contacting them anyway?

Content That Works

Writing For Tablets: Use Gold Coins

Once someone decides to read your communication on their iPad or other tablet how do you keep them reading? A new study by the Poynter Institute finds that people reading news on an iPad spent an average of 78.3 seconds on stories they didn't finish. That gives you about 200 words before interested prospects reading your news on their tablet are going to bail on you. You must give them a reason to stay. That reason is a gold coin.

Gold coins are info bits your audience finds compelling. A gold coin could be an amazing statistic, a juicy story, a provocative question, an insight --anything that tantalizes your prime audience and makes them hunger for more.

After you capture people's attention you still have to keep earning that attention. Especially in our tablet/smartphone age.

Short Fundraising Letters Are Short On Results

In his book, The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications, Jeff Brooks argues that long fundraising letters outperform shorter letters. I bet Jeff's right.

Many donors still enjoy reading, so writing long works for them. A longer letter provides room to make more arguments for giving. Readers who scan may be better drawn in by a long letter that gives them more "entry points." With a longer letter you can paint a more vivid picture of the need.

When you're trying to separate people from some of their money you need a clear, strong, powerful argument. That can mean a longer argument. But write economically, too. Make sure that every word adds value. Long and economical, Amorosino? Is that possible? Yes it is and that's why people like Jeff Brooks get paid the big bucks to write those fundraising letters.

A Very Important Announcement? Not Really.

The title above is a very important example of a very bad assumption. We're wrong when we assume that by labeling a message "very important" we increase the likelihood of others finding value in it. It's like shouting "Fire!" in a packed store on Black Friday to get the shopping stampede out of our way.
If our announcement's so important let's not waste people's time telling them that. Can't we trust people to recognize the importance when they hear the message?  And let's not try to tell other people what to consider important. Isn't that a bit manipulative and arrogant? Deciding what's important is a decision we all want to make for ourselves.
Our audiences are smart enough to decide what's important to them. So let's not use subject lines like: "Once in a Lifetime Offer" or "Funniest Story You'll Ever Hear." Instead, let's use subject lines (when they are credible) like: "Trade Your Old Smartphone For A New One At No Cost" or "Thanks To You We Exceed Our Fundraising Goal."


Clarity vs. Impact

Clarity Wins Over Visual Appeal

For years I've shouted long and hard that the number one attribute of good business writing is clarity. Clarity beats creativity. Clarity wins over visual allure. Clarity's more powerful than brevity. Clarity, you're my god. Marketing guru Seth Godin threw mud at my god on June 5.

Seth chooses impact over clarity.  "Often, being crystal clear is about categorization and topic sentences and the deliverable gets in the way of actually making an impact," he says. "You might have to sacrifice the easy ride of clarity for the dense fog of telling stories, using inferences, understanding worldviews and most of all, engaging in action."

I think Seth's wrong. First, clarity isn't an easy ride. Second, story-telling isn't fog inducing. Third, clarity usually fuels impact; it doesn't deflate it. When you write, your formula must include clarity. Accuracy and reader benefit are also essential. When you think you're almost done, consider your message's impact. How can you punch home your point in way that will have impact but still be accurate, benefit-oriented and clear. Now I'll see if you think this message is clear and has impact. Let me know.

Marketing Solutions Kudos

Delight. That's how I felt when I received a recent mailer from West Hartford direct mail and print agency Marketing Solutions Unlimited. Here's what I found effective:

1. It's simple.
I like the simple nature of the plain white cover (sorry, not shown here) and the easy to read text. The piece immediately made me think, "Hey, this will be easy, fun, and interesting to read, let's open her up!"

2. The headline's good.
Experts tell us writers to put 80% of our effort into the headline and 20% into body copy. Marketing Solutions seems to have done so. Their headline ("visualize this thing that you want.") is active, contains the language's most powerful word ("you") and issues a positive challenge.

3. Tastes good, less filling.
As easy as the cover is to read and digest, the first inside spread is even easier. It has fewer words, more color, and attractive visuals. Readers zoom down a slippery slide of simple copy toward Marketing Solutions's full message.  Also, the visuals complement the words. The "see it" visual shows a graphic designer's visual magnifying tool. The "feel it" visual makes you "feel" the stock it shows.

5. It's neatly tied in a bow.
The final pay off spread continues the theme and look. It delivers the full explanation that readers have been teased toward.

6. This agency's brochure is NOT about the agency.
This piece doesn't focus on puffing out its chest and boasting about how great Marketing Solutions is. The focus mainly stays on the client's dream and how Marketing Solutions might help clients reach that dream.

Yeah, yeah, I could quibble about some of the copy. I won't. Marketing Solutions deserves an A. But I wonder how their target audience perceives the brochure and whether the piece reached its goal. 

The SEC's Sincere Desire To Inform

Let's have fun! Let's read disclosure statements!

Actually, disclosure statements have gotten much easier to read (perhaps not fun to read) since the Securities and Exchange Commission published  A Plain English Handbook.  You can download the 83 page document to learn about key writing topics like knowing your audience, time-saving tips, readability formulas, and nine others.

 I had the most fun reading the preface. It's by my favorite billionaire, Warren E. Buffett, and ends: "To succeed, I don't need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform."

Read it and reap.

Now I Have A Clue

I admit it. The book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, came out nearly 15 years ago and I just recently read it for the first time. It's one of the best and most important business books I've read.

I appreciate the rich and memorable language that the four authors use. I humbly bow to you, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger. I'm not worthy of dotting your i's.

But more important, this book's revolutionary, insightful, and correct. It's correct that the Internet changed everything by connecting, impassioning, and empowering us. Down with corporate speak. Up with everyman speak.

The book is a plea for businesses to realize that our future isn't about wholesale conformity, making things perfect, or scientifically crafting messages to appeal to well-defined demographic sectors. Successful businesses are now about subtle differences, doing things first, and building convivial communities.

Connecting with customers isn't enough anymore, the book says. There must be ways that our businesses implement what we learn from customers and evolve our business plans around customer conversations. 

I'll end with a sample of the language I think is so rich and bursting with value: "Marketing-as-usual thinks it's fighting a war when in fact the 'enemy' is having a party: 'Hey, dude, put on this Hawaiian shirt, grab some chips and dip, and join in. But first you gotta loosen your grip on that assault weapon."

You can read the original book online for free.


Social Media Rules of Engagement

Thou shalt not ever mistake me for a social media expert, but I do know a few things:

1. It's better to be on fewer social media sites frequently than on more social media inconsistently.
2. Never post anything negative about your competition or anyone or anything else.
3. Share your expertise and tips in ways that will help others.
4. Avoid ego-driven posts or a personal agenda.
5. Be more interested in others than you are in sounding interesting yourself.
6. Be real. Be you.
7. Share success stories if they will help others.
8. Build relationships and trust.
9. Listen to what others are saying. Respond with helpful information.
10. Think before you send. Once you post, your message stay on the Internet forever. Every message should represent you and your business well.
11. Hang out online only with people you respect, like, and can help.
12. Writers, post pictures. Visual people, use the written word, too.

And one more point: Enjoy posting. Your interest will show and keep others interested in reading your posts.

Of Course Numbers Lie

National Public Radio covered a story about grain bin entrapment deaths that reminded me that numbers can lie. Since 1984 there have been 179 U.S. grain entrapment deaths. When you hear these deaths are down significantly since 2010 you might assume the numbers mean things are getting better. But those numbers tell only part of the story. The harvest was down in both 2011 and 2012 and the weather had been drier (more people die in grain accidents during wetter years.) So numbers do not always prove our case.  Numbers often supply precision and certitude that words cannot. Words often provide details and explanations that numbers cannot. Good writing uses them as allies.

Abuse Words And We Lose Them

Sometimes we use words inappropriately. I call it word abuse. We abuse the word's meaning and it gradually loses its precision and power.

For example, after the Boston Marathon bombings, one of the accused bombers was frequently called a devout Muslim. Devout means very religious, sincere or devoted. I don't believe a devout Christian would deliberately kill and injure hundreds of innocent strangers. I don't believe a devout Jew or a devout Muslim would either. Implying that a person's horrific crime is partially due to that person being strongly devoted to one of the world's great religions does a disservice to all mainline religions. The accused bomber may have been disturbed, deranged and despondent but he was not a devoutly religious man.

Be a Lousy Writer

Okay, I'm a lousy writer. But, I'm also a good rewriter. All good writers write horrible first drafts. It's how they write better second drafts and even better third drafts. In her insightful book, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott calls the first draft the down draft. You just get your message down. The second draft is the up draft. You fix it up. “The third draft is the dental draft, when you check every tooth, to see if it's loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.” So write poorly so you can then write well.

Market Research: Right and Wrong at the Same Time

MarketingProfs recently published an article by Ayaz Nanji entitled “The Most and Least Effective Words in Email Subject Lines.” It’s a good article and a bad one.

The extensive study found that emails with “alert” in the subject line have a 38% higher than average open rate and a 62% higher click rate. Other big winners were “free delivery” and “bulletin.” Big losers included “report,” “book,” and “learn.”

This is good food for thought. Perhaps it’s useful. But it’s also dangerous and misleading for at least two reasons. Remember the frequently used investment warning, “past performance does not guarantee future results”? That applies to this email subject line study. Since the word is out that you'll get better results sticking the word “alert” in your subject line, more people will use that word. With more use (probably overuse) results for that word will go down.

The second issue I have with reports like this is the size. The study looked at 90,000 email campaigns with lists of 5,000 subscribers or more for a total of 2+ billion emails. You can see that size as a plus because the results come from a huge database. I see that size as a negative because in a huge database the big fish control the results. Put a few Amazons, Googles, and GMs in there and their numbers dominate. Little guys like me don’t want to and cannot attract customers the same way the big players do. “Alert” may work for them. That doesn’t mean “alert” will work for me or you.

So what do you think? Are you about to throw an accolade my way or a tomato? And I did check my email subject line for this mailing. No winning words appear. Neither do the losers.

Danger: Communication Road Block Ahead

Caution! Swerve around those adjectives because they weaken nouns. Avoid those overstatements because they create resistance. Don't pick up superlatives hitchhiking your route. Customers instinctively disbelieve them. Remember, the most direct, clear, and focused communication path gets you to your destination first and everyone will enjoy the trip more.

Diaries & Dictionaries: Our Best Writing

The best writing is like a dictionary blended with a diary. Good writing's packed with factual, essential information (the dictionary) and compelling human emotion (the diary).

We must speak some dictionary-like truth that's of interest: Web sites with long copy tend to do better than web sites with fewer words. But we must speak that truth with diary-like flair using intrigue, joy, bitterness, surprise, love, humor, or something very human: “He's so shallow he could drown in a puddle.”

Don't Write Like Shakespeare

Bill Shakespeare, the greatest writer of all time? Ha! He stunk at marketing. Where did the Bard of Stratford place the climax of his plays? In the fourth of five acts. That's great for playwrights but horrible for marketing communicators. When you communicate about your business, put the main point, the climax up front. Lead with your best punch. Or, there might not be a second act to your play.

Life & Business Musings

Nightmare: The Political Campaign Next Time

Political ads this election season reached new highs in ubiquitousness and new lows in greasy, grimy content. In words and images, here's the overly ripe new marketing fruit I fear we'll face next time.

You'll walk into a retail store owned by a staunch Republican and the floor will be pressure-sensitive. Every step you take will produce an assertive commentator-like voice wafting up from the underworld saying, "Vote for Joe. Vote for Joe. Vote for Joe."

The Democrats will announce a job program for 10,000 homeless men. The homeless will earn a living wage standing on street corners holding X-marked Republican politicians' signs upside down.

In your new iPhone 12 Siri will sense your doubt about that incumbent and immediately bless you with a robocall from the other party confirming what a sleaze bag the incumbent is and how she probably doesn't recycle or floss.

A new breed of candidates will challenge the importance of telling the truth. They'll claim politicians have never practiced truth-telling so we should stop whining about it. Besides, the new breed will insist, a campaign that makes you feel scared or angry or shocked is so much more invigorating and motivating than a campaign that leaves you feeling calm, rational, and peaceful.
Through advanced technology we'll learn even more useful, detailed background information about those running for office. We'll know which politician in 1955 stuck Lucy's hair in the ink well. MSNBC will break the story of the current officeholder who shoplifted a Snickers bar at age four (and didn't share it!). Fox News will show dramatic video of the above the fray, "clean candidate" who on Halloween 1983 put a paper bag of poo on the neighbor's front step, set it ablaze, rang the bell, and ran.

The Supreme Court will rule that outside groups like ISIS have a right to contribute financially to political campaigns as long as they adhere to Congress's new anti-beheading law.

Are you ready? I'm heading under a rock.

The Blessed Privilege of Interviewing

We tend to think it's the interviewee (not the interviewer) who receives the gift. I beg to differ. Give people a forum and often they reveal their deepest thoughts and highest wisdom showering the interviewer with precious gifts.

An 85-year-old man whose life included breaking his neck at age 14 and later managing 1,300 employees for 10+ years told me, "If you do what you do a little better than you need to do it, people will know and will reward you for it."

I was blessed to hear the story of a man who barely graduated from high school (#365 in a class of 375), had seen many friends’ lives ruined by drugs, and had suffered years of emotional and physical abuse from his father. That man today is a Magna Cum Laud graduate of Quinnipiac College and a  million dollar investment adviser for a major national securities firm.

At a school for emotionally and behaviorally challenged adolescents, I ask a student if she and her best friend were a "rock" for each other. She replied, “We’re not each other’s rock, although [Sarah] does rock. There’s no one here who is my rock. There’s a lot of great pebbles.”
An eight-year cancer survivor who's raised $20,000+ for cancer research said her first thought after her original diagnosis was that she was going to die. Then she talked about laughter. “Laughing is important,” she said. “There are enough tears in life. You have to enjoy the laughter.”

A 10th grade boy who was born deaf and struggled with anger issues his whole life said in an interview, “I like the quote: ‘Every 60 seconds you spend angry, upset or mad is a full minute of happiness you lose.’"

Being granted the privilege of asking questions of good people often fills the interviewer's mind with gems of lives well lived.

Your Business and The Princess Bride

Your business will have more success if you just follow some lessons learned during the making of the now classic 1987 movie, The Princess Bride:
1. Hire a widely divergent but very capable team.
The casting for this movie was wacky and perfect including roles for Andre the Giant, Peter Falk, Mandy Patinkin, Fred Savage, Wallace Shawn, and Billy Crystal.
2. Be crazy wild distinctive.
Don't fit neatly into one business category where you can get lost among similar competitors. The Princess Bride stands out because it is an adventure/comedy/fantasy/romance.
3. Be quotable.
Your business should say things that people will remember. The Princess Bride is one of the most quoted films in cinema history: "Have fun storming the castle;" "I'm not a witch. I'm your wife;" "Rest well and dream of large women;" "As you wish;" and (of course) "You killed my father. Prepare to die."
4. Deliver great content.
Make sure your messages are valuable to your audiences. William Goldman's screenplay for The Princess Bride is legendary. It ranks as one of the top 100 screenplays ever produced according to the Writers Guild of America.
5. Love and support your team.
Seven foot, four inch and 500 pound Andre the Giant kept Buttercup (Robin Wright) warm on the chilly, shivery Sheffield hills by placing his hand on top of her head like a hat. When bad weather ruined director Rob Reiner's mood his production partner Andy Scheinman pulled out three Hacky Sacks and juggled until a beaming smile returned to Rob's face. Wally Shawn, the diminutive New York Jewish actor who just knew he'd be fired, was frequently reassured that he was perfect for his role as Vizzini, the tyrannical Sicilian crime boss. And so he was.
6. Work ridiculously hard.
While they were shooting the film, actors Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes also practiced sword fighting eight hours a day, five days a week for several months. That is until they started practicing eight hours a day, six days a week. The first take of the sword fighting scene was deemed perfect by Director Rob Reiner. Then they did the scene over and over for the next three days.  
7. Have fun.
The actors and crew had a blast. They enjoyed the filming even when the food was so bad Rob had a grill brought into his hotel room and started cooking hot dogs and hamburgers for the cast.

So will you commit to doing all of the above? All I can say you wish.

Most of the facts above are from the 2014 book, As You Wish by Cary Elwes.

The Day Print Died

You ease down into your favorite chair. Your fingers feel the book's hard cover and begin opening the paper gates of another print book pleasure cruise. You boldly laugh at the tragedy your need for a reading fix might have burst open if you'd gone electric:

As you view page one a rotating circle displays a singe word, "Buffering." You wait.
Eventually an ad pops up with a huge buy button.
You hunt for and find the miniscule "x" hiding in a screen corner and kill the ad.
Now your opening page appears but freezes. You're a fly in a Venus fly trap.
The resurrection power of the almighty on/off button spreads new life into your book and your eyes widen in anticipation as you read, "Battery low. Plug into power source."
Once reunited with Mother Electric your text displays in landscape format. You reposition the book to return to portrait format.
Ah, Dios Mio! Your now perfectly positioned content somehow morphed intoSpanish.
You find "Settings."  The language option is the seventh option on the third screen.
Along with choosing English you must choose type size, typeface, light intensity, pages per view, conservative or liberal bias, and seven other quick reading pleasure options.
At last you read your ebook but you struggle to make it yours.
You cannot dog-ear, underline, or scribble in the margins easily. The ebook won't readily accept you and your thoughts.
You cannot loan your ebook because it's tied to your private book account.
You quiver in fear at the thought of reading in the bath.
You finish the ebook and read, "Ownership of this book is virtual and revocable." Just then all content disappears.

 May you feel and smell and underline in the print book of your choice today.

Warning: Content Under Scrutiny

Start up my Honda Accord and this message blares at you from the "screen":

"The driver is responsible for the safe operation of this vehicle. Use the system only when traffic conditions are safe. For further details see your owner's manual."

Due to my unparalleled intellect, education, and righteousness, I recently brought a bill before the U.S. House of Representatives strongly urging all American businesses to mandate the following message whenever a writer starts a marketing communication:

"The writer (that's you) is solely responsible for the clear and effective performance of this communication. Write only when you have a worthwhile message to share with an audience who will value what you have to say. For further details, think. Then think again.

Throwing a Ball Can Be Harder than Brain Surgery

Can you do brain surgery? No? Can you throw a ball? Yes? I'd argue that most of us have a misconception going on here that decreases our ability to write well. Now that's confusing.

Let me explain. We know the things we can't do. You have no danger of me trying to perform brain surgery on you. I can't do it. If I were to consider doing brain surgery I'd do years of prep work.

However, I know I can throw a ball. That's something I've done for years. The good and bad news is that business writing is less like brain surgery and more like ball throwing.

That's good news because nearly all of us can throw and write. You've been writing for years and don't need to go back to college to get an advanced degree to write well. But the fact that business writing is like throwing a baIl is bad news for two reasons:

  1. When we think we already know how to do something we're less likely to work hard at improving

  2.   Something we've done for years often gets baked into our routine with a sticky pile of unnoticed bad habits

I don't think about throwing the ball. It seems natural. It's something that I haven't improved in years because what I can do with a ball is good enough for my needs.

My ball throwing technique isn't perfect. I don't warm up properly. I don't hold the ball correctly. My arm motion is not ideal for the most efficient and effective ball throwing. Not only are these bad habits, I've done them for so long that they are hard for me to correct. They're baked into my ball throwing routine.

So people who think they can write marketing copy because they wrote well in high school and college tend not to think as much about the business writing process. They don't improve. Writing becomes a rote exercise. That's not good.

It's easy to develop bad writing habits and not be aware of them. Many see writing short and writing fast as barometers on how good their writing is.

Don't just write that marketing piece as quickly and as short as possible. Study the audience. Appeal to their needs. Give them value. Review your technique. Try approaching an important writing assignment as if it was brain surgery.


Torch That Evil Message

Before the poorly worded Business Message could afflict any audience, the company's Good Grammatarians kidnapped him. They bound him to a stake and surrounded the evil message with three feet of firewood. Unable to move even a period, Business Message faced his enraged critics. Their voices screamed for the torch to light the fire to begin the burning to kill the message.

But first, the torchbearer--an intelligent leader of the tribe of Wordsmithians--wanted Business Message to confess.

"Admit it!" The words curdled out of the torchbearer's mouth. "You contain the unprofessional word get. You weak, sick, bloated piece of grotesque grammar! You use affect when you mean effect.  You're fatally flawed and unqualified to be our marketing content."

The ropes binding Business Message cut deeply into his body text. Beads of ink plunged from his foreword.

A sudden cry burst from the crowd. A company writer raised his spear overhead as he shouted, "Vary sentence length to keep readers interested!"

Chief Marketing, a woman with one fist full of erasers in full rubbing position, pointed an accusing finger at the captive. She boiled out the words, "Curse you! Put your reader's interests first!"

A trio of sales archers placed poison pens in their bows, took aim at Business Message and warned, "Be aware of tone! You're too casual and emotional!"

"My God, my God!" called an angry customer rep. "Why have you forsaken proofreading? You are awkwardly worded and misspelled!"

A swarm of marketers began clapping style guides together as they chanted, "Brevity without substance is useless! Brevity without substance is useless!"

Then a cadre of PR pros with razor sharp pencils closed in. The torchbearer shouted, "Stop! Let this dull, dim draft of a message speak! Let him admit his guilt and cleanse his colon-riddled content."

"Good business people," Business Message began. "You're right to reject me. I am destined for destruction. My faults are fatal. But remember my better qualities. My draft avoided jargon and acronyms. It was I who took your general statements and backed them up with details and evidence and breathed conviction into them."

With his last gasp, Business Message continued, "While free I spoke in the active voice. Our business requires readers to do something and I included a call to action."

"Worthy business people, I kept my sentences to an average of 14 words. It was I who fought for readability, visuals, headings, bullet points, and charts to ease your reader's work."

"I only regret that I have but one draft to give for the sake of honoring our company's messaging."

It was finished. Without remorse but with new understanding, the torchbearer lit the fire. Flames licked Business Message's pages, curling them, blacking them, and dwindling them to ashes.

The company grew dark for three hours. The conference room curtain tore in half. Then, a clean second draft rose out of the Business Message's ashes. A draft organized with logic, featuring an executive summary, and following all company writing guidelines. Having witnessed the creation of this second draft, the crowd and the torchbearer could see hints of a mightier, stronger third draft.

Falling to his knees, the torchbearer looked to the sky. "Surely, this Business Message we've crucified was the father of better writing."

Use colorful language.