Posted by: thewritethingdotbiz | August 5, 2011

Pulling it all together

Accountants thrive because, although everyone knows how to do a little math, it’s wise to trust an expert to do the math that really matters.

Everyone knows how to write too, but small and mid-sized businesses tend to put formal communication on the back burner because they don’t have any in-house experts and there’s no real communications industry that everyone can point to, as they can with accounting.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and even though I can’t create that industry, I have an idea.

For the past 20 years I’ve been helping my employers and clients find the right ideas and the right words to express a message, whether that message was nuts-and-bolts business writing, policies and procedures, or succinct ad copy. I’ve worked with some of the best graphic artists, photographers, and illustrators in the business. And I have access to contractors who can deliver good work at very competitive price points. I’ve helped businesses in many sectors: manufacturing, agricultural, real estate, insurance, and more.

My writing business, thewritething dot biz, is now providing a full selection of communications services. If I can’t do it myself, I know someone who can, and I’ll pull it all together for businesses who have been putting important communication on the back burner.

My rates are affordable. My turn-around is fast. My insight is keen. I help you figure it out. Contact me if I can help you or your business with any of the following services:

  • Business documents (policies and procedures, manuals, code of conduct, safety documentation, technical writing, business letters, H.R. documentation, etc.)
  • Websites (concept, content, design, SEO)
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Newsletters, email campaigns, press releases and ghost-writing (blogs, articles, speeches, etc.)
  • Ad copywriting
  • Social marketing consulting
  • Graphics (signage, logos, illustration, branding)
  • Professional photography

I can meet with you in person, over the phone, via email, or on Skype.

Need to communicate something? Communicate with me at 503-708-9394 or via email. I look forward to helping you.

Posted by: thewritethingdotbiz | February 15, 2011

Shadow brand case study: “Whole Paycheck”

If I told you that I was going off to “Whole Paycheck,” you would almost certainly know that I was headed to buy some groceries at Whole Foods Market. It’s not often that a shadow brand is so well established in the national lexicon. But that’s what can happen if a shadow brand goes too long unaddressed.

“I’m getting a little tired of that tag around our neck,” says Walter Robb, the company’s co-president, according to a New York Times article. “We are a lot more competitive than people give us credit for.”

Another aspect of Whole Paycheck’s brand platform is that it is a supporter of organic and local agriculture. Per its website: “Buying organic supports small, independent family farms… Organic farmers are less reliant on non-renewable fossil fuels.” Yet, as Field Maloney points out on, Whole Paycheck sells you organic produce from South America, at a premium price, bearing a high carbon footprint, as well as fresher, local, but conventionally grown produce. He astutely asks, “Which is the more eco-conscious choice?” I admit a weakness for pineapples and even grapes in March. But Whole Paycheck’s brand is inconsistent with its offerings in this key area.

Maloney also mentions in-store posters of real live American organic farmers (Whole Paycheck’s “grower profiles”) displayed right over conventional produce, with nary an organic item in sight. Awareness of this lack of integrity is beginning to leak into the realm of Whole Paycheck’s shadow brand as well.

Here are some ideas for Whole Foods:

  • As long as you’re selling premium items, position yourself with superior quality being a major value proposition.
  • Position yourself as a company that pays a living wage and good benefits to its happy employees, suggesting that a budget food outlet could not sustain this level of commitment.
  • Take a cue from Portland’s competitor, New Seasons: Don’t pay lip service to local organic producers. Structure your supplier relationships to favor local growers and name the farm right over the produce.
  • Extra credit for bold management: Run an ad campaign for your customers, in which the lucky winner will have the equivalent value of his or her whole paycheck in groceries donated to a local food bank once per month for a year. Do this in every store in the United States and begin to convert the acrimonious name association into something beautiful and worthwhile.
Posted by: thewritethingdotbiz | January 14, 2011

Integrity and your “shadow brand”

Do you deliver on the promise of your brand?

If you are an auto mechanic and your brand is all about reliability and timeliness, are you delivering those results? Or do your customers hear how great you are, only to find themselves adding a few extra days to their rental car fee until you finish? If you are unable or unwilling to deliver on the message of your brand, change your message to something you can actually deliver. Better yet, deliver the goods. The world really needs that.

Beware your shadow brand…

Be aware of your shadow brand. Every brand has a shadow:

  • The giant mortgage lender vaunting its commitment to making the “American dream of home ownership” to the masses got so greedy that its lending practices led many people to lose  their homes, and by extension, their sense of safety and belonging in the world. (I used to work for that lender. I saw that shadow brand as it was being built.)
  • The self-righteous political leader is caught in a corruption scandal. The “family values” politician who campaigned against gay rights is himself outed.
  • The leading news agency with the reputation for exposing the misdeeds of politicians is shown to engage in criminal activities to “get the scoop.”

The shadow brand is that thing you said you would never be. The bad news is that your shadow brand will show up and compete with your “real” brand if you’re not careful. The good news is that by naming and calling out your shadow brand, you can keep it in check.

How do you do this?

You can have fun with it. Design a logo (and even a mock name, based on your company name) that reflects the areas where you might let your customers down. It may look a lot like your brand but be “off” in subtle ways (the mighty block letters have cracks in them), or you could be much less subtle (Seigfried’s Pet Grooming might have a logo with a sad dog with its tail between its legs). Create a slogan that your competition would give you, were they to criticize you.

Just be careful where and when you display it.

Posted by: thewritethingdotbiz | January 14, 2011

Have you seen your brand lately?

Whether or not you know it, you have a brand, insofar as your brand is the way you exist in the collective awareness of your market. Great brands have impact, consistency, and integrity. (I’ll address integrity in the next post.)

Impact: Do your logo, look, and message stand out from the competition? Do they somehow rise above the noise and din of the marketplace without turning off your customers? And speaking of your customers, do you know who they are and what they listen and look for? A brand with impact lands right in front of its target audience and stands apart from its competitors.

Consistency: Having a consistent look reinforces human memory, and helps to associate your look with your message. Think of a popular recording artist like Bono or Mick Jagger. If Bono walked down the street dressed in military fatigues and without his trademark sunglasses , or if Mick Jagger sported a crew cut and dressed business casual, would you recognize either of them? And if you did, would you then wonder if they had changed in a substantial way? What? Did they sell out?

Branding, however, is more than image; it’s repetition (and reputation) of a message in a consistent voice. And that voice has to consistent with the essence of your company identity.

Posted by: thewritethingdotbiz | January 14, 2011

Getting the most out of words

Words work best when they show, rather than merely tell—and when they don’t get in the way.

Show versus tell:

Showing paints pictures in the mind. These mental images outlast flowery or even erudite language. An easy place to start with this is to avoid excessive use of adjectives and other filler language. Here’s what I mean:

Two sentences of the same length: Which of the following has more impact and tells you more?

  • The car was badly damaged in a terrible accident, and we could hardly recognize that it was a BMW.
  • Most of the BMW was laid out in front of us; some of it was probably on the side of the freeway.

When words get in the way:

It’s more than a hook from a sappy love song; it’s how most people sabotage documentation and even web content. Less is almost always more (effective). Really, it boils down to respect.

Just as in face-to-face communication, written communication calls for respect and courtesy. If you sold clothes at a fashionable retailer, you wouldn’t approach your customers by first asking them if they knew what a shirt does, would you? Nor would you approach them extolling the virtues of the particular mill in Vietnam where the shirt they’re checking out was made.The trick is to organize your information such that readers may quickly locate the information they need and within one click, read it in language they get.

Ask yourself or your clients the following questions:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What does my audience already know before they find my site?
  • What are their main questions?
  • Why are they visiting my site?

The way you lay your site out should address all these questions from a structural vantage point before you even start writing the content.