Living life in reverse…

I love this. From one of my heroes, Woody Allen:

“In my next life I want to live my life backwards. You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in an old people’s home feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for 40 years until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement. You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous, then you are ready for high school. You then go to primary school, you become a kid, you play. You have no responsibilities, you become a baby until you are born. And then you spend your last 9 months floating in luxurious spa-like conditions with central heating and room service on tap, larger quarters every day and then Voila! You finish off as an orgasm!”


Now Twitter finally makes business sense!

In a blog piece last year, I lambasted twitter users who indulge in pointless banter. “I’m off for a brew” was one such useless info-bite spewed onto twitterfeeds by people who should know better.

It was this kind of tediousness that made me a little skeptical. Sure, I could get some opinion and useful links to blogs and articles if I followed the right people. But it seemed I had to plough through all manner of dull and joyless drivel in order to get to it.

Today, I have a slightly rosier view of twitter, not least because I’ve become wiser when choosing who to follow; in come the people who really do have useful knowledge and opinions, out go those who litter my twitter feed with their perpetual and random grunts.

However, I’ve reached this epiphany mainly because I’ve come to see twitter as simply part of a bigger social media picture. Having blogs, facebook and LinkedIn profiles connected to your twitter account has all sorts of advantages. It can drive more traffic to your website, help start a lively conversation or even connect you to other like-minded people in ways that other social media tools can’t. As a networking tool, it’s a godsend…but only if used wisely.

As an example of twitter in action, I used it recently to publicise my revamped blog. Sure enough, visitor numbers went right up. One post got a record number of hits (by quite a lot) thanks to a tweet that included a link to the person my blog post was responding to. They retweeted the link and – bingo! – the hits came in.

Jane Binnion – from Jane’s Social Media – is one person I have to thank for this. She responded to my cynicism and carping by giving me good tips on how to improve my tweeting. It’s working and, long term, Voxtree will no doubt reap the benefits.

Jane and I will be running a workshop on using Twitter at Lancaster Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday 23rd October. Click here for details.

What the f***?

Copywriter and blogger Andrew Boulton posts an interesting piece on the use of swearing in advertising today. Basically, he argues we should have more of it. Used wisely, of course:

“…as a copywriter, I feel that there is something to be said for the use of swearing in advertising. Used thoughtfully, in a way that actually strengthens the impact of a message, bad language can elevate a piece of copywriting.

Naturally, the old cliché of ‘exclamation, not punctuation’ must be applied for bad language in a marketing message to enhance it.

There are countless examples of where swear words are used lazily or purely for shock value where it comes across as vulgar and puerile. But if done with intelligence and for legitimate reasons there’s surely something to be said for these undoubtedly powerful words.”

Swearing still has impact. How many of you clicked on the link because you thought you might be in for something shocking? But is swearing in danger of losing its currency?

Not yet, I’d argue. Even though we hear more profanity on a daily basis than people did, say, thirty years ago, there’s still something quite devastating about the ‘f’ or ‘c’ word. True, there are some less imaginative people out there who seem to use it in every sentence. But if it’s loaded correctly, it can shock even the most filthy-minded docker into submission.

It’s amazing how a simple word can have such an effect. Bill Bryson, in his excellent book Mother Tongue, tells us that swearing goes back centuries and that one South African tribe has a particularly endearing swear word that translates as “your mother’s ears”. Shouted in a drunken brawl on a British high street, it would raise a titter. Try it at a tribal gathering and you’d be lucky to see into the next five minutes.

Loaded language could be a powerful tool in marketing. But it has been used before and left the advertiser a bit red-faced. Back in 2006, Tourism Australia was left reeling after a heated reaction to their “Where the bloody hell are you?” slogan. The ad was eventually banned in the UK.

Perhaps we are a little less frightened by bad language now. After all, ‘bloody hell’ is pretty innocuous to most people these days. But to write an advert that brazenly displays the ‘f’ word in all its glory – without resorting to asterisks or hash tags – well, that would take a brave copywriter indeed.

City Snapshot: TOKYO

In this regular series, I’ll be posting my take on some of my favourite world cities; a picture in 300 words from some far-flung corner of the globe.

I like being a foreigner in a foreign land. But these days it’s becoming increasingly difficult to feel like one, what with globalisation planting its branded stamp on every street corner from Barcelona to Bangkok.

Not so Tokyo. This city prides itself in being alien. If you’re an English speaker who doesn’t get Japanese, tough. No molly-coddling your western sensibilities here. Tokyo is Japanese with a capital と and you’d better get used to it!

This city is, in a word, ‘busy’. Relentlessly so. But not in the chaotic way you might experience elsewhere. There’s an order to the chaos here. With 9 million people scuttling through its arteries every day, jam-packed onto rush hour trains or zipping out of town on a Shinkansen, it works. Why? Because order to the Japanese is like eating is to Americans, swearing is to the British and striking is to the French. It’s part of the cultural fabric and often impresses. Trains run to the minute. Every time. And if it’s a minute late, there’s a humble apology from the stationmaster. One train I took from Tokyo was delayed by two hours and we ended up on the national news!

Tokyo is famous for its lights and that’s why Tokyo is best seen at night. But equally as dazzling are the sounds. Central Tokyo is noisy with jingles, songs and the bash-bash that emanates from games halls. And the fashion dazzles, too. Conformity – a big deal in Japan – is given a wide birth when it comes to clothes, especially among the young. You won’t see garb like this anywhere else. It’s ultra-cool and ultra, well, different.

Tokyo is simply one big assault on the senses. And if you don’t feel alive when you’re there, you’re basically dead.

5 most common mistakes in Social Media

Featured in September’s Chamber of Commerce ‘Business Matters’ magazine

As the saying goes – from those science fiction movies of old – ‘resistance is useless’! No matter what your opinion of social media, if you’re in business and want to stay in business, then a social media presence is not only a good idea, it’s now pretty much expected.

Thankfully, many businesses understand this. A recent seminar at the Lancaster Chambers covering the basics of social media was well attended and it’s clear that there’s a big demand for guidance on the subject.

Jane Binnion – of Jane’s Social Media – is a familiar face on the business networking circuit and has spent the last year or so getting local businesses up to speed with their tweeting, status updates and LinkedIn profiles.

Here, Jane shares the five most common errors that businesses make when they begin their voyage into the unchartered territory of social media

1. Lack of Strategy

Every business differs in their approach to their use of social media. Perhaps you want to appear cutting edge and slightly controversial to get yourself heard. Or you might want to attract a more sober and professional clientele. Whatever, a strategy is important from the start. That way, you don’t waste time posting random tweets or status updates that confuse your followers.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What do I want to achieve?
  • Who am I trying to communicate with?
  • Where can I find my target audience?
  • How can I reach them effectively?

2. Thinking it’s all free

The good news is that to join facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, etc, you don’t have to spend a single penny. The bad news is that to ensure it brings in a return, you are going to have to invest in a very precious commodity – time. For all of us in business, our time has some monetary value. If you outsource the job, then that will clearly incur a cost too. Nonetheless, it is a worthwhile investment, providing the time is used wisely.

3. Giving the job to the office junior

It may sound like an obvious idea to give the job to someone from the most media-savvy demographic. But remember that your company’s presence on social media is essentially the voice of your company. Would you ask the teaboy to write your press releases? Young people are usually pretty good with social media but it’s best to ensure they have a good knowledge of your company ethos before you let them loose on your Twitter feed.

4. Lack of patience

Unless you are very famous, you’re not going to get thousands of Twitter followers overnight. In essence, social media is largely another form of networking and, like face-to-face networking, it’s all about building relationships and establishing a presence in your community. Word of mouth (virtually speaking!) will help do this but it takes time and effort and patience. It could be – and probably will be – months before you bag your first client directly as a result of your social media strategy. But, if you’ve done your homework, new customers will come eventually and your client list will grow exponentially.

5. Unsociable hours

Once you get going, tweeting your latest news or updating your facebook page with your achievements can become addictive. So addictive, in fact, that you do it out of hours and possibly when you’ve had one too many. Bad idea! What may sound witty and erudite after a few glasses of wine may not sound so to sober eyes. Yes, you can delete it in the morning, but it’s inevitable that some people will have seen your update before you get the chance. And that includes your competitors!

Avoid all these pitfalls from the beginning and you’ll have a much better chance at getting effective results from social media.

If you prefer a bit more hands-on guidance, then you might be interested in a number of short courses – run by Jane Binnion and Neil Stoneham – to be held at Lancaster Chambers of Commerce over the next few of months. 

Make me a King

Go to many a creative agency with a view to setting up a sparkling new website and you’ll be given a raft of questions about what you’d like the site to look like, what image you want to project, what bells and whistles you want to give your site the right buzz.

Then you’ll get the question – “and who will provide the content?” A moment passes. You haven’t really given it much thought. “Oh,” you say, “I’ll put something together.” “Great,” says the marketing guru, and that’s the end of that.

You then go back to your office, sit down at your laptop and put something together. Or, if you’re too busy and important, you’ll give it to a junior to do. So long as they can string a sentence together – a rare quality these days  – then it’s fine. Isn’t it?

Well, no, not really. You may be lucky and have at your disposal the skills to whip up tight, imaginative, gung-ho copy that grabs your client and practically forces them to part with their money. But, given that you’ve been trained to do something else, it’s unlikely.

So, you pump out something mediocre, do a spell and grammar check and send it off to the agency. If your marketing guru is nice, they’ll give you a few pointers to improve it a bit. But they’re probably too busy to go into any detail and so you’ll end up with something that will make do.

Your clients, bedazzled by the funky graphics and cool videos, will have a good old time looking at your site. But, will they actually buy anything? If they haven’t read anything that’s interesting or clear to them, then I’d say they’ll probably go somewhere else.

This, admittedly, is a very generalised example. Some products and services can be sold by flashy videos and funky graphics alone. But most people over 30 want to know something more. Okay, let’s not be so patronising –  a lot of people under 30 want to know something more, too.

A good copywriter, or content writer – or ‘content curator’ as I’ve recently heard us called – will make sure that happens. And when I say ‘good’, I mean someone who will actually take the time to research your business, talk to you about exactly what the customer needs to know and translate that into copy that hooks a reader and keeps them engaged. They’ll do this while infusing the copy with keywords that are Google-friendly and an understanding of how a potential client will navigate your site.

You can, of course, go to one of those McCopy content mills and pay peanuts to have your copy written by someone with one eye on The Jeremy Kyle Show. But you get what you pay for. If you’re happy buying processed meat in a rubbery bap, then chances are you’ll be easily pleased enough to accept the kind of quality content you’ll get from McCopy. Whether your client will be is another matter.

In an ideal world – one where good copywriters rule, of course – the ‘content’ question is the first one that is asked. You then happily source a professional content writer and the other stuff fits around that.

Image is important, by the way. But it should never be at the expense of making written copy the duffed-up and slightly ruffled second cousin. Content should indeed be King. And then you can be sure of getting the real deal – not a ‘meal deal’ – inside and out.


Beating our own drum

The Internet is awash with Olympic fever at the moment and most people in Great Britain, with perhaps the exception of Morrisey and a few others, stand in awe at a games that surpassed expectations.

Today, as we move to the ‘chill out’ room to come down from all the hedonism of the past fortnight, there is much we can learn.

As a nation, we’ve always loved the act of self-deprecation. This can be endearing but also self-defeating when overdone. Thankfully, Danny Boyle and Co had just the right mix when they put on an amazing opening ceremony. The quirky, cheeky, creative GB was on show to the world and the world cast an admiring, if slightly bemused eye on the proceedings. People asked how the sport could possibly follow that. Well, it did. And then some.

Two weeks of sporting brilliance ensued. Athletes from around the globe shone in new and brilliant ways. And then there was Team GB. Our collective self-deprecating psyche likes to believe that we’re plucky on the sports field but also a bit rubbish. We were wrong. So wrong and you only had to hear the groans from the crowd as the Olympic flames were extinguished last night to know that we’ve all been on a journey that may bring a little more introspection.

Maybe it’s the reserved part of our national psyche that doesn’t like to boast. Overconfidence can seem arrogant, distasteful and phony – we flinch when other nations indulge in it. But perhaps we should shout out about our achievements a bit more. If we embrace that quirkiness, that cheekiness, then it will certainly be more endearing than self-deprecation. Not that we should ever stop that. But we shouldn’t be afraid to beat our own drum a bit too.

Businesses – now being marshaled to harness the Olympic buzz – would do well to look at how we communicate what we do best. Not just to potential overseas clients but to ones at home too. So many people get it wrong. They either make it boring or indulge in endless platitudes. Everybody is offering ‘solutions’ and is  ‘passionate’ about everything from selling sofas to tax optimisation!

But if London 2012 taught us anything, it’s that when we use our imaginations and our peculiar personality, heads will turn. Let that be one of the many legacies of these games. And let’s not forget it.