Anyone can write good copy, right?

7 Feb
Statue of a woman in relief, in despair

I can’t bear to look… the typos!

I live in Brighton, one of the UK’s largest media hubs outside of London. As a resident here for five years, I can vouch for the fact that business is booming.

As an increasing number of media start-ups spread their wings to the tempestuous winds of digital media,  even the most reluctant  companies now realise that social media is a very powerful business tool.

Ok, so this isn’t news. But while social media in business may be at an all time high, a lot of organisations haven’t cottoned on to the one thing that actually makes a good social media strategy work. I’m talking about content. And not just any content; quality content.

Learning from past mistakes

As a content consumer, as well as a professional copywriter, I can safely say that organisations tend to have one of two problems. They either have no idea what decent content is, or they understand the importance of having it, but don’t know how to produce it. The result is a quagmire of spam content and poorly written copy. What many still fail to grasp is that good content is not something that floats on the surface of your social media strategy; it is an irrevocable part of it.

This week, Facebook turned 10 years old. Hark back for a moment to those days of silence, before we had pictures of puppies and babies shoved down in our faces at every turn. When social media was in its infancy, it was largely ignored by businesses, and understandably so; it exploded with the volatile speed of any five-minute fad, and it took a while to trust that it was here to stay.

However, the more savvy organisations out there soon got to work hiring a social media expert, while those with limited budget (or limited understanding) simply gave the responsibility of managing social media to an intern, with the general sentiment; ‘Well, they’re young. They get it.’

The side-effects of user generated content

While I hope most now realise that being under 25 and having a Facebook profile does not automatically equate to being a social media expert, the same can not be said for good copy. Just as businesses used to believe that youngsters were the best people to manage their social media, the boom in user-generated content has encouraged the belief that anybody can write effective copy.

And let’s face it, user generated content makes up a lot of the Internet. It is a crucial part of social media, because as the name suggests, it involves the user, which drives engagement and builds loyalty. However, though it serves this very important purpose, it has also increased the widely held misconception that quality copy is the same as any copy. This is a problem, and not just for copywriters.

The rise of copy-wronging

In my recent hunt for new business, I’ve come across of a number of ‘copywriting agencies’ that have almost had me fooled… after some research, I’ve realised many of them are simply well-dressed but low-paying content mills, cashing in on two things; the desperation of penniless writers and the desperation of businesses who know that they need copy, but don’t realise that good copy is worth paying for.

What I and my fellow copywriters do (when we do it well) is a valuable and specialised skill. Unfortunately, there is a growing culture of copy-wronging – people who assume that if they can type, and are able to litter a few arbitrary key words into whatever they’re writing, then they are a bona fide copywriter.

Re-evaluating your situation

My suggestion is this: if you’re looking at your social media strategy this year, give a little more thought to your copy. Anyone can write, yes. But to write something that is informative, promotional, considers your target audience, takes into account your social media and business strategy, is well researched and does all this while simultaneously reading easily and keeping your reader awake, requires skill. Your readers will think anything else is just spam.

So next time you’re looking for some good copy, don’t go for the cheap option; go for the quality one. Even if it means investing a little more up front, having faith in the expertise of your copywriter and most importantly – in good copy – will pay off in the long run.

Looking for help with your content?

Will Hillier is a professional freelance copywriter; not a freelance copy-wronger. You can contact him here  for help with you copy and your social media strategy.

None of us are innocent: the impact of copy on a company’s brand

31 Jan

As a writer, the importance of effective copy in helping to deliver a strong brand experience is essential. Alongside visual branding and organisational culture, I think it’s one of the top three elements for what makes a great brand. With Google now taking into account the editorial quality of content when indexing sites, it doesn’t matter whether companies are dealing with websites, social media, product brochures or customer service; they must embrace copy as never before. Getting to the top on Google is no longer just about getting the right keywords.

I recently discovered what appears to be the first survey of its kind to poll the copywriting market on the quality of content as opposed to quantitative measures (i.e. the amount of time and money companies are investing in copywriting… it’s increasing, if you’re interested).

While this is only the first survey of its kind and – apologies to my US readers – UK-centric (yet still with very useful insights), Sticky Content’s ‘State of Digital Copywriting’ report sets a great benchmark for future surveys and poses some interesting questions around people’s perception of good copy and what effect it has on a company’s brand.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Sticky’s top three

Sticky Content asked their participants to name a company or brand that produces best-in-class copy. Interestingly, even within the top three results, there’s a wide disparity in the type and quality of copy coming from the companies in question. These were: innocent drinks (the UK leader in the smoothie market), Apple and John Lewis (an upmarket UK department store chain).

But do these companies really produce best-in-class copy? Or have people just listed brands that they like? Let’s look more closely.

The Good – innocent drinks

Innocent Drinks Logoinnocent drinks has long been lauded for the strength of their brand. They are non-corporate (although recently acquired by Coca-Cola), fun, friendly, have an extremely distinct tone of voice and always stay on message.

As a personal subscriber to innocent’s newsletter and an avid follower of their social media, I agree hands down that innocent writes great, attention-grabbing copy.

Interestingly, most of their content is anecdotal rather than product-related, aligning more broadly with their vision to ‘leave things a little better than they found them’. By interacting with their followers, making people laugh and refraining from shoving smoothie-related promotions down our throats 24 hours a day, innocent wins brand loyalty and makes me want to buy their products. And that’s what makes best-in-class copy.

The Bad – Apple

Apple LogoApple are known for their innovation. So when’s the last time you can remember reading something written by Apple that was more than a catchy slogan? When I read Apple’s ads, I don’t hear Apple; I hear Steve Jobs. When I think of Apple; I think of Steve Jobs.

Check out this page on their website… What grabs your attention? Is it their content, or their branding? While having one man as the face of Apple worked when that one man was Steve Jobs, Apple now faces the challenge of steering themselves into the 21st century without their captain, and I think their copy is suffering for it.

Apple’s content isn’t terrible by any means. It tells the reader what they need to know, but you can hardly call it best-in-class. They have a strong brand identity, excellent advertising, and yet the majority of product pages on their website are a tone-free zone. Yes, they get to the point, and while they do lean towards the colloquial, they nonetheless reside in the realms of corp-speak. There’s not much which stands out here.

The Ugly – John Lewis

John Lewis LogoDepartment store chain John Lewis presents a different problem altogether. They have both a strong brand and strong copy, but like a builder in suspenders; the two don’t match. Ugly is perhaps a little harsh, but an inconsistent brand message is still a problem.

John Lewis has a great social media presence. Their tone is friendly and informative, they  use exclamation marks to assure us of their light hearted whimsy (!),  but while their online presence might be ‘fun’ and ‘happening’, this simply doesn’t match the perception of their brand on the High Street. They’re not ‘fun’ and ‘happening’ in the real world… they represent quality, but they’re also high-end and expensive. Essentially, they have an air of sophistication which doesn’t come across in their social media or on their website, good though these are.

If a company’s copy doesn’t match people’s existing perception of their brand, people will start to question: are they being sincere? In the case of John Lewis, who have been around since 1864, they are obviously trying to appeal to a new generation. Ok, so they’re hugely successful, but the essence of my point remains the true regardless of whether you agree with this example; any organisation with copy that doesn’t match their brand needs to revise their content strategy – alternatively, they may need to revise their overall brand strategy. Either way, these are expensive and time-consuming tasks and where possible, it’s always safer to plan up front.

Brand or copy… which comes first?

Put simply: brand must come first. Of course, you can’t have a great brand without great copy, but your content can’t lead your brand on its own. Best-in-class content is just one factor that effects people’s perception of a company’s brand. As with many marketing trends, the upsurge in the need for great copy is reactionary; many companies have come to understand that good content is important, but they don’t necessarily understand why. However, as people become exposed to quality, editorial standard copy, which has a clear message and distinct tone of voice, they will start to see through anybody who hasn’t got it nailed.

The copywriter’s task is to make sure that copy blends so seamlessly with brand that people don’t notice the joins. So drag your feet if you wish, but don’t do it for long… I predict Sticky’s next survey will show an increasing awareness of what really makes really good content, so you’d better get a strategy and a great copywriter in place before you get left behind. We can’t all be innocent, but we can have a damn good go at getting it right.

You can download the Sticky Content Report here (it has lots of cool graphs).

To keep up to date with the latest, you can follow me on Twitter.

Why selfies just aren’t cool any more

10 Sep

Selfies are nothing new. The first documented selfie was taken by a man named Robert Cornelius, long before the age of the internet. But even back then, this devilishly handsome hipster apparently managed to add a little Instgram-chique to his pose with a retro filter… Or perhaps that’s just the fact that this selfie was taken almost 200 years ago.

First ever selfie: Robert Cornelius

“I wish they’d hurry up and invent #instagram so I can upload this #selfie” – Robert Cornelius, 1839.

The selfie’s rise to prominence

In spite of the selfie’s prolonged history, it cannot be denied that this phenomenon has exploded in recent years. Why? Well, the internet certainly played a part.

If you look back at most MySpace/ Facebook profiles circa 2006, you’ll see that the majority of profile pictures back then were selfies – way before anybody used the word ‘selfie’, of course.

The reason for this is simple; we had to use self-portraits not because they were cool, but because they were necessary. For a start this is before we all had camera phones. Back then, most of us were also still adapting to the idea of uploading our personal pictures – ones usually confined to the privacy of our printed photo albums – to the internet. The selfie was a means to an end.

And then, as with all trends, some people with a smart sense of satire caught on to the fact that taking these ‘selfies’ could also be amusing if done with a healthy pinch of irony; posing yes, but also mocking the photoshopped perfection of similar pictures in magazines and undermining society’s enforced concept of beauty. This irony is what made selfies edgy, and therefore, cool.

Stop the madness!

But it’s gone too far. If you have a profile picture I already know what you look like. I don’t need you to post endless pictures of you: with your cat, when you just woke up, at work, pouting topless in front of a mirror, on the toilet. That’s not the point!

As with most ‘cool’ stuff, selfies were trendy before somebody labelled them. It was fine when they were restricted to profile pictures or even those using Instagram. But they stopped being cool as soon as people started taking pictures of themselves for the sake of taking pictures of themselves. Selfies are now shoved down our throats wherever we go; carefully posed to look casual and random, when in reality what you’re looking at is usually one picture from a private photoshoot of about 50, with soft lighting and numerous different camera angles to make the subject look as alluring/sexy/cheeky/idiotic as possible.

But the final nail in the coffin, and frankly, the death-knell for any hip trend came in August this year, when ‘selfie’ made it into the Oxford dictionary.

But there’s a bigger problem

My real beef isn’t that selfies aren’t cool any more. Trends come and go, we all accept that. The problem is, this trend doesn’t seem to be going away. Instead it is evolving into a bit of a monster.

By participating in selfie culture, instead of undermining concepts of beauty, we’re now perpetuating the ever-expanding crowd of people who – instead of understanding that selfies are supposed to be tongue in cheek – are promoting self-obsession and rampant narcissism. Missing the point much?

The reason selfies were cool in the first place is because individuals had reclaimed and redefined unrealistic ideals around body image. Selfies weren’t airbrushed to perfection and the now notorious ‘selfie pout’ was intended to mock (not emulate) those of supermodels in fashion magazines. We had started to reclaim the notion of beauty for ourselves and we were reshaping it.

But now, rather than subverting society’s enforced concept of beauty, selfies have become an extension of it. Look at selfies today and see that the irony has been lost. Instead of something which was born of curiosity and necessity and then evolved into something amusing and cultural subversive, selfies now depict people who are instead replacing the emphasis on how other people perceive them (often reintroducing Photoshop) and reinforcing the the concept of beauty that they once stood staunchly against.

Where next?

The selfie has had far more than its fair share of fame and it’s not doing its job any more. It’s time we put it to sleep.

My humble suggestion is this; unless your selfie is still subversive and interesting, for instance, if you’re an elephant or if you’re taking a selfie in outer space, then turn the camera around and take a picture of your breakfast instead, or maybe even go old school and take a picture of a funny sign.

And if that doesn’t sound edgy enough, then why not try ‘Swearing at Beautiful Views’?

You, know, while it’s still cool.

Why fundraisers should employ alternative marketing techniques to stand out from the crowd

2 Sep
charity donor snoring

How can charities and individuals overcome fundraising fatigue?

At the end of this month I am running Berlin Marathon to raise money for charity (Whizz-Kidz).

I’d like to say I’m doing this for completely altruistic reasons, but I’ll be honest: I’m not. I didn’t wake up and decide to raise money for charity; I woke up and decided to run a marathon…why? Because I love running.

Of course, I didn’t need to raise money for a good cause, but the fact remains that doing so, while positive, is still just a by-product of my love of running and the choice of a cause that is personal to me. The question is, should I be admitting to this? Well yes, I think I should. In fact, I think more people should. And here’s why.

Charity fundraising is changing

Time was, raising money for charity by running a marathon, having a workplace cake sale, eating a 70 pound steak – whatever your poison – was noteworthy enough for people to sit up, pay attention and dig deep to donate. While running a marathon is still an impressive feat of endurance, a greater feat still is the wider world’s endurance of people’s pleas for charitable giving. The ease of setting up a fundraising page online and using Facebook and Twitter or company intranets to promote oneself has made fundraising something more akin to charity mugging (or ‘chugging’) than doing a good deed.

In short, people are suffering from fundraising fatigue.

I’ve been really lucky and had many generous donations from friends and colleagues already, but I’m also painfully aware that I’ve had to pester them a lot to get here. I know how tiresome it can be to receive ‘please donate to my worthy cause’ emails, and I’ll be honest; they’re not great fun to send either.

This got me thinking… If I find it this hard to raise just £1,000 for Whizz-Kidz, the challenge for charities themselves must be exponentially more difficult. So how can I or other fundraisers (and charities – big or small) stand out from the crowd and get people to part with their hard earned cash? It seems that making a heart-wrenching plea for donations is no longer enough. So how can we shake things up?

Employing different approaches

At its essence, charity fundraising is the same as any form of promotion or marketing. Although we can claim to donate altruistically, if we’re given the option to give money to charity A or charity B, aren’t we more likely to donate to the one who stands out, whether by offering a prize, or even just making us laugh? There are many discourses out arguing that true altruism can never really exist. I won’t get into these here, but for the sake of argument, let’s take the cynical view that there is no such thing as a truly altruistic act. This is when things potentially start to get interesting.

Many people will donate to a cause in which they already have a stake. But I imagine most, like my own donors, are the recipients of pleas from their friends and colleagues. While some not-for-profits are tentatively trying new approaches, it seems to me that many others are still trying to find a way to produce effective fundraising campaigns that work on a limited budget and with minimal resource.

In addition, most fundraisers aren’t marketers. Even those who are may believe that using mainstream marketing techniques will undermine the work that they do. For example, I recently went to a talk by a medium-sized UK charity who said they could not use humour in their marketing because it risked undermining their solemn cause. I understood, but I also had to disagree – of course, humour is a tricky tactic, but it is also an effective one when used carefully, and the same can be said of many ‘off-the-wall’ marketing techniques. In the private sector, quirky marketing campaigns have been used to great effect in relationship marketing, building brand loyalty and giving followers something they can truly engage with. So why shouldn’t this work for charities too?

Social media (a relatively cost-effective tool) provides an excellent way for not-for-profits to implement relationship marketing. Done well, it’s a great way to stand out from the crowd. However, while a lot private companies have it down, many not-for-profits haven’t yet dared (or had the resource) to pull out all the stops and try something a bit different.

The experiment

Over the next four weeks, I’m going to undertake a little experiment, employing a range of alternative fundraising tactics that don’t rely purely on people’s good nature and willingness to donate.

With no budget and limited time, I’ll attempt a variety of methods including humour, targeted marketing and blatant self-promotion to see if I can hit my £1,000 target by the time I run Berlin marathon on 29th September. I won’t lie… this will be shameless. However, by posting updates of my progress along the way, hopefully I can kill two birds with one stone – go some way towards hitting my £1,000 target, and deduce what sorts of fundraising tactics might work for other fundraisers out there; whether they are individuals or companies.

If you’ve got any quirky ideas, I’d love to hear them. Otherwise, I will do what I can… stay tuned for more.

On 29th September, Will Hillier is running Berlin Marathon for Whizz-Kidz. Click here to donate.

Or perhaps you’re short on time? In that case…

…simply text ‘WKDZ99 £1’ to 70070 to donate just £1 to Whizz-Kidz.

It’s just a pound; that’s less than a chocolate bar and a fizzy drink!

Five ways to get Twitter users to retweet your content

28 Aug
Favourite vs. Retweet

Favourite or Retweet?

Since Twitter introduced the favourite button, businesses and individuals have been plagued by an ever-increasing problem: dead-end content. While the favourite button is intended for users to flag a tweet they like, or to bookmark a link so they can refer back to it later, many are now using it in lieu of the retweet function. And this means your content isn’t being shared.

While favouriting (or liking) something is an excellent way to endorse posts on closed social networks like Facebook, favouriting has the opposite effect on Twitter. Instead of spreading the word, promoting participation and improving exposure (and followers), the favourite button gives users the option to simply flag a post instead of retweeting it. This means content they might have otherwise shared is disappearing into a social media abyss… and that’s not good for business.

The task for businesses is now tougher than ever before. If people aren’t sharing, it doesn’t matter how great your content is. While you can’t force Twitter users to avoid that favourite button, here are five ways you can encourage them to go for a good old-fashioned retweet instead (or – if you’re lucky – as well).

1. Keep your tweets brief

People like to add comments to tweets that they share, so don’t use all 140 characters when you’re tweeting as this will put them off. Shorter tweets catch the eye and give your followers space to add their own remarks. This in turn endorses your content and will hopefully encourage their followers to share it too.

2. Retweet other people

Practice what you preach. If you want people to share your content, then share theirs – particularly content from key influencers within your industry or area of business. Of course, you should only retweet things that your audience will find relevant, but once you start retweeting others, they will start to notice you. And if you start catching their eye, this means they will be more likely to spread your content in return.

3. Have compelling material

Get to know your followers and their interests – not just in terms of business, but their hobbies too. If you tweak or angle your content so that it’s more relevant to your followers, this will make it more far more retweetable. Providing top tips, promoting giveaways, contextualising content with current affairs or even just making users smile are all sure-fire ways to grab their attention. And once that happens, chances are they’ll be more willing to retweet you.

4. Time your tweets

This one might sound obvious, but time your updates carefully. There’s no use tweeting when it’s too quiet (such as in the morning or late at night) because fewer people will see your content. Equally, tweeting at peak times often means your post will be lost amid a sea of other content. Tools such as Tweriod are excellent for helping find out when your followers are online so that you can increase exposure and your chances of that coveted retweet.

5. Ask for a retweet

As the old saying goes: ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get’. If you have compelling content that’s relevant to your followers, asking them for a retweet can really pay off – interestingly, studies have also shown that spelling out ‘retweet’ rather than writing ‘RT’ improves the chances of sharing by about 23 times. Asking for a retweet can be an excellent way to promote discussion while increasing coverage and showing your followers that you’re interested in what they have to say.

Finally, engage with people, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Whether you’re a business or an individual, the best way to promote yourself on Twitter is to be real – after all, it’s called social media for a reason.

Did you find this post useful? Then start as you mean to go on: don’t just favourite it – share it!

Article originally posted on the Social Media Frontiers blog.

Facebook and Twitter: The Frankenstein’s monsters of social media

1 Jul
Image courtesy of

“Urgh, retwrashtwags”

Facebook or Twitter?

Pick one.

For years, this has been the unspoken ultimatum between users of the two most popular social networking sites. And for a long time, the two sites were different enough to warrant the demand. For the sake of setting the tone, indulge me in a quick comparison of the two.


At the time of writing, Facebook has around 1.11 billion users. It’s a digital entity which focuses on real world connections. As a rule, people only befriend people they know, and within the Facebook culture it’s considered creepy if you start stalking people. Can’t think why.


Twitter, on the other hand has 500 million users, and stalking is considered good practice here. Stalking is the only approach you can take on a site which focuses on online networking and digital communities.

Despite their differences, if Twitter and Facebook don’t constantly adapt to meet the changing needs of their users, then they will both eventually meet the same digital demise. It might seem unlikely right now, but it seemed unlikely of the Yellow Pages once, too. Oh, and MySpace. Remember Myspace? Nope? I didn’t think so.

Merging for survival

So, MySpace.  Bebo. They’ve all but disappeared, dwindling in popularity at around the 30 million user mark (might sound a lot, but it’s really not). The reason this happened is simple: they didn’t keep up. They believed that they had the social thing nailed, and ignored the changing needs of their users. Oops.

But Facebook and Twitter are doing alright, aren’t they?

Well yes they are.

But despite their proliferation, we know they’re trying as hard (if not harder) to keep up with the needs of their users as any of the lesser known sites out there.

But oftentimes, like some sort of digital Frankenstein’s monster, they borrow features from one another, tart them up as something different and sew them in. But these features don’t always transplant well. Not well at all.

Hadn’t noticed? Well that’s because Facebook and Twitter didn’t get where they are today without being pretty good at covering their tracks.  But you’ve got me now, so listen and learn.

Sharing vs. Retweeting

Initially a function on Facebook, ‘sharing’ was met with crippling ambivalence, like a useless appendix. While early Twitter users could quote another user’s tweet with the “RT @username” convention, or include a weblink in their tweet, the introduction of the official retweet function (Twitter’s equivalent of the ‘share’ button), made sharing stuff as easy as, er… clicking a button.

Unlike on Facebook, Twitter users tend to have thousands rather than hundreds of connections, so if the right person retweets the right post to the right people, you get new followers.

Image of a pun retweeted, with 9 new followers

You’d never have this luck sharing a crap joke on Facebook

For example, @gaystarnews recently retweeted a pun I made about Cher to over 20,000 followers, 8 of which immediately followed me, with another 15 over the course of that day.

Facebook? The average user only has a few hundred friends. So if I share something, I might get a few comments but that’s where the buck stops. While the introduction of Facebook pages has gone some way to improving the use of the share function, organ rejection is just a step away…

Like vs. Favourite

Unlike sharing, the ‘like’ button gained popularity fast on Facebook. Taking the simplicity of the defunct ‘poke’ button (aimless, therefore useless), a ‘like’ became an endorsement of somebody’s post. The more likes a post  has, the more likely – excuse the pun – a user is to click on it. Then Twitter decided to copy Facebook by introducing the favourite button.


Great though it is as a bookmarking function, Twitter could never have predicted that for many users, the favourite button would become synonymous with the retweet function, rendering it as surplus as a third leg.

Screengrab of tweets being favourited but not retweeted

Oh Twitter, all these wasted retweets.

Instead of being forced to share something they like (thereby spreading information, encouraging participation and engagement and the overall growth of Twitter) the favourite button has given Twitter users the option to simply flag a post instead of retweeting it. The lesson for Twitter here? Because something works on Facebook, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work on Twitter.

Hashtag vs. …well, Hashtag

Oh the contentious hashtag. Facebook recently embedded the hashtag, popularised by Twitter. On Twitter, the hashtag allows users to find trending topics and all the tweets posted by other users who have used the same tag. It’s an excellent way of filtering posts from the 500 million-odd users you have access to. Adopting this functionality is a predictable move by Facebook… but without some serious emergency surgery, it’s not going to stake.

Why not? Because without a massive cultural shift in the way Facebook members use the site, people won’t be able to access half of what is being posted.

Search result on Twitter for '#obscurehashtag'

Dare you to try the same search on Twitter.

On a site where you have all your information in one place and no control over friends posting and tagging pictures of you, people tend to value their privacy, and if they’re privacy settings are on ‘panic room’ then it doesn’t matter what they’re hashtagging.

The unchanging difference – public versus private

Here’s the clincher: Facebook is about sharing all of your personal information with relatively few people; photos… interests… friends lists, everything. On the flipside, Twitter is all about sharing very little personal information with pretty much anybody.

When Twitter was born, 140 characters of restrictive bliss meant that people could no longer bore you to death with their incessant drivel  on Facebook… However, while the user interface has changed very little, when you take a moment to consider everything now tucked away behind it… Twitpics, Instagram, Vine, blogs, and any number of other plugins and apps; it becomes very obvious that the gap between Twitter and Facebook is not as wide as they would have you believe.

They are both bound by their own success. Twitter now faces the challenge of making users share more personal information, while Facebook is trying to encourage its users to share their personal information with more people.

The big secret: it’s in our hands

If Twitter and Facebook should learn anything from MySpace and Bebo, it’s that the only way to survive is to swallow other entities as they evolve – but they need to swallow the right ones. Like it or not, these sites are now so hooked into the lives of their users – us – that they no longer have the ultimate say in where they’re going. We do. You do. That’s right, you.

If, like me, you detest hashtags on Facebook and loathe favourites on Twitter, then this is my request to you: don’t lay back and take it.  Make a fuss. Ultimately, it’s us as users who do the decision-making. And that’s what Twitter and Facebook are trying to keep from us; that we decide which limbs to lop off and stitch on to another social site. Try as they might to take control, they will never succeed.

Though they walk out, confidently presenting new features as their own, in the hope that we will blindly accept them, it is in fact only when we do blindly accept them that they stick. We’re the real geniuses of social media; the crackpot professors, sitting in our turret laboratory testing out new features and seeing what works. It’s what we do and say that shapes where they go: we gave them life and we can take it away.  And personally,  I think that’s a pretty powerful thought.

To keep up with my latest posts, follow me on Twitter.

Apple is still innovating… perhaps just not how you’re expecting

28 Jun

Do you know what I’m tired of? I’ll tell you.

I’m tired of seeing advertisements for smartphones that make me feel inadequate.

I’m tired of seeing beautiful people in private member’s clubs, looking no more dishevelled as they pour themselves out of cabs at five in the morning than Kate Moss on a photo shoot.

And I’m really tired of learning that people who own smartphones are always having fun, laughing over upbeat music, as they sit there in their perfect clothes, running around beautiful landscapes, taking photos of all the friends they’ve made because they have the coolest phone on the beach.

Advertising fatigue

These kinds of advertisements are not for consumers like you and me; they’re for a demographic of early smartphone users who have long since disappeared. How do I know? Because we all now own one. And yet, this is still the way we’re being sold to.

Galaxy S4 Group Play Ad

Take for instance the recent Galaxy S4 advert. It shows off the ‘Group Play’ function in a locker room filled with chiselled hunks. They need motivation to win their Basketball game; something I can of course relate to.

HTC One Boom Sound Ad

Or there’s the HTC One Boom Sound advertisement, which demonstrates another feature – frontal speakers that improve the listening experience, because every person who owns a smartphone loves the latest bands.

The problem is, it’s not just hipsters and teenagers who own smartphones now. So isn’t it time to move on from this narrow, under diluted perception of consumer appeal? Smartphones aren’t new any more. And while Samsung and HTC might not get it, with a great sigh of relief, I am pleased to say: Apple gets it.

And now for something a bit different…

Here comes the breath of fresh air.

Thank goodness for that. Thanks Apple.

Until now, smartphone and tablet advertising has focused on the rational ‘you need this feature’ advertising appeal. But Apple’s new approach takes a welcome step away from this. It’s distinctly emotive; arguably a little overdone, yes, but this is new territory, so I think we can cut them some slack. Largely, the iPhone hasn’t changed, but this new marketing approach acknowledges that we, as consumers, have. Who needs product innovation when you have product placement innovation?

Gone is the slick, the modern, the minimalist. Instead, Apple has brought back the clutter, the real world – a girl on her bed, children in a classroom, a woman on the subway – no longer people in glorious, unrealistic and featureless environments. Yes, it retains an element of Apple’s clean advertising, but that’s their brand. Nonetheless, Apple has tapped into the truth that people’s lives aren’t shiny and perfect as they’ve been made out to be. For me, that’s where the emotional connection lies – Apple are acknowledging that they’ve been wrong, while simultaneously asserting that, once again, they’re the first to get it right.

If that’s not enough, then the ethereal, acoustic soundtrack ought to win you over. It’s burnished with naturalism rather than with a cheap, irritating hook (I refer you to the Galaxy S4 advert above). We can suddenly let ourselves feel that Apple understands us… that their new smartphone will blend perfectly into our daily – real – lives.

Innovation in advertising

Despite complaints that Apple is failing to innovate, such as this one by Heidi Moore in the Guardian earlier this year, it is clear that they continue to stay one step ahead of consumer fatigue.

I know what you’re thinking – this is just an ad campaign – and you’re right. It might not seem like a big step. But then consider that this is arguably the first smartphone advertisement of its kind which promises to improve our lifestyle without shoving sexy features down our throats. And it comes from a company that brought us the smartphone in the first place… Does that not count for something?

I predict that this is a benchmark for smartphone advertising. I’m not saying the campaign is perfect, but it’s a start. Apple made a name for itself by doing what others didn’t dare to try, and now they’re doing it again. This ‘feely’ advertising might be sick-making for some, but looking at the bigger picture, it makes a damn refreshing change from the norm.

Made in California. Bring it home, Apple. Good work.

Keep up with all my latest opinions by following me on Twitter, @WillHillier.

Do you disagree? Here’s an alternative perspective.

Playing it safe: 5 tips for successful email campaigns

24 Jun

Today, I received an email. It went something like this:

“Hi Colin, How are you? We hope you’re great! Isn’t this weather nice? Check out our courier services – we offer the best rates for all your last minute needs.”

Well, I thought, how friendly and informative. There are just two problems. Firstly, I’m a marketer and writer; unless I decide to set up a print, publish and distribution service from my flat, I can’t see I’ll ever need the services of a courier. The second minor oversight is that my name isn’t Colin.

Why do companies do this? Why do they insist on invading my privacy, and invading it badly? Being marketed to has become a cultural norm: people expect it. But they also expect it to be done well. In short: they don’t want to be sold something they don’t need, they want to be sold something they didn’t know they needed.

While some organisations have it nailed, many companies out there still misunderstand the concept of social media and are using it in all the wrong ways. Others have misinterpreted it even further, by assuming that the informality brought by social media gives them inexplicit permission to be over familiar with their audience. While fine in the context of social media, this assumed familiarity has started creeping into areas of digital marketing where it is doesn’t belong. One of these is email marketing, and today’s top tips post is focused on those who have got it all wrong… not in my Twitter feed, but all over my inbox.

1. Give people something for free

Sending a campaign to inform somebody of a new product or service is all well and good, but why should they care? Have a little sympathy with your audience… they’re being sold to on the television, via their apps, on the way to work, AT work… whatever you’re promoting, make it worth their while. To a certain extent it depends on what you’re marketing, but a pretty universal rule of thumb is that if people get something for nothing, they will remember you. Whether it’s a voucher or a giveaway; something as simple as a demo of your new product, or even a link to a great case study or website; so long as it’s good enough value for the time they took to click through, you will stick in their mind.

2. Don’t personalise campaigns with first names

Of course, whatever content you’re sending it should be personalised to the audiences’ interests, but including somebody’s name on email is not a substitute for appropriately targeting the content. People aren’t stupid; they can smell a mail shot a mile off, and personalising it with their name only draws attention to the fact that the sender is trying to hide that they have sent this to an entire database of contacts.

As my earlier example demonstrates, personalising an email campaign can also backfire. Your contact database no doubt includes some distribution lists. This means that although the name of your contact was correct at the time of entry, and their job may still exist, the person receiving the emails may have moved on. And that’s when you risk turning your ‘Norman’ into another opt-out. Remember: the less you personalise an email, the less that can go wrong with it.

3. Ensure the tone matches your brand

If you’re adamant that you want to personalise your campaign with the recipient’s name, of course that’s up to you. Nonetheless, I would suggest only doing so if ‘casual’ matches your brand and tone of voice. Opening with somebody’s name immediately informalises your message; so don’t then make the mistake I’ve seen countless companies make, and follow it with corporate spiel. Once again, this looks generic, lazy, and stands out in all the wrong ways. Even the most informal of brands (such as innocent drinks) never personalise their campaigns. But they are well targeted and well written, so when I receive a mail from innocent, I don’t mind that it isn’t addressed directly to me.

Finally, if your campaign tone is informal, does this accurately reflect your brand? This is a very common mistake. If you have a corporate tone of voice, keep your campaign’s tone corporate. I see a lot of campaigns, well written by an enthusiastic marketing executive… however, when I click through to their website, it’s a different story. Yes, you need to grab attention, but not at the expense of giving your audience a consistent experience.

4. Target the right people

This sound obvious, but make sure your content is relevant to the audience you’re writing for. A friend of mine recently told me that the marketing department for the company she used to work for sent every email campaigns to the entire database. Your content may be perfectly relevant and interesting, but if the copy in front of it aims to capture too broad an audience, it will not just dilute it but make it irrelevant. And that means opt-outs.  Instead, take some time to write different copy for different audiences, and to send out different emails. It will take longer, but it will pay. And in case you’re worreid, this isn’t just speculation ; I’ve consistently seen much better click through rates on targeted campaigns and far greater numbers of opt-outs in untargeted ones.

5. Send from the company, not an individual

If you’re an individual, send your campaign from you. If you’re a company, send it from the company. Unless your CEO is Mark Zuckerberg or someone equally notable, nobody cares that your CEO has personally endorsed this message. In fact, it could hurt you as it risks coming across as arrogant. As such, avoid signing off from an individual at all costs. Sometimes I receive emails from a CEO, a Marketing Director, or worse yet; a Business Development Manager. Everybody knows this is code for ‘salesman’, and if you work in Marketing, you’ll probably be wondering why somebody in sales is sending marketing campaigns in the first place.

Essentially, sending from an individual has the same effect as sending to one. You’re trying to say: ‘This message is from us to you’. Unfortunately, what it’s really saying is: ‘We can’t get our marketing right; you probably shouldn’t work with us.’ This may sound harsh, but it’s true. It’s also the reason why good marketing departments don’t deserve the bad reputation brought upon them by people who think they know better… marketing is not about your ego but your audience. Your only job is to stay one step ahead of them so that you can continue keeping them happy.

And finally…

I will end on a perhaps controversial note by saying that you should avoid personalising your email campaigns altogether. Instead of faffing about with mail merges and custom fields, concentrate on targeting your content to your audience. If you can show the reader that you’ve understood their needs enough to get the tone, offering and layout right, then really you’ve done your job, right? It doesn’t get much more personal than that.