Tanks for the memories – the importance of research

May 29, 2015 at 1:11 pm | Posted in copywriting | 12 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What tank is that? (Original.) Click to make BIG.

I love doing research.

This is lucky, as copywriters must do stacks of it to be any good.

Get one fact wrong and you can:

So when it comes to looking stuff up, I’m pretty damn methodical.

Even when it’s an informal request from a friend, I take research very, very seriously – as Chris learnt last week:

‘Dear Paul,

In flicking through one of my father’s photo albums, I found quite a few ‘in the field’ photos.

I am intrigued by this one (shockingly fuzzy though it is) and thought that I would enlist your expertise to identify the type of tank.

All we’ve really got to go on is the shape of the turret and the gun.

I’m thinking it’s either a British Cruiser tank or a Panzer IV.

I believe that it was tank in early ‘45, possibly near Overloon.’

Chris enclosed the pic you see above, so I replied:

‘Hi, Chris.

What a fascinating challenge!

I thought it might be a Panzer IV, but I believe most later models had a turret ‘bustle’ at the back – for radio and other gear.

So I increased the contrast to see there’s no bustle on this tank.

What tank is that? (High contrast.)

What tank is that? (High contrast.)

Then I thought it might be a Panther, and so cross-checked the profile.

My best guess.

Second guessing.

There seem a lot of points of correlation:

  • Long gun (if you deem the white bit in the photo as part of a gun).
  • Two-stage gun mantlet.
  • Gun holder (and position thereof).
  • Tall commander’s cupola (which may have given the idea it was a British Cruiser).
  • Long rear engine deck.

Then I checked Overloon, to see if there were any Panthers in the area at the time and, blow me down (or up)!

The culprit?

The culprit?

So, from preliminary research, Panther seems a fair bet.

See if you agree.’

Chris seemed pleased with progress.

‘By jingoes I knew that you were the man for the job! That photo from the Overloon war museum leaves me gobsmacked!

I did find this photo of a Panzer IV variant which I though fitted the turret profile (without bustle), but I think that the stepped profile of the front of the tank would have been apparent in the photo despite the background vegetation.

The silhouette in the photo does more closely resemble a Panther, for the reasons that you mentioned as well as the taper angle on the rear of the turret.

Outside chance?

Outside chance?

I’m not ruling out the Cruiser Mk.II yet – look at the antenna arrangement (or maybe that’s just a tree in the background of the photo) and the ‘steps’ at rear of the turret.

Then again the stepped profile of the front of the tank doesn’t match, nor does the gun length.

Sentimental favourite.

Cruising for a bruising?

I prefer to believe that it’s a Panther in the photo, though. Much more exciting!

Tally-ho!’

When a client is happy, so am I.

‘Great stuff, Chris.

Your antenna argument may have merit.

If you say the word, I could post the mystery tank pic on Twitter with a request to crowd source its identity.

Chances are, certain sections of my followers would be all over it.

Or you could leave it for your readers to decide.

Either way, very exciting.’

‘Yes, let’s crowd source it!

Attached is a higher resolution scan – you can zoom in and see that what we thought might be a gun support and aerial respectively are in fact trees in the background.

Cheers.’

‘Golly!

The plot thickens … ‘

‘The reason I mentioned Overloon is that on the same page of photos there are two references to that town – one in an inscription on a photo; on another photo, a road sign featuring that town’s name is visible.

I’m happy for you to include all of this in a blog post.

Let’s see where this goes!

I’m keen as la moutarde!’

‘Tremendous!

All good grist.

Leave it mit me.’

So here we are.

I’m almost certain that tank is a Panther, but not positive.

What I do know for sure is that my readers know infinitely more than I ever will.

And so I’m putting this mystery out there.

In other words …

RTEmagicC_We-Need-You.jpg

Yet another contender. (See Paul Huysing's comment below.)

Yet another contender. (See Paul Huysing’s comment below.)

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

The true tale of Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe

March 23, 2015 at 12:22 pm | Posted in copywriting | 7 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lady Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe (of Abbotsford).

I was rewriting a large website for a client with the glorious double-barrelled name (changed for this tale) of Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe.

With big projects, I often begin with small bits and work my way up at increasing speed.

Staff bios (profiles) are a great starting point.

When I got to Elizabeth’s bio, I recalled that she’d introduced herself to me as Liz.

She also signed her emails as Liz, yet her email address was Elizabeth@Frensington-SmytheEnterprises.com.

And so I wrote:

‘Dear Liz,

Are you predominantly Liz, Lizzy, Elizabeth (or some other permutation) to your various audiences?

The name they read should be the one they use.

If we can pick one variation and use it consistently across all communication channels, we’ll strengthen your brand.

If, however, use is situational, we can give this idea a miss.’

Liz replied:

‘My name is Elizabeth Frensington-Smythe.

Business cards, emails etc all use Elizabeth.

99% of people call me Liz.’

So I said:

‘Thank you, Liz.

So, all your business comms are in sync with just 1% of your audience.

As you’re obviously rebranding, can we ditch Elizabeth for Liz in all instances going forward?

Liz is shorter, friendlier and more accessible.

(Three traits that are particularly attractive when one has a double-barrelled surname.)

It’s impossible to misspell Liz.

And you’ll never again have to start a relationship with, ‘Please, call me Liz’.

This may remove small but unsettling uncertainties for some anxious folk.

Make sense?’

Liz said:

‘Liz it is.’

And so started our website optimisation collaboration.

Liz not only ended up with perfect online content.

She also got a sharper, stronger and more consistent personal brand.

I love it when that happens!

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by #1 Airsoft Mom.

Library books

March 16, 2015 at 9:01 am | Posted in copywriting | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Imagine Day. Paul Hassing's book of surreal short stories.

Write once. Use many times.

Having edited a client’s book for much of last year, I was delighted when he sent me a box of ten shiny copies to give to prospects and friends.

By chance, my own book (pictured) had come out just a few days before.

Once I got over the warm fuzzy of seeing my name and website in my client’s acknowledgements, I thought about how to leverage his content.

And so I wrote:

‘Hi there!

Having just had my own book published, I was wondering if you or your publisher has sent copies of your new book to:

It’s not just a legal thing, your title goes onto the databases and becomes globally searchable.

This increases exposure and is very good for your personal brand.

My searches of these databases did not yield anything written by you.

So I wanted to make sure you get onto this if you haven’t already.

Kind regards,

P.’

My client was very grateful.

And, as usual, I got a kick out of offering some free value-add service beyond the project itself.

I can’t wait to see what our respective publications do for us this year.

🙂

PS. Here’s the National Library of Australia entry for my dad’s autobiography. And here he is in the State Library of Victoria.

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

From DL to PDF to online & beyond!

October 1, 2014 at 11:39 am | Posted in copywriting | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Leverage your content worldwide!

Leverage your content worldwide!

Remember that jolly DL brochure I edited?

It’s not back from the printer yet, but it did throw up a further lesson during the design process.

Never one to stop seeking value, I asked my client:

‘Once this brochure is finalised for printing, do you reckon we’ll also leverage the file into a PDF?

Doing so would let you post it on your website for downloading any time.

You could also email it to any (younger?) prospects who flag a preference for screen browsing over snail mail (especially if you need to get a brochure to them fast).

If you think this URL idea has legs, I can add a few handy hyperlink suggestions (e.g. behind headshot photos and company logos) so online readers can easily explore.

More bang for your buck, and all that.

These URLs would not be visible in or affect the printed brochure (i.e. if you printed the PDF yourself, it’d be identical to the commercially printed brochure).

I’m definitely not suggesting we run two versions of this brochure – merely that we augment the master file to suit two channels.

Please let me know what you reckon.’

My client agreed this was worthwhile.

Thus spurring me to ever greater efforts to give him value for money.

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

 Pic from Wikipedia.

Notes on DL brochures

September 16, 2014 at 7:33 am | Posted in copywriting | 5 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
An easy way so see DL.

An easy way so see DL.

A client asked me to edit a brochure and suggest a format.

Once I saw what the brochure was for (promoting a course to time-poor execs) I suggested ‘DL’ format.

So what the hell is DL? Swim Communications puts it very well.

In short, DL is a third the size of A4 (the size you stick in your printer).

My client, who had imagined an A4 format, asked why I preferred DL.

So I said:

‘DL is easier and cheaper to post to many prospects.

Also, I feel it looks more businesslike.

If you go flat A4, you’ll either have to post it folded anyway, or add cardboard to stop it getting mangled en route.

But if you hit a non-A4 letterbox, it’ll get mangled anyway.

Not a good look for your brand.

Folded DLs are also easier to hand out at events, display in foyers and carry away.

Finally, the beauty of a DL brochure is that you can add as many panels as you need to cover the content and it still fits in a standard business envelope.’

My client was impressed.

I can’t wait to see what the designer does with our optimised content.

I wrote this post to demonstrate that expert copywriters and editors don’t just focus on words.

They think about your business, your brand, your communication strategy, your audience, your costs, your desired results and how to wring every drop of value from your investment.

And though they may not be design experts, they know from long experience what works and what doesn’t.

So when you send your perfected copy to a designer for finishing, they’ll have the best possible chance of smashing it out of the park.

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

 Pic by The Internet Printer.

Cliche of the Titans

December 18, 2013 at 9:45 am | Posted in copywriting, Uncategorized | 6 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
A fight to the death.

A fight to the death.

One of my clients makes high-end breakfast products.

So when she wrote on her labels that breakfast was:

the most important meal of the day,

she knew it.

And meant it.

But this didn’t stop me challenging her.

You see, every person and their pet know and use this time-worn truism.

So I suggested we change it to:

the day’s most vital meal.

My client then had the temerity to suggest she preferred important to vital!

And so I mounted my defence:

  1. Vital is shorter than important.
  2. Vital packs more punch.
  3. By ditching most important meal of the day for day’s most vital meal,  we kill the cliché and own the concept.
  4. This switches the passive voice to active.
  5. It also gives superior cadence.
  6. Finally, vital stems from the Latin word for life/living (which is much in sync with a food brand).

So, do you still want important?!

My client replied:

‘You win a million times on this one. Thank you!’

Gracious, intelligent, enlightened and humble clients like this keep me copywriting.

And make me strain every nerve to advance their prosperity.

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Handle with care

September 20, 2013 at 9:37 am | Posted in copywriting | 11 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
A delicate operation.

A delicate operation.

Word up!

When you edit a website to relaunch a high-end muesli range, every word counts.

To this end, a clever client and I recently had an interesting exchange:

She

I bought some yogurt today. They have ‘handcrafted’ as part of their product description.

I currently use ‘hand mixed’ on my website and labels.

Do you think ‘handcrafted’ could be a better word for my range?

What about ‘hand made’?

Me

‘Handcrafted’ used to be a novel take on ‘hand made’, but it isn’t anymore.

Your muesli isn’t furniture.

And you aren’t God.

Therefore, ‘crafted’ is not the word I’d go for.

I think you’re already totes on the money with ‘hand mixed’.

And, for the record, I’d like as few hands as possible in my yogurt!

Morals

So we’re sticking with ‘hand mixed’.

Copywriting is a deeper process than some people think.

That said, if a client has already nailed something, a good copywriter doesn’t try to gild the lily or fix what ain’t broke.

For that is our

craft.

What do you think?

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

Pic by Jay PH.

Speak or ZING?

April 15, 2013 at 8:08 am | Posted in copywriting | 10 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Samurai warrior

Are you a ZINGer?

Alas! My business coach, Winston Marsh, gave my expensive online shop the thumbs down!

On the topic of ZING-based copywriting, we’ve long been at odds.

It’s time to analyse the sticking place.

In the blue corner is me. I believe the message is everything. As I used to tell my Copy School students:

If you have a message that’s true, interesting and relevant to your audience, you can write it on a piece of toilet paper and nail it to a tree in the forest. Someone will find it and, if they’re not interested, pass it on to those who are.

In the red corner is Winston. He believes every message needs plenty of ZING and is adamant I should use phrases like:

Copywriting that’s so powerful, it sucks people’s eyeballs into the screen.

Words so compelling, they leap off the page and bite you on the bum.

Here’s his rationale:

I firmly believe the product or service must deliver on the promises made for it. Then, providing it does, that’s when you really sock it to them in language that sucks the eyeballs into the screen, etc.

It’s our job to really get the prospect excited, enthused and busting to buy. Remember, you sell the sizzle not the steak!

I have dreadful problems with sizzle. Yet Winston’s speaking, coaching and publishing empire is many times greater than I could hope to achieve.

What to do?

Ad agencies advise: ‘If you’ve got nothing to say, sing!’ In other words, if the product you’re flogging lacks merit, put all your resources into showmanship.

I totally get this with soft drink or chocolate. But what about corporate copywriting?

Because I believe I have something to say, I feel that singing is unnecessary (at best) and harmful to my brand (at worst). Surely my clear, correct, elegant copy is the singing equivalent of verbose, inaccurate, dreary copy.

Am I not singing already? Is not the steak more important than the sizzle?

There’s just one problem: most people who visit my shop don’t buy my ebook.

Winston took one look at my landing page and pronounced it ‘flat’. He’s certain that unless I ZING, my register won’t ring.

Should I stop being precious and get with the program? Or should I screw my courage to the sticking place and hold fast in defence of quiet, measured, reasonable copy?

How about you? Are you a speaker or a ZINGer?

If you changed tack, how would your audience react?

Your response would be music to our

eyes.

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

The quick & the dead

May 13, 2010 at 9:12 am | Posted in copywriting | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In tough times, small is beautiful.

As a freelance copywriter, I watched clients past and present deal variously with a year of ‘interesting times’:

  • One client terminated a chronic poor performer, so he could keep his better staff.
  • A second gave accounts payable to his wife – who paid my invoices twice as fast!
  • A third saw contract termination as a happy excuse to knock on different doors. He scored a fresh, new role in just two weeks.
  • A fourth used his quiet time to commission a blog and reengineer his website for the soon-to-be-obligatory live Web 2.0 feeds.

These were all small to medium firms. The smaller they were, the faster they moved and the more they treated the global financial crisis as an opportunity, rather than a threat.

On the other hand, two larger (former) clients took a more traditional approach:

  • One suspended their industry newsletter, just as customers sought leadership and staff needed a morale boost.
  • Another retrenched all but a skeleton crew. These unhappy few were given cruel workloads and a 20% pay cut. The pressure was crippling and word of their torment spread far. And wide.

Brands have been damaged; perhaps even smashed. I can’t see either of these companies racing ahead any time soon.

Though my data are obviously insignificant, my observations suggest that in tricky times, small is beautiful.

Leaner, keener, stronger and smarter for their experience, I fully expect my nimble SME clients to lap their competition in the sunnier season ahead.

🙂

Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.

How to name things

March 31, 2010 at 10:17 am | Posted in copywriting | 12 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Some names stand alone. Others need a little help.

When naming a company, course or other corporate thing, there’s a risk your choice may be a little ‘dry’.

You don’t want to put your audience to sleep.

On the other hand, you can’t be so ‘way out’ that you damage your brand.

A good solution is to have a creative title with a ‘sensible’ subtitle (or vice versa).

This two-pronged approach usually satisfies most audience members.

I used it this morning, with an article on leadership.

My title, Learning Leadership, was dry but functional.

My subtitle, How to Get Support from Above, Around & Below, added meaning and context and was a bit more ‘with it’.

When trying to come up with name options, the blank page can be very daunting. So I use what I call the ‘shotgun’ approach.

I define this in the intro I write for lists of names I prepare for clients:

This list comprises a broad spectrum of serious suggestions, potential thought starters and light-hearted ideas. By casting the net as wide as possible, I hope to either catch a winning idea or produce one in the mind of another.

Recombine components for more permutations. If you can’t decide between several suitable names, run them past a trusted group of people from the audience/s you wish to reach. Their feedback should guide you to a single choice.

This approach can take a while, but it invariably produces an ideal result.

If you’re stuck for a name, think of mine! 🙂

Paul Hassing, Founder and Senior Writer, The Feisty Empire.


Entries and comments feeds.