Got tchotchkes?

'August 12, 2006: Swag' photo (c) 2006, Matt McGee - license:

As marketing director for a small publishing company, I attended several huge national book fairs in Chicago.

With a thousand booths to visit, most booksellers spent their time trotting down crowded aisles in search of great freebies to take home.

Whatever magical books were on our shelf, few people glanced beyond the front of our table. That’s where our obligatory freebies were expected to be displayed, within easy reach.

The monster publishers gave away embroidered caps, even jackets. Every day gossip spread like wildfire about what this company had just started to hand out. The news drew conference-goers like bees to a freshly cut bouquet.

We of course couldn’t compete with them; we could only hope that the tabletop tchotchkes I’d brought from Seattle would slow down a few people so they’d look over our very well-received books.

Think of your web site as a tiny table in an impossibly gigantic convention filled with greedy sprinters. What will you give away in hopes of landing business? What will you tempt random visitors with? How will you present your products or services in as accessible yet appealing way as possible?

You must choose and live with the consequences. Choose carefully and strategically.

And any time you’d like some push-the-envelope creative suggestions, be sure to let me know.

3 Keys to Good Writing

You can write. You do it every day. Everybody does.

  • You know your content must be as clear, concise and compelling as possible.
  • You carefully eliminate those deadening “I-me-my” references.
  • And you read it out loud to double-check its flow and clarity.

But you won’t connect with readers–much less move them to action–unless every paragraph includes or promises:

Relevance. This shows what you know about the individual you’re writing for (still writing for faceless crowds with general statements? Game over). Relevance tells a reader you know him or her and have done your homework. Make them feel special; they’ll gift you time and attention.
Proof. This can be data and statistics, social proof (”10,000 Frenchmen can’t be wrong”) or emotional proof established in a great story. Why should anyone listen to an “expert” who can’t show credentials?
Value is your real bottom line; it gives readers a good reason to follow you. And it makes your stuff good enough to be shared with friends or family.

Does all this sound like too much effort? Time you stopped writing and posted pretty pictures instead.

Welcome to Groucho’s World

“The trouble with writing a book about yourself is that you can’t fool around. If you write about someone else, you can stretch the truth from here to Finland. If you write about yourself the slightest deviation makes you realize instantly that there may be honor among thieves, but you are just a dirty liar.” ― Groucho Marx

Anyone writing for the internet should take Groucho to heart. Please.

We forget what an accomplished writer Groucho Marx was. Even as we laugh out loud at a Marx Brothers movie. He wrote or embellished those scripts, after all.

There are enough similarities between the world just after the Great Depression, and the world today, to make his style pertinent and powerful.

In other words, you could do much worse than following Groucho’s lead with your online content.


1. He was mostly writing about himself, like today’s bloggers.

2. But he always wanted to make us smile, like the best writers of online content.

3. And he showed us the world–or at least the people and language that drive the world–a little differently.

See a pattern yet?

His scripts and written pieces were entertaining, yet so close to the bone they still make us squirm a little. His material was hard to forget, and still is.

Be like Groucho and go viral. Let’s get started today:

p.s. Here’s a great film excerpt:

Junk breaks the brand

Porridge for Landing Pages

1. Clothes may not make the man these days–especially if he works online.

2. But cloudy, copycat and confused content will definitely break your brand.

3. Companies invest thousands on graphics and sleek designs or intricate SEO campaigns. They want to stand out and get in front of thousands of prospects.

Yet they sabotage themselves with self-absorbed content. Site visitors want relevance, proof and value on the fly. Not more overstuffed verbiage.

They pour out porridge like this: “we strive to successfully implement relevant strategies” and Duh truisms like “Marketing effectively is not always easy.”

Would you rely on a business that pushes such junk at you? So why publish anything equally banal, knowing what the results will be?

Stop hiding your unique insights, offerings and skills. Present yourself immediately as an original who’s worth getting to know. Great words make a brand great, too.

Give yourself a break. Start brand-building today, beginning with a free, no obligation assessment of your content. Write me:

Feeling desperate? But why?

Chinese character for "wealth"

Most big lottery winners eventually become miserable, often wishing they’d never won anything. They unfortunately couldn’t stop thinking like manual or salaried workers who buy lottery tickets, rather than the movers and shakers who buy successful businesses and hire successful people.

We all admire a winner’s down-to-earth decision to return to work the next day; but they’ll need a new way of looking at life, too–one that’s pretty close to a successful person’s view of the world.

So here’s the good news. The internet gives each of us countless opportunities to do things that only wealthy people could dream of doing 20 years ago. We can:

* Get any information we need, quickly and easily. * Communicate with people in every corner of the world. * Quickly save money and effort, and have lots of choices. * Get messages from many vendors and service providers who want our business and will customize their messages to us. * Stay up-to-date on issues that concern us. * Associate only with people who share our beliefs and values, and who’ll eagerly talk about what matters to us.

We can do all of that today. Yet it feels safer somehow to think like we’re still poor. So instead of appreciating and tapping into all our resources, we jump from one marketing bandwagon to the next, drawn by the empty promise that someone will take care of our futures.

It’s time to recognize that only “poor-thinking” people will desperately seek a magic pill or silver-bullet solution. Successful people are too confident, resource-rich and efficient for that.

Before your lifestyle can change, your thinking has to change. And remember, you’re already rich in many important ways. Convince yourself of that fact, then communicate it with confidence and poise.

Remember, nothing succeeds like success. And every success begins with knowing your Why and building productive conversations around it.

Make every conversation successful and get moving. Let’s talk!

Your almost perfect sentence

James Agee (1909-1955)

“We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.”

That opening sentence by James Agee is almost perfect in its shape, lilt and sensual appeal. I loved it the first time I read it, almost a half-century ago, and have never forgotten it.

It makes us appreciate the author, the publisher and the discovery. Being rich in the all-important qualities of relevance, proof and value, it’s a gift that will help any thoughtful reader feel a little better.

You have it in you to write a sentence almost as memorable. You know you do. With a little polishing, your random thoughts or observations from years ago could be almost that good.

So what are you going to do about it?

First, go back and reread that sentence, out loud this time, as if you’re singing it in a song. Then get your internal antennae up. The next time something with real potential pops into your mind, play with it and write it down and share it.

Your readers, friends or customers will see you in a whole new light.

No Gain, No Pain

'Balance is everything in the art of slackline yoga!' photo (c) 2010, lululemon athletica - license:

Remember “balance?”

Where’d it go, anyway?

Could it be more than balancing the time we spend on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter?

In our passion for conversions, we abandon conversations.

In our quest for “free” and “easy,” we imagine a life with gain and no pain.

But what goes around will always come around, in one form or another.

People have recognized this natural law for millennia. Evidence fills the news reports.

Time to get real. Consciously balance pain and gain in your life.

It will give you more control and contentment. Guaranteed.

Stop envisioning hordes of customers, for example. Go after only as many as you need.

Take time to create good content with real value, and stop pumping out derivative filler.

Remove your face from the monitor long enough to have an interesting conversation or two, with people who have something to say.

Stop obsessing about gain and you’ll reduce the pain of being ignored by thousands of faux friends and persnickety prospects, to start with.

Balance has always been about gain and loss. What have you got to lose from seeking it?


Of Internet Apples and Oranges

'Oranges and Apples' photo (c) 2009, Christopher Reilly - license:

Hoping to reduce our workload, we often use content that’s good for blogs in social media posts, and vice versa. This should be avoided.

The purpose of posting on social media is primarily to amuse ourselves. We shouldn’t expect many returns or benefits. These sites have always been the perfect place for people to say what they have to say–which is often nothing much.

The simplicity of what we exhibit of ourselves on Facebook as often as not makes us exquisitely incomprehensible or irrelevant to other denizens of the shallow.

The other kind of internet content (web sites, emails, blogs etc.) should amuse, inform or engage with other people. We shouldn’t expect to get as much pleasure from what we write for others, because it’s specifically intended to elicit a response.

Of course social media sites can inform and engage. Internet content can be a pleasure to write and share. But keeping the primary function of each in mind helps us avoid wasting time trying to get an apple to taste like an orange and vice versa.

Most of us use the internet to educate ourselves. Everything is in a state of flux offline as well as online. Only people comfortable with their own ignorance have much chance of taking full advantage of its riches. Everyone else’s manipulations and empire-building will only have limited success in the long run.

What we’re up against

'crowded marketplace' photo (c) 2006, James Creegan - license:
Today’s marketplace could be compared to history’s largest open market. Millions of people mill about, usually undecided about exactly which products or services they want, much less who can give it to them with the right price and features.

The fastest-growing section of this open market would be dedicated to online business. If it were real, mobs of business owners would be lined up, adding a few pages of derivative information to the huge stacks of content piled high on shelves. Someone’s very big job would be to label these shelves with keywords, but even if prospects managed to find a business web site pages in a given stack there’s often nothing to make their pitch (hidden somewhere in a stack) memorable and appealing.

To accomplish that, internet marketing experts (often well-paid) help clients direct traffic to these business owners’ sites, in an attempt to manipulate members of the mob into visiting their clients’ sites. But as quickly as they come up with some new gimmick, brand or widget, many other “experts” are doing the same thing. And consumers keep discovering new ways to make better decisions, at their own pace and to benefit themselves.

The sheer volume, and crackling speed of the process–combined with consumers’ growing preference to work with businesses they know, like and trust—may seem to turn what was once the big new thing into a big stagnant swamp.

Into this confusion steps a local business owner who knows his or her prospects and customers first-hand. The business owner’s assistant is a seasoned professional marketer, with real communication skills and personal interest in the business owner’s success. Together they hand-deliver well designed and written marketing pieces to local residents, one at a time. Each message reflects the business owner’s unique message; and it’s rich with relevance, proof and value.

Consumers will choose between virtual mountains of monochrome online ads and personally appealing, locally produced content. Which do you think they’ll respond to more enthusiastically?

We Know

'So....Bored....' photo (c) 2010, Aidras - license:
Too many Americans think, “If I haven’t told you, you can’t know it.”

But chances are your visitors and prospects have heard it all before.

Don’t try to sell us something we don’t really want by telling us something we don’t believe, or that we already know.

Be original and fresh in your messages. Learn a few timeless principles and proven techniques, then write unique, thoughtful and compelling pieces that matter.

Be original and informative with your messages. Share topical and practical ideas, strategies and techniques.

Be original and engaging with your messages. Say things that nobody but you could say.

Don’t insult our intelligence. Share yours instead.

You are intelligent. And that’s one thing we didn’t know.

Your message, my craft . . . your success.