Archive | Writing Without Waffle

Oh no, not again…

Another day, yet another new networking group springs up in my local area, and I experience yet another networking nightmare.

This group facilitates up to 10% commission payments in return for referrals, in the hope that people who ‘give’ but don’t ‘gain’ will stay members after the first year. Fair enough. They meet fortnightly, in the evening, with a one-off £99 joining fee and £40 per month membership fee (so there’s no long-term tie-in), and a guarantee to refund any difference between money paid out and money earned.

So far, so good.

But the man sitting next to me introduced himself by saying: “Let’s swap cards.”

I asked: “Why?”

He put his card in front of me. I pushed it away slightly, and didn’t offer mine.

By then, other people had joined our table. He said: “Quick, business cards, let’s all pass them out like confetti!”

I said: “No thank you, my cards are precious. I only give them out for good reason.”

He heckled the speakers throughout the 1-minute speeches.

He pressed his knee against my thigh. I edged my chair away. He did it again. I moved again and glared at him. He apologised, but later, did it a third time.

I left early.

I think he’s planning to join the group. One thing I’m sure of – I won’t be!


7 ways to be a good writer

As well as knowing about spelling and grammar, a writer has to be many things. In this article, I share my top seven writerly attributes.

1. Psychic: To get inside the mind of the reader – to work out what message needs to be communicated, what channel will be most appropriate, and what tone of voice will achieve the desired response.

2. Clear-headed: To make sense of confusion and obfuscation.

3. An agony aunt (or uncle): To identify the problem and solution – to highlight the problem to be solved or goal to be achieved, and how the communication fulfils that need.

4. A story-teller: To structure the content with a beginning, a middle and an end – a beginning that attracts attention, a middle that contains all the information required and nothing more, and an end that prompts action.

5. A brutal pair of scissors: To cut, cut and cut again – leaving only the words necessary to communicate the message. And that’s all.

6. Back-to-front: Start from the end and work your way forwards. First, decide the objective; what action you want your readers to take. Is it to pick up the phone, visit the website, agree to funding or something else? Write everything with that end in mind.

a. For printed documents, write the body of the text, then write the heading and introduction.

b. For websites, you don’t know what order people will navigate the pages. Each page should stand alone. Still, it’s easier to write the content page(s) of the site before the home page.

c. For speeches, write the conclusion before the introduction. Why? Because, until you know what you are going to say, you can’t introduce it!

7. Patient: It takes longer to write something short than to write something long.

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking


Great slogans and rubbish slogans

When Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic played tennis at the O2 in November 2010, there was a pause while Novak had a contact lens attended to on court. Some wag in the crowd shouted: “Should’ve gone to Specsavers” — five words that have proved very effective for the company.

It’s harder to write something short than something long. So, in this article, I’ve analysed a range of slogans and suggest the reasons why they work (or don’t).

Positive emotions

People buy because of how you make them feel, not because of what you tell them. These examples all contain positive emotions:

– Terry’s Chocolate Orange: “Smash it to pieces. Love it to bits.”

– Recruitment agency: ‘Love Mondays.’ That’s just it. They don’t sell jobs. They sell happy Mondays.

– Head & Shoulders: ‘Making heads happier.’

Anthropomorphising is a commonly used technique (that is, giving human qualities to something).

NLP in slogans

In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) terms, people have a preference for Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic sensory inputs. That is to say, they like pictures, words or feelings.

– Canon: ‘Take more than pictures. Take stories.’ By combining a visual word ‘pictures‘ with an auditory word ‘stories‘, the slogan appeals to a wider audience.

– Lloyd Grossman sauces: ‘Sauces with a distinctive voice‘. It fits. And I like the fact that they have combined the sense of taste (a sauce) with the sense of hearing (voice).

Repetition in slogans

Repeat something three times, and maybe add a touch of innuendo. It sticks in the memory!

– Deep pan pizza: “Real deep. Real good. Real thing.”

– Martini: “Anytime, anyplace, anywhere.”

– Aldi: ‘Great food, great prices, pass it on‘. It has the benefit and a call to action. Like on Twitter, saying ‘Please Retweet‘ (or ‘Pls RT‘), it results in more people actually doing what you say.

Weasel words

You have to be careful about literal meaning:

– Anadin: “Nothing works faster.” So take nothing, because it works faster!

– ‘Renault build a better car’. Better than what?

Rubbish slogans?

And these examples don’t work for me at all!

– Dolland & Aitchison opticians: ‘We promise to treat you like a person, not a sausage.’ Assumes that other opticians treat people like a sausage factory while I’m not sure that they do, do they?

– Haulage van: ‘Customer driven.’ It’s clever, as it has meaning on more than one level. But it’s stupid, because the customer doesn’t drive the van. If it were on a self-drive vehicle, that would be a different story.

– Oasis Drinks: ‘Fruity drinks and lunchtime dreams.’ Just doesn’t make any sense!

What you want from your slogan

Magnum ice-cream: ‘World Pleasure Authority.’ This slogan was used with an on-pack promotion to give away £3m-worth of pre-paid Mastercards, so winners could buy whatever they like. That’s because Magnum don’t sell ice-cream, they sell pleasure. And what’s the usual response to pleasure? “Mmm, that’s nice.”

Similarly, I don’t sell marketing and copywriting services. I sell ‘Writing Without Waffle‘, to which the usual response is “Ooh, that’s useful“.

So what do you sell?

Is it something that people really, really want? Does it make them go “Mmm” and “Ooh“?

If not, perhaps you’d better change it!

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking


Lessons from last night’s Apprentice

Last night, the teams were tasked with producing a ‘freemium’ (free premium) magazine, and selling advertising in it.

Top tip from the experts at Shortlist Media at the beginning of the show: “Understand your readers and their needs.”

So, did they?

The focus group for the lads’ mag team asked them to raise the tone. They called it ‘Covered’ but included articles such as ‘How to blow your load’. They won, even though one advertising agency said it would alienate 80% of their client base.

The other team called their mag for over-60s, ‘Hip Replacement’, a name that’s sooooo bad, I can’t even find the words to explain why!

And how deliciously they squabbled in the boardroom!

Susan was the only team-member who spoke up against the name. She does seem to talk a lot of sense, but the others overrule her because she’s young. Jim called her a ‘mouse’, claimed her feedback was a ‘whisper in the night’, and said they were ‘all trying to shoot Bambi’.

Oh Jim. At one point, I thought you’d be the winner, but your Machiavellian tendencies are working against you. And I couldn’t believe your inflexibility about negotiating on the first rate card. I thought everybody knew you negotiate on the rate card! (Susan did.)

Although Jim tries to get agreement from everybody to deflect negative attention from himself, Lord Sugar called him a ‘control freak’ and Karren said he’s ‘passive aggressive’. Lord Sugar also said: “What I’ve forgotten about bullshit you ain’t even learnt yet.” It was the best line in the show.

Like Edna last week, who over-stressed her qualifications, Glen “I’m social secretary at a football club” was fired. Maybe because Jim and Susan make far better telly!

With goodies, baddies and bickering, The Apprentice is still a show that understands the TV audience and their needs. And, as business-owners, that’s what we all need to do for our clients.


World’s worst speech

Another day, another networking group launches.

Nice venue. Nice breakfast. But then the regional director stood up and said: “I’m now going to bore you all to death about [Name of organisation] for 10 minutes.”

Oh no! That’s called ‘setting expectations’. He said it twice, and our expectations were well and truly set.

He went on to say: “I’ll try not to muff it…I’m going to sit down because I’m old and decrepit and need to support the weight of my stomach after breakfast.”

Trying to convince us to join: “You don’t have to bounce up and down like some other groups I could mention…This is networking for grown-ups…I don’t like people who think they’re better than anyone else…I’m looking for people to run clubs for me, because I don’t want to do it.”

And later: “I’ll probably cause a mass exodus when I tell you the cost of joining.”

How keen do you suppose his audience was at this point?

When talking about the rules & regulations of membership, he held up a little leaflet, and said: “Most members don’t even bother to read it which is why it’s so small. If you ask our members what the rules and regulations are, they look at you blankly.”

As a membership perk, he proffered a green plastic “leather-look” folder, and warned us that the magnetic button drops off and that we should buy our own Araldite to fix it.

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Accelerate: where’s it going?

Review of Accelerate, ‘the magazine for ambitious business owners’ produced by NABO.

I picked up this magazine at a NABO Networking launch meeting last week. Their meetings have an interesting format: low entry point, no ‘lock-outs’, one2ones within the meeting, education slots etc. I approve! At a time when many traditional networking groups seem increasingly ‘tired’ (even those that now include peer-to-peer development), it will be interesting to see how NABO’s approach works out.

The whole publication is well-written and designed (although my copy has already fallen apart, possibly through over-use). Anyway, I picked out the key learning points that seem particularly useful:

Article about the growth of Stefan Boyle’s print company, Print Republic

“We were making the mistakes that other companies were making: we were talking about ourselves. We didn’t talk from a customer’s or prospect’s perspective.”

Article about training consultant, Frances Tolton

Jonathan Jay advised her to find out what customers actually want. She asked them: “If you had money to spend on training, what type of training would you spend it on?” She also went to her current clients and asked the simple question: “What else can we do for you?” He also advises: “Find the type of marketing you are best at and invest first in that.”

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Actual recording from a training session attributed to the Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM):

The missile knows where it is at all times. It knows this because it knows where it isn’t. By subtracting where it is from where it isn’t, or where it isn’t from where it is (whichever is greater), it obtains a difference, or deviation. The guidance subsystem uses deviations to generate corrective commands to drive the missile from a position where it is to a position where it isn’t, and arriving at a position where it wasn’t, it now is. Consequently, the position where it is, is now the position that it wasn’t, and it follows that the position that it was, is now the position that it isn’t.

In the event that the position that it is in is not the position that it wasn’t, the system has acquired a variation, the variation being the difference between where the missile is, and where it wasn’t. If variation is considered to be a significant factor, it too may be corrected by the GEA. However, the missile must also know where it was.

The missile guidance computer scenario works as follows. Because a variation has modified some of the information the missile has obtained, it is not sure just where it is. However, it is sure where it isn’t, within reason, and it knows where it was. It now subtracts where it should be from where it wasn’t, or vice-versa, and by differentiating this from the algebraic sum of where it shouldn’t be, and where it was, it is able to obtain the deviation and its variation, which is called error.


First words

I was interested to see this in Peter Roper’s blog:

  • First ever tweet Just setting up my twttr
  • First words spoken on YouTube Alright, so here we are in front of the elephants
  • First ever text message Merry Christmas
  • First mobile phone call Joel, this is Marty. I’m calling you from a cellphone, a real, handheld, portable cellphone
  • First telephone call Mr Watson, come here. I want to see you

Original source: BBC

One of my earliest memories is from when I was about four years’ old, sitting at a table outside the kitchen where my Mum was preparing a meal. I knew that you put letters together to make words, and was carefully writing three letters at a time on a piece of paper before running in to ask: “Is this a word? Is this a word?” Usually, she’d say No. Eventually, I wrote cat. My first word!


Notes on copywriting

You’ve heard that you have to turn features into benefits. That you should write from your customer’s point of view. That you ought to use the word ‘you’ more than you use the word ‘we’. So here’s an example of how it’s done:


Each apartment features a unique layout, designed with ease of living in mind. These luxury apartments offer ample space for everyday living.


If you are looking for great accommodation with a light and contemporary layout, designed with ease of living in mind, you’ll find we have an apartment to suit you.

If you want to check your own website, you can use the We We Test.