Category Archives: Copy Writing

Horse & Cart at WordCamp Mtl 2014

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Over the weekend, Horse & Cart attended the 2014 edition of WordCamp Montreal. For those unfamiliar with the conference, WordCamp is a weekend that brings together developers, designers, and writers, unified under the point of commonality that is WordPress. The conference is an event for talks, workshops, and networking to better one’s understanding on how to navigate and leverage WordPress and WordPress-related tools to sharpen your skills. The weekend was packed full of informative presentations and panels from industry leaders, assuring something for everyone.

Our very own digibomb was asked to speak on a panel that tackled making money with WordPress. He served as the agency voice among mostly freelance workers and answered transparently about the realities of determining price points, client relations, and WordPress strategy. The panel went notably well, giving way to a slew of audience questions and subsequent discussion. Defining the value of one’s work was arguably the largest takeaway, working either as a lone developer or agency. Everyone speaking did a strong job communicating their experiences in the workplace. Judging by the questions that followed digi out the door, it was clearly a burning topic. Two attendees with further questions for digi told us post-discussion that “the panel was pretty insightful” with one saying there was “more taken away from this panel than any other ones that I’ve been at today”. This was concluded with the conception of the newest digi-inspired hashtag, #lovethebeard.

There were also strong presentations on writing, and more specifically blogging. Liesl Barrell and Dan Levy of Unbounce allied together to break down and explain the various elements of effective writing, pitching, and promotion, using an impressive amount of “P” alliterations. As someone who always appreciates feedback, their advice was a strong motivator to continue pushing for personality in writing; Rules are meant to be broken (within reason), wordplay is an appreciated garnish, and red ink is your frenemy. One massive wakeup call was how trying to get into the perfect “writing zone” is by and large just another stalling tactic to keep you from hammering out your work. The talk was refreshing, especially given that both speakers were coming from complimentary positions as writers and editors.

All in all, the weekend was a smooth success. Everyone from the Horse & Cart team who attended took useful tips away that we all plan on incorporating into our practice. For those interested in learning more about WordCamp Montreal, you can check our their website here. We also managed to sneak a couple cool pictures, so please feel free to check out the others at our instagram for more of that fun. As always, if you have questions about marketing, agency life, or our operation here at Horse & Cart, drop us an email or come stop by the office for some coffee and a chat!

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Fun Friday Post: The most funniest examples of poor spelling and grammer

Proper spelling and grammar are unfortunately suffering skill sets. In most fields of work and study, fundamental to communicating your idea is being able to do so in legible, error-free English. This is especially true in the world of business marketing where bludgeoned websites, advertisements, labels, and even company names can leave your brand looking… in need of revision. Few things compare to the disaster of a confident company message lost entirely due to a blinding spelling error mid-text. We live in a time of short messages and shorter attention spans, and when many are faced with presenting their thoughts in written form, fewer and fewer are able to do so without fault. Bless spellcheck, but it is not and should never be a writer’s sole crutch. If it is, well, it will probably spell disaster later on (sorry). Here is a list of some of the more notable instances of corporate error.

1. Lands’ End

lands-end-young-jerks-1As the story goes, the misplaced apostrophe was an oversight when incorporating the company name. Now, the clothing brand has no choice but to stick out their chests and own it. Even if most people don’t pick up on the error, I can imagine the writer being tormented to the day having that silly mistake looking back at them, time and time again. source

2. Tesco Orange Juice

juiceAs recently as this year, Tesco was publicly called out by a grade school teen for using a double superlative–a big faux-pas. If you haven’t picked up on it already, I eloquently threw one into the title of this blogpost for effect. It’s a simple rule, nothing can be greater than the greatest, better than the best, or tastier than the tastiest. That is why “most tastiest” is a redundant overkill. source

3. Reebok’s Quick-Thinking
reebok-typo-500x375This one’s too good… This New York targeted subway ad was exploiting the “New York minute” expression, suggesting people take their time. In the same breath, they misspelled, “everything”. You just want to hold a mirror up to their own advice. Unless the error was somehow attempting to mimic the local dialect, I’m not buying it. Ah, the irony sustains me! source

 

4. Rachel Ray and Her Long-Lost Friend, the Comma.

rachelray01This example isn’t new, but it does serve as a classic example to show the importance of a comma. Commas are your friend. One tiny line at the foot of a word can change the entire meaning of a sentence. In this instance, the addition of a few commas would have saved the lives of Rachel Ray’s family and dog. Now, they are little more than another meal in Mrs. Ray’s kitchen. Rachel, you monster! source

Also see: “Let’s eat, Grandma!” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma!”

 

 

5. The unintentionally crass.

lbj_poster Take a second to read the bottom line of this commencement ceremony poster. The horror! This is a traumatic mistake that someone, I promise, has lost sleep over. Let this example serve as a warning for anyone writing copy for, or pitching to any person or institution who works with the public, or publics. Forgetting that one letter dramatically changed the orientation of this school. source

 

 

 

 

Moral of the story, put your pride aside and get a friend, coworker, or professional editor to examine your work. It’s not a sign of weakness or lack of ability to reach out for a second opinion. Don’t fall victim to poor communication!

*title errors are intentional 😉

Overextending Your Reach as an Intern

A rough sketch of how I make my breakfast each morning

Speaking strictly from experience; my own and that of friends, I think that it’s all too easy for a student to fall into the trap of over-extending themselves during their academic career. Too often, we’re eager to jump out of the classroom and get our hands dirty with some actual work that doesn’t involve memorizing formulas and concepts. And the work is great too; assuming that you’re studying something you’re actually interested in, getting your hands dirty is a great experience. But all too often, young and inexperienced interns will take on more and more (and more) work until they either extend themselves beyond the scope of their skills, or simply to a point of it not being fun anymore. And while getting into the work game young is a good thing, extinguishing your interest in marketing at 21 does more harm than good.

The idea of working alongside highly-experienced, talented coworkers is glamorous; you’re contributing valuable work to people whose work is recognized and lauded by clients and peers alike. Even working alongside other students who seemingly do great things themselves is cool. A whole new perspective on people opens itself up when you see someone’s achievements in their field as more than a score on an exam or a presentation.

Accurate depiction of a “real workplace” after leaving the classroom

Which brings me to my point about over-extending yourself. Starting out, it’s easy to take on every opportunity to work that’s presented to you. The flexibility of an internship means that your work-plate is highly variable and your assignments differ on a daily basis. But the reality is that inexperience means that the work proposed to you might not be work that you’re currently fit to do. Or it might be a case of you thinking you know what’s up, when in reality you’re a mile and a half off the mark. And while dabbling in new areas creates valuable learning experiences, there are only so many learning experiences that you can take on at the same time. At this stage in your work career, it’s important to learn, but it’s also important to refine the areas of your skill set that are already at least semi-developed. For me, I’m all about writing. Through school and a couple journalism gigs I’ve done over the last couple years, I’ve developed a decent eye for copywriting; taking someone else’s words and making them look nicer.

This is something I was not told beforehand.

My first couple assignments were straightforward: editing a couple of blog posts, giving my opinion on projects that were just about done, writing some lifestyle pieces and a couple other things that more or less fit under the scope of what I’m able to do. Soon, I got to doing a few things I’ve never done before. I got into SEO, collaborating on marketing plans, finding sponsors which in their own ways were all rewarding experiences, but looking back I could’ve done things differently. When you take on a task you don’t know much about, you learn. When you take on 5 different tasks in two days, each demanding a skill you might not necessarily possess, you can’t devote your entire effort to learning and perfecting each task. You put yourself at risk of dropping projects, passing them on to someone else or tactfully “forgetting” about them. And I’ve been guilty of this, as have been a few intern friends of mine. We all want to be indispensable, but at one point, extending yourself to far beyond your skill set makes prevents you from performing, and might even make you a liability to the task at hand.

To put it into hockey terms, we all want to be Sidney Crosbys and jump out of the gate, full guns blazing into immediate success. We’re talking about a guy who put the team on his back at the age most of us are graduating high school. The truth is, most of us are more like Carey Price; start off small, learn the game from the vets, and then be a key component to the winning formula only after you’ve spent a couple seasons in the trench grinding out the necessary experience. No one expected Carey to lead his team to the cup as a rookie, or even a second year player. Fast forward a couple years, and he’s earned his stripes as one of the best players in the game.

For me personally, it was only when I started focusing on a couple bigger tasks that I’m comfortable with while still adding some new stuff here and there that I really felt like I was working into a groove. Writing isn’t what I want to do with my (future) career (I hope), but it’s a start, and a pretty solid foundation to start exploring other aspects of working on the agency side of things.

So to wrap things up, your first experience should be all about figuring out what you like, what you’re good at and how you can improve the stuff in the areas you want to. Take your work seriously, but chill the hell out and have some fun.

Exactly how one should feel after their work day.

Your Website Narrative Isn’t About You

you're so vainThis might come as a shock, but your website isn’t about you or your product. If you want engagement and conversions, it’s gotta be about, you guessed it, your customer. Everything from design to copy to UX, your website imperatively must be customer-centric. Why? Because coercing what you believe to be the best benefits and features about your product or service onto your visitors’ brief visit to your website won’t cut it.  Unless you are a major player like Apple and customers seek you out, not the other way around.

At Brendan & Brendan, we don’t write web copy, we write what we call website narratives because that is what a website is really, a story. A story that consumers want to read because it:

a. makes them happy, cool or smart, or
b. solves a problem they have.

So how do you tell your customer-centric story? First and foremost, get out of your product and revenue mindset and start thinking and feeling like your customer. The best business owners are the ones who actually need their own product. But even so, we are all individuals who research and process information in different ways. Five customers might give you five different reasons for using your product. The trick is to get a consensus that appeals to the scalable customer. As a business owner or marketing manager you also have to like your customer. And by like, I mean empathize with their problems and understand their lifestyles down to the smallest detail.

writing-rightingSo forget about what will make a sale and think about what will help your customer solve his or her problem. Then make your website easy and fun to understand in digestible pieces of content. And finally of course, make it apparent and easy to purchase, download, sign up or whatever it is your objective is.

Not to give away the secret sauce, but here is how we craft a website narrative (most of the time):

Value Proposition

What is your biggest single unique value proposition? As my Concordia University professor, Mark Haber (you hard ass!) used to say, find the “So What?”. Keep asking yourself ‘so what?’, until you get to the real value that you offer. Say for example, you offer a project management software, so what? Well, it helps you manage your files and collaborate with your team. So what? Ok, well it will increase your productivity. Ok, but so does every other PM tool out there, so what? Ours is the easiest to use and all our customers say there is almost no learning curve saving them time and frustration. Now we’re talkin! Put that up front and center on your website. A great example of value proposition is Canadian Hemp Guitars (yes, that’s a client plug).

Proof

Show me proof. In the flow of the narrative, once I know what value you can bring to my life, I need to know that it will. Testimonials and case studies do the trick. Heck, if I see that others are benefiting from this value, then so can I. A tip when collecting testimonials from your customers: ask them to address different and specific benefits and to be explicit about the gains they received. This way not all your testimonials sound the same and they all portray success.

Interactivity

Typically this would be the ‘How It Works’ part of the story. But I like to look at it as how will your customers interact with your product or service? Again, think about it from their perspective. Before making any purchases, a potential customer needs to see what the product looks like and decide for themselves if they can use it successfully. Whether your product is a toaster or an app, this where you get into the details.

Couple the the ‘How It Works’ with the product features to demonstrate the benefits of the features in action. Camayak does a great job of this. If you have a ton of features, the last thing a visitor wants to do is sift through a list of endless features. In this case, it’s best to compartmentalize features into digestible chunks of content either by benefit or functionality. See how m3p does it (yes, another client plug!).

Price

Finally, now that the visitor is hooked on the value proposition, trusts it, and knows they can use the product successfully, they need to know;

1. How much it will cost them and which package (if any) best suits their needs, and
2. That the onboarding process is simple.

Packaging pricing is tricky, especially when there are combination paying models, such as pay as you go, pre-packaged, custom, etc. Try to keep all the pricing in the same vertical panel so no scrolling is required. And be sure to include a toll-free number nearby so leads can call you if they need help.

Your Story

Don’t forget to include your story. But where and when it is appropriate? After you’ve sold the visitor on your product, it’s time to sell them on your brand and culture. Your story is about why are you doing what you do. It could include a story about the inception of the company, but again only and only if it is interesting for the customer to know and/or read. If you have a look at the Brendan & Brendan story, the copy is witty, the story itself is fun and the design inspires scrolling to keep the engagement high.

Maybe it seems backwards to tell people about yourself last, but think about the customer – they don’t care who you are until they like what you do. And once they like what you do, they’ll want to know more about the brand and what it represents. Not the other way around. So prove to your customers that you’re worth knowing about!

Starting a startup is the new writing a novel

Have you got a startup on the side and you think you’re disrupting whole industries? Think that you’re unique? I’m here to say you’re not. Let’s face some hard truths together, I’ll hold your hand through it.

Starting a startup is the new writing a novel.

Writer Once, twenty-somethings, usually men, felt they had enough life experience and good ideas to fill pages, inspire a generation, and write the next great American novel while selling millions of copies. Now, they quit school, learn to code and think they have the ideas that will retain millions of users and sell for billions of dollars.

But how can this be? Anyone can write a novel, right? Well now anyone can also start their own startup. With advances in tech and the democratization of the internet, owning a computer, a smartphone and/or a tablet has become commonplace within the same demographics that yearned to pen the so-called “unique” stories that lived within their souls. The same demographics who would have once been prime candidates for pulling out their hair while staring at a blank page are now pulling out their hair learning to code instead.

bug-featureThink about it: aside from coding (which isn’t always necessary anymore – there are plenty of non-technical founders), writing a novel and starting a startup are almost one and the same. They require tenacity, determination, and a beautiful cross between self-delusion and self-confidence that the founder will be part of the minute percentage that makes it. It also requires a lot of self-motivation, selling to get the novel/startup off the ground, and both types to get involved in these types of projects are usually quite clever and intelligent.

Often, a novel or a startup begins on the side while trying to turn becoming an author or becoming an entrepreneur into a full-time gig. Both types commonly require large cash advances and require large amounts of time, energy and concentration to make it. They also require a huge amount of focus, sophistication and expertise – more than most people posses or expect. Both dream of being able to quit their day jobs to pursue their dreams full-time (oh wait – who doesn’t?).

And the failure rates are quite similar too, most people fail in both cases – most writers never finish writing their first manuscript, and if they do, the majority won’t get book deals, while approximately 90% of startups fail within the first year.

So if young people writing semi-autobiographical novels is considered frivolous navel-gazing, how would you categorize the current slew of cute, cool startups? Because let’s face it, the vast majority of startups aren’t changing the world.

SEO, Keyword Narrative, and Your Content Strategy

Content is king, blah, blah, blah. Great content drives SEO, blah, blah, blah. We’ve all heard all the cliches before. But just like there’s a huge difference between building websites for search engines and building websites for users (i.e. human beings), there’s a difference between writing for search engines and writing for users.

panda-penguin-300x227Well, not exactly, anymore You see, over the last couple years, Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have been shaking up what it takes to rank. To oversimplify it, while Panda has gotten really good at judging the quality of content, Penguin has gotten a lot better at figuring out the popularity of that content. And one of the ways they both do this is by evaluating content’s social imprint.

The point is that writing for search engines now means writing for actual human beings (or at least a lot more than it ever has). The problem when you do that, of course, is you end up with popular (or even viral) content that is not at all related to the terms you’re trying to rank on. So while you’re attracting tons of social signals and backlinks (which are all good for SEO), they’re boosting your rankings for terms that have nothing to do with your products or services.

The result: you end up with a lost of trust from the search and popularity among users, but not enough relevance to actually rank competitively on terms that will help you drive conversions.

The 3 Facets of SEO (in a nutshell)

stooges3If you’re willing to allow for some more oversimplification (for simplicity’s sake, of course), there are basically 3 fundamentals components of SEO:

  1. Indexation: this has to do with whether search engines can access all the pages on your site, and how they go about it — you know, the technical stuff.
  2. Relevance: this has to do with what keywords search engines associate with your site, and how those associations are reinforced.
  3. Popularity: and this is all about how many backlinks and social signals are being generated around your content.

The first two of these are usually pretty easy to tackle, and are the very first and second steps to a solid SEO strategy. The real trick is developing (targeted) keyword relevant targeted that can actually gain the popularity it needs to help you rank.

The Challenge (with Keyword Research)

Normally, once you’re sure that your site architecture lets Google (and those other guys) find and index all your pages, you start working on making those pages as relevant as possible for the most targeted keywords — i.e. those that users are actually using to look for your products and services. You start that process, moreover, by doing some keyword research.

matrix (1)

The thing with keyword research is that (when it’s properly done) it’ll give you insight into how users are searching for your products and services, and it’ll help you optimize your product (and category) pages, but it’s not always useful for developing popular content because content that’s been developed specifically keyword density usually reads like it was written for search engine and not a human being — and human beings don’t share (or link to) that kind of content.

The Solution: Keyword Narrative

freudProperly done keyword research, however, can give you insight beyond just how users are searching for your products. It can also give insight into the kinds of users interested in your products. In other words, it can give you insight into their personalities and their psychographics.

Basically, people search for the same things in different ways because they are different kinds of people with different goals and priorities. Each group of these people can also be understood as different customer profiles. And each of those profiles can be targeted through good content which will, in turn, boost your rankings on the targeted keywords that are relevant to each of those customer profiles.

Step 1: Audit Your Keyword Research

So the first step is to conduct a keyword research across all your product/service verticals. So if you’re a show retailer, this might include men’s sneakers, women’s sneakers, high heels, open toes, etc.

Step 2: Segment Your Keyword Verticals

apple-to-orange

Now that you have all the keyword data for each keyword vertical, you’ll need to choose 5-10 top priority keywords based on a mix of:

  • Search Volume – the more a keyword is searched for, the more traffic it can bring
  • Competition – the more competitive a keyword is, the harder it’ll be to rank for, but there’s probably a good reason why everyone wants to rank on it
  • Avg. CPC – and the more people are bidding on that keyword on their paid search campaigns, chances are the higher quality traffic it delivers

Once you’ve done this, you’ll probably notice that there are keyword combinations with very different mindsets behind them — e.g. “cheap sneakers” indicates a discount shoppers, while “best sneakers” indicates shoppers looking for high performance products. So start breaking up your targeted keyword groups into psychographic profiles.

Step 3: Develop Content Based on Data

Now that you have each of your targeted keywords segmented into profiles in each keyword verticals, you can determine how what proportion of your potential search traffic each customer profile represents. For example, you might determine the following:

  • Discount shoppers represent 40% of your potential search volume
  • Brand conscious shoppers 30%
  • and Performance conscious shoppers 30%

From here, you can determine that 40% of your content should target discount shoppers, while 30% of your content should target brand and performance conscious shoppers respectively. Now you can go forward and distribute your content resources accordingly, creating content that’ll appeal to each of you target customer profiles.

Let the Data Guide Your Creativity

crazy onesThere’s this perceived tension in the marketing world between creatives and quants. The stereotype goes that creatives see the quants as bean counters who don’t know how to connect to people, and the quants see the creatives as artsy-fartsy types who just clamor for any kind of attention they can get.

Whether or not this is the case with your team, it doesn’t have to be. The beautiful thing about the split between quants and creatives is that they each represent different sides to the same coin — the conversion coin.

What should be happening is that quants should be providing the insight and inspiration that creatives use to get jiggy with it, and SEO is no different. Your SEO should be aggregating and segmenting the data that your content team can use to develop that killer kind of content that’s supposed to be king. Doing this will not only help you develop more engaging content, but content that can support your efforts to rank on targeted keywords that can actually drive sales.

Adding a Personal Touch to Home Selling in Boulder – Spaces Real Estate

spaces

Selling your home does not need to be a daunting or gruelling task. Ken and Allison of Spaces Real Estate in Boulder, Colorado make the process of selling your home more fun and with a few small touches they can increase the value of your home by up to 15%.

When Ken and Allison approached us to help them build a landing page to send a message to home owners in Boulder that selling could be fun, easy, and profitable we jumped at the opportunity to create a simple online destination to help promote their unique value proposition.

The objective:

When we first spoke with Ken over the phone he had a very clear mandate to “not build just another real estate website” but to attempt a different approach with a landing page that would educate potential home buyers in Boulder, Colorado on the benefits of selling and how Ken and Allison take a very different approach as non-traditional real estate agents.

Sounds simple. Well, not really. We spent quite a bit of time learning the ins and outs of the real estate market in Boulder, how Ken and Allison work, and most importantly how to educate the home buyer and not just pitch them on a service. Herein lay the challenge.

The challenge:

The real challenge was crafting the Ken and Allison story through means of educating the potential home seller. The concept was to create a very simple yet elegant landing page with easy to read information about Ken and Allison’s home selling process.

Ken and Allison’s approach is unique. They aim to become experts in helping people understand what is involved in selling your home and the right way to do it. The key here was not just creating your typical landing page with a fill-in-a-form CTA. The goal is to get a phone call or personal email – it’s just how they roll 🙂

Technology:

spaces-mobileWe developed the site using ZURB’s lightweight Foundation framework. Thinking mobile first, we ensured that the site is fully responsive for the ultimate experience on any device or screen.

Check it out and tell us what you think!