Mailshot Munch

I received a mailshot from Volvo, presumably a throwback to a time when we were looking at cars. When I unsubscribed I saw the following message:

I don’t want to receive any email communication from Volvo anymore

This is so poor. Use of “don’t” feels inappropriate, the sentence is clunky, and the two entries of “any” really grate.

Far better would be the succinct and punchy:

I no longer wish to receive email communication from Volvo.

Then in the main body of the mail:

After travelling the world for 12 years, Cologne-born entrepreneur Gundula Cöllen returned to Germany to reconnect with her homeland. We met her to find out how the intuitive features of the XC90 help her make the most of everyday.

The first sentence is fine, the second is awful, clumsy, and use of “everyday” is incorrect (everyday low prices, low prices every day – see?). This paragraph would read much better as:

After travelling the world for 12 years, Cologne-born entrepreneur Gundula Cöllen returned to Germany to reconnect with her homeland. We met Gundula to discover how the XC90’s intuitive features help her make the most of every day.

And further down:

Want to add something extra to your car’s appearance? That’s where exterior styling comes into play. Our designers have reflected the elegant design language of the Volvo S90 and V90 to truly bring out the cars’ unique characteristics.

Again, the first sentence is fine, the second is at best nonsense. Our designers have reflected the elegant design language… Have they? Reflected in what? Where? Furthermore, look up the definition of “language” and appreciate why “design language” is a ridiculous phrase. Unless you’re actually discussing design terminology. Which isn’t the case here.

I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve got the point. Dear Volvo (or anyone else for that matter) consider employing a professional writer to produce this sort of thing. It’s important. You dig?

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Note: this article was originally called Mailshot Massacre, but has been changed due to recent events in London.

Digital Content Strategies – Empathy and Storytelling

This is a follow-up to my previous post regarding the importance of quality, and that SEO is not necessarily the sole contributor to attracting visitors to your site, and particularly retaining them. A key strategy is to stimulate a positive reaction through entertaining, engaging front-end material which encourages custom, revisits and personal recommendations.

Informing, entertaining and converting potential customers in a commercial context is a big ask. And with a deluge of alternative content and FacebookWhatsAppTwitter noise, engaging your readers quickly is challenging.

Hooks. Empathy. Storytelling. These are the tools you’ll need.

While there are well-documented guidelines regarding SEO, the implementation of which can be something of a mechanical process, what represents entertainment is subjective. Material that floats one person’s boat could sink another. Professionals in the entertainment industry command high salaries because after a hard day at the office a box set binge or video game are just rewards for the graft and stress of the workplace. They are also increasingly important given the growth of “cocooning”: with difficult economic conditions, high levels of terrorist threat and so much good TV, why not just stay in, snuggle and munch?

There’s also a lot of force language use in marketing: it’s a push, there’s a target, persuasion and coercion. A gentler approach may well prove more effective given potential customers’ increasingly tech-savvy and marketing-aware nature. This is not limited to younger demographics: older people represent a growing and increasingly important segment given the ageing populations in evidence throughout the world.

To reach visitors at an emotional level a storytelling element in your front-end content is essential. This doesn’t mean you’ll open with once upon a time – the key is to demonstrate empathy with potential customers’ lifestyles and requirements. You can offer solutions because you understand their needs, conveying your marketing message between the lines – the greatest challenge for any writer. The most important attributes required to produce such content are consideration, time and thought – elements so many marketers are unable to utilise, instead adopting a high-pace scattergun approach,  because if you throw enough mud some of it will stick, right? Well, maybe. If you’re lucky. And if mud’s your thing.


For consultancy on digital content strategy, writing or editing, please get in touch, or you can tweet me to say hi.

See below for the decisions used in the writing of the above article.
Read the previous article here: Digital Content strategies: the importance of quality.

The techniques in the text

  1. I had trouble with the first paragraph as there was a lot of information to convey, I needed to mention the previous post, to summarise that post in a formal tone, and wanted a reference to SEO. I opted for “attracting” visitors rather than the more immediately obvious “securing” or “acquiring”, as these two words imply ownership, imprisonment and possession, whereas “attracting” indicates a pleasurable experience and positive choice.
  2. I wasn’t happy with the weight of the first paragraph and the length of the sentences, even though the text did work. I therefore opted to split the first paragraph into two: the message was the same but the feel was lighter. The second paragraph highlights problems and indicates solutions to follow. I later split the final sentence of the second paragraph for emphasis, and merged the following two paragraphs because they flow naturally, and the greater weight builds strength. I’m not keen on the phrase “big ask” – it’s right up there with “my bad” – but it works in this context and conveys the thought in a concise and familiar way.
  3. The three single-word sentences are used to emphasise their importance and to isolate these concepts. The word “storytelling” is italicised to convey three things: a gentle suggestion that storytelling may not be something you’ve considered as relevant to content marketing; the word’s importance; my enthusiasm for it. I might not choose to open with “hooks”, which has quite aggressive connotations, but these words flow well in this order, and boost the importance of “storytelling”.
  4. In the fifth paragraph I chose “influenced” over the more immediately obvious “dictated”, due to the negative connotations of the latter. You probably don’t want to think of Hitler, for example. Similarly, I opted for “the people you’re trying to reach” over a more standard alternative such as “your target market”: again, the latter is perfectly acceptable marketing language, but reaching out is a softer, friendlier concept that implies a helping hand rather than the aiming of a weapon. You’re not intending to shoot your customers, right? Right. I’d also actively avoid “acceptable marketing language” as much as possible – it’s acceptable because it’s used everywhere, by everyone: blah de blah de blah, read it before, same old same old. You want to stand out? Be different.
  5. I like “stay in, snuggle and munch” a lot. It conveys the essence of a justifiably self-indulgent evening under a blanket with someone you love in a few simple words. Dopamine, anyone? “Stay in, snuggle and snack” would give a triple ’s’ sound, but snack just doesn’t come across as cosily as munch, which implies sharing, crumbs and crisps.
  6. When using “box set binge” I was tempted to mention Netflix – “a Netflix box set binge” has a pleasant flow and there’s a double ‘x’, but the simpler “box set binge” packs more punch; indeed, the double ’s’ sound merges “box set” into what is effectively a single word, thereby making the double ‘b’ more effective.

You get the picture.
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Digital Content Strategies – the importance of quality

Search engine optimisation of your content is the answer to everything. If you can nail the SEO you’ll be at the top of the rankings and success will follow.

Well, kinda. Effective SEO is only half the story.

The real key to success is customer retention. To achieve this articles need to engage readers emotionally. With increasingly busy lifestyles people are no longer prepared to spend time reading material that does not entertain on some level, or which fails to convey a positive message.

Whatever text you produce, you’re always writing about people. Efforts to sell your products or services will always be more successful if visitors to your website sense attachment. Copy with entertainment value will trigger the release of dopamine, generating a pleasurable response and thus increasing the likelihood of buying, returning, and perhaps most importantly of all – sharing: whatever marketing and promotional strategies you employ, word-of-mouth recommendations between friends will always be a fundamental generator of new business.

New business and customer retention. Is there anything more important?

There are clear added value benefits in commissioning quality material for your website, thoughtfully produced by someone with experience and skill. Still not sure you need a specialist? For insight into the decisions and techniques utilised to write this post, read on, MacDuff!

The techniques in the text

  1. The first paragraph mentions “SEO” and “content” – these two words are probably why you’re here, and you agree with the statements made. I’m speaking your language. These are also two fairly pacy, jaunty sentences. I deliberately wrote “search engine optimisation” in full for this very reason. The word “nail” was chosen for its punch – when reading this you’ll probably visualise a nail, the strength and purpose of which underlines the importance of this paragraph.
  2. The second, very short paragraph doesn’t disagree with the one preceding it, and also tells you you’re correct – a positive assertion that strokes your ego slightly, releasing dopamine, and gains your trust. The second sentence primes you for the fact that, well, you’re not entirely correct. The informal tone is also a contrast to that of the first paragraph, holding your attention.
  3. Also in the second paragraph the word “story” is a deliberate choice. The natural (obvious) phrase here would be “half the battle”, but “battle” has immediate negative connotations which would establish a barrier. “Story”, by contrast, indicates a pleasurable experience to follow – entertainment, anyone?
  4. Similarly, at the end of the third paragraph I chose “fails to convey a positive message” over “conveys a negative message”, even though the latter is slightly more concise. This was in order to end on an upwards mood. Note the increase in pace here, too. Earlier in the paragraph I could also have chosen “waste time”, but opted for the more positive “spend time”.
  5. The appearance of the piece is balanced, making the text visually appealing. The shorter paragraphs indicate that it is easy to read and digest, while the heavier blocks communicate and support particularly important points. Finally, the post ends on a lighter note, and encourages you to read further (still here?). It culminates with the paraphrase of a Shakespearean misquote. This will engender a positive response from anyone familiar with MacBeth, and the use of an exclamation mark is in any case uplifting. Win-win! Entertainment, anyone?

Similar decisions were made in the writing of these notes. For example, the subheading The techniques in the text was chose for its flow, and the double teck sound. The first draft was produced longhand.


For consultancy on digital content strategy, writing or editing, please get in touch, or you can tweet me to say hi.

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Scrivener tip – compare & roll back snapshots (Mac)

A particularly useful feature in Scrivener is the snapshots function. Before making changes to a document press CMD-5 and – you guessed it – the program will take a snapshot of that file, making an appropriate camera shutter sound in the process. If desired you can name your snapshots to remind you why they were taken: pre cut character X for example.

When you’ve made some changes you can click the Compare button to, um, compare your existing text with that in the previous version. If you decide you don’t like what you’ve done – maybe you want to keep character X after all – simply click Roll Back to undo all the changes you’ve made.

I use the snapshots function a lot, and while I rarely perform a full roll back, it’s handy to have the option available as a safety net. Also useful is the ability to copy selections of text from the snapshot pane to replace into the current document without having to revert completely.

Click here for more Scrivener tips.


For consultancy on digital content strategy, writing or editing, please get in touch, or you can tweet me to say hi.

Scrivener tip (Mac) – switching text modes

If you’re in scriptwriting mode in Scrivener and want to add some text that isn’t part of the script – perhaps some notes or thoughts about the direction the story could take – you might want to switch from scriptwriting to standard mode, so that whatever you type isn’t formatted as dialogue or technical directions, for example.

To do this simply press CMD-8 to toggle between the two. Scrivener will tell you which mode you’re switching to, and change the colour of the document’s Binder icon: in scriptwriting mode it’s yellow, in standard mode it’s white.

Click here for more Scrivener tips.


For consultancy on digital content strategy, writing or editing, please get in touch, or you can tweet me to say hi.