Boston, Sunday morning, October 21, 2018
Good morning, gorgeous.
How can we use our brand voice to let our customers recognize themselves in our marketing?
For that, we're going back in time to August 1964, to a rare (and hilarious) recording of President Lyndon B. Johnson ordering new pants from the Haggar clothing company. (Special thanks to Nick Westergaard for this gem!)
Warning: It's a little crass. But I checked your ID at the door, so I know you're mature enough to handle this.
Back already...? GREAT. Let's get to it.
We can learn two important things here.
First, from LBJ. Second, from
From LBJ, here's what we can learn about voice and writing:
- Paint a picture. LBJ doesn't describe the pants color he wants as "light brown." He uses analogy to paint a picture: "almost like a powder on a lady's face."
- Add one more sense. Stronger writing uses at least 2 sense. In
this case, LBJ uses touch and sight. We know what the pants look like. What do the pants feel like?
Well, they're a tad snug, he says. The crotch ("down where your nuts hang") is too tight: "It's just like riding a wire fence."
- Name the thing. LBJ asks Haggar to make bigger pockets because
why...? He gives specifics: "When you sit down, everything falls out, your money, your knife, everything."
Not: "The pockets are too small."
Instead: "Here's what I can't carry."
- HD color. LBJ doesn't say "pants." He says "slacks."
Hate the word slacks? Same.
But "slacks" is a hi-def, full-color word because it packs a lot into its thin, polyblend synthetic frame: It's the symbol of "casual menswear" of a past generation. (Side note to my fellow word nerds: Haggar claims to have invented the word slacks in 1938. That's not true. Its origins are military.
Bunghole. Also awesome. Also HD. The more specific the language, the stronger any voice.
And what about from the brand side? What can we learn from Haggar?
On the other end of the phone line is Joe Haggar Jr., son of company founder Joe Sr., an immigrant from Lebanon.
During the entire LBJ-Haggar colorful, hilarious call... Joe shuts up.
Joe Jr. literally says next to nothing, aside from an occasional murmur of affirmation.
On Twitter, someone asked me about how to approach a voice audit: how do you find those moments of brilliance in your marketing that could inspire a stronger brand voice overall...?
Maybe instead of auditing what you and your brand says... a better approach might be to audit what your customers say.
In Chicago a few weeks ago, I heard the brilliant Joanna Wiebe talk about the importance of using the problems and language of your customers to drive your email content: "I want to see myself reflected in your emails," Joanna said.
I think that's
true of our marketing writing generally: Are you using the language of your customers in your marketing? Are you talking less (and emailing, publishing, posting, tweeting...)—and instead slowing down to listen to what your customers say?
Did Joe Jr. shut up because he was talking to a President? I dunno. Maybe.
But what if we all acted like every customer interaction was a conversation with
What happens then?
* * *
Here are a few more ideas worth sharing this week...
Words Need Oxygen
Great writing is (of course) your defensive line against reader abandonment. But your words need oxygen and elbow room on a webpage, too. Kickpoint spells it out:
- 45 to 80 characters per line (varies by font)
- 18px to 26px font size (smaller for mobile.)
- line height of 1.5 times the font size
Waiting to Email
The rhetoric around email's renaissance moment is not exactly true:
It's not email that's having a renaissance... it's marketers who are rediscovering email's value.
Email never really went anywhere. It's like Chanel. Or the little black dress. Or that guy you dated in high school who you saw pumping gas at your hometown gas station. (He's. STILL. THERE?)
Dude. OMG. Yes.
where you and I are right now is an inherently personal place.
Yet so many of us marketers focus on the news in newsletter (what we want to say): We mistreat it as a *distribution* strategy.
Instead, we should focus more on the letter: Write to one person. Deliver value to that one person.
But look, I get it. Email is rough, even when you write your face off.
is a ridiculous challenge.
So that's why this guide from SendX is eye-opening.
It gives you a no-stone-unturned view of the factors that determine whether your email lands in someone's inbox or not. You will have a much better understanding of how to fix the problems outlined in the guide, and what best practices to incorporate for email marketing in general. In other words, I've been publishing email newsletters
since 1999, and I learned a few things. I hope you do, too
Seven Research Tools
I like this whirlwind tour of seven tools for content creation research. The awesome Chris Penn talks about a few of my favorites, incuding BuzzSumo and Answer the Public.
I've been circling around Agorapulse for a while, and here Chris convinces me to check it out. I like the way it allows you to easily hoard questions asked on social media to develop content around later. The way Chris uses it on LinkedIn, for example...?
GENE. YUS. See the full toolkit
My favorite content marketing program this week comes from sofa manufacturer Burrow, who produced "the world's first sit-tracker,"
called the Couch Potato (duh!).
"There's a million apps out there that can tell you just how much time you spend working out. But there's only one that can tell you how much time you don't." The app rewards your inactivity with coupons because marketing knows what's up
✅ Instagram says 45% of the most-viewed stories on its platform are from businesses.
(Could that maybe be because Instagram aggressively shoves story ads between my friends' stories..?) Anyway, they opened the adorably named Instagram Story School to
coach companies there
✅ Was your Facebook account compromised
in the latest data breach? "Latest." Ugh
Right now I'm starting to think about writing my next book. (Does that sound noncommittal? It's not. I'm just not entirely committed yet. El. Oh. El.)
Anyway, I'm midway through The Fred Factor
by Mark Sanborn. Fred is a postman. The book is a business allegory about the power of going the extra mile (literally, figuratively) to deliver extraordinary customer experiences. 💌
Andrew Davis recommended Fred to me. Do you have a suggestion for me, too? Tell me what's inspired your writing. (No fancy form to fill out. Just respond to this email. I get all your responses personally and I read
ONE MORE THING
Tears for Sears
Lots of talk this week about Sears going bankrupt after 132 years in business—a casualty of capitalism 💸 or poor business decisions 😒 or misguided leadership 👇 or
Amazon 💻 or all of that.
But there's another, more important angle to the Sears story: Cornell University history professor Louis Hyman posted a Twitter thread about the democratizing power of the Sears Catalog for black Americans in the late 19th century, most of whom lived in rural areas and suffered discrimination from white shopkeepers. Some shopkeepers inflated prices, denied credit, or made black customers wait behind white customers, says Open
Culture. Read Louis Hyman's Twitter thread here
(That^^ is an actual page from the toy section of the Sears holiday catalog, mid-1970s. The Peanuts masks in the lower right are the stuff of horror. Click to see them larger. Or just see them in your nightmares.)