Hi, sweet petunia.
Warren Buffett published his much-celebrated annual Letter to Shareholders yesterday. I noticed it was out while I was on a flight home from LA, just as JetBlue and I were 30,000 feet over Nebraska.
By the time I landed in Boston, analysts and commentators and journalists were all over it.
Here's a hilarious thing: Yahoo can't seem to get its email client right. But even before the letter's official release, Yahoo had produced a video highlight reel with Warren's letter's best quotes. And by "hilarious" I mean funny-eyeroll. Not funny-ha-ha.
Let that sink in for a minute: A letter gets its own trailer. Yes, the letter is written by the world's most famous investor. But still.
Warren doesn't care about any of them, though. Not the New York Times or MarketWatch or Yahoo's letter-trailer.
He writes his annual letter as if writing to one person: His sister, Doris—a Berkshire-Hathaway investor. She isn't stupid. But like most of us, she can do without the financial jargon that usually makes shareholder communications insufferable.
I know I know I know... you've heard this before
. I've mentioned Writing to Doris to you already.
But Warren's new letter has writing tips that go beyond Writing to Doris. Let's talk about a few passages from yesterday's letter that all of us writers should love. And steal from. And be inspired by.
Here are a few quotes from the letter:
✍️ "Now let's take a look at what you own."
Warren's dives in with some specifics on the assets Berkshire Hathaway owns (or owns pieces of). See how he frames that? Not "what I manage" or "what I control." But: What YOU own.
Takeaway: Pull your audience right into what you're writing. Make sure they see themselves in it. Don't hold back. Don't expect them to connect the dots. If dots need connecting… get out your Sharpie. And CONNECT. ALL. DOTS. IMMEDIATELY.
✍️ "At Berkshire, our audience is neither analysts nor commentators.... The numbers that flow up to us will be the ones we send on to you."
Warren makes it super-clear early on who he serves. And who he is not writing to.
Warren knows the analysts and commentators will flock to this annual report like kids to Santa's lap. He knows they'll read it—but he seems to say: So what? That's not who he writes to.
Takeaway: Doris. Doris. Doris. Always Doris. Write to Doris. Ignore the analysts, pundits, critics, the Not-Your-Doris.
✍️ "Before moving on, I want to give you some good news—really good news—that is not reflected in our financial statements."
This insider-y tone is threaded throughout the letter. But what I love most in this throwaway, unremarkable phrase tucked in that sentence: "good news—really good news."
That repeat of "really good news" for emphasis is the kind of phrasing that an editor would probably strike out, because it's not really necessary to the meaning. It doesn't add anything, either.
Last week we talked about the need to Marie Kondo
your writing to toss out that excess stuff weighing it down. And some of you wrote back with a vote to eject "really."
So why is it okay now? Because in Warren's case, the "really" works. It amps up his emotion, and it reminds us (again) that we are reading a letter from Warren. From him. To us.
I'm not a fan of the advice some writing coaches serve up wholesale to "write the way you talk." Writing isn't speaking, fercrissake.
But sometimes those casual, conversational asides can loosen up the things, especially in a letter or a blog post or a social media post. (Less so in a news article, press release, or whitepaper.)
Takeaway: It's also a good reminder to not blindly follow best-practices and must-heed advice for writing. Learn the rules so you can break them when you need to.
✍️ "Investors who evaluate Berkshire sometimes obsess on the details of our many and diverse businesses—our economic 'trees,' so to speak. Analysis of that type can be mind-numbing, given that we own a vast array of specimens, ranging from twigs to redwoods. A few of our trees are diseased and unlikely to be around a decade from now. Many others, though, are destined to grow in size and beauty."
Warren extends the forest vs. trees metaphor by breaking his business "forest" into five "groves" of importance.
The forest vs. trees metaphor isn't exactly original. But it doesn't need to be, because here it's better to use a familiar metaphor to (1) break down the complexities of the business and (2) assert the Berkshire Hathaway investing view of the world: Don't obsess about trees. Focus on the forest.
There's a lot more to love in Warren's letter: I haven't even had a chance to dive into his snark and the Abe Lincoln quotes. But I'll stop writing about his letter to us so I can focus on my letter to you.
* * *
Live Wrong and Prosper
Margaret Hogg, professor of consumer behavior + marketing, explains the importance of language, voice, and tone in brand marketing. I like what she says here about "congruence": how we ensure our messages fit in with their surroundings.
Caption America 📽️
Does the rise of video mean writers need to start packing up their desks? Of course not. Writers play a role in video production during the scripting phase. And they can also add a lot of spark in post-production.
"Instead of focusing primarily on the production of the content itself, businesses should start thinking about what happens after the video is actually made.... That's where captions and transcripts step in to save the day."
Wistia describes the two main transcription practices: verbatim and clean read.
"Verbatim transcribes the audio word-for-word, including all utterances and sound effects, which is great for scripted speech like a TV show, movie, or skit. Clean-read transcription edits the text to read more fluidly, perfect for unscripted content like interviews or recorded speaking events."
Tool's Paradise 🤗
I'm obsessed with this Emoji Mosaic tool: I used it to create the header image of Warren Buffett in this newsletter. EMOJI-MOSAIC ALL THE THINGS
🍜 New: Carb marketing?
To ease crowding during peak commuting times, a Tokyo subway is using their noodle by offering free ramen and tempura to anyone who can swap to a commute during off-peak hours
💀 Undead: Print.
The internal comms team at a Southern California group of hospitals launched a print-only magazine that's mailed to employees' home mailboxes. Why? Because print feels special
🐝 New buzzword alert: "Mogo."
A "mogo" is a "musical logo" or melody that plays wherever your brand shows up. Mastercard just developed one as part of its sonic brand identity. Mmkay
✨ New-word alert: Is "kondo" a verb?
Words get into dictionaries when they make it into the general lexicon. Dictionary-writers notice when we writers no longer explain what a word means when we use it. And then they consider it for entry.
I'm explaining all this because this piece
by Benjamin Dreyer in the Washington Post
was the first time I saw Tidying Up
superstar Marie Kondo's last name used as a verb:
"I might also urge you to kondo your prose of what I call the Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers®—the 'very's and 'quite's and 'rather's and 'actually's in which many (most?) of us bury our writing like so many packing peanuts."
However you feel about the use of "kondo" as a verb—which isn't unlike how "google" became a verb, by the way—I can't agree with Dreyer 100% here.
Most of the time? Yes. But all the time? That's bossy.
After all, we started today's letter talking about Warren Buffet's "really good news," the packing peanuts of his annual Letter to Shareholders.
Sometimes we need to pack a message with our own vivid voice. Sometimes you need a few peanuts.
💌 To Sarah Brehm, Masooma Memon, Michelle Hals, Christine Otsuka for their unique responses to this newsletter in the past few weeks!
Be well. Much love. Thanks for reading this far.