The guitar that got away (and what it taught me about creating epic products).

guitar.jpg

This...

He swept a palm towards a non-descript acoustic on the wall.

This is a guitar worth spending time with.

Reaching up to flip the price tag, only one eyelid twitched as I revealed a series of zeros.

The monobrowed muso went on:

The sound you get out of it is something else - soft lows, strong mids, balanced highs. Here, have a strum.

He handed it to me.

That tone, hey? Oh, and it’s made from African Mahogany and maple. Abalone rosette, too. Real nice. Take as long as you want; yell if you have any questions.

I wedged the instrument between armpit, thigh and fingers and proceeded to make sweet quality time with an inanimate object.

He was right - it was a glorious hunk of wood and steel.

And even though I hung it back on the hook and slunk past the shop assistant with ‘I can’t afford it’ avoidance, what he said struck a chord.

‘A guitar worth spending time with.’

What a lovely, odd sentiment - like the instrument had a life of its own, a character, a will. Less a commodity and more a living part of the transaction. If I hung out with the guitar and it didn’t like me, then what?

I went on wondering.

What if we all created products and services worth 'spending time with’?

Beautiful offerings with character and charisma. Courses and workshops people loved being a part of. Food, drink and artisan goodies with a story to tell and ingredients that give back.

Distinct, personality-rich and refreshing content - enticing readers to the page with the promise of great conversation. And delivering, of course.

There’ll always be customers who want to buy cheap things, stuff, crap.

But then there’ll be those who want something thoughtful, vital, to connect and engage with - whatever the price tag.

Is your product, service or brand worth spending time with?

Also - should I just buy the damn guitar?

Let me know in the comments. Counting on you for input and advice. Thank ye.

What your competition doesn't know: the 'trivial' pieces of copy that make your brand go BANG!

magnify

There's a fine line between forgettable and favourite brand ever.

Literally, the fine print. 

Ignore disclaimers, subheadings, subscription confirmations, FAQs, 404 not found error messages, invoice receipts and contact details at your peril - for they have the power to make people love you. 

Consider this: while those other schmucks are copy-and-pasting the same old info, you could be crafting a 'thanks for subscribing!' one-liner that makes readers sit up, take notice and remember your brand for more than five minutes. In fact, secure you a permanent possie in their pumphouse.

Sweat the small stuff. Shine where others shrink.

Your competition likely offer the same service as you (oh, cruel world!) but do they go the extra mile to make readers smile? 

Do they care enough to create a fun and friendly opt-in confirmation?

Do they foster intimacy in every nook, cranny and line of copy associated with their biz?

Or do they say the same old shit as everyone else? 

'You have been added to our list.'
'Click here to view email in a new window.'
'Shipped.'
'Error 404.'
'You have been unsubscribed.'
'Invoice #4654 is overdue.'
'Payment received.'

Every word has the power to differentiate you, to delight prospects and prove you're a cut above. 

Blow your competition out of the water by detonating tiny copy bombs in the smallest of spaces.

Amplify each line. 

Leverage the fine print.

How to embrace simple, sincere language and close more sales.

Imagine you’re inside a shop.

Let’s make it a health food shop, complete with herbal teas and earthy aromas.

You need something to give you energy; a pick-me-up, a boost for your tired, take-away-filled bod. A multivitamin, perhaps? You’re open to suggestion. In fact, you welcome it. Direction and expert advice is what you came here for.

A woman runs towards you as you walk through the door, rattling a bottle of pills.

You! You look tired! You need THIS!

You’re momentarily confused because she’s dressed as a disco ball, but conclude that this bouncing, multifaceted orb must be the shop assistant.

Still waving the pills, she lists a bunch of product features - loud enough to make you flinch - and barely pauses to breathe let alone ask a question.

The words she uses sound foreign and fancy; as comprehensible as Ancient Hebrew. Reflections from each tiny mirror keep hitting you in the eye.

At the end of her mad spiel, she motions to the counter with raised eyebrows.

Buy now! she adds.

What do you do?

If you said ‘get the hell out of there’, I’m with you - like most other people.

Yet businesses continue to create these uncomfortable experiences online. They confuse selling with showy desperation. They equate enticing offers with obnoxious calls-to-action. They communicate in a way that would never pass for polite in person.

Add to that, brand inconsistencies and bad-taste formatting. Websites and sales pages wild enough to make your eyes water - looking like one thing (a disco ball) and attempting to sell another (health).

All this leads to tired, turned-off customers who desperately need a hug. 

If you’re a modern business trying to market yourself online, pause to consider:

Are you beating readers around the ears with big headlines, large font and caps lock - or calmly explaining the benefits?

Are you yelling, pleading and coming off desperate - or providing a genuine, honest summary of your services?

Are you caught up with perfecting your call-to-action - or constructing a logical journey based on need and human nature?

Are you performing for applause - or humbly providing a solution?

Ask these questions before crafting your next piece of online content; whether it’s a sales funnel, Facebook ad or editorial.

Be the humble, helpful salesperson - not a wheeling and dealing disco ball.

Watch your readers relax and ask for more.

Say it with me: In Words We Trust.

Idea dish

Until ideas can be baked into biscuits.

Until points can be made with a pill.

Until stories can be shared via WiFi.

We have words.

Clear, compelling, well-muscled words to carry your Big Idea.

Words haul your wisdom out from backstage - behind that heavy cerebral curtain - and onto the stage. Words speak into the microphone, stilling the fidgets in the stalls and inspiring a standing ovation.

Words are your thoughts; billowing thoughts made of steam of static electricity - given shape.

Until thoughts can be tapped.

Until steam can be read.

Until communication with clients, customers, colleagues, cousin, cacti can occur via one electric look...

...we have words.

Pay them attention. Make them true. It’s only your Big Idea at stake.

 

How to reverse a buzzword lobotomy.

It’s Saturday.

The tiles are clean.

Caffeine is coursing through my cauliflower.

I feel sassy. Woof!

So I wrote you this 45 second post about something so fundamental to online marketing that getting it wrong will royally roger your business

Getting it right will allow you to sell more stuff. Lots, lots more stuff. (Trust me, I’m a person who writes persuasive words for a living.) Meet you at the end? Brillo.

Have you had a buzzword lobotomy?

The more we toss about terms like sales funnels and conversions and list growth and leads - the harder it is to remember that:

It all comes back to people.

People read your posts.

People open your emails.

People download your eBook and are either delighted, disappointed or distracted by a meme their mate just tagged them in of a sausage dog stuck up a tree. (In which case step aside, ‘cos snaghounds in shrubbery will always wein(er).)

People aren’t passively ‘funneled’; they’re actively engaged and guided towards your product or service. If they connect with you. If you speak their language. If you sound trustworthy. Bonus points for making them laugh.

Please don’t.

Write your marketing material on auto-pilot.

Plug robotic words into a page with flashing red and yellow banners and obnoxious buttons that deserve to be punched, not clicked.

Waste people’s time with dreary content.

Please do.

Connect with the person on the other side of the screen.

Say it like you mean it.

Write to entertain.

Get personal. Be personable.

Put your goddamn heart into it! (Or at least a small triangle of liver because it magically regenerates.)

Those marketing strategies sure do work, yes, yes, good, no arguments.

But don’t become lobotomised by buzzwords.

Instead of ‘doing’ marketing on autopilot - writing content creation, lead magnets, whatever - return to the plain and simple truth:

It's all about people.

Write for real people, connect with real people, do business with real people.

Share your thoughts in the comments or email me - especially on a Friday because I’ll respond to you in rhyme. Do it!

What would you have done?

Not a casserole, but a fairly impressive chook.

Not a casserole, but a fairly impressive chook.

They were the fattest, meatiest pair of maroon shanks I’d ever beheld. From two different animals, I reasoned, still living - now tottering about on three legs.

Lost lamb limbs seeking tomato – paste, passata, fresh-plucked from the vine – every kind. Slow-cooked, had to be. With bay. Salt. Peppercorns. Wine. Cubed carrot. Casual garlic; smashed, skin on, any which way. Freehand Worcestershire and last minute leek. Into the cooker before bed.

Goodnight, shanks. Meet you for brekkie. (You’re the brekkie.)

Here’s where I’m curious about what you’d have done in my position.

Next morning, home from a run and ready to refuel with royally tender protein, I lifted the lid on the slow cooker to find something confusing. A warped piece of plastic sitting atop the stew, half-melted and ugly.

Where did it come from? How did it get there? Why me? Why my grass-fed, emancipated, perfectly massaged lamb shanks?

Life is hard.

After broiling gently for 12 hours, this piece of culinary pollution would surely have shed toxic spores throughout the entire meal. Spores linked to cancer, poor fashion choices and death.

On the other hand, all of us are exposed to invisible nasties, daily.

Like catfish in the Ganges, we’re swimming in a soup of industrial excrement. There’s no escaping antibiotics, pesticides, xenobiotics, negative vibes. They’re in everything, fixed in the food chain. What’s a little more plastic? At least it’s homemade.

So. The question. Put yourself in my shoes. (They’re slightly damp joggers, FYI.) Hungry, conscious of food waste, health aware… hungry.

What would you have done?

I’m certain the answer will reveal something deep, dark, delinquent – or diligent – about your person. Like a Myers-Briggs test, with meat.

To eat, or not to eat. That is the question.

Write to me and tell me your verdict.

It’s not going to change what I did, but it might sway what I do with the leftovers.

(Extra note: I found another bit of bloody plastic in the pot as I spooned it all out. What? The? Hell? Stumped like an amputee tree. Send help. Send a clean-up squad. Send advice. Send sympathy. I can’t deal with this alone.)

Will reveal the ending next week.

Shank ya later.

Encouragement to be weird for people who love Fleetwood Mac.

Bunny

Before reading another line of this post, open a new tab, head to YouTube and find Fleetwood Mac - Go Your Own Way. Press play.

This is your soundtrack.

(Or you can just click the big ole image below.)

Maybe the song is about fractured relationships and conflicting romantic aspirations, a melodic testimonial of Lindsey Buckingham’s frustration with an in-demand and unsympathetic Stevie Nicks. Could be. I’d prefer to take the chorus at face value; YOU CAN GO YOUR OWN WAAAAAAAAY the victory chant of a rebel, a nonconformist, an opposite-direction junkie.

You can go your own way, you know.

In fact, why don’t you?

If there’s a business model, a never-before-seen-product, a weird style of clothing, a haircut, a diet, a hobby, a belief system, an odd way of communicating, an elephant in the room - something ignored by ‘everyone else’ - permission to say it, create it, be it.

Go your own way. Embrace the unpopular. Do the opposite.

(Get noticed in the process.)

The well-worn path is the crowded path, the competitive path, the boring AF path. It demands little thought or creativity. It drowns your voice and leaves your thinking in a rut. When the mob runs in one direction, great opportunities are left naked and quivering on the pavement.

What are you missing by following the masses?

Like today, for instance. Wednesday. Hump day. Full of withering mid-week memes and a sense of hopelessness and apathy. But what if Wednesdays were your FAVOURITE day? What if, while everyone else is hating on their day jobs, you were hustlin, making the most of the temporary slump in collective enthusiasm?

Go your own way. Do the opposite.

What if you were brave enough to say what’s on your mind?

What if you called out the holes in your industry?

What if you went to the beach in the middle of winter, launched yourself starkers into the waves and felt the iced excitement of having a slice of nature all to yourself?

What if you said YUM! to healthy foods people turn their noses up at? What if that was a business waiting to happen?

What if you refused to post inspirational quotes and took your social media in a completely new direction?

What if you brought back double corduroy?

What if you created a new language around health, marketing, coaching, whatever?

What if you told the bitter truth?

What if you DIDN’T put a call-to-action at the bottom of that email?

What if you followed-through on what you really, truly, desperately wanted - without reference to convention? (Short of stabbing people with a spork.)

See what I’m getting at here?

Consider what you’re missing by accepting the status quo.

Sidestep it.

Your way is better, because it’s different.

And being different is not only creatively satisfying, but golden for business. (And life. And art. And whatever.)

You can go your own way. (Go your own way-ay-ayyyyyy.)

Stick that in your pipe, chuck it in the bin, and go vape at the bus stop.

Four pillars to make you + your business invincible. Courtesy of my internet technician.

Before you assume that this blog is a thinly veiled attempt to get Telstra’s attention, it isn’t.

It’s an overt FUCK YOU to Telstra, combined with some shit-hot business advice that I received from my most recent internet technician.

Yes, there have been multiple. Four, in fact.

And yeah, I’ve reached my crude lingo limit and will now be dropped back to dial-up speed.

Besides the fact that our internet is flakier than lead-based paint at a primary school, unexpected good has come from the whole situation.

Our third technician, a sharp young dude who arrived on the doorstep with an impressive piece of technology protruding from one ear, turned out to be a business Yoda.

We got talking as he plugged in cables and observed flashy lights indicating that yes, there was a problem. No, the origin wasn’t clear. (But, flashy lights! Satisfied?)

He ran his own business, you see. An electrical engineer, he’d broken away from dud employers a few years back and decided to run his own show. Telstra was his client. We gossiped about their sub-par service, off the record.

Discovering epic similarities in the ways we see business, life, the whole pavlova, he imparted this definitive wisdom.

The only way to run a great business is with the support of four key pillars.

  1. Good physical health.

  2. Good personal relationships.

  3. Having your emotional shit together.

  4. A bit o financial/logistical savvy.

This enlightened geek had it all figured out.

Health is everything.

Health is your platform upon which to build a meaningful, fulfilling, effective business - and life. Working yourself to the bone to the detriment of health is a guaranteed way to fail at whatever you’re doing.

Eating well, working out, spending time in nature, being kind to your bod all come before actual business maneuvers - not secondary to.

Likewise, relationships and mental health are predictors of business success. Without attention to love, friendships and emotional fortitude, your output will suffer.

Then comes the actual skillz involving money management, decision-making, smart stuff that helps you sidestep biz quicksand. Boooo-ring.

Anyway, you’ve probably heard it all before. But from an internet technician in high-vis on a weekday? Doubtful.

I thought it was a nice reminder that spending time on yourself - cultivating fitness, mindfulness, positive relationships, hobbies, upping your fiber intake - all benefit your work.

They’re not indulgent, they’re essential.

Thanks to the technician for a superb pep-talk.

No thanks to Telstra for providing the poorest internet service since Captain Cook arrived with an ethernet cable but no adaptor for his tablet.

Your thoughts?

Make your website a love-magnet. Here's how.

flower shop love

I just fell in love.

My cursor is quivering.

My browser is sweating.

My fingers are dancing over the keys like no-one’s watching.

I fell in love at first click with a local SEO company because their website is that monumentally good.

(And I’ll explain my definition of ‘monumentally good’ further down the page.)

The case study

Recommended by a friend, I hopped online to see what this biz was all about. 15 seconds later, the love thing happened.

The object of my online affection paid close attention to words and design, creating a stellar virtual experience - akin to popping into their store, browsing, chatting to the owner, being delighted and nabbing a business card on the way out.

The love bit

Their website inspired the warm fuzzies not because it was fancy - an interactive portal of bells, whistles and pan pipes. Nor was it complicated.

It was ‘monumentally good’ because it put me first.

The site was visitor-centric. The content was clear, written in my language and welcoming. They made me laugh. They favoured honesty over hyperbole. They even gave me free tools to do SEO better, myself! Total overachievers. Ugh. Sickening.

Have you ever fallen in love with a brand based on their website?

Landed on a page that grabs you by the lapels (do clothes still have lapels?) and stares deeply into your screen-weary eyeballs?

This is the desired effect of every website.

Love at first click. Sales to match.

Yet few achieve it.

Why don't people take their websites srsly?

Maybe it’s a value thing?

Some small business owners still treat their website as an afterthought.

A client of mine, just yesterday, waved dismissively in the direction of his site - superfluous, a luxury, an annoyance.

Why waste time with words? Why bother telling the story of his business? Design? Functionality? Who cares! For him, it’s real-life or nuttin’.

(Don't worry; we pulled the appropriate piece of brain out through his nose, indoctrinated it and re-implanted it. He can now robotically recite why.websites.matter.)

In-person sure does count.

But those customers? They’ve already done the following:

Googled you.

Checked out your website.

Taken ONE of TWO paths, like a search-engine-optimized Robert Frost poem.

Path one:

CONNECTED WITH YOUR BRAND, LOVED WHAT YOU’RE ABOUT, SAVED YOUR ADDRESS, SHOWED UP IN PERSON. YEAH! WOO! #greatsuccess

Path two:

Experienced zero feelings and politely hit the back button.

Websites. Matter.

Here’s how to woo suckers like me with yours

→ Start with great design.

  • Ensure your site is mobile-friendly.

  • Use large, clear font.

  • Keep it simple.

  • Place tabs logically.

  • Label tabs logically (sometimes it’s tempting to get real clever with page tabs. But ultimately, confused people don’t click. Stick to ‘about’, ‘contact’, ‘services’ - or simple, comprehensible alternatives.)

  • Include great imagery + professional photos.

→ Take time to craft faaaaaabulous copy.

  • Ask: what does the person landing on my page need to know?

  • Place the needs of your visitor front-and-center.

  • Speak to their problem, their request, their curiosity.

  • Be personable. Use conversational lingo that creates instant rapport.

  • Humans connect through story. Tell yours.

  • Be unexpected. See this post.

  • Be clear about who you are and what you stand for. Here’s what I mean.

  • Make it easy for readers to find out: how to get in touch with you, how to buy your stuff, how to visit you in person, how to stalk you on social media - the big ticket items.

  • Keep your content fresh - update your blog every sometimes. Make it looks like someone lives there.

Do these things? People will land on your website and stick, like pickles on a window.

Need inspiration?

ben website

Here are some sites that tickle my pickle (before sliding down the glass).

Apostrophe Copywriters >>> Badass copywriters who combine clever + clear for maximum effect.

Ben Howland Photography >>> Ben’s website is a shining example of sweet, personal, polite, lovable words + design. If I believed in marriage, I'd hire this guy to shoot it.

Intrepid Travel >>> These folks nail clarity, clickable imagery and adventure-planning. There are zero holes in their site; great words, easy navigation, happy visitors.

This one doesn’t really illustrate my point, but it IS the best website of all time. Agree? (Use the scroll bar at the bottom to see what I mean) >>> Joe Coleman.

That's enough yakkin. Get crackin'. Make the people <3 you.

(Questions? Talk to me in the comments.)

 

Communication hacks | STAND FOR SOMETHING

Dear business owners + passionate everyday peeps,

If there's one thing you ask yourself today, make it this:

'What do I stand for?'

Standing for something is imperative in this world of anemic online content.

Don't stoop to blend in, mumbling the same everyday guff.

Stand up, stand out.

Voice those beliefs - borne of passion, insight, industry know-how.

What's wrong with the world?

Tell us.

Write about it.

Weave it into your business messaging.

We want to know!

What gets you mad?

Sad?

Throwing adult tanty-s?

Maybe you're about reducing food waste. Perhaps it's helping people do exercise they love - not loathe. You might stand for reusable coffee cups.

Whatever it is, stand up and tell us.

Don't be shy.

Get emotional.

Get us on board.

Implore us to hop off our flabby hindquarters and join you.

What do you stand for?

Articulating this will prick the ears of your ideal customer and make you memorable in a sea of same same. (And look, it'll help you sell stuff. Because we're not being martyrs here.)

Plus, it's good to stand for something. Otherwise, you'll fall for anything.

Share your stance in the comments. Personal, business, other.