Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon: a must-read novel

I’m planning to eat a moqueca today, a typical Brazilian dish consisting of salt water fish stew in coconut milk, onions, garlic, tomatoes, coriander and dendê oil from Bahia. This will be my way of celebrating having finished the delicious novel Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon by Brazilian writer Jorge Amado.

Despite the fact that our literature is not very well known outside the borders of Brazil, chances are the reader will have heard of Amado and his homeland, Bahia. He is one of our most popular writers of the XX century, and his books have been translated into more than 40 languages throughout the world.

Many of his works have been turned into famous Brazilian soap operas, miniseries and movies, but, of course, the experience of watching Amado either on the big or small screen does not compare to the much deeper pleasure of embarking on the deliciously funny, poetic and encompassing canvas of his writing.

Sônia Braga, as Gabriela

Sônia Braga, as Gabriela

Jorge Amado treats the reader with a wealth of unforgettable characters from the lowest to the highest echelons of the provincial cities of the northeast of Brazil, who intermingle in a network of politics, friendships, romance and violence.

Gabriela, the novel, is a dream of humor, poetry and cultural information. As a Brazilian, it felt great to be transported to the Ilhéus (a town on the coast of Bahia) of the first decades of last century, when the booming of the cacao exportation was making changes in the town and its customs at a pace never seen before. Progress was threatening the lifestyle and status quo of the families of the first farmers who got hold of huge expanses of land by force, with the help of their armed jagunços, never hesitating to use violence and murder in constant ambushes against their opponents. But now times were changing, with the arrival of technology and progressist businessmen, who came to those backward towns attracted  by the riches generated by the cacao.

Jorge Amado delivers his prose in a light, funny and detached tone, packed with irony, yet showing great warmth and understanding towards his characters. He depicts prostitutes, rich farmers (the so-called “colonels”), their minions (“jagunços”), churchgoing  and gossipy splinters, lonely concubines, small time businessmen and pathetic pseudo-intellectuals, against the backdrop of the geography and culture of the small provincial cities of the early decades of the 20th century. His prose will stay with you for a long time after you close the book (or switch off your Kindle), such is its power and universality.

Moreover, “Gabriela” is a very sensual text, filled with the colors, smells and tastes of Bahia. It’s a book that celebrates life and the liberation of minds, especially women’s, from the colonial chains and obsolete traditions of a male-dominated society. It’s a radical hymn against machismo, opening up doors to the possibility of freedom.

Gabriela, the protagonist, represents the essence of Brazilianness, in her beauty, simplicity, lightheartedness and pleasure for life. Of course, both the main characters of “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon” and “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands”, another famous Amado novel, are deeply associated in our minds with the image of Brazilian actress Sônia Braga, who portrayed them both in famous movies and soap operas during the seventies. Of course, I was too young at the time to fully enjoy them – this, however, does not stop me from putting the face of Ms Braga to the wild Gabriela of the pages of the novel. After all, Sônia Braga was an icon of Brazilian sexuality and beauty in her day.

Jorge Amado is a pleasure to read. His stories will certainly make a profound mark in your life and deepen the awareness you may have of Brazilian culture. I strongly recommend you have a go at it.

Au revoir,

Jorge Sette.

How can content marketing help your business?

Content marketing is a digital strategy that consists of creating and publishing a range of alluring pieces of content and distributing them freely on the Internet to get the participation of your target audience in a conversation with you. Its objective is multidimensional: to entice your clients and goad them into interacting with you (maybe by signing up to a newsletter or blog); to build your image as a thought leader, that is, to get them to trust you as a genuine expert and problem-solver in your industry; to bring your audience closer and closer to you by raising their interest and engagement; and to finally do business with them.

These steps are generally referred to as the sales funnel: leading a number of people through progressive stages towards your business goal, which is hopefully a sell that represents a win-win situation for both parties involved. Content marketing is a form of inbound marketing, therefore, which means that, instead of interrupting your prospect through broadcasting, you start a conversation using a topic they like to talk about, and then attract them to you for more content that will hopefully inform, entertain or teach them something useful. The best metaphor is meeting guests at a cocktail party and then inviting them to a more serious conversation in your office at a later date.


Image-The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir, Pierre-Auguste1

The Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir, Pierre-Auguste


Most of the readers of this blog are in the language business. They are either school owners and teachers, or publishers and consultants. You are, therefore, in the best position to exercise this form of strategy we call content marketing, as you deal with language itself:  a vehicle to convey and discuss all forms of different content, as long as they are of interest to your audience. We are all working more and more towards niches, the market is fragmented and we are all discussing how to best make use of the so-called long tail, reaching very specific audiences by catering to their needs.

Another interesting characteristic of these times is that the lines between sales, marketing and customer service are blurring, as most businesses are directing their customers towards the internet for promotion, sales and help. Salespeople and Customer Service professionals are becoming high-level consultants, and it will soon become a privilege for a client to receive a real salesperson at their office to do business with.

So, in all departments of our companies, we should be producing digital content to communicate with the clients about our respective areas of expertise and skills. How do you produce content that can be used to build a relationship with your audience, solidify your position as a thought leader, gain their trust and finally SELL your goods and services to them?

I will outline a number of steps that will help you get started:

Define your buying persona: who is your typical client? How old is she?  Where does she work? What kind of content would she be interested in?  How does she use the Internet? Remember: the tendency is to sell to a niche, so try creating a realistic persona for each specific niche you want to reach.

Decide where you targeting audience is: this question was partially answered in the definition of your buying persona, but now let’s dig deeper. What is the best social media channel to find the people you are trying to sell to? This will be best done through testing and measuring. It will be hard to know beforehand what channels will provide the most response, conversion and sales rates, as the clients go down the sales funnel we mentioned before.  Start with the major ones: Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram. Then follow the metrics and start refining your strategy.

Create a content strategy and a calendar: breakdown your content output in the following way: 40% of it should be general interest content loosely linked to the product or service you sell. If you are a language school, for example, write or post images about interesting places, different cultures, national festivals, etc. Then the next 30% of  your content should be directly connected to your product or service, although you are not selling it in a hard way yet (still using the example of a language school: give tips on learning strategies, good books to read, meaning of slang used in TV shows and films, interesting facts and figures about languages, quizzes, etc). Another 20% should consist of direct offers to sign up to specific communications, take advantage of promotions, give away coupons, etc., aimed at those who are already at the stage of making a firmer commitment to you. Finally, get your customer service team to use the remaining 10% to help your customer deal with post-sales problems and issues, by harnessing a frequently asked question page or producing how-to videos.

Assign different people in your marketing, sales and customer service teams to produce the content they can: ask your team what skills they have and what kind of content they would feel comfortable producing. Are they good writers? Do they make videos in their spare time? Are they weekend photographers? Illustrators? Would they like to use their beautiful voices to read a scripted podcast? Of course, if you are lucky, you may count on a professional design department, but these are becoming harder to budget for. Fortunately, the apps available on the Internet are making this facet of the job accessible to many of us who lack sophisticated designer skills. Everybody should be expected to contribute.

Measure, measure, measure: and adapt your content strategy accordingly. Don’t obsess about absolute metrics in your measuring process, as different platforms will give you different figures for a number of reasons: focus on trends over time and try to improve your KPIs (key performance indicators, as discussed and approved by your senior management) over time.

There is a lot more to say about content marketing. We will continue the conversation in future posts. For now, please share your ideas and comments with us in the blog.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.



Exciting times to be a marketer: you are in show business!

You may have heard this before: everyone is in marketing nowadays. To make a living, you need to promote and sell something: your image as an ideal employee; your qualifications as the perfect fit for an advertised professional position; the product or service the company you already work for specializes in; or your own business. Everything is a brand, from products and ideas to people and causes. Non-profits, as you know, need as much promotion as any other business.

Moreover, marketing has changed radically in the last ten years or so. It has become a lot more exciting. As a marketer, you are not allowed to interrupt your audience with a loud selling message or by yelling a silly slogan at them any longer. You may even try, but it will not be very effective. Now things got a lot more complex, genuine, interactive, and, I dare say, even more artistic. Marketing needs to excel at beauty, creativity, usefulness, and the ability to keep a conversation going with the customer for as long as necessary. After all, we are aiming to keep them for life.

Content marketing

As a consequence, we all need to turn our marketing departments into media companies or publishers to be able to promote effectively in this new landscape: whether your are selling language learning courses,  ebooks or cars. Gone are the days of the proverbial pushy second-hand car salesmen we still see in movies. To turn our marketing team into a media company, we must become content creation machines, spilling out entertainment, compelling stories, clear explanations and timely info about your product or service to build a loyal audience on and off line. Only then are we allowed to sell to this community we worked so hard to attract and shape. Build the community first, gain its trust, give away lots of free and relevant content, and afterwards, you will own the right to offer them your “purple cow” (borrowing the expression from marketing guru Seth Godin): the very compelling product they can’t wait to buy from you.

Take for example the need to create a personality and specify the values your brand stands for. Storytelling is the keyword here. Every time you get in touch with your audience you have an opportunity to add a new piece of your corporate narrative by reinforcing the values and personality of your brand. This must be done through different social media channels, using the right tone of voice. Companies that invest in marketing will assign different people to manage distinct social media channels and the kind of content feeding they require. Besides, they need a marketing coordinator/manager to oversee the whole operation, analyze the metrics,  and make sure the conversation with the client remains consistent.

Marketing in the business of language learning – my speciality

What I find really exciting as a marketer in the language learning line of business is how easy it is to produce content that will captivate your target audience, turning them into leads and then customers. If you sell LANGUAGE, which is a vehicle, you have a lot more elbow room to play with content. Language can be used to talk about anything. So there can be a lot of variety in your communication. And what can be more exhilarating than the possibility of creating blogs, podcasts, videos, PowerPoint presentations, ebooks, webinars, etc. to express your passion for language teaching/learning through a wealth of rich content?  Marketers are given a unique chance to become writers, video makers, newsreaders and designers: we’ve been given the opportunity to be in show business after all! Few people would turn this opportunity down.


Show business


Start now!

Of course, you may not feel excited about every piece of content you will have to create to attract customers, especially because it needs to cater for the community’s needs and interests, not yours. The more you get to know your prospects, the easier it will be to publish the right kind of content for them. But assuming  you like or identify with the product your are selling, there will always be room to express your passion.

Hubspot, the inbound marketing software company, is the benchmark  for content creation, attracting clients to their community by giving tonnes of excellent content away for free. Well, there is obviously no need to get to their level of sophistication and productivity, but if you do not start creating compelling content right now, you will not be in business for very long. Believe me, creating content is key. And it can be a lot of fun.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

21 thoughts that might cross your mind while you’re sitting on the beach in Ipanema

Cheer up, you are in Rio. Thoughts…

1. Why didn’t I go to the gym more regularly for at least six months before I decided to come here?

2. Oh my God, can this water get any icier? Impossible to swim here.

3. I’d love to have two bags of these GLOBO chips.

4. I’ll have the açaí with muesli and banana.

5. Why is everybody running away while these dark-skinned boys are chasing after them?

6. I’ll ask the nice lady sitting to my right if she would mind looking after my stuff while I go for a quick swim.

7. Don’t they mind my overhearing their private conversation about how they’re cheating on their wives? Turn it down.

8. Has marijuana been legalized in Brazil? I can’t see anyone NOT smoking.

9. What a view they must have from Vidigal.

10. Those three must be from São Paulo.

11. Isn’t that Chico Buarque walking along the sidewalk?

12. I have never seen these gringos this happy when they are at home.

13. I must stop after this one. I believe this is my fourth caipirinha.

14. Maybe I will get the beach towel with the Christ the Redeemer on it.

15. Jesus, they should get a room.

16. OMG, that wave was a little tsunami and washed all that guy’s clothes and belongings away.

17. Are they really going to try on the speedos right here on the beach before buying them?

18. Wow, it looks like we are going to have a beautiful sunset today. Will be standing on Pedra do Arpoador in 30 min.

19. Will go ITAU biking later on.

20. Time to shift position and stare at the Two Brothers now.

21. How many more years do I still have to teach English to be able to buy that penthouse over there?


Ipanema, Rio.


Storytelling with Winslow Homer, the famous American Painter

Storytelling with Winslow Homer, the famous American Painter

Winslow Homer.  Click on the picture to access the SlideShare presentation. You might want to check  out our post on the mythological structure of storytelling as well:

Note: you might want to check out our new book TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART: MATISSE   available  from AMAZON.COM as an ebook.  Click here for more info:


My 5 favorite TV villains and why I love them

Television is changing. Its shows, especially after the advent of HBO, Netflix and Showtime, are becoming more and more sophisticated and nuanced. I would  even dare to say that TV shows in general are a lot more fun than the average Hollywood movie, one reason being that they are shorter and therefore able to pack a lot more punch into their compressed 30 or 60 min length. Of course, you can, and probably will,  binge watch whole seasons of Breaking Bad on a single weekend, but the experience is usually more satisfying than spending 3 hours at the movie theater. I know, I’ve done it.

That’s why I’ve decided to narrow my choices and include only TV villains in this post. Maybe in the future I will have another go at it, and focus on the big screen baddies.

Here’s the list of my favorite TV villains. They are NOT listed in order of preference. All of them are contemporary, so the reader will hopefully know who I’m talking about. I also understand that my choices may not be terribly original, but I’m sure some of my reasons might surprise you.

1. Dexter Morgan (from Dexter): strong organizational skills, love of kids, sense of humor and irony are some of Dexter’s virtues I respect and relate to. He also cleans after himself and has an elegant method of avoiding leaving behind a messy crime scene. We could easily be flatmates. I also really like the cool thermal shirt he wears when he goes on killing jobs. I’ve been looking to buy one. I will have to lose a few pounds to fit into them though. Quote: “People fake a lot of human interactions, but I feel like I fake them all, and I fake them very well. That’s my burden, I guess.”

Dexter Morgan

Dexter Morgan

2. Frank Underwood (from House of Cards): yes, you love him too, I know. But I even love his wife better, she’s next on the list. Single-mindedness, strong sense of purpose, ability to focus and to design well thought-out strategies, in addition to a very keen sense of politics are all enviable treats of  Francis’s (as his wife calls him) personality. He is also a great reader of peoples’s feelings and emotions. He knows when to back off. Excellent at prioritizing his battles. Quote: “There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.”

Frank Underwood

Frank Underwood

3. Claire Underwood (from House of Cards): extremely beautiful, proving that you can still be stunning in maturity, Claire has a great sense of fashion and style. She also has total control over her feelings. Like Frank, she picks her battles carefully, has strategic vision, and doesn’t mind  being upstaged by her husband, as she knows she is really the boss. Besides, she goes jogging regularly: I wish I had that kind of determination. Quote: “Now tell me, am I really the sort of enemy you want to make?”

Claire Underwood

Claire Underwood

4. Walter White (from Breaking Bad): fearless trend-setter: he’s fifty years old and looks cool wearing only a long-sleeved green shirt, white underwear, socks and leather shoes. The ultimate entrepreneur.  Manages his business like a proper CEO. Highly intelligent. A perfectionist in every sense of the word: he is very proud of the purity of the the blueish product he puts out with the utmost care and dedication. I’ve read somewhere that watching the whole Breaking Bad series is equivalent to taking a business course at Harvard. I got my degree last month! Quote: “What I came to realize is that fear, that’s the worst of it. That’s the real enemy. So, get up, get out in the real world and you kick that bastard as hard you can right in the teeth.”

Walter White

Walter White

5. Bart Simpson (from The Simpsons): you may not even realize he’s a villain, but don’t be deceived by his innocent looks and strange feminine voice. Bart Simpson is evil. However, I like the fact that he is very cold in his decision making process, when necessary. Outcomes are what really matters for him. He’s great at practicing his calligraphy (at the beginning of every show you will always see him writing the same sentence – a different one per episode- on the blackboard hundreds of times). Take Steve Jobs, for instance: didn’t he study calligraphy and allegedly applied his knowledge in the making of the beautiful fonts available on the first Mac computers? So, Bart deserves brownie points for his efforts too. Another career option for Bart would obviously be teaching, given all this expertise handling the chalk (not sure if this will be a widely sought-after skill in the profession in the near future, though). Finally, he’s one of  the few major TV characters who tries to speak Spanish: ¡Ay, caramba! Quote: (to his sister Lisa) “You got the brains and talent to go as far as you want and when you do I’ll be right there to borrow money.

Bart Simpson

Bart Simpson

Well, I hope I’ve been persuasive in explaining why I love these guys. Now it’s your turn. Share with us the list of baddies you care about.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette

7 Reasons I Prefer e-Books to Print Ones.

I know, paper book lover, you are offended even before you start reading this post. And, believe me, I completely understand your love for this dear old object that dates back to the 1500s, following the development of the movable types by Gutenberg  (although in Asia this happened even before). I even share that warm feeling towards the smell of newly-acquired books. Just like you, I’m also awed by its amazing endurance, after all it’s been around for more than 500 years with little variation.

However, I’m sorry to herald the news that its days are numbered. And the process of replacement will be faster than you think. Print books will always be valued, but more and more they will become a relic, used more as an ornament, a piece of decoration, having the status we give to contemporary coffee-table books. They will be regarded as a beautiful, yet a bit funny, object of a previous era, very much like the clay tablet, papyrus scrolls and parchments we respectfully admire in museums today. I don’t remember seeing anyone reading the latest Paulo Coelho on a papyrus scroll on the subway recently! Print books will represent something antique and valuable, but I doubt people will use it practically. E-books will progressively replace them.  Starting from school materials.

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 9.11.55 AM

The evolution of reading

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I honestly believe that I may have been among the first Brazilians to have a Kindle. I know that because I ordered the hardware the minute it was available to Brazil, meaning that the  download of  books would work here without the need for any hacking or tricks. That happened two years after its launch in the US. However, I had been reading digitally even before that, as I owned an e-reader account in the medieval days of Palm PDAs.

But let me tell you the reasons I have loved e-books from the first moment I heard about them.

1. Availability of titles in English

If you couldn’t read in English, there was no point in having a Kindle at its inception, as most books available were in this language. I’ve always read more in English than in Portuguese (despite the fact that the latter is my native language), and it was always a bit frustrating not to have access to some of the books I wanted hot off the press. Whenever I traveled to the US,  I would come back with a huge load of these Gutenberguian objects, which made my backpack really heavy and uncomfortable. To this day I can’t get over the fact that any content is now just a mouse click away to be ordered, whenever and wherever you are.

2. Portability

I’m  always reading three or four books at the same time (sometimes more). I get easily bored, and like to move from one topic to another very quickly. How can you do that with print books when you are away from home? I must confess that this volatility of mine got even worse now that I’m able to carry my library around on my iPhone. Print books begin to feel awkward to carry and even to read from, once you get used to tablets and smart phones. Try accessing the left-hand page of a thick paperback!

3. Samples

Whenever I come across an interesting mention about a book, I instantly access and download a sample. I must admit I tend to purchase it later, which makes me  a very easy prey for these kinds of ultra-smart marketing tactics.

4. Speed

There is a lot out there to catch up with and I have only a lifetime. Somehow you move faster on digital text, there are many reasons why, one being the very fact that you avoid  losing seconds – that add up – turning pages. All you have to do at the end of a digital page is to tap on it and you are instantly taken to the next one. I have just read about a new speed reading app, called Spritz (, and tried it out. I realized it’s pretty addictive and I’m sure I will be moving on to it as soon as it’s available. Yes, I know about the Woody Allen joke: he speed read through War and Peace and all he remembered  at the end was that it may have been about some kind of war in Russia. If it gets this bad, I will quit trying to increase my pace, promise.

5. The size of the font

One is not twenty years old forever, and the eyesight suffers with time. Even with glasses, very small fonts are irritating. So, to be able to choose and control the size of the font you are reading in is a great advantage.

6. Instant access to a dictionary

I love words, and the process of making new acquaintances, stumbling upon prospective friends and identifying them is made a lot simpler and quicker on a e-book. Click on the word and the definition  pops up.

7. The fact that you can highlight, bookmark and annotate orderly and beautifully

These are  some of  the things that always comes up whenever I listen to someone defending print books. They say they can’t move on to digital books as they love to highlight and comment on passages. Obviously, they are unaware that these have always been features of e-books, since their dawn. And you can do it in different colors, without ever having the problem of your marker running out of ink.

I’m sure that, by now, you, print book lover, are hating me even more, if you ever got to this point in the text, and certainly will want to hit me in the head with one of the heaviest of these outdated objects you might have at hand: The Complete Works of Shakespeare? I will duck and try to run away, carrying with me not only a similar copy in my e-library, but also, the Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allan Poe…plus the Bible! Ah, and, classics as they are,  they cost me nothing, or only a couple of dollars on Amazon!

NOTE: You might want to check out our eBooks available  from AMAZON.COM. Just click here to know more about the series TEACHING ENGLISH WITH ART:

Teaching English with art

Teaching English with art

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.

More words are needed…

Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” UnknownMaybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever.”

― Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex