Five Most Common Misconceptions About Writing


Writing is today more fashionable than it has been in a long time. Perhaps it’s at the peak of its importance ever, with all the blogs, messages, emails and tweets swamping our computer, tablet and smart phone screens every second of the day. Of course, most of the time it’s bad or unclear writing. But everyone is doing it one way or another, and job opportunities are opening up for those who do it well.

Content is the key word in the workplace today. Especially if you are in sales & marketing. The buyer has all the power today and they control when, how and where they will make their next purchase. In this context, writing can be a great asset in educating and persuading prospects, making them see you as the expert, or thought leader in your field. Writing great content and making it available will help you develop a relationship with your potential customers, who will definitely lean towards your offer when the time is right.

Saint Jerome Writing (detail) by Caravaggio

Saint Jerome Writing (detail) by Caravaggio

As a consequence of its importance, the Internet is full of advice about effective writing, how to put blogs together, the dos and don’ts and best practices of publishing anything. By all means, read all you can, as there is a lot of useful information online. Beware, however, of some of the most common misconceptions about writing: in general most of them were acquired or developed at school and academic settings rather than on the Internet. Here are five of the most common:

1. Writing is about inspiration and waiting for the muse to come down and sit on your keyboard. Well, I’m afraid there’s not enough room for the muse to relax and spread out on such a small space. Also, deadlines have a weird way of not accommodating the muse’s busy schedule, so do not wait to get started. Writing is not necessarily what Hemingway warned us against in his famous quote: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Make it more active: brainstorm ideas, do some research, check out what is trending online, use automatic topic generators on the Internet, and do not delay. Start the process as soon as you can,

 2. Writing comes out as the masterpiece you usually read in the printed copy of good magazines, newspapers and books. Well, the final draft is not easy to get to. That’s what you see published. But anyone can get the process started and refine it until you achieve a satisfactory result. The saying writing is rewriting, or writing is more about transpiration than inspiration are indeed true. Once you spill out your first ideas and get them more or less outlined on the page, you will start the process of polishing them. And that is the hard part. This will take time, effort and immense patience.

3You cannot self-edit. If we are not talking about your PhD thesis or your fiction masterpiece, do not believe you need a team of copyeditors, researchers and proofreaders ready to work for you. They are expensive and hardly available in enough numbers even for big publishing companies nowadays. So, unless you can count on close friends to help you out with it (remember you can always return the favor), you must learn tactics for self-editing. Do not hesitate to count on every piece of technology available to help you with the task: spell checkers, grammar checkers, dropdown thesaurus, online dictionaries, you name it. There are a lot of very useful tools out there. Read your drafts as many times as you can and carry on refining them. There will be a moment when you’ll get so fed up with reading your piece you will want to throw up. That’s when you take a serious break. I’m not talking about the proverbial coffee time (you have probably been drinking coffee nonstop throughout the whole process anyway). Just abandon your text for a couple of days (I hope you can afford to do that. Factor in those necessary breaks when you plan your timetable to meet the deadline). Next time you get back to the text, you will see it with fresh eyes, and give it the final touches as a Steven Pinker would.

4. Sophisticated writing is good writing. Write as you speak. Content that will help you sell is content that’s simple enough for the majority of readers to understand. So drop the long words and complex sentences. The golden rule of elegance is less is more. Apply this to your writing: precision and simplicity of vocabulary, clarity of ideas, avoidance of overuse of the passive voice, and keeping to what is essential are the tactics that will make you win the reader over. As you read and reread your text, try to leave out everything that is superfluous or redundant. Cut, cut, cut.

5. Not everyone can write. You are write (sorry: right) to think so, if you are using Oscar Wilde or Hemingway as your standard. Artistic and creative writing are not for everyone. It does not need to be for you. But most people can learn to develop and communicate clear, authoritative and persuasive ideas in writing. It takes practice, though. All the content marketing gurus agree on this single point: you need to write everyday if you are in the business. The blog post you will write as soon as you finish reading this text will sound a hundred times better than the one you wrote around the same time last year. They will be both there on the Internet: just read and compare them. You will have improved. So keep working at it and surprise yourself month after month at how much better you are becoming. Good luck!

Would you like to share with us any advice on writing? Please do not hesitate to do so on the comments section of this blog. You might as well rate us so we can improve.

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.

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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

More storytelling tips for marketers


You may already know that the new buzz word in marketing is storytelling. You may also wonder why it took the marketing gurus so long to realize that stories resonate strongly with humans beings, and therefore, with clients. Brands must tell a story to the customers, and good marketers should, therefore, learn as much as possible about the craft of storytelling to be able to create and project a more impactful and relevant positioning in the minds of their audience.

We already started discussing the mythological structure of storytelling in a previous post (please refer to “The Power of Storytelling, the Mythological Structure”- http://wp.me/p4gEKJ-F2  – you may want to read it before you continue). Now we pick up where we left off, and begin to cover the kinds of characters we come across in muscular and enduring stories.

The renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung put forward the theory that the elements (themes, topics, characters, plot) commonly found in dreams are the same ones present in the mythologies of all peoples at different times. He called them archetypes.

Joseph Campbell, the famous American mythologist, went further to propose that all stories have basically the same structure. In his seminal book THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, he identifies and explains the phases that a typical hero or protagonist goes through.

Hollywood was quick to capitalize on Campbell’s powerful ideas and created a simplified memo for scriptwriters spelling out the stages of the hero’s journey and the typical characters found in mythological stories. When used with creativity and originality, these phases are hardly noticeable on the surface of a good movie, and the characters may take on many different forms, but the closer the deep structure of the plot remains to its mythological backbone the stronger it will resonate with the viewers.

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Antonio Canova’s Theseus and the Centaur

We covered the stages of the story in a previous post. Now, who are the usual characters in powerful stories? Here’s the list, and its implications for marketing:

The hero: this is the protagonist or the representation of  your customer. He will have to overcome problems and bypass obstacles to get to his goal. He has a strong need that must be met – by your solution or product.

The shadow: this usually represents the hero’s opponent or dark side. In marketing, we may think of it as our competition, or any flaws our products may have that must be corrected or features that need to be enhanced.

The mentor: in stories, they appear as older and wiser men or women, whose job is to guide and aid the hero along the path to accomplishing his goal. Marketers may use this concept in their messages and positioning. Think of the communications with your customers as ways of mentoring them.

The herald: this is the character that announces to the hero that he will need to act upon his needs and desires to have them sorted out. He pushed the hero forward. What better metaphor for a CALL TO ACTION? Your “call to action” needs to be included in all the communications with the client, your hero. It’s your job to tell them what to do next. Clarify the path.

The threshold guardians: these are people who hinder the hero’s progress at different plot points. They are not necessarily evil, but they will be obstacles to overcome. Think of them metaphorically as any obstruction on the client’s path to the micro or macro conversions you set up: faulty or unhelpful landing pages, redirect errors, unclear info about the product, interruptions or problems on the shopping cart path, etc. Be an ally to the hero and help him overcome these difficulties.

The trickster: that is a character that provides comic relief in stories. Also, these pranksters may provide useful information through their jokes. As a marketer, keep in mind that what people need, through your messages (you blog posts, for example), is to have info, develop their knowledge or to have fun. Don’t underestimate the power of comedy. This is a powerful way to win the customers’ hearts and minds.

The shapeshifter: usually someone who keeps changing their form or intentions. We never know if he’s an ally or an enemy. Or he may start off as an enemy and become an ally eventually. As a marketer, I think it’s very useful to see testimonials and comments on social media sites as typical shapeshifters.  They will sometimes align with your intentions in helping the hero get to his (and your) goal, but they can also badmouth you to the point of putting the whole journey in jeopardy. Shapeshifters need to me monitored closely on the Internet and responded to immediately. This is a huge part of your job as a marketer.

We hope this analysis of the main archetypes will help you structure the story of your brand more effectively. In future posts, we will carry on imparting more tips to help you hone your skills as a storyteller and marketer.

Au revoir

Jorge Sette.