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One key part of being a great marketer is understanding how people think and knowing why they act the way they do. 10 principals.
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Which Social Network Should You Advertise On? Social media advertising is a great tactic to use to supplement your print advertising.
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Friday, 28 July 2017 11:07

Protecting Your Business Documents

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You're wasting money if you don't have a system in place for digitally storing the millions of pages of documents and files your business produces. Here's the lowdown on digital archiving...

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Businesses in Canada and the United States make more than 1 billion photocopies every day and spend more than $25 billion a year to file, store and retrieve their paper documents. In many cases, records and information systems often represent as much as 50 percent of the total cost of doing business.

With the technologies that are available today, however, it doesn't make good business sense to spend large amounts of capital to store and maintain hard copy information. As with all aspects of a company's business, using technologies that will increase productivity and reduce costs is vital to your profitability and success.

Because of the cost-savings available, many companies are changing their attitudes toward data storage and are looking at innovative ways to handle the flow of data. Today, there are several inventive and cost-effective technologies available that can streamline the processing and storing of hard-copy data, which, in turn, will save you money--money that you can use to improve systems and invest in the future of your business. Let's take a look at one of these new systems.

Defining the Solution

Digital archiving, also known as scan-to-file, is one of the best methods around for processing and storing documents. Simply put, digital archiving is the process of converting paper information to a digital representation of the original document. These highly cost-effective conversions allow information to be stored and accessed easily, enabling companies to save time, storage space, money and resources, and increase their productivity and security.

Over time, digitally storing information will reduce the costs of document storage. It will reduce employee workload associated with filing, retrieving and re-filing paper documents. Additionally, it provides easy access to search, retrieve, read, print and e-mail imaged files.

Digital archiving also allows for expedient file transmission over the internet or an internal network. And it creates a flexible, electronic database of corporate documents, such as financial statements, required regulatory documentation, client and patient files, tax and legal documents--all of which can be password-protected to restrict printing and content extraction.

And there's more good news: The process is simple. Information is scanned and stored on one of a number of forms of media, most often on CD-ROMs (M-Disc is the most secure), but also on hard disks or other file formats. You then store the digital data in a secure location, either onsite or away from your business. The digitally stored information can easily be retrieved by simply loading a CD-ROM or disk onto any computer. The document appears just as it did in its original hard copy form and can be saved to the computer, e-mailed or printed.

Digital archiving enables companies to put unlimited amounts of information onto CDs. Imagine taking 35,000 pages of paper and converting it to three CDs.

If you think digital archiving may be right for your company, here are a few questions to ask your visual communications partner:

How is information scanned? Who does it and how long does it take?

Information can either be hand-scanned or fed into a scanner based on the type of data being scanned. Scanning should be done by a team of professionally trained and certified digital specialists, who know how to scan and archive your important documents. Scanning times will vary based on the amount of information being converted. For example, 1,200 pages can take up to four hours to complete.

Is the information secure while it's being scanned for digital archiving?

Most likely it is, but you need to ensure that the vendor has a dedicated and secure digital archiving imaging area designed with your sensitive documents in mind. Additionally, you need to verify that the information won't be shared with any outside source, and your vendor should return all documents upon completion. In some cases, you and the vendor may determine that the scanning should be done at your location.

Where is the information stored? Will the CDs be given to me to store or will I need to have the vendor to store them in a secure location?

Typically, your vendor should store the information on CDs that will be returned to you for storage.

What format will the digitized documents be in?

At a minimum, documents should be converted to PDF because that's the widely accepted format for digitized information. Additionally, PDF formatting is approved and in use by a host of local, state and federal agencies. However, based on your needs, files can also be created in Word and other industry-specific software.

Click HERE to Learn More About Small and Large Format Scanning

Source: Entrepreneur | entrepreneur.com

Friday, 27 January 2017 13:45

Writing Copy That Sells

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In Chicago, there’s a famous restaurant called Alinea. It’s one of only a handful of restaurants in America that have earned the coveted 3-star Michelin rating, making it one of the best restaurants in the world. But if you ask people who’ve dined there what makes it unique, most will tell you that, somehow, it’s not just the food.

Alinea is an experience. The food, artistic and delicious as it is, wouldn’t garner its full effect if each course (there are about 20 in all) didn’t arrive just in time, perfectly ordered, with each dish complementing the one before it and simultaneously enhancing the one scheduled to arrive next. There’s a natural flow to the meal -- a rhythm. Each course serves a purpose, like the individual instruments of an orchestra.

The end result is something enticing, captivating, and memorable -- and fun. Really fun. Most importantly, the end result sells people. It compels them to write glowing Yelp reviews. It makes Alinea the topic of conversation. The end result drives people back again and again.

As a marketer, if you want to sell people like a Michelin 3-star restaurant, you have to execute like one. In other words, you have to 1) produce something remarkable and 2) present it correctly, logically.

If you don’t know how to do that, here’s a proven copywriting formula that will guide you ...

Writing Copy for BlogPost

Bob Stone's 7 Step Formula

Bob Stone was a giant figure in the advertising world. His colleagues called him “Mr. Direct Marketing” because he wrote countless successful direct mail pieces, selling everything from surgical dressings to business club memberships.

How did he do it? He had a trick: an adaptable formula made up of seven simple, logical steps he used to hook readers and keep their interest until the last line (at which point many readers did what he asked them to).

Stone’s formula -- referred to by marketers as “Bob Stone’s Gem” -- was originally used to write sales letters and other direct response advertisements. But in the decades since its invention, it’s been proven to work in virtually any type of promotion, from blog posts to landing pages to sales emails. Try it yourself and watch your response rates rise.

But first, let's break down each step. You'll notice that I've provided an example sentence (or two or three) under each to show how a copywriter might use Bob Stone’s Gem to create a blurb of copy (which, in this instance, is selling that beaut of a restaurant: Alinea).

1) Begin with your strongest benefit.

In the advertising world, features tell and benefits sell. That’s what makes Bob Stone’s Gem so compelling: it forces marketers to focus on and, therefore, highlight the benefits of their product, service, cause, program -- what have you. Of course, features should also be present in the promotion you create but, ultimately, they’re not closers. Only benefits are.

That’s why you have to sculpt your copy around a target persona, highlighting the benefits you know to be most important to her.

In this example, I’ll be writing to Foodie Francis, a married, middle-aged lawyer with two adult children. She loves cooking and is particularly fascinated by molecular gastronomy.

Let’s get started:

    "Dine at Alinea, and join the I’ve-Eaten-the-Best-Food-in-the-World club."

2) Expand on the most important benefit.

Make your main benefit difficult to ignore by describing the actual positive impact it can make on your target persona’s life. Change your reader’s perspective. Plant a seed.

For example:

    "A club that will open your culinary head, forever changing the way you look at food and, perhaps, even the way you understand ingredients."

3) Explain exactly (and in detail) what the prospect will get.

You’ve planted the seed, now water it. This is where you can drop some features. You can do so by painting a picture, which will give your reader something to visualize and gestate. Just don’t over-do it. Leave room for your reader’s imagination. After all, it exists for a reason ...

For example:

    "At Alinea, dine on tempura-fried pheasant breast, while experiencing the delights of a Midwestern fall -- even if it’s January. At Alinea, eat an apple masquerading as a helium balloon."

4) Back up your statement(s) with proof.

By this point, your reader has given you her attention, time, and effort. But she’s not a sucker, you know. She’s a leery, 21st century consumer. And if she’s to be sold, she is going to need some proof.

This is your chance to flash some facts, statistics, testimonials, awards -- anything that’ll give credibility to your claims.

For example:

    "At Alinea, experience the weight of 3 Michelin stars: the bites, the service, the art of it all."

5) Tell them what they’ll lose if they don’t act.

Bob Stone included this step because he knew that people are far more driven to avoid pain than they are to acquire pleasure. As a species, we’re constantly striving to prevent suffering and avoid discomfort. That’s why it’s important to incorporate some negativity into your copy.

For example:

    "But if you choose not to make a reservation, rest assured you'll go on living, laughing, and loving like you always have. Nothing will change. And wouldn’t that be unfortunate?"

6) Sum up the most important benefits.

You just took your reader to the darkside, now bring them into the light again. Recap all those terrific benefits that captivated your reader in the first place, reminding her why she should pull the trigger.

This is your last opportunity to sum up the value your product or service will bring to the reader’s life. This is your chance to push the reader over the threshold, so make it personal and emotional for your target audience.

For example:

    "Because beautiful and delicious and exciting as the Alinea experience is, it's nothing compared to what could be. It's nothing when pitted against the future -- your future -- after your mind is awakened to the potential of ingredients and the possibilities of food."

7) Present your call-to-action.

If you don’t ask your reader to take a specific action at the end of your copy -- if you don’t tell her what to do next -- you might as well have never written it in the first place. I don’t care how compelling your words have been, if there isn’t a clear next-step, your copy is almost certainly going to fail.

So keep your call-to-action simple and direct. Don’t force your reader to think.

For example:

    "Be our guest. Reserve your table on our website, www.AlineaRestaurant.com, today."

The Finished Product

When stitched together, Alinea’s promotional blurb is short and sweet. Depending on the circumstances, it could be expanded or even shortened. But for the purposes of this article, I think it reads just right:

    "Dine at Alinea, and join the I’ve-Eaten-the-Best-Food-in-the-World club.

    A club that will open your culinary head, forever changing the way you look at food and, perhaps, even the way you understand ingredients. At Alinea, dine on tempura-fried pheasant breast, while experiencing the delights of a Midwestern fall -- even if it’s January. At Alinea, eat an apple masquerading as a helium balloon. At Alinea, experience the weight of 3 Michelin stars: the bites, the service, the art of it all.

    But if you choose not to make a reservation, rest assured you'll go on living, laughing, and loving like you always have. Nothing will change. And wouldn’t that be unfortunate?

    Because beautiful and delicious and exciting as the Alinea experience is, it's nothing compared to what could be. It's nothing when pitted against the future -- your future -- after your mind is awakened to the potential of ingredients and the possibilities of food.

    Be our guest. Reserve your table on our website, www.AlineaRestaurant.com, today."

Is this copy going to sell everybody who reads it? Of course not. But then again, it wasn’t designed for everyone. It was designed for Foodie Francis, remember?

So, will it sell her? Perhaps. Nothing’s a sure thing. But thanks to Bob Stone’s Gem, I like my chances.

Written by Eddie Shleyner @VeryGoodCopy | Source: Hubspot

Six Rules To Simplify

How to Get Unstuck

Why do people feel so miserable and disengaged at work? Because today's businesses are increasingly and dizzyingly complex — and traditional pillars of management are obsolete, says Yves Morieux. So, he says, it falls to individual employees to navigate the rabbit's warren of interdependencies. In this energetic talk, Morieux offers six rules for "smart simplicity." (Rule One: Understand what your colleagues actually do.)

Source: TED / Presenter: Yves Morieux

Monday, 19 September 2016 13:12

How Great Leaders Inspire Action

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Still one of the most popular TED Talks in existence, filmed in 2009, this TED Talk by Simon Sinek has over 16 million views. He’ll have you thinking about the importance of your why and the reason that “why” truly makes all the difference in the world. While most people and companies start from the outside “what they do,” and work their way in, Sinek shares that true innovators start at the core addressing the “why” first, and then work from the inside out for great success. His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers ...

Simon Sinek TED Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action

Wondering about Dominion Blue's "Why"

It's Simple

We're printing for your success and we believe that printing and should be stress free. This really is why people choose us. Click HERE » to find out what customers are saying.

Source: TED / Presenter: Simon Sinek

Marketing Psychology: 10 Revealing Principles of Human Behavior

One key part of being a great marketer is understanding how (and why) people think and act the way they do. It's much harder to create compelling content marketing, for example, if you don’t know why it would be compelling to your audience in the first place.

Before you jump into the tactical nitty-gritty of marketing, it’s really helpful to understand how people operate … which is essentially what the entire field of psychology attempts to explain. Understanding some key principles of psychology can take your marketing from good to amazing, all because the right audience is reading and identifying with it (and most likely converting on it, too).


Psychology and Marketing: 10 Important Principles of Psychology You Should Use


1) Priming

Have you ever played the game where one person says a word, and the other immediately responds with the first thing that comes to mind?

That's kind of how priming works. You're exposed to one stimulus, and it affects how you respond to another stimulus. Psychology Today gives the example of two groups of people reading the word "yellow" followed by either "sky" or "banana." Because people have a semantic association between the fruit and its color, the "yellow-banana" group will recognize the word "banana" faster than the "yellow-sky" group recognizes "sky."

What's this got to do with marketing? Lots. Using subtle priming techniques, you could help your website visitors remember key information about your brand -- and maybe even influence their buying behavior.  

It's been tested before. In a study by Naomi Mandel and Eric J. Johnson, researchers manipulated the background design of a website to see if it'd affect consumers' product choices. Participants were asked to choose between two products in one category (like a Toyota vs. a Lexus). According to Psychology Today, "they found that visitors who had been primed on money (the website’s background was green with pennies on it) looked at price information longer than those who had been primed on safety. Similarly, consumers who had been primed on comfort looked at comfort information longer than those primed on money."

Marketing Psychology Chart

So if you're trying to make use of priming in your marketing, think about the small details. They could be the difference between someone buying your highest product price point and bouncing from your page.


2) Reciprocity

Introduced in Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, the concept of “reciprocity” is simple -- if someone does something for you, you naturally will want to do something for them.

If you've ever gotten a mint with your bill at a restaurant, you've been the victim of reciprocity. According to Cialdini, when servers bring a check to their patrons without a mint, the diners will tip according to their perceptions of the service given. With one mint, the tip jumps up 3.3%. Two mints? The tip jumps "through the roof" to roughly 20%.

In your marketing, there are a lot of ways to take advantage of reciprocity. You don’t have to be rolling in dough to give something away; it can be anything from a branded sweatshirt, to an exclusive ebook, to a free desktop background, to your expertise on a difficult subject matter. Even something as simple as a hand-written note can go a long way in establishing reciprocity. Just be sure you're giving away the free thing before you ask for something in return.


3) Social Proof

Most marketers are aware of this concept already, but it was too important to leave out from this list. If you're not familiar with it, social proof is the theory that people will adopt the beliefs or actions of a group of people they like or trust. In other words, it’s the “me too” effect. Think of this like an awkward middle school dance -- few people want to be the first one on the dance floor, but once a few people are there, everyone else wants to join in. (Keep in mind, this desire to conform doesn’t go away when you get older and less bashful about your dance moves.)

One easy way to make the most of social proof is on your blog. If you're not already, use social sharing and follow buttons that display the number of followers your accounts have or the number of shares a piece of content has. If those numbers are front and center and you already have a few people sharing your post, people who stumble on your post later will be much more likely to share.


4) Decoy Effect

You'll often see this effect in pricing models -- one price point is intentionally included to entice you to choose the most expensive option.

In Dan Airley's famous TED talk, "Are we in control of our own decisions?", he describes an ad from The Economist outlining their latest subscription packages. Here's what they offered:

    Online subscription: $59
    Print subscription: $125
    Online and print subscription: $125

Crazy, right? You could get the print only subscription and the online and print subscription for the same price. Why would they offer that?

That's what Airley thought, too. He reached out to the folks at The Economist, but he never got a straight answer from them.

So he decided to run his own study with 100 MIT students. He gave them the pricing packages outlined above and asked which one they'd want to buy. When all three options were there, students chose the combo subscription -- it was the best deal, right? But when he removed the "useless" option (the print subscription for $125), the students preferred the cheapest option.

Turns out that middle option wasn't that useless after all -- it gave students a frame of reference for how "good" the combo deal was and enticed them to pay more for that deal.

So if you're looking to increase conversions on a landing page with two options, you might want to add a third. It could help increase the conversion rate of the option you'd ultimately want people to take.


5) Scarcity

Ever gone to buy airline tickets and seen a tagline that says “Only 3 seats left at this price!” Yup, that’s scarcity (another Cialdini concept). This psychology principle goes back to the simple formula of supply and demand: The more rare the opportunity, content, or product is, the more valuable it is.

In 1975, Worchel, Lee, and Adewole conducted a study to see how scarcity affected people's perception. At the start of the study, they asked people to rate chocolate chip cookies. According to an article by my colleague Lanya Olmstead that describes the experiment, "[The researchers] put 10 cookies in one jar, and two of the same cookies in another jar. The cookies from the two-cookie jar received ratings twice as high as the 10 cookie jar even though the cookies were exactly the same."

But if you want to properly use this principle, you need to be careful how you word it. If you approach the scarcity concept as if there used to be a ton of a product or service, but due to popular demand there’s a few left, people will be very receptive. On the other hand, if you approach it from the angle that there are only a few products total, so get it now, the principle won’t be as effective. Check out this post from Nir and Far for a deeper explanation on why that distinction is important.


6) Anchoring

Ever wondered why it's so hard to resist a sale at your favorite clothing store?

Often, it has to do with anchoring -- people base decisions on the first piece of information they receive. So if my favorite store typically retails jeans for $50, but I find them on sale for $35, I'll be ecstatic. "I just got a crazy deal on these jeans," I'll think. I'll probably even buy them. But if my friend typically shops for jeans that are $20, she won't be nearly as impressed.

For marketers, anchoring is important to know -- especially if you're ever running a sale. You'll want to clearly state the initial price of the product (this is "setting" the anchor), and then display the sale price right next to it. You might even explain how much of a percentage off your customers will receive with the sale.

Marketing Psychology Ad Example


7) The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

Ever heard about a product and then start seeing it everywhere you look? You can thank the The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. It starts happening after you encounter something for the first time, and then you start noticing it cropping up in everyday life. Suddenly you see ads for the product every time you watch TV. And when you go to the grocery store, you happen to walk down the aisle and spot it. And alllllll of your friends all have the product.

It's weird right? Here's why you're suddenly seeing this new thing everywhere.

According to PS Mag, this phenomenon (also called "the frequency illusion") is caused by two processes. "The first, selective attention, kicks in when you’re struck by a new word, thing, or idea; after that, you unconsciously keep an eye out for it, and as a result find it surprisingly often. The second process, confirmation bias, reassures you that each sighting is further proof of your impression that the thing has gained overnight omnipresence."

For marketers, this phenomenon is precisely why nurturing is incredibly important. Once someone starts noticing your brand (aka clicking around on your website), you'll want to help them start seeing you "everywhere." Send them targeted nurturing emails and retargeting ads based on their behavior, and you could increase the possibility of them converting.


8) Verbatim Effect

According to a study by Poppenk, Joanisse, Danckert, and Köhler, people are more likely to remember the gist of what someone said, not the specific details. So when you attend a session on how to blog for your business, you're most likely going to remember details like "Have another person edit your work," not "Send a Google Doc three business days ahead of time to a peer so they can edit your work. Don't forget to use Track Changes so you know what you missed!"

They called this the "verbatim effect." And it can have a huge effect on how your content performs.

To begin with, people are spending less and less time actually reading online. According to data from Chartbeat, more than half of your visitors will spend less than 15 seconds on your site. So if people aren't reading your content and not likely to remember specific details, what's a marketer to do?

I'd recommend spending even more time than you already are on perfecting your headline. Not only should it be search- and sharing-friendly, but it should also accurately describe what's in your article. This way, when people are looking for more information on a given topic, they'll think of that one helpful article they read a while ago and Google the topic to find it again. If you've done the work, you should appear in the search results. If you need some help writing compelling headline copy, check out this post on our blog.


9) Clustering

People have a limited amount of space in their short-term memory. In fact, most people can only remember seven pieces of information (plus or minus two pieces in any given situation) at a time.

To cope, most people tend to cluster similar pieces of information together. For example, if you had a whole grocery list of random items, most people would tend to mentally group items into certain categories (dairy, grain, meat, etc.) to be able to better remember what exactly was on the list.

So when you're creating content, keep clustering in mind. How can you design and lay out your content to increase memory retention? One way to do it is by grouping similar topics together -- either under numbered bullet points or with different header sizes. Besides being much easier to scan, your writing will be much easier to remember and recall down the road -- especially if you’re creating long lists of content.


10) Loss Aversion

Loss aversion means pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Once someone has something, they realllllly don't like to lose it.

When Daniel Kahneman studied this concept, participants were given mugs, chocolate, or nothing. Then, they were asked to make a choice, they were given two options: If they were given an object, they could trade their objects, or if they were given nothing, they could choose one of the two items. The result? Roughly half of the participants who started with no items chose mugs, but 86% of those given mugs to begin with stuck with that item.

Moral of the story? People don't like to lose what they've already gained.

Though this could open up some semi-sketchy doors for certain types of marketers, loss aversion could have a significant factor in freemium products and increased product adoption. For example, you could ungate a feature for the free version of your product for a certain amount of time. After that time period is up, that feature could be removed unless you upgrade to becoming a paying customer. While you certainly have to be careful how you play to this psychological need, loss aversion is a very important concept for every marketer to know.

Written By: Ginny Soskey / Hubspot Blog

 

 

Grammar Mistakes | Why Your Brain Lets You Make Them

Calling out other people's grammar mistakes has become a favorite internet pastime.

From news articles and blog posts to emails and tweets, if there's an error in there, someone's going to remark on it. Especially if it's made by a brand. (Hey, we're guilty of it, too.)

And who could blame them? I also feel a certain sense of pride when I find a typo in a popular book. Sometimes I circle it with a pencil -- you know, in case the publisher ever puts out a call for typos and I need to find it easily. You never know.

But here's the thing: Grammatical errors don't necessarily mean the author didn't know better. I could go on for days about the differences between "whether" and "weather" -- and yet, for some reason, that one trips me up on a regular basis, especially when I'm texting.

Why? Because our brains are wired in a way that makes us all susceptible to grammar slip-ups.

Let that sink in for a second. No one is safe from making grammar mistakes -- not even the Chief of the Grammar Police.

In fact, some of the most common grammatical errors don't happen because the writer is being careless; they happen because the writer is focused on their writing at a much higher level than the order of letters in a word.

Let's dig in to why.


It's Not Your Fault

Think about how quickly you need to access words and interpret meaning when writing an email or having a conversation. Our brains don't just stow away every individual word in our vocabularies in enormous storehouses, ready to be called upon, one-by-one, at a moment's notice.

Instead, most linguistic researchers agree that words are stored in groups according to the relationship between words. They call the process "word priming."


How does word priming work?

In a study outlined in David A. Sousa's How the Brain Learns to Read, subjects were presented with pairs of words. The first word was called the "prime," and the second word was called the "target." The prime was always a real word, but subjects were told the target could either be a real word or a non-word (like spretz). In the experiment, researchers showed the subjects the prime and the target, and the subjects had to decide as quickly as possible whether the target was a real word.

In every case, people were much faster and more accurate in making decisions about target words that were related in meaning to the prime (like swan/goose) than they were if the prime and target were unrelated (like tulip/goose).

Researchers suspect the reason it took less time for people to identify related pairs is because these words are actually physically closer to one another among the neurons in the brain, and that related words might be stored together in specific cerebral regions.

Another way of framing our tendency to pair words together is that it simply becomes a habit.

Dr. Tom Stafford, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Sheffield who studied Wikipedia edits to see what they reveal about how the brain processes language, told The Washington Post, "When you first start typing, you don't have any habits. And then as you become fluid, that skill is based on the assemblage of routines that you don't have to think about."

Both sets of research are complementary: Scientists have found that when people form habits (like learning to group related words together), the neurons in their brains can change their firing patterns so that these habits become more automated and take less mental energy when they're repeated.


What does this have to do with grammar mistakes?

Andrew Heisel of The Washington Post uses this example:

"If a friend texts that she’s 'going to a concert' and you want to tell her you’re also going, you might type, 'I’m going, to,' instead of 'I’m going, too.' Your brain is used to hearing the word 'going' followed by the word 'to' (as in going to work/school/etc.) and it just saw the phrase used that way in your friend’s text. Conversely, in sentences that should end with the preposition 'to,' people often write 'too' because that word more frequently concludes a sentence."

We all start out our emails and text messages and tweets with a specific concept we want to express, such as the fact that we're also going to the concert. But when we actually type these concepts out, we unconsciously think about several options (like "going to" vs. "going, too") and pick one. This process happens so quickly that we sometimes select the wrong one.

We're especially prone to error when we're choosing between two words or phrases that sound the same.

“Usually we pay a lot of attention to pronunciation while we’re typing because it’s usually a really good cue how to spell things,” says Maryellen MacDonald, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. “When someone types ‘Are dog is really cute,’ it’s not that they don’t know the difference between ‘are’ and ‘our’; it’s that the pronunciation of ‘our’ in the mind activated the spelling ‘our’ but also ‘are.’”

This can happen with even the oddest of homophones, like when people mistakenly write "28" when they meant to type "20A." An error like that puts the classic your/you're and there/their mistakes into perspective a little bit more.


Grammar Takes a Back Seat to Meaning

In the end, it all comes down to generalization -- what WIRED's Nick Stockton calls "the hallmark of all higher-level brain functions."

Generalization is the grouping strategy that helps our brains respond quickly to situations similar to one we're already familiar with. It's what helps us take in information, combine it with our habits and past experiences, and then extract meaning from it. And it's fundamental to our ability to communicate.

But, at the same time, it makes us prone to grammatical mistakes no matter how well we can write. Typos aren't usually a result of stupidity or carelessness, Dr. Stafford explains. Instead, they often happen because trying to convey meaning in your writing is actually a very high-level task.

"As with all high-level tasks, your brain generalizes simple, component parts (like turning letters into words and words into sentences) so it can focus on more complex tasks (like combining sentences into complex ideas)," writes Stockton.

Of course, you should still proofread everything and get a fresh pair of eyes to look over your written work. But at least you can rest easier knowing that you made that typo in last week's blog post not because you were ignorant or negligent, but because you were hyper-focused on conveying meaningful information to your readers.

I know I will.

Written By: Lindsay Kolowich / Hubspot Blog

Back To Grammar School

Communication skills are more important than ever, but what if your grammar doesn’t quite make the grade?

Technology has reshaped how we communicate in the business world. Fifty years ago, you would have walked over to your coworker’s desk or called up to the second floor to ask a question. Now, whether your coworkers are in the next cube or half a world away, it’s standard practice to email, instant message, or text. An increasing number of employees are “working with people they have never met and communicating with them largely through email," Will Ellet, adjunct professor of writing at Brandeis International Business School, told CNBC.

No matter what format your written communication takes, it needs to be clear and concise. Misunderstandings can lead to costly mistakes. Given that the average business user sends and receives over 100 emails a day, no one has time to read rambling messages that don't get to the point quickly.

We could all use a little refresher on our business writing skills. And thanks to a wealth of free classes and resources online, we can improve our grammar and writing from the comfort of our own desk chairs -- without spending a dime.

To get you started, we've put together a list of tips for quickly improving your written communication skills. Check 'em out. (And if you're looking for more, here's an excellent list of helpful websites and tools that address common grammar questions and errors.)

 

12 Quick Tips For Better Business Writing

1) Develop a daily writing habit.

Practice makes perfect, so set aside just ten or fifteen minutes each day to free-write. In other words, just get your thoughts down without worrying about proofreading. (You can then use a tool like Grammarly to help spot mistakes after you've finished writing.)


2) Try to read every day, too.

In addition to writing each day, a daily reading habit is also a great way to increase your vocabulary and expand your writing repertoire. Pack a novel alongside your lunch or peruse a magazine—even blogs can be a great source of quality writing (if we do say so ourselves).


3) Capitalize when you're supposed to.

Email subject lines, blog post headlines, and report titles should be capitalized just like book titles.


4) Avoid using exclamation points.

Often, we rely on exclamation points too heavily as a crutch.

"Don't ask punctuation to do a word's job," warns Beth Dunn, chief writer and editor on HubSpot's product team. "It dilutes your message." Instead, she suggests working on making our words convey more precisely what you want to say. When in doubt about whether to use an exclamation point, consult this flowchart.


5) Always think about your audience.

You can be casual with your coworkers and peers, but when communicating with management or clients, it’s a good idea to write using more formal grammar. Keep in mind that "formal" doesn’t necessarily mean stilted or old-fashioned.


6) Cut the filler phrases and buzzwords.

Wordy phrases such as “due to the fact that” should be swapped out for their simpler, more straightforward synonyms. (In this case, “because” gets the job done.) Some buzzwords may be trendy, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're effective in communicating ideas clearly. Remove them from your business communication unless you’re sure that everyone understands exactly what “synergy” means.


7) Take advantage of free writing courses online.

Massively open online courses (MOOCs) are only multiplying, and you can find free courses offered by Coursera, Udemy, and edX, as well as universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.


8) Use templates.

Templates can save you some serious time and effort. If you have to send out similar letters or memos on a regular basis, create a template with customizable fields. You can always personalize your communication with a sentence or two.

Here are 78 free content creation templates for ebooks, press releases, SlideShares, infographics, and more to help you get started.


9) Make sure you address people correctly.

Avoid accidentally insulting someone by triple-checking names, gender, personal pronouns, and titles.

Dustin Wax of Lifehack writes, “If you’re not positive about the spelling of someone’s name, their job title (and what it means), or their gender, either a) check with someone who does know (like their assistant), or b) in the case of gender, use gender-neutral language.”


10) Study commonly misused words and phrases -- and never get them wrong.

It is "peek," "peak," or "pique"? Which one is correct: "first-come, first-served" or "first-come, first-serve"? There are a lot of commonly misused words and phrases out there that you should know.

For example, what's the difference between "that" and "which"? In short, "that" introduces essential information, meaning the stuff that would turn your sentence into nonsense if you took it out. It does not get a comma. On the other hand, "which" introduces non-essential information and is preceded by a comma. (For an in-depth explanation, read this post from Grammar Girl.)

When in doubt, do a quick Google search. It's worth it.


11) Drop the word "very" from your vocabulary.

Florence King once wrote, "'Very' is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out. More than useless, it is treacherous because it invariably weakens what it is intended to strengthen."

You’ll be amazed at the difference removing it makes in your writing.


12) Read your writing out loud.

Before you send anything important, read through it out loud quickly. It may seem a little strange, but reading your writing out loud is one of the most effective ways to catch typos, grammar errors, and awkward phrasing.

These self-paced, self-study tips will help you improve your writing and communication skills in no time.

Written By: Allison VanNest / Hubspot Blog

Graphic Novels and Comics

Ever since I've been old enough to hold a book, I've been crazy for comics. To this day, few things provide me with more pleasure than the combination of pictures and words, telling stories together in ways that neither can do on their own.

As PR, marketing and journalism become increasingly visual disciplines, it makes sense that practitioners can learn much from great examples of comics, so here's a preliminary list of works that I think have a lot to say to communicators. You won't find many superheroes or spaceships here - my own tastes tend a bit more toward the indie end of the spectrum, where artists have more freedom to experiment with what they say and how they say it. Though this list may be limited - these selections are overwhelmingly American, for starters, and I wish there were more women authors - it's only the beginning of what's out there. I'd love to hear additional suggestions!

UNDERSTANDING COMICS, by Scott McCloud
An explanation of the aesthetics of comics in the form of a comic itself, this book is actually one of the greatest - and most enjoyable - textbooks on general visual communication out there. In expounding on the power of the cartoon image and demonstrating how the essential nature of comics makes it one of the most engaging art forms, it's a book that provides incredible insights that are applicable across nearly all forms of communication.

BUILDING STORIES, by Chris Ware
You'd be forgiven if, at first glance, you thought Chris Ware's work consisted of a series of infographics, thanks to his clean style and penchant for cramming his images full of innovative constructions and intriguing detail. His commitment to using every imaginable visual tool came to a head in Building Stories, which is actually a series of 14 smaller works packaged together to tell the story of the residents of a single apartment house, each piece designed and printed in a completely different style. It's a treasure box of visual inspiration that shows the boundaries of how and what the medium is capable of communicating.

GOVERNMENT ISSUE: COMICS FOR THE PEOPLE, 1940s-2000s, by Richard L. Graham
Did you know that the U.S. government has been using comics as a tool for communicating with audiences since the 1940s? This compilation brings together some of the best (and strangest) examples of federally-funded funnybooks, intended to educate the public on everything from military etiquette to financial planning to fire safety. It's a great way to see the many communications uses that comics can be put to. (Pair it with Drawing Power: A Compendium of Cartoon Advertising, 1870s-1940s to enjoy a look at the commercial side of this history.)

WHAT IT IS, by Lynda Barry
Don't let Lynda Barry's deceptively childlike images fool you - hiding beneath the playful, chaotic surface of this book is a mature and inspiring manual about how to get over your fears and communicate with confidence. Drawing from a personal period of writer’s block after years as a celebrated cartoonist, it intersperses autobiography with instruction in a bid to give readers the courage to create. (If you like this, be sure to follow up with Barry's Picture This, which helps readers learn how to draw without fear, and Syllabus, which brings her unique teaching methods to life.)

PALESTINE, by Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco is a pioneer of first-person journalism in the medium of comics, and this book, compiled from individual comics released in the early 1990s, is his groundbreaking work in the field. Developed from experiences and interviews conducted in Gaza and the West Bank in 1991 and 1992, it demonstrates definitively that graphic storytelling is a respectable, effective form of reporting - paving the way for it to be embraced for every possible kind of story, no matter how serious.

ASTERIOS POLYP, by Dave Mazzuchelli
The story of an architecture professor undergoing a personal crisis, this fictional tale is a master class in visual thinking. Seeking out connections is both a visual and narrative theme of the book - the characters are mostly drawn in starkly different styles, but, when they communicate successfully, these styles mesh together on the page. The protagonist's inner life is depicted via charts, graphs, posters and other tools. By bringing a human dimension to what could have been abstract thinking about the way we communicate, it provides a series of tactics and strategies that can be reimagined to tell any human story.

INFOMANIACS, by Matthew Thurber
In this surreal tale of technology run amok, reality can be photoshopped, physical objects can be downloaded, and, at one point, a page of the story is obscured by a pop-up ad. It's a freewheeling, ribald satire of life in the Information Age, and a reminder to communicators that our work is plumbing strange new territory - and maybe even changing the fabric of reality as we know it.

Written By: Jeff Lewonczyk / Ketchum Blog

Improving Company Culture

Company culture is something that is very close to me. I refer to myself as an HR-driven CEO, and I mean it. If someone at VaynerMedia is unhappy, it is entirely my fault. Period.

Because of that, I spend a good amount of time making sure my ideas on company culture are loud and clear. Not all companies have great culture, and it can be difficult to change when it’s been one way for so long. But it is possible to improve and shift until those changes are permanent.

The first step is something tactical, something you can execute on right away. I don’t care where you work, you probably have had a meeting that you found to be totally useless, right? This piece of advice is practical as hell, and it’s this: Cut all meetings in half. Seriously. Meetings can be some of the least productive places in an office, and when people feel like their time is being wasted, they get upset, and feel undervalued. Cut meetings in half. I promise everything will still get done, you’ll just eliminate the banter and tangents that usually happen.

The second step I would advise you to take: Hang around. Yes, seriously. Find ways to shift your busy schedule so you can be in the office more. Spend as much time with your employees as you can, and not just leadership. Everyone. Let them learn by being around you. Emulate the culture you wish to have and let people soak it in. Learning by osmosis can be tremendously successful in this regard.

When you’re doing that, there is one thing you need to do that might not be the first thing on your mind, and that is to listen. The best way to get things done is to be a great listener. No one ever talked their way through a problem. And this is step three. Straight up. Not only do you need to be a great listener, but you need promote that standard within the company. Hire for this skill and you will not be sorry, especially when looking for project managers. Someone who can listen without interrupting and asks a lot of questions is a good listener.

And what about hiring? That absolutely plays into company culture, of course. Let those doing the hiring learn by osmosis, like I talked about above. If you’re someone who has a hard time choosing between candidates, my answer is this: Hire like you mean it. Don’t hesitate with decisions; just make a damn call. At some point, you have to just do it. And if you're going "No Gary, seriously they're both great" ... maybe you need to hire both of them. Figure it out.

Now, you’re probably wondering what the last piece of advice is going to be, right? What is the ending thought I am going to leave you all with? Well, you might be saying right about now “Gary, this is all great, but what if my company culture is just seriously messed up?” I hear that. I get it. Sometimes things are just so bad you aren’t sure how they got there. And to that, here is my final, last ditch effort piece of advice: Nix the leadership. Everything stems from the top. They are the ones who set the tone in meetings. They also control the overall sentiment individual teams have, since employees look to leadership as a guide. If the system is broken, fix it by refreshing your team.

  • And that’s it. That is what you do.
  • Cut meetings in half.
  • Hang around.
  • Hire listeners.
  • Hire like you mean it.
  • Nix the leadership.

Now I want to see you execute on these steps. If you need to change company culture, take action. Now. Nothing will happen till you actually make the moves. It’s all about execution. You could read 10 more articles like this, but who cares. In the end, you have to go for it. Who knows; your company future could be in the balance here. Culture should be your priority, and that starts now.

Source: HubSpot Blog / Written By: Gary Vaynerchuk

 

Greeting Card Grammar TIps

With December only one month away, that means one thing — it’s time to send out those end-of-year holiday greetings again.

For friends and family, that might be as simple as shooting off a text message, but for clients & colleagues printed cards still score top marks.

While adding standard best wishes to a greeting card, a few questions about how to write them properly often come up. For instance, should it be “Seasons Greetings” or “Season’s Greetings”? Should “holiday season” be capitalized? And what’s the preferred spelling for “Hannukah”?

So, before you head to your office’s card signing party — or sit down to tackle your own list — consider these guidelines for 10 common holiday greetings:

  1. Best wishes for the holiday season – The holidays are a special time of year, and it’s tempting to emphasize this by capitalizing any word associated with them (and write this greeting as “Best wishes for the Holiday Season”). But stick to the basic rules of grammar, and you can’t go wrong. In general, capitalize only proper nouns, such as the name of a holiday, and the first letter in a sentence.
  2. Deck the halls – Adapting expressions from popular holiday songs can be a fun way to send well wishes, as in “Hope you have fun decking the halls.” But many people wonder whether it’s necessary to capitalize the adaptation or set it off with quotation marks. Usually neither is necessary. Unless proper nouns or the start of a sentence is involved, lowercase is appropriate. Quotation marks can be used to emphasize the fact that you’re borrowing from what might be licensed material, but if the expression is well-known, using them is more a matter of preference than official style.
  3. Happy Hanukkah – The biggest question many people have is about the right way to spell the name for the Jewish Festival of Lights. Hanukkah, Hannukah, and Chanukah are all common spellings — and Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary even lists Hanukka and Hanuka as alternatives. But Hanukkah is often the first listing in dictionaries and is the preferred spelling in the Associated Press Stylebook.
  4. Happy Holidays – With so many people celebrating different holidays at the same time of year, this has become a catch-all greeting to cover everything. While “holidays” isn’t technically a proper noun, in this instance, it is being used to replace words that are (substitute “Christmas,” “Hanukkah,” “Kwanzaa,” etc.). So, capitalizing it is common practice and is acceptable even when it’s part of a sentence, as in “Happy Holidays to you and your family.” Outside of this use, lowercase “holidays,” as in “I hope you enjoy the holidays.”
  5. Happy New Year – The official holiday is New Year’s Day, but it’s acceptable to keep the capital letters for this standard greeting. In some other uses, however, lowercase is more appropriate, as in “I hope your new year is off to a great start.” Also, note that New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve are written with an apostrophe before the “s.”
  6. Joyous Kwanzaa – The correct spelling for the holiday is “Kwanzaa.” Do not confuse it with “kwanza,” the Swahili word meaning “first,” which the holiday is derived from.
  7. Merry Christmas or Merry Xmas – “X” is the symbol for the first letter in the Greek word for Christ and has long been used as a shortened spelling of the holiday. But some people are put off by the substitution. If you’re not sure about the preference of the person you’re sending greetings to, you won’t go wrong with “Merry Christmas.”
  8. Peace on earth – Similar to “deck the halls,” capitalize “peace” only if it begins a sentence. No need to capitalize “earth.”
  9. Season’s Greetings – Multiple holidays are celebrated in one combined season, so use an apostrophe and “s” to show that you are sending greetings of the season. Also, treat this catch-all greeting like “Happy Holidays” and capitalize both words.
  10. Warm wishes – If trying to remember when to capitalize is too taxing, keep it simple by avoiding words that might need it.

Chances are most people will care less about your grammar and more about the sentiment of your greetings. So, whether you use these guidelines or not, remember to take a moment to send well wishes to clients, colleagues and friends.

Source: Ketchumblog / Written By: Calmetta Coleman

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