Aristotle’s Trifecta of Content

I had a professor in college who loved to play a game “Shakespeare wrote every possible story.” He would challenge a student to name a movie they liked, and he would say without hesitation a Shakespearian play that had the same plot. It was kind of annoying, but it was his class, and he was an expert on Shakespeare, so whatever.

I’ve found that the basis of good stories and good writing goes back much further than Shakespeare. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Aristotle’s Poetics. He told us pretty much everything you need to know about crafting a good story, and with so much focus on content and storytelling in marketing, that’s an important skill to have. 

Now I do take exception to his comment about women not being clever. (I think I can be clever once in a while.) But he also said women have fewer teeth than men and considering he was married twice, you’d think a guy as smart as him would have been able to confirm that’s not the case. Anyway, he did have a lot to say about constructing a story that still rings true.

Perhaps his most famous formula for writing is that every story has to have a beginning, middle, and end. That sounds simple enough, but that’s like telling someone to use good grammar is simple. It’s a simple statement, but actually having sparkling grammar isn’t so simple at all.

We often are taught a version of this formula when we learn to write essays in school. We start with a thesis statement, followed by paragraphs with supporting information and ending with a conclusion.

When it comes to marketing content, the structure is similar. We often open with a problem, give supporting information as to why we have the answer, and then end with a call to action. Of course good content has many subtleties and nuances to them, and really good content writers create a story that draws us in and touch our emotions. That’s where Aristotle’s other big idea comes into play.

Perhaps more important than the idea of beginning, middle and end was Aristotle’s idea of ethos, pathos, and logos. This is the trifecta all good content is based on. 

Ethos 

Ethos is credibility and trust. No one cares what you have to say if they don’t trust you. Trust mostly comes from branding and reputation, and content is a major way to reinforce your brand and solidify reputation. It’s no secret that reputation has a major effect on a company’s stock price with research showing it accounts for up to a third of the stock price. 

Pathos

This is all about emotions. It’s showing hungry children and mistreated dogs and pulling at our heartstrings so we open our purse strings. One of the most infamous ads playing to emotions was from Lyndon Johnson’s campaign in the ’60s of the cute little girl with a daisy interrupted by an atomic explosion. It’s a well-crafted ad featuring the overlapping counting of the girl and the bomb launch countdown, but geez louise, it’s creepy, and it evokes fear one of our strongest emotions. 

Logos

With logos, Aristotle encourages us to use reason and provide proof of our claims. One of the advantages of content marketing is the ability to provide details because it tends to be longer. Short TV ads or Facebook ads don’t really provide the ability to give more than a headline. These shorter versions pull your audience in. Content such as blogs, e-books, corporate communications, and the like helps you give details that prove your claim. Superior content relies not just on creativity, but also on logic.

Aristotle, for all his deep thinking and insightful wisdom, encouraged writers to write simply and write to your audience.  He said, “A good style must, first of all, be clear. It must not be mean or above the dignity of the subject. It must be appropriate.” Good advice no matter what type of writing we do.

The Power of the Right Word

Not long ago, I was running through the neighborhood when a boxer came barking and charging across a lawn right at me. I knew I couldn’t outrun the dog and figured running wouldn’t help me so I turned to face him and backed away.

I had heard once that “no” is a universal work that all dogs are familiar with, so I mustarded up my deepest, strongest, alpha-dog voice and said, “NO!”  The dog stopped in his tracks and turned his head, clearly confused that I knew the magic word.  He then glanced around him, like he thought his owner was nearby and he was being punked.

He turned back to me and turned his head to the other side.  I repeated “NO!” I don’t think dogs can shrug their shoulders, but if they could he would have just before he turned around and walked back to take up sentry duty on his porch.

It’s not only our canine friends who respond to the right word, so do we. Words are powerful.  The right word unleashes a tsunami of power. The right word has the power to persuade us, make us cry and make us laugh.

Concrete, specific words transmit so much more information than general words.  For example, there is a big difference between eating “food” and eating “three scoops of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chip ice cream.”

Don’t settle for just any word.  Use the right word.  The results will be powerful.

In Defense of “Me”

dreamstime_7591762There’s probably some psychological term for it in some obscure medical journal somewhere.  I’m talking about the abhorrence of the word me. I feel sorry for me.  It’s a perfectly fine word, but somehow it’s become a pariah to be avoided at all costs for fear of sounding…I don’t know…unlearned maybe.

To avoid me, many people use myself instead. Here’s an example of a recent email I saw.

“If you have questions, please contact customer service or myself.”

I’m sure the writer thought myself sounded smarter than the sad, little pronoun me.  However, me is the correct usage there and myself is well…wrong.

The basic rule for using myself can be summed up in one word – don’t.  I say don’t use it because 95 percent of the time, we get it wrong.  OK, so I made that statistic up, but I’m sure if I actually did a content analysis, 95 percent would be a low estimate.

If you want to use myself, here’s how.  Myself is a reflective pronoun, as in “I see myself in them mirror.” A reflective pronoun is the object so it can never be the subject. In other words, the subject of the sentence is the one doing something, and the object is the one having something done to it.  If you don’t want to dissect your sentences, generally, when you use the word myself the word I will also be in the sentence.  For example:

  • I’m going to treat myself to a spa day.
  • I see myself going to Hawaii one day.
  • I did the shopping by myself.

Myself can also be used to add emphasis to a sentence.  You might say, “I myself saw the bridge collapse.”

Now let’s take a look at the much maligned meMe is an object pronoun, which means it refers to the person the action of the verb is being done to or it is the person to whom a preposition refers.  Because of that, me isn’t likely to be at the beginning sentence, but that’s not a hard and fast rule.  Here are some examples:

  • They warned me it was time to go.
  • Please call customer service or me with any questions.
  • The committee wants to hear from you and me tomorrow.

Will you join me in my campaign to elevate the status of me, and return it to its rightful place? I can’t do it by myself.  I will take you and me.

The Secret to Learning to Write…Well

I used to teach college English and a common complaint was that students can’t write. It’s easy to blame texting or emails or watching too much TV, but that’s really not it. The fact is, this has been an issue for as long as anyone has been keeping track.

When I was in graduate school I wrote a paper about writing at a college level. The one consistent factor – whether it was 1880 or today – is that college professors complained that students don’t know how to write. I think the problem doesn’t lie with students but the way we teach writing, or rather don’t teach it.

In secondary school, we focus a lot on grammar. Granted grammar is important, but grammar alone doesn’t teach you to write. It’s like teaching someone to run a table saw and then expecting them to be able to build a house. You need more than grammar to write well. In fact, there is some literature that suggests writers who stop and start their writing to pick at grammar tend to be poor writers.

There probably a reason schools focus on grammar. It is a lot easier to grade than writing. It’s easy to grade someone on whether or not they can identify a noun, but it’s a bit more complicated to grade on things like style and tone and proper use of transitions. While I was teaching college, we had a meeting with instructors from across several disciplines. One exercise we did was to have everyone grade the same student paper. The grades for that same paper ranged from an A to a D.

Not only is grading papers harder, but it takes a LOT of time if the instructor gives meaningful comments. I also found that many students view comments and critiques of their writing as an attack on their person, in ways that marking a problem as incorrect on an algebra test isn’t.

So how do we teach people to write? Back in the 1800s, it was believed that all you had to do to learn to write was to learn Latin. The only problem is Latin isn’t English. Today’s methodology doesn’t seem to be working that much better gauging from some of the business emails I’ve read lately. Most colleges require woefully few papers, so students aren’t getting the practice and instruction they need to get better at crafting clear writing.

Here’s how you learn to write.

You ready for the secret.

You write. And then you rewrite. Granted you may not learn to write like Shakespeare or Jane Austin or Hemingway or (fill in the name of your favorite author), but you can learn to construct clear and understandable communications.

Another help in writing is understanding good old-fashioned Logic. Studying Greek philosophy (better known as old, dead white guys) may sound like a topic begging for an eye roll, but part of real-world writing is solidly grounded in logic. This is especially true of any type of persuasive writing whether it’s directed at customers, colleagues or crafting that perfect Tweet.

Marketing To All Five Senses

I recently met a friend at Weber Grill Restaurant for lunch.  As I walked toward the entrance I was greeted by the smell of charcoal burning. Despite the fact that it was about 35 degrees out and there was snow on the ground, somewhere in the back of my lizard brain I felt the sunshine of a summer’s day with kids laughter nearby.  There were friends setting in lawn chairs chatting while a gaggle of men surrounded the grill (as they always do) at a backyard barbeque.

Never mind that the smell disappeared once I walked into the restaurant. The feelings and emotions of a lazy, lovely summer day were firmly planted in my mind.

Welcome to sensory marketing.

Too often marketers rely only on the visual to get messages across, ignoring the power of the other senses. However, research has shown that the other senses can sometimes invoke stronger reactions. For example, one university experiment found that giving pencils the unusual scent of tea tree oil dramatically increased research subjects’ ability to remember the pencils’ brand.

As an added bonus to marketers, consumers don’t usually perceive sensory marketing as advertising, so they don’t view the reaction with the cynical “advertising filter” most of us have.

So, don’t forget to give your customer’s other senses something to do.

 

Stop the Madness of Corporate Gobbledy Gook

We’ve all been victims of bad corporate communications.  If you’ve received an email from the CEO, a letter from department head on the company intranet, read a press release or any more of a dozen corporate communications avenues, you’ve been hit by the gobbledy gook that passes for communications.

Chances are you’ve had a “paradigm shift” that came from “sharing best practices” that were “necessary to fully utilize our customer interface” to “take advantage of our competitive advantage.”

PR Daily gives a rundown of some actual sentences in press releases and translates – I mean – rewrites them into real language that people can understand.

Here are five ways we can stop the madness:

  1. Stop writing things by committee.  I know everyone wants to give their opinion, especially if it’s an important corporate communication like an annual report or layoff notice.  But that doesn’t mean everyone gets to rewrite it.
  2. Stop covering up.  Oftentimes these types of abominations come from trying to cover up that you don’t really have anything to say or trying to make it sound like you’re making progress when you really aren’t.
  3. Stop trying to sound important.  A strange thing happens when we start writing corporate communications: we lose our minds. We start spewing fancy words that don’t mean anything and string them together like a tangled ball of Christmas lights, which we throw at our reader and expect them to be delighted to spend time untangling.
  4. Stop going around the barn to get to the house. The best communications are concise and to the point.  Get to the point and move on.  People will appreciate your respect for their time not spend digging through your email to figure out what the point is.
  5. Stop ignoring your communications folks.  Corporate communications professionals are paid to make executives sound good.  Stop beating them down so they acquiesce to jargon.  Trust them when they advise you to keep it simple and straightforward.

I can’t resist ending with one of the best examples, ever. At the top of the Hall of Shame is this horribly convoluted email from Microsoft informing employees that thousands are about to be laid off (anyway, I think that’s what it’s about), with delightful commentary by New Yorker Magazine.  This is corporate-speak at its pinnacle.

Twitter’s Periscope Celebrates One-Year Anniversary

Periscope one yearLive streaming is one of the most exciting and dynamic media around. Currently leading the pack is Periscope which just celebrated its one-year anniversary

The Twitter-owned Periscope thanked it’s users in a post, which also stated that 200 million broadcasts have been created on Periscope and over 110 years of live video are watched every day on iOS and Android.  Not too shabby, but Periscope remains number 1 mostly due to lack of rivals. However, that may change soon.

Periscope won an early battle against Meerket which had the wisdom to move on to something else and just announced it is moving away from live streaming.

Other contenders are looming on the horizon.  Facebook launched Facebook Live earlier this year. Snapchat recently announced 8 billion video views a day.  And the worst keep secret on the Internet is that Google is developing a live streaming app called YouTube Connect.

While live streaming are great ways to share our kids birthday parties, the fun we are having at a concert or when we witness breaking news, it is also a perfect tool for businesses.   Here are some tips:

  1. Pull back the curtain – Periscope is raw, personal, and unpolished.  If you work at home, show the kids running through the room while you’re on a conference call or show the battle you have with the cat over your office chair.  If you work in an office, let people see what an office meeting is like or introduce your team.  This helps people feel like an insider, and it can be fun, for you, your team, and your viewers.
  2. Product demo – Photos can’t show a product like a live demo can.  Showcase how the product works or how it looks.
  3. Training – Show, don’t tell. Use Periscope to show people how to do something.
  4. Live events – Periscope during events to share the fun and information with viewers who can’t be there.
  5. Live Q & A – Take questions from views and answer them live.  It can keep you on your toes and help address issues that your viewers have.
  6. Interview an expert – If you’re at a conference or have an expert or senior executive visiting your facility, ask to do a short interview them on Periscope.  Don’t forget the experts in the office next door who can also do a good interview and provide solid expertise.

The beauty of the Twitter/Periscope connection is that it’s great to announce your live streaming on Twitter to give folks a heads up and let them know the topic you’ll be covering.  Then tweet again when the live streaming begins.

Periscope is a great place to jump into live streaming, but keep an eye on other avenues. Live video and video of any kind are great ways to connect.

Say “Hello” to the Echoverse

It had to be done. When hiking the Grand Canyon, I couldn’t resist yelling “Hello” to hear the echo. So I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled as loud as I could.  My voice bounced around and around me.

The same thing happens in the world of marketing communications. We cup our hands around our latest marketing message and send it out with gusto.  But the real fun begins when the message echoes off the walls of all the types of media our target market consumes.

Newly published research in the Journal of Marketing gives insight into how our messages bounce all around our target market.  The article outlines what  the researchers call an “echoverse,” which forms a complex feedback loop (the echo) between a corporation’s brand communications, news media and user-generated social media (the universe.) These elements reverberate and echo one another, just like my voice around the walls of the Grand Canyon.

Here are some of their findings:

  • A personalized Twitter strategy, focused on responding to individual customers, may be more effective than using social media as a promotional medium.
  • Of no surprise to anyone, negative news travels fast and wide between media and word-of-mouth.
  • A press release can be surprisingly effective.
  • Traditional advertising bypasses the echoverse.
  • The use of both online and traditional offline marketing elements are important.

In addition, the research suggests that corporate communications and consumer communications about a corporation or product have moved in inverse directions.  Corporate communications has gone from one-to-many (advertising) to one-to-one (Twitter). Consumer word-of-mouth communications have moved in the opposite direction from one-to-one (conversations) to one-to-many (social media).

The authors of the research acknowledge it’s limitations since it focuses on four leading U.S. financial institutions, and Twitter was used as the proxy for social media, but it does provide insights that are transferable to other industries.  If you’d like to read more, see  Brand Buzz in the Echoverse, in the March 2016 issue of the Journal of Marketing.

Carousel Advertising Added to Facebook Mobile

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 9.40.43 AMFacebook has added carousel advertising to mobile after nearly a year on desktop.  Carousel advertising is one ad that has up to 5 sub ads to scroll through.

According to Facebook, carousel link ads drive 30-50% lower cost-per-conversion and 20-30% lower cost-per-click than single-image link ads.  The key is to create a story between the ads to entice viewers to want to scroll rather than a row of ads. With all the advertising we are constantly bombarded with, a well-done carousel ad will make users want to interact and interaction means additional attention.

Instagram also offers carousel ads.  Click here to see a demo video.

Successful Meme Icon To Be Retired From Advertising Campaign

Most Interesting ManThe Most Interesting Man in The World ad campaign is coming to a close. The face that launched a thousand memes is taking a one-way trip to Mars.  No joke.

The enormously successful campaign isn’t going away.  Sales have nearly tripled since the campaign began in 2007.  Dos Equis, owned by Heinekin, obviously know a good thing when it sees it and will continue with a new Most Interesting Man in the World after it retires Jonathan Goldsmith, the uber-suave actor who has played the character.

The new face is yet to be announced. It will be interesting to see how the campaign fairs with the change.

If you’re interested in make your own meme of The Most Interesting Man in the world or other well know memes, click here.

Update 3/28/16:  CBS.com reported that Goldsmith is turning his attention to Make-A-Wish Foundation Vermont, helping grant wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.  He really is the most interesting man in the world.