Six rules of good writing

I have just read George Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” and I encourage you to do the same.  The focus of the essay is largely on political writing, but the observations are broadly applicable to all kinds of writing (and speaking, for that matter), from blogs to academic papers to job applications.  Orwell is insightful, concise and frequently hilarious, and I doubt I could do him justice by paraphrasing.  Click here for the full text.

Here’s a teaser, and perhaps the most immediately helpful section of Orwell’s essay: Six rules for good, clear, effective writing:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Now go read the full essay.

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You Can’t Steal Christmas

This year, in the words of TechCrunch, “Best Buy ruins Christmas.”

Really!??

According to a TechCrunch article published on Friday, titled How Best Buy Stole Christmas, Best Buy made some errors and has had to cancel many orders placed this month and last.  As a result, some of the people who were counting on delivery of Christmas gifts purchased at BestBuy.com will have to change their gift-giving plans.  In the most dire cases, some people may not have ANY wrapped presents to give their loved ones on Christmas!

Best Buy’s error is unfortunate.  It doesn’t seem fair.  The affected customers have a right to be irked.  But the suggestion that Best Buy has RUINED Christmas makes me sad.  I appreciate the value of selective hyperbole in order to make a point, and I don’t think Matt Burns, who wrote the article, actually believes that Christmas is a wash this year just because a big consumer products retailer had some fulfillment issues.  But the fact that this discussion is even on the table says something about the degree to which Christmas has been hijacked by an excessive focus on STUFF.

What is Christmas really about?  If Christmas were only about the exchange of electronic devices, then I suppose Best Buy really might be able to ruin the holiday–but it’s about so much more than that.

I think that in the final analysis, Christmas is really about love, and this is what makes it appealing to many people of all religions.  It is an opportunity to spend time with the people we love, and to express our feelings of affection for them.  The tradition of gift-giving is a wonderful way to do this, and its origins are embedded in the story of Christmas itself: the very first Christmas gifts were given by the Magi to baby Jesus as an expression of their adoration for him.

But gift-giving is just one of many ways to show our loved ones that we care about them. At Christmas, we set aside work and cell phones and sometimes travel long distances to be with our families.  We carry on traditions passed down to us, and sometimes start new ones of our own.  Sharing a special meal or going ice skating, baking gingerbread cookies or helping out at a soup kitchen or decorating a tree: however big or small your family is, and whatever your traditions are, your time and your presence and your love are gifts that no retailer can sell online.  And they certainly aren’t anything that can be cancelled by Best Buy.

Merry Christmas.

The language of moods

I’ve noticed that we often speak about moods the way we speak about physical places:

“I’m IN a great mood!”

“I’m IN Vermont!”

“I need to get OUT OF this apartment.”

“I need to get OUT OF this bad mood.”

What might be the implication of this parallel?  I’ll offer a suggestion: In the same way that we make a decision and then take action to move ourselves into or out of a room or a building or a country, we can also make a decision and take action to move ourselves into or out of a particular mood.

Three additional thoughts:

1) If you can’t just snap your fingers and get into or out of a particular mood, don’t feel bad about it: sometimes the circumstances really do make it difficult to change moods, just as walls or gates or embargoes can make it more difficult to get into or out of a particular place.

2) If you’re in a particular mood and DON’T want to be there, it may be easier to get out if you can visualize the mood in which you DO want to be.

3) If you’re stuck in a bad mood and can’t seem to get out, try laughing: make yourself smile, force a chuckle.  Laughter has a tendency to break down walls.

Customer Ecstatisfaction

In my previous post, I suggested a “Four A’s” framework for describing the marketing lifecycle: Awareness, Action, Affection, and Advocacy.

The second half of this framework–Affection and Advocacy–depends on cultivating promoters of your product or brand.  To cultivate promoters, a company generally strives to do well on measures of Customer Satisfaction… but what ambitious, energetic company really wants its customers to be just satisfied?

Satisfied customers may return, but ecstatic customers will return and bring their friends.

To really grow your brand, strive for Customer Ecstatisfaction.

The Four A’s of Successful Marketing

It seems logical that selling to the very core of your target market should be relatively easy, and that marketing will then get progressively more difficult (and more expensive) as you move out from that core.  For major growth, however, it would seem necessary to avoid diminishing returns on investment in marketing: rather, in an ideal world, each additional dollar spent on marketing would actually compound the impact of the dollars spent before it.  But how might this happen?

In search of an answer, I’ve been thinking about a potential “Four A’s” framework for understanding the marketing lifecycle, described by the following diagram:

Image

1. AWARENESS: introducing a product or service to a potential customer for the first time.

2. ACTION: inducing the customer to engage with the product or service by taking a certain action.  This is generally a purchase, but could also include actions like signing up for a free trial or testing a device in-store.

(Note: this leap from Awareness to Action is admittedly a simplification of the AIDA model or purchase funnel: there’s quite a bit more that must happen to get from (1) to (2), but for the purpose of this lifecycle framework I find it helpful to consider the simplified form.)

3. AFFECTION: developing the customer’s enthusiasm for the product or service.  This is largely a function of the customer’s direct experience with the product, but is also supported by ongoing marketing (I would venture, for example, that advertisements for the iPad reinforce and increase fondness for the device even after a customer has already purchased it).

4. ADVOCACY: encouraging a satisfied customer to extrovert their satisfaction rather than keep it to themselves, and become a brand advocate by sharing their excitement with people in their networks.

In some ways, Advocacy is the most important of the Four A’s since it re-initiates the entire A-cycle, compounding the impact of the initial marketing efforts.  However, the Four A process is linear: there can be no Advocacy without each of the preceding A’s, so an effective marketing strategy must coordinate efforts on all four stages.

When building a marketing strategy (especially with respect to media mix) consider how each channel and tactic you employ is weighted towards these four stages of the marketing lifecycle.  Because the process of customer creation and retention is cyclical, insufficient investment in any one of the four A’s will limit the effectiveness of every other.

What do you think of this framework?  Is it helpful?  How might it be improved?

Choosing your altitude

Last week I took off from Newark amidst grey skies and driving rain.  Twenty minutes into the flight I looked out the window: the tops of the clouds below us indicated that the weather was still dreary on the ground, but from our vantage point it was a beautiful day.

If you go up high enough, it’s always a beautiful day.

This is true of life and work as much as of the weather: even when it’s raining cats and dogs, the sun is still shining above the clouds (but this is hard to remember when it’s raining on your parade).  We can’t change the weather, but we can choose whether we take the street-level view or the 60,000-foot view.  This is what “keeping things in perspective” is all about.

There’s a flip-side, of course: just because it looks like a beautiful day around you doesn’t mean it isn’t hailing on the ground: having your head in the clouds all the time is as limiting as being perpetually stuck in the weeds.

The key is realizing that perspective matters, that we can choose our altitude.  The challenge is knowing which altitude to choose.

The purpose of screens

There’s a screen at the entrance to the subway station near my apartment: I hadn’t noticed it until a few days ago, but there it is, displaying ads for X Factor and Pixar’s latest movie.  There’s also a screen on the building across from my office, more screens on top of the taxis on Broadway, and another screen that travels everywhere in my right pants pocket.  It seems like screens are everywhere these days.

Screens are everywhere

What do screens offer us?  What is their purpose?  At least some of the time, screens bring something into our immediate environment in order to transport us out of it (we can all remember being thoroughly engrossed in a movie, only to realize when it ends that the dishes are still in the sink…).

Screens are a portal to somewhere else.

Sometimes a portal is exactly what we need in order to be informed, inspired or relaxed; but a portal can also be a distraction from the most important time and place of all: right here, right now.

You’re reading this on a screen.  For ten seconds, stop reading and look around you: if you didn’t have a screen in front of you so much of the time, what would you pay more attention to?  What would you appreciate more, and what would you do differently?