marketing

Marketing horror stories… and how to avoid them

Frightened man As much as I like to pride myself on the accuracy of my work, like most people (!) I’m only human and have been known to make the odd mistake. The trick is to recognise what’s gone wrong and learn how to avoid it in the future.

Below are some of the most common marketing horrors that I’ve witnessed over my career (not all are mine, I promise!) and tips on how to avoid falling foul of them. These are all pretty obvious, but mistakes tend to happen when we’re complacent so it’s worth reminding ourselves of these on a regular basis.

Out of date references

Using data to support a point in your marketing collateral can be a very powerful tool (e.g., ‘the average return over the past five years has been X% above the benchmark’). But only if it’s correct and up-to-date. If they’re not current and accurate, stats are at best irrelevant and, in the worst cases, frankly misleading. It’s so important to check your sources and, if you can’t verify a source for a data point, it’s probably best to leave it out. You could be opening yourself up to all sorts of trouble if it turns out it was wrong.

Mistakes in print

We’ve all had that sinking feeling when we’ve worked laboriously on a document for ages, sent it to print in a rush to meet a deadline and the first thing we’ve noticed when we’ve got the glossy versions back from the printer is that glaring typo on the first page. This kind of mistake is not only embarrassing, it can be incredibly costly if documents need to be reprinted to fix the error. I can’t stress how important it is to proof read documents before they go to the printers, regardless of how many other eyes have looked over them. Be meticulous in your proof read – check page references, chart labels, footnote numbers – every word and digit should be checked. And then checked again.

Non-compliant copy

Writing a marketing communication often requires the involvement of a number of people, at least it does in my industry (financial marketing). Of course, you need an experienced and talented copywriter to write the copy, but you also need input from technical product specialists, salespeople, tax specialists and, most importantly, legal and compliance teams. Unless you’re up-to-date with the regulatory changes impacting your industry there’s the risk that the rules have changed and the copy you provide as a copywriter is no longer compliant. And that’s a massive risk for the company with their name on the front of that document. When preparing copy for a client, I always insist that they have a compliance and/or legal expert review the content before the document is publicised, and that their review and approval has been documented.

Missing comments

Getting input from experts such as compliance officers and lawyers is one thing, but it’s then imperative that their comments get included in the final copy. This sounds pretty obvious, but when you’ve got comments coming in from four or five different sources, it can be really easy to miss a comment here or there. The solution to this is to keep strict versioning control over your documents. That means giving each draft a suffix in its file name to denote who the comments are from, the date they were received and what number version of the document it is (e.g., ‘brochure_compliancecomments_2.0_date’). And then always making sure you are working from the latest version.

There’s nothing here that good copywriters and marketeers don’t already know, but by following these basic rules you can hopefully beat the halloween horrors and make sure you get it 100% right 100% of the time.

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Seven easy steps to setting the right tone

In both verbal and written communications, using the right words to convey your message is crucial. This is especially true in financial communications, when you might have limited space or time to communicate what can be quite a technical message. But language, both written and spoken, is about far more than the right words in the right order. The tone you use, I believe, is equally important. Get that wrong, and it’s like adding a full stop. in the middle of a sentence. It confuses your message and switches off your audience.

For example, using contractions in a formal document is widely discouraged. It just seems overly familiar. But using contractions in an educational guide for beginners, or a ‘blog’ style editorial piece makes much more sense – it helps the flow for the reader and feels more natural. I even encourage my clients to use contractions in marketing brochures as the text better replicates how they would speak to their audience if they were marketing a product to them face-to-face.

Given how important the tone of a communication is, it always amazes me how many firms don’t have ‘tone of voice’ guidelines. As a result, their communications are often quite garbled, moving between describing themselves in the 1st and 3rd person, and using a numerical digit here and spelling out a number there. Having clear guidelines to set your tone not only helps add some brand consistency to your communications, it also sets the standard for all your copywriters to stick to.

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