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Friday, September 14 2018

Last Friday evening I was in a tizzy and very scared about a gnarly, personal situation I had to deal with urgently. I called a friend to talk it over.

First she asked what happened. Then she started offering me solutions.

A few minutes into the conversation I was feeling squirmy even though her solutions were very practical and doable.

My unease was because she jumped right into the solution without any empathy or understanding of what was going on with me. I didn't feel heard and because of that, it was hard for me to consider her ideas.

That's what happens in our marketing messages too when we jump right into offering a solution without taking the time to acknowledge what's really going on a human level. Then things go wrong because we miss making the deeper connection that lets people know we care about them.

One of Stephen Covey's 7 habits of highly effective people says: "Seek first to understand and then to be understood." The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi expresses a similar idea. One of my mentors said: "Join the conversation that's going on in the heads of your potential clients."

Empathize. Show you understand. Then offer your solution.

Connection first.

All good wishes,

Posted by: AT 07:46 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, August 15 2018

A swipe file is a file where you keep marketing materials you've 'swiped' from someone. And before you ask: no, that doesn't mean stealing.

The purpose of your swipe file is to keep examples of materials that worked for you because they connected with you and engaged you.

Then you can use your 'swiped' material to figure out what caught your attention and why, and how someone achieved the effect that pulled you in. And those insights will help you when you're creating your own materials.

A swipe file can be online or offline. Online can include items like website copy that made you want to take action; a promotion for a webinar that you signed up for; a page that enticed you to download a free ebook or video; a social media post that caught your attention; or an email that you found particularly effective.

An offline swipe file can contain brochures, catalogues, postcards or other printed marketing materials. Even the junk mail that lands in your mailbox daily. You may not be interested in what they're offering, but that missive was probably written by a professional and can be useful.

All this does not mean that you copy someone else's material. Absolutely not! That would be violating copyright laws. You're simply collecting examples that worked for you and keeping them as reference material.

And of course, if it seems like too much time, effort and energy to figure it out, you can contact a professional such as myself and I will apply the same techniques that helped get your attention, to writing or editing your materials.

Email me at or call me at 805 965 9173 and let's talk.

Copyright 2018 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: Maggie AT 10:45 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, August 07 2018

This week and last painters have been at work in my apartment complex. They're sanding the windows and doors, scraping the walls and power-washing the whole building in preparation for repainting.

It's noisy, dusty and distracting.

I knew I couldn't do my writing work during the hours I'm at my best because I need quiet surroundings to concentrate. But I found a way to rearrange my writing schedule so that I'm still getting my projects done.

Then I started to play a game with myself. I asked myself these questions:

  • How would I describe the sounds the painters are making?
  • And the smells?
  • What ideas best capture how they treated myself and the other tenants (which by the way has been highly professional)?
  • How would I talk about how they interacted with each other?
  • What words best describe how the other tenants responded to the disruption?
  • What does their equipment look like? During the day while they're working? And at night when they stack everything at the back of the building?

What could have been a huge annoyance became (at least for part of the time) a way for me to exercise my word muscle beyond what I would normally do. It was a learning opportunity that pulled me in a direction I would otherwise have ignored.

Are there unusual or unexpected situations in your daily life where you could get new perspectives on your area of expertise even if they don't seem obviously connected to your business? How would you describe them? And how would you talk about them to other people?

And of course, you can always contact me if you'd like feedback on your words.

Email me at or call me at 805 965 9173 and let's talk.

Copyright 2018 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: Maggie AT 04:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, July 31 2018

It's normal to ask for feedback when you've written a piece for your marketing.

Whether it's a website home page, a postcard or an email, someone else's perspective can be very helpful. It can even point out blind spots you don't see yourself because you're too involved in your words to be objective.

That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. Even though I'm a writer by profession, it happens to me too.

Yet the feedback doesn't always give you the type of response you're looking for. Often this is because of how you phrase your question.

When you ask someone "what do you think of this?" they're likely to come back with what I call "editorial comments." By that I mean things like "I don't like that word" or "this sentence could be shorter" or "there's a typo in the second line."

Those may be valid comments but don't really help you understand whether your words are effective or not.

I've found that a better question to ask is along the lines of "does this get your attention?" or "would this encourage you to want to find out more?"

This addresses the bigger picture and the impact of your words, rather than the nitty-gritty of grammar. Not that that's not important. It is. But first the content has to work and have impact on the people you want it to appeal to.

Try changing your question next time you need input and see if it makes a difference.

And of course, you can always contact me if you'd like feedback on your words.

Email me at or call me at 805 965 9173 and let's talk.

Copyright 2018 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: Maggie AT 04:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, July 12 2018

"Story" is a huge buzzword in marketing right now.

We're given advice like:

"Tell your story. People like stories."
"Put yourself into your marketing."
"Let people know who you really are."
"Show the real person behind the business."

Those are all good points to be aware of.

What can happen is that you ask yourself: "Will people really get to know me?" because after all the point of a personal story is to reveal yourself to your reader or listener. But that question may not serve your marketing.

Instead, ask yourself do people relate to your story? Is your story relevant to your business and your audience? Will they resonate with it?

If you can answer "yes" to those questions, you're well on the way to presenting your story in a way that engages your prospects and supports your business.

Many years ago, the Wall Street Journal sent out a letter aimed at getting new subscribers. In that letter, they tell the story of two students who graduated at the same time, and met again for their 25th reunion. One was President of a large company while the other one had got stuck in a lower level position. The difference was the knowledge the successful one gained from reading the WSJ.

The story was highly relevant to the readership of the WSJ and their interests. It was so successful in generating subscriptions that the WSJ ran it for almost 30 years.

That was a story that worked.

How are you using your story to connect with your potential clients? Contact me for help in defining what parts of your story will get the attention of your audience.

Copyright 2018 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: Maggie AT 04:49 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, June 29 2018

Your elevator pitch answers that question.

First the purpose. An elevator pitch provides a basic introduction to get someone interested or intrigued enough to say: "Tell me more" or even better: "I need to talk to you", or something similar.

It's not meant to get someone to hire you on the spot. It's also not a time to explain the process you use to help your clients.

In its simplest form, an elevator pitch should include the following:

1. Who is your audience?
2. What problem do you solve for them?
3. What benefits or results can they expect?

Putting it together isn't something you can do on the fly. It takes time and thought to define all those elements and then find the right wording so that your message is clear, precise and compelling.

We always speak as if you have to have ONE elevator pitch. That's not true!

You need a different pitch for different audiences e.g. if you're selling cruises to baby boomers, your message will be different than if you're selling cruises to 30-year olds.

You also need a different elevator speech for different aspects of your services e.g. if I 'm promoting that I help clients create an elevator pitch, my message will be different than if I'm talking about writing articles or case studies.

There are MANY ways to create an elevator pitch. They may all be different and yet all valid.

How is your elevator speech working for you? Contact me for help creating an elevator pitch that grabs the attention of your target audience.

Copyright 2018 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: Maggie AT 04:46 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, June 20 2018

This morning I was looking at a website that was so full of dense text I didn't want to read on, even though I really needed the information. I had to force myself to keep going.

Here are a few tips that can make your copy easier for your readers to understand.

1. Avoid long paragraphs. They're intimidating to read into and can cause people to have second thoughts about reading further.

2. In school I learned to avoid one-sentence paragraphs. Yet a one-sentence paragraph might be just the right way to emphasize a point or to make it stand out visually.

3. Use white space, also known as negative space. This is space that's left blank. Instead of filling every inch of space, leave some breathing room around headlines, paragraphs, images. It makes your content easier to read and understand.

4. Use a simple font. Sans Serif fonts are best for on-screen reading. A Sans Serif font is one that doesn't have little hooks on the ends of each letter. Arial, Calibri or Verdana are good examples of this. For this newsletter I use Verdana.

5. Give instructions as a series of steps rather than hiding them in a block of text or a complicated diagram.

These simple steps can make a huge difference in how much attention your readers pay to what you're presenting. Make it easy for them!

How easy is it for YOUR readers to get your message? If you'd like an objective opinion, email me at or call me at 805 965 9173 and let's talk.

Posted by: Maggie AT 04:43 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, June 14 2018

Sometimes you have to start off slowly so that you can gain momentum later.

When it comes to creating the message you want to communicate to your audience, it's easy and tempting to simply start dumping words on the page, and hope that they'll come out perfectly first time.

But creating a clear message involves several steps.

Here are some examples of the most basic information you need to explore before you put those words on the page.

  • Who are you writing to?
  • What do they want most?
  • Why do they want it so badly?
  • What's stopping them from getting it?
  • Why should they choose you rather than someone else who offers the same service?
  • What objections or concerns do they have that might stop them from purchasing your service?

Creating your message is like building a house. Watching workmen dig a foundation is not exciting or inspiring. It's a grind. But when the foundation is down and the walls start going up, that's when you see it all start to take shape. And THEN you can get excited about it. However without that solid foundation the walls will not be stable.

The solid foundation for your message lies in the answers to the questions above.

When you move too quickly at the beginning, and jump over steps in the process, the result will be disappointing. We live in a 'hurry' culture, where being fast is praised as a virtue.

But sometimes it's not.

Need help defining those components of your message so that it appeals to your audience? Contact me by email at or call me at 805 965 9173 and let's talk.

Copyright 2018 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: Maggie AT 05:28 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, May 16 2018

One of my mentors once said: "Write a much as you need to write to get your message across. Then stop!"

Content on a home page, sales page or services page of a website is likely designed to trigger someone to take actions that could lead to them becoming a client. In this case the flow of the content is built on well-defined psychological principles.

If you focus on keeping the length really short you may lose out on the opportunity to fully integrate those principles effectively. Your words will have less impact.

I was once approached by a web designer to write for his website. Here's roughly how part of that conversation went:

Client: I only want 50 words on the home page.

Me: Hmmm (thinking). So, do you look on your website as your online sales person?

Client: Yes, yes yes! That's a great way to say it!

Me: Would you send a real live sales person out to meet a potential client and tell him he can only say 50 words?

Client: Nooool

End of conversation. The copy that I wrote had about 250 words and he was vey happy with it.

However, using more words doesn't give you a license to ramble or write a lot just because. There's a huge difference between rambling and getting your point across with impact in as few words as possible.

If someone is willing to take the time to read your material, even if it's a bit longer, they're more likely to look on you as an authority and someone they can trust to help them.

Don't sell yourself short by holding on to a principle that may not serve you!

Is YOUR copy persuasive? I'll take a look and give you an opinion. You can contact me by email at or call me at 805 965 9173 and let's talk.

Copyright 2017 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: Maggie AT 02:33 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, May 02 2018

Jargon refers to special words or expressions used by a particular group: they may be hard for people outside that group to understand. In copywriting, we're taught to avoid jargon; however there's a place for it.

A problem can arise when we're so used to using our industry terminology and it's become such a part of our everyday way of expressing ourselves, that we don't realize that we may be losing our readers.

When DO you use jargon?

Do your readers or listeners all belong to a specific industry or type of business?

In that case, it's OK. Everyone will understand you. If you're a real estate agent and your audience consists of real estate agents, they'll expect you to use industry vocabulary, otherwise it may look as if you don't know your field.

Similarly, while ordinary folks talk about a "heart attack", if you're a doctor speaking to an audience of doctors, they'll probably expect you to use the term "myocardial infarction ".

Are you writing for a general audience?

In this case, Industry terms will run off their backs like water off a duck. You lose their attention because they have no idea what you're talking about; they're too busy scratching their heads trying to figure it out to read or listen any further.

Or they'll read on but not understand what you're saying because they missed a key concept.

I recently read a piece by a real estate agent where she talked about a Trustee's Deed. Although I could guess at what this meant, I didn't understand it exactly. A one-sentence explanation of the term would have been sufficient to keep my attention.

When you explain complicated concepts in layman's terms, your audience comes along with you.

But If you go above their heads, they'll simply tune you out.

Do your materials use jargon? I'll cast an eye over them for you. Contact me by email at or at 805 965 9173 and let's talk.

Copyright 2018 Maggie Dennison

Posted by: Maggie AT 05:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email


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