Scott’s Blog


Are typos a big deal? True typographical errors, misspellings, incorrect homonyms and the like all get lumped together under the rubric of “typos” these days. Many people seem to accept them the way we’ve come to accept a certain percentage of rodent parts in the processed food we buy. (You do realize that the government allows a certain amount of pest contamination in food, don’t you? There are actually acceptable levels of rodent “excreta” and insect parts in what you’ll have for lunch. Bon appétit!)

Those pesky typos have a more insidious side. While we might brush them off at a conscious level, they send a message to the subconscious that controls our beliefs and attitudes.

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CAN YOU #&^@%$ SEE IT?

As a writer, I tend to become involved in logo design only peripherally, but I still manage to learn useful lessons from the process. I’ve heard a variety of interesting logo requests from clients, but the most instructive came from the president of a tow-truck manufacturer.

“I don’t give a !@#$@# what the !$@$@ logo looks like,” he said. “All I care is that someone going the other way on the @^#^#%# Interstate at 70 miles an hour can see the @#@% thing and know it’s my @#@%#$ truck.” Folksy? Perhaps. Crude? Probably. But sound? Absolutely. He knew that it was critical that other two-truck operators knew who made that good-looking truck.

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When you’re creating market and communications materials, content and design are important, but there’s a third consideration that deserves your attention: the voice used in the materials. No, not talking about the voice talent used in radio commercials – it’s the voice of the items you put into print.

What do I mean by voice? Ads, brochures, direct mail letters, and other communications tools stand in your place. They sell and inform for you when you can’t be there to do it yourself. In a way, you’re quietly sending a trusted employee into the homes and businesses of your customers and prospects.

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Embarrassing spelling errors compounded by wayward spellcheckers continue to crop up, much to my delight (and that of several correspondents).

One recent example that provoked a chuckle was the Indianapolis-area newspaper that referred to those served by a County Home as the “poor and indignant.” I suppose poverty can bring out the worst in some people. (Of course, the writer meant to say “indigent”.)

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While waiting for a flight yesterday, I heard the same PA announcement several times: “Effective June 30, 2008, smoking is prohibited in the airport.”

The “smoking is prohibited” part I fully understand. But what’s the bit with the “effective June 30”? That’s more than a year ago. Does the date the ban went into effect really matter? Do we want people to think, “Gosh, I shouldn’t smoke in the terminal,” or is it really important that they mentally add, “and I haven’t been able to do so since June 30, 2008”?

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If you’ve ever attended a spouse’s office party, you’ve probably found yourself staring at your drink after one employee says something like, “Yeah, but don’t ever give Bob a glass of 7-Up!,” and everyone else in the room collapses into convulsions of hysterical laughter. When the laughter dies down, your blank expression is answered with a ‘It’s a long story … I’ll tell you later.”

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After a recent blog entry about exclamation points, fellow writer Tony Perona shared his own personal frustration – people who present their messages with an abundance of capital letters. They generally do it either because they think what they’re saying is REALLY IMPORTANT or because they think it ADDS EMPHASIS. They rank right up there with people who overuse boldface or underlining.

Using ALL CAPS, boldface, or underlining in print is the same as raising your voice to make a point. If you were speaking and wanted to make sure that your audience recognized that something was really important, you’d probably only stress the word “really.”  If you stressed every word, you’d end up sounding like a raving maniac.

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Recommendations to emphasize benefits rather then features when communicating are so old that I think they may date back to cavemen. Still, some marketers don’t understand the difference, so they miss out on an opportunity to connect more powerfully with their audiences.

Simply put, a feature is some aspect of your product or service. A benefit is what makes it a good or useful thing. If a bank tells you that they have 24-hour ATM access, they’re calling attention to a feature. If an automaker mentions stability control, that’s a feature.

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