Designer-speak decoded … for the rest of us

You want a GIF to enhance your UI on your responsive site?

Are you ever a bit puzzled by the terms that your marketing people (or your graphic designer) throw around? Sarah Matista of shares this helpful infographic. Give yourself a high five if you already know them all! To see Sarah’s entire post, click here.

Graphic: Sarah Matista of (Pagemodo is a suite of social media tools.)



Avoiding scope creep (or … how to work happily ever after with your favorite contractor)

I’ve been on both the hiring end – and the fulfillment end – of contract work. It can be an arrangement made in heaven – or not. No one likes going over budget, missing key deadlines, or work that just isn’t what it should have been. What can you do to get the best results from your contractor?

Obviously, hiring a good contractor is the first step. After that, be clear about the description of the project. Your project outline should specify:

  1. Goal of the project. (Here, we’ll assume that this is a writing or editing project, because that’s what I do. But the idea works for virtually all contractors.) Maybe the goal is to position your firm as the best provider of HR software for midsized businesses by rewriting your website, starting a content marketing program, and creating a robust social media presence. If everyone knows the goal, it’s more likely that you’ll reach it. Spell it out!
  2. Scope of the project. What is included? What is not included? For best outcomes, make a list of what is in scope, and what is not. What deliverables do you expect? In what format? What are the metrics for project success? How many rounds of corrections are included in the quoted price? Quantities, outcomes, and details go here. You’ll need buy-in from all of the stakeholders who can contribute to the success of the project.
  3. Authority over the project. Who must approve of timeline, cost, or scope changes? Who must be notified of those changes, and by whom? Who can speak directly to the contractor to make specific changes?
  4. Timeline of the project. How is the timeline managed so that everyone can see the progress? How can the contractor – and you – accommodate timeline changes? How do timeline changes affect project costs?

There’s no magic involved in healthy contractor relationships, just some honest, clear, and specific communication.

What would you add to this list?

Storyteller helps you communicate clearly to reach your business goals,
to drive increased sales and
to create informed and loyal customers.
How will you avoid scope creep in your next project? — 770-823-2044 —

Inviting new kids to play in the sandbox of your content marketing

Do you want the Wikipedia version or the Simple Wikipedia version?

Did you know that there is a simplified version of Wikipedia? And that there needs to be? And that maybe, just maybe, that difference could open the door to new clients for you?

Now, for many entries, is just fine. You get an encapsulated overview of a subject. Enough to sustain a polite conversation or even a discussion over drinks, but not enough to satisfy a specialist in the field. But as David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, points out, many Wikipedia entries are now too detailed for the average reader. He suggests that each entry begin with the simplified first paragraph from Simple Wikipedia (or what could serve as a simple introduction to the topic). Check out these two versions of a physics concept:

From the “Full Wiki“:

The Planck constant (denoted h, also called Planck’s constant) is a physical constant that is the quantum of action in quantum mechanics. Published in 1900, it originally described the proportionality constant between the energy, E, of a charged atomic oscillator in the wall of a black body, and the frequency, ν, of its associated electromagnetic wave. Its relevance is now integral to the field of quantum mechanics, describing the relationship between energy and frequency, known as the Planck–Einstein relation:

No, I don’t have any idea what this is talking about, either. Let’s look at the simplified version.

From the “Simple Wiki“:

The Planck constant (sometimes called Planck’s constant), links the amount of energy a photon carries with the frequency of its electromagnetic wave. It is named after the physicist Max Planck. It is an important quantity in quantum physics.

Okay, this makes a bit more sense.

There are people who like (and need) the Full Wiki version. But for many of us, and especially for new or potential clients, the Simple Wiki can be enough.

What does this mean for you, especially if you’re not a quantum physicist?

If you frequently produce or use long-form content (e.g., content marketing on your website), you might want to take Weinberger’s advice and introduce your next piece with a simplified, engaging intro paragraph. Why? Because new people are reading your content every day. This includes people new to your field as well as those who are seasoned professionals. Everybody wants to play with the Tonka trucks in the sandbox, but not everyone knows how to drive them yet. Make it easy for the newcomers to grab a frontloader and join the fun. Don’t oversimplify. But don’t make your content so esoteric that only the elite can use it. Someday that novice frontloader operator will be boss of the whole sandbox, and you want him to remember that you invited him to play.

Storyteller helps you communicate clearly
to reach your business goals, to drive increased sales and
to create informed and loyal customers.
 Does your marketing welcome new kids into your sandbox? — 770-823-2044 —

What Gilligan’s Island Taught Me about Messaging

Gilligan-s-Island-gilligans-island-19988434-640-480Last night, my family and I flopped in front of the TV after a long workday and watched an early episode of the 1960s classic Gilligan’s Island. It’s no secret that you must suspend a truckload of disbelief as you “sit right back and hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip, that started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship.” But we were ready to join those “seven stranded castaways.” After all, a crate bearing silent movie equipment – camera, tripod, a chalkboard and chalk, and costumes – had washed up on the island. “We’ll be rescued!”

Together, the seven concocted, acted in, and produced a brief silent movie that they hoped would tell their story. Dressed as a “savage,” Gilligan tied Mary Ann to a tree. Ginger kissed the Professor. Mrs. Howell sent her regards to Princess Grace. And they all vied for airtime to tell the story of their shipwreck and need for rescue, using scripted scenes, a chalkboard map, spoken words, and even a pen and paper.

It’s an uphill climb.

Gilligan's_island-castaway_picturesTheir muddled silent film eventually washed up in civilization and proceeded to win the Cannes Film Festival as an artsy, avant-garde entry. But no one understood that this was the crew and passengers of the S.S. Minnow, and that they needed to be rescued! Of course, the castaways heard the announcement of their prize on their trusty shortwave radio.

Since we are a fairly analytic family, we quickly pointed out the messaging failure. They had a CHALKBOARD, CHALK, and a PEN and PAPER, which they used in the movie for scene titles and a map. Why didn’t they just write out “We are the crew and passengers of the S. S. Minnow, we are located at (specific longitude and latitude), and we want to be rescued”? Film that message, send it on its way on the raft, and wait to be rescued.

But they did what many of us, who are too close to our product or service, do: they overcomplicated their message.

How did they do that?

  1. The medium became the message. Because they had costumes, enough film for a narrative, and a certain flair for the dramatic, they created a production to take full use of the medium of silent film. And that’s how their message became obscured by a body-painted “pseudo-savage,” kissing, and six individuals who were each sure they could tell the story best. Do you mold your message to fit the medium (140 characters, anyone?) or do you select the platform that is most appropriate to carry the message to the audience?
  2. They overdressed their message. Help. We need to be rescued. This is where we are. That’s all that needed to be said. Instead, they wrapped themselves around the details, and like a rope wrapped around an axle, it halted the movement of their message. Too many companies fail to boil their message down to its essence, and then add details as necessary. What is your essential message to your market? Why should they choose you? Now, how can you send that message to your audience?
  3. They failed to work as a team. The newly-shipwrecked group was filled with those who each cherished the message (“Rescue us!”), but no one was coordinating the messengers. (Okay, the Professor did try, but soon joined in the chaos.) Ginger tried to give directions to the island from Hollywood, the Howells from Fort Knox. They all had their focus, but they couldn’t see the need to work as a team on one clear message. In your organization, are all of the messengers invited to the team huddle at some point? Maybe they aren’t calling the plays, but uniting all of the players around a shared message is a key to teamwork.

If the castaways had let their message drive their medium, if they had sharpened their message, and if they had worked as a team, they might have been rescued earlier. But many of us would have missed a lot of lazy summer afternoons, munching on chips and drinking a soda, entertained by the antics of castaways whose clothes never wore out, who could make anything out of bamboo and coconuts, and who never lost their optimism to be rescued.

Storyteller helps you communicate clearly
to reach your business goals, to drive increased sales and
to create informed and loyal customers.
How would you communicate your message in a silent film? — 770-823-2044 —


The Science of Storytelling: Why Your Brain Loves Stories

Brad Phillips, perhaps the best known media trainer in the U.S. and formerly an ABC-TV and CNN professional, explains why our brains respond well to stories. In short, stories help sustain the reader’s or listener’s attention and create an emotional connection with the presenter — making his content and key points more memorable. Read and be inspired before your next speech or written work!

The Science of Storytelling: Why Your Brain Loves Stories.

Storyteller helps you communicate clearly
to drive increased sales and
informed and loyal customers.
What is
your story? — 770-823-2044 —

Technology Can’t Replace You … Unless You Let It


People are frustrated. As technology takes over more and more of our lives, it can be hard to find an authentic human touch out there. “For English, press 1 … for Customer Service, press 2 … there is currently a 37-minute wait to speak with a representative. …” Or when you’re cranking away at a crucial project, and the server goes down. Or “Windows has experienced an error and will shut down now.”

Today, the Wall Street Journal reported on “Pepper,” a humanoid robot capable of understanding emotions and expressing its own. Soon to sell in Japan, Pepper costs just $1,604 and will be marketed as a companion for the elderly, a schoolteacher, or a retail or office assistant. Now we’re outsourcing human services jobs to robots!

A pair of Peppers
A peck of Peppers

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a Luddite. I’m rarely parted from my Android phone, and I couldn’t run my business without my computer and the internet. In fact, my son and daughter, college students in computer science and engineering, build robots. My son competes in the global underwater robotics championships (AUVSI) held in San Diego each summer. Yes, underwater robots.

But remember the last time you felt a personal touch from a business partner or a vendor? Nah, me neither. Now think about your business. Do your customers or clients feel that way? (Really. Stop and think about this – now — before you read on.)

If you sell stainless-steel widgets for the lowest price per dozen at Widgets-R-Us, and a lifetime supply of your widgets is 11, you’re probably okay. But if your business depends on repeat sales or customer loyalty, sit up and think about this.

hat-4th-drTake my insurance agent, for example. I have three cars, a house, and rental property. I send more than a few dollars his way each year. Yet when I stop in to his office with a question, he can’t wait to shuffle me off to someone down the totem pole. Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?

Conversely, I take my car to Nalley Toyota in Roswell, Georgia. The same service advisor, Steve, greets me each time. Using technology, he knows the maintenance that my Highlander needs. After checking in, I go to the customer lounge, where I have my choice of complimentary cold or hot beverages and an assortment of snacks. (Served by individuals with autism, in a good-for-the-community program.) I watch the news on a large-screen TV, or I sit at an immaculate counter and work on my laptop. Once when it was quite chilly in the lounge, Steve even loaned me his jacket.

I spend far less money at Nalley than I do on insurance. But guess who has inspired my loyalty?

That brings us back to your business, or your job within a business. How could you touch a client today?

  • Maybe you could email them an article about a business or personal interest of theirs (“I saw this article on widget manufacturing in Maine and I thought you might be interested.”). You could even email the same article to multiple people, using the magic of email lists.
  • How about sending them a fresh copy of a book you’ve recently enjoyed? Go ahead and inscribe it inside with a personal sentiment.
  • Or drop a handwritten, hand-addressed note in the post office box and congratulate them on that promotion or new business deal (or on 10 years in a business relationship with your firm). When was the last time you received “real” mail?
  • Call them up and invite them out for coffee or lunch (I guess someone has time for this!).


  • Send a big box of warm Krispy Kreme doughnuts to their office – with a personal note thanking them for their business.

Okay, none of these are revolutionary brainstorms. You could certainly come up with some better ideas. But the point is … the robots are coming … the personal touch is harder to find every day … what can you do today to make your service or product stand out in a way that automation can’t top?

Storyteller helps you communicate clearly
to drive increased sales and
informed and loyal customers.
Pick up some doughnuts for yourself, too! — 770-823-2044 —

Parsley is like used oil … Storytelling 101


It should never have stuck in my mind. Yet many years later, I still remember an engineer’s story about used oil. It all began with parsley.

As editor of an engineering journal, I picked up a manuscript to read. It was about the disposal of used industrial oil that might contain highly toxic substances — not exactly a page turner for most people. But the author started out by claiming that contaminated oil is a lot like the parsley garnish on your dinner plate. In a conversational tone, he pondered the options. Do I eat it? Do I ignore it? Do I offer it to my dinner date?

Used-oil-in-barrelsHe then cleverly compared that to the options for his used oil. Disposal? Storage? Sale? And a story that should have been boring to all but the most dedicated engineers suddenly had an audience. My mind’s eye could see the perplexed fellow looking awkwardly at his dinner plate and then at his date, with used oil swirling (figuratively) through his mind.

As you reach out to your clients, customers, or prospects, what is your parsley? How can you create a word picture they will remember . . . and that will move them take the action you desire?

Storyteller helps you communicate clearly
to drive increased sales and
informed and loyal customers.
Have you talked about parsley recently? — 770-823-2044 —

Clutter is the disease of American writing

Are you getting to the point?

Photo: Getty Images

From “On Writing Well” (1976) by William Zinsser, who died May 12 at age 92:

When you’re reading, do you ever wish some writers would get to the point? Today, we look back on communications expert William Zinsser’s advice (On Writing Well), as noted by the Wall Street Journal: (Wall Street Journal)

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

Who can understand the clotted language of everyday American commerce: the memo, the corporate report, the business letter, the notice from the bank explaining its latest “simplified” statement? What member of an insurance plan can decipher the brochure explaining the costs and benefits? What father or mother can put together a child’s toy from the instructions on the box? Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn’t think of saying it may rain. The sentence is too simple—there must be something wrong with it.

But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank.

Storyteller helps you communicate clearly
to drive increased sales and create
informed and loyal customers.
We help you get to the point. — 770-823-2044 —

Think before you link … or fail

StormTrooperPageNotFoundYou’re ready to run with a great marketing piece … you click “send” or you post on social media. Then the complaints start rolling in, because you didn’t check the link you posted/sent. It’s Marketing 101, yet I just received an email from a marketing service provider with a link that didn’t work. Within an hour, the comment section of their blog was filled with inquiries, to which they responded individually. Before you make your next marketing move, send the email to yourself and click the link. Did it work? Or check that social media post immediately and correct it if it doesn’t work. Like Dad used to tell us – haste makes 404 Page Not Found.

Storyteller helps you communicate clearly
to drive increased sales and create
informed and loyal customers.
We can help you create the page that your clients are looking for. — 770-823-2044 —

The Digital Balance: Be Productive or …

Digital temptation is everywhere … there are so many ways to be distracted from productivity. Marketing expert Seth Godin is incredibly productive — here are his tips to tame the digital beast. (#4 will be the hardest one for me.)

Seth Godin
Seth Godin

Five steps to digital hygiene

  1. Turn off mail and social media alerts on your phone.
  2. Don’t read the comments. Not on your posts or on the posts of other people. Not the reviews and not the trolls.
  3. De-escalate the anger in every email exchange.
  4. Put your phone in the glove compartment while driving.
  5. Spend the most creative hour of your day creating, not responding.

Each habit is hard to swallow and easy to maintain. Worth it.

Storyteller helps you communicate clearly
to drive increased sales and create
informed and loyal customers.
Resist digital temptation. — 770-823-2044 —