Wait, this is a blog about branding and marcoms! Why am I posting diagrams about how to hold a conversation?!
I won't lie, this is something I've wanted to map out for a long time, mostly because of my experiences with personal communications.
Business-wise, you need to successfully converse if you rely on networking and relationship building - so that's almost everybody.
Check out this flowchart and see if you could improve your conversational skills.
In the Anatomy of an Ad series, I look at the art and a science of creating a commercial or campaign. In this post, I look at word count.
Listen, my friend. Stop cramming as much as you can into your audio commercial: information, products, deals, lists, contact details, and, for the purposes of this post, words.
Let me explain. One of my main gripes – along with most writers, producers and voiceover artists I know - is over-worded scripts.
In my experience, here’s how it usually goes down:
Let me explain. You’ve met someone who talks fast, right? And the faster they talk, the harder it is to understand them. You strain to listen and process what they’re saying, ask them to repeat themselves, and maybe even give up. Don’t let your commercial be that person.
The bottom line is that an audio spot can comfortably fit about three words per second. That’s an average script with an average read style, with average pacing and inflection. So, the ‘three words per second’ rule is great – if you want an average commercial.
But remember, if you want the voiceover artist to talk loudly or emotively, they’ll need more time. A deeper voice also needs more time.
But here’s the thing, the real power of an audio spot lies in the “theatre of the mind”.
The greatest thing you have working for you is the imagination of the consumer… And if you can get into that space, your ad can run all day.
- Don Draper (the writers of Mad Men knew what they were on about).
Theatre of the mind is using your audio to trigger people’s imagination and emotions. Surprise them! Entertain them! That’s when they’ll want to engage with your ad.
Some ways you can use theatre of the mind are:
Here’s an example. A couple of years ago, I wrote a branding commercial for a women’s clothing store. The script could have gone like this:
Clothing Store has all the latest fashions at great prices, like Brand Name 1, Brand Name 2, and Brand Name 3. Tops, pants, dresses, coats, evening gowns, starting from X pounds. All the latest styles from Paris, Milan, London, etc, etc, etc… Clothing Store, at Street Name, Town. Tagline.
Instead, I exercised brevity, concision and logic (logic being, don't waste time telling people what they know or will assume). This cut the word count way back, which gave us time to really use the voice and production. The result was a commercial that captures and holds attention; that people want to listen to.
In a nutshell, give the producer time to work with sound effects and the music’s rhythm.
Give the voiceover artist space for inflection and expression.
Give the writer an opportunity to let your message shine.
Simply stated, less is more - give your ad a chance to work.
In the Anatomy of an Ad series, I look at the art and a science of creating a commercial or campaign. In this post, I look at the four types of advert.
A branding commercial or campaign is purely about developing a long-term emotional connection with your target demographic. It’s about connecting by communicating your brand values and it may not even feature your product or service.
The first spot in this campaign for Level, a UK nightclub, is branding (the latter two are a combination of branding and CTA. More on that below).
Call To Action (CTA)
Rather than cultivating connection, the primary focus of a CTA is about selling your product or service. Commercials are rarely pure CTA, but this ad for Dell is a good example.
This style of commercial combines advertising functions, usually branding and CTA.
In this example for City of Liverpool College, the branding elements are the voiceover artists (especially Theo, who featured across multiple platforms in the campaign), tone of voice, concept, some of the phrasing, the slogan, and the background music. The CTAs are college enrolment and Open Day attendance.
These ads can include branding elements, but the focus is a message that intends to inform, educate or alter opinion. Usually they’re Community (or Public) Service Announcements (CSAs / PSAs), or Government messages. This campaign for Merseyside Police is educational.
The most common type of commercial is a branding and CTA combination. In an ideal world, you’d run at least one on-going brand campaign and supplement it when needed, with combination commercials.
Pure branding usually requires long-term commitment before you see tangible ROI, so many businesses don’t see enough value in it. If you want business longevity, though, you need to continually cultivate your brand. Including branding elements in your CTAs is a logical compromise.
When you understand what type of commercial you need, it’s easier to narrow down your message, concept and content.
More to come...
Less works best in an audio ad. Unlike visual media, we can’t scan audio commercials only listening to the information we want, or rewind to hear it again.
What’s more, people don’t focus on audio ads. We go about our business only tuning in to something that catches our attention for as long as it's interesting and relevant.
Don’t fight it, work with your listeners: keep your spot simple and streamlined.
In part, that means using one directive. But which one is best? It depends on a few things.
People don't buy straight from an audio ad - they take the next step. So what’s the next step in your potential customers' buying journey that will ultimately help you sell your product or service?
The main points of contact for businesses these days are:
Hopefully the following will make your decision easier.
Address or physical location*
*there are cleaner, more effective ways to say your location than using your street address, but I’ll write about that another time.
These are general rules and your business could be an exception. But it’s probably not.
Don’t expect your listener to sit through information that’s not immediately relevant to them and don’t expect your audio commercial to be your whole marketing solution. It deals with one part of your consumers’ buying journey and works most effectively when you narrow down what that is.
Think carefully about which one of these directives is most useful to you and why. And remember, a marcoms expert can help you with all of this.
Finally, I have home Wi-Fi and I’m eagerly catching up on the UK radio soundscape.
A particular commercial last week caught my attention. It started off nicely with a sweet, although very short hook, went into who they are and what they do, and what they have on offer at the moment, mentioned a phone number for somewhere in the Midlands, 476 347 or something, said their business name and closed with the tag line.
You’ve just read about as many words as there are in an average 30 second audio commercial. Without looking, can you remember what that phone number was?
Unless you have ninja memory skills, I bet it slipped out of your mind almost straight away.
Some people treat their audio commercials like print, but it's linear. The listener can’t rewind or re-read it.
What’s the first thing you do when someone offers their number? You reach for your pen, mobile, lipstick, some way to note it down to pull out later when you need it.
There’s no time for that with an audio spot. And listeners can’t pre-prepare because they won’t know it’s coming until they’ve heard your ad a few times. That’s a lot of lost opportunity for ROI.
Which leads me to businesses that do use phone numbers effectively. Mostly it’s taxi firms and pizza delivery places – you know, those ads that repeat the number. Over and over. Usually in a song (because melody aids recall, but that’s a subject for another post). Although even these guys are gradually moving over to apps and websites.
Of course, you always need to consider your target market. In this post, I’m talking about the majority of the consuming population.
Older generations like the early baby boomers and upwards are more used to getting phone numbers from audio (radio) ads. Maybe then, your number could be the best point of contact, but think about it on a case-by-case basis.
If you’re not sure, try calling your friendly marcoms expert. She's probably more than happy to help you make an informed decision. Do you remember her number?
Just in time for Valentine's Day, I checked out the new beardy dating app, Bristlr. Published here.
I’ve been led to the pleasant revelation that I’m a cougar.
It’s fair to say the resurgence of facial hair is largely a product of the hipster movement. Therefore you’ll find quite a lot of hipsters on Bristlr: the dating app (and site) for men with beards, and the people who want to stroke them.
I like hipster guys. I like creative men who dress with panache. It also turns out that I utterly adore their coiffed, combed, conditioned, trimmed, twirled, preened, stroked and styled facial hair.
As one Bristlr lady’s profile states, “I don’t want a beard that exists because you’re too lazy to shave. You need to want that beard, work that beard, EARN that beard”. Well in, you lovely hipster lads!
Since most hipsters are under 35, my lovely discovery was prompted by there being no age filter. You can filter by distance though, and gender: men (‘Beards only!’), women (‘No beards thanks’) and either (‘I don’t mind’).
There are beards for everybody on Bristlr: younger, older; mostly straight, some gay and bi; from 5 o’clock stubble to ZZ Top commitment, sparse hair manicured to unsettling perfection and bushy bombs that hide almost entire faces; English, European, Middle Eastern, Australian. It’s beards without borders and plenty of women have signed up for the ride.
There are still some pretty big bugs. My first few attempts to join apparently didn’t work yet I ended up with 3 profiles. I also haven’t been able to log in via the app for four days. Once you enter your age it can’t be un-entered, but you can change it (shhh, I’m not really 88).
But the developer John Kershaw makes no promises. Bristlr is a bit of fun and it’s worth checking out for the error message alone.
If you’re a facial hair fan, you can’t go wrong. Bristlr’s free to download, search, show interest and message others. Plus for a teeny £2.40 you get to see which hot, young, hipster studs have viewed your profile.
And guys... You might like being with a lady who’s made mix tapes for real. Just saying.
The Sinapse Communication and Ideas website was written by non-native English speakers. Content consists of short articles and longer, academic texts, and the client wanted to be sure they crossed the language divide. I edited and proofread the copy, and ensured consistent tone of voice across the site.
Like many people, I want to be a travel writer. Only, until recently, my travel writing was… Well, a bit shit. I can write – I know that – but when it came to turning my text into a profitable form of travel writing, I was lost.
What format to follow? Who to write for? What to write about? How much to write? How to get published (let alone commissioned)? Where to get guidance or, even better, mentorship?
Where to start looking for answers?!
I mentioned this to a friend and by divine synchronicity, the next day he texted: “Guardian today online. Travel Writing look it up” (sic. English is not his native language).
I thought the £115 fee was reasonable (I now know it’s a bargain!); I thought Peter Carty’s experience was admirable; but I think it was the promise of on-going, unlimited support that persuaded me. It’s like insurance, isn’t it? Only free!
There’s a small part of me that doesn’t want to give away my ‘edge’, but I think Peter deserves the promotion.
One intensive day at the Travel Writing Workshop and I’m now armed with the knowledge and direction I need. And if I’m unsure, I can just ask.
My by-line in Lonely Planet is that much closer.
How brilliant is London, where you can spend an afternoon listening to a multi-platinum selling songwriter for free? Superfuckingbrilliant, that’s how!
Alex Von Soos gives great seminar: straight talking experience, presented with disarming humility and humour. He also gave me renewed appreciation for commercial music: maybe because I could understand the techniques better; or maybe because he played it loud, through crystal clear and awesome speakers.
What follows is an abridged report of a condensed seminar.* So kick back, crack a beer, and let’s get our math on.
Give your song a Current or Retro vibe. For Retro, think Adele, Christina and the latest hot, young thing, Lana. Current is probably anything in the Top 10 that doesn’t have a Retro vibe. Check what’s going down on Radio 1 (or your equivalent), popular blogs, and anywhere else the cool kids hang out.**
Incorporate a magical Hook. That could be a compelling, melodic rhythm, as long as it’s interesting enough to stand by itself. Test it by clapping or drumming it on the table and if you can’t resist getting funky, you know you’ve got a winner. It could also be an interesting emotional pitch, like in Chasing Cars, ‘…if I LAY here, if I just LAY here…’. Introduce it early and make it last long enough to create a magical moment.
Got it? Just to make sure, see if you can pick the pitch in this piece of inspired genius (hint: there are a few before the end of the first chorus, but the first one is in the third line).
.Contrast and Prosody. Create contrast between the verse and chorus through tessiture, melodic rhythm, phrase length, phrase start, phrase shape, chord change, frequency, arrangement, etc. Create musical prosody with a combination of melody, graduation, chords, lyrics, and vocal tones that sound like they belong together.
For help translating the above paragraph, try this.
Amazing voice. Score a Sia, I mean singer who sounds unique, appealing, and confident, with a technically sound vocal performance that makes the lyrics seem believable. Also, be sure your singer is the right age for your target market. Like, you wouldn’t make Engelbert Humperdink your 2012 Eurovision entrant. Oh, wait…
Moving Lyrics. The words need meaning. Write what you know and make your experiences count to give your song a personal, believable, emotional tone. Make it sound professional with natural rhymes and imagery, and include at least one memorable word or line as early as possible: check 'Check Yes' by We the Kings. Then give your song a unique title with a compelling concept.
Technical excellence. Once upon a time, you’d turn up at the record company, play the nice man an acoustic song, share a cigar and a hearty handshake, and within a week you’d recorded a number one album. These days, you’re expected to turn up with a piece of pre-prepared audio. It probably wouldn’t hurt to supply the Cubans, too.
So, make your audio clear, loud: a well balanced mix, with tastefully chosen modern or retro sounds (see CRv), a tight, compelling arrangement and with at least one unique sound or surprise audio element. Look to Maroon 5 for inspiration.
But all of that means nothing without a good dose of fate or fortune (depending how you look at it).
Genius and Execution. That is, pulling ideas out of thin air – which requires some talent and a lot of luck. You can’t do much about luck, but you can exercise your skills by writing, writing, writing. Make time to write because the more you practice, the easier it flows. Write, write, write first, then edit.
Also, the best idea is not your first one, so maybe put that into a verse instead. Lastly, rest assured you can’t completely fail because the most unwanted song has already been made.
Star quality. Get a singer with that super lucky magic something. Again, it takes luck to find that special ingredient, definitely not money.
Marketing and Promotion. More luck to make sure your A&R rep doesn’t develop a coke habit and snort the profits of your first platinum CD (true story, it happened to a friend of a friend. Kind of).
Otherwise, Marketing and Promotion is all about the usual stuff as well as creating a buzz for yourself in the blogoshphere, on YouTube, Twitter, BBC 1, etc.
And that takes you full circle, only now you’ve got some rock and roll war wounds to draw upon for your next song – and, of course, show off at the pub.
* Disclaimer: as such, this does not guarantee chart success or unlimited groupies. For that, please deal directly with Alex Von Soos.
** ‘Cool’: target demographic.
Lucky Jackson is an Australian singer/songwriter. I combined my review of his album Subliminal Poet with an interview, for the Adelaide Rock Collective (now defunct). Full article here.
It’s one of those great ironies where you’d laugh if it weren’t so unfortunate: the musician who’s too shy to play to an audience. But, such is the case for Lucky Jackson.
“I'd like to be a performing artist,” he tells me, “but stage fright is a serious problem for me, so my career is mainly writing and recording.” And so it is that I’m reviewing Lucky’s latest CD, Subliminal poet.
From the first track it’s unusual: ‘Intro: tripod suite’ features an electro-wobbleboard-esque rhythm with various samples, including applause, chamber music and robotic vocals. This Mozart-inspired piece sets the scene for the eclectic mix of genres that follow.
Lucky’s style is impossible to define — not that he tries. Elements include rock, country, gospel, blues and rockabilly but, “music is just music to me”, he says. “I love all types and I listen to all types. I think that reflects in what I write, depending on where I am emotionally at that moment of inspiration.”
Lucky’s lyrics prove he is most inspired by loneliness and Christianity. An interesting dichotomy, reminiscent of a tortured soul (maybe something to do with the stage-fright thing).
“Loneliness is a part of everyone's life at some point and I'm no different,” he responds. Besides wanting to do something in the Gospel genre, “I thought it was appropriate that my first CD (Tangerine sky) should reflect my faith.” Lucky intends to have at least one Christian based track on every CD he produces; “it always has its influence”.
Adding yet another element to the Subliminal poet mix is spoken word poem, ‘The terrorist’. Inspired by The Doors (“An American prayer is a masterpiece!”), Lucky’s goal is one day to create an entire album of poetry.
An accomplished bard (as Bartholemew Barton), he appreciates “a good metaphor and any lyric that can be read as a coherent poem; that evokes an emotional response”. As such, Lucky finds there can be a fine line between his poems and lyrics.
This makes for an interesting result when coupled with what Lucky calls “an independent sound with a demo feel… I like the imperfect sounds of a recording”.
As for future imperfect sounds, Lucky is unsure since he has no current collaborators. He does have a title, though; Golden luggage. “It's from the Dylan Thomas poem, 'On the marriage of a virgin'. He's my favorite 20th century writer”. I wonder if he ever performed.
Lucky can be contacted through email or MAI Songs Music.