Adam Fisher
22nd October 2018 - 7 mins read
O

f course, when Mr Zinsser started writing, he had little more than a typewriter for technological support.

Producing and creating content remains difficult, but the modern writer does have access to a range of online tools which can improve their writing and help them find inspiration.

Here are some of our favourites:



Grammarly

This is probably the best-known writing tool, so we won’t spend too much time discussing it.

It is essentially a proofreading tool which automatically spots grammar, spelling, punctuation and even style mistakes.

When it suggests a correction it also provides an explanation. This means the writer can make a well-informed decision on whether or not they will make that change.

You can copy and paste text into Grammarly’s Editor or install a free browser extension.



Cliché Finder

We’re all guilty of including words and phrases in our writing which might be a bit trite or overused.

Cliché Finder is a free, simple, tool which helps you to identify those expressions before your work gets published.

I used it on a blog I recently wrote and it instantly identified the expressions ‘over the years’.  Not only did this prompt me to remove this from the work, but it also means I will be more conscious about using the phrase in the future, ultimately improving my writing.



Hemmingway Editor

This is a bit like the newspaper sub-editor who has been doing the job for years and just knows how to make copy better even when there is nothing grammatically wrong.

The emphasis is on making writing short and punchy by highlighting complicated words, dull sentences, passive voice, and adverbs.

And it is easy to use. If you see a yellow sentence, it needs to be shortened; if it is red it is too complicated; purple means a shorter word could be used, and blue is used to highlight adverbs and weak phrases.



CoShedule’s Headline Analyzer

Headlines are important.

A good one will entice readers to your content, while one that fails to hit the mark could prevent people from clicking – a real shame if the article that sits below is strong.

But constantly producing eye-catching headlines isn’t easy.

The good news is there is help readily available.

CoSchedule Headline Analyzer breaks down your headline in terms of structure, grammar, and readability.

Headlines are scored out of 100 with points gained for the use of ‘common’, ‘uncommon’, ‘emotional’ and ‘power’ words and phrases.



Hub spot Blog topic generator

When the dreaded writer’s block strikes, you need to find inspiration.

And tech can sometimes provide the answer.

There are a few blog topic generators around but Hubspot’s Blog Ideas Generator is probably the best one.

Simply type a few phrases into the boxes and the algorithm does the rest.

Putting ‘words’, ‘content’ and ‘ideas’ into the system came up with the following options:

 

1 Think You're Cut Out For Doing Content? Take This Quiz

2 The Worst Advice We've Ever Heard About Words

3 Tools Everyone In The Ideas Industry Should Be Using

4 Quick Tips About Content

5 Best Blogs To Follow About Words

 

As you can see, the ideas they generate aren’t always brilliant, but the third suggestion is very similar to this blog.

This tool is free and even if the suggestions do not always hit the mark, it could just come up with an idea you can develop.



Wordcounter

This website offers more than its uninspiring name might suggest.

As well as providing a running total of the number of words and characters – useful if you have a minimum or maximum total you need to reach – its main benefit is showing whether your writing has become a bit repetitive.

The system shows how often you have used each word, giving you the opportunity to provide some alternative options.

Additionally, it provides you with a reading and speaking time for your writing - ideal if you are preparing a speech.  



Power Thesaurus

Once you’ve identified the words you are using a little too often, you may need some help finding alternative options.

There are plenty of online thesauruses, with Thesaurus.com being the biggest. But I prefer the crowd sourced Power Thesaurus for a more user-friendly experience and fewer adverts.



Urban dictionary

Not every definition in the Urban Dictionary is going to be suitable for your writing, particularly if you have an audience which may be easily offended. Some definitions are, let’s just say ‘educational’.

But, if you are looking for a definition of a word or phrase that is new or has different meanings to different people, it can be a useful tool.

When I wrote a blog for our sister company Media First about spokespeople repeatedly using the phrase ‘deeply concerned’, Urban Dictionary provided the perfect definition to give my content a little more edge.

It defined the phrase as: “An expression used in PR, especially political, when the person or organization is expected to care about a situation and comment on it, but they don't actually give a s**t, because the situation in question isn't particularly relevant to them, but it is politically imprudent to say that outright.”



Coffitivity

Sometimes writers just need to find a way of boosting their creativity.

Personally, when I’m struggling for inspiration, or just need some background noise, I plug in the headphones and let Guns N’ Roses destroy what remains of my hearing.

I appreciate though that others may have a different (not better) taste in music, or just need something a little more soothing.

This is where Coffitivity comes into its own. It recreates the ‘ambient’ sounds of a café to create a pleasant working environment. Not only that, but there is a range of coffee sounds to help you get in the mood, including some from Paris and Brazil.



BrainyQuote

Adding pertinent quotes from famous writers, politicians and entrepreneurs can be a great way of adding more depth to your writing and inspiring your audience.

You’ll notice that I included a quote at the start of this blog and in other posts I have quoted the likes of John F Kennedy, Albert Einstein, Mark Twain and Maya Angelou among others.

Of course, it is not always easy to remember who the quote originally came from or whether you recalled it correctly.

This is where BrainyQuote comes in handy. The site not only enables you to check back on famous quotes but also search for more by topics, authors, and people in the news.



Word

It is not just going online that can improve writing. The ever-dependable Word also offers some useful tools.

The Flesch Reading Ease score uses the number of words in a sentence and the number of syllables in each word to calculate how easy it is to read a document. The lower the score, the more difficult the text is to read and ideally you should aim for a score of between 60 and 70.

The second check, known as the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, is an equation which tells you how many years of education someone needs to understand your content.

The grade score is based on the American grade system and essentially you need to add five to your grade to find the reading age of your content.

To find your score, simply go to the ‘file’ menu, then ‘options’ and then on to the ‘proofing’ tab.

Under the ‘when correcting spelling and grammar in Word’ heading you need to tick the box which says ‘show readability statistics’.

Then when you run a spelling and grammar check you will find the two readability scores.

 

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is social media content or a whitepaper.

Marketing

Why it’s time to take a hammer to your marketing funnel

James White 14th February 2020 — 6 mins read
S

ounds great, doesn’t it?

But the reality is, it is simplistic, outdated, rigid and even wrong and that’s why I think it is time to take a hammer to the funnel.

The big problem with the funnel is it doesn’t reflect the modern consumer’s experience or the way they interact with brands. And it is also prescriptive about where different content formats sit in the process, whereas it should be the content within each format that is the decisive factor – not the delivery method.

Just because someone is at the start of a process to buy a product doesn’t mean they need the same form of marketing content to take them further along that journey.

Everyone is different. When I have gone out to buy software, like Communigator, I have tended to go on YouTube and looked at ‘how to’ videos. I wanted to find out more about how you import data and how you create dashboards.

Most marketeers would argue that is the back end of the funnel, where you are really deciding what you are going to buy, but I used it right at the top.

The top of the funnel for me is about peer review and word of mouth. I am more likely to talk to people and ask how they do things.  Yet this doesn’t get a look-in in marketing funnels.

The other top of the funnel – the awareness piece - for me is people picking up the phone and calling me or going to a conference and seeing a good speaker.

And, I’m sure I’m not alone – different types of content appeal to different people at different times.

You simply cannot afford to put everyone in the same pot and say that just because they are at a particular stage of the process, they need that type of content, delivered in a particular type of way.

Let’s take podcasts as an example. These are typically placed in the ‘awareness’ section at the top of the funnel. But why do they need to sit there? Surely, they could also play a role in other stages, such as research and comparison.

You could have a podcast talking about the different types of automated marketing software and that would sit in the comparison section. Or you could have a podcast talking about pricing or ROI which could sit in the ‘purchase’ section of the funnel.

As I say, it is the content within each format that decides where it should be used in the process, not the delivery method.

So, if you are not going to base your marketing on the funnel, what should you do?

Well, you still need a process in place that gives thought to where different parts of content should be. And you still need a method or process for identifying buying intent.

Ultimately it is all about having good quality content that engages, convinces and compels your audience, regardless of whether they come to it at the start of the buying process or when they are about to make a buying decision.

You need to offer them something that adds value; that showcases your expertise and highlights what makes your brand different.

That is why at Thirty Seven, and our sister company Media First, we put journalistic principles at the heart of every bit of content we produce.

And that means we aim to tell the TRUTH.

By that I mean our content is:

 

T topical, of the moment, and something people are talking about

R relevant to a specific audience

U unusual. Not what people already know or expect

T trouble. Show how you are solving a problem. Or, if your story is not strong enough, a journalist will look for their own trouble angle

H human interest. What is in it for people? What impact will it have on your customers and the journalist’s audience?

 

The aim is for the content to include at least four of the five elements of TRUTH to create something meaningful.

But the human aspect is crucial.

The most common phrase you will hear in a newsroom is ‘so what?’ Journalists will look at a potential news item and ask ‘so what does this mean for my audience?’

At the very least they will want to know who the people are behind the story. Take a look at any newspaper, news website or news programme and you will find all the stories have a human angle.

The reason is simple – people are fascinated by stories about people, not policies, procedures initiatives and protocols.

As well as telling the TRUTH you need to say AMEN (no, this blog hasn’t taken a strange turn towards religious preaching). This means you need to ensure the content you produce is suitable for the target ‘Audience’; that you are clear on the ‘Message’ you want to get across to that audience; that you have ‘Examples’ (ideally human ones) to support and explain that message; and that you have considered any potential ‘Negatives’ that could be raised.

Unless you are working for a company with a huge marketing budget, and lots of people producing the content, the ‘topical’ element of what makes quality content is tricky.

The key is to balance timely content with content that is evergreen (not time-sensitive) and that can also be sliced and diced in different ways. At Media First, we have recently taken a number of blogs and used them as the basis of downloadable eBooks aimed at specific sectors.

Similarly, there is no reason why videos can’t be turned in to podcasts or why parts of a Whitepaper can’t be turned into an Infographic. Not only does this ensure your carefully crafted content is working harder, but you are also providing more ways for consumers to access content in the ways they are most comfortable.

The other key journalistic principle you need to use in your content is proof reading. You should ensure that your content is seen by three sets of eyes before it leaves your office. This helps to ensure your content meets its aims and objective and that those typos and errors that can undermine content are eradicated.

I mentioned earlier the importance of still having a process behind your content once you have moved away from the funnel.

That process needs to be flexible and it also needs to be something you are prepared to interrupt. At Media First, we would normally see someone downloading our content as a sign of a hot lead.

But recently we decided to interrupt that and call people before they reached that stage.  We called 135 people – identified by the pages they had visited on the website. 90 people got dropped, two were not the right contact and one was international, but we generated 34 proposals and eight hot leads – that is a ridiculous conversion rate for new business development.

 

It’s time to take a hammer to the funnel – or at least throw it out. There is a better way, and quality content lies at its core.

 

At Thirty Seven, we offer content and design services to ensure your campaigns reach the right audiences at the right times. Our journalist led approach ensures your content is interesting, engaging and informative so you gain brand awareness and engagement whether it is a podcast or email marketing.

Graham Jones
19th February 2018 - 5 mins read

Every company wants to be an authority in their sector - those that engage the media usually are

Media First designs and delivers bespoke media and communications courses that use current working journalists, along with PR and communications professionals, to help you get the most from your communications plan.