Social Media – Should Companies Adopt Avatars?

December 1, 2010

For Some Brands, A Social Media Avatar Could Work Perfectly

I had a great meeting this week with a bright project manager who thinks that corporate social media works best if the company adopts a character, a sort of avatar, unique to the company. So rather than setting up a Twitter account in the name of a company, it’s even better to use a robot, a games character, or some other type of identifiable personality. The theory is that this makes the company more approachable and more interesting.

Here are some ideas for social media avatars:

  • A robot to represent a technology brand
  • A cartoon musician to represent a music company
  • A young girl to represent a fashion label

Here are the pros and cons of this approach as I see it.

Benefits of Using a Social Media Avatar

1. It’s good way to manifest your brand values. Really it’s no different to finding a good and memorable actor to represent your brand in ongoing TV advertising, for example Nanette Newman for Fairy, Jamie Oliver for Sainsbury.

2. It removes complexity around using real people. Real people come and go and may say that wrong thing. A social media avatar is completely controllable by the marketing or PR operation.

3. It can be more entertaining. You can take more risks with a social media avatar but keep it fully in the scope of the brand.

Negatives of Using a Social Media Avatar

1. It can feel a bit trite. Especially in Business to Business (B2B) marketing and PR, clients often expect a more mature approach explanation of messages.

2. It has to work with your company branding. If you represent a fun, perhaps technology driven brand, this could work really well.

3. It may work better with the younger demographic. Younger clients might find it more entertaining and interesting. Older clients might find it a distaction.

4. The copywriting needs to be good. If you start something like this, you cannot adopt a classic corporate copywriting style. The style needs to sound like the avatar speaking to its audience.

So in conclusion, the success of social media avatars depends very much on the brand and audience. I hope you’ve found this thought-provoking. I’m off to find my robot costume and get my picture taken. Anyone joining me?

Is Informal the New Formal in Copywriting?

November 26, 2010

There are Times When Copywriting Should Wear a Suit

As is evidenced by this blog, I’m all for informality in copywriting. Informality brings people together, it suggests that we’re not too stuck up. It sounds more like the spoken word. As a result, it builds bridges.

Informal copywriting styles were initially used with care. Now it has become a fashion and as a fashion, it has been adopted unthinkingly by the marketing masses. In fact, it’s very much like fashion. The first time anyone wore flares, or cigarette pants, or tricorn hats, it would have appeared daring, on the money, energetic. Then the style was adopted by everyone, and even those who looked bad dressed in the fashion of the day had to wear it too.

It’s the same with copywriting. There are times when it’s just right for the job. Some brands cry out for informality – Innocent Drinks, for example, American Apparel, Gap. They crave snappy sentences that aren’t necessarily grammatical, ‘isn’t’ instead of ‘is not’, exclamation marks, directness.

Yet last week I received a letter from a well respected financial company. They started their letter with ‘We’re pleased to send you…’ Did this make me feel that I had my money in the right place? No. It really didn’t. Where are the trusty, suited individuals looking after my money? It reminds me of the poorly assembled marketing for the Abbey building society before they were purchased by Santander.

Certain organisations should be formal. I’ll give you some examples. Banks, financial institutions, government departments, solicitors, barristers and lawyers, hospitals,  educational institutions, museums, libraries, funeral directors. By formal, I don’t mean stuffy. There is no reason why a copywriting style cannot feel warm, but at the same time reflect certain formalities. These are institutions that we respect, that we rely on to educate our children, uphold the rule of law, care for the vulnerable or the deceased. They’re not selling us snackpots or jeans. They’re there to help us at the most important times in our lives. Quite simply, their writing style should reflect the importance of their role in their lives, and frankly, I don’t care if they come across as formal, or even stuffy. I want them to do their job and do it well. Formal language is a signifier that the doctor has read her notes, the bank has counted to the last penny, and the solictor has remembered that clause we discussed last week. Let’s remember that there are times when copywriting has to wear a suit, and times when it’s OK to wear jeans.

Planning a Corporate Brochure

September 3, 2010



Plan Your Brochure with Care


So, planning corporate brochures? We’re all very digital these days, but that’s not to say that at some point you will not need to produce a corporate brochure. In fact, even if your brochure is never printed, you may need to have a corporate brochure designed that can be viewed from a web browser. It’s also worth bearing in mind that now that there are so many forms of communication fighting for attention, a brochure has to work twice as hard to be noticed.

Don’t believe, however, that printed communication is dead and buried. Direct Mail expert, David Hyams, has recently launched his Real Print direct-mail-on-demand service. This web-based ecommerce site allows companies to order as few as one brochure at a time and have it sent with an accompanying letter direct to the customer.

So here is a simple, and hopefully easy-to-follow strategy for planning and producing your a corporate brochure.

How to Plan a Corporate Brochure

1.  Start with your Audience

Work out who you are trying to sell to and what you are trying to sell them. Try to focus your brochure as much as possible on that particular goal. Think about the language you should use to communicate with your customer, bearing in mind that your tone of voice should also echo your company branding and any official brand guidelines.

2. Assemble Your Information

Make sure that you have a good overview of the message you are trying to convey. Then think about the factual information (lists of services, relevant facts and figures) that need to be included. Contact those who hold this information ask them for what you need.

3. Work out the Size of the Brochure

Most brochures are four or eight pages. This means four or eight sides of paper, not physical pages. Sorry if this is ridiculously obvious to most of you!

If you’re looking to be more adventurous, talk to your printer early and ask for their help in working out an interesting type of brochure style, such as a gatefold or pocket containing inserts. In all cases, be driven by the message that you are trying to convey and not just novelty. Ask your printer to mock up a version of the brochure in white card. This will help you to imagine how the brochure will look when it is finished and whether there are any technical issues you have missed. For this, you need a good printer who understands the mechanics of finishing, who will make sure that there is enough space for the pages to sit inside the cover and will pick up any problems with the artwork. I don’t usually recommend anyone in this blog, but if you are based in the UK (or even if you’re not), Scott Pearce at Datum CP is one of the soundest printers out there.

4. Plan Your Content

Get a piece of paper and fold it into the shape of your brochure. If necessary use sticky tape and scissors. (Believe me, this is the closest I ever get to art!) Scribble on each ‘page’ of your brochure what you expect to be there in terms of content. For example, for an eight page brochure, the first page would be the cover, the second, perhaps an introduction to the company, the third page might be an overview of the company’s services, the fourth might be about customer service, the fifth about technical expertise, the sixth could be some concluding words, the seventh might contain contact details and the eight might be the back cover. Get the picture?

5. Plan the Pages

Think about breaking up the copy into paragraphs of solid text and paragraphs, or even text boxes, of bullet points. Work with your designer to come up with creative solutions to the layout of text so that it is easy to read and the key points are easy to assimilate.

6. Plan the Images

Are you going to organise a photoshoot or source some stock photography? There are some good free stock photography sites around now, but they only have limited content and usually you need to include an acknowledgement which can look odd in a corporate brochure. It’s therefore worth paying a fee to get good images. Try to seek interesting photographs and perhaps give them an unusual treatment so that they look a little different. If you want totally original photographs, find a good – and that does not necessarily mean expensive – photographer.

7. Involve the Designer

Work with your designer from an early stage to ensure that you understand how any text you are writing is likely to look on the page.

8. Write the Copy

This can be challenging and if you’re not good at it, it’s worth employing the services of a professional copywriter to do it for you. Make sure the copy has been approved internally and then pass to your designer. Be prepared to make further changes to the copy so that it works well with the design.

9. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!

Did I say proofread? We’re used to the digital world now where copy can be changed as needed and mistakes can be corrected after the event. This is print. Check the spelling of people’s names, company names, product names, trademarks and web addresses and also ensure that the correct trademark or copyright information is used against the first mention of any trademark. Don’t forget to add the copyright boilerplate in small print on the brochure. Ensure you have permission from clients for any references or product shots.

10. Get Signoff

Make sure you know who in your organisation needs to sign off your finished brochure.

Good luck and I look forward to hearing your comments and experiences.