Friday, 16 September 2016

What is "narrative" anyway?

Your're probably sick of the terminology already; the buzzwords of marketing; the new age of engagement.

Engagement. Isn't that an annoying word? There was a time when engagement really had two principal meanings. One was a meeting or event you were to attend, the other was a state of pre-marital bliss.

Now it means something far more nebulous. Something like attention. Yes that's it, we call it engagement but what we really mean is to hold someone's attention long enough so as to convince them to do something about it. Like buy your product/service or connect with people.

Connect. Almost worse than engagement. Another infuriating word that really means to meet, or to correspond, or to make friends. Why do we have to be so general in this day and age of information, when words on screen are so cheap anyway?

Why not be specific? "I met with Brian on Thursday, I think we're going to do business together, hell, we might even become friends!" There. That's better. Now I understand what you're saying!

Which all leads me to the big one doing the rounds these days: Narrative. And its cousin, Storytelling.

I bet you think to yourself, when you see these words in a marketing context, "I AM RUNNING A BUSINESS HERE, FOLKS, NOT TELLING FAIRY TALES!" I know I do, and I write stories for a living!

Yes, I am guilty. I use these words; more than I should. I think it's better to think of everyone's lives as an anthology of short stories. We're doing one thing for a bunch of reasons; and then we're doing something else, for different or perhaps related reasons. The key is that a person is involved, you, and so you're running through this series of little stories that sum to your life. Scary but true: you could tell a story about nearly every aspect of your life. Some of you have some pretty thrilling stories I'm sure!

When we place this into the business context, what us narrative-weaving, storytelling, keyboard-tapping marketers are saying is that you need to focus on the who and why and how of your product/service, rather than just the what and where (which are really just a description of your thing, whatever it is. They might be features, but by themselves they are not benefits, which is to say, they do not, in and of themselves, deliver value. For that, you need to demonstrate how you're making a difference to someone and why they need it).

Some products benefit strongly from the who. For instance, a biography is all about the who and its exact job is to tell that story. Many services depend on the who: you want to know who's providing the service, whether you can trust them, etc. Sometimes, the who is all you need to sell.

The why and the how, however, are the big game. In almost all cases, the reason something sells is because someone has a problem to solve or task to complete, but they don't have the tools or resources. Then you come along with the solution.

  • Need to share a picture of your cute kitten, right now for all the world to see? How are you going to do that? Instagram of course!
  • Looking for a place to stay that's more homely than a hotel? Airbnb will show you how. 
  • Need to settle an argument? Google it. (OK, I say that with caution, but you get me.)

What do all these have in common? They're little stories.
I was trying to get home from the bar [why I was looking for transport], but there were no taxis around [don't know how I'll get home], so I used the Uber app on my smartphone and within minutes, a nice man in a nice car was driving me home. It was a great experience!
Tell that story, and people will start using Uber. Millions already do and you know this story because it could be your own. That story is told the world over, and is a driving force behind their expansion (along with a related story about better service than taxis, which is really just a taxi-avoidance version of the story above). Uber even caters for the business executive who wants to look like he's stepped out of a private limo - Uber Black. There's another story...

So that's why we do it, because it is memorable. If a product or service is to really sell, it needs to fit into people's lives. It must fill that gap. The story of why and how gives a person a compelling reason to buy.

The brands that are best at this invite their customers to tell their own stories about their use of the product. This kind of customer participation in the story of a brand is incredibly powerful in building a business. And it's pretty straightforward in a world of social media.

Tell your story well, and people will sell your product to themselves.

Salespeople have been doing this for centuries. You've no doubt heard of the "create a problem then solve it" technique for selling (and advertising). Well, that's a story based technique. And it works, like crazy. Nothing better than hearing from a customer, "yeah, I can really see why I need this!"

That's what you're trying to achieve when you tell your brand/product/service's story. You're just making it fit into people's lives. Giving them a reason to engage buy.

By the way, to return to the original question, narrative is just an account of connected events. That's what the word means. It's how you tell a story. You narrate a story. You're a storyteller! Get telling! Or, if storytelling IS that gap in your life, get in touch with us and we can help!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

1 Powerful Way to Differentiate Yourself in the Property Market

A trendy suburban cafe, around 11 am on a warm spring day. The customer walks past a stand with some local mags, sees a page with a real estate agent's banner. She's about to move on, dismissing it as advertising, but then sees a catchy headline and an article. "Well," She thinks, "I dropped in for a coffee, and don't have anything to read. This'll do." And with that, she picks it up and orders herself a skinny latte.

A few minutes later, she's on her smartphone and scanning ads for real estate in the area. She's a successful woman, has a young family, and is still in the house they bought when they married. The house is getting a little cramped now though, "I wonder what we could upgrade to, if we did?" She ponders before looking again at that article, which discussed the booming real estate market. "Perhaps I'll give them a call."

You published that article a few weeks ago, and it made it into that cafe, and now it is being read by a potential customer. A person who, for whatever reason, was not even thinking about real estate, and especially not about selling their house, until now.

What changed her mind? You did.

The persuasive power of words

Now this woman has taken the first step towards selling, and you were the catalyst. It's very likely you'll be the first call she makes. You'll now get the chance to talk to her about selling and buying in the same market. The pros and cons. The advantages of getting it done efficiently. You will be able to explain to her how you can make it easy for her. And the best bit? She's a willing listener. She came to you, not the other way around.

This is the power of having market commentary out there, in writing. It carries authority, it delivers non-sales-pitch information, it has a subtle call to action. Most of all, it sparks interest, puts the seed of an idea into the reader's head.

Differentiating yourself

The truth is everyone can find a real estate agent if they need one. One Google search and it's done. But often they don't have the prompt to do so. People need to be asked to think about selling or buying real estate. That's why real estate agents spend so much time canvasing the market for listings. It's the hardest part of the job (it's not uncommon to make hundreds of calls a week), which is why anything that assists people in getting over that hurdle is so valuable. If a simple article makes people think about selling; then it's worth its weight in gold.

It doesn't have to be a big thing though - you're an expert in your field, and well acquainted with the goings on in your local market. I bet you have lots to say. I bet you wish people knew how good you are at your job. Well, the answer is to get your opinion out there; regularly. Start locally. Start by communicating with your established client list and roster of sales queries. Get your picture and opinion in the local paper. Write a newsletter. Write a blog.

It does require some work, but consider this: If just one extra listing came from your blog or newsletter, the commission on that sale alone will repay you for your efforts.

Get help if you need it, but do it anyway

Despite what you might fear, generally people are not too picky about grammar. So if writing is not your forte, don't fret. A poorly worded or written piece is better than nothing at all, so by all means, write it anyway and get it out there.

If you really want your opinion to convert to sales though, you need to write it well, and with an ear for persuasive copy. Good writing gets more attention than bad writing. And human beings simply enjoy well-written material. So it is worth the effort to get it done well. Given how much money is potentially waiting, it's worth considering hiring a writer to do it for you. Rates are more reasonable than you might imagine, and the big advantage is that you can establish a regular flow of writing from your desk; freeing up your time for better things, like selling property!

If you are interested in hearing more about how a professional writer with real estate experience can help you, have a look at our services and get in touch today.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Meeting in the Middle: Making complex concepts comprehensible.

I'm not going to lie: Science can be hard to understand.

There's a reason you need at least four years of intense study at university before you can call yourself a scientist. There's a lot to take in, many concepts to understand, and much to remember. It can be challenging. But for those of us with an innate fascination with the workings of the world, science is a joy! So it's not really hard work. More like a labour of love.

On the other hand, science is just one discipline among many, and not everyone is interested in being a scientist. Which is fine. The world would be pretty darn boring without the artists and writers and musicians; and trust me, we'd probably go broke or forget to eat if scientists were in charge of the money.

Science is everywhere, but not everyone is a scientist.

Science and technology underpins--makes possible--modern society; we really don't have a choice but to be engaged in science and technical matters in some way.

  • Many people (in Australia, all working people), for instance, have superannuation accounts whose fund managers invest their money in companies that perform some kind of scientific work. 
  • All of us come across scientific content in the news; be it a story about a bionic ear, or a story about vaccinations, its there; all the time. 
  • Some of us are just interested in understanding how something new works. Be it the latest in VR, or a new biotech company with something revolutionary. 

You don't have time to quickly grab a science degree though, so you rely on the writer/presenter/company executive to give you information that you can understand.

Complexity: the enigmatic enemy.

If you can't understand something, you won't remember it. If you don't remember it, you won't act on it.

It's that simple.

For most of us, that's as far as it goes. It's a shame, but it's OK.

For a company trying to sell its new wonder-product or technology though, that lack of public understanding is nothing short of a disaster. Smart people don't invest in stuff they don't understand.

So companies with scientific (or just technically challenging) ideas to convey simply must ensure their public communications are comprehensible to the public or else they are staring down the barrel of irrelevance; no matter how well run the company is, nor how good their product is.

Tell us all! Tell us all!

In a kind of reversal of the same message, a slightly different principle applies to science media/journalism.

Whereas the science company might be full of science knowledge but lacking in the communications department; the science reporter might be a great communicator, but not have enough scientific understanding to convey science news properly.

Great science reporting leaves very little out - the details and the science remain, but in understandable language. To retain the science content though, the reporter needs to grasp the science first so that he or she knows what to say.

Wait, so how do people do both?

I thought you'd never ask. It's straightforward - this mid-point between scientists and the general public has specialists of its own - science communicators. We act as translators and interpreters. We make it possible for the great work of science to be understood, and therefore supported (financially, legally, politically) by people outside the scientific community.

The problem is not going to get better with time - in fact it will probably get worse. Technology and science is advancing at such a pace it may one day outstrip humankind's capacity for understanding. But in the meantime, it's better to have your amazing whiz-bang thingamawhatsit portrayed to the public in a digestible way.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help with science communication, please contact us for advice.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Creating Investor Engagement in Technical Disciplines.

The question is, are your company announcements performing as well as they should be?

Companies involved in scientific research and development often make highly valuable discoveries, products or services which, by tapping newly created or already very large markets, could make a material difference to company value. “Game Changing” developments are, by their very nature, new to the market, and as such, require that investors understand the importance and implications of the new development. This can be difficult due to the technical nature of the development and the closed-world of scientific research where scientists talk to other scientists in language that is confined to the scientific community.

It is an information market.

Capital markets trade in information as much as they do in shares. Freely flowing positive news can give impetus to share price appreciation. It is critical in this environment that companies who wish to have brokers and investors talking about their offering, over that of competitors, provide information that is easy to digest and share. Thus any announcement (particularly technical announcements) made by a scientific company should be reviewed to ensure it communicates effectively with its target audience: namely stock brokers and investors.

Understand who you are trying to reach and what you are trying to do. 

Stockbroking, and the investment community generally, is a highly educated arena. However, the education is predominately confined to economics and finance, with only a small adjunct of technical/science savvy analysts whose main role is to judge company value on a case by case basis, usually confined to the very specific list of companies that any given broking firm covers. Given the segregated nature of academic specialization here, it is beholden on scientific companies to ensure that their market communications can reach across the divide. You cannot assume that it is a technically savvy analyst who is reading your announcements.

The curious thing about markets is that they can price-in the value of nearly any company development, no matter how technically difficult to understand it is. However this simply will not happen if the market cannot identify the news value, financial value, corporate value or, indeed, understand what you are saying. The net result is commonly no share price movement at all. So, market communications (announcements, presentations etc.) simply must be made with ease of understanding as a primary goal.

With the above in mind, I wrote a short paper on how to approach the problem of "translating" technical material into readable writing for the general market. It contains greater detail than what is here in this post. You can find it towards the bottom of this page:

Clarity is King.

It should be enough to sell the concept of clear communications on one principle alone – the easier it is to understand a company; the easier it is to invest in that company.

The majority of listed companies understand this well and some have entire departments dedicated to good, clear public communications. However it is still common enough, especially in technical disciplines, for this to be overlooked. In the increasingly busy market, this can no longer be ignored. It may be the only way you can cut through with your message.

Given that you already have many very intelligent, well-educated, well-spoken individuals in your company, many of whom probably write very well, you may not need a dedicated communications or PR team. It may be enough to simply outsource the final writing and editing of your announcements. Get it all ready to go, but give the final job to an external expert. This minimizes the time and therefore cost of good communications with the outside world. It also need not jeopardize your obligation to release information to the market “immediately”.

Ultimately, the market can only judge your company based on what it does and what it says. You've got the what-it-does under control, that's how you got to where you are today. But spare a moment for the what-it-says. That may just be the critical difference for the future of your enterprise.

If you think you need help in crafting clear communications, drop us a line!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Found this, and it's brilliant. Have a look at my insides! The Perfect Anatomy of a Modern Web Writer [Infographic]

Like this infographic? Get more content marketing advice that works from Copyblogger.

Is your business writing healthy? You may need help.

Have you stopped to think about all the written content you have out there? You might not realise how important it is. Not because you don't care, of course you do, but simply because you haven't stopped to think about it. Below is a list of copywriting moments for you. Think of it like a copywriting "health checklist" for you and your business.

1. Your website.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Wrong. A lot of thought needs to go into the copy on your website. It's not enough to have a rudimentary explanation of your service, or a bland product description. You need to ensure that visitors understand how they can benefit from your product or service. What part of their life or business needs help, needs fixing? How does your offer fit into their story? Are you making it easy for them to understand you and see why they need you?

2. Your blog.

The centerpiece. The point of departure; the point of arrival. Your blog is where your story takes shape, and where people come to understand you. They visit your blog to learn. They will come to respect you and follow you. You bring people into your tribe through your blog, and all the other social media should hang from this fruitful tree. The better the writing, the more likely it is that people will stay, and, crucially, the more likely it is that they'll actually understand you. You need to be absolutely sure that what you write really says what you mean. That's where good grammar, punctuation, and spelling is critical; as is a good helping of rhetorical skill.

3. Business copy.

All of it: your brochures, your company reports, your letters. They must read well. Your marketing materials need to be catchy and informative. If not, they simply will not do their job. Selling is a dirty word these days, but selling is what you do. It doesn't have to be like bad daytime TV though. Well-worded copy has a magical ability to persuade without annoying the crap out of people.

4. Editorial content.

Many businesses (and people) write articles and other content for magazines and other publications (both in print and online). Well, they should, that is. Getting your words under somebody else's masthead lends credibility and prestige to your name. It builds your reputation as an expert in your field. Again, those words will need to be well crafted. In fact, you probably won't get published if they're not.

I'm not kidding about the importance of doing all this, and doing it well. Perhaps the only thing worse than not getting your message out there is hashing that message so badly that people actually think you're talking about something else (or worse still, they have no idea what you're talking about at all).

Here's some ideas for working all of the above into a STRATEGY. (Yes, you need one.)

 A. Think about what your business really is. Where do you fit into the life of your customer? How will you change their lives? Or, better, how will understanding your customers change you?

B. Get advice. Find a writer who can look at all the aspects of your written content, talk with you and your team, understand you and your business. Then let them at it for a while. You'll see improvements from day one.

C. Get help on any of the above. Don't have time to write a blog? Get it written for you. Why not put out a regular newsletter? Include your market commentary, talk about local events. Send it to your client list. Send it to your leads. Do it regularly. A good writer will even be able to suggest topics and ideas, making it easy for you to get good content out there regularly.

The internet age has reinforced the importance of writing. Google seeks out good writing and grammar in their search. It's more important than ever. Do it well, and do seek help if you need it.

It's also a lot of fun to tell stories. Make yours great.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Connecting with clients in a glossy way

When I'm sitting at a cafe and observing the world and all its delights, I often also peruse the pages of real estate magazines, and one of the things I've noticed is that some real estate brands put in more effort than others. Sure, they all have colour photos of beautiful properties that make me go deep verdant with envy, but some are more glossy, some are more stylish, and some even go the extra mile to include editorial content.

It's one thing to flick casually through a bunch of properties that you may or may not be in the market for, but its another thing entirely for a magazine to capture your attention for minutes at a time while you read the CEO's thoughts, or a lifestyle editorial on a local attraction or event. All that eyeball time, with the brand's logo in your face!

Given the relative ease of publishing these days, having a magazine is basically essential for a successful real estate brand. Having great content is just as important, and not just properties, written articles that engage with your audience. Harcourts and Jellis Craig, as seen above, are particularly fine examples of real estate brands that do this well.

You could say that without written content, your magazine is only doing half its job. But you need good writing, and good writers, and it's imperative that any published copy is well written, reads well, and achieves your objectives, because it will be in circulation for a lot longer than a Facebook post. If you want to do this without taking up all your time, get in touch and we can write it for you!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Why you need help writing your professional profile.

We've moved past the age of detached, impersonal machines and computers. The robot age may soon be upon us, but we're still people (for now) and we care about personal things. You might have thought that having so many things online and digital would have made things more remote and detached, but, contrary to dystopian visions of a mechanised future, the world is drawing in on you--the person behind the screen. Your hopes; your desires; your dreams for the future.

So it is that your presence online needs to be personalised. When people come looking for you, they really do go looking for you - the person; not only the service or goods.

The truth is that finding the service or product you need is ridiculously easy these days. Tap a few keys into Google and bam! you see what you were looking for. But with so many providers competing for your attention, something must stand out. That something is a personal story.

Great products and services have a personal story built into their creation. In fact, as Bernadette Jiwa so eloquently lays it out, the story should really come before the product or service design. And we know this instinctively; you only have to think of the stories behind great inventions. It usually goes like this, "I was thinking about how X was missing from my life, so I sought to find a solution - Y".

In the service industry; in fields like real estate for instance, it is all too common for the only difference between agents to be their logo and branding. But real estate agents are people too (I really believe that: I have worked in the industry myself, although, looking in the mirror now...) and the first contact you usually have with an agent is with the person themselves. The story of the person behind the brand will tell you a lot about the service you can expect.

So when people search for an service, they will often look at the "About Us" or "Meet the Team" page of your website. If that page is boring, or looks like every other agents' page, then they'll move on, and at that point, you've likely lost them.

When I write profiles for people to use online (or elsewhere) I am always struck by the many and varied personal life stories people have. Peoples' lives are fascinating, and there's always something worth sharing. It draws you in. It makes you feel like you know them. And when you feel like you know someone, you also start to feel like you understand them and can trust them. That is the first and most important step to gaining business. The internet has changed nothing in this regard, instead, it has made it easier to filter the information. Without a personal profile for your potential customers to read and get to know you with, you'll be lost in the crowd. Make sure you stand out, and get help if you need it to write your profile well.

Monday, 15 August 2016

You really need good real estate writing

Real Estate is a seriously tough, competitive business. Every agent knows that. And every agent knows that the first and most difficult task is securing listings. They are the foundation of your business. Successful agents know that if they have a good stream of listings, their sales and commissions will follow. Real estate is really about having something to sell; more than it is about being able to sell. 

In any given area, however, potential sellers have a raft of choice when it comes to picking an agent. You will rarely (if ever) have a monopoly. So something has to make you stand out and be the person a seller trusts with their multi-hundred-thousand dollar (or million dollar plus, as is likely in Australian cities), investment or home. 

You could use the old tactic of blitz advertising and promotion. Plenty of agents do. You can have your photo on all the signs and bus stops. Be all over the newspaper. Make a television ad. But this is hugely expensive, and of dwindling value in today's media-rich world. And it does not raise trust levels.

Sellers are now only a few mouse clicks and keystrokes away from detailed information on their suburb, sales statistics, and reviews of local agents. You can bet your bottom dollar they have already found you without reading their local bus stop advertisement. But they haven't just found you, they've also found everything written by you, and written about you. You want to be sure that this is positive stuff; that it steers them in your direction.

The only way to effectively do this is to be putting your word out there. Be it in newsletters, blogs, social media, even interviews with the press, you need to be putting your opinions out there. You need to be the expert that a seller can trust. 

It does take work to hold people's attention - you need to give them some interesting information. And not just on the property market; it works best when you also present yourself as a real human with community interests. All this takes time, but it is arguably the best marketing dollar you will spend. 

Yes, it can take time out of your day to write a blog. Or, you can get someone to do it for you. Yes, it takes time to produce a newsletter. Or, you can get someone to do it for you. Either way, this is how you connect with people, and that is how they will end up choosing you for their next sale.

I am not going to sell my own house. No, I would get an experienced agent who's far better at selling my house than I am. Likewise, if you're not fantastic at the keyboard (and we can't all be top-notch at everything, can we?), then outsource to someone who is

These days, putting your well-worded written opinion out there, regularly, is a major factor in being the agent of choice when it comes time for that choice. Don't let your years of experience get lost in the crowd. Get writing today!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Thank me later...

It's 7:30am and my mouse was annoying the hell out of me. Do you know the feeling, when your mouse doesn't do what you tell it to do? You go to point at something and the thing that the mouse was on moves (really I don't recommend using a notebook as a mousepad as I have been for weeks), or the damn laser on the mouse isn't agreeing with the glass-top desk (see above picture). Soooo frustrating! Distracts from the process of crafting superb, elegant, clever and crafty copy, it does. Ok, so maybe I'm just having a grumpy moment...

ANY WAY... I have the solution!!! There is a cheap and cost effective way to remove this irritant from your life! With a few simple items, you too can enjoy the smooth glide of accurate mouse pointing!

Step 1: Take a plain ol' manilla folder and cut it in half so that you have a nice flat piece of card.
Step 2: Tape it down firmly and flatly to your stylish glass top desk.
Step 3: Put mouse on it and start using!!

SIMPLE! Problem solved! Plus you could even scribble notes on your new mouse pad (that only cost cents to build!)

There. Done. It's ok, this advice was free. You can thank me later.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Why Sport; Not Science?

Given the huge and predictable excitement surrounding the sporting congregation in a certain South American country, it was an interesting time to listen to a panel of scientists, business leaders, and one comedian speak about the unfortunately low status of science in Australian society last night at the ACMD Research Week public debate.

Sport in Australia is, well, the national religion. And we're not just tunnel-visioned towards one code, such as Soccer, as many countries are. Oh no, here in the Land Down Under, sport of any kind is celebrated, and sporting success is the stuff of myth and legend. In some parts of the country we even race cane toads and place bets on the outcome. So it's hardly surprising that sport garners more attention on the pages of the news and in public life generally.

Science on the other hand, an area in which Australia excels and has been a world leader over the years, suffers from 3rd or 4th rate status. Strike that--it really doesn't have status. A lot of money and effort is put into scientific research here, but it is losing its market share. Why is that? Why aren't people interested in science? Why don't they follow scientific progress like they follow sport?

That last question is ridiculous, is the short answer. The two aren't the same thing. Not even remotely. Sport is a community event and a competition. It has a clearly defined goal, set rules, and a definite outcome. Science pretty much has none of these attributes. Goals, as close as they come to goals, that is, are simply tests of hypotheses. Rules? Not really! Science is remarkably fluid, changeable, and prone to revision. As for outcomes, well, as they say, you can only disprove a hypothesis, never prove one. In other words, even the victories are negative, in a sense.

But science does have fabulous stories and fantastic people, just like sport does. It has heroes and heroines, and it has long, trying and amazing journeys. Finding those people and telling those stories will be the key to raising science's status.

Ultimately, what really hooks people into something is the narrative. We just love a good story. So does the media. Science has all that, but it needs more storytellers. Raising science's status is genuinely important, because in this day and age, high profile equals dollars. Science needs more. Scientists and administrators everywhere need to realise that having a continuing conversation with the public is how other fields got so big in the public eye. So, science, remember--it's no good having a great story if you don't tell it.

If you are a scientist, or a manager of scientists, and you would like help with telling these stories, don't hesitate to drop us a line at  -- an actual degree qualified and experienced scientist wrote this piece and he's ready to help you!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Week in Review: Fashion, Movies, Real Estate, Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

It was busy last week in the Articul8 command centre. This was helped by the plethora of lifestyle activities that Melbourne has on offer - always something to do; always something to write about!

Kicking off, we wrote about the upcoming Melbourne Spring Fashion Week for one of our regular clients. A huge lineup of Australian and International designers and fashion heavyweights will descend on the Melbourne CBD including Thurley, Jason Grech, Gwendolynne, Aurelio Costarella, Rachel Gilbert, Carla Zampatti, One Day, CristahLea and Bianca Spender. This being the premiere fashion event of the season, it's sure to create a buzz and have the city looking its suave best. Get your hair done and your outfits ready! See more at

Some time had to be spent on keeping up to date on the real estate market, where things seem never to stop. The east coast of Australia is looking like having an absolute screamer of a spring market, and many of our clients are actively encouraging vendors to get on the market early to avoid having their listing swamped by the spring surge.

Speaking of real estate, Harcourts Victoria and the Harcourts Foundation are busy preparing for their annual Walk A Mile fundraiser on Friday September 2. Harcourts staff, family, friends and supporters across Australia will be walking down a different path and joining forces with White Ribbon Australia to take a stand against violence. Join them from 11am until 1pm at
the Southbank Spillway in high heels (yes, the blokes too). To participate (it’s just $25) or donate, please call 1300 856 773. For further information, please see

The Melbourne International Film Festival is in full swing, and we have been keeping up with all that is brilliant on screen. So much great film from Australia and beyond, and yet so little time! This premier event is only on a little longer, check out the program here:

Soon we're off to relax to sultry latin jazz at Melbourne's newest and best jazz club, Bird's Basement for their Latin Jazz Month in August. Bird's Basement has direct links to the iconic New York jazz scene, and we can't wait to see what they have in store. Might get some delicious tapas while we're there!

And if that get's too much, we're going to visit the Mornington Peninsula's famous hot springs

So much to do, so much to write, but we love it and we can fit something in for you. If you need a write up, or to craft a blog post, or need something written for your website that is both engaging and optimised, get in touch today!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

What story is your brand telling?

Storytelling is the default human mode. I can't help it; you can't help it; it is how we relate to the world. Everything that we see, hear, touch, smell, and taste fits somewhere into the narrative of our lives. And if you don't believe me, ask yourself this, "why am I reading this blog post?"

Still here? Good. Let me tell you about stories. For some reason, probably related to staying alive in jungles and on plains in spite of lions and snakes, our brain is a relational machine that links events to memories and then threads them together in story form. We hear the rustle in the bushes, link that to the story told about a distant cousin ambushed by a hungry lion, and depart from said bushes in a hurry, aided by a bolt of adrenaline. Or we see a stick on the ground and our first thought is "snake!" Although these reactions are automatic and inevitable, they are a form of pattern recognition that is linear and temporal in nature. That is to say, one thing leads to another.

One thing leads to another. It's the story of our lives. But all good stories have a protagonist, or hero, and the most important hero is you. You are the protagonist of your own dramatic arc. And we're all the most important person in our own stories. As a result, we tend to characterize ourselves. You know what you're like, don't you. You've even used that expression I bet - "... and, you know me, I went and did ..."

When a brand sends out any marketing material (ads, blogs, packaging, social media) it should be appealing to that inner protagonist. To do that, the brand needs to decide what type of protagonist they have in mind, and what kind of story they want to tell. Done correctly, this will result in an instantly engaging experience for the consumer.

There are too many articles and books on this topic to name here, suffice to say, sitting atop the tree is one Carl Gustav Jung. Although his (and Freud's) applications to clinical psychology and psychiatry have been roundly criticized, Jung's discussion of archetypes remains important to the foundations of human storytelling (and probably to anthropology generally).

As the diagram at the top of this post suggests, there are different 'modes' of protagonist and story. Each brand has its own mode. The successful ones stick to their archetype. Google is the Sage, Dove the Innocent, Apple the Magician and of course, Nike the Hero. By framing their campaigns within these archetypes, they ensure that anyone who fancies themselves as that kind of person will find a friend in their brand. You then attach the right kind of story for the archetype you wish to use and there you have it!

Consider a real estate agency. They might think that they really just want to be the Everyman, the regular guy who belongs. They think that this engenders trust because who doesn't trust Bob next door, right? This is perhaps a faulty strategy because the Everyman does not stand out from the crowd. He's just an extra.

We all know that real estate agents stand out (mostly because of the suit, the prestige car, and the loud voice at auctions). Basically nothing about the real estate agent says "Everyman", so it's unwise to try to appeal to that archetype. Instead, agents should frame themselves as, say, a blend of Jester and Sage. Sure, they're fun loving and want to get the most out of life, but they're also wise in the ways of the market.

Anyone who wants to buy a new home wants these two things - a great new home, and a clever purchase. Anyone looking to sell a home wants to know that their agent knows the market, but also that he's bringing a whole caravan of buyers, like he's the Pied Piper of Property or something. If you can get these fun and wise messages out there, you will be top of people's mind when they go to choose an agent.

Stories are memorable; plain vanilla facts and information are not. Also, good rhetorical skill is essential to telling a story memorably. You liked the alliteration of Pied Piper of Property, didn't you? Yes, seductive stories sell.
You want to be memorable.

It's worth remembering that big companies start small, and famous brands were unknown once. So it is that no company attempting to grow should forget the power of the story they tell. Consistency is the key to a developing brand. Know your audience type. Know the story you need to tell for them. Stick to it and your brand will be entertaining, engaging, and might, just might, become like a virus of the mind, one they'll spread across the world. That's the kind of pandemic you want to see!

Monday, 1 August 2016

What do Vampires and English Grammar have in common?

No, it's not that they will both drain the life out of you.

It's not even that the undead have a lot of time to read and therefore learn a lot of words.

With enough time, we could all gain better vocabularies than Shakespeare who, at around 30,000 words*, is often thought to be at the apex of such things. Most of us blunder about with only 10-20,000 words at our command. Having said that though, Shakespeare was not the most eclectic word user of the great writers. Marlowe is thought to have had a greater number at his disposal, and certainly used more different words per play than Shakespeare, as did Jonson. Some assert that Shakespeare typically tops the list simply because he wrote more plays. Time, it seems, carries great lexicographical weight. One could expect a timeless bloodsucker to know more words than anyone else.

Still, enormous numbers of words are not the connection between vampires and grammar. That was, I'm afraid, a blood-red herring.

The connection is far more interesting than that. Not that vampires aren't already interesting enough. All those questions of life without life, the meaning of death, the barely (or not at all) concealed sexual energy and symbolism threading through the tales of lustful fangs and dripping necks. It's enough to make you want to sit in front of the tv and binge-watch True Blood (come on, admit it, you already have).

True Blood gives us a clue to the connection. When Vampires on the show use their supernatural powers to render their victim open to persuasion, and thus convince them to open the door or other such plot-turning devices, they are said to "Glamor" their victim. (Or "glamour" as it is spelled everywhere except America.)

Glamour is a word people associate with celebrity and fashion. A star is glamorous on the red carpet. It suggests a certain allure; a captivating appeal.

Aha! So someone who is somehow "otherworldly" to us, by virtue of their fame, or money, or status, has the ability to magically gain and hold our attention. And then they persuade us to buy things like watches, cars and shampoo. So they're a bit like True Blood's vampires, taking us into a trance, making us suggestible, and then controlling our behaviour. Celebrities huh!

This sense of glamour is actually as old as the word itself. Because glamour is actually a Scottish variant of the word grammar that dates back to the early 18th century (as a noun, and then we see 100 years later in 1814 the first verb usage as seen now in True Blood). The magical connotation stems from the fact that the word in its Latin and French roots implied education in language as well as spells and incantations. The occult and language were close bedfellows and a person educated in grammar knew both.

So it was that through the 15th and 16th centuries and beyond, to be highly educated in the arts and letters was thought, essentially, to give someone the ability to enchant the less erudite. There was a certain magical aura to the highly educated, just as there was a magic surrounding those of high social status, such as lords and kings. Little wonder then that to have grammar had a certain allure. Indeed grammar slots in nicely with words like alluring, enchanting, spellbinding and captivating.

Indeed, glamour and grammar are, etymologically speaking, the same word. If it weren't for the Scots, we would probably have to make do with a word like allure for celebrities. Or perhaps they'd strut grammarously down the red carpet. Who knows? Clever Scots!

So, what do vampires and grammar have in common? Well, it turns out that vampires are masters of grammar. It probably explains the pale complexion of your primary school English teacher. Quickens the pulse, it does. Better bring the garlic to your next class...

*Estimates vary from the mid 20 to high 60 thousands. Which is as much to say we don't know how many words he actually knew, we just know how many are in his plays. Even then, the count is muddled by whether one should count each variant of the same word or not. If you don't, Willy comes down to normal human numbers. Myth busted folks. See more here:

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Tools of the Trade

Perhaps what separates a writer from normal people is an unholy fascination with words and language and a quite unnatural ability to get lost in a reference book for hours. It's very strange, I'm sure, for a normal, healthy person with a simple question like, "what is a neologism?" to end up, two hours later, prostrate on the sofa contemplating the derivation of the term "couch potato". I had to sit up to write this.

And what is the deal with however? Why can't it be an conjunction like but? Well, it can, but it isn't meant to be. However is, first and foremost, an adverb. That puts it firmly in the same camp as such words as totally, profligately, animatedly and beautifully (and firmly, just quietly - see what I did there?). However is a little weird though. It means "in whichever manner". So you can write something however you like, but you're not supposed to use it to mean "although" or "nevertheless". This is pretty hotly contested stuff among nerds of English and, frankly, my dear, I fall on the side of its comfortable use, sometimes, as a conjunction.

Losing sleep over however is not a good idea. You're far better off losing sleep over the things that matter. Like food, your health, the roof over your head; Maslow's hierarchy of needs comes to mind. But for those of us who write for a living, or even for fun, or even just to annoy our family and friends, or all three; language matters. It matters because it carries meaning. Meaning is the end-game of language. My words reach your brain in this magical telepathy thingimywhatsit and bingo! you've got my message.

If the words are wrong, or the grammar incorrect, the meaning will be unclear and it's likely that my message is not the same as your message. That is, what I thought I was conveying is not what you have understood, which is a big problem. Major conflicts in the home, in the boardroom, on the playing field, at the pub and sometimes between nation states, arise this way.

Clarity is the hallmark of good language usage. If your words are wrong, they're not doing their job. So if you have a message to convey, and limited space to convey it in, then you'd best get it right. Which is why I have these books, and spend stupid amounts of time pouring over them. It may be unnatural, but it is interesting and it helps me help people get their message across to their audience effectively.

(And don't, please, start on me about ending sentences with a preposition... or starting them with a conjunction for that matter. It is something up with which I shall not put.)

Monday, 25 July 2016

People read interesting things...

...and you can sell your services or products at the same time.

It's important that you share. Give people information. And if they like that information, it may spur them on to buy your service. This is the brave new world of marketing and advertising - content marketing. Really, the days of in-your-face, unwanted advertising are over. Advertising is still useful for brand awareness, but what will really encourage your customers is a story. Something useful. Something entertaining.
If you hit your customers with annoying ads, guess what, they'll get annoyed. Annoyed customers are not paying customers. Paying customers are what you want. But you need their permission first. The permission to ask for their custom. That means giving them something first. In the modern era, that thing is information. So you need to tell them a story, give them some insight, tell them about your day, share a report, be generous with information, and ONLY THEN tell them how awesome you are at fixing whatever problem they have (especially if you've just created that problem for them, a classic sales technique that even in 2016 still works).

Yes, it is a little more time consuming than shouting "BUY MY PRODUCT/SERVICE!" from the rooftops, but it is far more effective, and arguably the only way to cut through the noise these days. After all, the best viral marketing gets people involved and wanting to share without any further prompting at all. Give them a reason to share what you say, and spread your word. That's where products and services fly.

It's The Story, Stupid!

It’s a beautiful thing when the copy taps your story. I saw this advertisement today in Kings Cross, Sydney, while I was waiting for a shuttlebus to take me to the airport after four and a half weeks with a hire car. It was a long trip, and just as it was over, I had to negotiate a refund on the early return of the vehicle, which meant sifting though my wallet for the exact credit card that I had used to pay for the car. No other credit card would work in the circumstances. Needless to say, the ease with which payments can be made was on my mind.

The ad stands out for a couple of reasons. First, it is wordy! No three-word slogans here. And this on a major city road! I imagine that a two-word slogan such as “Innovative Payments” might have been tried here, but no, we get an eight word statement. A driver, whilst negotiating the snarl of Sydney streets, is being asked to digest a complete English sentence. Isn’t that a risk to both the driver and the advertised message?
I think not. Which leads me to the second feature of this ad. It tells a little story. More precisely, it can’t help but sneak in to YOUR story. Yours is the big story, after all, and you are the chief protagonist in your grand adventure. You like it when things just work, which is why when Honda used a Rube Goldberg device in a TV ad with the line, “Isn’t it nice when things just work?” You said to yourself, “Yes! It is!” and then went and bought an Accord. Ok, maybe not, or maybe you’re too young to remember that ad. Perhaps Honda isn’t for you, maybe a Honda is not part of the story you tell yourself about who you are and who you want to be. Narrative. It’s what makes the world go round, and we could all do with painless payments, right?
None of this takes you long to ponder. If you can read English, you can read an eight word sentence in probably less than a second. Trust me, you’ve parsed those words, even if the message takes a little longer to sink in. That train of thought happens naturally even as you get upset with the cab driver stopping suddenly in front of you. Suddenly, thanks to eight words, a better payments system seems… “right”. Better than a slogan, don’t you think?

I write, a lot, and story is what it’s all about. Really, without a narrative hook, nothing is going to get into that fabulous brain of yours. So, if you need to sell something, or get a message across, remember to become part of the hero’s journey. It’s worth paying for.