Marketing Advice for Halloween

Dear Copy Bitch: I challenge you to come up with a marketing post involving Halloween.

–The Instigator, Chicago

Answer: No problem. Here’s a great post on marketing from marketing guru Seth Godin: “Why Celebrate Halloween?”

(Note: Mr. Instigator, you didn’t say it had to be an original marketing post involving Halloween.)

Word Confusion: Compliment vs. Complement

Dear Copy Bitch: Any tricks for keeping compliment and complement straight in my thick skull?

—Confused in Colorado

Answer: Dear Confused: Think “complete” when thinking “complement,” which means “to go with or complete” (when used as a verb) or “something that completes” (when used as a noun). As a trick, just think of the “e”–there are two in complete and two in complement. Think of flattery when thinking of “compliment” as in “I love receiving compliments.”


1. “I love it when George compliments me on my fashion sense and sassiness.”

2. “I think a George Clooney Love Nest would complement my lifestyle quite nicely.”

Marketing Tips: Yes, You Have Competitors (Even if You Think You Don’t)

Dear Copy Bitch: I have a copywriter working on my website copy, and she recently asked me who my competitors are. Here’s the thing: I know it’s a standard question, but we really don’t have competitors. No one does the work as well as we do. We really are different. How do I explain this to the copywriter? Her copy should be focusing on what makes us so great, right?

—Awesome Company, Boston

Answer: Sure, from your perspective your nearest competitor is so far behind you that there’s no way anyone would possibly opt for said competitor over you, right? That’s a fine and dandy attitude to have if you’re, say, eight and still thinking the world revolves around you. But how ’bout putting on your big boy or big girl pants and looking at it from your prospects’ perspectives?

Your prospects don’t know you’re the be-all end-all in your industry, and they certainly won’t “get” it just because you tell them so on your website. Your copywriter is smart for asking about your competitors. Why? Because it’s important to look at how your competitors are positioning themselves, their services, and their products so that you can figure out what they’re doing right (because they will be doing something right, I guarantee it), what they’re doing wrong (ditto), and how you’re really going to demonstrate your company’s unique qualities (i.e., your unique selling proposition).

Remember, your website (and any other marketing vehicles) should be about your customers and prospects first. Acknowledge their needs, worries, fears, and pain and then demonstrate how your company fulfills those needs, relieves their fears and worries, and eliminates their pain.

There’s an adage in creative writing: show, don’t tell. The same is true here. Telling me you’re the greatest and that any “so-called” competitor is a lying heap of horse manure won’t be as effective as showing me how well you take care of your current customers and what makes you different from the competition.

Pretending the competition doesn’t exist or isn’t good enough or is too far behind you to catch up is dumb-ass marketing. Don’t do it.

Proofreading Strategies: 4 Ways to Do It Online

Dear Copy Bitch: My eyes hurt! I stare at my computer all day and make mistakes left and right–stupid mistakes, too. Do you have any tips for proofreading on a computer monitor?

–Grumpy Proofreader

Answer: Yes, Grumpy, never fear! The Copy Bitch feels your pain and has proofreading strategies when reviewing stuff on the ol’ monitor:

1. Increase/decrease the zoom level on your monitor. When you’ve been staring at a document for hours on end, this one little change is enough to give your precious eyeballs (and brain) a fresh perspective on the words staring back at you. When I’m in Word on my PC, the zoom toggle is in the lower right-hand corner.

2. Highlight the text in yellow. This works especially well for shorter pieces. In Word, the highlight option is usually in the same area as the font face and size options.

3. Read backwards. Start with the last sentence of your document and work your way to the beginning (note: don’t read the sentences themselves backwards). Reading things out of context is a great way to catch mistakes.

4. Do a “find” on your crutch words and problem areas. Do you write “your” when you really mean “you’re”? Do a “find” on “your” and double-check yourself. Do you tend to use fillers like “just,” “very,” “really” or “George Clooney is a god”? Do a search on those words/phrases. Do you type too fast and always use “manger” instead of “manager”? Ditto.

Would love to hear about some other proofreading strategies. Leave yours in the comments thread.

Marketing Tips for Facebook Business Pages & Company Blogs

Dear Copy Bitch: Do you have any resources on how to create a Facebook business page and how to promote my new blog?

—Suffering from Social Media Angst in Annapolis

Answer: Sure do, Social Media Angst (okay, I’m starting to feel like “Dear Abby”). Honestly, HubSpot is my go-to for this stuff. Here’s everything you need regarding setting up and managing a Facebook page.  And check out how to start a successful blog.

Good luck!

[Updated August 2017]

Copy & Marketing Tips: 2 Tools You Can Use

Dear Copy Bitch: I really love all the tidbits of advice you’ve been giving on your blog. Here’s a “weird” question: name three “tools” you use in your business that the rest of us could use in ours.

–Sam, Framingham

Answer: Here are two tools I use a lot.

1. Color Cop: I learned about Color Cop from Constant Contact’s Zak Barron. I sometimes design newsletter templates for my email marketing clients, and this free, downloadable tool makes getting a color’s hex values (also known as RGB) an absolute breeze. (Updated in 2017: I still use Color Cop regularly!)

2. Visual Thesaurus: If you’re a visual person, then Visual Thesaurus is for you. What a great way to discover the perfect word for marketing copy, taglines, you name it.

What are some of your favorite finds? Leave your answers in the comments section.

Web Marketing Strategy Done Right

Dear Copy Bitch: Your post on “Why I (sometimes) hate writing websites” really made me stop and reconsider my web strategy. My company has been in business for 15 years. We’ve finally decided to get a website. (Up until now, we’ve gotten business through word of mouth and referrals.) Can you point me to some sites, articles, etc. that will ensure we do this web development/strategizing thing just right?

—LB, Lexington, Mass.

Answer: It warms the Copy Bitch’s heart to hear you say you’re going to develop a web marketing strategy before developing a site. Smart, smart, SMART move. Here’s a GREAT resource that I share with my clients and prospects. It’s Stoney deGuyter’s “The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period.” Download the PDF. Print it. Study it. Make it your web bible. (Stoney is an SEO god and writer for Search Engine Guide. He owns Pole Position Marketing.)

Another good resource is this one: 7 Crucial Questions to Ask Before You Hire an SEO Agency.

Email Marketing: Should You Send Weekly Messages?

Dear Copy Bitch: We’ve been doing an every-other-month email newsletter campaign for over a year, but one of my competitors (I’m an executive coach) does a quick-hitting weekly email with a quote/source of inspiration. I’m thinking I should do something like that starting in January. Our list is around 150, and we have, on average, a 50 percent open rate. Your thoughts?

—BH, Rhode Island

Answer: Be very careful about going from an every-other-month email newsletter to a weekly email campaign. Remember, the people who are on your mailing list signed up for a bi-monthly newsletter. In fact, I’m hesitant about weekly email campaigns in general because they tend to cause list fatigue. The types of businesses that can “get away with it” are retailers, and even they have a high number of opt-outs and abuse complaints.

You have a small list, but it sounds like a loyal list (the fact that half the list regularly opens your email indicates that). I’ve seen weekly emails like the one you’re referencing. To me, most tend to be short on substance (inspirational quotes can be, well, inspiring, but is the point for me to remember the person who said the quote or the person/company–in this case, the exec coach–who sent me the quote? It’s a fine line).

If you’re concerned you’re not in front of your newsletter subscribers enough, consider going to a monthly schedule. Or better yet, ask your audience what it wants (i.e., survey the people on your mailing list). Your marketing should respond to your customers’ needs first, not in reaction to what your competitors are doing.

Word Confusion: Fewer vs Less

Dear Copy Bitch: Should I use the word “fewer” or “less” in this sentence? Fitness industry statistics indicate that about 75% of health club members are interested in personal training, but fewer/less than 5% ever purchase it due to its perceived high cost.

–Todd, Boston

Answer: Use “fewer” with items that can be counted. Use “less” with general amounts. So, in your example, I’d use “fewer” since the statistic would be based on real numbers (i.e., things that can be counted).

More examples:

  1. The older I get, the fewer suitors I have.
  2. George doesn’t like kissing girls with stinky breath, so please make the dish with less garlic.

Word Confusion: Affect vs Effect

Hey, Copy Bitch: Got any tips for keeping affect and effect straight? I can never remember which word is correct in a sentence like “This marketing campaign will affect/effect conversions.”

—The Copy Bastard, Sacramento

Answer: Both affect and effect can be used as verbs and nouns, which is why these words cause so much confusion. In my experience in business writing, however, I see more instances where affect is used as a verb (meaning “to influence”) and effect is used as a noun (meaning “result” or “consequence”). (Grammar experts, I realize that there are multiple definitions, but I’m trying to keep it simple for my readers.)

When we think verbs, we tend to think “action.” So when you’re writing, ask yourself if there’s an action taking place. Think “a” for “action,” and think “a” for “affect.” In your example, the correct answer is “affect,” since the marketing campaign will influence conversions (an action). This isn’t a foolproof method, but it will likely help you keep them straight most of the time. Here are some more examples:

  1. George, your rejection of my love will affect me for the rest of my life.
  2. George, your rejection of my love has had a profound effect on my life.

If anyone has a better way of remembering the differences between these two pesky words, I’d love to hear it. Leave your tricks or strategies in the comments thread.