Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

Inconsistency in Style and Facts Can Hurt Your Brand

Every communication you post must be professional and be your best effort. Every time.

Closeup of copy with hovering red pencil and "Its" circled in red.

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I was reminded of that when I downloaded Brian Tracy’s ebook The 6-Figure Speaker. It was not professional and I assume not representative of his best effort. For those of you unaware of Tracy, he is an international speaker and best-selling author. His Facebook page has 1.8 million likes, which include some folks for whom I have great respect and call my friends.

The ebook was a free download—free for the price of obtaining my email so he could send follow-up pitches. I unsubscribed after the first email.

Why? On Page 8 of Tracy’s ebook, he writes “10 percent.” On Page 11, he refers to it as “ten percent.”

OK, so that’s a bit picky. But it is only one example. And, when I noticed he was equally sloppy with facts a mere 10 pages into a 91-page book, I put it down never to be opened again.

On Page 5, under About the Author, we find this:

“Brian Tracy has consulted for more than 1,000 companies and addressed more than 5,000,000 people in 5,000 talks and seminars throughout the US, Canada and 69 other countries worldwide.” (Emphasis added.)

A mere five pages later, we find this:

“Over the years, I have delivered more than 5,000 presentations and spoken personally to more than 5,000,000 people in fifty-seven countries.” (Emphasis added.)

Is it 57 countries, or 71? Or did he speak to 14 fewer countries in the time it took me to get from Page 5 to Page 10? Quite the feat.

Consistency does matter. It builds trust with the reader. I’m not sure at this point that I can believe anything he’s telling me. His brand is tarnished after only 11 pages. All for lack of consistency. He’s selling professional how-to communications in an unprofessional vehicle.

Don’t let that happen to you.

We’ll come back to competing facts in a moment. But let’s start with consistency in language. There is nothing wrong with using either 10 percent, or 10%, or ten percent. There is nothing wrong with using the Oxford—or serial—comma or not using it. The choice is yours as an author. But there is something wrong with mixing them up within five pages. If Tracy has a style guide, he is not using it. A style guide provides you with that consistency.

The Consistent Voice Communications Style Guide has entries on numbers, names, titles, addresses, use of logo, and much more. It is constantly updated as new problem areas are identified. (I just added “ebook” as I was writing this because a quick Google check found it is also widely written as “e-book” and “eBook.”) You can download a copy of the CVC Style Guide, updated as of June 2017, and freely use it to start building your own. (Free for a free subscription to my newsletter, which you can unsubscribe from at any time.)

That will take care of much of your writing inconsistencies. It also will—I believe—solve some of the competing facts because as you train your mind to find inconsistencies in language, inconsistencies in facts will become more noticeable too. But there are a couple of other steps to take to help to avoid that trap as well.

Always print out your manuscript and read it aloud. There are several reasons for doing that, but for the purpose of this blog, reading it aloud will help you catch inconsistencies. Then follow the advice of my college photojournalism instructor, John Grzywacz-Gray. Always have one other set of eyes look it over, someone you trust to take a critical look. For a book, I would hire a professional. But for any communication, do not trust yourself to catch your own mistakes. You’ve read over them so many times you can no longer see them.

Above all, be consistent and professional in your communications. Always. Your brand depends on it.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at

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Build Your Credibility with Style

I recently read a press release from a healthcare organization that spelled “healthcare” as a noun, but also spelled it “health care” and “health-care.”  All may be acceptable spellings, but to spell it three ways in a 500-word release is distracting, to say the least, and credibility-damaging, to say the most.

CVC-StyleGuide-RD2If you communicate as a company, organization, or personal brand, you need a personal style guide based on a standardized stylebook. They provide consistency to your messaging. Without them, you’re at the whim of the moment.

For example, do you use the Oxford comma—also known as the serial comma—before a conjunction in lists of three or more? Is it the Washington Post with a lower-case, unitalicized “the” or The Washington Post?  Should The Washington Post be italicized? Is it acceptable to use CVC in first reference to Consistent Voice Communications? Why is The Washington Post italicized and Consistent Voice Communications isn’t?

Those are the questions stylebooks and style guides answer. For the purposes of this blog, a stylebook is a commercial publication, such as The Associated Press Stylebook or The Chicago Manual of Style. A style guide is an organization’s in-house publication. A style guide usually builds on and provides exceptions to a stylebook.  It also provides style information particular to that organization. For consistency, every business and organization should have one.

That’s why my company is giving away our style guide for businesses and organizations. We hope you’ll steal from it and use it as a guide to build your own. Then you and everyone else in your organization will use AM and PM, or am and pm, or a.m. or p.m. consistently. You’ll also build your credibility. Yes, I’m a stickler, but I’m not the only one who wonders if I can trust a company that is careless with its language.

A quick quiz: Is the correct spelling “adviser” or “advisor”?

According to Merriam-Webster, both are acceptable. So you can use “advisor” all through your copy or “adviser” all through your copy. You can even interchange them throughout your copy and still be technically correct, like using healthcare, health care, and health-care.

Because the dictionary advises both adviser and advisor are correct, a style guide would spell out one or the other as the “authorized” spelling for your organization. (Some dictionaries note “advisor” is the preferred spelling. If your style guide designates a dictionary as your base dictionary that makes that distinction, you don’t need to list it in your style guide.)

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be. By basing your style guide on stylebooks, you don’t have to completely reinvent the wheel. Three of the most popular stylebooks are the aforementioned The Associated Press Stylebook and The Chicago Manual of Style, along with the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. In addition, many organizations have their own stylebooks publicly available, such as the American Psychological Association, which many healthcare organization use as their base stylebook.

The Chicago Manual of Style is your generalist stylebook. But if your target audience is the media, choose The AP Stylebook as your baseline. If your target audience is the world of scholars, choose the MLA Style Manual.

Then build on it. If “The” is part of your name, as it is for The Washington Post and The Associated Press, your style guide would reflect that. If CVC is acceptable to use in a second reference for Consistent Voice Communications and in media release headlines, your style guide would reflect that.

The English language is inconsistent. Stylebooks and style guides provide that consistency—and help your organization build its credibility. Download our style guide today and start building credibility through consistency.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at

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Learning Enough about Graphic Design to be Dangerous

My graphic design skills are minimal at best. Still, whenever I write copy for a client’s brochure, flier, or website, I sketch it out to make sure the copy fits. I attended Calibre Systems graphic designer Lauma Wingrove’s workshop this week, titled Build a Flier That Sells, to pick up some pointers to better sketch my ideas and better marry my copy to design.

graphicdesignwordcloudThere’s a psychology behind graphic design, Wingrove said. Color. Placement. Font choices. Shapes. White space. Photos. They all tell the viewer something on a subconscious level and can make or break your message.

One of the biggest mistakes designers make is to cram too much text on a flier. “If it’s not absolutely necessary, leave it out,” Wingrove told participants at the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce Coffee & Conversation workshop. Instead, she said, direct the viewer to your website for more information.

When using text, confine it to a maximum of three fonts and consider the hierarchy, Wingrove said. The first level is read by the viewer and should be noticeable and in your face. It should be in a san serif font. The second level is skimmed by the viewer. The third level is virtually ignored.

Make the text easy to read. All caps are difficult for the brain to decipher, as are drop shadows. Diagonal text draws the eye. Straight line text connotes stability and horizontal text connotes movement.

Being a word guy, my notes don’t reflect much on color or shapes. Wingrove did say to choose colors based on their emotional impact. Dark blue, for instance, signifies stability and confidence. Red, in addition to being the color of love, signifies excitement to the brain. Use yellow to be playful and orange to connote affordability. HubSpot has an excellent infographic on using color in graphic design.

Circles, not surprisingly, suggest unity to the brain. Squares and triangles signify stability.

Two other elements are critical to every design. First and foremost is your audience. Who is your audience and what do they need to know? What is going to attract them? Build your design with your audience in mind.

Also, make sure you have a call to action. After all, you’re building a flier that sells.

I won’t be designing brochures or fliers any time soon. My graphic designer, John Body of BodyShots, will continue to marry my words to a layout that sells. Unfortunately for him, I now have enough knowledge on design to be dangerous.


Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at

Unleash your power TW


Networking Farmers Build Healthy Businesses

Networking is critical to the success of every entrepreneur. Some hunt, others farm, with the farmers more often than not finding long-term success.

healthfair2I first learned of the networking concept of hunting vs farming when I joined BNI Prosper Alexandria soon after launching my entrepreneurial career. Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI (Business Networking International), describes hunters as those who sift “through crowds of people until they bag the ideal client, the big customer who can turn their business around.”

On the other hand, “Farmers take a different approach. They don’t waste time looking for the right person; instead, like those who plant seeds and patiently nurture their crops, they seek to form and build relationships wherever they can find them. If they get an immediate payoff, that’s fine, but it’s not their principal goal. They know that the effort expended upfront will pay off in a rich harvest later on—much richer then the hunter’s quick kill—and that truly profitable relationships can’t be rushed.”

I witnessed the benefits of farming firsthand Sunday at the Health & Wellness Fair at Cameron Station in Northern Virginia. Mara Benner of Four Directions Wellness, Mellenie Runion of Truly-Life, and Chuck Nally of had connected over cocktails at a West End Business Association (WEBA) happy hour and concocted the idea of the health fair.

They formulated a simple format. Four hours. Information tables for each presenter. Chairs for participants to listen to lectures. A collection of tuna for a local foodbank. Goodie bags for guests. Every half hour, one of the original three co-conspirators along with Erin Monico of The Nutrition Connection provided a presentation. Benner, an integrative healing provider, demonstrated stress reduction techniques. Runion, a creator and supplier of eco skin care products, oddly enough discussed natural skin care products. Nally and his team equipped guests with an opportunity to put on boxing gloves and kick and punch a punching bag. Monico, a dietician and health coach, promoted integrative nutrition.

Door prizes were raffled off between segments.

The format ensured a continuously lively atmosphere where newly arrived guests never experienced a lull.

Benner told me they were hoping for 50 guests, but had far surpassed that with an hour and a half left in the event.

It was by all measures a successful event. It began with farming and ended with farming, because the event itself was another example of farming. There were no hard sells (though I’m sure sales were made), only information provided in literature, lectures, and demonstrations.

The health fair provided an example of how healthy businesses grow through networking farmers. If you are a hunter, I suggest you drop your bow and begin to plant your seeds today.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at

Unleash your power TW

Market to Your Imaginary Friend

Editor’s note: This was first posted on July 7, 2016. It’s being republished today in honor of  Get to Know Your Customers Day, which is observed annually on the third Thursday of each quarter. It’s a day to reach out to your patrons and get to know them better.

Do you remember your childhood imaginary friend? Chances are you had one. A 2004 study by University of Washington and University of Oregon psychologists found that by age seven, 65 perGroup of people pointing at an imaginary object - isolated over a white background Can Stock Photo Inc. Andrescent of children have had an imaginary friend. It could have been a teddy bear you rather uncreatively named Teddy and carried on conversations with, or an invisible playmate called Theodore who understood you completely and always wanted to play the games you wanted to play. Weren’t those highly successful playdates?

They were real to us, too. Oh, we weren’t so psychologically damaged to actually believe they existed temporally. But they were real in our minds. We had sword fights together. Roped cows. Hosted a tea party in our finest gowns. They were our best friends.

We are no longer children, but we adults still need our imaginary friends. As business people, our mature imaginary friends need to be more structured then when we were children. Then, we didn’t have to create imaginary friends. They just came to us. Our minds were wild and free. As adults, we must tap into that wildness and freedom with a purpose. That purpose is to focus your message.

Call them Ideal Clients. Call them Customer Avatars. Call them Buyer Personas. What they really are are imaginary friends for adults. If you talk to them, they will help you to succeed in whatever business you’re in, just as they helped us to succeed in play during our youth.

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling shoes, decks, or graphic design, you must start with knowing your audience’s wants and needs before you can create the message that brings you business. Your imaginary friend is that one person whose wants and needs you know so well you can discuss it with them. Who you can bounce ideas off of to see if they like it or not. Like you did as a child, but this time with a structured purpose.

It’s not only for entrepreneurs. Anyone who is reaching out to others on a mass level needs to create an Ideal Client. Associations would create an Ideal Member. Writers would create an Ideal Reader. Politicians would create an Ideal Constituent.

I like the term Ideal Avatar because it encompasses all those concepts and puts your imaginary friend in a worshiped position, as your clients should be.

Merriam-Webster defines an avatar as the incarnation of a Hindu deity in human form, or the embodiment of a concept or philosophy, often in a person.

When you create your Ideal Avatar you are creating a deity, an incarnation of your perfect client in human form, the embodiment of a concept of who your Buyer Persona is in the philosophy of a person.

This is not a new concept. Software engineer Alan Cooper introduced personas to the world in his 1998 book, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. But Cooper began unconsciously creating personas in 1983. He tells of taking a walk around a golf course during his lunch breaks, talking to an imaginary friend loosely based on a project manager who would be using the software he was developing.

“As I walked, I would engage myself in a dialogue, play-acting a project manager, loosely based on Kathy, requesting functions and behavior from my program,” Cooper wrote in a 2008 blog. “I often found myself deep in those dialogues, speaking aloud, and gesturing with my arms. Some of the golfers were taken aback by my unexpected presence and unusual behavior, but that didn’t bother me because I found that this play-acting technique was remarkably effective for cutting through complex design questions of functionality and interaction, allowing me to clearly see what was necessary and unnecessary and, more importantly, to differentiate between what was used frequently and what was needed only infrequently.”

Cooper’s first conscious personas came about when he became an entrepreneur. Unable to get engineers to tell him what they wanted created, he went to the customers and asked them what they needed. His interviews uncovered three distinct users, which Cooper decided to name Chuck, Cynthia, and Rob.

“These three were the first true, Goal-Directed, personas.”

The key phrase here is “Goal-Directed.” What do they need so you know how to provide it? That’s your goal.

And, your imaginary friend can tell you. You only have to ask.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at

Unleash your power TW

The Bonus Benefits of Scheduling Social Media Posts

Is continuing education in your field crucial to your continued growth? Do you want to be recognized as an authority in your field? Is it worth it to you to invest a couple of hours a week doing both simultaneously?

smart phone and social media icons Can Stock Photo Inc. NmediaThen set aside a couple of hours a week to schedule social media posts for the coming week.

I schedule my weekly social media posts on Fridays. In addition to scheduling links to my weekly blog twice a week, my promotional book graphics, and my Word of the Week on Sundays, I fill my social media feed with interesting posts from others. Today, we will explore the latter, the benefits from sharing posts from others.

Because I am in the communications field, I post almost exclusively on communication techniques and tactics. If you sell real estate, you will want to post on housing trends, decorating, home remodeling, lawn care, and anything else home-related. If you’re a dentist, you would want to post on oral hygiene, foods to keep your teeth healthy, how smoking leads to tooth loss, and other health-related topics.

Do not post exclusively on homes you have to sell or services you have to offer. Use the 80-20 rule: 80% of your posts should be educational and 20% should be offering your services. If you follow that rule, you will receive the educational benefits, be recognized as an authority in your field, and the couple of hours you spend each week will benefit you personally as well as businesswise.

How, Why, & What

Here is how I do it, why I do it, and what I get out of it.

Buffer_(application)_logoI use two of the most popular social media scheduling tools, Buffer and Hootsuite, to schedule my posts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. Facebook has its own scheduling toolhootsuite-2200x800s for business pages and your posts rank higher if you don’t use a third party to schedule posts. Hootsuite is primarily used to schedule my promotional book graphics on Twitter, while I use Buffer to schedule everything else. I just find it easier to track the effectiveness of my promotional tweets if I separate them on the Hootsuite platform.

In addition to the four platforms already mentioned. Hootsuite also allows you to schedule posts for Instagram, WordPress, and YouTube. Buffer doesn’t post WordPress or YouTube, but it does for Pinterest.

Although I do from time to time find good material to share haphazardly, most posts are found systematically. I subscribe to speaking, writing, and marketing email newsletters from Hubspot, SpeakerHub, American Society of Association Executives, Freelance Writing Jobs, Simply Measured, and others. I peruse them looking for good material to post. Usually every newsletter has at least one good item worth reposting. Most times several posts are easily shareable.

Here are three recent examples:

The Marketer’s Toolbox: The 60 Marketing Tools We Use at Buffer

How to Gain Instant Credibility with Public Speaking

The AP Stylebook now includes “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun

An Investment in Credibility & Education

I started out reposting others’ good material to meet the 80-20 rule without having to crank out a lot of original material. I have found in the process that it has, in fact, increased my credibility as an authority in my field by collecting and sharing some of the best material out there.

I also found that I am, in fact, more of an authority in my field because I scan at least every piece I post to ensure it meets my standards of quality (educational, well-written, no spelling or egregious grammatical errors) and read many of them word-for-word.

Those I don’t fully read are now cataloged in my social media feeds. I can go back to my feeds and retrieve a post when I need it. It’s not a perfect catalog system, of course, but for the time invested each week, it works.

Try it for yourself. You, too, may find spending a couple of hours in a free social media classroom furthers your education and gains you credibility in your field. It’s a tremendous investment in you that also benefits others.  Questions? Send me an email.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at



Imagine if You Had the Secret List of Proven Free Words that Sell

At my Mastermind group this week, Colleen reminded me I had mentioned the 30 most important marketing words at a recent business breakfast, and asked if I could send her the list. “Sure,” I said, not knowing where I may have hidden it. No matter, I’ll just send her the blog I wrote about the top 10, I thought.

top-10-marketing-word-cloudMuch to my surprise, I never actually wrote a blog post about such an item. Perhaps it’s because if you ask 10 marketers to list their top 10 magic words you’ll receive 10 different lists. Or perhaps it’s my senility kicking in. Regardless, I’m here today to rectify that oversight.

While every marketer’s list is different, some words show up regularly because they are truly magic.

Should “Guarantee(d)” be on that list? A 2015 VerticalResponse blog post lists it as No. 5: “Give customers a guarantee to minimize risk perception, so they feel they have everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

A 2014 blog post on the same site, however, lists it as No. 4—of the words you should avoid. “Nothing in life is guaranteed, [Eric] Fischgrund, [founder of marketing and public relations company FischTank] reminds us; so it’s best to stay away from this word. You can still back your product or service, just refrain from using the word ‘guaranteed.’” I agree with Fischgrund. Not on my list.

“Free” shows up on many lists too. My first reaction to “free” is it has the same feel as guaranteed. There is no such thing as a free lunch. It’s free—for the price of giving up your email address. But I use it for that purpose and it works, so it must be good.

Some words show up on virtually every good-word list. And if they don’t, you should avoid that list.

“You” or its derivative “your” is one of those words, and it’s No. 1 on my list. The reason is simple. In every workshop I present or blog I write about communicating with your audience, I urge my listeners and readers to think of their audience’s wants or needs. You must connect with them on their level, not yours. You want to talk directly to them. You want to bring them immediately into the conversation. “You” and “your” does that. “Our” and “we” work too under certain circumstances.

“New” also shows up on most lists, because many people like to be on the cutting edge of whatever is out there. What “you,” “new,” and “free” have in common is they are simple, one-syllable words. The fewer syllables the better in marketing copy. But “new” often feels stale to me and, in the right context, you may wish to use a synonym: state-of-the-art, advanced, cutting-edge, novel, original, fresh, newfangled, or futuristic, for example.

Can I tell you a secret about the word “secret?” “Secret” works too. Many people wish to know the secret of health, wealth, and happiness. Just make sure it’s new information or a new interpretation, otherwise you can be labeled a fraud.

Imagine if these words boosted your sales. Can you picture potential clients reading your copy and wanting what you have to offer? If you can, that’s why “imagine” also makes the list.

“Now” is another monosyllabic word on many lists. We live in a world of instant gratification, so let your customers know your offer is instantaneously available.

“Because” gives your customers and clients a reason to purchase your product: “Because your dog deserves to be happy.” “Because you deserve to feel healthy and be healthy.” “Because peace is an attainable goal.”

“Love” needs no explanation. At least, I hope it needs no explanation.

“Thank you” shows up on few lists, but it should be on everyone’s. Always be thankful to your clients who purchase from you. They have a choice and they chose you.

“Proven” is akin to guaranteed, but if it’s proven, you don’t need a guarantee. Back up your proven methods with testimonials.

So here, in list form, are Tom Pfeifer’s Top 10 secret list of proven free words that draw in your potential customers:

  • You
  • Free
  • New
  • Secret
  • Imagine
  • Now
  • Because
  • Love
  • Thank you
  • Proven

Thank you for reading.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at



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