Avoid “Grammatical Embarrassment” by Sidestepping 3 Common Errors

Can you spot the mistakes in this paragraph?

Melissa was excited about her son’s swimming ability. This fall, she asked, “Would you like to join the swim team”? Sammy was thrilled about the idea, accept for one thing: the tight swimsuits. “Why do I have to wear spandex”, he complained, “I’m all ready the fastest swimmer in the pool”!

Grammar can be painful.

Make A Fresh Start

Even after years of writing, there are grammatical errors that impede us all. For some, it’s punctuation. For others, it’s word selection. And when you repeat the same mistakes, bad habits get harder to break.

This year, make a mental note to dodge those potholes! Here are three mistakes to avoid in your writing:

1. Incorrect Apostrophes

Apostrophes indicate possession for nouns and letter omissions in contractions.

Generally, singular possessive apostrophes come before the ‘s’ and plural possessives apostrophes come afterward, like this:

Singular Possessive: Jim’s hat or Mike’s coat

Plural Possessive: Several years’ work or many students’ books

Apostrophes do not indicate possession for personal pronouns, so it is incorrect to add an apostrophe to “it” or “who” when designating ownership.

  • Incorrect: Who’s bike is this?
  • Correct: Whose bike is this?
  • Incorrect: The flower lost it’s petals
  • Correct: The flower lost its petals

When contractions are used, apostrophes replace the missing letters. For example:

  • Correct: “It’s looking like great weather for planting flowers.”
  • Incorrect: “Its looking like great weather for planting flowers.”
  • Correct: “Who’s going to help me prep the soil?”
  • Incorrect: “Whose going to help me prep the soil?”

Punctuation and Quotation Marks

Do punctuation marks go inside or outside quotation marks?

This one can be tricky because British and American English have different rules (which is why you sometimes see discrepancies). Here are two basic American guidelines:

1. Sentence-ending commas and periods always go inside quotation marks.

Remember, if you are INSIDE the U.S., commas and periods go INSIDE the quotation marks. Like this:

  •  “I fell asleep,” Paul said.
  • Paul awoke and complained, “I had a bad dream.”

2. Question marks and exclamation marks can vary.

If they apply to the quoted material, these marks belong inside the quotation marks. If they apply to the whole sentence, they go outside.

Each of these sentences is correct:

  • Mary asked them, “Where should we eat?”
  • Do you think Mary is hungry enough for the “Impossible Whopper”?
  • Chandra texted Michael, “Should I bring dinner?”
  • Chandra looked in her purse and exclaimed, “I have a $50 gift card!”
  • The dog leaped off the couch when he heard Chandra say, “I’m bringing pizza”!

Words That Are Easily Confused

Words that are commonly misused include these pairs:

Affect/Effect

Rule of Thumb: “Effect” is usually a noun, while “affect” is typically a verb.

  • Incorrect: The text had a negative affect on my mood.
  • Correct: The test had a positive effect on my grade. This positively affected my mood!

They/Their

Rule of Thumb: “There” refers to a place, while “their” indicates possession.

Example: We’re going to love it there—I heard their breadsticks are the best!

Accept/Except

Rule of Thumb: “Accept” typically includes, while “except” usually excludes.

Example: I was proud to accept an award (though everyone except the dog received one).

Assure/Ensure

Rule of Thumb: To “assure” is to make someone confident of something; to “ensure” is to guarantee that something actually happens.

Example: Though Mike assured me that the dog would not escape, I locked Scout’s kennel to ensure he stayed put.

Farther/Further

Rule of Thumb: “Farther” refers to physical distance and “further” denotes metaphorical (or figurative) lengths or advancement.

Example: I want to run farther next time, but need to progress further in my training to grow my endurance.

While grammar debates can make your head spin, hopefully, these tips can alleviate confusion. Do small things with excellence, and you’ll make big strides!

4 Irresistible Hooks for Your Next Ad

Want to catch a fish?

Then use the right bait!

If landing a sale is your ultimate goal, first, you must entice people to take a closer look. Effective marketing strategies often involve a “hook,” which is a short phrase, jingle, or attention-grabbing device.

Sales hooks bridge the gap between prospects and customers as they focus people’s attention on your message, set the tone of your presentation, and provide something of value. Whether it’s a special offer or an amusing tagline, hooks should arouse interest in your product or service while encouraging further interaction between the customer and the company.  

Looking to start your presentation on a strong note? Here are four ingredients you might add to your next ad:

1. Paint an Incredible Vision

Human beings are selfish, and they are never satisfied with their present situation.

Anything that offers people an appealing future is intriguing and attractive. When you want them to give your product a second look, paint a vision of how it can change their experience for the better.

Here are a few samples:

  •    Save $500 a month and buy your next car with cash
  •    Own your own little piece of paradise
  •    Rock that bikini this July

2. Press the Pain Point

It’s true. People make buying decisions based on emotions.

Whether you elicit alarm or compassion, appealing to people’s fears, insecurities, or guilt is a great way to pique interest.

How do these examples impact you?

  •    Three million children die of hunger each year. Be part of a simple solution.
  •    You can never outrun your fork. We have a better way.
  •    Put a stop to this before it puts a stop to YOU.

3. Demand a Response

Sometimes the best approach in sales is an aggressive stance.

Short, clear commands can allow you to be blunt, relay a benefit, or convey an authoritative tone. This dictatorial tone helps resolve urgent situations or address a problem that needs immediate attention. Here are a few bossy lines to consider:

  •    Hackers steal 75 records every second. Build a security wall around your future!
  •    Stop wasting money on hearing aids that STINK.
  •    Recycle. Because there is no “Planet B.”

4. Let Others Brag About You

A testimonial headline is one of the best ways to grab attention.

Testimonials are appealing because people connect through stories, and they trust the opinions of others. Pictures of real people are irresistible, so a great photo combined with a stellar review is a surefire win.

Here are some easy taglines to plug into your print and photo testimonials:

   My money’s on _______________

   My ________________ guarantee

   I was there when ____________

   I’m obsessed with my new ________________

   I chose _____________ because _____________

   I discovered _____________ that _______________

   I made an extra _________________ because _______________

   Here’s how I ______________ in just ________________

   They laughed when ________________. Until I _______________

   Here’s what it feels like to __________________

   Here’s how I beat _______________ by _____________

Appeal to Their Unique Interests

When you want to connect with your target audience, appealing to their unique interests is key.

Formats give your ad a structure, but a hook gives it character! Bring your ads to life with emotions, commands, testimonials, or a compelling vision, and you will arouse interest and drive demand.

Attract Clients You Love with Consistent, Stylish Marketing

In building brand awareness, a sales pitch is the hook, and consistent marketing is the “glue” that pulls your visuals and words together in a relatable way.

Marketing is about building relationships, and people commit to brands that seem dependable and trustworthy. Companies lure you in with witty slogans or incredible offers, but it’s a brand’s reliability that keeps you coming back. Customers stay loyal to brands when they feel comfortable and “in sync” with them, and the key to building that dependability is consistent, stylish marketing.

What does that look like in real life?

3 Examples of Brand-Building Marketing

Here are three organizations that do brand consistency well, and some take-home tips you can grab from their examples.

1. Charity: Water

Charity: Water” is a non-profit organization that provides drinking water to people in developing nations.

As of 2019, the organization has raised $370 million, funding 44,000 water projects in 28 countries.

Charity: Water gives 100% of its donations to building water wells in Africa where women and children use yellow jerry cans to carry water back to their villages. The organization’s logo is a goldfinch jerry can that keeps the branding present across all platforms and keeps the charity’s focus top of mind.

Charity: Water has mastered the art of getting people to form personal connections with their brand, including online fundraising campaigns where people can link to personal events like birthdays, marathons, or life milestones. Their highly sharable content always connects incredible impact stories and graphics, including the jerry can logo.

Whether launching a campaign or publishing an annual report, Charity: Water is always on brand.

Takeaways: Build powerful connections with people through relatable stories, engaging participatory campaigns, and on-brand imaging in all you print and share.

2. FedEx

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight . . . count on FedEx.

FedEx provides people worldwide with transportation, e-commerce, and business services. Offering “The World On Time,” FedEx has created a strong corporate identity for its professionalism and efficiency.

In addition to reliable service, the brand garnered trust through its “We Understand” campaign, which communicates the pricelessness of people’s treasures, livelihoods, and futures. Packages mean a lot to people, and FedEx hammers this home through story-based marketing, reward programs, and regular social media interactions.

Takeaways: Find slogans and campaigns that get to the heart of what people truly desire: to be heard, understood, and valued. When you think of people as a person – not just a number – they respond.

3. Target

Do people see Target as a discount store?

Probably not. With trendy campaigns and high-end designers, Target delivers more than just products, but an experience.

Beyond quality merchandise at reasonable prices, Target offers easy-to-maneuver layouts, stunning branded displays, and contemporary styles aimed directly at a specific customer persona (higher-income shoppers ages 55 and younger). Target customers appreciate the brand’s sophisticated, affordable merchandise, including an ever-changing array of trendy clothing and home accessories.

Takeaways: Solidify customer personas and identify key themes that bring a fresh, consistent viewpoint through your products and marketing. Match the theme of your marketing with the personal experience people have doing business with you.

An Artful Tapestry

The heart of consistent marketing is your brand message.

Identify personable, engaging themes, and share them through your products, in-store displays, and print pieces. Weave these elements into a beautiful tapestry, and the benefits will last well beyond any savvy marketing campaign!

4 Ways to Cultivate Talent in Your Teams

AT&T helps millions of customers connect with entertainment, mobile, high-speed Internet, and voice services.

Employing nearly 300,000 people worldwide, AT&T is committed to both hiring and shaping talent. AT&T University, an executive-taught leadership development program in the company’s Dallas headquarters, trains emerging leaders through in-house and satellite campuses across the U.S.

But AT&T needs more than just training; it needs innovation. So, in partnership with Georgia Tech and Udacity, Inc., AT&T created the first-ever Online Master of Science in Computer Science degree and self-paced, fast-track technical credentials called Nanodegrees across web and mobile development, data analytics, and tech entrepreneurship.

“We can’t depend on just hiring and the traditional educational system as sources for retooling or finding new talent,” said corporate communications manager Marty Richter. “We’re focused on aligning company leaders to strategic business innovation and results, skilling and re-skilling our 280,000 employees and inspiring a culture of continuous learning.”

Great managers are organized, courageous, and encouraging. But to maximize the team potential, they need another critical skill: finding and developing talent.

Strategy, Soft Skills, and Coaching

The ability to see and unlock talent is crucial to running a top-notch team.

But growing talent is not always easy. It may fly in the face of traditional hiring practices or may require you to go against your gut when evaluating current employees.

As you look to maximize the impact of your team, here are four steps to consider:

1. Plan Strategically

While individual employees are often asked where they see themselves in five years, few leaders project how they’d like to build their team in that same time-frame.

Most leaders are good at recognizing potential, but they rarely think ahead on long-term staffing. If you know the areas of your organization that need the most help, focus efforts on strategic long-term staffing to make it happen.

What skills, abilities, or experiences will your next employees need? Dream it today so you can hire it tomorrow!

2. Focus on Soft Skills, Not Expertise

Did you know that the World Economic Forum predicts 65% of today’s jobs will no longer exist in 15 years?

Often when people look for talent (either in or outside our company), they put too much emphasis on performance or expertise. But since we can’t know what tomorrow’s challenges will be, the most important skills aren’t technical abilities. Emotional intelligence, a passion for learning, and the ability to relate with others are essential traits for future success.

3. Develop Talent Through Coaching

Good managers are invested coaches.

No matter how skilled your team is, continually look for ways to help them grow. This may mean offering on-going training opportunities, mentorships, or “baby steps” toward leadership. Do your leaders delegate parts of their job to younger professionals so people can learn side-by-side? Hands-on leadership training can increase employee engagement while infusing passion into your organizational DNA.

4. Evaluate as You Go

Often managers are the cap that reduces growth and creativity.

Does this sound like you? If so, why?

Perhaps you’re not sharing the load or challenging team members to grow. Provide employees with tools to assess professional goals and offer critical feedback to address poor performance or new responsibilities. Meet with other managers to assess progress regarding developing talent. And keep the dialogue flowing about business strategies and people’s individual roles within this vision.

Become the Chief Talent Agent

Great managers are also great talent agents.

The most important factor in your company’s future is your ability to recognize and develop potential. No other factor will make such a significant impact in shaping high performing teams!

Tackle Big-Picture Projects Using a Cost-Benefit Analysis

Start at the bottom.

That’s what legendary basketball coach John Wooden did every year. Wooden did not start with layups or defensive strategy – he started with shoelaces.

Coach Wooden, who won 10 championships in 12 years with U.C.L.A., had a reputation for fortifying the fundamentals before moving forward. Before his athletes played, they had to practice pulling up their socks, leaving no loose flaps in the sneakers, and pull laces tight to avoid ankle sprains.

 “He didn’t want blisters,” said former player Rich Levin. “I mean, that’s not a serious illness, but you could miss a game or two.”

Whether you’re a new business owner or a seasoned veteran, sometimes we all need to start at the bottom.

Have you refreshed the fundamentals of your business plan lately? Managing finances is essential to success, and one tool of the trade is a cost-benefit analysis. Whether you’re considering a new venture or weighing a staffing decision, a cost-benefit analysis can help you decide which projects to tackle and what resources are needed.

The Basics of a Cost-Benefit Analysis

When you perform a cost-benefit analysis (CBA), you make a comparative assessment of all the benefits you anticipate from your project and all the costs needed to implement and support the changes this brings.

Here are four steps to account for revenue and expenses in your CBA:

1. Prepare a Balance Sheet

Begin by carefully examining your costs and expenses (or money-in, money-out).

After you categorize expenses in your balance sheet, you are ready to weigh upcoming business decisions with a rubric that puts potential benefits and costs in context.

2. Give Dollar Values to Anticipated Costs & Benefits

A CBA, in a nutshell, means adding money in benefits plus money in costs over a set period of time.

A functional CBA seeks to express benefits and costs in monetary equivalents. Some CBA’s are easy to quantify. For example, adding new seating to your restaurant might incur a one-time expense of $60,000, but result in $7,000 of extra sales each month.

Clearly, those benefits outweigh the costs. 

Some CBAs are more complex. Perhaps hiring a team member will cost $40,000, but the increased sales and productivity are hard to estimate. In this case, do your best to express benefits and costs in monetary terms to facilitate the assessment of a project’s net value.

3. Weigh Future Values or Expenses

As you build your CBA, remember to make projections for all phases of the project.

Some of your costs may occur only once (like capital investment, equipment purchases, etc.), and others will be recurring (like staffing, maintenance, or increased utility bills). The farther into the future you look, the more important it is to convert the net value (of benefits over costs) into today’s dollars. As you refine your CBA, consider inflation, interest rates, and even opportunity costs (the potential benefits that might be lost by passing on a different project in favor of this one).

Here you may want to run a sensitivity analysis, which is a “what if” analysis that goes back to your CBA and plays around with assumptions. For example, if you had uncertainty about sales projections, you could vary projections by several percentage points before re-running the analysis.

4. Make an Informed Decision

Now it’s time to compare total costs to total benefits and make a decision.

Do benefits outweigh costs? Do they do so significantly? In this case, you should green-light the project. If more capital is needed, you’ll need to rethink your goals or form a new strategy.

No matter what the decision, a CBA can be critical to the success of any project, allowing you to make non-critical choices and keep your business running smoothly!

3 of the Coolest Sticker Marketing Campaigns EVER

For many decades, stickers and labels have been helping to establish brands, elect politicians, spark micro-marketing engagement, and build social proof.

Stickers and labels are more popular than ever. Just sit in a coffee shop for 20 minutes and look at the water bottles, laptops, or notebooks of young people. Stickers are not only inexpensive and enduring, but they are also fun for users!

Build an Enduring Brand with Custom Stickers and Labels

Looking for creative inspiration? Here are three examples of sticker marketing campaigns that left a tangible impression with every single viewer:

1. Cillit Bang: Destroying Dirt Wherever You Find It

Cillit Bang is a household cleaner.

To build credibility and marketing momentum, the company placed transparent stickers on coins that were halfway cleaned by the product, highlighting the contrast between the filthy and the clean. Coins were then given as change to customers, demonstrating that people could “bank on” Cillit’s ability to get the job done.

This simple sticker drove home the obvious brand message: Cillit Bang destroys dirt wherever you find it.

The effect was simple, surprising, and successful. The company saw a sales lift of 337% in markets where the campaign was implemented.

2. Gillette: The “Ouch” Factor

Could your business use stickers to supplement the materials you already have?

That’s what one razor company did.

Gillette launched a strategic marketing campaign using stickers smaller than a palm. Instead of paying for extra outdoor ads and signs in Manhattan, Gillette enhanced signs it was already using. Everywhere Gillette had an outdoor sign; they simply added a small custom sticker that looked like a bloody tissue. Stuck on the faces of the men in their ads, the stickers made it appear as if the person had nicked themselves shaving.

Gillette turned heads citywide and got people talking!

3. Le Cactus: Screaming Hot Wings

How can you pair a sticker with people’s senses?

Le Cactus answered this brilliantly with their spicy wings campaign. To build appeal for their spicy wing specials, Le Cactus put a sticker of a man screaming on the back of taxis throughout the city.  

If that wasn’t visible enough, they took things a step farther, lining up stickers so that the man’s tongue precisely laid over the cars’ brake lights. Every time the brakes were touched the tongue looked like it was burning.

At the end of the campaign, the restaurant reported increased customer visits, high-level brand recognition, and (best of all!) tingling tongues.

Any Message, Anywhere

The beautiful thing about adhesive products is that they can take any form and can be used to adapt to any existing product.

Whether your sticker or label is a stand-alone promotion or something you add to presentation folders or brochures, any brand name, slogan, or image can be used for your sticker. From window clings and car decals to logo stickers and custom product or packaging labels, well-designed stickers generate low-cost exposure, make lasting impressions, and build word-of-mouth marketing for your business.

When done right, promotional stickers can do more than promote your brand; they can become profitable products on their own.

Want to chat about adhesive marketing options? Contact us today to brainstorm!

4 Keys for Bringing Your Professional Goals to Life

If you were given a magic formula for reducing stress or frustration, would you use it?

Many of us set New Year’s resolutions on something we “wish” would happen instead of giving thought to what caused us tension or joy in previous years. As you consider new business goals for the future, first you need to know where you’ve been.

Before you look ahead, it’s important to look back.

Build Business Goals from Self-Reflection

When business coach Darlene Hawley first started her company, she was laser-focused on the future, visualizing where she wanted to be ten years down the road.

“I wasn’t spending the time looking at what went really well for the year I was just finishing,” Hawley says.

Hawley later realized that spending more time debriefing the past could better position and motivate her for the future.

“Adding that [past reflection] to the strategic planning process was huge, because we need to celebrate,” Hawley says. “When we celebrate those wins, that’s what inspires us to take action going forward.”

Hawley is doing this herself as she prepares for a new year:

“Right now, I’m looking at what 2019 looked like—what went well, what didn’t go so great . . . what would I change to make it better for 2020?” she said.

As you consider a new year and a new decade, do you want to see measurable progress in your professional life? Here are four strategies for building that momentum.

1. Set Goals that Motivate You

As you work from reflection, build goals based on what was most rewarding or painful last year.

Goals should have meaningful outcomes because 93 percent of people struggle to turn goals into tangible action steps if the destination is not personally motivating.

Start with goals that are high on your priority list. Then, break your master list into the top 3-5 overall objectives. Write down why goals are important to you, how you will measure progress, and what strategies you will use to achieve them.

2. Put A Plan in Action

Once you’ve planned the work, it’s time to work the plan.

Sometimes we get so focused on outcomes that we forget the individual steps in the process. When drafting long-term goals, assign specific, time-bound “mini-wins” to achieve along the way. This is your road map to executing a plan as smoothly as possible.

3. Empower a Support Team

Whether it’s a book club or a cardio-training group, humans are much more likely to achieve goals in community.

Working toward professional goals in isolation lowers accountability and drains your energy. It’s important to share your goals with others, to find a mentor or peer group to meet with frequently, or to give everyone on your team a blueprint so you can track progress collectively.

Tell people why your goals are personally motivating and look for opportunities to solicit the feedback, advice, or encouragement of others.

4. Visualize Success

Finally, while you are looking back, take time to visualize what it would be like to succeed in the future.

What pain point would you like to alleviate? What benefits would you enjoy with your family, your finances, or in achieving a life-long dream?

Whether you put pictures of vacation destinations in your closet or select a “splurge item” you would buy if you hit a sales goal, visualizing positive outcomes can raise energy levels and build your confidence.

In fact, numerous sports studies have shown that mental practice (through visualization) can be as effective as real practice. In other words, you can develop and reinforce real skills by visualizing yourself practicing them!

2020 is a year of possibilities. With reflection, teamwork, and visualization, you can be motivated by creative solutions and do the work necessary to bring your professional goals to life!