6 Editorial Calendar Tools To Help You Crank Out Your Content

As you can imagine, keeping track of all the details of content production in your head doesn't make a lot of sense. There’s no doubt that an editorial calendar is a must to keep your content organized and running smoothly, whether you're just a one person show, or a you're a Fortune 100 company.

The thing is, if you want to produce consistent content - a key piece in establishing your brand voice - you’ve got to have an editorial calendar. A calendar will help you to manage all of pieces of the content creation process, and will quickly become a strategic tool for creating audience-relevant content. Another benefit of having an editorial calendar is the ability to share your content more efficiently across multiple platforms - not only only on your blog or website, but also on various social media platforms.

Have you noticed just how many tools there are out there for editorial calendars? Do a quick search of “editorial calendar” on Twitter and you’ll be inundated with more templates and tips than you can possibly take in. But I have found that the key to implementing an editorial calendar with your team is to use a tool or platform that you’re already very familiar with, AND that every member of the team is using everyday. The last thing you want to do is go through the effort of creating a calendar that never gets used!

If you’re just starting out - think about your team and your needs. Do you need to be able to collaborate virtually with team mates? Do you need to manage a long approval process? What tools are you all currently using that could be leveraged for your content creation?

One caution is that you’ll absolutely want to choose a tool that allows for version control, especially when multiple team members are involved. You’ll be accessing your calendar and making changes and additions on a very regular basis, so it’s a must that everyone has access to the tool and can make changes simultaneously.

Project Management Tools

Asana

I’m mentioning Asana first because over the past year or so it’s become my favorite online project tool. Here at BrandVox, my team and I use Asana to manage all of our projects, so it was a natural fit for our editorial calendar. It works well for us because it allows us to collaborate and assign the various tasks associated with a piece of content to different people. You can also upload documents for editing and review. In addition, we use it for brainstorming to capture new ideas alongside our posts that are already in development. Here’s a peek at our calendar below. What you’re seeing is a high-level view of all of our editorial calendar post and ideas:

basecamp ed calendar.jpg

Each week, Becky and I get together and go through our list of ideas. We move content around to different categories as it makes sense. And here’s the drilled-down look at the tasks associated with a blog post we recently published:

BV Ed Calendar Screenshot 2.png

Basically, our content process goes like this:

When we’re ready to develop an idea, I give Becky a detailed run-down of my thoughts. Sometimes, we’ll record the conversation and have it transcribed using Rev.com, but mostly Becky will take detailed notes and then type them up into a draft. She then assigns a task for me to edit and review what she’s put together. I make sure it accurately reflects my thoughts and I make any changes to make sure it’s in my voice. Then, Becky takes over again to publish the content up on our blog. This has been a HUGE time saver for me, especially since BrandVox’s sister company, Corgibytes, has been needing so much of my attention lately.

Basecamp

Another super popular online project management tool that can double as an editorial calendar is Basecamp. The calendar function on Basecamp has a traditional monthly grid view, so you can visually see all of your content laid out per month. Check out this post from Tiffany Nix on Nactafy which walks you through the steps of setting the calendar. Have a lengthy approval process? She suggests easily managing this by using two calendars - one for drafts and the other for publish dates - both right there in Basecamp. Here’s what the monthly view looks like with the two calendars pulled together:

Image credit: Nectafy

Image credit: Nectafy

What’s also cool is that you can set up some handy reminders for each item due that will automatically ping team members on the day of.

Trello

Have you heard of Trello? It’s a popular online project management tool that is definitely worth checking out. It let’s you organize your ideas in a virtual sticky note format. One of my Skillshare class participants, Vicky Cassidy, shared how she uses Trello for her editorial calendar by grouping ideas by topic and then assigning them to specific dates. She then keeps track of how well developed each idea is by color coding each one. Get the scoop on how she uses it here.

Oh, and here’s another good resource from Adrienne Erin over at Markerly on streamlining your content with Trello. She gives the example of how an alcohol and rehab center in Florida uses 5 lists - idea, in writing, to edit, ready to post, and promotion - to track the stages of their blog content. Here’s how it looks in Trello:

Image credit: Markerly

Image credit: Markerly

Other Options

Google Spreadsheets

I love Google spreadsheets! When I was in charge of managing all the social media content for a Fortune 100 brand, this was my tool of choice. Each week, I would export the spreadsheet to excel and send it to my client for review. She loved this because the company had a strong firewall and it was difficult for her to access web-based tools. I also had six community managers who would go in and add content for their area of expertise. I liked Google spreadsheets because I could lock specific cells and see the complete history of changes if I needed to.

Google spreadsheets are free and easy to use, especially if you already have experience using a similar program, like excel. Plus, I’ve created a free 2015 editorial calendar template based on the one I used for my Fortune 100 client that you can use for your blog. This calendar includes holidays, seasons as well as sports and entertainment events happening throughout the year to help you plan your content. Just be sure to create a fresh copy before you start editing.

Evernote

Evernote is designed as an online note-taking system. Because it’s such a powerful tool for curating ideas, if you’re already in the habit of using Evernote to clip things off the web or capturing your light bulb moments, you may want to seriously consider adding your editorial calendar. There’s a lot of power in having your ideas side by side with your content plan. Want more tips on creating an Evernote content calendar? Check out Natasha Vorompiova’s idea-packed post over at SystemsRock for a rundown on how she uses it.

Wordpress Plugins

One last note: Wordpress also has some powerful plug-ins with really cool features to use for calendaring. But just remember, unless you're  a solo content creator or your whole team is logging into and using Wordpress everyday, it’s probably not going to cut the mustard.

Want a little more help getting an editorial calendar off the ground? I've put together an online class to help you do just that! Check it out here. And if you’re a Skillshare member, you are in luck - I offer the same class over on Skillshare.

Do you have a special tool you use for your calendar? Any tips on what’s worked and what hasn’t? I’d love to hear from you - share with me in the comments below!

 

Lift: Bring Your Brand Voice to Life for Just $15 per Week

I’m excited to tell you I recently joined forces with Lift to give you easy access to support in establishing your brand voice. If you haven’t heard of them yet, Lift is an application based service with the simple mission of helping people to reach goals. Through Lift, I’m offering one on one coaching via text chat all while you work through defining your brand.

Creating content for your own business is one of the most difficult challenges you'll ever face, but the reality is that getting the message right is critical to the bottom line. Working with Fortune 500 companies, I’ve seen a pattern — organizations with strong brands are the ones who take the time to document the basics. 

Why does detailing your brand make such a difference? Because having it defined and down on paper allows it to be used and adapted across your organization. This means that everyone from marketing to customer service to the legal department can all work together to create a meaningful brand voice.

I know there are all kinds of obstacles to documenting your brand voice, I’ve been there! I’ve worked with large global brands, but by far the hardest project I ever have to work on is for my own business. Hurdles come up like finding the time, staying motivated, and then there are times when it seems you’ve hit a roadblock. It can get messy. But that’s why the Lift app is brilliant: it gives you access an objective opinion and tools to help keep you on track.

Lift 1-to-1 Chat Based Coaching

In my collaboration with Lift, I’ll help you to reach the goal of establishing your brand voice. Here’s how it works:

  1. You sign up for Lift and hire me to coach you. It’s just $15 per week. 
  2. Every day for 30 days you'll unlock a new exercise aimed to help you establish your brand voice. You'll be getting the exact exercises and recommendations that I make to many of my Fortune 500 clients.
  3. As you go through each exercise I'm available for questions and encouragement. Simply send me a message, and I’ll help you work out the kinks. We’ll work through all of the exercises and at the end you’ll have all of your brand content defined, captured, and ready to be shared with your team!

Ready to work together to get your brand voice in ship shape? Click here to sign up!

Defining Your Brand Personality: 4 Tools to Boost Creativity

When I help brands define their distinct personality, seldom is it a straight download from one person’s brain. Most often, it happens through a series of group meetings where I help facilitate a discussion to uncover characteristics and deeper meanings. If you've ever participated, or facilitated, a group discussion, you know that staying on task is a fine balancing act between open discussion and structure. That’s why I like to use these tools to help stimulate discussion without stifling creativity. 

These tools work especially well for new teams that haven’t worked together. They also work wonders for teams that tend to be highly analytical and need help loosening up and working in a different, less data-driven way. No matter what type of group it is, I find that everyone benefits from stepping away from the usual workday activities and injecting some play into the creative process.

Lone ranger brand builder? No worries, these tools are totally adaptable for you too! 

The Logo Game

The challenge when we work with our own brands is we lack objectivity. The ability to look at our businesses outside of ourselves is key to being able to develop messaging that resonates with our audience and is in alignment with our core values. 

The Logo Game is a fun way to look at which brands have carved a place in our memory. It especially helps people who don't work in marketing all day to get into the mindset of thinking about brands. 

This one is really easy and I use it mostly as an icebreaker. Have participants pick a card. For each brand that comes up, the group can throw out what immediately comes to mind when they think of the brand. You can also ask some questions to probe the group a bit. When you think of this brand what comes up? What words would you use to describe it? How does it make you feel? How do you think this company has created this impression for their brand? 

Follow the same exact directions above if you’re working on your own.


Tina Fey’s Rule of Improv

For teams that have a strong hierarchy, this is one of the most transformative exercises I’ve ever used. It helps establish ground rules to make sure everyone has the opportunity to feel heard and respected, which once a team tries, can change a culture. 

Start by bringing out the book, Bossypants, by Tina Fey, and get volunteers read her “Rules of Improv.” There is mild cursing in this section (“hell” and “bastard”) but reading it as is helps the team bond with humor. I used this exercise at one of the most prestigious scientific institutions in the country, and while I was nervous that it might be perceived as inappropriate or unprofessional, it actually had the opposite effect. Months later, the scientists reported that they still used the structure with their teams. One even bought a copy of the book for his entire team. 

I’m not going to publish the section here, because I want you to go out and buy the book to get access to Tina’s brilliant humor. But the main rules are: 

1. Agree 

2. Say "Yes, And" 

3. Make Statements 

4. There Are No Mistakes, Only Opportunities

To use the Rules of Improv by yourself, set up a specific time for brainstorming for yourself, just like you would if you were working with a group. Pick a space with a white board, chalk board, or some other area where you can capture your ideas as they flow. It’s super important to affirmatively write down all of your brilliant thoughts without self-censorship. Once you’ve captured all of your initial ideas, go back and see where you can add maybe even another idea to each of them.


Rory’s Story Cubes

These dice are fantastic as quick prompts to help you get used to thinking associatively and collaborating. They’re also a great way to start practicing the Rules of Improv!

Here’s how it works: I hand out three dice to each participant. First, I have each participant look at each image on the dice and come up with several words to describe each image. For example, if you see something that looks like a pill, you might write down words like sick, medicine, vitamin, healthy, or swallow. Don’t skip this step, it’s important to let participants feel grounded and familiar with what’s on their dice. 

Once everyone is comfortable with the images, we go around the table and each person rolls one of their dice and contributes a sentence that is prompted by the image on their die. Together, the group creates a story. The first round is the setup of the story, the second round is the story arc, and the last round is the conclusion. There are always folks who feel stage fright or time pressure. As a facilitator, encourage others to be respectful by giving them space and not jumping in with other ideas. 

Flying solo on this one? Simply roll the dice as above and create your story. If you want some company, check out this video from the creators of the game and see how it’s done:

 

Brand Character Profile

Once I have the group warmed up with these exercises, they’re ready to work together to complete the Brand Character Profile. This is a tool that I developed to help brands uncover the backstory of their characters. I was inspired by literary authors, like J. K. Rowling, who attributed the aliveness of their characters to developing the worlds before they wrote the plot. 

The Brand Character Profile goes through a series of questions to help describe the brand as if it were a fictional character. The group talks about their brand’s personality while maintaining that critical objective perspective. For example, one client I worked with decided that their brand was a woman. When we got to the section about how she dresses, this conversation took place. (Notice the Rules of Improv and group storytelling in action?) 

Participant #1: I think she would dress conservatively. Nothing trendy. Pearls. Not gaudy costume jewelry. 

Participant #2: Yes, and she’s not too matronly either. She’s classic, like Jackie O or Audrey Hepburn. She’d probably shop at Ann Taylor, but not Talbot’s. 

Participant #1: That’s it! She’s polished. She never goes out of style and in a strange way always looks trendy because of how tailored her look is. 

Notice all those wonderful characteristics we got from that conversation? If we had been talking about the brand from an analytical and linear point of view, we may have settled on “conservative” as a trait. But further discussion using the Brand Character Profile and the warm up exercises helped us get to the nuance of what “conservative” actually meant to this group: polished, classic, and tailored. This small understanding comes to life in a big way when it’s implemented across an organization’s visual and verbal branding. 

Click here to grab a free copy of the Brand Character Profile.

So, that’s what works for me. How about you? Do you have favorite tools for collaboration? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.

Brand Voice Victor: How Simple Has Created a Banking Revolution

Here on the BrandVox blog, we love to highlight brands who are effectively using their brand voice. When I asked around my co-working space which brand I should highlight next, overwhelmingly, my coworkers suggested Simple. Rarely have I seen such visceral positive responses, especially when talking about anything in the finance industry. My friend Sam went on for about twenty minutes raving about the service, user experience, and overall feel of the brand. So, I decided to look into what makes this bank so special. 

First, what is Simple and why is it different from other banks? First of all, Simple is an online all-electronic consumer banking service. There are no brick and mortar branches. Everything is done online. They've paid tremendous attention to the customer experience and use plain language throughout their content. This is a stark contrast to the confusing legalese most of us are used to, and it’s a tactic that is working. Earlier this year, the brand was purchased for $117 Million by the banking group BBVM.  

Let’s look at a few examples of how Simple is breaking the mold:

1. Their customer service department is easily accessible and they speak to you like a human. 

When you call in there’s no menu to sift through, you’re immediately directed to a real live person to answer questions and help you. No scripts and no up-selling.  And, they actually feature the real photos of their customer service team - with their names - right on their website:

This transparency isn't limited to the website, it’s evident in their social channels, too. For example, when a skeptical potential customer asked her followers on Twitter if ditching her traditional bank for Simple was really worth it, the company opened the conversation to their 40 thousand plus followers, letting her get unvarnished feedback right from real users:

The result was an outpouring of authentic engagement with current customers weighing in on their real experience and others asking questions about the service. You can’t spontaneously put yourself out there like this without being really in tune with your product and how it’s being received in the market place. Pretty gutsy. How do you get that kind of confidence? By offering a service that meets customer needs and actually does what it promises, and then following through on that promise in every crack and crevice, from one end of the company to the other.

2. Their terms and conditions are easy to understand and find.

We've talked about plain language before, and these guys have it down. Their website is written in casual, easy to understand language. This is especially important in building a brand in an industry like banking that’s notorious for being something less than straightforward. Simple also offers their terms and conditions on their website in an easy to find place and written in everyday language that people can actually make sense of. They use basic topic headings throughout the terms and conditions to break up what would normally be a long running page of legal jargon. It’s rather refreshing — take a look:

3. They did their research on not only their audience but their competition. 

Simple gives you options that traditional banks just don’t offer. Realizing that traffic to bank branches declined about 50% in recent years, this company saw the opportunity to offer a completely different experience with innovative features. Their “goals” feature allows users to create virtual buckets in their account for specific savings targets, and goes well beyond the Christmas club savings accounts of yesterday. Customers can set up multiple goals within their accounts for real-time budgeting and saving and an up-to-the-minute tally of their balance. You can also use hashtags to group and search specific categories and attach images to transactions - things like receipts or photos - to help keep organized and give more context to your spending. All things that traditional banks with their dinosaur technology has never been able to offer. In fact, this was the feature that my friend Sam loved the most. He showed me how he’s only $80 away from a new iPad and is enjoying the feeling of saving and being in control of his money. 

So what do you think? Are you another raving fan of Simple or are you skeptical that this brand voice is creating a real shift in the market? Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments! 

What's Your Content Personality?

Image Credit: Bigstock

Image Credit: Bigstock

Think of a team you worked on for a recent project. Were there people who you naturally got along with? Maybe some you had to learn to work with? In any team, personalities play a big part of the productivity and overall dynamic of the group — and content projects are no exception. 

I’ve talked about this before, but understanding the nature of how you create content as opposed to your co-workers can help you to more easily navigate your differences.

I've found that most people I have worked with fall into one of four content personality types: The Artist, The Admin, The Analyst, and The Absentee. 

No personality type is better than another; each one brings unique strengths to the team. But when you understand the pros and cons of each type, you can use it to your advantage.

For example, if you identify yourself as an Analyst (you geek out over data and facts), but your co-worker definitely has the Artist trait (a highly creative, visionary type), when you get excited and talk about the facts and figures, it very well may fall on deaf ears. The best thing to do is to be flexible and give your colleague some space to create. You can come back together at a later date and find ways to marry the vision with the data.

Likewise, if you’re an Admin type (you love process and clear direction) working with an Absentee (prefers to have little involvement), you’ll need to remember that your partner is not going to be into following your process to a tee. You'll have to be proactive about getting any information you need from this person. The great thing is that you can run with the project and check in for feedback down the line.

Wondering what your content personality type is? Take this quiz and find out:

Share this quiz with your team mates so they can figure out their type as well!

Build Your Content Foundation, a FREE class!

I’m super excited to tell you about something new (and FREE) I created just for YOU! 

You see, I know you work really hard and you care about your work in the world. And whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been at this a while, it just happens: you get caught up in the daily activities at your organization. You know your brand needs refining, but you end up putting it off and instead focusing on the daily fire in front of you.

So that’s why I came up with this 30 day kick-start class just for you: Build Your Content Foundation: A Step by Step Guide to Establishing Your Brand Voice. In this class, I serve you up a bite sized, yet practical exercise each day to help you establish your brand voice. In just a few minutes each day, we’ll  create all the pieces of your foundational content, which when defined allow your organization to flourish and grow!

Here’s just a brief glimpse of what happens when you invest in your brand foundation:

  • Your team gets your vision and they’re engaged and excited to make it happen! 
  • You end up saving time and money because you are actually talking to the right audience from the start, instead of  shooting in the dark. 
  • You also sell more products and services because your audience can easily see the value of what you’re offering to them. 

I could go on, but I think you get the picture, right?

Oh, and I should tell you, you know those problems you’re always bogged down with each day? Well, there’s much less of it that going on and you actually get to focus even more on the strategic direction of your organization.

Just head on over and sign up for this free class and let’s get you on your way to a brand that’s polished and shined! 

One last thing: I’m really eager to hear how it goes for you! If you have any comments, ah-ha’s, or get stumped at any point, shoot me an email at hi@yourbrandvox.com.

Happy branding!

Choose Your Own Adventure: Create Better Websites With These Two Writing Rules

chooseyourownadventure

Think back to when you were in grade school. Do you remember the types of writing assignments you were given? There were research papers, book reports, project reports, maybe a little poetry, and then there was creative writing. If you look at the different types of writing styles you learned, you’ll see that there really were only two predominant ways you learned to write in school: Research and creative writing.

The Writing Spectrum

I like to think of writing styles on a spectrum. On the one side you have incredible
objectivity for things like academic papers, literary critiques, or anything that's research based. When you write in this style you are employing literary techniques and writing in the third person or passive voice.

On the other end of the spectrum you have creative writing. Creative writing has the most flexibility when it comes to technique and employs more of a narrative because it tends to be written in first or third person.

In school, you learned how to write from both sides of the spectrum and only in first or third person. It’s only natural that when you sit down to write copy for your website, you default to one of these two. Unfortunately, those writing styles are not effective for website copy (or sales copy in general). There is one type of book however you most likely read as a child that you should model your website content after: a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

What Are All These Voices You Speak Of?

The type of voice you write in can have a huge impact on your readers. Without trying to make this seem like a grammar lesson, here’s a short refresher on the different voices.

When you write in the first person, you are writing as yourself. The narrator and main character of your story is you. “I went to the store” rather than “The woman went to the store.” For first person, use the pronouns “I” and “we”.

When you write in the second person, you are addressing the reader. Second person should be written as if the reader were a part of your story because you are talking to them. This entire blog post is written in second person. See how I’m writing to you? Second person uses the pronouns “you”, “your”, and “yours”.

When you write in the third person, you are writing objectively. You, as the narrator are not part of the story. Instead of “I went to the store” you would write “She went to the store”. Pronouns used in the third person are “he”, “she”, or “it”.

When you write in the passive voice, you use the form of the verb “have” or “to be” in your sentence structure. In the passive voice, you make the object of the action the subject of the sentence. For example, the sentence “The fox ate the mouse” in the passive voice would be “The mouse was eaten by the fox.”

When you write in the active voice, the subject of the sentence is performing the action. In the example above, the sentence “The fox ate the mouse” is in active voice.

The Secret to Writing Great Sales Copy

I know what you’re thinking and I promise I haven’t lost my mind! If you want your website to be more effective you need to do two things - the same two things used in Choose Your Own Adventure books:

  1. Write in the active voice.

  2. Write in second person.

That’s the secret to writing great sales copy.

I didn't know that until I became a copywriter. The definition of copywriting is: the use of words to promote a person, business, opinion, or idea. It’s “getting across the perfect message, with the perfect words.” (dictionary.com) In order to do that, you've got to put things in your reader’s point of view. Instead of talking about you, you need to set the scene up and talk about them. Think about the choose your own adventure books you read as a child. Why were they so exciting? Because you got to take an active role in the book. You were in control of the story - you were the story!

Your website should be the same way. It should be focused on the user. Like a choose your own adventure book, your website visitors should have an immersive experience as they dive down the rabbit hole of pages on your website.  

Setting Your Website Up Like A Choose Your Own Adventure Book

Here are three ways to set-up your website like a Choose Your Own Adventure book:

1. Take Them On A Journey

Navigating a Choose Your Own Adventure book would be confusing if there weren’t prompts to help you know where to go. You should do the same for your website. Every page should direct the reader to an action, but that action needs to be spelled out for them. What do you want them to do? Fill out a contact form? Call you? Sign up for your newsletter? It’s up to you to tell the reader what to do.

2. Make the Story About Them

Everything on your website (except your about page) should be written in the second person as if the reader was reading about themselves. You want them to be an active participant in discovering what you have to offer and how it will help them. This can only be accomplished if you write in the second person.

3. Decide How the Story Ends and Then Lead Them There

There are only a few different endings in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. What makes it so exciting is that the reader got to choose how they got to their ending. You’ve got to set up your website the same way. There may be several different paths that each user embarks upon, but you need to set an end goal where all points lead to a conversion. “Yes, I want more info” or “yes I want to make a donation”… whatever that conversion is for you, you need to make sure every visitor gets to it.


Why does this work? Because making it more about the user is that subtle change in perspective that will make world of difference!

If you want help writing your website's own adventure, join me for my class in Richmond. In my hands-on workshop, you will be given exercises and tools that will help you learn copywriting skills while you create content for your own website. If you don’t live in Richmond, consider making it a weekend trip. There are so many fun things to do here! In fact, Richmond was recently named a Frommer’s Top Destination for 2014 and The Next Great American Food City. If you’re coming in from out of town, just shoot me an email and I’d be happy to make suggestions for things to do over the weekend.

Register for my Copywriting Class Today!

Plain Language vs. Legalese in Business Contracts

longerletter

What was your reaction the last time you were presented with terms and conditions - for anything? Did your eyes sort of glaze over at the amount of tiny words you needed to read? Did you start reading, get bored and instead skim through realizing that no matter how hard you focused you weren't going to understand it anyway? It’s ok, this happens to most people (unless you’re a lawyer of course). Terms and conditions are all over the place and are traditionally hard for the average person to comprehend.

Here’s the thing: it doesn't have to be this way! There's a trend towards plain language terms and conditions because companies are realizing that making things hard to understand does not benefit either party. If you haven't documented something in a way people can understand, your “legalese” is not protecting your brand, it’s actually hurting it.

How Legalese Can Hurt Your Brand

Legalese and formal language just plain scares people. When presented with it, most people feel uncomfortable and unsure. That strategy used to work back in the days where you wanted to seem busy and important, but in today’s market, authenticity and clear communication wins. The last thing you want as a brand is to give people that uncomfortable or cautious feeling when interacting with you.

In essence, the foundation of consumer trust has changed. Before consumers were connected in any meaningful way, companies were in control of the message. They didn't need to be held accountable, so they could have as much corporate babble clutter as they wanted in their organization, and still sell their products. Today, customers are demanding transparency. One way to visualize this is with an opacity slider you see in photo-editing software. It’s almost as if consumers have their collective hands on the opacity slider that controls the walls of your business and they’re pushing the slider to a more and more transparent state each year. There's a trend today to align purchases with values and show consumers your authenticity as a brand. Legalese is the opposite of authenticity. If you want to show your values, you've got to be consistent throughout your messaging - this includes your Terms and Conditions.

In fact, not using plain language in your terms and conditions can also harm your consistency as a brand. If you put yourself forward as an authentic, engaging brand but your terms and conditions are hard to understand, it can negate the trust you've worked so hard to build.

Many lawyers I talk to are advocates for clear language, but many feel threatened by this new shift in culture. Mark Cohen, an attorney based in Colorado who specializes in creating plain English contracts, believes the use of plain English in business contracts “lowers costs, improves productivity, increases credibility and reduces misunderstandings.”

With all legal agreements, the goal is to keep risk at a minimum. The law often demands precise language, but that doesn't mean an entire agreement needs to be confusing. As transparency replaces obfuscation as the measure of trust, the companies who choose plain language in all of their communications, including departments like legal and finance, are becoming the clear winners in the market.

How Facebook Lost Credibility

Take a look at the launch of Facebook’s messenger app. Facebook recently notified users that if they wanted to continue using their messaging function, they would have to download their Messenger app. The uproar came when Android users tried downloading the new app and were given a long list of scary permissions without an explanation to what they meant. According to Facebook, Android does not allow app developers to write their own permissions, they write it for them. The language that popped up when users downloaded the app was convoluted and did not reflect the way the Messenger app (and other apps for that matter) use the listed permissions. This caused claims that the Facebook Messenger app would start doing things like taking over your phone, calling people on your behalf, using your camera without permission, etc. Rumors started flying and people started deleting - or not downloading the app at all.

Because of the confusion and nervousness, Facebook lost a lot of credibility. If you look at the ratings in iTunes for Facebook Messenger, it’s currently averaging 1.5 stars with lots of angry reviews. Not good.

facebookmessenger

Do you see now why plain language is so important? Just for reference, here is a Facebook blog post that explains the permissions - in plain language.  

Why Plain Language Is Worth The Effort

Blaise Pascal once said, "I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter." Keep that quote in mind when you go about writing your terms and conditions. Creating contracts that are both legally viable and easy to understand takes extra effort, but it's worth it in the long run. Why? Because when people understand your terms and conditions they don’t feel nervous or confused about doing business with you, or downloading your app. You don’t lose credibility like Facebook did, you gain it because you gain trust through transparency.

Using plain language is worth it in the long run because it avoids potential PR problems or legal repercussions like lawsuits because of misinterpretations or misunderstandings.

Layers and layers of management and a seemingly faceless corporation no longer equals brand trust. If you want consumers to trust you nowadays, you need to develop a personality that consumers can connect with, provide customer service that people rave about, and most importantly, you need to be transparent. This includes your legal and financial content. It’s just another piece of nooks and crannies content that people look at, and it makes a huge difference when they understand it.

Squarespace is an excellent example of a brand that uses plain language in their terms of service. Look at the screen grab below of the first paragraph in their terms of service. The highlighted line in particular just shows that they tried write their terms of service as plain and easy to understand as possible.

squarespace-termsofservice

If you go on to read their terms of service you’ll find that they are, in fact, easy to understand.

For more examples of plain language, here are two great articles to use as resources:

Top 10 Phrases Not to Use in a Contract—A Lesson from Dr. Frankenstein

Freelance Contracts That Anyone Can Understand

If you are a small company, now is a great time to take a look at your legal documents before you become overrun by legalese and corporate babble. If you are a large company, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Train your legal staff about the benefits of plain language and push back if the terms and conditions aren't clear.

Do you know of a brand who maintains transparency and uses plain language in their terms and conditions? I’d love to hear about them! Leave a comment.

Brand Voice Victor: How Chipotle Uses Nooks and Cranny Content to Build Brand Engagement

chipotle-brandvoicevictor

Have you ever read a Chipotle cup? How about the bag your burrito comes in? Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably noticed the intriguing design on their packaging and the large amounts of words. Chipotle has been on my radar for quite some time as a brand I love and respect. Their distinct brand voice can be found on everything: cups, bags, napkins, signs within the store... places I like to call “nooks and crannies”. It’s hard not to notice their unique brand voice or connect with it - which is what makes them such a great brand. Their brand voice is solid, compelling, and makes people fall in love with them.

Here are three reasons why:

1. They’ve build a strong foundation for their content.

There’s a reason this brand connects so deeply with its audience and it all starts with their mission statement. Their founder, Steve Ells feels strongly about serving fresh, responsibly made food and educating people about what that means. Chipotle’s mission statement, “To change the way people think about and eat fast food” reigns true throughout every piece of content the brand has. It’s a rallying cry for employees and lovers of Chipotle that food should be made more responsibly and with local, fresh ingredients. What starts as the foundation is then built upon by their core values (which is also one of their taglines), “Food with Integrity”.

Food with Integrity is our commitment to always look closer, dig deeper, and work harder to ensure that our actions are making things better, not worse. It’s our promise to run our business in a way that doesn't exploit animals, people or the environment. It is the philosophy that guides every decision we make at Chipotle.” - Steve Ells

They've started with a strong and empowering Mission Statement as their content foundation and rallying cry for their brand and reinforced it with core values for everyone in the organization (even copywriters) to stand behind.

2. They have personality.

From their mission statement and core values, they've built a personality for their brand: “Integrity with a side of attitude”. Chipotle’s copy gets your attention! They want to educate you but they want it to be entertaining. Here’s an example from their website that talks about food with integrity but in their own brand voice:

chipotle-foodwithintegrity

3. They don’t neglect the “Nooks and Crannies” Copy

When I say their personality is on everything, I really do mean everything. Their packaging is a perfect example of where you can find Chipotle’s “integrity with attitude” brand voice. The copy for Chipotles packaging is referred to as “passionate ramblings”. It was designed to get people to read while they eat. They use their packaging to share thoughts, humor and ideas.

In a new push, Chipotle has curated things from authors, comedians, thought leaders and artists to create “a moment of analog pause in a digital world”. There are 40 unique stories with matching illustrations that have been curated. Their cups have stories written by different authors called the “Cultivating Thought Author Series”. These stories were compiled as way to entertain and also get people to stop what they’re doing and read something interesting instead of staring at a phone or a tablet. This creates an experience - a distinctly “Chipotle” experience that whether in the store or at the office you will have as you chow down on their delicious food and get entertained (and educated) by their packaging.

What makes people LOVE a brand? When they feel empowered and emotionally connected to it, or when they feel good after interacting with it or purchasing from it. This is how Chipotle wins. They started with a passion, put it into a mission statement, developed a unique personality and voice and put it on everything.

Have you ever read something on a package or a website that made you chuckle, feel good or just smile? That’s brand voice doing its job. What’s incredible about Chipotle is that you can find it on everything. Who are your brand voice victors?

Core Values: The Secret to Creating a Thriving Company Culture

corevalues.jpg

When I say core values what words come to mind? Words like integrity, diversity, inspiration, community, creativity, sustainability... blah, blah, blah. Right? This is the problem with most companies’ core values: too often, they’re just empty words that mean nothing to the people they’re meant to inspire. They’re usually created from a well intended place, but miss the mark when it comes to language. Stringing together a bulleted list of highly aspirational words does nothing for your staff. In fact, your staff probably doesn't even know what your core values are.

It doesn't have to be this way! Core values are an important piece of your foundational content that your staff should know and identify with. You've laid the foundation with a mission statement: their rallying cry for why they get out of bed every morning and go to work for you. You've painted a picture of what the world looks like once your mission statement has been achieved with a vision statement that is aspirational and points the team in the direction you want to go. But how will they get there? What are the rules and guidelines for the road ahead?

Enter your core values. Your core values are the scaffolding of your foundation. They are the rules of engagement for how to achieve your mission and vision. Core values lay expectations and tell your employees the behaviors that are appropriate in every situation.

Developing a strong set of core values is key to creating a vibrant culture within your organization. Do you see now why creating a list of words like “integrity” and “creativity” is not going to work?

How to develop your core values

Start with a verb

Your core values should always start with a verb. Remember, you don’t want to just list a bunch of good qualities, you want to build the rules of engagement for how employees should interact in your organization. Actions mean you need verbs. Verbs help add meaning to your core values.

For example, if you want your employees to act with empathy when interacting with customers, instead of just saying “empathy”, you could say “embrace empathy.” Embracing empathy has way more meaning than just the word empathy.

Here is a list of action verbs you can download that might help.

Get your employees involved

Your mission and vision statements will likely come from you as the leader or founder of the organization. Your core values, however should be vetted through your employees. Start by coming up with a list that you think exemplifies the culture you are trying to create and then ask for a reaction from your staff.

Pose this question to them: “Is this an accurate reflection of what makes us special?”

If your list doesn't make sense to them, then you need to revise the language. One word of warning with staff involvement: don’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. Have a large feedback group so everyone is heard, but use a much smaller group to craft the language. If too many people contribute to the edits it becomes too much.

Continue this process until you nail it (the process could take a year or more).

Use catch phrases

It’s pretty common for an organization to develop its own catch phrases as the culture is being developed. These catch phrases are great to incorporate into your core values because they capture the culture and embody what makes you so special.

The Goulet Pen Company is a great first hand experience of how catch phrases become part of your core values. I recently worked with Goulet Pen Company to help them develop their foundational content. In our sessions, a few catch phrases came up that we made into core values. “Work hard, be honest, be flexible” was one. Check out their core values video, and you’ll also see just how involved the employees were during the development process.

Describe each value

Once you get all of your sound bytes down, write 3-5 sentence descriptions for each one to provide more clarity. Your descriptions should be short, but help to establish the expectations for each of your “rules of engagement”. Remember, these are your expectations and guidelines.

Don’t create a cult

Another word of warning: don’t adhere to your core values so closely that you develop a cult in the process. You can laugh, but it does happen. It breeds a culture of uber exclusiveness where outsiders are shunned, newbies aren't welcomed, and creativity and innovation are stifled. Find a balance between new ideas, perspectives, and rules of engagement and you will be fine.  

Examples of Companies with Effective Core Values

Here are some great examples of strong core values that will help you develop your own. Be sure to visit their websites for more complete descriptions.

The Honest Co.

  • Create a Culture of Honesty.
  • Make Beauty.

  • Outperform.

  • Service Matters.

  • Sustain Life.

  • Be Accessible.

  • Give Back More.

  • Fun!

Bodybuilding.com

  1. Always be truthful and honest in every aspect of business.
  2. Give back to the people whom you owe your success to.
  3. Setting goals creates the road map to positive gains.
  4. Great things will happen with a passion for competition.
  5. It’s our goal to make the big idea bigger.
  6. Our mission is not complete until the customer says “WOW”

Buffer

  1. Always choose positivity and happiness
  2. Default to transparency
  3. Have a focus on self-improvement
  4. Be a “no ego” doer
  5. Listen first, then listen more
  6. Have a bias towards clarity
  7. Make time to reflect
  8. Live smarter, not harder
  9. Show gratitude
  10. Do the right thing

Google

  • Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  • It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  • Fast is better than slow.
  • Democracy on the web works.
  • You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  • You can make money without doing evil.
  • There’s always more information out there.
  • The need for information crosses all borders.
  • You can be serious without a suit.
  • Great just isn't good enough.

The Goulet Pen Company

(Disclosure: this is my brother’s business and I participated in their development. I’m one super-proud sister!)

  1. Work hard, be honest, be flexible.
  2. Trust is our currency.
  3. Work as a team.
  4. Empower through education.
  5. Express gratitude.
  6. Serve with passion.
  7. Care.

Rackspace

  • Fanatical support in all we do.
  • Results first. Substance over flash.
  • Treat rackers like friends and family.
  • Passion for our work.
  • Full disclosure and transparency.
  • Committed to greatness.

Southwest Airlines

Warrior Spirit

  • Work Hard
  • Desire to be the best
  • Be courageous
  • Display urgency
  • Persevere
  • Innovate

Servant’s Heart

  • Follow The Golden Rule
  • Adhere to the Principles
  • Treat others with respect
  • Put others first
  • Be egalitarian
  • Demonstrate proactive Customer Service
  • Embrace the SWA Family

Fun-LUVing Attitude

  • Have FUN
  • Don't take yourself too seriously
  • Maintain perspective
  • Celebrate successes
  • Enjoy your work
  • Be a passionate Team player

Work the Southwest Way

  • Safety and Reliability
  • Friendly Customer Service
  • Low Cost

Whole Foods

  • We Sell the Highest Quality Natural and Organic Products Available
  • We Satisfy, Delight and Nourish Our Customers
  • We Support Team Member Happiness and Excellence
  • We create wealth Through Profits and Growth
  • We Serve and Support Our Local and Global Communities
  • We Practice and Advance Environmental Stewardship
  • We Create Ongoing Win-Win Partnerships with Our Suppliers
  • We Promote the Health of Our Stakeholders Through Healthy Eating Education

Zappos

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

Are you getting the gist of it? The process takes a while and for many it’s ongoing. Don’t rush it because it’s important. These are your expectations and guidelines and should be used by every employee for decision making. The biggest thing leaders can do to ensure that their core values are indicative of the culture is to listen, and have conversations with employees to capture the language as best they can. Your core values are your culture and employees need to be involved.

What do you think? Does your company have awesome core values or generic ones? I’d love to read them - leave a comment and tell me what they are.

Mission Statements vs. Vision Statements: What's The Difference?

I’m going to ask you to slap on your visionary hat for a moment. If you are a business owner, or about to be, chances are you have a mission statement (if not, read this post). Think about that mission statement for a second. Now say it out loud.

Now think about what the world would look like once your mission is achieved. This is the foundation for what your vision statement should be. You see, your mission statement is your rallying cry - it drives you and all of your employees. It’s what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. Your vision statement is the end of the rainbow. It grounds your audience and gives them more information about why the work you’re doing is important.  

While your mission and vision statements go hand in hand, they are two very different pieces of content. Both are crucial to the foundation of your organization and should be crafted before any other piece of content. But, truth be told, the difference between them can be a little confusing. To help you understand which is used when, think about these two famous speeches in history:

Mission statements are like JFK’s “Man on the Moon” speech. It has clearly defined goals, it creates a sense of urgency, and acts as a rallying cry for putting a man on the moon and returning him safely. It’s also very specific as to how and when this mission would be achieved. 

Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is very different. It represents more of a vision statement. In King’s speech, he paints a beautiful picture of what the world looks like when there is no racism, and everyone is tolerant of each other. This is the big pie in the sky - it’s visionary.  

See the difference? Your mission statement is measurable: actually putting your foot on the moon. Your vision statement is more aspirational: ridding the world of racism.

Aspects of a Good Vision Statement

Now that you know the difference, and how the two compliment each other, here is a quick checklist to ensure that your vision statement is effective.

  • It contains aspirational and/or sensory language.

  • It tugs on the heart strings of the reader.

  • It answers the question: Why are we doing this in the first place?

  • It describes what the world looks like once your mission is achieved.

  • It invokes a vivid mental picture of your goal.

  • It invokes an emotional connection.

  • It is free of jargon and buzzwords.

Here are some examples of effective vision statements that contain the aspects listed above.

Corporate Vision Statements

"Connecting beauty, environment and well-being." -Aveda

"We envision a world where every person, in every organization, can clearly articulate their ideas in both written and verbal form." -BrandVox

"Our vision serves as the framework for our Roadmap and guides every aspect of our business by describing what we need to accomplish in order to continue achieving sustainable, quality growth." -Coca Cola

"To be the most valuable and respected science company in the world." -Dow Chemical

"To be the trusted, leading media and marketing solutions company at the forefront of a new era in human engagement." -Gannett

"To be the Number One destination carrier in the world." -Hawaiian Airlines

"To be the best food company, growing a better world." -Heinz

"To fill the earth with the light and warmth of hospitality." -Hilton Worldwide

"To be the most successful and respected car company in America." -Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

"We want to satisfy all our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially." -Wells Fargo

Non-Profit Vision Statements

"A world without Alzheimer's." -Alzheimer's Association

"Our vision is of a world in which every person – regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity – enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other internationally recognized human rights standards." -Amnesty International

"An ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers can trust each other." -Better Business Bureau

"We envision a world where all people - even in the most remote areas of the globe - hold the power to create opportunity for themselves and others." -Kiva

"The Lupus Foundation of America envisions a world without lupus. The organization will advance the science and medicine of lupus to find a cure and improve the quality of life for all people affected by lupus." -Lupus Foundation of America

"We will lead the fight against extinction." -San Diego Zoo

"Shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world." -Smithsonian

"Our vision is to be the world leader in advancing the treatment and prevention of catastrophic diseases in children." -St. Jude Children's Hospital Research

"Protecting nature, for people today and future generations." -The Nature Conservancy

"To foster the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history." -Wounded Warrior Project

Let’s go back to that visionary hat I asked you to put on earlier. Are you still wearing it? Say your mission statement again and then answer the question: “What does the world look like once my mission is achieved?” Now take the examples above and write your vision statement (or tweak the one you already have).

I’d love to hear what you came up with! Leave a comment and tell us what your world looks like once your mission is accomplished.