What is the letter s worth? About £9 million according to recent news. That’s how much Companies House has to pay out to settle a law suit. Apparently the government agency mistook Taylor and Sons, a previously financially-sound, 124-year-old Cardiff company, for Taylor and Son, a firm that ceased to trade six years ago. The mistake cost the company its credibility, and suppliers stopped trading with it. This forced Taylor and Sons out of business, and its 250 employees out of work.

That’s a terrifying thought for any business owner. And whoever made the error at Companies House mustn’t be over the moon either.

The story reminded me of the many mistakes I’ve spotted on famous company and brand websites – not just errors of spelling, but of grammar and logic too. Do they matter? I think so. Sure, firms are unlikely to face £9 million lawsuits for a misspelt word here or there. But spelling mistakes, and worse, are there on many websites, for all the world, and potential customers, to see. They make the associated brands and companies look careless and untrustworthy.

I think there’s a simple reason these mistakes occur: lack of quality control. And I believe they happen because companies are rushing to get their web content out there, in front of their audiences. Also, with the nature of online publishing, there’s bound to be a feeling of, oh, don’t worry about the odd mistake, we can fix it easily afterwards.

In contrast, in the offline world, it takes longer to publish those messages in a newspaper or mail pack, or broadcast them on TV. And if there’s a mistake, it’s harder to put right after the ad goes to print or on air. So there’s a strong incentive to get the copy perfect beforehand. That’s led to certain sign-off procedures for offline work. My clients and agencies are much more likely to give me printed materials to proofread than they are web pages that I’ve written.

With my online work, I usually have to ask to check it before it goes live. I like to proofread it – not just for any mistake I might have previously overlooked but also errors that have happened when the designer or someone else has fiddled with my copy.

Here are three steps you can take to control the quality of your copy more rigorously:

  1. Have every stakeholder, including your copywriter, check all of the copy that’s relevant to them before it goes live.
  2. If you can afford a professional proofreader, use one.
  3. Make sure all stakeholders are automatically alerted about any changes.

Checks like those above will help you improve and maintain your brand image – and prevent expensive mistakes.



As good marketers and their agencies know, there are two essential bits of information copywriters need before starting work:

1.        A description of the people we’re selling to (your audience or market)

2.        What needs to be said to those people (your proposition)

Pretty basic, you say? Well you’d be surprised by a lot of the briefs I’ve received. Yes, marketers usually know what they want to say. But they sometimes need help to simplify it, or express it differently, so that their audience can grasp it easily.

What’s often missing on their briefs, though, is a detailed description of their prospective customers. I wonder why. Are clients investing less in research these days?

The more audience information and insights you give to your copywriter, the better your communications will be. Below is one of the most effective ads I’ve ever written. It was inspired by a market insight, specifically how ale drinkers viewed lager drinkers.

HobgoblinYour copywriter needs good, strong facts and insights about your prospects. What interests them? What do they worry about? What problems are they having? How will your product or service help them? Or what’s stopping them buying from you?

That last question can lead to a breakthrough in the way your brand is perceived. Take the supermarket Lidl. Until about a year or so ago, in the UK, Lidl was always promoting itself as a cheaper alternative to Tesco and Waitrose. That strategy helped it attract price-conscious shoppers away from its more expensive rivals. But, despite Lidl’s low prices, Tesco and Waitrose customers were unlikely to shop there. They didn’t believe Lidl sold quality produce.

Then Lidl embarked on a different strategy to woo them. It started running press ads featuring lobster and fine wines. Recently it has opened deluxe pop-up restaurants so that prospects can sample its products. And just this past Christmas it ran a commercial featuring a group of people enjoying a delicious feast and then being surprised to discover that it all came from Lidl.

One more point about describing your audience: your advertising and marketing will be stronger if you can segment prospects based on their needs or, in B2B, their industries. Then you can tailor your emails or DM to them, or have separate pages on your website that address their specific needs.

Give your copywriter a good, clear picture of your audience, and your communications will work harder.





Think of a consumer ad campaign, current or past, that you like or maybe even love.

Easy, isn’t it?

Now think of a business-to-business one you have similar positive feelings about.

That’s harder, wouldn’t you say?

Apart from IBM campaigns over the years, there are few b2b brands that have made an impression on me.

Every now and again I see outstanding one-off pieces such as a DM pack or a good tactical campaign. But no consistent, long-term brand building. No distinct attitude or big idea.

This is odd, since the people I’ve worked with on b2b projects are as talented, creatively and strategically, as those I’ve met in the consumer marketing world.

What’s going on? Does branding not matter in b2b? Is a certain mindset holding us back? Maybe b2b is just harder to do well than b2c.

A b2b marketer might say, “It’s lead generation and sales that matter to us. We don’t need a brand that makes people feel good.”

I think that view is short-sighted.

Why building a b2b brand matters

If you care about your sales and lead generation, then you should also care about building a brand, whether you do it through lead generation, advertising, content or other forms of marketing.

A distinctive brand helps people remember you.

It has an attitude or thought-provoking idea that sets you apart from your competitors.

It generates goodwill in your prospects.

It helps you sell to them.

Most b2c clients I’ve worked for have been keen to build a strong brand that helps them stand out from their competitors.

Could a b2c approach help you build your b2b brand?

A consumer-marketing creative solution usually involves a big idea that can work across a variety of media for years to come.

One device consumer brands sometimes use is a mascot or spokesperson, such as the meerkat for comparethemarket.com, or Beyoncé for Pepsi.

How many b2b brands can you think of use a mascot or celebrity spokesperson? I’m not saying a b2b brand must have one to succeed, but I think such devices could help.

Fortunately, some of the more modern b2b tech companies are using mascots or at least mascot-type logos, for example Android (robot), Mailchimp and Evernote (elephant).

I think that’s great, as they add some warmth and help you remember the name.

Do you think such devices lack the gravitas necessary for your audience? Then consider the banking sector, with the Lloyds Bank horse and Investec’s zebra.

If a bank can use a zebra to attract institutional investors, shouldn’t you at least consider using a mascot or spokesperson to connect with your prospects?

IBM: a great creative benchmark for b2b

Another way to build your brand is with an idea that’s relevant to your business and connects with your audience – one like IBM’s Smarter Cities campaign by Ogilvy France (below).

It’s an idea that resonates not only with the business  world but with ordinary people as well.

It helps IBM get talked about.

You don’t need IBM’s big marketing budget to have a big idea.

Small consumer-facing companies frequently build brands on small budgets.

If they can do it, b2b marketers can too.

By doing things differently from your competitors, by touching a nerve or making your audience think, you can start to own a space in your prospects’ minds.

Chances are, decision-makers (remember, they’re people too) will like your company more and want to do business with you.

That’s the value of building a b2b brand.




How to give your direct mail piece a fighting chance

September 2, 2013

There’s so much talk about digital these days, you might think traditional (paper) direct mail just crawled away into a corner and died. But, like radio after TV came along, paper DM is still here. If my letterbox and workload are anything to go by, there’s still plenty of DM landing on Britain’s doormats. I […]

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Four things marketers can do to make their lives easier

February 13, 2013

Ever heard of Hutchison Whampoa? It’s not the catchiest name for a brand. Especially for one that arrived late in the UK mobile phone market. So when the Hutchison Whampoa company launched a new mobile brand here, they had the good sense not to use their name. They knew they needed to stand out from […]

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Could a copywriter have saved HMV, Blockbuster and other high street chains from bankruptcy?

January 24, 2013

Creatives don’t think like chartered accountants. Most of us don’t know how to run a big organisation. We don’t know what management consultants know. Even so, we can and do see things that so-called business experts don’t. Coming from outside a client’s business, we have a fresh perspective. We get to know their business and […]

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Can you sell absolutely anything?

December 5, 2012

There have always been niche markets for bizarre things. Believe it or not, some people want to buy wolf urine. Apparently it’s good for warding off deer. Which is why it’s for sale on Amazon. And there are willing buyers for practically everything offered on eBay. One of its customers bought a man’s entire life […]

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New work by Wild Colonial Boys

November 28, 2012

I have a creative partnership with art director Jeff Suthons, called .Wild Colonial Boys, and we’ve recently created a new campaign for brewer Daniel Thwaites’ Wainwright ale. Our work includes print and online advertising, a website and point of sale. Our campaign, like the beer, is inspired by Thwaites’ fellow Lancastrian, the fellwalker and author […]

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Marketer, here’s what to tell your copywriter

October 3, 2012

If you haven’t worked directly with a copywriter before, or would like a better experience the next time you do, you should find the following advice helpful. I just turned down a job. I hated having to do it. My prospective client, an entrepreneur launching a start-up, was a nice enough chap. But his business […]

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What challenger brands could learn from the London Olympics opening ceremony

August 6, 2012

Wasn’t that a brilliant, inventive show Danny Boyle put on for the Olympics? Beijing’s opening ceremony was a tough act to follow in terms of spectacle. And Boyle had a relatively modest budget of £27 million. So he needed to make his money work hard to create a memorable show. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Unless […]

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