Category Archives: branding

Writing for Humans

There are three principles in… being and life: the principle of thought, the principle of speech, and the principle of action. The origin of all conflict between me and [all others]… is that I do not say what I mean and I don’t do what I say. —Martin Buber



From the forthcoming handbook Writing for Humans, by Mary Campbell,

 The person who has learned to write with candor, clarity, and pleasure can be a healer of the planet.


  • write joyfully and efficiently, and
  • create documents that are readable, informative, maybe even fun to read… and that support your organization’s brand


  1. Love of writing
  2. Clarity
  3. Respect for the reader


…when the writers don’t enjoy writing
…when the writing distances readers—through boredom, fear, intimidation, or obfuscation (lack of clarity)



Written language has the potential not only to build goodwill, promote understanding, and facilitate communication… but also to heal breaches planetwide and advance the cause of peace and prosperity. As the shadow side of that power, language can also be divisive, distancing, and inflammatory. [1]

When words are a call to arms, there is a price to pay, and not just in lost sales and disgruntled employees.[2] Hostility in the air has social costs.

It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the person who has learned to write with candor, clarity, and pleasure can be a healer of the planet. With more than four billion web pages at our fingertips, language is ubiquitous.[3] “Let peace begin with me” ceases to be an idealistic bit of fluff and becomes an inspiring possibility.

When I confront a human being as my Thou and speak the basic word I-Thou to him, then he is no thing among things nor does he consist of things. He is no longer He or She, a dot in the world grid of space and time, nor a condition to be experienced and described, a loose bundle of named qualities. Neighborless and seamless, he is Thou and fills the firmament. Not as if there were nothing but he; but everything else lives in his light. —Martin Buber 


For writers, the first habit to cultivate might well be curiosity, particularly when the question is “What can I do to serve you?” Do you know a better way to begin or invigorate a relationship than to hold in thought the question “How can I make your life better?”

Let’s set aside for now the distinctions among types of relationships—personal, social, familial, business, professional, and any others that are based on roles. The Golden Rule doesn’t stipulate status, age, or gender. It doesn’t counsel us to “do unto other English-speaking American males above the age of 10 as you would have other English-speaking American males above the age of 10 do unto you.”

And we are, after all, talking about habits, which are so much easier to form if the behavior always applies. I recently overheard a discussion about whether you should use your turn signal if you’re in a left-turn-only lane. I mean, really. It’s not exactly a hardship to press down on that little lever. Do you honestly want to have to decide whether or not to use the turn signal every time it might be helpful, based on the lane you’re in or, perhaps, the presence of pedestrians in the crosswalk?

Seek to serve. Cultivate the habit of helping all the time. It will magically improve your writing, even if you do nothing else.


In over forty years as a writer, editor, and instructor, I’ve worked with men and women in the public and private sectors; small, midsize, and large companies; federal agencies and public universities; and a score of industries and professions, from architecture and broadcasting to science and technology. I’m still not sure why many intelligent, articulate people—strong leaders who are brilliant in their fields—communicate so clumsily in writing. I have a few theories, however.

Each industry and profession has its peculiar jargon, some of which is necessary—it’s the language that colleagues and clients understand. But that doesn’t explain why media releases, annual reports, newsletters, and even advertisements are unfriendly and offputting, often in direct contrast to branding efforts meant to portray an organization as warm, caring, and trustworthy.

Smart people sometimes defend their poor writing by saying that they were too busy becoming experts in their particular disciplines to learn the discipline of writing. But if that were really the problem, these smart people would also be mute, rendered unable to speak by the same preoccupation.

Nonwriters naturally make mistakes in grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation—the mechanics of writing. That’s why God made editors. But when writing fails to communicate, the cause goes deeper. It might signify

  • lack of focus; disorganization. When writers aren’t sure what they mean to say, they lose sight of the document’s purpose and message. See Essential Number 2, Clarity.
  • lack of concern for the audience—readers or listeners—who, for one reason or another, are being deceived or misled. See Essential Number 3, Respect.

I can’t help the writer who has no message or whose motive in writing is something other than to serve (inform, inspire, comfort, or entertain) readers. Fortunately, about eighty percent of the time, the problem with poor writing is one I can solve:


Many uninspired writers believe that writing is fundamentally different from speaking. One of the most strikingly intelligent people I’ve had the pleasure to know—an architect with a warm manner and a ready wit—goes into an altered state when he has to write something. One minute we’re talking, the next minute we’re disintermediating, and it’s all downhill from there. Whatever the topic, it inevitably involves harnessing relevant data, addressing critical elements, strategizing broad-based solutions, and optimizing tailored interactions.

I’ve wondered if there’s a virus—maybe originating in Washington, D. C.—carried by a mosquito that flies around offices looking for people who are about to write something. Maybe these people release an enzyme that makes the mosquito think “Dessert!” The virus’s telltale symptom is a writing style that you’d expect from someone who was raised by a pack of patent attorneys. No one, as far as I know, has died from this virus. In any case, I’ve developed a remarkably effective cure, which I’ll administer throughout this handbook. Meanwhile…


If you want to start writing better right now, take these simple steps:

  1. Decide how you want to serve your audience.
  2. Decide what you want to say. You can make an outline if you want, although it might actually be a delay tactic that will sabotage your progress.
  3. Have fun writing your first draft. Play with the language. Use interesting words and colorful phrases. Do NOT edit as you go.[4] Just write what you want to say.
  4. Start reading the work of writers you admire. You don’t need to study it; just read a lot of it. Their style will rub off on you with no effort on your part.

Every person born into the world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique…. If there had been someone like her in the world, there would have been no need for her to be born. —Martin Buber as quoted in Narrative Means for Sober Ends, by Jon Diamond, p.78


Martin Buber 1878-1965

Martin Buber (1878-1965) was a prominent twentieth-century philosopher, religious thinker, political activist and educator. Born in Austria, he spent most of his life in Germany and Israel, writing in German and Hebrew. He is best known for his 1923 book, Ich und Du (I and Thou), which distinguishes between Thou and I modes of existence…. Buber characterizes Thou relations as dialogical and I relations as monological. In his 1929 essay “Dialogue,” Buber explains that monologue is not just a turning away from the other but also a turning back on oneself…. To perceive the other as an it is to take them as a classified and hence predictable and manipulable object that exists only as a part of one’s own experiences. In contrast, in an I  relation both participants exist as polarities of relation, whose center lies in the between. —Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[1]      “In an atmosphere of suspicion… we may … become unduly cautious in our communication.” J. William Pfeiffer, Conditions That Hinder Effective Communication, 1998;, accessed July 28, 2012

[2]      Studies consistently show that “human happiness has large and positive… effects on productivity. Positive emotions appear to invigorate human beings.”


[4]      It’s said that writing and editing are antagonistic processes using different parts of the brain. Whether or not that’s true, stopping to analyze your output interrupts the creative flow. Write now, edit later.


Click HERE for the Wall Street Journal’s Business Buzzword Generator

P.S. What’s So Bad About Buzzwords?

Call it jargon, corporate-speak, academese, buzzword blitz—by any name, it’s lazy at the very least… it’s usually discourteous… and, at worst, it’s verbal bullying.

Why Using Jargon Is Bad for Your Brand
Why Jargon Can Be Bad for Business
Bad Business Jargon: It Is What It Is
Keep It Jargon-Free


Truth in Advertising?

Find sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

Vintage Knitting Ad

I'll have what she's having

The Risk-Free Trial? Guilty

Vintage Garden

Vintage Garden, by Xx_rebeldiamonds_xX

Last summer I bit on a “risk-free trial” for an açaí-berry formula and a colon-cleanse detox product, both in capsule form. I was aware of the risks of a “risk-free trial.” The strategy is similar to that used by publishers such as Bottom Line Books and Rodale Books, which let you “examine a book free for thirty days,” during which you could doubtless read the book and send it back, keeping the bonus gift, usually a small but useful guide to Growing Healing Herbs in a Sunny Window, or perhaps Homemade Garden-Pest Repellents.

(At least I suppose that reading a book doesn’t violate the rules for examining it. Or are you just supposed to check the binding, count the pages to make sure they’re all there, and verify that the book is printed on recycled paper and that no animals were harmed in the research, writing, printing, or distribution?)

I lost 12 pounds

In any event, I was quick to read the fine print on my “risk-free trial” of açaí-berry formula and colon-cleanse detox product. I needed to return the bottles containing the “unused product” to an address in Florida within ten days of my receiving them, which the company estimated at three days after shipping. Otherwise, my credit card would be charged $89.95 per month until cancellation.

Usually, it’s a miracle if my mail gets opened within ten days of receipt, but the phrase risk-free trial sets off warning bells. So… an unprecedented TWO days after receiving the product, I extracted my ten-day supply from each bottle and sent the remainder via USPS Priority Mail to the Florida address. Even so, my credit card was charged $89.95.

Astonishingly, the charge was removed without my having to make so much as a phone call. I’ve heard from other victims, however, that such charges can be very sticky.

You are actually at risk the minute you divulge your credit-card information, which is required for the “minimal shipping charge” of $1.95 or whatever.  If you must take the risk-free-trial risk, consider using a temporary (prepaid) credit card and keep the balance very low or cancel it altogether. Or not. Consult your legal professional.

By the way (and DO consult your healthcare professional before trying this regimen), I lost 12 pounds in two months on the colon-cleanse detox capsules.

Next: Truth in Advertising, Your Just Deserts — “Get the Smooth, Flawless, Young-Looking Skin You Deserve”

Below: I thought there was missing text, but it’s just Silly Syntax

From an Arizona Department of Health Services Report…

Neurological Effects [of exposure to hydrogen sulfide in sewer gas]:
Ataxia, choreoathetosis, dystonia, inability to stand in one 20-month-old child

Holiday Store ** Random Cards of Kindness

Sidebar: Face of America?

Vitriol in Print

Senator John McCain

Senator John McCain

I searched the Internet for metaphorical characterizations of presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama and got my eyes scorched (metaphorically, of course). What ever happened to, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? That was Every Mother’s chastisement, at least back in the 1950s. My own dear mom, were she alive, would primly disapprove of the (metaphorical) vitriol being (metaphorically) hurled at these two remarkable public servants.

I Googled “John McCain is a” and “Barack Obama is a” to see how the candidates are being represented metaphorically. Of course, I had to wade through a lot of nonsense and nonmetaphorical predicate nominatives: John McCain is a socialist, Barack Obama is a socialist, Barack Obama is an elitist, Barack Obama is a Muslim, John McCain is an old fart, John McCain is a coward, and so forth.

Hardly anyone had anything nice to say.

But when we go to our polling places next Tuesday, we will not be voting for a metaphor. We will be voting for a flesh-and-blood human being who might (metaphorically) be the face of America for the next four years. (Three different precincts vote in the church in which I live. Do you think any of these precincts is my precinct? No-o-o-o-o! I have to walk six blocks to Dewey Park!)

Senator Barack Obama

Senator Barack Obama

The literal meaning of maverick, by the way, is “an unbranded range animal (especially a stray calf).” The term originated in 1867, referring to a “‘calf or yearling found without an owner’s brand,’ in allusion to Samuel A. Maverick (1803-70), Texas cattle owner who was negligent in branding his calves. Sense of ‘individualist, unconventional person’ is first recorded 1886, via notion of ‘masterless.'” —Online Etymology Dictionary

Here’s a sample of my search results (If many of these metaphors were on the mark, I would write in the name of my son-in-law, Paul, as I usually do when there’s no one on the ballot who deserves my vote, as was the case in 2004):

  • John McCain is a maverick
  • John McCain is a corporation’s worst nightmare
  • John McCain is a pirate
  • John McCain is a monster
  • John McCain is a superman
  • John McCain is a Walking Senior Moment
  • John McCain is America
  • Barack Obama is a Mac (and Hillary Clinton is a PC)
  • Barack Obama is a flake
  • Barack Obama is a terrorist’s best friend
  • Barack Obama is a blessing to the USA
  • Barack Obama is a popular Mii
  • Barack Obama is a work of art
  • Barack Obama is a disaster


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In Business, ‘Branding’ Is a Way of Life

A company’s brand is the perception — both within and outside the company — of what it stands for. ‘A business doesn’t just HAVE a brand; a business IS its brand’

A company I’ll call Max Accounting Services began as a two-person certified public accounting firm thirty-five years ago. Max E. Mumm, CPA, was a top-notch accountant and financial consultant. He was also a genuinely friendly fellow who won clients effortlessly through referrals and community contacts.


Max chose his community-service activities not according to their client potential, however, but according to his interests and principles. He was passionate about the importance of sports in children’s lives, for example. Thus he not only coached his own kids’ soccer teams but also organized new teams in areas of the city that weren’t being served.


Everyone in town knew that the name “Max E. Mumm” was synonymous with integrity, generosity, good humor, and professional excellence.


Max’s assistant, Sunny Disposition, was every bit as highly regarded as Max was. She knew each client’s name and those of the client’s spouse and children. She was invariably kind and friendly, even when, rarely, a caller or visitor was rude or condescending. Her work, like Max’s, was above reproach.


When Max’s practice grew beyond his ability to handle every client, he took on a partner and hired support staff, renting adjacent offices as they became available. He refused to consider bringing anyone into the firm whose personal or professional standards were even slightly dubious. After five years, Max Accounting Services consisted of eighteen friendly, honest, capable people who were as pleasant to each other as they were to clients.


Suddenly, it seemed, the firm numbered thirty, then forty-five. The client base — once primarily individuals, families, and sole proprietors — had shifted, with a majority of the clients being businesses with ten to a hundred employees. As occurs with many such CPA firms, Max Accounting Services began offering management consulting as well as financial services. The firm’s reputation was such that new clients came knocking and existing clients signed on for the added consulting services. More CPAs and support staff were needed in a hurry –- so quickly, in fact, that Max couldn’t supervise all the hiring.


The four senior partners met and promptly agreed to rename the firm “Max Management Consulting.” What was harder to agree on was how to handle the growth. Should the firm move to a larger, posher location — or, perhaps, should it open a second office in a location more convenient to businesses while continuing to handle the smaller clients at the original site?


It was at this point — about ten years ago, when the firm was celebrating its twenty-fifth year in business — that Max began to suspect he had lost control of the company’s culture. His suspicion was confirmed when longtime employees whom he had hired personally began seeking him out for “a private moment,” complaining of Mr. Jones’s brusque manner or Ms. Smith’s habit of calling every female member of the support staff “Honey.” At the same time, a few formerly loyal clients defected to another firm, and growth seemed to stagnate while staff turnover accelerated.


When he heard Mr. Brown noisily berating the receptionist for being five minutes late one treacherously icy morning, Max knew the time had come to pull rank. Over the objections of all the partners except one, an eager beaver with an MBA, Max contracted with the firm Brand X to engage in a “branding process.”


Max was no fool. When Brand X had made its initial pitch, complete with an elaborate PowerPoint presentation studded with pie charts and organizational maps, Max saw straight through the jargon and its embellishments. He understood that branding was a fairly simple process but also one that demanded a great deal of legwork (for data collection), tedium (for data compilation), and creativity (to develop and present a simple, comprehensible report in complex, multisyllabic terms conveying, above all else, that Brand X had indeed earned its twenty-thousand-dollar fee).


The Brand X final report — 127 pages of text plus various supplemental multimedia eye candy — was based on interviews with current and former clients, employees, vendors, strategic partners, and members of the public. Through these interviews, expressed as nuggets of meaning wrapped in rhetoric, Max Management Consultants learned — just as Max had anticipated — that its most important competitive advantage was its reputation for square dealing, personal attention, and professional excellence. Brand X had also uncovered, as Max had known it would, a growing disenchantment within every group interviewed. Max Management Consultants no longer held sole possession of the “friendliest, frankest, most financially astute firm in the region” trophy.


Brand X’s crack design team (a guy named Tritt) had developed a friendly, frank, financially astute “graphic identity” with matching sample print ads –- copy provided by Brand X’s crack copywriting team, Jo Beth. At the final presentation, when the last slide had been oohed and aahed over and the Brand X people were packing up their projector, Max stood up and cleared his throat. The room grew quiet, and the Brand X people stood, respectfully if restlessly, waiting for Max to congratulate them on a fine job.


“Branding,” said Max in his straightforward way, “is more than a pretty logo and some slick ad copy. Branding is a way of life. If we are the friendliest, frankest, and most financially astute firm in the region, then we must be friendly, frank, and financially astute at all times, in every way. Those values need to be in our hearts, and in our bones. We must practice them not only with clients but also with each other, with our friends, our families, our felines. In this sense, everyone is our client.


“All it takes is for one of us, known to be associated with this firm, to be overheard in a rude exchange with her daughter at the mall. All it takes is for a witness to the rude exchange to whisper to his wife, ‘Doesn’t she work at Max Management Consultants, the friendliest firm in town? That didn’t sound very friendly to me.’


“All it takes is one person talking to two other people, each of whom talks to two other people, and so forth, before we are known for our hypocrisy rather than our high-mindedness. All it takes is for one disgruntled employee to tell his wife — who tells her best friend, who tells her office buddies — that there is internal animosity at this reputedly friendly firm.


“A business doesn’t just HAVE a brand,” Max concluded. “A business IS its brand.”


The last time I checked, Max Management Consultants was thriving. It had culled a few chronic manipulators from its staff. It began giving employees paid time off for community service. It encouraged a group of innovators to split off and form their own firm specializing in retail accounting and management. The two firms have a friendly, frank, and fruitful relationship. Every employee is a member of the Max Management Consultants unofficial fan club. Naysayers needn’t apply.