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Here's a great brand social responsibility example for you.

I've been watching body-positive marketing since a presentation by the Dove team a few years ago. It's of interest to me for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that while I'm as tall as most models, I'm for sure not as slender as they are.

That's why I started following Icon Undies on Instagram, which sells "pee-proof" underwear for ladies who leak. Yup. They don't sugarcoat the reasons their customers buy their gear. The brand's Instagram is an unapologetic feed full of real people in real Icon undies interspersed with tips and other stuff -- all of which goes back to the brand. But it's more than smart marketing. It's creating a space where women with leaky bladders can speak frankly, be treated with respect and find elegant solutions to a challenging social and medical problem.

This week, Icon is promoting World Continence Week, an initiative that started 10 years ago led by The Simon Foundation, the World Federation of Incontinence Patients (WFIP) and others. Icon announced its participation across its online, social and email channels on Sunday night.

Graphic supporting the #threeinthree campaign

7 Reasons Icon Undies' #threeinthree Campaign Works

Here's what I like about this corporate social responsibility campaign:

  1. It's a real deal. This isn't a frivolous made-up observance or a one-off thought-leadership push. World Continence Week began way before the brand existed, and is now in its 10th year. Pelvic floor issues are a major health problem for about one-third of U.S. women of all ages and activity levels. At a time when women's health is being debated in state houses and Congress, it's a highly relevant topic.
  2. It's simple and unifying. The premise is clear and encourages us all to be involved: "1 in 3 women may experience bladder leaks, but 3 in 3 people have the power to change the conversation around women’s bodies. #threeinthree". The "not just (y)ours" message emphasizes that this is a problem we can all work to address.
  3. It's manageable. They're not asking fans to do too much. The campaign activates advocates across channels and offers a downloadable kit that includes a  one-sheet explaining the campaign, sample social posts to inspire your own, and photos and a quote suitable for posting. The images are tasteful -- not graphic or silly -- so you're more likely to share them.All this makes it pretty simple to get the hashtag and @'s rolling.
  4. It sells in context. Icon created threeinthree.com, a microsite sharing facts (did you know that "On average, it takes a woman seven years to discuss pelvic floor health with their doctor"?) alongside pictures of women wearing their products.  The shop now button is present, of course, but it feels like an opportunity rather than a sell.
  5. It's got a clear call to action. It's not just about selling underwear. The campaign includes a clear ask: "vocally support women who leak" and demand more resources and visibility around pelvic floor health.
  6. It creates all the feels. Sure, not everyone's going to publicly participate in the campaign, but either way, Icon wins. Those who do participate spread the word and feel good about advocating for something that impact their lives. Those who don't realize they have an advocate in Icon. The campaign positions Icon as not only a brand who understands and solves a big problem, but who cares about it beyond just moving merch. Those feelings instill serious loyalty.
  7. It builds the brand. On top of encouraging women to talk about leaks and promoting women's health, the  increased exposure for Icon Undies will doubtless result in more fans and more sales. And there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, it's what makes this campaign a win-win.

If you're planning an advocacy or awareness campaign as part of your corporate social responsibility strategy or marketing plan, look closely at this one for inspiration and ideas.

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Keep It Short

How to write better short-form articles

One of the pervasive challenges our clients face is producing high-quality short content quickly. We know short-form articles and posts are critical at various stages in the customer journey and helps with discovery. But they can be a drag on your content team, especially brand journalists.

What is short-form content? For the purposes of this article, we're talking articles under 500 words. So not microcontent.

Two big challenges of short-form content marketing

There are two big issues with producing sub-500-word content:

  1. We have to do the same amount of backgrounding as for a longer piece
  2. It can be hard to feel like we're providing anything relevant when operating at such a surface level.

How to produce excellent short-form content faster

The best solution we've found for that is to engage internal experts to do the heavy lifting. We talk to sales, customer service and other front-line folks to tell us what questions and objections customers and prospects have about the topic. This gives us a set of must-address items.

Next, we develop a few other questions to add context or tap into trends, etc., and send the whole list to an internal SME to provide answers and insights in writing on in a quick conversation.

The SME's answers come back to the professional writers to craft into a piece that hits the key points with concision.

The entire process can be done within a matter of hours. We expedite the process by explaining the process to all involved, including why it's important for us to do this kind of content and how timely responses help us drive results. We set a standard expectation for response times (for them and for us), and promise to limit truly rapid response requests (like "within the hour").

A better process yields more than better content

We've instituted this process for several clients and see five big wins:

  1. Higher quality short-form content that better meets audience and business needs
  2. Shorter production and approval times
  3. Better use of each person's time, so everyone feels useful and satisfied
  4. Dramatic reduction in brand journalists feeling like they're wasting time or leaving most of the story in their notes
  5. Easier exploration of topics that may be high-interest to the audience so content specialists can do deeper research for longer form content.

Give it a try in your shop and see for yourself!

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I'm noticing a disappointing trend toward sloppy personalization of fundraising appeals I'm getting lately. Just in the last month, I've gotten three from organizations I'm close to:

  1. The first, from my husband's alma mater, listed us a Margot & Steve Lester. I'm the Lester. He's Peha.
  2. Another, from my alma mater, lopped off my last name entirely.
  3. The last, from an organization on whose board I recently served, had my name in the wrong order and neglected to include a personal note on the form letter.

image of a fundraising letter on The Word Factory blog

Personalization & Automation Can Let You Down

Don't get me wrong. I love automation and I, myself, have used form mailings. But they can do you wrong if you're not paying attention.

  1. The first letter had to be a data entry error because we know he's in the system as an alum and donor.
  2. The second was clearly a merge error.
  3. And the last one? The name glitch was, again, a data entry error. I know they use a very lite donor management system (and even calling it that is a stretch), so they can't easily tag subcategories. So I reckon nobody bothered to go through the list (it's only a couple hundred people) to find previous board members and others close to the organization.

Why Automation & Personalization Miscues Impact Fundraising

Perhaps you think I'm being to harsh. After all, I didn't *not* give because of these errors. But that's because I'm close to the people who will actually use the money I give. Had these miscues been from an organization I wasn't closely tied to, it absolutely would have impacted my decision-making.


Because if you can't pay attention to details like getting our names right, or acknowledging our existing relationships with your organization, you erodes our trust in you to pay attention to other important details. Like financial stewardship, program integrity, etc.

How to Lower the Risk of Personalization Errors

The take-aways here:

  1. Check, check and check again when you're using automated personalization for fundraising or marketing.
  2. Make sure your data entry team is double-checking that it's got the right names in the right order.
  3. Invest the extra time to identify and appropriately tag VIPs so you can add a personal note or send an entirely different letter.

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Words have always mattered, of course, but right now the idea is having a moment, complete with its own hashtag. In the wake of allegations of workplace harassment by celebrities (most recently Jeffrey Tambor), words spoken to and about women are in the spotlight.

I've written frequently about word choice and why it's a crucial skill for everyone -- whether you're a professional communicator or an impassioned advocate. But even I hadn't thought about word choice in terms of performance reviews until I read this article in HBR. Its main finding:

An HBR chart showing the words managers use in performance reviews, illustrating a post on The Word Factory blog

How word choice skews performance reviews

So? The words we use in employee evaluations and performance reviews can have a big impact on advancement and retention, the authors write:

Both "analytical” and “compassionate” reflect positively on the individual being evaluated. However, could one characterization be more valuable from an organizational standpoint? The term analytical is task-oriented, speaking to an individual’s ability to reason, to interpret, to strategize, and lending support to the objectives or mission of the business. Compassion is relationship-oriented, contributing to a positive work environment and culture, but perhaps of less value to accomplishing the work at hand. When considering who to hire, who to promote, or who to compensate, which person— with which attribute—takes the prize?

Likewise, who is retained and who is fired? An arrogant employee may have a character flaw–and a negative impact on his work environment—but may still be able to accomplish the task or job. An inept person, in contrast, is clearly not qualified and presumably on her way out.

So what can you do?

1. Write more accurate performance reviews by avoiding stereotypes.

Think carefully about the words you use to describe your employees to make sure you're using accurate language that's free of bias. Then make sure you're rewarding employees who exhibit the traits you value most. Again, from the article:

One of the things that’s ironic about our findings is that many of the leadership traits that people say they most appreciate, want in a leader, or make a successful leader are the positive traits — such as compassion — that women leaders receive in their performance evaluations. So why isn’t this translating into more women in these roles? It’s one thing to describe an ideal leader, it’s another to describe a real person’s performance without being influenced by stereotypes about their gender, or stereotypes about what a leader should be.

2. Train managers to choose bias-free words in the perfomance reviews they do.

Share the HBR article with your HR team and offer to work with them to create a workshop for managers on how to be more mindful of word choice in employee evaluations. Changing this habit requires more than a memo. We need to unlearn these often unconscious decisions about language, which means we need a deeper understanding of the issue (HR's contribution to the workshop) and easy to implement tactics for more accurate word choice (your part as the professional writer/communicator). HR also needs commit to challenging potentially stereotyped word choice in reviews so managers have an opportunity to correct it, and to ensure that employees whose reviews acknowledge that they exhibit desired traits are rewarded and advanced.

Word choice doesn't just matter in a traditional communications or content marketing sense. It's crucial for the writing we do inside our organization.

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It's National Memo Day!

I know. Who wants to celebrate the memo? We probably don't even need most of the ones we get, and the ones we do need are often poorly written so even they are pretty much a waste of time.

But we can do better. Beyond not writing a memo when we don't really need one, we can write better ones. And it's not even a heavy lift.

A nifty picture of the Content-Purpose-Audience Strategy

Click image for larger view.

How to write an effective memo

Think before you write. This is the key to writing better memos. We do this by breaking the memo into key parts, using the Content-Purpose-Audience Strategy™.


What do I want the recipient/s to think/feel or do after they read this? If you can't answer this, do not send the memo.

Main Idea

What's the one more important big idea or take-away I want to convey? This is the top-level concept, not the details about it. Again, if you can't boil it down to one thing, you may need to revisit your idea.


Who are the people who most need to get this memo? Usually, it's fewer people than we initially think. Taking a second to consider this carefully can also help us uncover someone we overlooked at first blush. This also helps us determine the correct voice or tone for the memo.

Questions, Concerns & Objections

What's the pushback recipients are likely to give you? Make a bullet list of potential yeah-buts, questions, etc. Thinking about this stuff ahead of time helps us decide what details are important for the reader, or what background material to attach, link to or otherwise reference. Do this fast.

Key Details

What are the data points, explanations or examples that best support your main idea and address those audience questions, concerns and objections? Make another bullet list of these items. Cogitating on this for a few minutes helps us keep our memos short and to the point, unencumbered by unnecessary information. This also helps us communicate more effectively and with more impact. Too much information dilutes our message. Just enough distills it so it's more potent and easier to consume and comprehend. Learn more about the three kinds of valuable details.

This is about a 5-minute exercise, 10 if you need to do some rethinking. Investing those precious minutes up front will win you back a lot when you're actually writing, so this isn't a big drag on your productivity.

Pro Tip

I strongly suggest prewriting on paper. Why? Two reasons:

  1. Writing by hand slows down our brains just enough so we think more carefully and thoroughly
  2. Putting pen to paper pretty much guarantees we we'll keep it short, which makes the process fast and keeps us from overwriting when we're supposed to be thinking.

You can draw your own or print out our Content-Purpose-Audience Strategy worksheet.

Now you're ready to draft!

Once you've got all the thinking down, start drafting. Again, go fast. The goal is to create sentences, not win an award. Right now all you want to do is get the ideas onto the screen quickly so you can tune them up. Here's how we do it:

  1. Write your main idea as a sentence (just one!)
  2. Turn your key details into sentences. Strive for one each.
  3. Use the information for purpose to create a call to action.
  4. Read it over.
  5. If this is sufficient, start revising to make those sentences better, make sure the voice is right, and make sure the organization creates a logical flow. (For instance, maybe you need to begin with the call to action.) Read again. Make edits for spelling, punctuation, usage and grammar.
  6. If it's not, start adding a few more details here and there. For example, maybe each detail needs to be a multi-sentence paragraph.
  7. Read it over.
  8. If this is sufficient, start revising to make those sentences better, make sure the voice is right, and make sure the organization creates a logical flow. Read again. Make edits for spelling, punctuation, usage and grammar. Get more insights on how to revise.

Pro Tip

Attempt to produce your draft in 5 minutes. Remember, this is just to get your ideas on the screen, not to produce a perfect final memo. Add in 2- or 3-minute increments. This is helpful because time constraints that we control force us to focus so we think and work more efficiently and effectively. It also frees up more time for us to spend on revision, which is really where all the magic happens.

Following this process makes it faster and easier to write a memo that conveys valuable information without taking too much time. Give it a try!

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