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Archive for October, 2006

What Works Best in E-Mail Marketing: Text or HTML?

October 25th, 2006 by Bob Bly

Is HTML e-mail on its way out?

Michael Della Penna, chief marketing officer of Epsilon Interactive, seems to think we may be headed that way.

In an interview with Direct magazine (10/15/06, p. 9), Penna said that retailers who still use all-HTML e-mail are in for a “horrendous” online holiday shopping season.

He cites a study by his firm showing that for 65% of Internet users, images are suppressed in the e-mail they receive, and so they can’t see the graphics.

As a marketer, what works best for you — text or HTML e-mails?

As a consumer, which would you rather receive … and why?


Category: General, Online Marketing | 71 Comments »

What Writing Style is Best?

October 18th, 2006 by Bob Bly

A few months ago, I was teaching a class in business writing to a group of managers and engineers at a large manufacturing company.

I was talking about how good business writing is conversational, and how you should avoid jargon, overly formal language, corporate-speak, and the like.

This angered a gray-haired fellow who I judged to be in his 60s.

“I was taught to write in a proper, formal style, and that’s how I’m going to keep on writing,” he said.

“But modern writing is conversational,” I replied.

“Oh, yeah?” he challenged me. “Prove it!”

What would you have done in this situation if you were the instructor?

I mean, I’ve been a professional writer for a quarter of a century, with hundreds of published articles and 70 published books.

But actually PROVE to a skeptic that good writing is conversational writing?


Let me ask you….

Do you agree with me that good writing is conversational writing?

And if so, what proof is there that conversational writing is more effective than the old-school stiff, stilted, formal business writing that was popular half a century ago?


Category: General, Writing | 152 Comments »

Will Toyota’s Honesty Be Rewarded?

October 15th, 2006 by Bob Bly

For several years, car manufacturers have been proactively marketing sales of used vehicles with ads touting “certified pre-owned vehicles.”

These are used cars that have been thoroughly inspected and come with a warranty equivalent (or close to it) to that of a new car.

I heard a radio commercial today for Toyota, who has jumped into this market.

But instead of calling their used car a “pre-owned vehicle” … they call it a “used car”!

Now I admire plain-speaking people and honest, forthright language … and “used car” fits that bill better than “pre-owned vehicle.”

On the other hand, there’s a reason Mont Blanc sells “writing instruments” — and the reason is, no one wants to pay $100 for a “pen.”

So what do you think?

Will Toyota’s honesty be rewarded by consumers with more sales?

Or are they shooting themselves in the foot by not advertising “pre-owned vehicles”?


Category: General | 57 Comments »

Are You in Danger of Becoming Obsolete at Work?

October 12th, 2006 by Bob Bly

Two key factors can threaten your future job security:

1. Your job can be outsourced to India (e.g., programming, call centers).

2. Your job can be done by a computer or other machine.

Journalism hasn’t made a top 10 list of “hot careers” for years.

And now reason #2 above puts journalists in even greater danger of becoming obsolete.

My friend and fellow copywriter TNT sent me an article reporting That Thomson Financial, a large publisher, is using automatic computer programs instead of human journalists to write news stories.

The robot reporter can process the market data in fianncial reports and file a round-up article, written in plain English sentences, in 0.3 seconds.

In the good old days, it took me 10 times longer — 3 seconds — just to take the cover off my trusty IBM Selectric!

No human reporter can write a financial article as quickly as the robot.

But can we do it better?

One person quoted in the article says yes, pointing out that a computer can’t pick up the nuances and interpret the financial data as well as a skilled financial writer can.

But does that mean financial journalists can give a big sigh of relief and assume their jobs are safe forever?

Or is it merely a matter of time before programmers improve software to the point that writers are obsolete?

Think it can’t happen?

Ask Garry Kasparov some time about how much money he’d make winning chess tournaments if IBM’s Big Blue were allowed to compete for money.


Category: General | 70 Comments »

NetZero Bad at Math

October 9th, 2006 by Bob Bly

For a company with a number in its name, NetZero is sure bad at math.

A recent TV commercial proclaims that switching from AOL to NetZero will save you “almost $200.”

The commercial explains that NetZero costs $9.95 a month — “half of what AOL charges.”

That means NetZero saves me about ten bucks a month, or $120 a year.

Now, on what planet is $120 “almost two hundred dollars”?

NetZero should have said they’d save you “more than a hundred dollars.”

But I’d only say “close to two hundred dollars” if the savings were $190 to $199.99.

Does it matter?

Yes. I felt NetZero was lying to me in their commercial.

If a company lies in its commercial, how much are you really going to trust them with something important, like your Internet access?


Category: General | 60 Comments »


October 5th, 2006 by Bob Bly

Today I retired from writing books.

After 24 years and 70 books, I am — after I complete my current book — done.

Book publishing was a lousy business when I got into it in 1982 …. and it’s gone steadily downhill ever since.

One reason is the sharp decline in book readership — and the reduction in importance of books to society.

This has been brought on, of course, by the Internet.

Another reason is the publishing world’s new obsession with “platform” — an author having a ready audience to ensure sales of his work.

Now publishers don’t buy a book from the author who can write the best book.

They buy it from the author who has the best Web site on the book topic … the largest e-newsletter subscriber list … and the busiest speaking schedule.

The third reason publishing is in ruins is that there are way too many books published.

The shelves are too crowded, and it’s harder for worthy titles to stand out.

Advanced for midlist and backlist authors, meanwhile, have declined to a new level of poverty.

And publishers are having authors turn out formula books like machines.

A major publisher recently asked me to write a complex 120,000-word book — in 3 months — and for a lousy $10,000!

I used to love the book industry, despite all its flaws.

Now I can’t walk into a Barnes & Noble without becoming overwhelmingly depressed.

I still love to READ books … and I worry that this too may cease being a pleasure for me.

I definitely need a hobby, now that I will no longer be writing my two or three books a year.

Any suggestions?


Category: General | 195 Comments »