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Who among us hasn’t dashed off an email at the end of the day, and then cringed when the morning light reveals a word that sounds similar but has a different meaning? Most of the time, it’s a simple error.

But when precise English counts, for example, when you’re (not your) writing a proposal to a prospective (not perspective) client or your annual personnel (not personal) review, build in some extra time to pore (not pour or poor) over your writing and flush (not flesh) out incorrect words.

The following is a list of commonly confused words I’ve come across while editing my own or others’ work. I’ve included some memory aids.

Accept: Always a verb meaning “to receive.” Accept an award.
Except: Means “but for.” Think of exclude.

Addition: In math, you add two numbers. You would never ed.
Edition: An editor edits a new edition of the book.

Advice: Noun meaning “guidance” or an adjective, “advice column.” Advice and guidance both end in ce.
Advise: Always a verb. Advisers advise.

Affect: Almost always a verb meaning “to change.”
Effect: Almost always a noun meaning “result.”

Assure: To calm someone.
Ensure: To make sure.
Insure: To provide insurance.

Breath: A noun that rhymes with death.
Breathe: A verb that rhymes with seethe.

Cite: Verb meaning “to name.” The police cited him in the citation. ¬¬¬
Sight: Something seen or the sense. What a sight to see!
Site: A place, as in worksite or website.

Complement: A verb meaning to supplement and a noun meaning complete.
Compliment: That’s so nice.

Council: A noun for a group of people, like a tribal council.
Counsel: Usually a verb. A counselor counsels.

Desert: A dry place like a desert island. Both have one “s.”
Dessert: Super sweet.

Foreword: Comes before chapters in a book.
Forward: Onward!

Lay: Verb that takes an object. Now I lay the baby down to sleep.
Lie: Also a verb, no object required. I too lie down, my rest to keep.

Loose: Adjective describing how something fits or something that isn’t confined. A moose is loose.
Lose: Verb that rhymes with choose. If I lose weight, my clothes will be loose.

Moot: Debatable. Up in the air, like a hoot owl.
Mute: Speechless. Rhymes with flute. You can’t talk and play a flute.

Precede: Comes before. The firetruck precedes the parade.
Proceed: The parade moves forward.

Principal: Usually an adjective meaning the first or chief. Can be a noun, as in the school principal. Originally, the school principal was the principal teacher.
Principle: A rule. Both end in le.

Set: Takes an object. I set the book on the table.
Sit: I sit in the chair to read.

Than: Used when comparing. Easier said than done.
Then: Relates to time. Think “when.”

There: Not here.
They’re: Contraction for “they are.”
Their: Possessive, like his and her. They’re going to their house.

Wave: Wave goodbye.
Waive: Waive your rights.

Who’s: Contraction for “who is.” Who’s having a party?
Whose: Possessive, like his or hers. Whose party is it?

Your: Possessive of you. What was your score?
You’re: Contraction of “you are.” You’re the best. Really, you are!

Simply becoming aware of frequently muddled words will improve your writing. But I encourage you to develop your own mental tricks – words that rhyme, familiar sayings or lyrics, visual cues (the more farfetched the better) – to help you find the right (not rite) word every time.

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Selling your members or association partners on the value of content marketing can be a challenge, especially when they're stuck in a traditional marketing mindset. I hear from many members of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) (an AMPED association partner) that much of their business is word-of-mouth and repeat business. Some even tell me they aren’t currently looking for new business; they have all they can handle at the moment!

Even if you have plenty of new business now in your industry, take heed. Many B2B and B2C clients do research without consulting a salesperson.

This isn’t new or groundbreaking news. This shift has been happening for years, and it’s not relegated to this “new generation,” known as Millennials. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by CFE Media on buyer behavior, it’s generally difficult to pin this responsibility on Millennials, Generation X or Baby Boomers.

Content marketing is playing “the long game.” One won’t see immediate results, business, or leads. So why do it? Why spend time and resources to post content like case studies, social media and buyer’s guides like the CSIA’s Industrial Automation Exchange in addition to managing your website?

Frankly, if you play the long game of content marketing, you will win. You will get noticed. Your site traffic will increase and your brand will be associated with knowledge and expertise in the industry. But, you need to create and post content in different sources other than your corporate website.

You might be thinking, “Why on earth would I want my prospective customers on any place other than my own website?” Read on; I think you might be surprised on how people, (technical minded or not) make buying decisions.

In February 2015 CFE Media conducted a market research/scientific study titled “Identifying Content Needs along the Engineers’ Buyers Journey.”

Following are three of the questions asked in the survey pertaining to the value of content. For each question, I have also stated CFE Media’s interpretation of the data collected. I added an insight and takeaway from the data, plus why it’s important to the future revenue of your business.

Special note: While this survey was geared toward engineers, it should not be discounted as insight into B2C or less technical industries. In general, engineers are more methodical process driven and less emotional about purchasing decisions. In other words, the statistics reported her are generally a smaller “muted” representation of the general population. This is demonstrated in the first question below.

1. What percentage of your buy/specify evaluation process is complete when you typically contact a supplier/vendor?

On average, buyers are nearly 40% through their decision making process before connecting with a vendor directly (CFE Media.) View the data here, Slide 10.

CM 1

According to Google’s Zero Moment of Truth Study, buyers will consult more than 11 sources before they make a purchasing decision.

Did you know when researching new vendors or products for solutions in automation technology, clients build trust with your company without direct input from your staff?

While one could argue that clients aren’t always engineers, (the focus of the study) content marketing is a ubiquitous to every industry. Statistics will vary by industry, but the importance of creating and sharing content is still relevant. For instance, in the consumer market, buyers are as much as 90% through their decision making process before contacting a vendor (Google, 2012.)

Whatever the generation, profession or industry, people use online sources to make key decisions about purchases. Assuming you want your company a part of that decision, it’s imperative that your marketing strategy includes posting content in places where your prospects will find it. And the more places they see your brand, the more they see you are not a fly-by-night organization. One of the principles of successful marketing communications is repetition.

Key Insight: A corporate website should only be one part of the journey for a prospective client. The buying process is no longer linear, therefore a website is not the final destination. (Harvard Business Review, 2014.)

Key Takeaway: Don’t be afraid to show them around your marketing collateral hosted and linked elsewhere. Don’t be reluctant to post your marketing collateral on multiple sites. The marketing and sales funnel no longer look like this, instead the new marketing funnel looks like this.

2. In your opinion, how valuable are the following content sources when seeking information on the latest engineering technologies, industry trends, and products?

In other words, what do clients click on and read? What influences them to narrow down a field of players to three bidders?

“Sixty percent or more of respondents cited supplier/vendor websites, trade publications, trade publication websites, and industry association websites among the most valuable content sources when seeking the latest engineering technologies, industry trends, and products” (CFE Media, 2015.)

CM 2

Note that search engines were reported as the most valuable source, followed by supplier websites, trade publications, industry association websites, and newsletters. Social media appears “valuable” by “only” 20% of respondents.

Use caution in interpreting this data. Much of the aforementioned content is also shared on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. View the data here, Slide 9.

Key Insight: Buyers will use several different sources online and offline, digital and in print to research and learn about automation technology.

Key Takeaway: You must be seen in several different places to get noticed and earn their trust.

3. How valuable are the following types of content when researching the latest engineering technologies, industry trends, and products/services?

According to the study, “Seven in 10 respondents value product information, white papers, trade publication articles (print and online), and case studies when researching the latest engineering technologies, industry trends, and products or services. Additionally, two-thirds of respondents also value webcasts or webinars for the same purpose” (CFE Media.) View the data here, Slide 10.

CM 3

Pay close attention to the entry on the bottom of slide 10, “Value of content types.” Again, use caution in interpreting this data. Even though blogging has a relatively low ranking (21% of respondents found value as a content type) as a valued source of information, consider that most of the aforementioned datasheets, brochures, case studies and white papers are delivered via contextual links in blog articles or social media.

Key Insight: As your clients try to solve their automation issues, they will do Google searches, ask LinkedIn Groups for referrals, and consult industry knowledge in many forms. You won’t be able to pin one source as “the one” that convinced the customer your company is the right fit. That takes time and incremental marketing touches.

Key Takeaway: Your company must adopt a diverse approach to content marketing. While you should put content only where your customers are to avoid spreading your marketing team too thin, it should be found in several places to give credence and validity to your message.

As mentioned previously, marketing through content is a long haul, but it does pay off. You can’t ignore how buyers make important decisions. They will look for you on Google. And if you are diligent and pervasive, you will get noticed.

Your site traffic will increase and your brand will be associated with knowledge and expertise in the industry. You need to create and post content on different sources other than your corporate website.

What do you think? How does the data differ in other industries? Post links and references if you can.

Sources Consulted and Cited
2015 Marketing to Engineers Research Study, CFE Media
Marketing Can No Longer Rely on the Funnel, Harvard Business Review
The New Rules of Marketing and PR, David Meerman Scott
Three Flaws with the Funnel, Forrester Research, Pardot
Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith
Zero Moment of Truth 2012 Study, Google
Why Marketing Has Changed Forever, Digital Tonto

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I recently redesigned the monthly e-mail newsletter of one of our clients to be mobile-compatible, and am preparing to do so for another. Why? Well, according to email testing and analytics company Litmus, email open behavior has changed dramatically over the past four years. Between 2011 and 2014, the percentage of emails opened on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, increased from eight percent to about 50 percent. This represents 500% growth! That is a huge shift in behavior.

Managing email is one of the functions most commonly performed on mobile devices. When users encounter email that is not mobile friendly, they get frustrated and frequently delete it without reading, and may not even open future emails from you. This can kill your open and click-through rates, when what you really need is for your reader to open, read and find value in your email content. Optimizing email to facilitate an enjoyable and engaging experience on mobile devices has become crucial.

Here are six tips to keep in mind when designing email for mobile:

Provide a sneak-peek
Pre-header text provides a preview of the first few words of the email either behind or below the subject line that is visible on most mobile devices without opening the email. This allows the recipient to scan his emails and helps in deciding whether or not to open them. Intriguing pre-header text can spark higher open rates.

One size should fit all
Use a responsive or flexible design. Responsive means that the content automatically adjusts to fill the screen space available, be it a mobile device or a desktop unit. This is easily done by using a responsive or mobile-friendly template provided by third-party email services.

Eliminate scrolling around
Use a narrow (480 pixels), single column design. Multiple columns can be difficult to read for mobile users, especially if they have to scroll around to view all the information. Make sure you use a font size that is large enough that your reader doesn’t have to zoom in by pinching in and spread out in order to read your content.

Cater to goldfish (hint: they have short attention spans)
A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information showed that people have an attention span of 8 seconds, which is 1 second less than that of a goldfish. Keep your content short, relevant and easy to follow. Use headings and bullets to break up large blocks of text. Readers “on the go” will be more likely to read content that’s brief and can be absorbed at a glance.

Let fingers do the walking
Make sure any buttons and links are easy to tap on a mobile touch screen. Make sure they are large enough, and don’t place links too close to each other. Keep in mind that users often hold their devise in one hand, with the thumb doing all the navigation. If you use a menu bar, keep the number of navigational links to a minimum.

Make it worth a thousand words
Images can be great for adding visual interest. But using too many or using large images can exasperate users with lengthy download times. Also, many mobile devices have automatic display of images turned off by default, leaving blank areas in the message. Use ALT text for any image you do use to provide context when images are blocked.

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In the spring 2015 issue of VantagePoint, the magazine of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives, Mike Ruzicka laid a great foundation for why and how associations should make video part of their communications strategy.

Ruzicka stated that one can use a smartphone or a tablet to shoot the video. I see this statement a lot and it got me thinking, “Can one make a decent video with a smartphone or tablet, GoPro-type camera or camcorder?”


Current technology has made it easy for anyone to shoot and edit HD video. This is no slight to professional video companies. If you need to make a corporate/organization image video, spend the money — it’s worth it. However, you don't need to go to a studio every time you want to communicate with your audience.

What do you need to make a decent video? Note that I said “decent.” Professionalism is up to many variables like environment, lighting and ambient noise. Typically the problem isn’t the equipment you are using.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to make an engaging message for your organization. For a modest purchase of $30 and awareness of the following “Four Key Elements to Better Videos,” you will drastically improve the quality of your videos. I will also share some moderately priced investments that will improve them further.

1. Good audio makes for a good video
2. Environment and lighting
3. Equipment
4. Look at the lens

Good audio makes for a good video
Have you ever watched a video but could barely hear the person speak?
• The video was shot on a busy tradeshow floor or a noisy/windy spot outside
• The speaker was too far away from the camera
• The speaker sounds like he is speaking in an empty warehouse

“Wait, the most important thing for making a good video is ... audio?” Yes. Your audience might forgive dim, harsh or otherwise “bad” lighting, but they won't forgive bad audio. I’ll prove it: Many people multitask while “watching” TV or a webinar.

Avoid using the device’s built-in microphone. These microphones are made to pick up everything around you: wind, a nearby loud-cell-phone-talker; everything. If you must use the built-in microphone, get close to the microphone and camera.

Improve your audio by being aware of the environment in which you are recording. Try to use a small office with “stuff” in it. A furnished room with chairs, couches, paintings, etc. will help your video sound less “echo-y.” Avoid large and sparsely decorated conference rooms.

You don’t need expensive lighting to make a decent video. Use natural light when you can. You can even use desk lamps and reflect off of some foamcore or white tag board. Try to avoid harsh lighting and shadows on your face.

If budget allows, you can get a light kit for $150.00 and you look like you are in a studio!

Here’s a video with some great information about “making do” with what you have. The video was made a few years ago so it’s a bit dated on the equipment suggestions, but relevant on environment, lighting and sound. (Skip to 1:50)

If you are using a smartphone or tablet, you can buy a plug-in lapel/lavalier microphone for about $30. An external microphone will help overcome echo and environmental noise you can’t control.

If you have the budget, you can get an HD camera with a microphone jack. Here you can use a wireless or plug-in microphone. There are all kinds of YouTube videos and blog articles on what kind of microphone you should use depending on the application. For sit-down or “roving reporter”-style interviews, you could use a shotgun or lapel mike. A good set up for the camera and microphone will set you back $800-$1,000.

If you are on a shoestring budget, you can use your earbuds’ built-in microphone. Hint: run the cord under your shirt to your first or second button. Frame the shot of your head and shoulders. Note that you’ll be limited on how far you can be away from the camera.

Look at the camera
We’ve all seen it. The eyes dart down, or stare just below the camera. The notes of the speaker are taped to the tripod or perhaps on an iPad just below the camera. It doesn’t look professional to read your notes.

If you are well-practiced at extemporaneous speech, or use a teleprompter, looking into the camera will be much easier. Pick three big points to make instead of covering a lot of detail. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Anyone can build an inexpensive teleprompter. A teleprompter will allow you to read (as long as you don’t sound like you are reading) your notes and look directly into the lens.

I made one out of foamcore, free scrap wood from a big box hardware store, a shadow box frame, and some black felt, all for about $10! If budget allows, you can buy one for $100-$200 (and much more) online.

Control what you can and “make do” with what you have
Being aware of the elements of a good video will help you improve your messaging and communications, instead of introducing distractions from it. Using a few tips here will encourage your audience to watch…and listen to your entire video and come away with the message you are trying to impart.

Video is an important part of marketing and communication. I am a bit of a DIY pragmatist. Do a bit more research on YouTube and Google to improve your skills, and use what you have to “make do.” However even a small budget will allow you to actually have an inexpensive “studio” with the elements and components shared here for about $1,000-1,200.

More resources:
10 Tricks to Make Amateur Video Look Professional (Skip to 2:47)
How-to: $35 DIY Teleprompter for LCD or iPad
Microphones & Audio Syncing Tutorial (Skip to 1:47)
Improving Video for Web Presentations (Skip to 1:50)

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With all the new platforms emerging as the latest and greatest new marketing channel, email strikes many as old-fashioned. Other digital venues such as social media and mobile marketing may be stealing the spotlight, but email continues to grow, as well.

One reason email is so effective is because it provides a more personal connection than other digital strategies. It takes the conversation about your association out of the public domain, off your website or social media channels, for example, and into a very personal space — the in-box.

According to Jason Hirschhorn, chief executive of the digital curator ReDef, email is a "great place to get in front of people who are interested in what you have to say. Email is a 40-year-old technology that is not going away for very good reasons — it’s the cockroach of the Internet.”

News on the web or delivered via social media channels can too easily get buried in news feeds and lost in continual scrolling. A message delivered via email remains in the in-box until some action is taken. We hope that action is to open eagerly and read the content with interest, clicking links to our website for further information and even sharing information contained in the message with friends and colleagues. Unfortunately, this is not always what happens.

Associations send regular newsletters as a benefit of membership, to keep members informed of association activity that may be of interest to them, as well as provide supplementary news and context that is relevant to them.

Members already have a natural connection to and interest in an association’s newsletter content. However, everyone’s inbox is overflowing. So, how do you set your message above the others to ensure it gets read?

Write effective subject lines so recipients open your messages. Many email services recommend against subject lines such as “Monthly Newsletter.” They suggest using this space to tease your top news. However, if readers know that your newsletter contains lots of relevant information that is of interest to them, that monthly newsletter may catch their eye right away.
Also, research shows that shorter subject lines, of fewer than 30-35 characters, result in higher open rates. Try different approaches and track your results to see what works best with your readers.

Write effective and creative headlines and subheadings. Your newsletter should be easy to navigate at a glance. Cater to skimmers (like me).

Consider how your message looks with images disabled. Because most people read email either on a device or by viewing it in their email’s preview screen, they won’t have images enabled. Design your newsletter to look professional even with blank boxes inserted where images should be. Images should not occupy overly large areas, especially near the top, and text should wrap neatly around those graphics.

All your images should also include “alt text,” which is the alternative text that appears when images aren’t loaded in an email. This can be done easily when using an email newsletter service such as Constant Contact.

Please also note that because use of email preview screens allows readers to read and review email without actually opening it, your readership may actually be quite a bit higher than your stated open rate.

Test. Your last step before publishing your newsletter should always be to send it to yourself as a test. Make sure it renders correctly, and check all links.

As with your friendly neighborhood cockroach, which has survived millions of years, through ice ages and nuclear war, email has demonstrated its staying power. Use the newer social marketing channels in conjunction with email, and the two can complement and strengthen each other. Encourage your readers to share your content by including social sharing buttons for key articles within your newsletter. And, including social follow buttons in your newsletter allows readers to easily follow you on those channels. Experiment to find a strong balance, and don’t give up your association’s monthly e-newsletter just yet.


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