It’s Been 7 Hours And 15 Days


It’s been 7 hours and 15 days since he went away. Prince died 15 days ago and we are still in mourning for one of popular music’s greats.

His music is so soulful and so visceral that it’s easy to overlook the power of his lyrics. He was shockingly frank about sex but, more than that, he could empathise with both sexes. We are so used to the macho male view in pop music that it was a revelation to hear a man express with such tenderness and understanding what it is like for both men and women to desire and love

At the beginning of this piece, I misquoted Nothing Compares To U, one of the greatest of all songs about loss. Thanks to Sinead O’Connor’s iconic version, the song is so associated with the feminine experience that we sometimes forget it was written by Prince and, when first released by him on the album The Family, it spoke from the view of a man missing his girlfriend. In fact O’Connor’s version is so ingrained in our consciousness that when the purple one released a new version some years later, he thought it best to share the vocals with a woman- the inimitable Rosie Gaines.

Like all great songwriters, Prince’s lyrics are as much a part of the music as any instrument. Like any great poet or even copywriters, he conveys the meaning through the sound of words as much as the choice of the words themselves.

In O’Connor’s version of Nothing Compares To U, the line is ‘It’s been 7 hours and fifteen days since you went away.’ I don’t know if she changed it but both times Prince recorded the song, the time was ‘thirteen days’. What’s the difference?

Fifteen days is arguably better than thirteen because it’s a longer period, thus showing that the anguish of loss has moved into a third week and she’s still counting the hours.

However ‘thirteen’ works better as a lyric. Firstly the word itself is more arresting. It’s a primary number so it doesn’t crop up as a multiple of smaller numbers. When we learned our times tables, we usually stopped at 10 or 12. It’s also commonly thought of as an unlucky number.

Then there’s the sound. The short ‘i’ of ‘fifteen’ breaks up the rhythm of the phrase whereas ‘thir’ continues the long vowels of ‘hours’, ‘teen’ and ‘days’. The effect of this drawn out line is to convey through the sound of the words the sense that he can hardly get the words out, such is the pain of his loss.

So, ‘thirteen’ wins over ‘fifteen’ and Prince again shows why nothing compares to him.

Paul Lewis is Marketing Manager of Theatre Royal Winchester and owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. A version of this article was published on the Daily Echo website.

Writing Web Copy Is A Skill

Writing web copyWeb copy is different from print copy and other forms of writing because website users need to know fast both what it’s about and how to move on. Here are seven tips.

Remember why your visitors came to the page and give them what they want.

Get to the point. The first two or three words may be all a visitor bothers to read in the Title, the meta title, the meta description, the headlines, paragraphs, photo alt text, etc.

Give the facts. Don’t say how great your business is- prove it.

Be brief but add more. Make every word count but at the same time the extra space means you have the opportunity to add relevant links, photos and other useful information.

Make it scannable. Website visitors will probably only read a fifth of the page. Give them short sentences, short paragraphs, sub headings, bullet points, highlighted words, photo captions and anything else that will slow their eye down for a moment.

Tell their story. A story that will take them where they want to go.

Tone of voice, house style, corporate brand- call it what you will but it must be consistent. Informal is usually what visitors like best.

Check it. Many visitors will judge you on spelling mistakes, links that don’t work, missing words, clichés, jargon and grammatical howlers like an apostrophe in the wrong place.

A longer version of this is available here 7 Tips For Writing Web Copy

4 Ways To Make Your Website More User Friendly

‘Keep it simple, stupid’ is old advice but it never dates. Here are four pieces of research that show the importance of keeping your website simple. Consider them when you’re designing a website or checking the quality of a website designer.

‘Keep it simple, stupid’ is old advice but it never dates. Here are four pieces of research that show the importance of keeping your website simple. Consider them when you’re designing a website or checking the quality of a website designer.

  1. The Norman Nielsen Group, who know more abour website usability than anybody on the planet, have found that 79% of users scan an unfamiliar page. Therefore the key elements of the site and the reasons to stay must be instantly obvious. It must conform to design conventions as many users will not take the time to try to understand an innovative design.
  2. Specifically on the text, the Norman Nielsen Group found that the use of bullets, subheadings and highlighted words to break up the text led to a 47% increase in usability, because it made the text easier to scan. So, whatever you do, avoid avoid large blocks of text.
  3. Staying with the words, write your copy in a neutral manner. There’s a 27% increase in usability if objective rather than promotional sales language is used. So avoid offputting words like ‘fantastic’ and ‘wonderful’ and stick to the facts.
  4. People are spending more time accessing the internet on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets than on desktops and laptops. According to OfCom research earlier this year, 57% of people in the UK use one to access internet. Research by Nielsen in the USA supports this. They found adults spend 34 hours per month accessing internet on smartphone as opposed to 27 hours on pc. The lesson is that your site must be responsive to different devices. More than that, you should actually start with the smartphone and tablet designs and work your way up to the PC version. A lot of designers won’t like this because they love creating a design on their big Apple Mac screens. It’s no bad thing that the use of mobile devices is driving us to make websites simpler and easier to use.



What Matisse Didn’t Cut Out

The best work is not the first work, as Henri Matisse’s constant revision of his cut-outs demonstrates

The Snail, a cutout by Matisse
Matisse Cut Outs at The Tate

One of the many fascinating aspects of the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibtion, which is at the Tate Modern until 7 September is the insight into how he worked.

Matisse first used cut out shapes as a way of trying out different compositions until he found the one he would ultimately paint. Eventually they became art in themselves but the technique remained the same. Even when he was old and frail, he would direct his assistants to move and re-pin cut-outs until he was finally happy with the relationship of the shapes and colours.

On one canvas, featuring perhaps a dozen cut-outs, researchers counted over a thousand pin marks. The lesson for all of us is that you can’t expect to get it right the first time. All great authors revise their work. So don’t expect your copy or press release or website design to be right at the first attempt. Go back to it. Try writing it again without reference to the original. Read it out loud. Let someone else read it to you. The best work is not the first work.

The author of this blog is Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.


It’s All About You

You are important and you know it. But does the person trying to sell you something know it?

One of the basic lessons of marketing is ‘sell benefits not features’. In other words, tell the customer what’s in it for them. Yet how often do you receive an email, letter, tweet, flier or even a personal call that fails to tell you why you should buy? You can probably find any number of examples that don’t even use the word ‘you’.

Here’s an example from the world of theatre: ‘This show is unmissable.’ OK but why shouldn’t you miss it? What particular rvalue will be added to your memories were you to have this experience? What empty hole will there be in your life if you choose not to see the show?

Maybe it’s a moving play. So you’ll very likely be crying at the end. Better bring tissues.

Maybe it’s a funny play. So you’ll be laughing. Better bring an oxygen supply in case you can’t get your breath.

Maybe it’s a musical full of hits. So you’ll be tapping your feet, clapping along, dancing in the aisles, reliving your youth. Better bring a defibrillator.

The fact that it’s an award winning, long running, critically acclaimed work of genius is very reassuring but so are any number of shows you wouldn’t dream of seeing.

A survey found that the word most commonly used in tweets that were retweeted was ‘you’. Copy- even if it’s only 147 digits- should tell you a story in which you are the star. That story should describe vividly what will happen to you when you go to see that particular show. It should fire your imagination.

If at the end of the story, you say that’s not for me, at least you’ve made an informed decision. Think of all the potential customers like you who never even started on the journey because they were given a list of features and couldn’t be bothered trying to work out the answer to the most important marketing question: what’s in it for you?

This blog was written by Paul Seven Lewis, owner of the marketing consultancy The Lewis Experience and former Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.