Oxford Comma? Copywriting 101

In the world of marketing and elsewhere, the question remains: to use the Oxford comma or to eliminate it?

Otherwise known as the serial comma, the Oxford comma remains a subject of considerable debate in multiple public and private circles. This notorious punctuation mark is succinctly defined by the Oxford University-affiliated Lexico as “an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list.” Although it neglects to mention that the Oxford comma can also appear before the conjunction “or,” this definition matches the influential general writing style guidelines of the Associated Press (AP), which recommend employing an Oxford comma only when needed to prevent obvious cases of probable reader misinterpretation.

Oxford comma basics

Traditionally used by the editors and printers of the Oxford University Press, the Oxford comma is intended to prevent ambiguity and promote ready grammatical understanding by clearly demarcating all items in a series. Consider the following example presented by Lexico:

“These items are available in black and white, red and yellow, and blue and green.”

The Oxford comma before the penultimate “and” makes the color combinations above perfectly clear. But look what happens when the Oxford comma is omitted:

 “These items are available in black and white, red and yellow and blue and green.”

Colors blur into one another, making a real mess!

The Oxford comma in copywriting and other industries / sectors

Although widely used in academia, the Oxford comma has long been a matter of debate in sectors that range from journalism to law.

The legal implications of the Oxford comma recently became apparent through a $10-million class-action lawsuit involving a dairy company in Maine. As detailed by the leading editing and proofreading service provider Scribendi, this lawsuit centered on the following sentence: “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.” With no Oxford comma after “packing for shipment,” the exact exceptions for the shipment and/or distribution of the listed food products remain unclear.

In the world of marketing, the average copywriting agency is likely to let the client have the final word when it comes to including or omitting the Oxford comma. At BIGEYE, however, we tend to encourage the use of the Oxford comma to avoid problems such as those detailed both above and below.

Why the Oxford comma is important

In addition to the confusion inherent in the instances listed above, the Oxford comma is essential to avoid the misunderstandings that can arise when readers mistake appositives (which rename nouns) for items in a series or vise versa. You may have seen one or more widely circulated examples that drive this problem home using humor.

Take, for example, the sentence…

“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand, and God.”

With the Oxford comma, it is perfectly clear that the book has three dedicatees. Now, look at the same sentence without the Oxford comma:

“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

If read as an appositive, the phrase “Ayn Rand and God,” leaves the book dedicated to two people only…and a highly unlikely couple to have a child together!

For this reason among others, standard-bearers of scholarly writing such as the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and the Chicago Manual of Style recommend the consistent use of the Oxford comma.

The argument against the Oxford comma

In addition to the AP, many official style guides attempt to avoid the clutter of unnecessary punctuation by recommending that writers use the Oxford comma only when reader confusion is likely to occur. In many ways, this makes perfect sense. After all, the phrase “less is more” applies to all aspects of writing and should be actively employed to prevent wordiness and produce text that is easy on the eyes. 

But who is qualified to differentiate cases that may lead to misunderstandings from cases that will not? In short, writers who fail to consistently use the Oxford comma may easily miss language that will seem confusing and/or conflicted to a large number of readers.

Other Oxford comma detractors cite purely grammatical reasons for its omission. For example, consider the sentence “This book is dedicated to my mother, Ayn Rand, and God.” If mistaken for an appositive, “Ayn Rand” can, once again, be mistaken for the mother of the book’s author. If it is universally recognized as a tool for setting off items in a series, however, the use of the Oxford comma before “and” cannot be misinterpreted.

Getting professional help

When it comes to writing effective copy, the ultimate answer to the Oxford comma debate is best answered with the assistance of a skilled and knowledgeable marketing agency like Bigeye. A one-stop shop for all of your marketing needs, we offer a range of premium copywriting services.

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How Slack is Making Product Marketing Addictive

Here’s what brands can learn from the companies and product marketing agencies that know how to sell products and design experiences at the highest level.

Slack, the social workplace messaging platform, has drawn lots of favorable notice in advance of its $23 billion IPO.  If you’ve used it, you understand why Slack has grown so popular. The overall experience is sticky in the extreme, encouraging near constant use. You don’t have to work at a product marketing agency or specialize in consumer marketing to recognize what an effective job Slack has done by integrating clever marketing with a deeply engaging user experience.

So how exactly has Slack been so successful? Let’s take a closer look.

How Slack uses clever copywriting to create highly addictive user experiences

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter in recent years, you’re familiar with a certain brand voice: Clever, self-deprecating, irreverent, but not offensive. In other words, the voice that many popular fast foods brands use on social media and featured in many startup marketing campaigns.

Slack uses its own version of this voice in its product, but deploys the voice strategically. The company understands that users have varying levels of receptivity to a lighthearted tone. After all, who wants to deal with jokes and puns when struggling to figure out an onboarding process?

Instead, Slack uses jokes and whimsical visualizations during so-called “end stage” or “empty stages” of the customer experience. These are pages or screens that don’t require any copy to help a user progress toward a goal — a “thank you for registering” page, for example.

While Slack takes a clever approach to copywriting, the company also understands that it’s important not to go overboard. Sara Culver, Slack content and design manager, listed a few of the company’s copywriting rules at a recent marketing seminar: 

  • Don’t make the user feel guilty. Anyone who has ever been asked to download an e-book or sign up for a newsletter is familiar with the standard guilt trip: The “yes” button includes language along the lines of “I want to take advantage of this incredible opportunity!” Meanwhile, the “no” button says something like “sorry, I’m not interested in subscribing because I want my competitors to put me out of business.” These guilt trips are annoying, alienating and defeat the purpose of using clever copy.
  • Voice continuity. It’s extremely off-putting to read copy associated with a product and have the language veer from voice to voice. Stick with your brand voice when creating product copy and users will be much more comfortable, and receptive to what you are saying.
  • Use active prose and eliminate repetition. Good product copy is lively and engages users from a slightly different angle than what they are used to. It also avoids repetition, which is clunky and unprofessional.
  • Great copy enhances product marketing but can’t make up for poor UX and/or functionality. Even the most clever and compelling copy won’t alleviate the stress users deal with when confronted by poor UX and confusing or inoperable functionality. 

What the right product marketing agency can do for you

If you’re looking for direct to consumer advertising and other creative services, you should have one key priority: Finding an agency that can deliver consistently compelling campaigns and strategy.

At Bigeye, we know the power of well-executed product marketing. If you’re looking for a product marketing agency to help you create the kind of sticky and hyper-addictive copy favored by Slack, don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.

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3 Ways copywriting services will increase your marketing potential

Did you know that copywriting services can increase your team’s productivity and boost your speed to market? We’re always surprised when our clients tell us they never considered hiring copywriting services because they are a fantastic way to maintain and accelerate work with your creative agency partner.

In another blog post, we discuss the pros and cons of hiring an agency versus a freelance writer to tackle your content marketing needs. Most people opt to begin their content marketing journey with an agency and then use freelance writing services as a form of content maintenance strategy to keep their work on track.

Whether your creative agency orchestrates your copywriting services, or you hire a freelance writer directly, you’ll enjoy these three great benefits of outsourcing your copywriting needs.

1. STOP TALKING ABOUT THAT NEW PROJECT AND START DOING IT

We know you’re going to leave your 2017 brainstorming sessions with tons of great ideas. And we know that translating those amazing ideas into reality can sometimes take a little extra effort or get lost in the shuffle, especially at the beginning of the year when Q1 goals are full speed ahead. Using copywriting services can help get a project into market that might otherwise get stuck in the brainstorming or “blue sky” phase. One of the biggest challenges employees face when executing new ideas is simply a lack of time … and content marketing – when done right (or we should say write) – can be time consuming. Empower your employees to make their most innovative ideas a reality by partnering with a copywriting services team. This year, your brainstorming sessions can be more than just wishful thinking.

2. LET YOUR BUDGET BE YOUR GUIDE

There are many reasons you might choose to scale back your budget. Some, we know, are more difficult than others. Whether you’re simply trying to tighten your margins or you’re downsizing during moments of seasonality, copywriting services give you the freedom to scale your staff to your exact needs. You’ll never be paying more or less than you need when you use copywriting services because most agencies and freelancers can build a “pay to play” model to support your content writing needs. You can expect great, high-quality work without compromising your budget or your staffing and HR plan.

3. INCREASE QUALITY WITH COPYWRITING SERVICES

Shh, we won’t tell anyone… but we know that sometimes you just need to hire a professional. Your team may shine at many things – but if copywriting isn’t one of them, don’t sweat it. Copywriting services can elevate the quality of your content marketing efforts without a huge increase in budget or manpower. Your staff might even be a little relieved to take those duties off their plates.

All write, that’s what we’re talking about! Those are some pretty amazing reasons to take the plunge and try copywriting services. We’re confident that you won’t be disappointed. Click here to learn about some of the ways our clients have used content writing services to accelerate their work and take their marketing plans to the next level. Contact us to get started on yours right away.

4 of BIGEYE’s most creative minds spill favorite design advice

We’re about to let you in on a BIGEYE exclusive. Four of our Orlando marketing agency’s most creative minds dish on their favorite design advice. Whether you’re a designer, a business owner, or a production specialist, their advice speaks to the challenges we all face in our fast-paced, marketing-driven world. So sit back, relax, and soak in the good stuff.

Seth Segura, Creative Director: Solve the right problems.

Our Creative Director Seth brings a lot – and we mean a lot – to the table. His experience ranges from copywriting and design, to thought leadership and brand strategy. But at the end of the day, he always leads with results-first, which is why his favorite design advice hinges on solving customer or business problems. As a designer, it’s always tempting to lean into what is aesthetically pleasing; but as a creative marketer, you need to think about what problems you’re solving for your customers through design. When you look at a print ad or a web page: yes, it should absolutely look visually pleasing. Color balance, line, and composition are always king (unless you’re talking to the content folks on our digital team). But, your design must also enable customers to experience a new emotion or help them accomplish a specific task. For this reason, designers who specialize in user experience (UX) creation and page layout are some of the most highly sought-after talent in the marketplace. In addition to having a strong creative eye, these types of designers are trained to think about how customers will interact with their work. For them, that webpage button isn’t just red because it looks good … It’s red because it draws the customer’s eye to your business call to action and signals how they can complete a task. Fashion, meet function.

Rhett Withey, Lead Designer: Be up for the challenge.

Rhett has amazing intuition about what creative elements will work, and which will fall flat. In addition to having a natural sense of design principles, part of his success stems from tackling challenges head on. When thinking about his favorite design advice, he knows that chasing new design trends and emerging media every time something new comes out can turn a designer into a jack of all trades and a master of none; but that getting stuck in a rut, or resting on your portfolio’s laurels isn’t enough to stay on cutting edge of the design world. Rhett balances his own deep expertise against stretch goals and challenges that cultivate his leadership and design skills. To do this in your role, spend at least 15% of your time experimenting with new design media, raise your hand to lead a challenging new project, add research spikes into your work flow, take a class to explore new techniques, or partner with other creatives on your team. There are literally hundreds of ways to polish your skill set without compromising your current projects once you commit to doing it. While it’s always tempting to stick with the status quo, taking on new challenges fine-tunes your intuition and will make your work even sharper.

Dani Alfonso, Designer: Value your work.

One of the best pieces of design advice we can offer is to be passionate about and value your own work. Dani’s passion for her work shines through in both her professional output and in all areas of her life. Whether she’s traveling, enjoying time with her miniature schnauzer, working at her desk, collaborating with our team, or finding inspiration in the world around her, Dani lives with earnest passion that embraces creativity around her. And that is critical when designing for a living. As Chris Spooner, design blogger and theorist once said, “the clients aren’t always right. It’s okay to disagree with their demands if you can back up your own opinions with professional theory.” There will be times, as a designer, you will need to throw away work that you love, or defend work your clients hate. The trick is recognizing those situations when they arise and handling them with grace and confidence. Designers are one part creative expert and one part translator, charged with interpreting their clients’ business needs against the background noise of opinions, deadlines, and resource constraints to create something beautiful and functional. To do this, a designer needs to be confident in their knowledge and skills — and not afraid to share them.

Matt Hutchens, Video Producer: Manage the madness. 

As a video producer, Matt needs to manage crew members, wrangle environmental factors like lighting and weather, anticipate unexpected snafus, capture the perfect angle, balance timing, and weave together tone and messaging … to just name a few. It makes sense that his design advice is about having a design process that inspires creativity and ensures quality work. To help manage the madness that inevitably arises as business needs change and situations evolve, have a design “Q&A checklist” that covers the basic checks and balances necessary before signing off on a project such as spacing, spelling, contrast, and color in line with your brand guidelines. Designers often bear the brunt of the creative burden, so don’t be afraid to consider time savers such as collaborating, outsourcing, or finding good ways to use stock photography or video (when appropriate). Strategic time saving techniques free you up to do your best, most inspired work. Put some space around your creative process so your ideas stay fresh and your focus on point. Whether that means creating a design den for your creative team or letting people work from home once a week, figure out what your business needs to thrive and don’t be afraid to do something unconventional to enable your most talented minds.

Still want more from our star-studded team? Check out examples of their work here, or give us a call to discuss how we can add a little inspiration to your creative process. We are always eager to share design advice with our customers, but would love to hear what works for your team as well. Shoot us a message or share a comment on how your design team works best. Two heads are more creative than one!

Learn the Brand benefits of transmedia storytelling

In marketing, “storytelling” is a trendy buzzword. Marketers have often proclaimed the benefits of placing much of their advertising-driven focus on telling a compelling “story,” but what is actually represented by the story itself may be a bit hazy. That’s where the marketers at your favorite marketing agency in Orlando come in – we’ll help you paint a clearer picture of how a viable story might help you to provide positive support and reinforcement for your message.

Before the digital revolution, brand storytelling meant something very specific. In particular, it applied to the types of stories we share with one other, in both formal and informal settings, often containing an overarching narrative – including protagonists, antagonists, and the like.

With the ever-present and constantly changing advent of emerging technology, storytelling has taken on a brand new connotation (pun intended). Sometimes called transmedia storytelling, these are, from a broad perspective, the stories about your brand as told through the use of social media, design and other elements that help give people the entire picture of what your brand is all about. Additionally, every image or bit of copy itself can also tell a story. Even Google’s “Don’t be evil” slogan gives us a pretty solid example of how the brand strives to present itself – abiding by the belief that a company that does good things for the world might be forced to forego some short-term goals.

[quote]These days, storytelling isn’t limited to the words on the page.[/quote] Let’s take a look at how we can apply storytelling in a variety of business facets:

Storytelling in copywriting: “Just do it.” “Think different.” “Got milk?” Each of these copywriting examples represents a widely-known slogan. In just a few short words, the copywriters responsible for these taglines are able to tell fantastic stories about their business. But it doesn’t stop here. Content through longer-form text and via social media are both excellent avenues to deliver stories out into the world.

Storytelling in imagery: Images are effective because they truly resonate with people, transporting them to the locale that they see in the visual. Make an impact on your audience by relying on impactful visuals to tell these stories.

Storytelling in web design: Does the design layout of your website accurately depict who you are as a brand? Cutting-edge companies often have interesting websites that also reflect these values, whereas simple brands will employ more simplistic websites to reflect the mission of the business.

Storytelling in user experience: Beyond simply website or mobile app design, this scenario poses the question of whether the user’s experience across platforms is consistent with your brand story. For instance, if you advertise excellent customer service, then your user experience can aptly highlight this feature by allowing ease of navigation of your apps, as well as features that place the customer at the center of the experience.

Storytelling in sales: People are much more engaged with stories than with hard facts. Use interesting stories in your sales decks and presentation in order to help highlight your business’s strengths and create a feeling of “relatability” within your audience.

Storytelling in corporate culture: To at least some extent, your company’s people are the living and breathing representations of your story. Think of corporations like Google and Apple, both of which lean on their unique corporate cultures as the heart of how they do business. As an organization, who are you are, where you come from, and why you do what you do often makes for a very compelling story.

Storytelling in customer service: For Zappos, customer service IS the story. Zappos employees will stay on the phone with customers for 8 hours or longer just to fulfill the high customer service expectations set forth for and by customers. And, Zappos’ customer service commitment actually inspired an entire book called Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, which essentially contains a collection of stories the culminate in the overall Zappos brand story.

If you’re not focusing on your brand’s story in all areas of your business, maybe it’s time to shift the paradigm – to begin thinking about how your great tale might best be told. Our Florida marketing agency can help you find and focus on a brand story worth sharing with your customers. Contact us today to let us help you refine your approach, and develop strategies to create a library of success stories!

The Importance of the Role of Design in Marketing

I recently subscribed to an email list for a friend’s business. But, when I saw the first email newsletter, I found myself very uneasy. The business deals with photography and design, and yet the email that landed in my inbox was a bare-bones, plain text email. You’d think someone like that would put more care into the message he’s trying to convey — maybe I need to tell him that the team at our Orlando marketing agency has a few ideas to help him understand the role of design in marketing.

Now, in marketing, each of us has our strengths. I understand that a copywriter at our Orlando advertising agency shouldn’t necessarily be counted on to design a document, or a strategist doesn’t need to know a ton about website development. But I do think design should permeate through all areas of business.

It’s important to have consistency in all brand assets. This doesn’t just mean print ads, but applies to internal and external marketing tools including sales decks, memos, website design, social media and, as you saw above, the email experience. The goal here is to make sure you’re telling the same story across all platforms. This will make it easier for people to identify your brand, and they can then follow along for the ride when they see your emails or your Facebook posts. And, it just looks nice!

Thinking about my friend’s photography business, he probably has a number of excellent assets to help sell the story of his business. He’s asking people to spend a lot of money to use his services, and while having an email signup list is a great first step, that list also needs to reflect the essence of the brand he wants to create. A plain text email? I see plain text emails all the time. What I want is for you to really wow me! Use these visual techniques to help entice me to choose you over competitors.

[quote]BIGEYE created a responsive web design for Arsenal Venture Partners that produced the ideal interaction they were hoping for. Check it out![/quote]

Your website should be a reflection of your business. The assets you put on your site and photos that you choose are all ways you market yourself, so it’s important to take care in what you’re presenting to the world. This even goes into the user experience of the site – you need to make sure that if you have a shopping cart feature, it’s easy to use, and that if you have a ton of content on the site, it’s easy to navigate. For some reason, people tend to overlook these essential aspects in trying to design websites —but these days, you can’t afford not to think about them because they translate to real ROI.

Recently, I heard about the Barbarian Group, an innovation agency in New York highly focused on design. True to the brand, when they moved to a new office, they emphasized the importance of design. As such, they created a massive single sharable desk as a place for people to keep ideas flowing. It’s a testament to the fact that design truly permeates every aspect of the business – even in the workplace setup.

The team at our Orlando marketing firm knows the value of design, and would love to help you create and execute design-oriented marketing strategies. Contact us to set up an appointment to learn about how we can help you!