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Words on writing

Favourite quote today, from Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules on writing: No. 10 “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

On words

Unlock your creative bid writing with a supermarket trip!

Unlock your creative bid writing with a trip to the supermarket!  Watch, learn and admire how retailers move us inexorably from ‘need’ to ‘want’ and provide ‘fully-integrated solutions’ that demonstrate how well they know – and listen to – their customers.

Am I really saying a wander around a supermarket can improve your proposal writing?  Indeed I am…. 

Right from the start, with straplines such as “every little helps” or “good with food” or “never knowingly undersold”, retailers embed their value proposition in our minds, setting our expectations long before we get there.  They know the win themes and key messages that will appeal to us (demonstrating shared cultural values) whether we buy primarily on price, overall value (loyalty discounts, special offers), quality, differentiation/quirkiness, ‘green’ credentials or brand labels. Exactly the same targeting of message and proposition we need to convey as we tailor our product and service solutions to the needs and budgets of different clients and tenders.

When you go into a store, every detail of the floor layout is planned with you in mind. Retail psychologists know how we explore, select and buy and they are expert in directing us (literally and figuratively). From the use of colour, sounds, smells and targeted lighting to attract us into and through different areas, wide-ranging approaches to product presentation to create or keep our interest, differentiating the width of aisles to move us on or keep us there longer, placing key products at aisle ends or at specific heights – we follow, we absorb and we also show them what we like and dislike!

Of course they know that some of us go in armed with a list, a budget and a time limit and intend to keep to all three.  Sometimes you will, but many many times you will stay longer and buy more. Can your bids persuade your clients and prospects to do that?

Supermarkets also recognised many years ago that enhancing customer satisfaction – and therefore sales – meant understanding what else we have gone out for when we go shopping. In addition to food and household basics, also on our list might be pharmacy medicines, dry-cleaning, shoe repairs, taking cash out, buying gifts, flowers, newspapers, books, cards – and maybe a coffee and a teacake once the trolley is full.  So increasingly they have incorporated these other items into their proposition, to create the one-stop-shop, where the convenience does make us buy more overall. It’s exactly the same with our bids. We want to show our clients we have thought in depth about what they need and can give them the peripheral products, the accessories and additional services that will deliver a complete fully-integrated offering, all to the same standards of quality, from one provider.

What’s the most annoying thing customers report about their local supermarket?  When products are moved around and you can’t zip through your normal route.  Of course they do this on purpose because if you become too accustomed to your usual navigation around the store, you can stop noticing other products they want you to see.  So even though that kind of change irritates you, you aren’t going to switch to another shop: you quickly adapt, because the store has built your loyalty and you will flex. That’s a rather unilateral form of change management but worth remembering in your bids: once you have developed credibility and trust with a client, you are in a better position to recommend change and alternative proposals without compromising loyalty.

In case we think our supermarkets are getting too big and impersonal and losing sight of their local customer, many often have terrific community support programmes: demonstrating strong CSR in the same way as our clients like to hear about in our bids. Supermarkets will also often showcase small local suppliers, showing their support for small and medium enterprises, and generating local employment and apprenticeships.  Again a strong message to emphasise in tenders.

So, once you’ve unpacked your shopping and sampled the new deli products you hadn’t planned to buy but somehow found time to choose, go back to your bid. Check if your key themes, way-finding (pathways through the text, use of colour and graphics), solution and product layout, balance and direction of information will pass the critical supermarket test.  Do your bids take your clients seamlessly from need to want, give them well-presented fully-integrated solutions and ultimately make it easy for them to buy from you and want to come back time and again?  If not, go shopping again!

In a word: village

Our Pinner Village…..

What does ‘village’ mean to people these days?  What exactly IS a village in 21st-century Britain?   Can you still be a village in a 24×7, open-all-hours, addicted-to-busy mobile world where people communicate predominantly by email and text message?   Can you still be a village if you have streets full of ‘chain’ shops?   (Don’t all write in at once, please….)

What about the global village, the Westminster village, the ‘village mentality’?  What message does the word village convey in those phrases?

According to the Internet encyclopaedia Wikipedia, Pinner isn’t the village it used to be…  Wikipedia reports:  “In recent years many chain stores have opened up on Bridge Street, making the suburb less ‘village like’ and more in line with other suburban shopping developments.  The chain stores themselves have created a fair amount of retail competition, especially as almost all the stores have equivalents run by independent owners that are nearby.”

So are we still a village here in Pinner?  Let’s look at some definitions.  What do English language courses teach, for example?  Pimsleur English courses not only define words but also give helpful phrases for students to learn context and common usage.  They say that village means ‘a very small town’ and their typical example of how to use the word is: “I will never get used to living in a village.”  Right then.   Not exactly the most positive introduction to English village life….

Size matters, it seems.  The definition of a village as ‘smaller than a town – larger than a hamlet’ is found in all the major dictionaries, from Collins to Websters to Chambers and on into the modern Internet directories too.

Wikipedia offers its own definition, expanding on the theme to include village inhabitants and fixtures:  ‘a clustered human settlement or community, larger than a hamlet but smaller than a town or city. Villages are normally permanent, with fixed dwellings.”  We’ve got lots of fixed dwellings – well mine is, anyway – so we’re OK on that score.

The focus on ‘settlement’ is also evident across the Atlantic (no expense spared here in search of answers) where the United States Department of the Interior, Fish & Wildlife Service defines village as ‘a permanent settlement with one or more year-round residents’.  So Pinner definitely still qualifies as a village under the regulations applicable to migratory bird subsistence harvest in Alaska.  A relief to us all, you’ll agree.

Things start to go downhill, however, when we consult the Urban Dictionary of modern ‘street’ language.  Apparently, village now has a whole new negative connotation and is used as an adjective to refer to anything conducted on a small scale, with a very low standard.  Charming!  Do they offer anything more encouraging?  Ah yes, they do get more serious and return to the size metric, conceding that village as a noun means ‘a small town, larger than a hamlet and usually containing between 100 and 2000 people’.  That’s more like it.

The Ordnance Survey narrows the size descriptor even further, saying that a village is ‘usually described as a centre of population with an area less than 2.5 square kilometres (1 square mile). A village will always have a church.’  We’re still in the running then.

So now we’ve identified comparative and actual size requirements for our village, what about location?   Back to Wikipedia, which records that the major factors in the type of settlement pattern characterising a village are: location of water sources, the organisation of agriculture and landholding and the likelihood of flooding.  Yes, we all know more than we want to about the likelihood of flooding in this area, as soon as we give the HA5 postcode to household insurers…

Wikipedia then reminds us about telling changes in our country’s development. ‘The Industrial Revolution caused many villages to grow into towns and cities; this trend of urbanisation has continued, though not always in connection with industrialisation. Villages have thus been eclipsed in importance, as units of human society and settlement.’  As long as we can boast community activities such as Pinner Fair, the St George’s Day celebrations and our Pinner Pantomime Evening, for example, we continue to retain our village atmosphere and involve newer inhabitants in village life, to make sure we aren’t swallowed up in London’s all-enveloping outskirts.

On balance, then, the results of our ‘virtual world tour’ certainly indicate that we can still be a village if we’re smaller than a town but bigger than a hamlet, if we have a church, some other fixed dwellings and a clustered human settlement incorporating one or more year-round residents (that’s you, dear reader).

We may be part of a global village, but it’s comforting to know that even when we’re talking about wide geographical expanses, what we’re really saying is that, even today, ‘village’ life is about shared values, shared experiences and a shared sense of community.


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“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones.”  (Raymond Carver)