Thursday, 26 February 2015

How to write content that delivers strategic results

When I take a copywriting brief, I always try to take the client back to first principles. 

What are your aspirations for the business? What are the strategic goals of this campaign? What are your specific medium-term objectives? How is performance against these at the moment? What do you think is holding you back?

At this point the client usually sighs and says, “Like I said, we need a new website.” The thing is, that might not be the whole problem.

Customers deal with a whole company – correction, a whole market. We need to think about their whole experience of coming to do business with you. Not your sales process; their buying process.

How do you look alongside your direct competitors? How do you shape up against other things customers could spend their money on? How compelling is your offer? How distinctive do you look? How swift, easy and enjoyable is it to ride with you on a journey to purchase – and then come back for another?

So the issue may be (partly) what the client is asking for: the words on the website. Or it might be how the enquiry call is handled in the call centre, a lack of enticing offers to bring them over the line, or inadequately trained sales staff. Right up to the name of the business and its prominence in search results.

So I like to briefly analyse the whole customer buying process, and identify the wrinkles and rough patches that are obstructing a smooth journey to purchase.

We need to think not “this is what we want to tell the customer”, but “what does the customer need to know, think, feel and do at each stage of their buying process?”

Then we look at what channel and touch point is best to deliver that result. It may be the website, or the call centre, or the receptionist or the sales person – the combination of these, or something else nobody had thought about.

From the customer’s point of view all these are connected. Together they make up what your business means to them. The customer has an integrated view of you, but often your view of them is fragmented. And that’s what needs fixing.

Once we’ve assembled all the components of a successful customer journey, writing it up is actually not that hard. Of course, we need to think about the character of the brand and how we want it to come across in tone of voice, style, feel – but that’s the copywriter’s bread and butter.

Pitfall alert: take subjective preference out of the equation and serve the brand. What I like doesn’t matter. Actually what the client likes isn’t necessarily right either (though they are the piper, and they do call the tune). It’s really all about what’s right for the brand and right for the customer.

You may only end up with 180 words on the website, buy they’ll be the right 180 words. Because they’ll get the customer to do want you want them to do – happily.

And that’s what’ll bring you the strategic results you were looking for all along.

The author is currently a full-time senior copywriter at BT Global Services.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

How to not get angry

Suppose some guy is having a go at you. Any minute now you know you are going to start getting angry. This is the moment you need awareness.

You need to train in awareness in advance so you can call upon it in this crucial moment. To train in awareness you meditate on the activity going on in your own mind. You simply sit and notice what is arising.

Think of your mind as the sky and the thoughts and feelings as passing clouds. You don’t engage with the thoughts, don’t follow the feelings. You simply see them arise and then watch them dissolve again. You become a silent observer of what is going on in your mind.

Training in this way, you can notice when anger is about to develop in your mind. It allows you to pause, if only for a second or two, just enough to step back and avoid automatic retaliation.

Then, in that moment, you need to do something counter-intuitive, but which is the key to freedom – you accept. Accept a moment’s mental discomfort. Exercise a moment’s patient acceptance of the pain or unpleasantness you are experiencing.

Why should I? Well, because the law of karma tells us that all the suffering we experience is caused by our past actions. The guy having a go at you is just a secondary cause, a trigger. Ultimately, somehow, in some way long forgotten, you brought this upon yourself.

If you can accept that (or even if you can’t) but you can patiently endure a minute of unpleasant feelings, you pacify that karma. It is burnt off, exhausted, dealt with – and you will never have to face it again.

In this moment’s pause you recall all the disadvantages of getting angry. Anger is a completely destructive force. It serves no positive purpose. Its sole function is to harm us, destroying our peace of mind. Worse still it causes us to act in unhelpful ways which sow the seeds of even more suffering in the future.

Anger, if followed, reinforces our self cherishing, the source of all our suffering and the medium through which we experience all our suffering. Even in its milder forms of irritation, annoyance, frustration or resentment, it disturbs our mind, destroying any chance of peace and happiness.

In this moment’s pause, you also give yourself a chance to reflect that this guy is not an inherently bad person. In fact it’s not he who is at fault at all. He is in the grip of his delusions. They are what’s causing him to act in this negative way towards you.

If you are going to get angry with anything, get angry with delusions. (Actually this is not anger at all – to take up arms against delusions is actually a form of wisdom.) It’s this guy’s self-grasping, his self-cherishing, his pride, jealousy or attachment that is driving him to act in this way.

And d’you know what? We all have these delusions. We all suffer from them to some extent or another. We’re all in the same boat. All wanting to be happy, but plagued by delusions which compel us to do negative things that just make matters worse. In this we are all equal. We’ve all been there… so cut him some slack.

By this time, the moment will have passed. You will have avoided retaliating and escalating the situation. You’ll both have had a chance to cool off and avoid making matters worse.

Then later, perhaps while meditating, you can think, ‘that poor guy’. This guy who was having a go at me was totally under the control of his delusions. And acting on his anger like that was just sowing the seeds of more suffering in the future. It isn’t condescending to think like this, it’s pure compassion. And thinking compassionately is a very virtuous and beneficial thing to do, for yourself as well as him.

You can then go on and think ‘I wish he didn’t have to do this. I wish he didn’t have to suffer these delusions. I wish there was something I could do to help him. I wish I could take that suffering away from him.’

There is a wonderful meditation you can do in which you imagine that you take away this guy’s delusion and the suffering it causes him. You imagine it in the form of black smoke and you draw it from him into your heart. You imagine that this relieves him of his suffering. It does no harm to you. It is a very virtuous wish and is of great benefit to yourself.

You can also go on to imagine that you can replace that delusion with love and happiness. You pretend you are beaming love and peace into his heart. Practising in this way creates the causes for us to eventually develop the ability to actually do this.

Next time you encounter him, you wish him to be happy. Just think how that could change the dynamic between you. He’s not likely to get angry with you if your intention is for him to be happy.

You will have transformed a potential angry conflict into a harmonious and positive relationship. And that’s how to not get angry.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Do you want to be free?

Hell is a state of mind. It may be a real place as well. People in war zones would say so. I don’t know. And I sure as hell don’t want to find out.

I don’t think I have ever been to hell. But, as a human being, I have definitely been to other realms. And I can vouch for the fact that they are real – real states of mind, that is.

Do you know any hungry ghosts? Have you ever been one? I have.

Hungry ghosts roam around searching in vain for food and drink to satisfy their endless hunger. And even when they find it, it does not satisfy, it only brings more craving… This is the addict or alcoholic. Or the person addicted to something – to their body image, another person, social status, excitement. Or the most common of all – shopping.

Some people live like animals. They only care about their bodily needs, protection, shelter, comfort, food. They’re nice to their family and friends – but so are animals. They don’t see beyond their immediate gratification. They exist from hand to mouth without any appetite for higher self-realisation.

We live in the human realm. That’s because we are human beings!

You didn’t need me to tell you that – or did you?

Speaking for myself, if I’m honest, I would have to admit that sometimes I forget I’m a human being. I forget what it really means to be a human being.

I get up, walk the dog, go to work, kiss my wife. But sometimes I’m asleep. I am not really conscious of what it means – what the true meaning of being a human being is. What my true potential is. It’s like sleep walking.

I try to remain conscious, grateful. Remembering that this human life is short and precious. That it’s going to end and I don’t know when. That I could do a great, great deal with it, if I set my mind to it. But often I don’t bother. Which is a waste.

I’m in a human existence, but not truly living a human life to the full. Another state of mind – or should I say ‘mindlessness’?

Next realm up – the demi-gods.  And there’s plenty of them where I work, I can tell you. They seem to have it pretty good. They have power and prestige. People look up to them, run around doing their will.

But are they happy? Perhaps political scheming, watching their back, looking for the one-upmanship opportunity make them happy, but I doubt it. They promote themselves too hard for someone who’s happy with them self.

If I was a movie star, a celebrity, living in a mansion with twenty cars, never having to work – then I’d be happy, for sure. Apart from the fear of losing my looks, of getting old. The stress of constantly checking my image. Having my relationships dissected in the newspapers.  And the trips to the Betty Ford Clinic – I’m sure it’d be absolutely blissful!

The fundamental wish of all living beings is to be free from suffering. Yet all these realms – all these states of mind – entail a certain amount of suffering.

So we need to go beyond them to find a place free from suffering. And we can only do that from the human realm.

It is slightly ironic that the real meaning of human life is to cease to exist as merely human but to realise our divine potential to escape suffering.

With a pure intention and sincere practice it is definitely possible escape the cycle of suffering  and move beyond it to a realm of pure peace, happiness and freedom.

To be truly human is wish to be free, to  be divine.

I have created some personal decision-making tools, one of which is based on the Buddhist Wheel of Life, where these realms are described. They are free at 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The contact mistake

The lens in our eye turns the image of the world upside down. It delivers an inverted image of the world onto our retina, with the floor up there and the ceiling down below. Our mind immediately interprets this image and says, “No, I say the floor is down there and the ceiling is up above”. See how our mind creates a false impression of reality?

When we receive an image of the world in our brain, we don’t immediately say “oh, there is a mistaken image of the world appearing in my mind”. For some strange reason our first thought is “there’s a real world out there and it exists in the way it appears to my mind”. This is when the mistake occurs.

The catastrophic mistake which causes us so many problems. Not only we do we think “there’s a real world out there”, we also think “there’s a real me in here and I’m separate from the rest of the world.”

And then we proceed to develop all sorts of confused thinking about how we should deal with that situation.

We develop feelings about what we see, some of which we like, some of which we don’t. We think that what we desire resides in the things that give us nice feelings and we crave after them. Little do we realise that the feeling we like is being created in our mind and doesn’t come from the object.

And then we perform all sorts of unhelpful actions that compound the situation. Like putting time and energy into obtaining those things that seems to give us what we want, instead of into the things that really would.

I went to a Dharma course yesterday called Constant Craving and the teacher asked us “How much do you believe that you are stuck with craving? And how much do you believe that pure perfect peace is really possible?”

If I’m honest, I have to admit that – up to now – I have believed that it’s much truer that I’m stuck with craving. I’ve believed pure peace is possible, eventually, but I’ve more strongly believed that craving is real.

Big mistake. I’ve been buying a lie. The lie that what I desire is out there in things and I crave them to give me that nice feeling.

Like the image of the room, this thinking is upside down. I do desire something: pure peace and happiness. But it is not out there in things. Although, with training I can create it in my mind, just as I create illusions at the moment.

The only thing that is stopping me from being free from craving is a thought. The thought that I cannot be free from craving. But I can use the power of imagination to replace that thought with an alternative: that I am a person free from craving.

Why not? It’s exactly the same process of imputation. The difference is this time the object of my imputation is virtuous. It is not an illusion. It is actually true. It may seem unrealistic, but that’s just because I’m so used to believing in the illusion.

So I’m buying out of the lie. I’m turning the world up the right way again.

I’m resolving to invest my precious time and effort in a more fruitful direction. Moving a little bit closer every day to an image of myself as a person free from craving. One for whom true peace and happiness really is possible.

[‘Contact’ and ‘feeling’ are two of the twelve dependent related links in the Buddhist Wheel of Life. I have developed a personal decision-making tool based on the Wheel of Life, which is available free from]

Friday, 27 June 2014

How to be happy

How to be happy? Easy. Do the right thing. How to tell what the right thing to do is? Now, that’s a bit harder.

Doing the right thing makes you happy. That’s the definition of happiness – it’s the result of having done the right thing.

And I don’t just mean a fleeting, superficial kind of happiness. But proper happiness – fulfilment, contentment, peace and joy.

Doing the wrong thing makes you feel unhappy – tight, disturbed and regretful.

Sometimes it might feel as if doing the wrong thing can make you happy, like saying something cutting to get your own back on someone. But that’s not happiness. That just hurts them, demeans you and fuels the quarrel.

No, what I’m talking about is deep, lasting, pure happiness and peace. And that only ever comes from doing the right thing. But how do you tell what that is?

Well, one answer is moral discipline.

Yuk. That was my first reaction, one which lasted for the first 45 years of my life. I didn’t want anything to do with morality or discipline!

Morality was just people telling you what was right and wrong – and who were they to tell me what I could or couldn’t do?

Discipline was just people telling me not to do the things I wanted to do, things I was pretty sure would make me happy.

Combined, they were a recipe for how to be miserable.

But recently someone very wise pointed out that actually moral discipline is a guide to how to have a happy, peaceful life. That turned the whole thing around for me.

Simply by avoiding doing the wrong thing, I could remove all sources of pain, regret, guilt, doubt and uneasiness from my mind.

By choosing to do the right thing instead, I could ensure a constant source of satisfaction, fulfilment, ease and happiness.

Suddenly I saw through the deceptive nature of negative actions which appear to offer happiness and saw instead their true nature as causes of misery.
So what is wrong?

Well, here is the Buddhist list of negative actions.

Killing or harming any living being. So far so good. I wasn’t going to do either of them. But if I was going to do this properly I would have to avoid treading on snails on the path, and I might have to become vegetarian…

Stealing or taking anything that doesn’t belong to me. As long as shopkeepers didn’t give me change for £20 when I’d only given them a tenner...

Sexual misconduct. Sleeping with someone else’s partner might seem like fun, but it brings a lot of pain and grief, believe me. And I’d better watch where my day dreams take me…

Telling lies. I don’t tell out-and-out lies these days, but being scrupulously honest about everything is quite hard.

Saying things which hurt people.   That is going to be fairly hard too… I might easily get a bit hot under the collar if I feel attacked or criticised. I’m going to have to work at that.

Saying anything which sets people against each other or wasting time in idle gossip. Should be alright on that.

Wanting something which someone else has, or wanting to do harm to someone. Or holding wrong views, like denying there’s anything wrong with the above. Ditto.

All of these (what shall we call them? Sins? Non-virtuous actions?) stem from one underlying, catastrophic mistake: cherishing myself.

Self cherishing is when we think “I am important just because I am me”. It causes us to perform all sorts of negative actions in pursuit of self-gratification. And because they are negative, they make us unhappy.

The antidote is – guess what? – cherishing others. Thinking: “I want you to be happy” and then performing virtuous actions to try to achieve that. Because these actions are virtuous, they make us happy.

Life presents innumerable opportunities to do the right or the wrong thing. Many are tiny. They flit across the mind and before you even know it you’ve thought, said or done something (right or wrong).

Training in alertness and mindfulness through meditation helps enormously. You learn to become aware of what you are thinking as soon as you start thinking it, so that you can spot any negative thoughts and nip them in the bud before they are expressed in words or actions.

Bigger decisions crop up less often but have huge potential to make you happy – or not.

The Life Editor offers some free decision making aids to help you tell how right or wrong a potential course of action might be for you.  A couple of them are based on the Buddhist view of life; others draw on different spiritual traditions. They are free to use at

Monday, 21 April 2014

Atisha’s Advice for making good decisions


I can’t decide if it’s because I’m a Libran, but I’m not very good at making decisions!

But I am interested in Buddhism and got to wondering how a Buddhist Master would make good decisions. The trouble is, Buddhism is a vast and complicated subject and it’s hard to find a concise summary. But I came across “Advice from Atisha’s Heart” in a book by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso called ‘How to Solve our Human Problems’. A very promising title…

So I read Atisha’s Advice. It is incredibly concise and concentrated. It’s also quite moving and inspiring. It is a holy man’s guide to living, so I thought it ought to be a reliable basis for making good decisions.

Atisha was a famous Indian Buddhist scholar and meditation master who lived around 1000AD. At one point he travelled to Tibet and began the revival of Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet. His teachings were explained and systemised by Je Tsongkhapa in the middle ages and became known as the New Kadampa Tradition. This was more recently brought to the West by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.

When Atisha was about to leave Tibet and return to India, his students asked him to give one final teaching. He emphasised that this final teaching was “not just words from the mouth, but sincere advice from the heart” and so it became known as the “Advice from Atisha’s Heart”.

I devised a sort of scoring model to go with the text that you can use to see if something you are thinking of doing would concur with Atisha’s Advice.

The model asks you questions about your proposed course of action based on Atisha’s Advice and you give each question a score of 1-5. It then calculates the percentrage of how right you think the course of action is judged against Atisha’s Advice. It shows you this in a graph and provides personalised feedback in the form of a feedback report, which is tailored to the answers you gave.

Even if you do not have anything to decide on today, it’s well worth reflecting on this man’s wonderful advice.

For the decision-making aid based on Atisha’s Advice

For more on Kadampa Buddhism

For a copy of the book ‘How to Solve our Human Problems’ by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Sunday, 26 January 2014

The Native American Medicine Wheel - a wisdom tool for planning your life choices

The Native American Medicine Wheel

The Native American Medicine Wheel comes from a deep, natural and ancient wisdom, which would be well worth finding out more about if you are interested. But you don’t have to ‘believe’ in it for it to help you make good choices in your life. 

The Medicine Wheel is like a map of life. It is used as a path to understanding, a focus for ceremonies and a basis for healing. It encompasses everything - from the mystical void from which all existence sprang, all the physical elements, the inter-connectedness of all things, and respect for ancestors and nature. 

The wheel can take the form of an arrangement of stones on the land or a work of art. Different tribes each have their own version. Different systems of colours and meanings have been assigned to the directions of the wheel, such as the stages of life, the seasons, physical elements, and animals.

In the version which inspired the LifeEditor, the wheel is like a compass. Each cardinal direction represents an element: fire, earth, water and air. The in-between directions represent other key factors which shape the energy of life: concepts of self, the sub-conscious, patterns and rules, and priorities. 

These ideas will help you look at your choices from different angles to see how good they are for you. Here is a sample of the questions the model prompts you to ask yourself. 

The first cardinal direction in the Wheel is the East is where the sun rises. It’s the direction of a new dawn. It represents fire and the sun, whose energy is the source of all life on earth. 

The element of fire triggers expansion and passion in the human spirit. It is our divine spark. It illuminates our path toward enlightenment. It encompasses creativity and adventure. 
When it is healthy it offers a continuous opportunity for development and enrichment. But if it is unhealthy it can take the form of fantasy and illusion.

Does this choice seem like a new dawn for you?
Does it set your heart on fire?
Does it offer an opportunity for expansion and development?
Does it enable you to see a path of positive progression for you?
Will it feed and nourish your spirit?
Will this be a creative adventure for you?

The Life Editor model based on the Native American Medicine Wheel has similar questions on all the 8 directions of the Wheel. It shows you how you feel about each question on a spider graph, and composes a personalised feedback text based on your answers. 

The tools are available to download as Microsoft Excel files. They are free to download and use. Visit