How one of the world’s oldest content marketers got it so wrong

john-deereEven the oldest content marketers in the world can get it wrong, it seems.

A reader of this blog – Diary of a Communicator – sent me the following photo of an exhibition stand put on by John Deere – a major agricultural equipment manufacturer, almost 175 years old, and ‘one of the world’s most admired businesses’.

John Deere is often credited as a very early example of content marketing as we currently know it, with their magazine The Furrow, a magazine for farmers, first published in 1895. It is still going strong.

But what would the magazine founders make of this spelling gaffe which took place at a recent show in China? It’s not a small mistake either – it really is top of the charts – and appears to run across all their branding.

You have to wonder how something can get this far without someone realising something is wrong. Doesn’t anyone check their copy for accuracy anymore? This is really important when you exhibit abroad and you need to demonstrate that your company is the genuine article, and not an imitation brand.

john-deere-1Only the smartest people make typos

Contrary to popular belief, it’s very often the smartest people that make typos, according to research from the University of Sheffield.

Psychologist Tom Stafford, studying typos at the university, argued that our brains generalize simple component parts, such as turning words into sentences, so it can focus on the more complex tasks of conveying complex ideas.

The research revealed that when you’re reading other people’s work, this ability helps you arrive at meaning faster by using less brain power. However, it seems to work against you when reading your own work.

This is because you already have an idea of what you intended to convey. When you read your own words back it’s difficult to see what’s absent, such as good spelling, as its competing with the version that’s already in your head.

john-deere-2Stafford gave an example of generalization. Imagine driving to a friend’s barbeque. It’s possible that you end up driving to work by accident if your friend’s house includes a section of your daily commute. This is because when you’re generalizing you are operating on instinct and you become blind to details. Likewise, when you’re proofing your own copy, your brain already knows the destination and you’re blind to the typos.

This also accounts for why your readers are more likely to pick up on your errors. They are on the journey for the first time and don’t know the destination, which is why they pay more attention to the details along the way.

Stafford suggested that if you want to catch your own errors such as spelling, then you should try to make your work as unfamiliar as possible. This could mean for example, changing the font or background colour, or printing out and editing by hand.

This makes a lot of sense to me and may account for the effectiveness of many of the proofreading techniques that are out there, such as reading your copy backwards or out loud.  John Deere – take note.

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