Wonderful brand and adoring audience-building lessons from Grammar Girl

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I had the great pleasure of attending a lecture and book signing this evening by Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl

For those of you unfamiliar with her work, two years ago she began her weekly 5-minute grammar podcast as a hobby and quickly saw it explode on iTunes.  Today, she has an average of 800,000 listeners a week.  As the Wall Street Journal said:

"So why does the show consistently rank in
the top 40 podcasts on iTunes? The show is well produced. . . .
‘Grammar Girl’ found a narrow niche that a surprising number of people
are interested in."

So who gives a hoot about grammar?

If the audience tonight is any indication, it is a cross-section of book lovers, teachers, schoolchildren, businesspeople and just about anyone who is hungry for an accessible, fun, knowledgeable 21st century writing guru who can answer their pesky grammar questions.

I wish you could have all been at the event to hear the reactions to some questions:

Audience member:  "What is wrong with where are you working at?"

Rest of audienceGASP!  (As if the question were "Why is it wrong to beat people over the head and steal their money?")

Audience member:  When do you use who and when do you use whom?

Rest of audienceCollective murmur of appreciation (As if the question were "Can you explain definitively if there is life after death?)

Audience member:  What are your views of the word "irregardless?"

Rest of audience: Gasp of horror (As if the question were "Should we elect Ann Coulter President?" at a Young Democrats convention)

But perhaps my favorite moment was a question from a young boy in the audience who said

"My teacher made me visit your website, and I didn’t even know you had a podcast.  Once I found it, I became a regular listener.  My question is  What is the proper use of a semicolon?"

Which young boys care about the proper use of semicolons?  Damn cool ones, apparently.  After she answered his question, he said "To bug my teacher, I always misuse "me" and "I."  It drives her crazy."

A boy who pesters a teacher with intentionally misused grammar instead of whoopee cushions is welcome in my classroom any day.

The best brand meets a need in a clear and simple way

What Mignon demonstrates so well is how to build an enthusiastic, tuned-in audience by matching a great market need (focused, enjoyable education about writing) with simple and accessible social media tools like blogs and podcasts.

This platform has led to lots of media exposure (The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Oprah) as well as a book deal which resulted in her just-released Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

This video is another example of a great use of simple and pervasive technology that makes me feel like I know her, even though I just shook her hand for the first time this evening.  Notice how well she communicates about what she does, without sounding like a nauseatingly lame elevator speech.

Her presentation was a great way to spend an hour, and it really got me fired up for my own book tour next Spring.  Great work Mignon, I can’t wait to see what comes next! (Since this post is on grammar usage, now I wonder if I should have capitalized "Spring."  Ideas?)

10 Responses to “Wonderful brand and adoring audience-building lessons from Grammar Girl”

  1. Andy Pels says:

    “The best brand meets a need in a clear and simple way.”
    I know it might seem like people (including this people) are always sucking up to you, but this lesson really made something click in my brain. It was a good solid click, and I know it will help with my project.

    To prove that I’m not just a suck up, I’ll find a post of yours that kind of stinks and I’ll say so in the comments.

    I’m so glad you’re writing your book so I can buy it and you will finally make some money off of me.

    Grammars are one of them things I wish I learned more better in my own past history…

    Since you already had, I think you were really wondering whether you should have capitalized spring, not if you should have. 😉

  2. Ellen Hart says:

    Thank you for the resource. As a blogger, I’m always looking for authorities on grammar. I’m adding Grammar Girl to my list.

  3. Pam,

    I appreciate you being such a generous resource!

  4. Randy MacDonald says:

    (I was halfway through this post when I realized it wasn’t Language Log, which is another feed I read.)

    “…recognized by its rotten egg smell!”

    Ending a passive voice sentence with an excmamation point, priceless! I’d love to be convinced that that is not ironic!

  5. How inspiring!
    Thanks Pam for introducing me to Grammar Girl. It’s fun to watch her and see how she has built such a following. She really demonstrates how being an expert in a narrow topic can attract quite a wide audience.

  6. DPeach says:

    I watched the video stream of the signing. I did not get to see the lecture though. Maybe I will catch a later one.

    I think Grammar Girl has done a great job with marketing herself in the traditional way and in building a following because of just being friendly and accessible.

  7. nooccar says:

    Great post, and I’ve never seen this video either. I was there last night with a friend, and I twittered (twitter.com/nooccar) a few things. My friend knew the awaken/woken answer but didn’t want to sound erudite. I did get a few pics taken, and I will load them to Flickr today (tagged: grammargirl).

    Yeah, that is great, can’t wait to see the pics!

    I was hovering in the background because I had my 9-month old daughter with me and she is known to let out exuberant shrieks of joy. I knew this would annoy the audience, as they were hanging on every word. 🙂


  8. If you like the grammar activists, you’ll love the plain language movement! For instance, did you know there’s a concern among science editors that scientists don’t write clearly enough for doctors to understand published research papers?

    I love it!

    My brother is a scientist (Chair of Dept of Geology at U of Pitt) and I experienced this when he wrote the cover story in Science magazine a few years back. I didn’t understand a word! But it wasn’t his lack of writing skills, since he is an excellent writer (considered an English major before geology), it was more the specific technical subject that mystified me.

    Didn’t stop me from being an exceptionally proud little sister. 🙂


  9. Pam,

    I love this post and find Grammar Girl inspiring.

    I admit my Arkansas linguistic, hooked-on-phonics upbringing is still confused about certain tenses and the elusive semi-colon; but, I love the branding and everything about Grammar Girl.

    Great Story.


  10. Leslie M-B says:

    There’s no need to capitalize “spring.” But “usage” usually doesn’t have that extra “e” you included. 😉

    Leslie, you are a gem, and would have been right at home with last night’s audience. I felt like it was ground zero of “Grammar Activists of America.” Truly wonderful to watch.

    Thanks for the tip!