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Danika Stochosky on Copywriting, Russian Language and Being a Miami Vice Villain

Join me today as I speak with Danika Stochosky, also known as Danika Ess, who has come from Portland, Oregon to live in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.

Danika is a copywriter who helps businesses get to the core of what it is their target clients and customers are looking for so that the copy on their websites and in their marketing materials can be aimed directly at them.

But Danika has also worked very heavily in helping Russians learn English in the US, so I spoke with her about what she’s done, why she’s done it and how she helps businesses meet their customers’ values.

Here are some of the highlights, but as always, I urge you to listen to the podcast in full for some brilliant tips and anecdotes.

Danika on being the “bad guy”

Darren: On the About Us page on your website, you talk about wanting to be the bad guy in in Miami Vice with a pool and exotic pets.

Danika: Well, as a child, I always thought comparing the lifestyle the hero was leading to that of the drug dealer, the drug dealer had a way better situation going on! Supermodels, white furniture, tigers, pools – yes there was a mountain of cocaine and probably a whole lot of violence that I didn’t really pick up on, but all I did was walk into the room and say “I want white tigers!”

But part of everybody’s journey through life is that it’s never what they expect it to be. Other kids wanted to be firefighters and they ended up being accountants. I wanted to be a drug dealer and ended up being a copywriter!

I didn’t become a copywriter right out of university though, and it wasn’t really until I had some experience in banking and working with small business owners, the school and a lot of non-profits that I realised that there’s a lot of usability and copy issues that don’t get resolved until a program either fails or a person picks up a phone and calls, which if you’ve got good copy they should never have to do.

So that was really kind of the idea behind my About Us page. We don’t all know what we’re gonna be, but we all have goals, and I still do!

…on university and careers

Darren: So I presume when you say when you went to university, you didn’t know what you wanted to do. I presume you didn’t go to university to be a drug dealer?

Danika: No, I passed my drug dealer stage when I was eight! I went to university for theatre and I thought I wanted to be an actor, which it turns out I didn’t really like as much as I liked being on the producing and analysis end.

I really loved directing, production management, script analysis and dramaturgy – which is where you study a script to give the actors some background. All that was really interesting to me, and so was figuring out how to put everything together so that the audience had a seamless experience and just bought right into everything. But, acting schmackting! It’s the production piece that’s the important part. Then of course I got a job in banking, which totally makes sense!

Darren: Perfect sense! So did you leave the acting and script work behind to just pursue your dream in banking?

Danika: No, my dream that was solved by going into banking was that I was able to move out of my mother’s basement!

I kept on doing theatre for another decade with a really small theatre arts company that was focused on not doing theatre that we necessarily thought people wanted to see, but theatre that we really wanted to do, with zero budget. It was really fun, but then I got pregnant and I had an actual real little person that needed a mom. So when my daughter came around, I kind of had to put theatre off to the side and focus on providing for my small family.

This was when banking really became the thing that saved me, and learning about small businesses and helping them navigate the world of banking became really important because it was how we were surviving. Then we moved here (to the UK) and I didn’t have to do banking anymore as I was working in recruitment, but then Covid hit and I got a P45, which is fine – I was the last person and I’m the first one to go – but I never left my desire to create things. So I put myself through a web design course, and enjoyed the idea that I could create something that didn’t exist before, but Ruby killed me! I made a Ruby site and it was terrible!

Darren: If you’re going to pick up web design, Ruby’s not really the simplest language to start with!

Danika: We started with HTML and CSS, and then it was like “we’re just gonna sprinkle some Ruby in here!” But I finished, I got it done, and the test site functioned the way it needed to for the assignment.

…on language/culture barriers and problem solving

Danika: On my kids’ language program, it was designed to bring Russian students who were from a refugee population and help them learn English so that they were up to speed and ready to go by the time they hit what you guys would call secondary school, but the problem was that the enrollment wasn’t keeping up with where the district needed it to be.

So I entered into all of this with my can-do American spirit and thought “let’s go fix this program!” So I held a big open session for all the families to come and just air their grievances, and then get a plan together on how we’re going to tackle this issue and how we’re going to save this program, and no one showed up!

Darren: Oh no!

Danika: Not a single person showed up, it was heartbreaking! But I knew that they needed help, so I went to the teachers and I said “what did I do wrong here?”

They said “you’re too optimistic, you’re too American! You need to approach this differently.” They said first of all, go through us if you want to talk to the to the parents because they’re not gonna listen to you, you’re some crazy American lady. I realised that going through the enrolment process was easy for the Americans because we knew that there were language immersion programs available to us, and we knew how to navigate a website, so it was very easy for us white middle-class ladies to figure this out. For the Russian families, they heard about the program through their churches, friends and families, and their delivery mechanism was very different.

So we needed to tap into the networks that these people already accessed, so that would be their churches but also their Slavic radio program, the Facebook groups that are for Russian speakers, and get a hold of all of those people and media and work that angle.

Going through the Portland Public Schools (PPS) website to find the Russian immersion program was impossible, in fact the only language that was listed as a secondary language was Chinese! There’s six or seven Spanish immersion programs in PPS but they weren’t even listed on the website, so I took it upon myself to find out how the other language programs were doing and what their enrolment numbers were.

Then I came back to the teachers with an executable plan, which was to have a video to go on every platform possible. So it wasn’t just about revamping the Russian immersion program, it was about making dual language immersion a bigger part of the enrollment process for the entire district.

All of a sudden, with the media blitz from the video that we worked on, we went to the local high school and had their film studies group make us an industrial film. The Russian teachers were extremely supportive, and they went out and found a Russian composer who lived nearby and had him compose music for the video . Some of the moms were willing to go on camera and talk about their experience on the video.

They didn’t believe that there was a big enough Russian-speaking population to save the program, but I was like “well, let’s just try it, let’s just see what happens”. In the end, we created so much demand for the program that they had to have a waitlist, and I was so excited for them because this was a group of people who felt so persecuted and so left behind, but we were able to save it and now it’s still running.

Darren: It sounds like what you’ve done there is the same as what you talk about with your copy – it’s about identifying who you’re actually going to be writing the content for and who the target customer is, and then using what’s important to them, what their values are and the type of language that they use.

…on finding the motivations of customers

Darren: When you work with a business, how do you get to the motivations of their clients and customers?

Danika: It’s gonna sound wild – you ask them!

…on the differences between US and UK copy

Darren: Have you noticed much of a difference in the way companies in the UK and in the US produce copy, aside from the obvious spelling differences.

Danika: No, it’s not that vastly different. There’s still bad and great copy out there, and it has more to do with how aware the business owner is of what the sales process is. Most people don’t start their business to sell things, they start their business because they’re really good at making something or doing something, and then suddenly realise they’re in sales. If they don’t understand the sales process, they’re gonna have clunky copy, and even if they do understand the sales process, they’re still probably gonna have clunky copy. It’s just because either they haven’t put in the time to develop it and they don’t think it’s important, or they think it’s fine even when their website isn’t generating any sales at all. There’s that whole idea that a website’s just an online business card – no it’s not, no it’s a 24-hour salesperson, that’s what that is!

Darren: I did hear somebody many years ago talk about their business saying that they don’t sell anything online because their customers don’t buy their products online. I always said at the time “no, YOUR customers don’t buy YOUR products online. Your competitors’ customers buy their products online because you’re not doing anything with your website!” They sold sprinklers!

Danika: Well, I know that Amazon sells a lot of sprinklers because I just bought one from there!

…on blogs vs. social media

Darren: I’ve seen on your website you’ve got a blog about how blogs are far more important than social media. Is that driven by your hatred of social media?

Danika: Well, it’s also driven by metrics. If you spend $200 on social media, the ROI on it is around 4%, whereas the ROI on an email campaign is anywhere from 25% to 47%. Social media is important so that people know that you’re not dead, but if you had to choose between what to put your investment into I would say find an SEO expert and invest in them get yourself where you need to be.

But then again, it does depend on who your audience is. If your audience is on TikTok, hammer down on TikTok content. If that’s where they live, go there!

…on asking for feedback

Danika: Business owners are afraid to ask because they don’t want to impose. That’s a very British thing!

That is a very British story. “Couldn’t possibly ask!”

Danika: But people love to tell you about their experiences with your company, good or bad. That’s why Amazon reviews are full of hilarity and anger, because people love giving their opinion – even the British!

Danika mentions loads of great tools and websites that can be used for finding customers and analysing results, so don’t miss out on listening to the full podcast. And if you liked it, please subscribe through your preferred platform to make sure you don’t miss a moment of the Engaging Marketeer Podcast.

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