I’m not writing this for marketing people. I’ve worked with marketers for a long time and they, for the most part, don’t have time to be concerned about effective communication. I’m writing this for salespeople because, in the world of social selling, they are beginning to understand that being trustworthy and forthright are the keys to making sales and revenue grow.
Let me tell you a story.
I was sent a document today with a request to post it on my website. I had to say no, and not because it wasn’t useful information. It was just too hard to find the information because it was horribly overwritten, like much marketing content is.
End of story. Let’s look at how they could fix their document.
Occasional grammatical errors and typos are excusable because mistakes happen. A decent spell checker app can fix most of that, so use it. Intentionally overwhelming a reader with empty prose, however, is not excusable. It turns the reader off, damages your web statistics, bores your audience and kills sales.
The first thing most people want to do when writing something is to prove that they are smarter than the reader regarding the given subject. Really bad move. That’s the best way to turn them off. What works best is to tell a story they can use to determine where they stand in this budding relationship with you, which is what every piece of content you create should do.
In the story that started this piece, I established four potential characters: the person who is partnering with another company, the person in charge of the company’s partner relationships, the reader of the content and a professional marketer. Whoever reads this piece will be one of those four characters. Whoever doesn’t fall into those categories doesn’t need to read this piece. Moreover, the story was very short. Two sentences, 46 words. It established the relationship and the purpose of the communication. If you can’t do that in less than 50 words, you’re complicating things and you’ll lose the audience.
Avoiding adjectives is another good practice. In the story above there are exactly two adjectives. It needs no more, and they were entirely appropriate to paint a picture. Most marketing content creates a false picture that is easily ignored. Words like “exciting” and “Industry leading” are meaningless because they do not describe anything . As Mark Twain put it:
“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of
them, then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.”
Finally, ignore the committee input. When any document goes into development, committees become writing teams filled with people who have no business writing. Take press releases, for example.
Every press release begins with one person developing the content. They will spend multiple hours crafting the story if they have any ability at all. Then it goes to the committee where 90 percent of the time will be spent on “punching up” the headline; making sure the quote from the company executive (usually the CEO) tells how “pleased” he is about this announcement; and making sure the lead contains all the buzzwords that have been committee approved.
Almost every journalist I know ignores the headline, lead and quote (as well as the boilerplate last paragraph) to find out what the news is. Because only 10 percent of the effort went into that part of the release, it generally means that there is very little news. The committee and approval process of marketing content is dedicated to ensuring that nothing of value is stated.
Committees are of value only when they set the parameters of what must be included in the content. The approval process should be nothing more than a checklist of those parameters and the actual prose should be the domain of the person with the ability and experience to write it. That way you speed up the process of content creation and, if the content does not produce the results, you know that the parameters were faulty, not the content or the medium.
Of course, that requires that you have someone on the team that can write. If you don’t, call us, we can help.