Think back to your favorite childhood story. Or consider a story you recently read that engrossed you. The special appeal of that story probably involved the following:
- An appeal to your senses (Can you see Red Riding Hood’s hood; can you taste those delicious goodies in her basket?)
- Interesting characters you could relate to (the little girl, the Woodsman, the grandmother, even the big bad wolf)
- Entertaining events (“The better to smell you with, my dear.”)
- A clear purpose (“Don’t talk to strangers.”)
Those same elements would help create a wonderful marketing story about your company, product or service, whether it is delivered in website content, a press release, a video, a testimonial or a success story.
The next time you are writing about your business, see if you can incorporate an appeal to senses, interesting characters (customers, employees), entertaining or educational elements (“here’s how we…”) and above all a clear purpose.
TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes the memorable marketing stories of companies in the retail, technical, service, manufacturing and construction industries. Let us tell your story!
When I urge writers to use exact words, I’m referring to two of the most common errors in business and technical writing.
The first error is simple vagueness. The writer claims that a product is best-in-class; that projects are completed in a timely manner; that the company is at the forefront of technology. But those claims can be made by anyone–by any competitor or even by a company in an entirely different field–unless they are backed by facts, figures, examples, awards, testimonials and exact words. How is best-in-class measured; what is the industry standard? Does “timely” mean within days of the deadline or within weeks? What brought the company to the fore in technology and how does it stay there? The answers to those questions differentiate the company and make it stand out.
The second error is an indefinite reference–a missing antecedent for pronouns such as “it” or “they” or “you” or “this.” For example, “The company had introduced the app to the marketplace once before but they ignored it.” The sentence could mean that the marketplace (“they”) ignored either the introduction or the app itself (“it”). But in fact, the sentence could have another entirely different meaning: ”The company had introduced the app to the marketplace once before, but the company (“they”) ignored that first attempt (“it”).”
Often, an indefinite pronoun “you” leaves the reader wondering exactly who “you” is: “I tell my customers you should always update your virus protection software. You should take that advice, too.” In the first sentence, “you” and “your” probably ought to be “they” and “their.” With that change, the second sentence clearly refers to the reader.
When exact words lose out in favor of vague phrases or indefinite references, the marketing or technical content is harder to read and the message gets lost in translation. If you want to be sure you’re delivering your marketing or technical content in exact words, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’re experts at pinpointing and fixing problems.
Recently I read a famous fiction author’s advice on writing. He said writing should be invisible, so that the characters and actions shine through. Simple writing, he said, is best.
The same advice applies even more strongly to marketing writing. Your goal in marketing writing is not to impress people with your vocabulary and the cleverness of your sentence structure. Your goal is to communicate a marketing message. Five syllable words, the most recent jargon (proactive, state-of-the-art), and complicated sentence structures merely get in the way; customers may admire your cleverness but do they remember your product or service?
Take these examples:
- From a brochure: “The multiplicity of chemical elements in nature has given rise to an absolutely inexhaustible wealth of forms, phenomena and possibilities.” When write-like-you-talk is the rule, the message is easy to understand: “Nature has given us a wealth of chemical elements and a wealth of possibilities for combining and using them.”
- From a flyer: “Only a carefully prepared specification of the entire project that is tailored to the effective requirements of the user can form a basis for an optimum solution.” Here’s the write-like-you-talk version: “We understand your requirements, and we tailor our solutions to your specific needs.”
- From an advertisement: “We offer a broad portfolio of compatible knowledge components.” It took a while to puzzle this one out but the author meant that “Our different software components link together to form the exact solution each customer is looking for.”
Technical companies aren’t the only ones who fall into the mistake of using complicated language and sentence structures in order to impress. If you truly want to impress customers, make it easy for them to understand the value in your products and services. Write like you talk.
At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we’ve proven that clear and accurate language sells in websites, articles, newsletters, blog posts and technical documents. Contact us today.
When you are writing for an international audience, for whom English is most likely a second language, you should take care to:
- Never hyphenate. Even a word like “international” is hard enough to read without a hyphen breaking it across two lines (“interna- tional).
- Stay away from clichés (“easy as pie”) or local expressions (“like a Red Sox fan…”) that are difficult or impossible to explain.
- Use straightforward, every-day language, not business or industry jargon or unexplained acronyms. Maybe everyone in the U.S. knows what FDA stands for; those initials have quite different meanings in various foreign countries.
- Avoid product names that may have an embarrassing meaning in other languages. Even major corporations run into this problem regularly; check with a native language speaker to make sure you haven’t inadvertently insulted your customers or your own company.
- Look closely at illustrations. Are men and women dressed or touching each other in ways that another culture would find offensive? Are background colors, words, furniture and even weather appropriate to the country you are trying to reach?
- Leave enough space on the page and in tables, captions and figures for the extra words that may be needed to explain something for a foreign audience.
Those rules apply even if you are translating your content into the language of your customers. If translators struggle to explain clichés, jargon, acronyms and embarrassing product names and if they run out of space to translate your words exactly, their translation may misinterpret what you mean.
If you need help preparing your content for translation or for customers who read English as a second language, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. If we can’t help, we can direct you to companies that can.
Confession here: Sometimes when I write this blog, I inadvertently omit the most important words people will search for. I must nudge myself to include “marketing writing” and “technical writing” in my blog posts; to mention that TWP Marketing & Technical Communications is the name of the company and that it is based in Peterborough, NH; and to mention my successes with website, newsletter, blog, brochure, user manual, proposal and report projects.
Part of the reason is that the information is obvious to me; I forget that anyone searching on line doesn’t know what I am a business writer. Part of the reason is that I become so enthusiastic about sharing information that I forget my own marketing drive behind the sharing. And part of the reason is simple oversight–coulda, shoulda, woulda.
I really ought to know better because that sort of mistake is one I regularly fix for my clients. So now it is time to fix it for me: TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, founded as a sole-proprietorship in 1999, provides copywriting and copyediting for small local businesses in New Hampshire and major corporations throughout the U.S. What makes TWP unique is the combination of technical writing and marketing writing expertise. Because I concentrate on writing, many marketing agencies, website developers and graphic designers rely on TWP to fill that technical/marketing writing gap in their services, whether for an entire website or one article. They know I’ve been around to handle their writing needs for 14 years, and I’ll be around for years to come.
With 25 years of experience and publication credits in a variety of industrial and business magazines and journals, I can truthfully say that at TWP our words means business.
And that’s what TWP is all about. Contact me today if you need a professional writer. I’m ready to help you.
When technical manuals are written by a team of engineers, developers or project leaders, organization is often by default. Each person or group is assigned a chapter or topic and then the manual is stitched together. Before your manual goes to your customers, make sure one person is assigned to review and reorganize the whole. If no one is assigned to that critical role, the following problems are inevitable:
- One chapter contains 10 pages of overview and the next chapter runs to 300 tightly packed pages of information, detailed to level 184.108.40.206.23.
- References to further information in one chapter are never delivered in the following chapters. But some information is repeated, again and again, in every chapter.
- The same figure appears in multiple places throughout the manual–and it’s slightly different each time.
- Answers to the client’s most pressing questions are overlooked or buried so deeply in the text that they might as well not be there.
Installation and operating manuals are usually organized from first step to last. But without a review, that first step in the first chapter may begin too far along in the procedure (“everyone knows to flip the on switch”); may contain two or three paragraphs of information that should be broken up into smaller steps; may overlook important exceptions and warnings; and may be set up in a completely different way from the instructions in the next chapter.
Unless you enjoy forcing customers to struggle or having your technical team and help line overwhelmed with customer questions, you should insist on that final review and reorganization step by one person. The time it takes will be more than made up by the time and customer goodwill that it saves.
Do you have a writing emergency? TWP Marketing & Technical Communications is great at writing, editing and reviewing triage. Contact us today.
Remember the show “What Not to Wear”? The hosts rescued badly dressed women mostly by stressing simple outfits that brought out the women’s innate sense of style and gave them confidence. Sometimes as a writer I find myself in a similar situation. My clients have marketing materials that are confused about audience, mission and even the power of words. My job is to find the clear, accurate, passionate message (the style) beneath the confusion so that clients feel good about their marketing materials–and so do customers.
- Confusion over the audience. A local nonprofit’s website switched back and forth between addressing the people they were trying to help and addressing potential donors. As a result, on the home page, people they were helping became “you” part of the time and “they” the rest of the time. No one looking wants to be categorized as one of “them.” When you know your audience, your writing has the power to move people, whether to seek your help, buy your product or donate to your cause.
- Confusion over the mission. One of my clients was transitioning between two main products. As a result, their website had become a roiling sea of information with no true focal point. Visitors to the website didn’t know where to look first and wondered if they had found the best company to meet their needs. You have to be committed to your own mission before you can convince customers to buy into it.
- Confusion over the power of words. More words and longer words don’t equal more power. I like to use the example of two salespeople. One says, “Our professionally engineered, state-of-the-art product has the incredible capability of significantly reducing your annualized monetary outflow” and the other says, “Our product saves you money year after year.” A simple, clear statement that you believe in carries more weight than any string of five syllable adjectives.
At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, we believe in the power of clarity, accuracy and passion. Let us bring those three elements into your marketing materials and enable your message to shine. Contact us today.
Have you signed up for my free lunchtime workshop at Hannah Grimes on October 8? The workshop is aimed at anyone who creates a product for retail sales. We’ll work on identifying your story–the one that makes people want to buy your product, enhances your brand and allows you to connect with your customers, whether the venue is a hangtag or a website.
If you can’t attend but would like a copy of the PowerPoint slides, please email me with Finding Your Story in the subject line. I look forward to seeing you!
P.S. If you’re in the Jaffrey area on December 11, I’ll be giving a shorter version of the workshop to the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce at their monthly breakfast.
In a previous blog, I offered some advice on asking for testimonials. But testimonials should succeed in quality as well as quantity. What makes for a great testimonial?
First, the testimonial is specific. Thirty “you are wonderful” quotes are less impressive than one quote that says “I am thrilled with my completed kitchen and found the whole experience much easier than I expected. Your crew was always on time, respectful of my house and attentive to what I wanted most in a kitchen….”
Second, the testimonial is timely. If your website still shows the same three customer quotes from ten years ago, believe me, they’ve lost their impact.
Third, the testimonial is in standard English. Sometimes when people email or write a thank you, they are rushed and not careful about spelling or grammar. It is okay (in fact, it is a gift to the customer) to fix minor problems with spelling and grammar. But never ever change the meaning or the intent.
Fourth, each testimonial is carefully chosen. You want testimonials that accurately reflect where you are and where you want to be as a business. Great testimonials speak to the core of your business and help differentiate you.
Great testimonials might appear in print or in video but they all have the characteristics listed above, especially the first. If your customers never write thank you’s or their testimonials fail to meet the criteria above, consider interviewing them for a success story. In the context of a story, even a less than perfect quote can shine. Contact TWP today; we know how to generate testimonials and success stories that do full service for your company.
Recently, a client asked me to list questions that could be asked during interviews of the client’s customers as a basis for success stories. I am a great advocate of success stories. They combine customer quotes with the company’s marketing message to create a targeted, interesting, before-and-after success story: here’s what we did for someone like you; here’s what we can do for you.
Before any interview, you should gather information about the interviewee and his or her company. Make sure you know as much as possible about the project from the company’s point of view, never forgetting that the customer’s point of view may be quite different. During the interview, these five questions are among the most important:
- What drove you (the customer) to seek out this product or service?
- What did you hope to gain? OR What problem did you hope to solve?
- What results did you actually get?
- What benefit surprised you–a result you weren’t expecting?
- If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? OR What advice would give someone else with a similar problem?
The question about results should introduce a discussion about actual metrics. Results may be measured by, for example, numbers (a percentage increase in profits) or actions (a change in services or products) or attitudes (customers better understand the company’s mission). Sometimes the result is a negative: for example, a company trying to motivate employees realizes why their past efforts did not work or a company debating whether to expand to a new market decides against it. Negative results can also be successes.
If you have been waiting for your customers to sing your praises, wait no longer! Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications for success stories that excite your marketplace. We ask the right questions for the best stories.