Are You Undermining Your Marketing Message?

One of the best pieces of writing advice I received from a VP of sales was to search marketing copy for the word “can”–and delete it. Nine times out of ten, the word “can” unnecessarily weakens a marketing message. For example, compare these two sentences:

  • Our software can reduce your project development time by 15 to 20 percent.
  • Our software reduces your project development time by 15 to 20 percent.

If you hesitate to commit yourself to a marketing message unless the word “can” appears, maybe it’s time to rethink the message. Would “10 to 20 percent” or “up to 20 percent” make you more comfortable in the second sentence? If the “can” is absolutely necessary in that sentence, where else might you omit it?

I often call “can” one of the weasel words: a way to weasel out of a written commitment to the customer. The most severe case of weaseling I ever came across was by an engineer who wrote that an improvement “averaged approximately in the range of about 15 percent.” The word “averaged” said all that needed to be said about the precision of “15 percent”–those extra words (approximately, in the range of, about) merely emphasized the engineer’s fear.

Marketing copy that is high on adjectives (state-of-the-art, proactive, results-oriented, customer-focused) and low on specific examples, numbers, and photos also undermines your marketing message. Find me a business that is not customer focused, and I’ll show you a truly unique business model. Otherwise, let testimonials, case studies, awards, and photos of happy customers prove your claims of superior customer service.

Multiple uses of “can,” a refusal to commit to a certain standard of excellence, and a reliance on adjectives instead of proof, all have the same effect on the customer: a growing doubt that you know whereof you speak.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications helps businesses develop a strong, focused marketing message they and their customers believe in. Contact us today and consider us your can-do writers.

Tolerant and Inclusive Writing

Happy Holidays everyone!

I happen to be Jewish, so my holiday is Chanukah. When casual friends wish me a Merry Christmas, I enjoy the spirit in which the wish was given and thank them.

But when companies focus all their marketing copy on Christmas, I wonder why they refuse to recognize those customers who do not celebrate that particular holiday. No one is asking for twenty ads for twenty different religious observances; but a simple “Happy Holidays” reaches out to everyone. The expression is respectful to your beliefs and mine.

Some organizations are created to provide products and services solely for one group of people (one religion, one gender, one difference) and that’s fine. For the rest, being inclusive and tolerant should be an easy choice.

Some of the women in my family have names that are appropriate for either male or female. If someone hearing their name mistakes their gender, that’s a very excusable mistake.

But when an entire company writes marketing copy as if women (or men) do not exist, I wonder why they exclude at least half their potential customers. Several alternatives exist to a universal “he” (or “she”): the marketing copy can address customers directly as “you”; or alternate “he” and “she” in examples; or use the plural (“customers,” “they”).

I happen to be short; in fact most of my family, including some of the men, stopped growing around 5’1″. Our shortness is a minor challenge, and we are very grateful to all those who are 5’6″ and over, who help us load carry-ons into overhead bins and select the spaghetti sauce we want from the top shelf in the market.

But when an entire company refuses to recognize differences among people in their marketing copy–when all their photos show trim, gorgeous, 6-foot models in luxury settings instead of real people having real interactions–then I wonder who exactly are they appealing to?

When you are inclusive and tolerant, your world expands. When you are exclusive and intolerant–even by accident–your world contracts. As a business owner, you want as many customers in the largest world possible. The choice of inclusion and tolerance falls in the category of enlightened self-interest.

If you are struggling with ways to say and show your message in a welcoming, inclusive manner, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Services.

The ABCs of Great Marketing Copy

Three factors–the ABCs of copywriting–often make the difference between marketing copy that succeeds and marketing copy that fails in communicating with your customers, employees and peers. The best marketing copy is:

  1. Audience-specific. To write great marketing copy, you need to write for your audience. This is a variation on the same advice that resume writers, for example, give to job candidates. Great resumes target a specific job; great marketing copy targets a specific audience. Great resumes address the actual needs of employers; great marketing copy addresses the actual needs of your customers.
  2. Balanced. Great marketing copy has balance. It is accurate, concise and passionate without going to extremes. It gives details, without overwhelming the audience; it is concise, without leaning on 18 syllable words to make a point; it is passionate, without sacrificing information or becoming egocentric.
  3. Complete. Good copywriters know when enough is enough, and it is time to send out the copy. If your marketing copy is sitting on your desk, waiting for the next bright idea or the 38th reviewer’s comments, it is not working for you. Send it out. If it doesn’t draw the response you wanted, revise and send it out again.

Marketing copy that violates these ABCs is easy to recognize. It sounds sort of like those spam letters you receive offering you a million dollars left in some bank overseas. It gives you details you don’t want about an offer you don’t need and goes on and on past your level of tolerance (and gullibility). It sounds unprofessional. It makes you hesitate to take action.

Those qualities are easy for an audience to recognize, but harder for most companies. Companies often feel strongly that they are communicating when they aren’t. They blame the audience for not understanding. They blame the method of communication and inundate the marketplace with brochures, blogs, websites, newsletters, catalogs, articles and social media posts in a random and panicked rush to connect.

If you suspect your marketing copy has not or will not come across as audience-specific, balanced and complete, please phone or email TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. I have the audience empathy, techniques and commitment to lead your marketing copy to greatness.

When Foreign Companies Write for English-Speaking Customers

A fellow blogger, whose first language is Spanish, recently shared the benefits of writing his personal blog in English. Among those benefits were reaching a larger (English-speaking) audience and accommodating search engines which prefer English. However, one of his reasons gave me pause: You get to practice English.

Practicing is a great thing to do on a personal blog. But when you are writing marketing copy for English-speaking customers, you do not want to practice. Here are three reasons:

1. When you make mistakes in standard English or colloquial English, native English speakers often infer that it will be difficult to communicate with your staff. Unfortunately, most native English speakers have only one language. They may prefer working with companies that are fluent in English.

2. Your English may be both standard and colloquial, but your marketing copy may mix up cultural and other clues. One off-shore copywriter described a service as “year round” that, in large parts of the US, would only be feasible in summer. Another off-shore copywriter unwittingly lauded a product that violated US electrical codes.

3. If your company is based in an English-speaking country, a struggle with standard English or colloquial English implies that it is based off-shore. Geography may be an issue with some of your customers; you need them to understand immediately that they are dealing with a local company.

Regardless of where your company is based, whether in the US or abroad, you should use a copywriter whose first language is the language of your customers. As a professional copywriter, I have helped many companies deliver a strong, culturally sensitive marketing message in standard and colloquial US English.

If the language of your customers is English, I can definitely help. Please contact me today.

 

Before You Start Writing

Before you start writing any marketing copy, whether a blog, newsletter, website, success story, proposal or article, you should know the answers to these four questions:

1. What does your customer want? Your marketing copy must provide a solution for the customer’s problem. You have to know the problem, be able to solve it, want to solve it and know how to communicate all that to the customer.

2. Where do your customers hang out? Do they search the web or newspapers? Are they more likely to read an article in a magazine or a story on your blog?

3. How much time are you prepared to spend? A regular newsletter or blog takes time; so does tweeting and maintaining a Facebook presence. Do you have the resources?

4. What is your deadline? A website or proposal that is four years in the finishing is four years overdue. Your marketing copy can’t start working for you until it reaches your customers.

If you are having trouble defining and reaching your audience or finding the resources and time to complete writing projects, contact me. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our words mean business.

Differentiating Yourself from the Competition

Are you doing less to make your company stand out than you do for yourself?

If you were writing a resume, you would differentiate yourself from your competitors by stressing your specific skills and accomplishments and by focusing on the information the company expressly asked for in its job posting.

The same tactics work in differentiating your company from its competitors:

  • Be specific. Define “excellent customer service” with statistics, testimonials and success stories. If your work is extremely accurate, define “extremely”: within a mile or an inch or a millionth of an inch?
  • Take credit. If you “have the capability of repairing a car in 24 hours,” then you repair cars in 24 hours. The italic statement is more concise, stronger and more believable. “Having a capability” means nothing unless you follow through and use it. So stand up for what you do.
  • Let your customers in on the secret. Never assume your customers know what you do or how you do it. Everyone in your industry may use environmentally friendly chemicals. Make sure your customers know you use environmentally friendly chemicals.
  • Focus your message. Researchers have proven that people can remember at most 4 chunks of new information. Stay under that limit and concentrate your marketing copy (each marketing brochure, website page, blog, press release or success story) on one idea at a time.

Need help in writing marketing copy that differentiates your company from the competition? Give TWP Marketing & Technical Communications a call.

Add Wow to Your Marketing Message, Part 2: Advice on Adjectives

Does your company offer state-of-the-art products, best-in-class service in a proactive environment focused on delivering cost-effective, timely projects in a collaborative environment?

Join the group.

Millions of companies turn themselves into clones by relying on well-worn adjectives in their marketing copy instead of explaining what they do and how they do it. What makes a product state-of-the-art: what benchmarks has it met, what awards has it won and what techniques does it use? What makes service best in class: what do customers say? Are statistics available to prove cost-effectiveness and timeliness? Will company biographies, success stories and general tone testify to the collaborative environment?

No one ever writes marketing copy to brag about poorly built products and lousy customer service delivered weeks late in complete chaos. If they did, the opening statement of this blog might serve as a differentiator. It doesn’t.

When you search out strings of vague adjectives in your marketing copy, you can begin to truly differentiate your company by substituting details on when, where, how and why you do what you do. I’ll talk about that more in Part 3.

For marketing copy and technical writing that help your company to stand out from the group, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications.