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.

What Is TWP Marketing & Technical Communications?

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.

 

What Not to Say: The Right Words Clear Away Confusion

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.

What Makes a Great Testimonial?

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.

 

How Do You Define “Value-Added”?

As a professional copywriter, I know how I define “value-added” for my customers. They would expect any copywriter to fix problems with consistency, accuracy, spelling and grammar. But for me, “value-added” means proposing solutions, sharing information and setting guidelines that go beyond what the customer asked for:

  • A one- or two-page style guide. That gives us all have the same guidelines to follow–copyeditor, writers and reviewers.
  • An explanation for changes that the writer might question (such as changing compliment to complement or changing a single verb to a plural). That explanation prevents us from re-editing each other.
  • Alternative wording when clarity is an issue. As a result, the writer actually sees where readers might go astray and can either choose one of the alternatives or propose another.
  • A new opening paragraph if the main points are buried deep in the content. I explain the issue and place the new opening in a separate file for the writer to either accept or reject.
  • Constant communication. My customers know immediately if a small change can save them money or if an issue needs their attention (for example, a problem with screen shots or missing information). I don’t hide bad news or good news.

At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, customers always receive more than they asked for, whether the job involves copywriting or copyediting. What can we do that would add value to your project?

Taking the Pain out of Writing

The easiest way to take the pain out of writing is to have a professional writer–like me!–take over for you. But in the meantime, these hints are sure to help:

  1. Write first, leave the editing for later. Editing at the same time that you write is like taking a giant step back for every two steps forward–progress is real slow. First put all your ideas into words, then edit.
  2. Don’t get stalled on your opening sentence. More often than not, you’ll find your best opening sentence at the end of whatever you write, when your thoughts have coalesced–another reason to leave off editing until you finish writing.
  3. If nothing you write ever sounds organized, think in terms of structure: first to last, top to bottom, large to small, most important to least important or vice versa. Choose one structure and then (here’s the hard part) delete whatever doesn’t fit. You may discover 3 more blog posts, 2 more press releases and 4 tweets. That’s a good thing.
  4. If you can’t find the words to say what you mean, pull out a chair. Pretend the person you are writing to (whether your best customer or the customer you don’t have yet) is sitting in that chair and talk to the chair. Describe to the chair what you are trying to write. Make sure you record or immediately write down what you say–those are the words you want.
  5. If you believe every word you write is golden, put the finished piece away for at least 24 hours and then review it with a fresh eye. Look particularly for sentences longer than 18 words (no period, no colon), words longer than 3 syllables, strings of adjectives or adverbs and vague words (on time) when you could be specific (within 4 days). Shorter sentences, smaller words, prepositions to break up long strings of adjectives/adverbs and exact words strengthen your writing.
  6. Ask one or two people to review, not dozens. Multiple reviewers tend to edit each other, and you’ll be so demoralized that you’ll abandon the project. If you are part of a writing team and someone else is responsible for the final version, remember that you’ve done your part. Correct errors of fact; don’t start debates over synonyms or serial commas. Or in other words: know when to stop.

What approaches have you found helpful in easing the pain of writing? Please share them here or on Twitter. And if you would still like help, please contact TWP.

A Customer Walks Into Your Company….

A customer walks into your company and is greeted by two sales people.

Sales person A says, “We offer quality custom parts, specialized design, and professional project management services that provide dependable product solutions to meet customer needs. From simple products to complex cross-functional projects involving a variety of materials, functions and teams, we deliver quality products, on-time, backed by world class customer service and support.”

Sales person B says, “How may I help you?”

Which sales person do you think the customer will relate to?

Yet, website after website, brochure after brochure, success story after success story, and newsletter after newsletter sound like they were written by sales person A. The marketing content overwhelms (or underwhelms) the customer with long lists of vague claims that could apply to any industry from space station manufacturing to organic farming. The customer, in effect, doesn’t exist.

At TWP, we answer your customer’s most important question: “How will you help me?” Our solution-driven content differentiates your company from the competition and converts inquiries into sales. For marketing and technical writing that connects with customers, contact TWP today.

 

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.

“What Is the Right Way to Say….”

One of the joys–and exasperations–of English is that it gives you so many ways to say what you mean, and all of them are correct. Or in other words: No matter what you want to say, there are dozens of ways to say it right.

However, there are limitations. An engineer once asked me for a single word that meant cost-effective, high quality and efficient. No such word exists. If he tried to create one, he would be asking customers to read his mind.

So how do you decide on the right way to say what you want to say?

First, follow the rules of grammar. Grammar gives writing its spine.

Second, listen to your ear, and write like you talk. If you read something out loud and it sounds stilted, pompous, long-winded and confusing, then it probably is stilted, pompous long-winded and confusing. When we talk to our customers, we use clear, familiar language that lets our excitement about our product or service shine through. Good writing is good talking.

Third, don’t take everyone’s advice. Because English is so flexible, heated debates can arise over a single comma or a single synonym. Writing by committee is impossible. Limit yourself to one or two trusted reviewers.

Fourth, know when to stop. Endless revising keeps your marketing message out of the marketplace. Your brochure, website, newsletter, blog or success story can’t start working for you until you send it out.

If English is driving you (and your reviewers) crazy, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’ll help you discover the best way to say what you most want to say.