Oh jeez, not another world-class, cutting-edge product from a market-leading, best-of-breed company! Ugh. I think I'm gonna puke! Just like with a teenager's use of catch phrases, I notice the same words cropping up again and again in company Web sites and news releases—so much so that the gobbledygook grates against my nerves and many other people's, too. Well, duh. Like, companies just totally don't communicate very well, you know?
So few marketing and PR people write well. Many of the thousands of Web sites I've analyzed over the years and the many news releases I receive each week from well-meaning PR people are laden with these gobbledygook adjectives. Words and phrases like "next-generation," "industry standard," "groundbreaking," "user-friendly," and the like are so overused today as to have become meaningless.
Write for Your Buyers
Your buyers (and the media that cover your company) want to know what specific problems your product solves, and they want proof that it works—in plain language. Your marketing and PR is meant to be the beginning of a relationship with buyers and to drive action (such as generating sales leads), which requires a focus on buyer problems. Your buyers want to hear this in their own words. Every time you write—yes, even in news releases—you have an opportunity to communicate. At each stage of the sales process, well-written materials will help your buyers understand how you, specifically, will help them.
Whenever you set out to write something, you should be writing specifically for one or more of the buyers that you want to reach. You should avoid jargon-laden phrases that are over-used in your industry. However, so few people do.
In the hotel business, for example, phrases like "manicured golf course," "celebrity chef," "restorative spa treatments," and "world renowned cuisine" are what I call gobbledygook. Because these writers don't understand how their products solve customer problems, or are too lazy to write for buyers, they cover by explaining myriad nuances of what the product is and pepper this blather with industry jargon that sounds vaguely impressive. What ends up in marketing materials and news releases is a bunch of talk about "industry-leading" solutions. Huh?
How Did We Get Here?
When I see overused phrases, my eyes glaze over. What, I ask myself, what is this supposed to mean? Just saying your product is "industry standard" means nothing unless some aspect of that standardization is important to your buyers. In the next sentence, I want to know what you mean by "industry standard," and I also want you to tell my why that standard matters and give me some proof that what you say is indeed true.
People often say to me, "Everyone in my industry writes this way." Why?
Here's how the usual dysfunctional process works and why these phrases are so overused: Marketers don't understand buyers, the problems buyers face or how their product helps solve these problems. That's where the gobbledygook happens. First the marketing person bugs the product managers and others in the organization to provide a set of the product’s features. Then the marketer reverse-engineers the language that they think the buyer wants to hear, based not on buyer input but on what the product does. A favorite trick is to take the language that the product manager provides, go into Microsoft Word's find-and-replace mode, substitute the word "solution" for "product," and then slather the whole thing with superlative-laden, jargon-sprinkled hype. By just decreeing through an electronic word substitution that "our product" is "your solution," these companies effectively deprive themselves of the opportunity to convince people that this is the case.
Another major drawback of the generic gobbledygook approach is that it doesn't make your company stand out from the crowd.
Here's a test: Take the language that the marketers at your company dreamed up and substitute the name of a competitor and the competitor's product for your own. Does it still make sense to you? Marketing language that can be substituted for another company's isn't effective in explaining to a buyer why your company is the right choice.
Effective Writing for Marketing and PR
Your marketing and PR is meant to be the beginning of a relationship with buyers (and journalists). This begins when you work at understanding your target audience and figure out how they should be sliced into distinct buying segments or buyer personas. Once this exercise is complete, identify the situations each target audience may find themselves in. What are their problems? Business issues? Needs? Only then are you ready to communicate your expertise to the market. Here's the rule: When you write, start with your buyers, not with your product.
Your online and offline marketing content is meant to drive action (such as generating sales leads), which requires a focus on buyer problems. Your buyers want this in their own words, and then they want proof. Every time you write, you have an opportunity to communicate and to convince. At each stage of the sales process, well-written materials combined with effective marketing programs will lead your buyers to understand how your company can help them. Good marketing is rare indeed, but a focus on doing it right will most certainly pay off with increased sales, higher retention rates, and more ink from journalists.
Editor's Note: Want more strategies on how to motivate your clients and employees through the recession? Read Incentive's Survival Guide at www.incentivemag.com/survivalguide.
David Meerman Scott is a marketing strategist, entrepreneur, keynote speaker, seminar leader and the author of the number-one best-selling PR and marketing book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Viral Marketing and Online Media to reach buyers directly, which is being published in 21 languages, and the new hit book World Wide Rave. Check out his blog at www.WebInkNow.com or download his free ebook The New Rules of Viral Marketing: How Word-of-Mouse Spreads Your Ideas for Free.