Ambiguity is at the root of most marketing – and business – problems. In casual speech, we often use various words interchangeably when they mean very different things, and in the process we diminish the effectiveness and sharpness of what we’re trying to say. The subtle nuances get lost, and with them our ability to coherently craft complex arguments.
In a world of noise, the signal vanishes into dead air. And ambiguity is to blame.
Take tension, for example. In everyday conversation we often talk about stress, tension and anxiety as being basically the same thing. Using the words interchangeably, however, neglects an important set of working relationships that directly play into how we tell dramatic stories and, by extension, how we communicate in both public and private arenas.
Imagine standing near a deep chasm, a rope in your hand, the other end of the rope tied to something very, very heavy. That heavy something is suspended over the chasm, and is held there only by your ability to keep your hold on the rope. If you let go of the rope – or get tired and pulled into the hole by the weight – then bad things happen.
Tension is the tautness of the rope, the transmission of force, and the absence of any slack that might otherwise give you a redeeming out. Tension is the lack of a margin of error, the first instance of the essential problem at hand.
Stress is the physical effect of tension. It is the aching feeling you get in your muscles, as you struggle with all of your might to keep your grasp on the rope. Stress is the ticking clock that says that you have only a limited time to resolve the tension, and then nature is going to resolve it for you.
Anxiety is the mental and emotional effect of stress. It is the awareness that the clock is ticking, and the worry of what will happen when you can no longer keep the rope. It is a forward mental projection of a future defined by the stress, itself defined by the tension.
Effective written copy in support of technology and industrial marketing must be crafted with a careful awareness of all three of these domains. Unfortunately, much technology-oriented messaging today only addresses one of the three – usually either anxiety or tension – on the mistaken belief that they are all the same thing. That messaging misses the opportunity to tell a broader story.
If you are selling a Mark 3 Super Widget, for example, your product exists to do one essential thing: manage, eliminate or harness a physical tension. It leverages a transmission of force in order to produce useful work. The message that sells the Super Widget must be rooted in a clear expression of how that tension is being managed.
Next, your message must address stress. Why is the tension important? What pressures are caused by unresolved tension, and what happens if those pressures are left to their own devices? What is the ticking clock being faced by prospective buyers of the Super Widget?
And finally, anxiety. When the clock winds down to zero and the stress reaches a critical point, what are the real human consequences of not buying the Super Widget? What scary future should the reader be concerned about? What keeps them up at night?
These are the three emotional forces at play in any storytelling. They dance in a delicate interplay that weaves threads of clarity, knowledge, power, worry, uncertainty and potential danger into a message that conveys the human dimension of technology. As a form of storytelling, strong technology marketing will likewise treat all three as related players on a common stage, rather than the same player shuffling among three costumes. They work together towards a common goal.
Ambiguity reduced. Signal strengthened.
And strong signals get results. Marketing problems, effectively tackled, can become powerful engines for business growth. By designing your marketing to clearly confront real problems as human beings experience them, you can achieve communication that achieves excellence on par with the products that you create.