Category Archives: Story

Are They Not Reading, or Just Not Reading About You?

storybook

As a writer, I’ll admit that certain things bug me, probably more than they do other people.  Misplaced commas.  Capitalizations that don’t belong.  Sentences that start strong, lose the plot halfway through, and then wander off into the weeds.  Paragraphs that are little more than small sentence collections.  That sort of thing.

More than anything else, though, the dreaded words: “No one reads this stuff anymore.”

I hear it a lot, especially when the “stuff” involved is more than about 200 words long.  The general idea is that we’ve collectively reduced our attention spans to the scope of 140-character Twitter posts, and if you’re not tagging the reader within that range, you’ve already lost them.  And that’s real trouble if your business can’t be easily explained in emoji form (which is all of us).

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What Election 2016 Should Be Teaching Us About Messaging

social_vote

Setting aside whatever your feelings are about the issues, candidates, or campaigns, the events of this election year should be teaching us all a lot about effective messaging in the social media era. Basically, that historian Daniel Boorstin was right.

Back in 1961, Boorstin published “The Image: A Guide To Pseudo-Events In America”, a short history of the evolution of public relations in America during the 20th century. This was after the first televised presidential campaign, and Boorstin was particularly inspired by the “sweaty lip” Kennedy/Nixon debates in 1960. In his book, he identifies and outlines the “pseudo-event” – a reported-on event that is only important because it has been reported on – and how it could be used in the future to blur the lines between legitimate news reporting and entertainment.

Sound at all familiar? It should.

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Your Reader, Your Self: Quick Tips For Effective Written Communication

It’s one of the very first questions that come up in any technical marketing copywriting project: “Who is your reader?”

The answer, of course, is never quite as simple as it seems. I try to explain to my clients that the goal of their written copy should be to strike a visceral identifying tone with the reader. This person should be able to quickly scan the headline, read a few sentences of your lead, and instantly and emotionally recognize themselves in the tone and message. So understanding the reader is really, really important.

With the start of the new year and the spring trade show season right around the corner, you’re probably going to hear a lot in the coming months within your own organization about new marketing messages, strategic priorities and company directions. But as you try to figure out the message that will best work for your company in 2016, take some time to make sure that you’re speaking to the right reader. And, just as important, in the right way.

As a technical marketing copywriter, I see seasoned professionals often make the same mistakes, simply due to the overwork and stress that comes with modern marketing responsibilities. By focusing on a few pointers, however, you can avoid the big messaging potholes that will surely trip up everyone else this year.

A business – type, size or mission – is not a reader. When I ask a client to identify their reader, almost always they answer with a vague categorization of a group of markets. Small businesses. Midsized enterprises. Mom and pops. Manufacturers. Telecoms. Medical practices.

These answers are starting points, but they are not readers. Your reader is a flesh-and-blood human being who came to work this morning, and very likely would rather have slept in instead. This person has to make decisions based on imperfect information, and on some level is at least mildly stressed that they won’t make the right call. They are mentally juggling many other preoccupations at work and home, in both their professional and personal lives. Something weighs on their mind.

Businesses don’t have emotions. Readers do.

Your reader is operating in a very self-interested state when they read your copy. They don’t really care how long you’ve been in business, how many combined years of engineering experience your team has, or that you bring your terrier to work every day (and yes, I’ve seen businesses include that). What they care about – at least, at the moment they read your copy – are themselves.

Your reader woke up this morning knowing they have a problem, and knowing that they have to deal with it today. They don’t want to. They want the problem to go away. If they can be the hero for making the problem disappear, wonderful. Again, we’re talking about emotions. The features of your product or service, while certainly important, don’t directly address the emotional needs of the reader. And that’s all your reader cares about today.

The harsh truth is this: an imperfect product marketed with an on target, self-interested appeal message will beat out a superior product pushed with a dry technical pitch, almost every single time.

Your reader has readers. This is an extremely important point, and one lost on a great many otherwise highly skilled marketers. While you may have your primary reader (the person I think of as the “front line reader”) locked down, rarely will they be the only one to read your message. A C-level executive, for example, will quickly scan your copy and then pass your marketing piece over to a CFO, trusted engineering team, business development director or someone else for a second opinion. That second – or third, or fourth – reader will have a significant influence on the final business decision.

Having been a technical writer now for most of two decades, I can state without question that this is the toughest part of the job: crafting tone and content that works for multiple audiences at once, that allows different people to see different things, while still reaching the conclusion that you want them to reach. Casual/technical, wholesale/retail, financial/marketing.. the problem with realizing that your readers are selfish (because they’re people), is that you also realize that they don’t all want the same thing. The job then becomes one of achieving the maximum diplomacy with the minimum word count.

And finally, your readers exist in time. No problem is eternal, and even the perception of a problem changes depending on season and circumstances.

Most bad marketing copy has at least one thing in common: it attempts to freeze a problem into a single moment of forever, rather than placing it within the context of time and change. There is a reason why your reader has come to you today, rather than last week. Something has pushed a critical issue to a level that can’t be ignored any longer. Your reader doesn’t exist in stasis. They live in a story.

Over the years, I’ve found a comprehensive study in dramaturgy to be highly useful in marketing. Understanding how culture and story intersect – how expectations shift and are realized in time, and how people react when they don’t – is important when trying to reach emotional people who live in a plot-driven world. Place your message within a time context, and communicate in terms of changes rather than status quos.

I could go on, but I’ve taken up enough of your time here. You’re busy. Maybe someday soon we’ll have the opportunity to chat more about this on the phone or via email, perhaps even within the context of your own marketing problem or challenge.

It all just comes down to this: reading requires mental and emotional energy, so you had better give back more than you take. If you can achieve that, the rest of marketing is a relative snap.

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Things That A Case Study Isn’t

storytellingOn the face of it, a corporate case study is about the simplest type of technical collateral there is. Structurally, a case study is the basic three-act dramatic formula that we are all familiar with: set out a problem, struggle with the challenge, race towards a solution. Case studies present this basic storytelling format in context of a successful customer engagement, telling the tale of an everyday company that solved an important business problem with this wonder product or service.  Continue reading

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Boost Your Marketing Signal By Better Communicating Tension

vagueness

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.

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The Keys To Telling Great Marketing Stories

When was the last time you really felt engaged by technology marketing?

From writing whitepapers about virtualization to developing case studies about modular building systems, folks like us are called upon by our clients to tell their stories. That’s our job. It’s not always the easiest one, but it is a critically important one, and we’re proud to do it.

Story is the human element – and at the risk of sounding all warm and fuzzy, when you’re selling machines, you really need the human element to be there. Someone, somewhere is getting out of bed this morning with a problem weighing heavily on their mind, and their stress is impacting the quality of their day. Other people around them are feeling it. The plots of life are rising, cresting, falling, crashing and lifting off again. And we turn those plots into meaning.
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