Connecting Message to Market

Think about something you know about. I’m going to say automobiles. At some level—maybe it’s just at the user level or maybe it’s at the engineering level—we all know about cars. We know what they do. We know how to make them go forward and backward, turn left and right, stop, turn on the radio, and so on. When it comes to cars, we’re an expert marketplace.

Now, imagine an ad or a brochure with this kind of content:

With today’s increasingly mobile world, supported by highways and regulated by traffic signals, the need to have a car that can both accelerate and stop has become an imperative for people across the country.

You’d laugh at it wouldn’t you? Clearly, the writer didn’t understand the market. And I think it would make most people feel disconnected from the message.

Now, ask yourself: When you create your technology marketing messaging, how much of that same type of content are you delivering to your market?

I see it often in most every kind of content. I imagine you have too. Those long (usually introductory) paragraphs that describe “the state of things today.” Fifty, maybe even 100, words spelling out in dense and sonorous language exactly what the marketplace already knows. Knows as well as you know what a car does.

This wastes time, wastes content real estate, and disconnects your message from your market.

It’s OK to have a problem definition section—it’s a good way to let your market know that you know what they know. But make it real and make it specific. Don’t explain, empathize.

CIOs (just as an example) know the state of things today and they’ve read the statistics you cite. That’s not the problem you can help them solve. They have problems like staffing and training, integration, transition, hidden costs, budgeting, device management, political opposition, and so on. You want to talk to a CIO about problems—well, that’s the list that troubles them.

And that’s where your conversation with them should begin.

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The Yossarian Way–An Editing Exercise

Here’s a little exercise that might prove useful to you.

Catch 22 opens with the protagonist, WW II bombardier John Yossarian, faking jaundice to avoid flying more bombing missions. As with all patients, he’s given letters the troops send and receive and ordered to censor them. He gets bored with just removing sensitive information so he decides to have a little fun. At one point, he decides that he’ll black out only the modifiers–adjectives, adverbs, participles: the whole group of them.

Try that on your content. Turn on rev tracking (and turn off show revisions) and just go through a wholesale obliteration of them all.

Now see what you’ve got left.

Does the content still make sense? I don’t mean does it read well. It won’t. But, for a second, forget about that. If you take out all the descriptives, how much real meaning has it lost?  Is it still getting its point across, however inartfully?

If so, you’ve uncovered your fluff.

Now let’s put the modifiers back in.

But only some of them. Only those that are important to the meaning. If you’re talking about security you can return “appliance-based protection,” but “bulletproof protection” has no home. The first provides information, the other provides GMB. And be hard on your draft–a modifier either does or does not change the actual meaning of the sentence and there’s really no two ways about it.

I’ve cut copy by as much as 35% just cutting fluff. And I don’t think my clients have ever gotten market feedback that says their content isn’t long enough, or fluffy enough.

Five Don’ts of Technology Copywriting

I thought I’d focus today on mistakes writers make when they create tech marketing content. I chose an Adobe piece at random: they were the first site I looked at and I found something I could use. Not meaning to pick on them specifically at all. These are mistakes I find everywhere–including in my own stuff.  The piece I’m talking about can be found here.

So, here’s my list of Don’ts.

1. Don’t Compare.

Unless you’ve got some real hard numbers to drive the comparison, don’t talk about how much better your product is than the others.

Here’s an example:

Gain the deepest insights and most concise visitor segmentation available.

When you make comparisons, you start a conversation you can’t win. If the marketplace wants to compare depth of insight, let it start the discussion.

2. Don’t teach.

Your markteplace knows its business. You don’t have to teach them about it.

You cannot effectively optimize your marketing efforts unless you are analyzing and reporting on those efforts to make the right data-driven decisions. Guesswork doesn’t cut it anymore in marketing— marketers must be able to determine what the business impact of their marketing efforts is.

This isn’t such a gross violation, but it makes my point. There’s a certain “Analytics 101” feel to it. Better to get straight to the point.

3. Don’t make big statements.

Adobe Analytics is the industry-leading solution that delivers the analytics and reporting capabilities to enable data-driven decision-making.

That’s such a sweeping statement. I looked it up for a minute or so. There are a lot of companies that make the same claim. Usually this is something that little companies do to puff themselves up. There can be only one leader, and that’s the only one who should make that claim. It might be Adobe, in which case: go for it.

4. Don’t leave in the fluff

Edit your content for the phrases that just don’t contribute to the message. It’s OK to say just what you need to say–the market appreciates it.

Here’s the original:

Quickly analyze large volumes of rapidly evolving big data from multiple channels and data sources in real time. Powerful visualizations make it easy for users to immediately infer meaning to make timely, customer-focused decisions that improve overall business performance.

Here’s an edit

Analyze big data from multiple channels and data sources in real time. Clear visualizations let you instantly make timely, customer-focused decisions that improve business performance.

5. Don’t be afraid of Features.

My final impression is: the piece is Feature shy. The precept that you sell holes not drill bits isn’t true when you’re selling technology. Carpenters know all about holes—they buy drill bits. Marketers know all about marketing: they buy marketing tools.

Features are your differentiating point—“how” you do something is a lot more interesting to your market than “what” or “why.”