Monday, February 26, 2018

Beyond Spell Check: The Proof Is in the Reading

Did you take a nice long drive during the winter holidays? Do you find yourself making extended road trips on business? Many of us do -- which means that many of us find ourselves reading roadside billboards and other signage to stave off the boredom of the road. Even those of us who spend all our days in our offices are likely to encounter countless ads online and in print. We may create some of that content ourselves. If we're in a real hurry to beat a deadline, we may rush the copy to the printer after a quick run through a spell-checker. Then we see the final results, and we wish we hadn't done that.

Proofreading matters, if only because the errors you pump out will live forever on the Internet. Even if you're producing a sign or advertisement in a language most of your viewing public doesn't understand, somebody, somewhere, has devoted a humorous website to you.

Yes, your spell-checking tool catches lots of errors. But what about that misused word it doesn't recognize or that proper name it doesn't have in its database? That's why you must always give your marketing content a once-over with your own eyeballs. If your eyeballs are tired, put the content away and proofread it later. But proofread it.

Of course, you can dot every I and cross every T and still end up with a ludicrous misstatement. Somewhere along U.S. Highway 83 (I forget where) stands a roadside sign for a combination gas station and restaurant. The sign proclaims proudly -- and quite seriously -- "EAT HERE! GET GAS!" 

You may encounter entire concepts that needed one more pass through the marketing department. How about that billboard that always seems to pop up in or around small towns -- the one for the BBQ place that depicts a cute cartoon pig squealing in terror as he runs from a guy with a butcher knife? Sure, it's funny if you're into that sort of thing, but does it really pull people off the highway with their stomachs growling? "Hey, you know that pig you were slashing to death on the billboard? I'd like some of that, with a side of slaw."

So consider this post a public service announcement. Don't just run your marketing content through a spell checker and call it done. Use human eyes and human brains. If you want some additional quality control, don't stop with your own evaluation. Have someone else look at it so you can get a second opinion, both on the mechanics and on the content itself. If you really want some quality assurance, hire a professional writer to proofread and edit your content. Better yet, let that professional writer create your content from scratch -- and lock in the quality from the very first word!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Technically Speaking: Marketing Content for Technical Products and Services

I've mentioned before how I once walked into a manufacturing company where the owner greeted me with, "Ah, you're here to rescue us!" This company boasted some truly remarkable new processes and systems, but their target audience received those technical explanations as if they were being gifted with a dead fish. Why? Because the manufacturing people were writing technical content instead of marketing content, and then aiming that content at the non-technical people who actually needed their services. Not a recipe for successful promotion, is it?

But you're facing a dilemma if you sell highly-technical products and services. The very aspects of your offerings that make you stand out may also be the ones least understandable to your target market. So how do you craft marketing content that makes your point with your intended audience?

My first suggestion? Ditch the five-dollar words, starting with your industry's standard buzzwords. If it's a word or phrase you don't hear outside of your industry or workplace, use it with care and/or be ready to explain it in simple terms. This not only prevents confusion among the rank-and-file businesspeople or consumers who view your marketing content; it also streamlines and energizes that content. Sleek, simple, and direct is the way to go when you want to grab human emotions and imaginations -- especially on the Internet, where a few extra seconds of head-scratching can kill whatever impact you'd hoped to make.

Talking to the right person matters just as much as using the right language. Who will actually make the decision to order your product or service? What position does that person hold? What daily tasks and challenges does that person confront, and what background or training is that person likely to have? You're probably not aiming your message at a fellow technician or inventor. The rank-and-file manager or purchasing officer who needs your super-sophisticated device may have no clue, or interest, in how that device actually works -- they only want to know that it does work.

Which leads us to the next major point, which is selling the end result instead of the process. Call me a barbarian, but I don't really care how electrons move through specific circuits, wires, sockets, bulbs and filaments. All I care about is having light at the flick of a switch. So don't sell me an electrical diagram or a list of voltage and current statistics; sell me a bright, cheerful environment that enhances my quality of life. If your technology does things that make me happier or more productive or healthier or wealthier or whatever, place that rosy end result front and center in your marketing message. You can can always create more detailed supporting material to back up your promises --but it's the promises that excite me into action.

These strategies aren't about "dumbing down" your content. There's nothing dumb about communicating simply, clearly, and directly, with a focus on what you do instead of how you do it. So play it smart, get whatever professional copywriting help you may need, and start selling instead of explaining!