Friday, April 29, 2005

Ogilvy Fast Facts

From Ogilvy On Advertising, one of the ad world's most famous texts.
  • Companies sometimes change ad agencies because one agency can purchase circulation at a slightly lower cost than another. They don’t realize that a copywriter who knows his craft (the experience and skill that induce people to read copy) can reach many times more readers than a copywriter who doesn’t.
  • Ads that are designed to look like editorial pages gather far more readers than those that don’t.
  • Never put large amounts of white type on a black background (reverse). Some say never do it, period. Study after study has proven that it’s difficult to read.
  • Write to the self-interest of the reader rather than treating your audience as a large company or group of people.

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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Making Your Business Comprehensible

Why is this so hard to do?

Surf the "About Us" or "Company" pages of most technology sites, and you’ll be treated to an impressive display of what’s known as writing by committee. It always seems show up on these pages, because so many top level executives get involved with crafting these ambitious descriptions that intend to sum up a company’s business in one sentence. The result is copy that often sounds strange and decidedly uninformative.

Here are some examples: (I masked the true identities of these companies to protect the committees of innocents)

"Founded in 1975, XYZ Inc. helps Global 1000 companies improve business by creating new value from existing information systems and, ultimately, aligning everyone in the enterprise with key corporate goals."

Ok – As a customer, I would be a little perplexed as to what I might buy from this company. Would it be software? Hardware? A systems engineer on rental? A coach? A guru? Examples of companies that clearly define what they sell include, Oracle – database software, SAP – ERP software, Red Hat – Linux OS, Siebel – CRM software. All "About Us" sections should allow the reader to walk away with a similar definition.
Here’s another..

"Acme helps organizations harness the power of collective intelligence by creating secure virtual knowledge networks for company-wide information discovery, expert identification and knowledge sharing."

This one’s not horrendous, but a couple of things bug me. One, they could have used the word "portal." I think most people who are looking for solutions like this have come across that word by now. Two, "secure virtual knowledge networks" sounds pretty "out there," and the fact that they’re secure seems like information that should be discussed lower down in their description. As is commonly the case, they tried to cram every possible idea into this one-liner.

And finally..

"ZZZ Company, with its Universal Business Platform and more than 500 global application partners, enables customers to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage by delivering business solutions that simplify their operations, are fast to implement, provide lowest total cost of ownership, and have unparalleled reliability."

I guess they decided that it was important to add standard benefits -- speed, low TCO, and reliability – to their amorphous company description. If they really wanted to blend in with every other mediocre, non-distinct company, they could add "excellent scalability," "rapid ROI," and "easy to use."

My advice is to:
1) Tell readers what you sell in direct language.
2) Don’t be afraid of using more than one sentence.
3) Try to offer a phrase or sentence that demonstrates your company’s uniqueness.
4) Avoid incorporating catch-every-customer credos and conquer-the-world mission statements.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Write Less, Sell More!

Sugar-Free Methods for Selling With Words

Packing marketing documents with hyperbole and sensationalism is like bringing wedding cake to a casual potluck party. People are taken aback by the butter cream frosting, frilly edge treatments and impeccably placed rose petals. The sheer volume of sugar sets them up for a crash. Also, the bride and groom replica thing and the plastic pillar supports can be hard to swallow.

When it comes to offering quickly digestible and easily understood messages, it’s best to lay off of the puffery. Potential buyers want substance, clarity and brevity when making decisions about products like portal software or asset management applications.

Here’s how to de-fluff your marketing materials so your prospects know that you’re serious and committed – rather than a wild storyteller or worse, a prevaricator.

  1. Make claims after you’ve established familiarity with the prospect’s business problems and expertise in dealing with them.
  2. Honesty, brevity and matter-of-fact tone establish expertise and clear the air of smoke (or frosting).
  3. Understated selling works well because it’s honest, but it also stands out in the crowd of rah-rah materials.
  4. State benefits up high.
  5. Make sure benefits are in a language that the audience understands, and make sure that they address issues that prospects appreciate.
  6. Make clear connections between features and benefits.
  7. Tell a complete story. You never know how much or little a reader will ingest. Make sure that you provide all examples, features and benefits that will apply to your intended audience. If you leave out important information, you’ll alienate the one person who read the whole brochure and was looking for that one selling point.
  8. Make simple offers with a minimum of conditions.

Champagne, pomp, confetti and ribbon cutting are fine for political rallies and building dedications. Marketing writing should be kept simple and unadorned, though. The subject matter will provide the right amount of interest to the right prospects.

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