I am not a professional copywriter, but I know when I don’t understand something. I respect those companies that can clearly and concisely communicate what it is they do and I admire the skills of the copywriter or marketer who creates good messaging. Getting your message across to the majority of recipients shouldn’t be a measure of excellence but rather competence, although the more experience I get in life the more I find that excellence and competence are often the same thing. Oh, and I’m something of a sucker for alliteration.
Allow me to share with you two examples of statements that leave me scratching my head.
“MediaForge is competitively positioned to monetize media rich content and capitalize on the growing need for easy-to-use consumer-based online publishing tools, embeddable applications, viral marketing and real time analytics. It serves the growing need for powerful tracking statistics and messaging analytics for online viral marketing campaiangs. Tony Zito has a strong team and MediaForge’s future looks bright.”
Alan E. Hall, Grow Utah Ventures
I just met two members of MediaForge’s team the other day and they’re great guys. Alan Hall is one of the nicest and most generous people in Utah. MediaForge may indeed have a bright future. I know what media rich content is, as well as online publishing tools, embeddable applications, viral marketing, and real time analytics. But I have no idea what MediaForge does nor how I or anyone I know could use them. When I hear “media rich content” I think of video, like YouTube. “Online publishing” makes me think of content management, and my web design firm builds content management systems, so is MediaForge a competitor? The term “embedded application” makes me think of companies like Intel or Utah’s very own Parvus (an MWI client, by the way). “Viral marketing” prompts thoughts of a case study I read about Hotmail years ago, or Seth Godin. “Real time analytics?” Well, that’s definitely Omniture‘s realm.
Obviously my understanding of these terms and the thoughts I associate with them are influenced directly by my own experiences, and everyone will get something different when they read that same quote about MediaForge. The question I would put forth is whether anyone with no prior knowledge of MediaForge’s services can understand what MediaForge does based on that quote.
Now for the second example. Shaun Inman is one of the best web design and usability gurus out there. He has built a software tool called Mint that looks really cool, but I’m not sure what it does based on the principal marketing message on Mint’s homepage. Here’s what it says:
The web is listening to what you have to say. Admiring your design. Talking about your product. Mint helps you identify where the most interest is being generated and over what.
Let’s start at the end and work backwards. I immediately understand that whatever Mint is, it only works on PHP with MySQL. Fair enough, nothing confusing there. It’s concise, flexible, and timely. I’m assuming that means it’s easy to understand how it works, it works well, and you get information from it in real time or near to it. But in order to understand what this means I need more information, which must be provided in the only other paragraph, the first one.
However, the first paragraph is quite ambiguous. Evidently people on the Internet are talking about me, my company, and my products and/or services, and Mint will tell me where the most interest is being generated. That sounds pretty neat. Is this some sort of application that scours the web and gathers information about what others think about my company and its services? Is it a survey tool? Business intelligence Web 2.0? It’s not obvious to me what Mint is until I check out a live Mint demo in action.
Mint is a site analytics or web stats application. It’s a scaled down, simple version of Google Analytics, Urchin, or Omniture’s Site Catalyst. It tells you how many hits and visitors your site is getting, what websites they’re coming from, and what search terms they’re using to find you if they come through search engines. Mint’s beauty is that it is so simple. As Clayton Christensen would say, it’s “good enough” whereas Site Catalyst and even the free Google Analytics often provide more information than one can use. But Mint’s website doesn’t tell me this straight off, I have to do my research to figure out what it is.
Again, this isn’t anything personal, I’ve only singled out these two examples because I happened to be exposed to them back to back on the same day. I’m sure I could find 100 other examples from equally professional and admirable people in a few minutes. That’s the point. If people as superior to the rest of us as Alan and Shaun have trouble explaining things clearly, then chances are the majority of people do. If you can learn how to express yourself well you can gain an advantage over your competitors. Perhaps a significant advantage.
But perhaps I don’t speak for everyone. Maybe I miss things that most people get. I could very well be an idiot (the idea has been proposed on occasion). But I say if you want to sell something to me, just tell me what it is. Clearly. Concisely. I’m more likely to buy it and recommend it to my friends if I understand what it is.Liked it? Share it!
The metric by which you are measuring the success of the Mint copy is different from the author’s. Mint is intentionally exclusive, from the server and browser requirements right down to the copy on the site, to prevent less savvy users from taking an interest. The copy assumes you are already familiar with what Mint is. If you go to the Apple site they don’t explain to you what a computer is. Competent copywriting isn’t exhaustive, it speaks to the intended audience. Mint was a huge success (by my own modest expectations) and I think the copy writing on haveamint.com was a large part of that. People who came knew what Mint was, the copy served to convince them that they needed it.
Definitely a valid point and well put. Thanks for the clarification Shaun. I was reading the copy as though it were intended for a more general audience.
Rats, I don’t want to have to find a different example and rewrite this post though…I think I’ll just leave it as is. Shaun’s point just makes it more interesting, in my opinion.
You’re right on. And I believe that the answer is that most companies are either not clear about what their purpose in life is, or that they are simply full of $%#. A lot of companies like those above (as examples, I’m sure they’re great) remind me of the Dilbert Mission Statement Generator (google it), in that they are just a bunch of BS words thrown together to sound impressive. And the only people they typically impress are the employees of the company itself. As a rule of thumb, the most effective copywriting is written at a 5th grade reading level. Empirical data has shown that this type of copywriting is dramatically more effective than faux-impressive dilbert comic strip BS (Source: Meaningful Marketing, Doug Hall). Yes, you can target different groups and speak to them in a certain way. But for most companies, speaking to the lowest common denominator of person that will ever be interested in your product or company is the way to go.
I was leaning away from saying that because I know Alan and Shaun aren’t the types to spout nonsense for the sake of spin or just to say something, but certainly many people who use a lot of jargon are using them to cover up what they don’t know or to make something sound more impressive than it is.
Shaun has already explained why he said things the way he said them, and at the risk of making a false assumption about why Alan used those specific words I would say it is probably because with the background he has regarding the company and its technology those words all fit and make sense. That is, there are words behind the words for him that we don’t have that make it all perfectly clear for him whereas I and most others are probably puzzled.
For this and myriad other reasons I often encourage clients to hire an outside copywriter. Not because they copywriter knows more about the subject matter, but precisely because they know less, and they can therefore bridge the gap between the company and its customers.
It can be tough to differenciate marketing glamorization and cliche fluff. I think you’re better off erring on the latter than the former, however.
10 bucks says that wasn’t written by Alan. It sounds like some numb nuts PR person. Sometimes I am literally baffled at the crap that comes out of the brains of people in my profession. (sorry to any PR people I know if you did this, but what happened to clear and concise?)
And, I agree with Darren. When I read stuff like this I immediately think they are often not clear on their purpose. On the flip side, this is why we do this with people from a PR standpoint because if you can’t describe who you are and what you do in simple terms then the screws need some tightening. I experience this almost every day in my profession, and more often than not people know what they want to be, they just need some help in seeing it and in getting there.
I met with the folks from MediaForge a number of months back, and I see what they are describing here, but I think the screws need tightening.
I’d say these companies were only looking for some snazzy intro to summarize their entire existence and probably hired the wrong marketing or media guy for the job.