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Wednesday, Sep. 12, 2007

“You Ain’t All That!” — A Marketing Copy Autopsy

By Jeff Sexton
September 12th, 2007

Unless you are a genius, it is best to aim at being intelligible” –Anthony Hope

jargon_free.jpgIf you don’t have much to say — or if you DO have something important to say but it’s the same thing everyone else is saying and you have no real way of differentiating yourself — the way out is NOT to obscure the message in jargon or ego-centric posturing. The way out is to clothe your message in emotion (please note that arrogance generally isn’t the emotion you want to convey).

Most companies have to find a way to clarify their message before they can worry about differentiating themselves through emotion.  If they don’t do that, they’ll usually end up sleepwalking onto the wrong path of dark woods, inflated adjectives, jargon, and “We-We” copy.

I’ve pulled an example of just this kind of “dark woods” copy off the web in order to deconstruct it in a sort of Mad Lib-style fashion prior to finally re-working it into something usable.  The process itself should prove instructive.  So here’s the homepage copy I snagged; it’s as is with the exception of the company name which has been changed to protect the guilty. . .

Founded in 1994, Marketing-R-Us is a strategic marketing consulting firm that enables enterprise technology companies to build and execute highly differentiated marketing positions to drive new customer acquisition and category leadership. We are unique, having a proven track record with over 150+ enterprise technology companies – delivering services and best practices for Customer Validation, Positioning, Launch and Field Enablement.

Our clients include industry powerhouses such as BEA Systems, Hyperion, Mercury, Oracle, Peoplesoft, SAP, Sungard and WebEx, as well as early stage category creators such as Ariba, ArcSight, DemandTec, Notiva, Taleo and Top Tier.

See what I mean? That’s some pretty dense text, littered with way too much jargon and chest-thumping.  Readers shouldn’t have to pause just to figure out what you’re saying, and in most cases they won’t.  So, the first step in fixing this is to uncover the actual message by simplifying the writing.  Here’s how I propose you do that:

1. Strip (most of ) the adjectives

Founded in 1994, Marketing-R-Us., is a ______marketing consulting firm that enables _____technology companies to build and execute _____ marketing positions to drive ___ customer acquisition and category leadership. We are unique, having a ____ track record with over 150+ ____ technology companies – delivering services and best practices for Customer Validation, Positioning, Launch and Field Enablement.

Our clients include ______ BEA Systems, Hyperion, Mercury, Oracle, Peoplesoft, SAP, Sungard and WebEx, as well as early stage category creators such as Ariba, ArcSight, DemandTec, Notiva, Taleo and Top Tier.

2. Translate the jargon, one sentence at a time

Founded in 1994, Marketing-R-Us is a marketing consulting firm…

OK. That much I understand, but is it necessary? Can we not figure out that they’re a marketing firm from the context (e.g., their name)?

…that enables technology companies to build and execute marketing positions…

Hmmm… So, they help tech companies position their products — which means they create marketing messages that translates technical speak into something the customer will care about.

to drive ___ customer acquisition and category leadership.

OK, so creating messages that customers care about actually makes those customers buy the product and changes the way people think about the product and brand. If people think your stuff is different and better — so much so, they even buy it — they’ll likely see you as a “leader” in your market.

We are unique, having a ____ track record with over 150+ ____ technology companies

So, they’ve been successful by doing this for a bunch of (large and well known) tech companies. This one’s pretty clear on its own.

– delivering services and best practices for Customer Validation, Positioning, Launch and Field Enablement.

Yeahhhh… I have to admit, this one had me flummoxed until I dug around the site and learned that:

  • “Customer Validation” was their term for customer research; specifically, research that enables them to test new positioning statements, Unique Value Propositions, and customer buying behaviors.
  • “Field Enablement” means they’ll work with your sales team to ensure that the positioning statement that marketing uses and the language that your salespeople use match up. They train sales people to “articulate value and differentiation to targeted buyers.”
  • “Launch” is their terminology for providing a “Go-to-Market” service that they claim is more sophisticated than traditional, event-based product launches. It’s something of an unsubstantiated claim, but at least it is an intelligible/understandable claim, at this point.

And finally there is:

Our clients include ______ BEA Systems, Hyperion, Mercury, Oracle, Peoplesoft, SAP, Sungard and WebEx, as well as early stage category creators such as Ariba, ArcSight, DemandTec, Notiva, Taleo and Top Tier.

And this actually reads just fine; it’s hard to mess up a client list!

3. Put Humpty-Dumpty back together again

Time to make some choices. Which statements say something of value, and which don’t? Well, let’s ditch the parts where they state ‘we’re a marketing company’ and that they ‘enable technology companies to build and execute marketing positions that..’

Finally — and maybe this is just me — I think most people can make the intellectual leap between gaining new customers through brand recognition and increased market share/leadership. Here’s what we’ve got:

Founded in 1994, Marketing-R-Us helps technology companies translate technical advancements into marketing messages that cause customers to see client products as different and noticeably better than the competitions’.

We do this through:

  • Our proprietary methodology for conducting customer research
  • Our unique methods for crafting messaging that’s proven to speak to customer desires
  • Our ability to train client sales teams in our messaging – translating corporate marketing to “street level” sales conversations
  • And our next-generation strategies for going to market that move beyond event-based product launches

We’ve successfully helped over 150 technology companies, including BEA Systems, Hyperion, Mercury, Oracle, Peoplesoft, SAP, Sungard and WebEx, as well as early stage category creators such as Ariba, ArcSight, DemandTec, Notiva, Taleo and Top Tier.

While this new copy isn’t fabulous, at least it’s intelligible and has been formatted for web-friendly reading.

Of course, now that people can actually read and understand Marketing-R-Us’s copy, the weakness in the central message actually stands out. Aren’t marketers expected to translate features into benefits? How exactly does that make these guys different?

To paraphrase Bill Bernbach, copy can’t create a product (or service) advantage; it can only convey it! These guys probably do have a competitive advantage, but it’s not to be found on their website. And, frankly, without an Uncovery on the front end, that’s not a problem I can fix as a copywriter.

Finally, let’s look at something the copywriter can fix: the extreme “we-we” focus of the copy.


4. Translating from “We-We” to “You-You”

Notice how I added in links on the bullet points and at the end of the client list. On the original site, the visitor’s expected to click on a Flash animation to get this info.

Visitors like to engage with the actual text. Intrigue them with what you have to say, and let them find answers to questions about what interests them. Don’t force them to “navigate” through toolbars and Flash!

Your new technology should give you the edge in the market – but it won’t unless customers understand the difference and believe it makes you their best choice.

Since 1994, we’ve been working with technology companies like yours to create marketing that does just that – translating a technological edge into new customers and improved market leadership.

We do this by providing you with:

  • Our proprietary methodology for conducting customer research,
  • Messaging that’s proven to speak to customer desires.
  • Our ability to train your sales team to follow-up on your messaging – translating corporate marketing to “street level” sales conversations.
  • And our next-generation strategies for going to market that move beyond event-based product launches.

Interested in planning a successful campaign? We’ve already helped over 150 enterprise technology companies, including BEA Systems, Hyperion, Mercury, Oracle, Peoplesoft, SAP, Sungard and WebEx, as well as early stage category creators such as Ariba, ArcSight, DemandTec, Notiva, Taleo and Top Tier. Read some of their case studies

Again, if this copy still doesn’t wow you, realize that we now have to go back and apply emotion and styleCheck out the follow-up Marketing Autopsy to see that last stage of the transformation.

[Editors note: the author of this post is now blogging at jeffsextonwrites.com]

Add Your Comments

Comments (11)

  1. Sometimes simple changes in the copy can have such a great impact on coversion rates. It’s always important to remember to list the benefits over the features which will help you switch from “we-we” to “you-you.” So essentially making a more client centric site.

  2. Most marketing copy is, well, just that. I prefer to use another term for it, bull sh*t. Good analysis. Now I best go check my site lest I be accused of the same thing. (DISCLAIMER: The copy on our site was written before I arrived on the scene.)

  3. Nice step by step for how to begin making your copy better. It always amazes me how difficult it actually is to write great copy. The important thing to remember is it’s worth the effort.

  4. Showing the copy transformation, along with rationales, can be a remarkably effective way to lead a client through a change with which they’re uncomfortable due to inexperience or short-sightedness.

    Doing so takes a deft touch in the room — I try to let them come up with solutions or point out the problems — but it gets them bought in.

    Nice.

  5. [...] “You Ain’t All That!” — A Marketing Copy Autopsy [...]

  6. [...] last piece began with jargon-filled marketing copy and ended with clear, customer-focused copy. The problem was that the "clear" copy lacked [...]

  7. Excellent rewrite. :)

    As to the earlier pre-rewrite text, I asked a friend about that type of thing a few years ago, as we were seeing so much of it (usually “leveraging” and “best of breed” and “out of the box”). He replied that it was Harvard MBA-speak.

    Now, I don’t know whether that’s true, but it certainly is nearly indecipherable. One wants to communicate and move customers along instead of requiring them to stop to digest hyper-condensed concepts.

    P.S. can you make the comment box taller? :)

  8. [...] You Ain’t All That! — A Marketing Copy Autopsy keeps your search engine optimization strategy alive — GrokDotCom [...]

  9. Great rewrite. Makes sense every step of the way. But not complete. Better yet:
    ———————————-

    We do this by providing you with:

    > A proprietary methodology for conducting your customer research,
    > Messaging that’s proven to speak to your customers’ desires.
    > The ability to train your sales team to follow-up on your messaging – translating your corporate marketing to “street level” sales conversations.
    > And next-generation strategies for going to market that move beyond event-based product launches.

    ————————————-

  10. How in the hell do you do that, i’m speechless. They say u cant make a candy out of you know what, but you just made that!

  11. [...] a Marketing Copy Autopsy on a piece of their current collateral.  Pull out all the self-applied labels and adjectives to [...]

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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