Sometimes I am just astounded by how little attention is paid to messaging in presentations, brochures and other marketing efforts. At how many times I’ve seen the same pitch or argument repackaged with a different colored bow and called insight or "brand new."
Maybe it’s my advertising background, maybe it was the Harvard Business School, maybe it’s from journalism or perhaps it has come from years of trying to distill from what a client says and the materials they produce, what it is they are really trying to tell me. What is uniquely theirs that will make me buy from them or go to their event.
No matter what the source, in this age of messages flung at us with words, visuals, in emails – we all need clarity of vision, originality and most important simplicity.
There’s an ongoing discussion on one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to asking the question “How do you know when someone really doesn’t understand marketing?”
Well my answer is when they can’t sell me on three concise messages that tell me why I should care about their product, service or event, why it's different than everything else out there and give me compelling reasons why I should go out and buy it.
So for what it’s worth here are some examples of what I’ve seen lately from very smart people who could do much, much better.
1. Presentation that was a jumble of bullets – I went to a speech by a senior executive recently that was a PowerPoint presentation of pure bullets. Not a single visual emphasized a point – actually there were a couple of photos of the executive interacting with kids jammed in the middle somewhere. It was a total jumble of we’ve done this, this, this, and so much more but it’s your job to figure out exactly what that means. The three messages I took away? The executive supports a discipline he believes in, his organization is throwing gobs of money at improving it and forming a lot of committees none of which I really get or seem to have accomplished much.
2. Brochure whose title and graphic didn't market to the right audience. – This was a missed opportunity. The cover of a brochure is supposed to send me strong messages about why I should continue reading. This one basically announced its purpose and then had a colorful visual that would be very attractive to young children. Yet the brochure was aimed at senior marketing executives – people who would pony up a lot of money to support a non-profit that helps kids. It was a good reminder of a basic marketing premise - know your audience and remember what they care about and will motivate them. Use a visual and words that reinforce a message that will make them take notice.
3. Assuming your audience understands everything about your business.
I was reading an online brochure the other day that had many nice pictures and jumbles of text – about a product that is fairly new.
The trouble was it threw a ton of information at me telling me how successful the product launch was, and also informing me that the new and improved version would be even better. But there was so much data it gave me a headache. You could tell it was written by more than one person and the writers couldn't decide what was important so they just threw in everything they could think of. There were also lists and lists of events attached to the product with no explanations of what they were. Let’s go back to what I was told over and over as a young journalist which also applies directly to marketing. Don’t assume that your reader knows what you’re talking about. Explain your products or services as you would to a novice.
4. Event with incredibly compelling title that delivered none of what it promised – I went to this panel discussion because it had very impressive people talking and a great title that sold me – combining health care reform with another issue I care about. The trouble was I watched three speeches none of which addressed the title. It wasn’t even really referenced in what they said. I’m finding this happens more and more lately. People have figured out that a sexy headline draws traffic. Yippee. What they haven’t figured out is how to deliver on it.
Those of us who’ve seen “The Social Network” know that the Internet has become a repository for taking the ideas of others and changing the thought or example slightly – and pretending they are ours. What passes as creativity these days often comes from what Mark Zuckerberg got sued over - intellectual property theft. Of course most people don't sue, they may not even know their work was taken.
I cannot tell you how many blogs I read where someone is pontificating about a brilliant “new” idea, that I read 20 years ago, expressed in different words by a past guru who has long since retired to his or her own private island.
Once it’s online, everything is considered fair game. But what about real creativity – the kind that takes your breath away it’s so fresh and original? Can’t we have that back? In broadcast, if it weren’t for HBO, Showtime and some independent films I would believe that creativity is no longer possible.
So my point in all of this is we live in a very complicated world and are barraged daily with far more than we can process. As marketers, and communicators, we should be long past the days where an information dump is how we sell. Everything we say and write in our outreach efforts should be straightforward, clear and ours because if it’s not our products and services become a rehash of everything else that’s out there. And especially in these tough economic times - I need compelling reasons why I should listen, care and buy whatever it is you are selling.