Why Marketing Writing Is So Bad

I’ve got a long-time and long-admired colleague named Mac McCarthy. You probably have never heard of him, but he was one of the guys who invented the “Dummies” book franchise and for a very long time ran the excellent Reviews section of InfoWorld magazine. He says he’s about to retire from his marketing job at RingCentral, but he’s said that before.

On a tech journalists’ list we’re both on, the conversation recently turned to why so much marketing writing is so terrible. Mac boiled it down well, and it’s worth repeating, and it’s one thing we believe here at Center Ring Media. He says it’s OK to reprint here:

</start Mac>

The reason marketing materials talk like this is that we aren’t writing this material for our customers or prospects.

We’re writing them for the CEO first. The head of marketing second. The product managers for each product category. The PR team. The investment group. And last, way back there in the back, is the actual customer/prospect.

So the prospect scans our stuff gets the distinct impression we aren’t talking to them; we’re talking to some people in the back of the room, behind them, over their heads.

And we are. Because they can fire us, and the customer can’t – well, only indirectly and over time.

This is why we so often construct (rather than write) materials that are more like checklists of our buzzwords, selling words, feature words, and in some cases phrases and terms intended to distinguish us from our competitors (even though the prospect has no idea what we’re talking about).

This is all completely understandable, but maddening for the copywriters and designers, and for the customers and prospects too.

I once ran a unit of an online publishing business that produced vendor sections for programmers and IT people. Our materials, though not editorially independent and paid for by the vendor in question, were always read with much more interest and credibility than the vendor’s own materials (except engineering white papers), because we persuaded the client that we an arms-length from them and could therefore speak more frankly, which the tech readers appreciated. We could say things like “Last year’s version of this product wasn’t very good, but we fixed it.” which no vendor would or could ever say directly about their own product. It worked, in spades. Our Microsoft developer’s section was voted year after year superior to Microsoft’s own developer site.

Bottom line: Material that talks to the customer/prospect more directly beats material that talks to the prospect only secondarily.

</end Mac>

Be honest. Be clear. Make your customers and prospects your primary audience. You’d be surprised how hard that is. Or maybe you wouldn’t.

It’s what we do. Let’s talk.

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