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May 21, 2009

Cut the Blah Blah Blah – When Less is the New More

sleeping-at-computerOne of my biggest pet peeves is what I call “blah blah blah" marketing copy.  Here’s an example:

“XYZ provides the ideal combination of advanced technology and expertise to information providers. Our solutions and services lower costs, streamline operations, create efficiencies and generate new revenue for our customers. Our mission is to unlock the true potential of your market and partner with you in growth."

Logically I know I was reading a description of what XZY company does, emotionally all I heard was “Blah Blah Blah”.  I had no idea what this company did. None! 

Be honest - you’ve done it too right? Read something and had absolutely no idea what the product was or why you might benefit from buying it.  You’re probably like most of us, who don’t admit this for fear of looking dumb or uninformed.

Many marketing people I know find it easy to pump out words - they can jump right up and start writing, often on their first day on the job or project. Their words flow onto the page, looping into just the right sized paragraphs. Paragraphs which usually contain an abundance of the latest buzz words.

These words turn into product brochures, web sites, press releases, white papers and blog posts, and prolific marketing writers are praised for their ability to “produce” and “deliver”.  They measure their clicks and downloads and honestly believe they’ve done well.

I beg to differ.

In 1868, writer Mark Twain said

“Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.”

In an age where attention spans are shrinking, and 140 character sound bites are all you are allowed on marketing vehicles like Twitter, it is once again time for writing less to become a valued marketing skill.

Writing less actually requires more work, not less,  but here are 10 tips to help you along.

  1. Start with what your company does and describe your company’s focus in no more than 3 words. Yes, you heard me correctly – 3 WORDS, not 30 and not 300.  Mine is "Results-based marketing".  Disney's is "innovative story telling".   Coca Cola's is "liquid refreshment".

  2. Before you start writing your next piece, write a summary using less than 100 words.  Make sure you don’t cheat – less than 100 words, and then make sure that these words support the 3 word focus phrase you came up with in point #1.

  3. After you’ve done your summary, go back and highlight the one thing that you want your reader to remember after reading your piece. If you can’t find the one thing, go back and rewrite your 100 word summary.

  4. If your document is going to be more than 500 words, write an outline before you start to keep your thoughts organized – your readers will thank you for it.

  5. Use simple words. If you make software, say you make software.  The people who like software will want to read more. If it takes me an entire paragraph to figure out that you make software, even if I like software, I won’t be reading it.  People don’t like their heads to ache when they read and they don’t like feeling stupid because they can’t figure out what you are saying.

  6. Once you’ve written your piece, cut at least 1/3 of the words out. The best place to look is the first paragraph. For some reason it’s usually the weakest.  If you can’t cut your precious words, ask a colleague to do it for you.

  7. Count how many times you used your product or company name or the word “we”. If it’s more than once in every 500 words, ask yourself if you are writing about you or for your reader.  For every statement you write, answer the question “what does this mean for my reader"?

  8. Find a way to add words that complete this sentence “what this means to you is.....” after every statement you make.

  9. Let your words sit before you finalize them. It’s amazing how much easier it is to edit your work after you’ve stepped away from it for a day or two.

  10. Go back and chop some more – yes you can do it!

I won't tell you how long it took me to write this blog post and it's still not even close to crisp enough. But I hope I have hunted down and eliminated anything resembling Blah, Blah, Blah. If not, I hope you'll tell me!

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Comments

Great advice, keep it short and to the point and relate to the reader. What I would add: think.

Clear thinking is behind clear writing. Think before you write so you focus, instead of rambling. Think while you write. And think while you revise to make sure the reader will understand and remember what you've written.

Bad advice. Focus on content, not length.

Use only the words you need, and need every word you use.

So much in life—including writing—is about confidence. Spare, bold writing exudes confidence. It's startling in just the right way ... because it dares to be simple. Nice post.

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