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3 Questions Every Marketing Piece Must Answer

Each week I come across countless examples of marketing and PR writing that are wonderful to read. The grammar is impeccable. The phrases are inventive. The words sing. But does that mean the resultant sales letter, web page, or press release will meet objectives? The answer, of course, is no.

Good writing alone is not enough to engage the hearts and minds (and, if required, the wallets) of customers, editors, and other readers. If that's all it took, a lot of struggling literary authors would be making a lot more money.

So how do you ensure that your marketing communications writing isn't just pretty prose? Here are three questions that will help keep you on strategy:

Ask: "What is the goal?"

Exactly what is it that you need your marketing piece to accomplish? Do you want your e-mail announcement to encourage HR managers to download an insightful white paper? Does your press release need to motivate trade editors to spread some ink about an exciting new adventure travel destination? Do you want your web page to be so compelling that it persuades skeptical real estate agents to click the "Buy Now" button for a new book on sales techniques?

Be as specific as you can.

It's amazing the amount of e-mails, web pages, ads, and even direct mail promotions I see every day that seem to have no clear raison d'etre ("reason for being"). Don't risk producing something that merely contributes to the clutter. Have a goal, and keep it front-and-center as you write. You might even want to sticky-note the goal to your computer (as I sometimes do.)

Ask: "What's in it for the reader?"

Perhaps the biggest mistake that marketing writers make is focusing too heavily on the product or service. This admonition may come as a surprise for some. "Hey, I'm supposed to be writing about the product or service!" You might be saying. "That's the subject of the piece, isn't it?"

Actually, no. The subject is the customer. Or, more specifically, the customer's problems, needs, and interests. That means your marketing piece must clearly answer the question every reader asks: "What's in it for me?"

If you focus purely on the product -- no matter how revolutionary or value-packed it may be -- you risk producing nothing more than a "brag and boast" document. And we all know what happens to those. ("Waste bin basketball," anyone?)

Ask: "What do I want the reader to do?"

Do you want readers to visit a web page and fill out a form? Do you want them to call a toll-free number and order your product? Perhaps you want buyers to remember your product, and associate positive feelings with it, so that the next time they have a need, your product will be top of mind?

Marketing writing in all its various forms -- direct mail, advertising, PR, online -- is essentially an exercise in persuasion. Whether it's an obvious "Call Now!", or conveyed strategically in the subtext, you must communicate what it is you want the reader to do. If you don't, your marketing writing will be like a cruise ship without a rudder. It may look good, but it's going nowhere.


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Steve Slaunwhite is a marketing consultant, award-winning copywriter, and author of The Everything Guide to Writing Copy. He works with professionals who need better results from their websites, e-mails, sales letters, ads, and other marketing communications. He is also the editor of www.ForCopywritersOnly.com. His professional home on the Web is www.SteveSlaunwhite.com. Click here to read more articles by Steve Slaunwhite.

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Comments from our users:

Saturday May 12th 2007, 9:28 AM
Comment by: MARK W.
perfect - never have i seen it put so well.thank you.it is so easy to fall in love with your product instead of getting your customers to fall in love with it. perhaps it is jealousy!

p.s: i tried to write a shorter comment but i didn't have time. :)
Saturday May 12th 2007, 11:26 PM
Comment by: Monica G.
For me, the tricky part is getting the client to see it that way. Sometimes they are so in love with their product or their company they forget about the customer who will be buying their product!
Saturday May 26th 2007, 7:01 PM
Comment by: LT.COL. DON V.
this re-emphasizes what has been forgotten for past 40
years : KEEP IT SIMPLE !!! RE-READ ; LET A 6TH GRADER READ
IT & THEN A 4TH GRADER ; AND , AFTER IT IS RE-WRITTEN ,
LET THE SAGE OF YOUR AREA READ IT .
NOTHING BEATS HAVING THE COMMON - SENSE GURU OF YOUR
OUT-SIDE EXPERIENCE LOOK OVER YOUR GOAL PLAN.
THE YOUTH WILL SURPRISE YOU THE MOST -- THEY CAN MAKE YOU A MILLION OR THEY WILL SAVE YOU A MILLION .
AND , THE BEST THING , IT WILL COST YOU A MILK SHAKE , OR A
MOVIE , OR A PIZZA --- YOU WILL LOVE THE PROCESS !!!
Friday June 1st 2007, 8:41 AM
Comment by: Arturo NY (KATONAH, NY)
Steve is so right. It seems simple. It is simple. But it isn't easy. His point # 2 is espcially important. I've come to call it the WIFFY (What's in it for you) and all too often the answer from a client will be
'the wonderfulness of my product' which is simply not good enough.
Good job Steve.
You get 5 stars from me.

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