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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.