What to Write

Marketing should be easy. It should be just about the easiest thing you can do. Marketing is just getting the word out. Right? That can’t be too difficult.

Yes, marketing is just getting the word out. The big challenge, though, comes in deciding which words to get out. In the marketing world, we call this “messaging”, and like so many things in Marketing, it’s really more dependent on who will be reading it than who is writing it.

In marketing, what you want to say is less important than what a customer cares about. That doesn’t mean say what the customer wants to hear, regardless of truth. That’s bad marketing.

No, it means pull out the parts of the real story that a customer will care about, and toss the rest aside for now. No matter how important a fact is to you, if it’s not important to your audience, it’s simply not relevant. If it won’t help them make an intelligent purchasing decision, it’s not important right now. It will just get in the way.

It is possible to find examples that contradict this advice, but they generally involve significant amounts of money. One of the best goes back to the “Intel inside” advertising campaign. Before Intel started that campaign, few people outside of the tech world knew what a CPU is, what the difference is between CPUs, nor did they really care. Intel spent enough money to make people care. You don’t have that kind of money.

Picking words for marketing is actually quite closely related to product design. Product design is about learning what’s important to the person using your product. Messaging is about learning what elements of what your product does are important to the people buying your product; what aspects of you or your product will make a customer comfortable and confident enough to buy it.

As an engineer, you know that a muffler belt won’t work without a good solid polysided freem modulator. You know that your freem modulator is more polysided than any other on the market. It seems quite logical that a customer would need to know that. Right?

Some will. Some won’t. Understanding which camp your customers fall into can be the difference between growing your business, and looking for a job working for someone else.

If the minimum acceptable working polisidedness is 10, and yours is 20, should you focus on the fact that yours is 20, while your competitors is 17? If that’s what the majority of your customers care about, then, yes.

However, it’s entirely possible that your customers just care that polisideness is greater than 10, and beyond that, they care about something else. Given that, you may find that you over built, and would have been better off with 15 polished polisides instead of 17 or 20 unpolished polisides.

That’s what messaging is about; the cross over of what your product does and what’s important to your customers. Find that and you will know what to write when trying to sell your product.

Secret Dialects of Marketing

Marketing for non-marketeers, lesson 3

Much of marketing can be summed up with the word “communication.” It’s communicating about a product or service, about wants and needs, or the past and the future. Good marketeers take this to heart and work hard to understand their market. But, it’s more than just understanding the market; it’s understanding all aspects of their language.

I often talk about the language, or dialect, that people use. When I do, I’m not talking about English English vs. USA English. I’m talking about the difference between hearing and speaking; or between reading and writing. And I’m talking about that within the same person. Knowing the difference is often the deciding factor between winning or losing this game.

Speaking of games, in baseball, right handed players catch the ball with their left hand and throw with their right. Lefties do the opposite. Except me. Baseball was always difficult for me because I both catch and throw with my right hand. It slows things down considerably when you catch the ball in your right hand, take it out of your glove with the left, drop your mit, hand the ball back to your right hand, throw it with your right hand, and then pick your mit up off the ground.

In the same vein, a lot of people speak and listen in different dialects. Like the baseball, information comes in one way, and goes out another. If you don’t plan your communication with that in mind, your conversation may go over about as well as I would as a shortstop in game seven of the world series. The thing is, most people don’t realize that they do this. It’s a perfectly normal, but often not recognized aspect of human communication.

Is it “form over function”
or “function over form”?

Case in point, electrical engineers. Material written by a typical engineer is detailed, accurate, comprehensive, and often barely readable by anyone but the author. A common phrase heard in the technical world is that the content is what’s important, not the spelling or grammar. An interesting contradiction is that engineers are often the quickest, harshest, and most pedantic of the “grammar police” that toss flame around in the social media world when someone chooses the wrong member of the set “there, their, or they’re.”

I maintain that both statements: “it’s form over function” and, the counterpoint: “it’s function over form” are incorrect. The correct maxim is: “form can’t get in the way of function.”

Form works with engineers. It works with everybody. Good advertising works with engineers. Where marketeers run into trouble is when they consider form to be too important, and they obscure the message. The reverse, putting too much weight on function, and not enough on form will be just as ineffective.

Engineers getting into marketing, either as an entrepreneur, for their own startup, or as one moving from a technical job into one that requires a lot of writing, need to pay special attention to this phenomena. You can’t write for yourself.

Anyone, not just people in the same technical field, should be able to read good writing. They may not understand all of the technical details, but they should be able to comfortably read and feel a sense of organization. Order, structure, and simplicity are important, regardless of the intended audience. My recommendation is that you have someone, with a lot less knowledge of your subject than you have, read your material. If they can get through it, you’re at least on the right track.