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Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

Effective Marketing And Sales Begin With Good Writing

Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

I t's the ingredient that proposals, letters, brochures and advertisements are made of, and - other than speechmaking - perhaps the one thing with which many marketing and salespeople are most uncomfortable.

Marketing is about effective and persuasive communication of the features and benefits of your product or service, and the communications vehicle is writing. Sales letters, proposals, press releases, catalogs, Web pages and advertisements all require writing that is professional and convincing, and calls clients or prospects to action.

Writing is an essential skill for successful sales and marketing efforts, but not all businesspeople or marketing professionals are good writers. Some find writing painful. Hiring a professional copywriter always is a good idea, but strengthening your own writing skills is equally as important.

Avoid Wordiness: Too often, businesspeople want to write manuscripts rather than marketing materials. Remember the mantra, "Never use 10 words when five will do." At last count, consumers are bombarded with more than 3,000 marketing messages every day. That means you have just seconds to grab the attention of your reader, so get to the point.

Use Proper Grammar And Punctuation: Nothing loses a reader more quickly than misspelled words or incorrect subject/verb agreement. The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation is a great reference available in printed and online versions. The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, another good reference used by professional journalists, includes a guide to capitalization, abbreviation and spelling; and has a section on business guidelines and style.

Proofread Your Work: Every writer needs an editor, so always have another set of eyes read what you have written. Once you've composed copy and read it a few times, you likely will not see mistakes. Ask your proofreader not only to look for misspellings or improper grammar, but also to give feedback on the clarity and conciseness of the message. Does it hold the reader's attention? Is the copy convincing and easily understood?  Is it clear what you want the reader to do?

Write For Your Audience: Writing, like talking, comes in many forms - formal or informal, general or technical, detailed or concise. Defining your target audience before you begin to write will help make the process easier. For example, if you are writing for those in your industry, you can skip lengthy explanations and specific details about a particular process or issue. If you're writing for those outside your industry, you want to be informative, but avoid using industry jargon or technical commentary that might confuse or bore the reader. Use copy that describes a situation that could easily apply to the wants or needs of your defined audience.

Use An Active Voice: If you want your copy to be more persuasive, write with an active voice. An active voice emphasizes the doer or the agent of the activity. A passive voice shifts the focus simply to what is happening rather than what or who is making it happen. The passive voice has its place, but for sales and marketing purposes, it is vague, wordy and places your customer at arm's length. Here are examples of active and passive copy written for a website: Active - When you click the button, we immediately generate your order and automatically send you an e-mail confirmation; Passive - Once the button has been clicked, the order is generated and an e-mail confirmation is sent automatically.

You can feel the difference in these messages. You feel the confidence and accountability in the active voice. That is the voice with which you want to do business.

Communicate Features And Benefits: Most of us, when we read a brochure or watch a television commercial, ask ourselves one simple question, "What's in it for me?" Your writing must communicate the features and benefits of your product or service to solve a problem, improve productivity or otherwise make the user's life easier.

Issue A Call To Action: Too often, marketing materials fail to ask for the sale. Remember to clearly communicate what you want the reader to do - visit your website, call for a free demonstration, or visit your booth at a trade show. Again, use active words that prompt readers to take action and offer an incentive that makes them do it now.

November/December 2007