I am not a professional copywriter, but I know when I don’t understand something. I respect those companies that can clearly and concisely communicate what it is they do and I admire the skills of the copywriter or marketer who creates good messaging. Getting your message across to the majority of recipients shouldn’t be a measure of excellence but rather competence, although the more experience I get in life the more I find that excellence and competence are often the same thing. Oh, and I’m something of a sucker for alliteration.
Allow me to share with you two examples of statements that leave me scratching my head.
“MediaForge is competitively positioned to monetize media rich content and capitalize on the growing need for easy-to-use consumer-based online publishing tools, embeddable applications, viral marketing and real time analytics. It serves the growing need for powerful tracking statistics and messaging analytics for online viral marketing campaiangs. Tony Zito has a strong team and MediaForge’s future looks bright.”
Alan E. Hall, Grow Utah Ventures
I just met two members of MediaForge’s team the other day and they’re great guys. Alan Hall is one of the nicest and most generous people in Utah. MediaForge may indeed have a bright future. I know what media rich content is, as well as online publishing tools, embeddable applications, viral marketing, and real time analytics. But I have no idea what MediaForge does nor how I or anyone I know could use them. When I hear “media rich content” I think of video, like YouTube. “Online publishing” makes me think of content management, and my web design firm builds content management systems, so is MediaForge a competitor? The term “embedded application” makes me think of companies like Intel or Utah’s very own Parvus (an MWI client, by the way). “Viral marketing” prompts thoughts of a case study I read about Hotmail years ago, or Seth Godin. “Real time analytics?” Well, that’s definitely Omniture‘s realm.
Obviously my understanding of these terms and the thoughts I associate with them are influenced directly by my own experiences, and everyone will get something different when they read that same quote about MediaForge. The question I would put forth is whether anyone with no prior knowledge of MediaForge’s services can understand what MediaForge does based on that quote.
Now for the second example. Shaun Inman is one of the best web design and usability gurus out there. He has built a software tool called Mint that looks really cool, but I’m not sure what it does based on the principal marketing message on Mint’s homepage. Here’s what it says:
The web is listening to what you have to say. Admiring your design. Talking about your product. Mint helps you identify where the most interest is being generated and over what.
Let’s start at the end and work backwards. I immediately understand that whatever Mint is, it only works on PHP with MySQL. Fair enough, nothing confusing there. It’s concise, flexible, and timely. I’m assuming that means it’s easy to understand how it works, it works well, and you get information from it in real time or near to it. But in order to understand what this means I need more information, which must be provided in the only other paragraph, the first one.
However, the first paragraph is quite ambiguous. Evidently people on the Internet are talking about me, my company, and my products and/or services, and Mint will tell me where the most interest is being generated. That sounds pretty neat. Is this some sort of application that scours the web and gathers information about what others think about my company and its services? Is it a survey tool? Business intelligence Web 2.0? It’s not obvious to me what Mint is until I check out a live Mint demo in action.
Mint is a site analytics or web stats application. It’s a scaled down, simple version of Google Analytics, Urchin, or Omniture’s Site Catalyst. It tells you how many hits and visitors your site is getting, what websites they’re coming from, and what search terms they’re using to find you if they come through search engines. Mint’s beauty is that it is so simple. As Clayton Christensen would say, it’s “good enough” whereas Site Catalyst and even the free Google Analytics often provide more information than one can use. But Mint’s website doesn’t tell me this straight off, I have to do my research to figure out what it is.
Again, this isn’t anything personal, I’ve only singled out these two examples because I happened to be exposed to them back to back on the same day. I’m sure I could find 100 other examples from equally professional and admirable people in a few minutes. That’s the point. If people as superior to the rest of us as Alan and Shaun have trouble explaining things clearly, then chances are the majority of people do. If you can learn how to express yourself well you can gain an advantage over your competitors. Perhaps a significant advantage.
But perhaps I don’t speak for everyone. Maybe I miss things that most people get. I could very well be an idiot (the idea has been proposed on occasion). But I say if you want to sell something to me, just tell me what it is. Clearly. Concisely. I’m more likely to buy it and recommend it to my friends if I understand what it is.