How your marketing pieces may be unselling your prospects. Actually, it’s your third grade teacher’s fault

Here’s the truth of it. You can’t confuse and annoy people into becoming enthusiastic customers for life.

I know. It seems obvious. So why do so many companies insist on confusing and annoying people? Actually, it’s their third grade teachers fault.

“And then Bob hauled off and hit him”

One of the most annoying things for people is having someone purposely using words and names they can’t understand. Remember the first time someone around you started using Pig Latin?

I remember it clearly. I was on the playground at my school when Mike (I won’t give his last name because he still lives around the old neighborhood) started up with “Ouyay on’tday owknay atwhay I’mway ayingsay!”

Now Mike was one of those “I’m better than you,” “My dad’s a lawyer,” and “I get cooler toys at Christmas” kind of kids. To put it bluntly, he was amazingly irritating.

Bob, the target of these incomprehensible taunts, was no slouch himself. He, however, had a short fuse and the fists to back it up.

After one too many baffling barbs, Bob decided it was time to punctuate the sentence. He swore and then Bob hauled off and hit him.

Unknowingly, your marketing materials may be creating a similar effect with your potential customers. While they might not hit you, they are probably throwing your stuff in the trash.

Your teacher led you astray

There is a strange language that is taught in most schools. It is stiff, formal, and full of as many big words as possible. It is based on the false notion that if the writer seems highly educated, then the reader will believe whatever is being written.

You probably started developing this habit somewhere around third grade when your teacher gave you a thesaurus and encouraged you to “use the big words.”

The reality is that the more the writer tries to impress, the fewer people who can understand the message.

“Excessive verbosity inadvertantly becomes an inhibitor of concept communication.”

(Translation: Too many fancy words can make your message confusing.)

No normal person talks in this stiff, affected, overly scholarly way. But it is how most people learned to write in school.

It is also why many of the marketing materials you see are incomprehensible.

This has evolved to a new baffling language I call Corporatese. This is the art of saying very little with the maximum number of words possible.

Another symptom of Corporatese is ignoring what is important to the reader and stating everything from the viewpoint of the highly self-important corporation.

(The board of directors love this stuff. It is the poor customer who suffers.)

Here are some real examples. (No. I didn’t make these up.)

“… is an international marketing solutions provider with over 40 years of experience and success. We provide unsurpassed data and solutions to assist in any sales and marketing endeavor.”

In reality, they sell mailing lists.

“Whether it’s a new way to manage social media, a unique licensing concept, or a radical idea for a product launch, we believe fresh thinking is what’s critical for consumer engagement and often what’s missing from today’s barrage of messages.”

This 40 word run-on sentence was from a website of a major Los Angeles ad agency. Ironically, this tested out as being written to a PhD level. Pity the poor reader with only a Masters Degree.

“… is an ISO 9001-2000 and ISO 14001 certified company with a focus on the development and manufacture of state-of-the-art environmental and workplace monitoring instrumentation through its `CEL` and `Monitor` brands.”

This is from an engineering firm. If it didn’t make sense to you, don’t worry. This tested out as needing 26.55 years of education – beyond a PhD – to be understood.

If any of these three examples were said on my childhood playground, Bob would have hit them.

You wouldn’t talk this way to a friend

If you tried to talk with your friends this way, they would think you’ve flipped out. You would quickly find yourself alone on the weekends when everyone else was invited to the Sunday barbeque.

And, they would be right.

If your goal is to communicate effectively, stop with the stiff, formal, academic way of writing.

You can’t confuse and annoy people into becoming enthusiastic customers for life.

Here’s what to do

First, make sure that your marketing materials are clear, direct, and understandable.

Stop using industry slang or technical terms. (If you need to use them, define them the first time they’re used.)

Read your piece aloud. If it starts to sound like one of your oral reports from high school, simplify it.

There’s another solution. Simply have a skilled professional write your marketing messages. There are a number of techniques that a can be used to make your marketing pieces more effective. A results-oriented professional can make a huge difference in your results.

At this point, you are probably expecting me to tell you about the impressive results the Sentium team has gotten for clients. You may expect me to tell you about how 30+ years of learning what works in advertising makes a difference for our clients.

I’ll save that for another time.

What I will say is that you should look at your marketing pieces with a fresh viewpoint. Are they infected with an academic tone or corporatese? If so, you now know what to do.

To your success,


Want to increase the effectiveness of your marketing? Call Sentium to arrange for a free, no-obligation, one hour telephone consultation. (800) 595-1288. We’ll explore how you can get the results you desire.

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Richard Wilson is the Founder/Chief Marketing Strategist for Sentium Strategic Communications which helps companies craft the right message for extraordinary results. Over the past 32 years, his clients have ranged from start-ups to major technology companies.
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