The problem with writing marketing material for ourselves is that we tend to waffle before we get to the point. Sam Leader, director and editor of Flying Solo, says that having edited some 600 articles for Flying Solo, she has “to get rid of an average of two or three warm-up paras time and time again”.
So how can we avoid this? I suggest you clarify your thoughts before you start writing by asking yourselves questions using PACKO: purpose, audience, context, key messages and outcome.
Why are you writing this document? What do you want to achieve?
You may want to provide information, make a recommendation to solve a problem or persuade your readers to buy your products or services. Sometimes you may have more than one purpose.
Understanding your purpose helps determine the structure of your writing. For example, if you’re writing an informative piece, you can often get straight to the point without much preamble. You simply record your information in order of importance to the reader.
If you want to persuade your readers, you may need to spend more time setting the scene to demonstrate that you understand their situation. The challenge is to write from their point of view, not yours.
Having established what you want to achieve, think about your audience/s. What do you know about them? Are your writing for single or multiple audiences?
The more you tailor your writing to suit your readers, the more powerful it will be. As Cicero said:
If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words.
I never used to think about context, but I have become increasingly aware that many writers make assumptions about their readers’ knowledge when writing marketing material. Explaining the context or background may not always be relevant, but if you think about it, you’ll know whether or not you need to explain your terms or include some background information.
For example, at the end of 2008, the media covered how Bernard Madoff lost his clients a lot of money through a Ponzi scheme. Many newspapers did not explain what a Ponzi scheme is, leaving readers to guess or look up the information. (According to Wikipedia: “It’s a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to investors out of the money paid by subsequent investors rather than from profit.”)
What are your key messages?
You must be able to articulate your key messages in clear statements that even a 12-year-old can understand.
This sounds common sense, but it’s amazing how many highly intelligent writers don’t make their key messages clear. I think it’s sometimes because they think they’re obvious. Professor Chip Heath of Stanford University calls this the “curse of knowledge”.
How do you want your readers to respond? This question relates back to purpose, but thinking about it separately reminds you to check your details.
For example, a friend of mine, who owns a restaurant, sends a wonderful chatty email to customers. A recent email was as interesting as usual, but she’d forgotten to include the restaurant’s phone number. Had she thought: “bookings, bookings, bookings”, the phone number would have been prominently displayed.
So before you start writing marketing material next time, just pause for a moment and ask yourself the PACKO questions.
“ You must be able to articulate your key messages in clear statements that even a 12-year-old can understand. ”