Sunday, February 22, 2015

When I Edited Engineers - 3

Another attempt, from my aerospace editing days, to call proposal-writing engineers back to their roots as purveyors of precise, measurable data.

On “World Class”

This is one of those phrases become meaningless through over- and inappropriate use.

At the Olympic games, where competitors actually are from all over the world, “world class athlete” makes sense. Applied to everything else (as it has been, from harmonica playing to peanut butter cookies; today's reader, Google it if you think I’m exaggerating) it doesn’t carry the weight its authors intend. You know what they’re trying to convey, but you also know whatever it is they’re pushing hasn’t literally been tested against similar items around the world, and that the claim is pointless. If it had been tested in world competition, and certainly if it had been found  best or close to it, they wouldn’t be mealy-mouthing around with “world class” -- they’d say “best in the world,” or "one of the top ten (or hundred)," and they’d be prepared to show you the stats.

Interestingly though, that sort of claim has been judged legally permissible in advertising. Under the law, advertising has special status, in that it’s not held to the standard of absolute truthfulness. The Ohio State Bar’s web page notes that in advertising, “The law allows some  exaggeration, called ‘puffery,’”  further defined in other legal articles as “non-actionable” puffery.  To invite regulatory action a claim would have to be misleading enough to cause an average consumer to buy when he or she would not have bought in the absence of that claim. The assumption is that an average consumer won’t take as truth an exaggerated claim that can’t be proved by measurement. 

If the average consumer knows enough to ignore puffery, it sure ain’t gonna convince the Department of Defense -- a cut or two above your average consumer  -- to award us the  contract we’re bidding for. Let’s lose the phrase.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The New Marketing - 2


One is called “Inbound Marketing in a Nutshell,” the other is “The Beginner’s Guide to Inbound Marketing,” both put out by the same people. I had downloaded them out of curiosity a month or two back.  I’d forgotten I had them, but I’d remembered some of what they said. It’s where the quotes about traditional advertising being “crap” and “yelling at the customers” come from. (“Obnoxious” yelling at the customers, as I reread it.)

The Inbound technique is quite precisely formulated, as befits a fad trying to look like a scientific discipline. (You don’t believe it’s a discipline? Well, it has its own acronyms and a glossary...)

There’s a five-step process to it:   Get Attention; Give Value; Gain Trust; Grow Influence; Gather Insight. The 5 “G”s, apparently.

This is sometimes described as new-age touchy-feely marketing. There is another, older formula used by people who really want to sell things sometime in the foreseeable future: Attention, Interest, Desire, Conviction, and Action.

Both marketing techniques must first define their audience of prospects and decide how to reach it. The next step, however, is where they part company.

Inbound presents “agnostic content” that it expects will be “relevant” to get the attention of and "engage" its prospects. 

Real marketing yells at the customer that he can make more money (or whatever the benefit is) using that specific product. Supposing that it's business owners we're talking to, attention-getters like making money, saving on costs, gaining market share, improving quality -- these are already pretty relevant, so you don’t have to invent “content.”

Can we assume you’ve snagged your prospect’s ATTENTION with one of those headlines? Maybe then you can catch his INTEREST  with some words explaining how the benefit comes about, to the point that he decides he’d like to have it - DESIRE - if it’s for real. You demonstrate that it is - CONVICTION - with case histories, testimonials, and the like; then you tell him how to buy. If it’s a complicated buying process as many b2b items are, you stick contact  information on at the end and encourage him to ask - ACTION - for some information or for a salesman to call. This all happens while your Inbound competitor is still gathering insights.    

 Oddly, not everything from traditional advertising is discarded. It’s simply renamed.  From the “Beginner’s Guide” glossary:

     Outbound Marketing: anything that goes “out” to put your business
     in front of the consumer, including TV or radio ads, 
     mail flyerstelemarketing calls, door-to-door salesmen,     
     computer popups, and so on [emphasis added].

(a) If there’s a negative connotation in that, I’m missing it.         (b) Putting your business in front of the consumer is more than just an ancillary exercise; it’s fundamental to selling things. You do it with ads and mail flyers. Call it "Outbound Marketing" if you like, but it sure walks and talks like traditional advertising... 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The New Marketing -1

I’m still annoyed at having read an article posted by one of the new-school marketing gurus who keep discovering what they think are new principles and trashing old ones.

In a lengthy sales pitch for his instructional course in “inbound marketing,” this one dismisses traditional advertising as “crap,” and “yelling at the customers.” Would that David Ogilvy were around to wash this puppy’s mouth out with soap! In other places I’ve seen advertising called other uncomplimentary things, including “dead.”  

The reason is that cool marketers today don’t advertise to prospective customers; they “engage” with them. This involves the popular  “content marketing” and (according to the writer cited above) its huskier cousin, “inbound marketing.”  Both may make use of “storytelling.”

In theory, the “content” thus provided is of such value to the prospect that  he or she becomes a fan of the organization and, it’s hoped, eventually buys from it and even proselytizes for it. .It’s all laid out in a neat schedule, with acronyms for the stages: “Top Of Funnel” to “Call To Action.” Ideally, the process will be so customer-oriented that if your competitor has “content” that supplements your own, you'll refer readers to that competitor’s site. The precedent cited is the instance in “Miracle On 34th Street” where, in the original version, Macy’s does tell Gimbel’s.   It’s a children’s movie.

All of it implies a long-range campaign, and one capable of posting information readers will continue to find valuable over that long range. You’ve probably noticed (clears throat discreetly) that with the exception of this blog, not a lot of the stuff on the Internet meets that standard.

There’s a scenario that plays out in my mind and intrigues the hell out of me: Some old-school marketer advertising the benefits of using his product (“yelling at the customers” -- remember? ) instead of “engaging” with them, swoops in, asks for the order like we used to do before advertising died -- and makes the sale, while the Thought Leaders are still cozening their readers. Wouldn’t that be fun? I like to think David Ogilvy would have approved.

[Awful lot of quote marks for a short piece, but I can't help myself; it's hard to be serious about some of this stuff.]

Sunday, February 1, 2015

When I Edited Engineers - 2

From my aerospace editing days: another hint (seldom taken) to the engineers on how to make their proposals sound less like they were written by engineers. (I use “engineer” generically, because that’s who I worked with, but it could be any technical subject matter expert.)
On Using Nouns As Verbs
…and don’t try to make that “verbizing nouns.”
There are enough words in the language already that can confuse you when reading something because they can be either noun or verb: think “approach,” “balance,” “control,” “design,” “estimate,” “function,” “gauge,” “heat”…
Yet proposal authors keep inventing more. Some popular corruptions include “architect,” “status,” and the seemingly all-purpose “baseline.”

You have to wonder why. Does “architecting” a system have some advantage over designing it? Were we missing something all that time we just reported on things rather than “statusing” them? Is “baseline” really so versatile that it’s up to establishing the requirements for the engineering design AND naming the management team?

It’s a rich language, with plenty of nuance to go around. The Eskimos’ language is often remarked on for having dozens (or is it hundreds?) of words to describe snow. But when you think about it, English has something akin to that for rain. We differentiate “misting,” “a few drops,” “a drizzle,” “ sprinkles,” “ showers,” “driving” or “torrential” rain, “a downpour,” “a cloudburst,” “a deluge,” “cats and dogs,” “buckets,” “gullywashers,” and rightly or wrongly, “precipitation.”

The point is, whatever you have to say, there’s probably a perfectly adequate word or phrase already in the langue to say it with. Granted, language is a living, evolving thing; but unnaturally rearranging the parts of a living thing -- take a lesson from Dr. Frankenstein.