Does Your Business Specialize in Vague Generalities and Subjective Self-aggrandizement?

We're an amazingly amazing company.

We're an amazingly amazing company.

Are you an arrogant banker? Likely not, but if your home page text or brochure copy resembles the following paragraph (excerpted from an actual published company website)--in tone and construct--readers might mistake you for one!

“Led by one of the finest management teams in the industry, MediWidgets [fictitious company name substituted for actual] has consistently demonstrated a keen understanding of the industry and a strong vision for its future. This vision is translated into a concept of a superior system – of how patients should move smoothly through a logical healthcare system that offers highly technical, less-invasive, cost-effective procedures.”

This excerpt is cited in a white paper published by Marketing Experiments (on the topic of Transparent Marketing). The white paper author included it for illustrative and instructive purposes, and because I found it to be such a fine "corporate yada-yada” specimen, I thought I'd borrow and use it here for a similar purpose.

Unfortunately, copy written in this manner all too often populates the pages of company websites and other marketing collateral. And it shouldn't, because it's meaningless drivel. So I thought deconstructing this illustrative passage from a “parts of speech” perspective, would help us understand why it sucks. And since learning why something doesn't work usually precedes determining how to fix it, I figured this exercise would be worthwhile.

So away we go:

Subjective adjectives that appear in this excerpt are: “one of the finest”, “keen”, and “strong”. By using these words the copywriter strives to impress, but sadly he or she only accomplishes the opposite. Why? Because nowhere in this passage (or anywhere else on the web page  from which it was excerpted) are these words substantiated. And without validation these "subjective adjectives" amount to nothing more than marketing hype.

Adverbs that appear in our excerpt are: “consistently”, “highly”, and “smoothly”. An adverb is simply an adjective with the suffix “–ly” added. Again, the copywriter has employed these in an attempt to impress; however, because this passage and the entire web page from which it was excerpted lacks any real substance, inserting all the wonderful adverbs in the universe won't change that.

Prepositional phrases are interesting, because they combine a linking word (preposition) with an object (noun or pronoun), and they can also include additional words that modify the object. Examples of prepositions are the words about, after, among, at, below, between, from, in, of, on, since, and with.

In a prepositional phrase, the object typically follows the preposition. Looking at the phrase “concept of a superior system” from our excerpt, the word “of” (which is a preposition) links the word “system” (an object) and the word "superior" (modifies the object) to the word “concept”.

But can a “system” be a “concept”? Well, no, not really. Far better just to say the Mediwidgets team has envisioned a superior healthcare system -- and leave it at that. Using extraneous, nonsensical words undermines, or at best diminishes, the credibility of MediWidgets' management team and its self-proclaimed “superior” healthcare solution.

How to transform marketing hype into meaningful communication

First -- avoid inserting colourful subjective adjectives into your copy, unless these words have actually been expressed by your customers. And if that is the case, make it clear that the copy  containing these words is in fact a customer testimonial.

Second -- steer clear of general descriptions. Always strive to be as specific as possible.

Third -- always follow a described product “feature” with a description of the user benefit that relates to that feature. Don’t presume the because benefits are implied, they need not be articulated. The benefits of using a product or service should always be clearly articulated. Why? Because benefits are what matter most to your prospects and customers. Always remember, features "tell" and benefits "sell". Don't just tell your prospects about all the wonderful features your widget has -- explain why those features matter, from the user's perspective.

Fourth -- include the qualifications of your team leader and team members (if those qualifications are impressive). These are powerful proof points.

Fifth -- If your R&D department has achieved anything impressive recently, mention it. Examples may include new software applications developed, procedures patented, new technology implemented, and any relevant innovations.

Sixth -- cite positive statistics from recent industry research studies, if those stats are relevant to your product and/or business.

Include the following proof points if you have them. If you don’t, consider acquiring them:

  • Positive customer ratings
  • Positive customer poll results, for example: “70% of MediWidgets customers polled      agree that [such and such specific claim] is true”
  • A simple feature/price/benefit comparison chart (that objectively compares your product to competitors)
  • Industry awards and recognition

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