Do you want to add oomph, pizzazz and wow to your ads, brochures, newsletters, press releases, websites, direct mail pieces, project proposals, e-mails and even business cards, so that you attract and retain the right customers?

As the old saying goes, "Sell the sizzle, not the steak."

The challenge is to cut through the clutter of (mostly forgettable) messages that your potential customers are bombarded with all day every day, and convince them why they should buy at all, and more particularly why they should buy from you rather than your competitor.

Marketing 101

But wait! Before you write even a single word of your promotional brochure or website, you need to understand something about marketing, and WHY people buy your products and services (or not).

The legendary Al Ries and Jack Trout had this to say in their classic book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: "Many people think marketing is a battle of products ... It's an illusion. There is no objective reality. There are no facts. There are no best products. All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect. The perception is the reality...Marketing is the process of dealing with those perceptions."

What this means for you is that every "touch point" at which your customers and stakeholders come into contact with your company, including every word and every comma that they read in your marketing communications material, creates perceptions (conscious and unconscious) in their minds. So you have to choose every word and every comma with laser-like accuracy in order to influence those perceptions, show people that you understand their wants and needs, and elicit the precise response you want: a decision to buy your product, service or idea. And let's not be coy about this: as Sergio Zyman wrote in his book The End of Marketing As We Know It, "The purpose of marketing is to sell more stuff."

Another brutal truth about marketing is that, sorry, customers aren't really all that interested in you or your company; they're interested in themselves, and what your product or service can do for them (or their loved ones or the organisations they care about). Everybody (you and me included) is tuned to that popular 24-hour radio station WIIFM: "What's In It For Me?".

So in your marketing communications material, you need to talk about benefits, not features. Show your customers and prospects how you'll help them get more of what they want (health, wealth, security, status, power, sex appeal, self-esteem), or avoid what they don't want (illness, poverty, pain, risk, humiliation, loneliness, guilt).

Remember that marketing is not about short-term transactions, it's about building long-term relationships. Consider too that people make decisions emotionally, then justify them with logic. As Dale Carnegie said: "When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity."

Write Right

So here are some back-to-basics action steps to help you ensure that all your marketing communications material sends a consistent and compelling message to your local and international customers, and all the other stakeholders of your business (both internal and external). The result? You'll inspire more people to buy more of your products, services or ideas, for more money.

1. Get straight to the point.
2. Talk about "you" (your customer/reader), not "I" or "we" or "customers".
3. Focus on the benefits and how the customer will FEEL when using your product or service (that's "the sizzle").
4. Write the way you talk. Use short words and short sentences; use active not passive verbs, and cut the fluff, the jargon and the old-fashioned formalities (say "use" not "utilise", "If you need..." not "Should you require...").
5. Use strong headlines to grab attention, then present your information in a user-friendly order that leads (or rather accompanies) the reader on a clearly sign-posted journey towards the decision to buy.
6. Make 'em an offer: "Two for one if you order by November 30."
7. Tell your readers what to do (they want to know why you're sending them the message and what you expect them to do about it): "To order, call 555 8888 today."
8. In every piece of marketing communications material, include your company/brand name and contact details, and add a tagline (especially on your business cards) that says what your company does, or more importantly, how your product or service benefits customers.
9. Choose your house style (i.e. British or American spelling; the way you spell the name of your company or product; the way you write dates, times and telephone numbers), then use that style consistently across all of your marketing communications material.
10. Read your draft text out loud and FEEL your gut response. Then ask someone else to read it (preferably someone who's not closely involved with your product/service/project). Is their response the one you intended? Did they actually get the message that you thought you were sending? If not, change it!

Manage Every Touch Point

Of course, even the best-written ad, brochure or press release won't save your business if your staff are rude to customers; the bathrooms in your office, shop or restaurant are dirty or your billing procedures are user-unfriendly. So you need to ensure that every aspect of your business presents a consistent, positive image, and you need to train every staff member to understand that everything they do is marketing.

© Kay Ross

Author's Bio: 

Kay Ross is a Hong Kong-based marketing consultant & coach, editor and copywriter. She specialises in writing and editing compelling English-language marketing communications material that helps her clients to "sell more stuff" to more people, more frequently, more profitably. Oh, and she's also a stand-up comedian. Contact her at