Marketing Writing or Corporate Cheerleading?

This post was written by John White on Mon, 25 Jan 2010 13:19:03 +0000
Posted Under: fluff,marketing as conversation,persuasion,value in content

What’s in your content: Marketing writing or corporate cheerleading? A parable for the marketing manager.

A dear friend who does a lot of business writing once remarked,

Compact, compelling copy that doesn’t fall into business jargon is tough.  So much of it is fake words strung together with cheerleading.

I’ve mulled that over for a couple of years and can finally weave a parable around it.

In short, my response is:

You say “fake words” and “cheerleading” as if they were bad things.

Here’s why.

Sporting Event = Game + Cheerleading

I’ve taken to attending football and basketball games at my sons’ school of late. It didn’t take me very long to develop a deep appreciation for the role played by the top-flight cheerleading squad in these sporting events: they cheer, kick, jump, form pyramids, turn somersaults, sell raffle tickets and generally spice up the evening. They’re a show unto themselves, really, and I can easily forget about the game I’m supposed to be watching, for all the talent, energy and acrobatic skill they display.

Cheerleaders are unflappable. Regardless of the team’s plight or good fortune, their tone is upbeat, emotionally engaging and designed to make you feel good about being there. It’s a job they do well, and we spectators need them to do it for us. They don’t put points on the board, but it’s great performing nonetheless.

Meanwhile, on the field or the court, the game is in one of three states:

  1. It’s a wipeout, and we’re winning.
  2. It’s a wipeout, and we’re losing.
  3. It’s a close game, and it’s making us nervous.

The marvelous thing about cheerleaders is that, regardless of the state, they’re doing the same thing. Sure, maybe they’re doing the touchdown cheer less often in state 2, but they’re still cheering almost constantly, with smiles on their faces, pom-poms in their hands and high kicks in their legs.

Why?

Because their voice is an important part of the game, too. Other people have the job of scoring points; cheerleaders have a different job.

Writing and Cheerleading

As a marketing manager, you’re responsible for telling your organization’s story and starting the conversations that Sales will continue. But you can’t use the same voice or tone for every story and conversation. (If you do, you must be tired of it.)

What if “fluff” and cheerleading are an important part of your game, too?

Think of the marketing pieces you put out: white papers, press releases, case studies, technology overviews, market research, annual reports, corporate backgrounders, and all of the copy on your Website. Can you honestly look at all that content and say that it’s pure game, pure fact, pure attempts to persuade prospects with may-the-best-company-win objectivity?

Sure, you give your writers access to your executives, to industry analysts, to your internal data and research, and they give you back valuable content that Sales can use to persuade prospects and beat your competitors.

But fess up; you’ve also got some corporate cheerleading in there, haven’t you? A little rah-rah-sis-boom-bah-go-team-go that puts a sunny face on things, even if sales are tanking and your technology is under scrutiny by the European Union?

Can you be that honest with your marketing communications writers? Can you tell them, “That report you wrote last month was dead-on objective, but this needs to be an upbeat piece on how our product is making life better for soccer moms. Don’t mention our ongoing patent litigation; just paint a favorable picture. It’s what we need right now.”

More crucially, when your colleagues start making snide remarks about “fluff pieces,” can you take the heat?

Yes, you can. As a marketing manager you’ve done your job by providing both objective and “soft” content. Just tell the cynics the parable of the football game and the cheerleaders.

John White of venTAJA Marketing posts about technology writing from the perspective of the marketing manager. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do it.

photo credit: avinashkunnath

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