“True trumps clever any day of the week … It’s far more important to tell a true story even if it’s not perfect in all the details than to make up a clever lie.”
Character actor and memoirist Stephen Tobolowsky spoke these words during a September 2012 interview with National Public Radio. MarketingProfs contributor Jay Pinkert quoted Tobolowsky last week in an article about the value of using honest customer stories to create truly powerful content marketing material.
I’ve written more than once about the power of endorsements willingly provided by those precious entities who validate your existence by giving you money for your product or service. I’ve also emphasized the value of truth and sincerity in advertising, where real people sharing their real stories is far more potent than some paid actor posing as a happy customer, working from a script that has been derived from a variety of customer experiences.
But that article by Pinkert and that quote from Tobolowsky got me thinking about something else, a discharge of clever verbiage that can distort, distend and otherwise bloat marketing copy until it has a poor chance of hooking its intended audience.
I worked recently with a client in the financial-services industry who needed my help to craft a content marketing piece of about 330 words. In such a tight space, the messages must be clear, concise and limited to two or three. His intention was to promote a specific retirement product and inspire sufficient FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) among baby boomer readers that they would be inclined to pick up the phone to learn more.
This particular client was fond of catchphrases and witty sound bites of 10 words or less … way too fond, as it turned out.
Over the course of our briefing, and via email over the next 24 hours, he equipped me with so many clever bits of wordplay that the entire article could have read like a random cut and paste from BrainyQuote.
I enforced what creative control I could and the final product was, at best, a compromise. The experience left me with a new appreciation of the fact that the process of creating content, just like with the process for developing a product, can become too self-absorbed and lose sight of its target audience.
As a creator, it’s easy to become caught up in the cool factor of your output and forget the perspective of the customer. In this instance, catchphrases and witty sound bites, in my opinion, were taking the place of articulating the real pain points and financial stresses that baby boomers are feeling as retirement looms large on the horizon and which this particular retirement product was intended to address.
There is, of course, a place for clever in your marketing material, but less is most certainly more. A catchy title and a punchy kicker to end off a piece can be quite effective. But the content in between isn’t meant to dazzle readers with your linguistic brilliance; it’s meant to move them towards whatever action you would wish to have them take.
Image: The Tech Guys