Desperation Doesn’t Justify Bad Business Writing

Puzzling Marketing Material

There’s a creeping kind of desperation spreading across some corners of the Internet Marketing world, which is resulting in some appallingly bad business writing. And the problem with bad business writing is that it turns off potential customers. I have recently received two stunning examples of poor business writing, both through the post, but both trying to sell me a course about Internet Marketing.

Back in the mists of time, perhaps 10 years ago, when the internet still had some mystique, there were plenty of examples of websites which had simply lifted written material from the printed page, and stuck it up on the net, without realising that we read differently when we are looking at a screen, as opposed to a piece of print.

Gradually people ‘got’ that you need shorter paragraphs for screen-reading, and you need to think about the dreaded ‘fold’ – the place where the screen cuts off the rest of the page below.

Internet Marketers also began to understand that online customers use different contact information. If I find you online and I like what you are selling, I will probably be happy to buy your stuff online, although a phone number is handy in case it all goes wrong, and my question isn’t answered in your FAQs. (On a point of order, how often do find your questions ARE answered in the FAQs?)

If I find you offline, I will probably want to buy in an offline way.

Because the Internet Market has become crowded of late, Internet Marketers are looking for alternatives. Three currently top the list: local area marketing (teaching people how to market to their locality), mobile marketing (getting at people when they are on their phones – a major growth area), and offline marketing. Yup, good ol’ snail mail. That’s why they want you to include your address when you sign up for that nice free webinar.

Unfortunately, people who are used to writing for the web haven’t realised that writing for an offline audience requires some different strategies. Neither of the examples I have mentioned above had a return address on the outside. The first one gave me no phone number, nor a postal address, nor even a contact name (although there was a photo of a guy who – I suppose – was sending me this material). Just a web site. But it’s offline marketing, for heaven’s sake! Give me offline tools.

What they had done was to print out their website copy and send it without editing it first. Including all the web site typos, poor grammar, hectoring tone, assumptions that I am like them and thus frustrated about life, and other  bits of general awfulness which managed to persuade me that there was no way in the world I would want to buy from them.

A couple of weeks later, I received the second example. Here the authors had attempted to do something different, and they had at least included a phone number, and the names of people for me to contact. The problem lay in what they had done. Photocopied handwritten sheets, purporting to be rough notes, advertising some seminar about internet marketing. You can see for yourself.

They Expect me To Buy This?

The handwriting, while very neat, was almost impossible to read, and the first page was too faint. They wanted £849 (that’s about $1100) for me to attend a 3-day seminar about niche marketing using the internet. As prices go, that’s not too bad, but they had done nothing to build trust with me, and their own marketing output was uncovincing. So when they promised ‘no pitch fest’, I didn’t believe them: I expected a lot of hard selling throughout the three days.

Writing good business copy isn’t easy, particularly if writing was never your thing at school. However, with patience, thought and application it’s perfectly possible. Internet Marketing may not be as easy as it used to be, but pushing bad online copy through peoples’ letterboxes isn’t going to generate sales.

If the people producing bad business copy don’t have a passion for it, or find it too time-consuming, then there are plenty of us who are willing either to teach them, or do it for them.



About Dr Jane

2 Responses to “Desperation Doesn’t Justify Bad Business Writing”

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  1. Nick Winter says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Jane. Let’s have some controversy (with the emphasis on the first “o”)! As I get older (and grumpier) I’ve decided that if someone wants to part me from my money, they can at least send me something that contains proper sentences and no spelling mistakes. In general, it seems to me that writing, good writing I mean, is becoming scarcer. People can’t spell, they can’t punctuate and they have little concept of grammar. Don’t schools teach this any more? People sending this junk may, or may not, actually have something to say but I often don’t get far enough into whatever-it-is to find out. The pub down the road had a menu board outside the other day with “favorite” written on it (this is Woodbridge, Suffolk, not Woodbridge Virginia), and how often do you see something like: “free range egg’s”? As for conversation with the younger generation, don’t get me started. “Grunt.” “Yeah, cool.” “Awesome.” All without lifting their eyes from their iPhones while texting. I’m with Private Fraser. “We’re all doomed…”

  2. Faye Sharpe says:

    So true Jane. Good writing whether online or offline does takes a little effort. The trouble with online johnnies is that they’ll spent hours figuring out how to automate something rather than a few minutes producing quality work. By ‘quality’ I mean 2 things: ‘original’ and ‘fit for purpose’.

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