Sunday, April 29, 2007

How to Inject “Stealth Selling” into a Press Release


Writers often feel constrained by the strict journalistic conventions, which govern press releases. They cover the 5 W’s in the first paragraph with little or no flourish for fear the media will reject a press release as too “salesy.”

We, the readers, wind up with something all too dry. Worse still, it’s as if copy based on how the customer benefits is off-limits. This leaves many corporate press releases to focus on the company or product features instead. The net effect is a self-centeredness, which borders on hubris and what could be more boring?

The press release we tune up today is refreshingly free of excessive ego. It falls down on some of the basics of press release writing and we call attention to those in passing. What’s more interesting is how we can inject “stealth selling” into this press release, keep it engaging, and not trigger sales resistance.

No, this is not Neuro-Linguistic Programming and there are no “subliminable” messages either.

Get in a Groove with Gruuve

Gruuve provides the combination of a search engine for online music collecting with a social networking site. I met one of the company principals at a Silicon Valley mixer not too long ago and got a quick yet thorough summary of who’s who in this interesting market niche. Some time since then, they revamped their site and the press release I saved to my computer for future reference was removed. In the spirit of “all publicity is good publicity,” I hope they don’t mind my pointing to a cached Google listing.

Copywriting Tune-up



GRUUVE To Launch Web Music Engine

July 25, 2006

SANTA CLARA, CA. GRUUVE today announced the launch of the Gruuve Web Music Engine.

Gruuve provides users with tools and services to organize and manage their music, podcasts and audio files in one place. Users can upload their music to their Gruuve account, create playlists, plug and play into iTunes, get discography information for their music library. Gruuve has over 20,000,000 million song titles from over 1,500,000 albums for over 400,000 artists. Users can also create their on web page, invite friends, blog and much more.

Presently the music engine supports only MP3 files.

Gruuve also enables users to bookmark their favorite artists in their account to quickly access breaking news, get information on tours and new releases. This removes the frustration of signing up for multiple fan club web sites, creating multiple profiles and remembering multiple passwords.

Our goal at Gruuve is to connect everything music in one place.

For your free account please visit

For: GRUUVE Music Search & Syndication Street, City, State Zip

Contact: Person, Email / Phone


GRUUVE Launches Web Music Engine

Online Service Unites Fans, Music, and Events on Social Networking Platform

SANTA CLARA, CA., July 25, 2006 - Countless people worldwide collect music, label it, create it, publish it, promote it, and enjoy it with their friends. Such love of music brings them together at GRUUVE, an online social network focused on music. The new service makes available 20 million songs from more than 1.5 million albums and 400,000 artists. In addition, users create personal web pages, invite friends, and blog.

Music lovers use the tools and services of GRUUVE as a way to maintain their music, podcasts, and MP3 audio files. Users upload content to their GRUUVE account, create playlists, and obtain discography information for their music libraries. GRUUVE users take their music with them on their Apple iPods thanks to the plug and play capability of GRUUVE with Apple iTunes.

On GRUUVE, users bookmark their favorite artists to receive breaking news on upcoming tours and new releases. In addition, users enjoy the convenience of a single place to keep up with all their favorite acts. This eliminates the need to maintain profiles and passwords at separate fan club websites.

New users can setup free accounts at

Readability Statistics

To replicate these numbers, start with the first word of body copy onwards. This is where the Before and After versions are directly comparable. The After version is 29% more readable and shaves nearly 1.5 years off the grade level.

Thankfully, we don’t need lower readability, more SMOG, or a higher grade level as cover for our stealth selling component – more on this below.

Get Press Release Basics Squared Away

In the opening before the press release headline, it helps to include the “For:”, “Contact:”, and “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” elements. This eliminates ambiguity for whoever in the media mulls picking up your press release.

Moreover, in this post era, providing a physical address puts the issuer of the press release in a more stable light. Supplying a contact gives the media an individual to get in touch with if they have any questions. Specifying the release is for immediate use cues them that they’re free to run with the press release. Without these items, chances are, the press release will never run.

Slip a Benefit into the Headline or Sub-head

This isn’t the stealth part, but slipping a benefit into the headline or sub-head is advisable for the same reasons. The Before version offers a headline too generic and brief to convey a benefit. Also, by placing it in future tense, any benefits appear subject to doubt.

The After version places the headline firmly in the present. This removes lingering doubt and is valid to do given the network’s many participating artists, songs, and albums.

More importantly, the After version uses the sub-head to accomplish two things. One, it makes clear what Gruuve is. Two, it implicitly states that using Gruuve is fun.

Give Your Press Release a Pleasing Flow

The Before version has a fitful flow to it. There are 4 single sentence paragraphs and 2 lengthy ones. The first paragraph is a single sentence that simply restates the headline and therefore loses momentum. It does cover 4 W’s from a traditional journalistic standpoint. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a “why”, even an implicit one.

The After version recognizes that social networking and specialty search engines are still somewhat new on their own let alone together. The opening two sentences let us know that popular passions are fueling the rise of Gruuve.

This is essential to injecting stealth sales language into the press release, but let’s get back to flow. Overall, the paragraph elaborates on the headline and sub-head. The last two sentences of the paragraph flesh out the first two sentences.

The Before version dives too quickly into the low level particulars of what people can do on Gruuve. This would be better suited to a second paragraph detailing the first.

For some reason, the third paragraph is a single sentence. Its content detracts from the positive message of this press release. If there are music file formats poised to overtake MP3, I haven’t heard about them. Why call attention to it?

The After version uses its second paragraph to clarify how people use Gruuve day to day.

The fourth paragraph of the Before version and the third of the After version serve the same purpose. For some reason, the Before version includes another unexpected, single sentence as its fifth paragraph. This sentence comes across as a tagline and may raise sales resistance. More about this when we discuss “voice” in the next section.

One last point about flow in the After version. Each paragraph expands upon a noun found in the sub-head. The first paragraph addresses music as a basis for social networking. The second speaks to the music itself. The third is about fans and events. Coming out of the third paragraph, one gets the feeling there are no loose ends or areas of confusion.

Use a Consistent Voice to Keep Sales Resistance at Bay

In terms of voice, the Before version started out in third person and remained there until the second to last sentence. At that point, it entered first person. First person combined with what amounts to a tagline is bound to raise sales resistance.

The final sentence of the Before version then switches to second person voice. Sales resistance will be even higher for this sentence because it reads as a call to action in a sales piece.

The After version pre-empts sales resistance by respecting the basic journalistic requirement of maintaining third person voice unless quoting someone.

Speaking of which, adding quotes to this press release would increase credibility. For a press release to be distributed online, it might be SEO savvy to have the quote come from one of the more popular Gruuve network bloggers.

How to Inject Stealth Sales Language into a Press Release

Again, let’s be clear that we’re not talking about psychology or anything subliminal.

Everything revolves around how we handle the 5 W’s in the first paragraph. The Before version approaches this is in a conventional, journalistic way. The 5 W’s of the After version hinge around an implicit benefit to the user.

The table below compares the two on this basis:

5 W's





Music lovers


Music engine

Joining a music oriented online social network


Santa Clara

Implicitly, anywhere people want to socialize with others using music as a starting point


July 25, 2006




Implicitly, you can feed your love of music in the company of old friends and new and enjoy all the conveniences of a powerful online music management system

Wrap up

This tune up is about a philosophy of engaging the reader first so that self promotion takes care of itself. Like any sales literature, a press release must be held to the same standard for justifying the reader’s continued attention. Either way, the reader’s first concern is W.I.I.F.M. – what’s in it for me.

By addressing this aspect of human nature in an objective way, using the third person voice, and keeping the text as readable as possible, a press release can have even greater selling power than an advertorial because it never blows its cover.

To your marketing success,

Eric Rosen
Strategic Marketing Writer
Clear Crisp Communications
Easier to Read Means More Sales and Leads

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How to Score More Impulse Sales with Report Summaries

For this edition of The Copywriting Makeovers Blog, we makeover a report summary from The Aberdeen Group . Clients of The Aberdeen Group are vendors of information technology (IT) products and services. With the market research and business strategy services of The Aberdeen Group, they attain leadership status in emerging markets.

While this particular summary of "e-Learning in the Enterprise " is dated, the business points it makes are truer today than ever. Moreover, the need to write clear, crisp literature is timeless.

Previous tune-ups show B2B marketers how to embrace the second person voice while maintaining a respectful corporate tone. Since this is a report summary, second person voice is not an option. Still, the summary acts as a "sample taste" of what purchasers of the report can expect for their money. For this reason, the summary plays a marketing role and must entice readers to buy the report.

Size-up your Audience and the Point of Sale

The audience for Aberdeen Group offerings is most likely to be educated and upwardly mobile. This means it's reasonable to assume purchasers of a report see themselves as rational consumers. Still, since the sale is happening online, impulse plays an important role in the buying decision. Summaries which are easier to read mean more sales of reports for The Aberdeen Group.

Copywriting Tune-up

The challenges for this copywriting tune-up are:

  • Eliminate wordiness
  • Make it easier to read
  • Whet the reader's appetite to buy the report



Employee training is a major issue — and expense — for today's enterprises, which increasingly recognize that their competitive economic advantage is related to education, knowledge, and training. As a result, there is a heightened focus on developing technical, professional, and managerial skills through the use of training and education, causing enterprises to invest increasing amounts of time, money, and effort in employee training. To keep up with stiff global competition and today's fast-changing technology in an Information Age economy, enterprises are trying to quickly and effectively train employees, while keeping expenses within reasonable limits.

The pace of change in technology is making continuous learning both more critical and more difficult. The nature of learning has changed in that enterprises must continuously and quickly train and update the skills of their employees, especially in critical professions such as information technology (IT), to keep pace with all the changes. The market is demanding true enterprise-level training and education solutions. Traditional classroom training methods simply cannot keep up with the vastly increased speed and flexibility needed to meet training and education requirements for businesses running on Internet time. Nonetheless, all of this training is expensive, and training organizations are often finding themselves under pressure to lower their costs by more efficiently delivering training.

For these reasons, enterprises are seeking alternatives to traditional classroom training, especially technology-based training (TBT) alternatives, such as e-Learning, computer training, and satellite video broadcasts. "TBT" refers to training through technological media that takes place in venues other than a classroom, including computers, television, audiotape, and videotape. Of the TBT alternatives, e-Learning is the most attractive alternative for enterprises and individual consumers because of its flexibility, convenience, cost-effectiveness, real-time interactivity and ability to leverage the power of the Internet.




Training employees is critical to the success of today's businesses. With their advantage in the marketplace hinging on education, knowledge and training, companies are committing more time, money, and effort to training. To rise to the challenge of stiff global competition and fast-changing technologies, companies strive to train their employees quickly and effectively while keeping their expenses in check.

As the pace of technological change quickens, it alters the learning challenges businesses face. The need to train and update employee skills quickly and continuously grows more urgent. This pressure is acute in professions like information technology (IT) which are on the front lines of technological change.

The market calls for speedy and flexible solutions to meet the demands of global companies. Traditional classroom training is unable to keep up and training groups seek more efficient ways to deliver training.

Training delivered in venues other than a physical classroom we refer to as technology based training (TBT). Among the possibilities are computers, television, audiotape, and videotape. TBT options include e-Learning, computer training, and satellite video broadcasts.

The most attractive alternative is e-learning because it is the most flexible, convenient and affordable. Also, e-learning is able to make full use of the Internet. This makes it easier to create and update interactive learning experiences.


Readability Statistics

The makeover is more readable by a ten-fold margin. Note the drastic reduction in length. The After summary has less than ¾ the number of characters. Several other changes are also likely to boost Aberdeen Group's conversion rate. These include:

  • More paragraphs for greater whitespace
  • More sentences with fewer words for easier reading
  • Smaller words for instant comprehension

Embrace Simplicity

Anytime someone views this summary, a sale hangs in the balance. Dense sentence structures hold back sales.

For example, the Before summary opens with an excellent point but dilutes it with an interruption ("— and expense —"). Following the interruption with a complex clause exacerbates the problem. The noun "advantage" is front loaded with a double adjective, "competitive economic." This wordy noun leads into a list of three more nouns to finish the sentence. The After summary breaks these concepts into sentences of their own for easier reading.

Keep Subjects and Verbs Clear and Connected

The second Before sentence begins with, "As a result, there is a heightened focus on developing training…" Who is the subject? By leaving the subject vague, we force readers to think in abstract terms. The more "thinking" they have to do, the lower our conversion rate.

We may not be able to use second person voice, but keeping verbs prominent and closely tied to their subject is the next best thing. These verbs should be concrete and action-oriented.

The first verb in the Before summary is "developing" which leaves too much to the imagination. The After summary offers up "hinging" – a visual verb and it clearly ties back to the pronoun, "their." In the same sentence, we have another visceral verb in "committing." This verb belongs to the subject "companies" and covers the all-important ideas of time, money and effort.

Jettison Jargon, Cancel Corporate Speak

One over-used word in B2B marketing literature is "enterprise." What does enterprise really mean? Is it a code word for companies over a certain size? How do we measure size? Is it number of employees, yearly revenue, or something else? Do we implicitly exclude public sector and non-profit organizations when we use the word, "enterprise"?

All of this ambiguity surrounding the word "enterprise" promotes thought not action. "Company", "firm", and "organization" are concrete substitutes for "enterprise."

Another superfluous term in the Before summary is "Information Age economy." By the time this term appears, the phrases "stiff global competition" and "fast-changing technology" have already done a good job of expressing how urgent it is for companies to invest in their employees.

Focus on Flow and Repeat Only When Necessary

The second paragraph of the Before summary opens with another reference to fast-paced changes in technology and how they affect training. Figure the sharp Aberdeen Group audience already digested this fact in the first paragraph. By this time, the After summary moves on to discussing alternatives to classroom training as a nimble way to respond to these challenges.

Define Your Terms Upfront. Stay on Track for the Call-to-Action

The third paragraph of the Before summary gets pretty far along when it introduces the term "technology based training." This introduction uses examples before defining the term. Even if the reader understands the terms based on the examples, defining it afterwards may cause readers to second-guess their understanding. Again, the Before summary prompts thought instead of action.

The After summary begins its second-to-last paragraph with a definition of technology based training and it flows well from the previous paragraph's discussion of the need for alternatives to traditional classroom training. The next sentence reinforces the definition with examples. This keeps the reader engaged and moving on to our call-to-action without breaking the trance.

Don't Bury Your Benefits – Spotlight them

The Before summary should have had a 4 th paragraph starting with, "Of the TBT alternatives…" This section is the only one focused on the benefits a purchaser of the report is looking for in his or her organization. Consider this our last chance to trigger a buying impulse. Keeping it buried as the second half of an overly long paragraph makes a good conversion rate an uphill battle.

The After summary breaks out the benefits of e-learning into a final paragraph with only 3 short, but direct sentences. The benefits are easy-to-understand and free of jargon.

Bonus Tip - Use Simple Adjectives, not Abstract Nouns

The Before summary uses the nouns "flexibility, convenience, cost effectiveness." The After summary avoids the extra thought these nouns require. Instead, it achieves greater impact with their adjective forms – "flexible, convenient, affordable."


It's easy to lose sight of the fact a report summary is marketing collateral as much as it is an abbreviated form of "product."

While using the second person voice is off limits because the report summary surveys a market, it converts prospects into customers when the writer:

  • Recognizes the impulse purchase behavior at stake
  • Uses clear subjects and verbs, simple adjectives, and minimal jargon or corporate speak
  • Drives the reader to action with a strong benefits-oriented finish

Spreading good copy beyond the traditional boundaries of marketing collateral can only yield, as legendary copywriter Clayton Makepeace says, "bigger winners, more often."

To your marketing success,

Eric Rosen
Strategic Marketing Writer
Clear Crisp Communications
Easier to Read Means More Sales and Leads

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Give Your B2B Marketing Materials a SMOG Test and Find Out if They Read like Newsweek or The IRS Tax Code (Part One)


Sometimes, a piece of B2B marketing literature defies conventional wisdom when it comes to measuring its ease of reading. The one we look at this time scored a zero on the Flesch Reading Ease and for me, alarm bells went off. After all, no piece is completely unreadable, right?

Nevertheless, I want to make it clear I'm doing everything humanly possible to give this piece a fair shake.

To eliminate Microsoft Word's implementation of Flesch Reading Ease as a factor, we look at several alternative tools for calculating Flesch Reading Ease. To eliminate the Flesch Reading Ease as an unreliable metric, we use an additional measure called SMOG (Simple Measure of Gobbledygook).

Loosely speaking, SMOG complements Flesch Reading Ease because it measures how difficult it is to read a passage whereas Flesch Reading Ease calculates how easy it is to read. The SMOG level depends on the proportion of words with 3 or more syllables. The higher the SMOG level, the more difficult it is to read the passage. The SMOG level helps equate a passage with other well-known reading materials of similar complexity. This is how references to The IRS Tax Code and Newsweek made it into the title of this post.

So, this edition of Copywriting Tune-ups is Part One and it focuses on my efforts to arrive at a genuine assessment of how easy or difficult it is to read the B2B marketing piece we discuss below. In Part Two, we'll do the usual deconstruction of how the tune-up transforms the piece into a new and improved sales tool.

Those of you only interested in Part Two may find Part One useful because it relies on the tune-up to tell its story. Originally, I hoped to write a self-contained, one-part tune-up emphasizing the value of using bullet points. Along the way, I discovered how the After snippet readings fluctuated wildly depending on whether periods followed the bullets.

In particular, bullet points without periods greatly influences the results we get with both Flesch Reading Ease and SMOG. For this reason, we'll see the Before and After snippets in Part One and Part Two.

For the balance of Part One, we:

  • Set up the makeover
  • Show the Before and After snippets side-by-side with the usual Microsoft Word screenshots of Flesch Reading Ease
  • Explain the methodology and findings I used to eliminate the Flesch Reading Ease metric and the various Flesch Reading Ease calculation tools as factors in the B2B marketing piece's zero score on Flesch Reading Ease

Call Out Your Benefits - Just Don't Lose Them in SMOG

Since converting features to benefits has been a prevalent theme in recent tune-ups, let's review the Challenge and Benefits webpage of an enterprise software company, IQNavigator of Denver . IQNavigator technology helps large organizations manage all of the services they outsource to other companies.

Clearly, IQNavigator has the right idea dedicating a webpage to call-out their benefits. Still, as we've seen with other enterprise software companies, they write in third person voice and use passive sentences. This makes it harder for anyone to read and understand no matter how well-educated.

IQNavigator wisely uses bullet points to enumerate their benefits; however, each bullet makes for long and dense reading.

Copywriting Tune-up

So, the challenge for this tune-up is to:

  • Inject the second person voice
  • Eliminate passive sentences
  • Maintain an appropriate corporate tone
  • Make the benefits easier to understand
  • Convert each lengthy bullet into several shorter ones which are easier to read



Fast cost savings, Ongoing investment

Enterprises in diverse industries have found that sustainable cost savings and process improvements can be achieved through implementation of an end-to-end services procurement and optimization solution. IQNavigator's market-leading solution provides several bottom-line benefits:

  • Cost reduction: Reduce costs by 10-35% by implementing best -practices for sourcing services, eliminating manual invoice reconciliation, gaining consistent terms and renegotiating with more accurate spending and performance information, and enforcing approvals for all spending, contract extensions and exceptions.
  • Process efficiencies: Automate the procurement and payment processes to reduce cycle time and cost over 70% while improving the resulting services quality, contract terms, and payment speed and accuracy.
  • Manage compliance risks: Ensure compliance with company policies, supplier contract terms and government regulations through configurable compliance rules and approval requirements, and enforcement of contract terms and rates. Financial compliance is also achieved through spending approval requirements and process controls, auditability, and accurate invoicing and cost allocation.
  • Optimization: Improve the business results achieved through outside services by aligning services spending with business priorities and initiatives, continually improving deliverable quality and value, and linking purchased services to internal key business measures. IQNavigator's distinctive business intelligence capabilities provide visibility and analysis capabilities into spending, supplier performance, and business results.


Gain Control over the Service Procurement Life Cycle


Join the companies in every sector who have reduced their costs and streamlined their processes with a complete solution to manage the services they procure and the quality of the services performed.

Address this challenge head-on and you can:

  • Lower your costs by 10 - 35%.
  • Adopt the best practices to procure services.
  • Stop reconciling invoices manually.
  • Standardize the terms in your contracts.
  • Renegotiate your contracts using more accurate spending and performance information.
  • Enforce approvals for all your spending, contract extensions, and exceptions.

When you automate your procurement and payment processes, you will:

  • Reduce cycle time and related costs by 70%.
  • Improve the quality of the services performed.
  • Gain better control over contract terms, accuracy, and speed of payment.

Setup compliance rules so you can:

  • Ensure your company complies with its own policies, suppliers' contract terms and government regulations.
  • Meet your financial compliance goals with approval requirements, process controls, audit specifications, and accurate invoicing and cost allocations.

Enjoy better performance from your service providers when you:

  • Match your spending with your business priorities.
  • Link the services you purchase to your key business metrics.
  • Improve the quality and value of the specifications you give to your service providers.

See the relationships among spending, supplier performance, and business results when you apply the unique business intelligence capabilities of IQNavigator.

Ensuring a Balanced Comparison of Before and After

As mentioned above, we need to adjust for bullet points without periods. To ensure a balanced comparison between the Before and After snippets, the After snippet mimics the Before snippet by placing a period at the end of each of its own bullets.

How Bullet Points without Periods affects the After Snippet

Remove all bullet periods and the Flesch Reading Ease result for the After snippet is 22.6. In my opinion, this dramatically understates the ease of reading we feel intuitively when we read it. Place a period at the end of the last bullet in each group and Flesch Reading Ease rises to 27.1 – still too low - based on my experience with previous tune-ups.

Eliminating Different Implementations of Flesch Reading Ease as Unfair to the Before Snippet

Now, let's look at the Before snippet. At first, I thought the Microsoft Word implementation of the Flesch Reading Ease index may be unduly stern with the Before snippet. After all, it defies common sense to say it's completely unreadable.

I calculated the Flesch Reading Ease myself in a spreadsheet and came out with a slightly negative number. In search of a more satisfying sanity check, I downloaded a free Java application called Flesh and came away with these Before and After results:




Well, Flesch Reading Ease at 0.0 across 3 measuring tools is hard to dismiss.

No doubt, the After snippet grade level looks inflated and its Flesch Ease of Reading, understated. Whether we can accept the grade level figures of Flesh at face value is beyond the scope of this posting.

Eliminating the Flesch Reading Ease Metric as Unfair to the Before Snippet

Still, I felt a nagging sense, Flesch Reading Ease was treating the Before snippet unfairly. Perhaps, something other than Flesch Reading Ease would provide reasonable results. Enter the SMOG Calculator of G. Harry McLaughlin, founder of the SMOG:




With a SMOG reading of 18.49, the Before snippet verges on the same reading level as The IRS Tax Code. Unfortunately, like Flesh and Word, the lack of periods following bullets leads to a highly skewed reading for the After snippet - a higher SMOG level than the Before snippet! When we add in periods as shown in the After snippet above, the SMOG level falls between Newsweek and Sports Illustrated:

One Last Attempt to Second-guess both Flesch Reading Ease and SMOG

If SMOG equates the Before snippet with the IRS Tax Code, I can accept it, but it still seems unfair to give it a Flesch Reading Ease of zero. Enter Aella Lei's Writing Sample Analyzer .

Like Flesh and Word, Writing Sample Analyzer is vulnerable to bullet points without periods but the most interesting thing about Writing Sample Analyzer is its calculation of Flesch Reading Ease:




Instead of zero, Writing Sample Analyzer returns 11.05. Why? I don't know yet but once I hear back from Aella Lei, I'll let you know. While a jump from 0.0 to 11.05 is considerable and raises questions about this implementation of Flesch Reading Ease, 11.05 still makes for difficult reading.

Also note, the Fog Scale really is the exact same thing as SMOG. It looks reasonable for the Before snippet. The Before snippet's grade level also falls in-line with expectations. On the other hand, its results for the After snippet are out-of-whack across-the-board due to periods following only the last bullet point in each bullet point group.

When we add periods to each After snippet bullet, Writing Sample Analyzer responds with:

The Flesch Reading Ease looks about right but the Fog and Grade Level seem too high. Even so, comparing the Before and After snippets for Flesch Reading Ease, SMOG, and Grade Level all seem reasonable on a relative basis.

So, this B2B Marketing Piece Really is Hard to Read

All in all, both Flesch Reading Ease and SMOG support one another. In addition, while various tools for calculating Flesch Reading Ease give slightly different results, we can safely assert none of them are skewing the results to the point of denying this B2B Marketing piece a fair shake.


To be completely even-handed with a B2B marketing piece scoring zero on the Flesch Reading Ease index, we looked at several implementations of the index. This helped eliminate quirks with any given tool as a contributing factor.

To eliminate Flesch Reading Ease itself as an unreliable barometer, we introduced a measure of reading difficulty called SMOG. SMOG gave us the most intuitive sense of how hard this literature is to read because it equates the piece with other well-known publications in the same SMOG range. On this basis, the piece ranks with The Harvard Business Review at the low end and The IRS Tax Code at the high end.

All of the tools used were susceptible to a lack of periods following bullet points because:

  • they rely on periods to determine the number of sentences in a passage and
  • number of sentences is an input to further calculations.

Since the After snippet breaks out the 4 long bullets of the Before snippet into 14 shorter ones, the After snippet figures improved most dramatically when we added periods to every bullet. It's reasonable to do this because the mind processes bullets as if they were separate sentences or ideas.

Also, adding bullets to the end of each bullet makes for a fair comparison since the Before snippet ends each bullet with a period as well.

In Part Two, we will:

  • use composite figures for both the Before and After snippets
  • rely on those figures to gauge the improvements the tune-up demonstrates

Finally, in Part Two, we'll deconstruct the Before and After snippets to address the challenges we set forth for this tune-up.


To your marketing success,

Eric Rosen
The Message Sharpener
Clear Crisp Communications
Tel: 408.506.0719
Fax: 814.253.5142
Email: eric.rosen AT
Easier to Read Means More Sales and Leads

Saturday, September 09, 2006

How to Improve B2B Marketing Materials Already Blessed with a B2C Feel


Our first tune-up of September 2006 analyzes a product description for The Palm® Treo™ 700w and 700wx smartphones.

Companies like Palm, Apple, and WebEx are known for their extraordinary branding prowess. Part of what makes their B2B Marketing material so impressive is a consistent, benefits-oriented, B2C feeling in all their literature.

More specifically, they know to use the second-person voice. They avoid passive sentences at all costs. Verbs are always close by. They’re clear, direct, and polished too. No question, these companies know the value of great copy and it shows.

Taking on the product description for Palm’s flagship smartphone is a challenge. It took some time to find room for improvement, but it’s there if we look hard enough.

Full disclosure before going further – I spent 1999 working at Palm as a developer of classroom and web-based training for their technical support staff. I left in December of that year to evangelize e-learning standards with Saba.

Break with Tradition to Find Room for Improvement

In reviewing Palm and similar sites, a pattern emerged. For a given product, it’s common to find mention of a technology the product incorporates without a clear explanation of how said technology will benefit the customer. It’s as if there was some urgent need to include a reference to the technology or lose face to a competitor guilty of the same awkward convention.

To break with this “tradition,” I state a benefit for any technology the product description mentions in passing. This lengthens the description but the extra clarity is justified especially when an additional product benefit enters the foreground.

Accept the Challenge – Assume Your Audience is Ignorant and Lazy

At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I assume the reader of this product description is, in effect, ignorant and lazy. I do this for a virtuous reason – it places an even greater challenge on the writer to satisfy the reader’s need for clear and complete ideas.

While I don’t know the guiding assumptions the original writer used to gauge the audience, here are mine. The reader:

  • Wants to gain a working understanding of the product
  • Is unfamiliar with the specific technologies mentioned in this description
  • Does not want to leave the page to learn more about any particular aspect of the product - if possible

Copywriting Tune-up

So, the challenge for this tune-up is to make the product description:

  • Rely less on links and more on inline copy
  • Easier to read and understand
  • Retain its classy tone and enticing quality


The Palm® Treo™ 700w and 700wx smartphones deliver everything you need without compromise. They combine a smarter phone with broadband-like speeds, wireless email, including Windows Mobile® Direct Push Technology, and rich-media capabilities, all in one—bringing Palm's world-class ease of use to the Windows Mobile platform.

Connect with people in multiple ways—by voice, email or SMS. Your contacts are always reachable, from any application. Access email, the web, and corporate networks on one of the fastest networks available in the U.S. Or relax and play your favorite music and videos right on your device. With these easy-to-use productivity devices in hand, you can stay connected on your terms.

Make no compromises. Boost your productivity with The Palm® Treo™ 700w and 700wx smartphones. Use your smarter phone to retrieve wireless email at near broadband speed. Your contacts data stays in-sync with Windows Mobile® Direct Push Technology. Take in rich audio and video. Enjoy all these capabilities with the world-class ease-of-use of Palm delivered for the first time on a Windows Mobile platform.

Connect with people several ways—by voice, email, or SMS. Access your contacts anytime from any application. Read email, surf the web, and log on to corporate networks using one of the fastest networks available in the U.S. Or relax and play your favorite music and videos right on your smartphone. With all these user-friendly resources at your fingertips, your smartphone lets you stay connected on your terms.

Readability Statistics

The ease of reading index improves by a hard-earned 24%. Note how the grade level needed to follow the passage comfortably drops by more than 2 years.

More sentences of shorter length in the After snippet go a long way towards improving the ease of reading index and reducing the grade level.

Unlike previous tune-ups, the After snippet uses more words and characters. This derives from the need to explain unfamiliar technical terms or at least mention the benefit they deliver – i.e., the “break with tradition” mentioned above and discussed at greater length below.

It’s Not About You and Me. It’s About Me and Me Only - The Reader

The first sentence of the Before snippet opens with the company name and product. Because it’s a technical product and it’s assumed, I, the reader, know nothing about it, I’m forced to think before I can even see what’s in it for me. When the sentence ends, I have some vague idea the product won’t skimp on any of its features but what it means to me remains unclear.

The After snippet opens with a 3 word sentence beginning with an action verb. Already we know we won’t be skimping on features and we haven’t even mentioned the company or product name yet. Even before the second sentence mentions the company and product name, we clearly understand what’s in it for me – boosting my productivity.

Turn Features into Benefits with Action Verbs

Sure, maybe I’m being extreme to assume the reader doesn’t know what wireless email is, but it’s not so obvious with some of the other features like “Windows Mobile® Direct Push Technology” or “rich-media capabilities.” The Before snippet lists these features as straight-up nouns tied to the pronoun, “They.” This makes it harder for me, as a reader, to picture myself enjoying the product because the passage directs me to contemplate “what” this is as opposed to “how” using it will make my life easier.

The After snippet breaks up the very long second sentence into several shorter ones. Each feature is preceded by a verb, which transforms it into a benefit. The third sentence makes it clear I can retrieve wireless email quickly (benefit) as opposed to the device having “the ability to do so” (feature).

Supply a Benefit for Every Technology Important Enough to Mention

The Before snippet slips in a reference to “Windows Mobile® Direct Push Technology” without explaining why the reader should care. I can understand the need to list it especially if competing products also incorporate this technology. So, let’s go one up on the competition and let the reader know how this technology enhances their experience.

To make good on this directive, I had to do some research about “Windows Mobile® Direct Push Technology.” The data sheets for these Palm smartphones don’t mention this technology in any explicit way. I went to Microsoft’s site to get the low-down.

Armed with this understanding of the technology, it remains fuzzy as to how these smartphones apply it to make the user more productive. Because the technology requires Microsoft Exchange Server, I figure it has to do with email applications. Also, the Before snippet states, “Your contacts are always reachable…”

Based on these inputs, I make the educated guess this technology makes certain I have the most up-to-date contact information for whomever I’m trying to reach at any given moment.

If I’ve got this wrong or the benefits extend beyond managing contact information, someone from Palm is welcome to comment.

Cancel Corporate Speak at Every Opportunity

The Before snippet, as many similar web sites do, uses the term, “rich-media capabilities.” Perhaps, by now, the market understands what this means, but in the interest of engaging the reader fully, we can transform this conceptual noun into a concrete verb by saying, “Take in rich audio and video.” “Take in” works well because it has positive connotations about fulfilling our senses. Breaking out “rich media” into “rich audio and video” reinforces this conversion of a feature into a benefit by eliminating ambiguity.

Don’t Let an Unclear Subject-Verb Connection Diminish a Benefit

The Before snippet closes the last sentence of the first paragraph with a hyphen followed by a clause starting with the verb, “bringing… ” It takes some study to see the subject of this verb is “They” at the very beginning of this long sentence. “ They” and “bringing” is a mismatch fueled by the list of features inserted between these two words.

Ah, but grammar is not the issue here. The net effect is to make “Palm’s world-class ease of use” merely incidental to the other features and benefits as if such ease-of-use would not be there without them.

The After snippet closes out the paragraph by making it clear “ease-of-use” is consciously “baked into” everything about the product.

Exalt Yourself - When it Really is about You

In our last tune-up, we explained how using your company name in the possessive form is like having a movie camera tilted down at its subject. It makes the subject appear less important because the viewer can “look down” upon it. This is what happens when we use the phrase, “Palm’s world-class ease of use.”

Instead, we can write, “the world-class ease-of-use of Palm.” In this form, it’s as if a movie camera were titled up at its subject. It makes the subject appear exalted because the viewer must “look up” at it.

Better still, this little change alone improved the ease of reading index by a half-point.

Choose Simpler Adjectives and Verbs for Greater Impact

In the first sentence of the second paragraph, the Before snippet uses the term “multiple ways” where the After snippet opts for “several ways.” The former is more conceptual and less friendly to those who wish to forget math class.

The next sentence is fine as is though “reachable” is a bit abstract. The After snippet opens with an action verb and follows it with “anytime from any application” to keep the meaning clear and simple.

The third sentence opens with an action verb and lists noun features afterwards. This is fine though preceding each feature with a verb would strengthen them individually and collectively. The After snippet uses this technique to give the reader a sense of empowerment with each one.

Use Jargon When it’s Already Defined and Generic Words Add No Value

In the second to last sentence, the Before snippet ends with the phrase, “right on your device.” The Before snippet never used “device” previously, so it could prompt some slight confusion. The After snippet uses “smartphone” instead because this term is prominent in the previous paragraph and it reinforces the value proposition of higher productivity for the reader.

Avoid Lengthy Adjectives Especially Before Generic References to Your Product

The final sentence of the Before snippet begins, “With these easy-to-use productivity devices…” A four-word adjective would dilute “smartphone,” let alone “device.”

Reinforce Benefits with Strong Second Person Voice for a Powerful Finale

The final sentence of the Before snippet does nothing to reinforce the benefits already listed. The final sentence of the After snippet refers to them collectively as “user-friendly resources at your fingertips.” This is concrete and easy-to-understand.

While the second person voice is evident in the final sentence of the Before snippet, it’s not obvious until the second clause. In the first clause, it’s not clear whether “in hand” refers to the reader or a third party.

The After snippet goes for a strong finish by using “your” in both clauses plus “you” in the second one. Finally, we get added oomph using “smartphone” instead of “device.”


An extra line or two of copy can make all the difference between reasonably clear and abundantly clear. Better to err on the side of “abundant” when we want to ensure the reader comes away with:

  • Working understanding of the product
  • A clear idea of how it will make him or her more productive

Adding this extra copy helped us shave 2 years off the minimum reading skill needed to understand the value proposition. This broadens the field of potential buyers.

We maintained the sleek, B2C feel of the original while placing even greater emphasis on benefits over features. This alone is likely to boost the conversion rate on these impressive smartphones.

To your marketing success,

Eric "Rocket" Rosen
Clear Crisp Communications
Tel: 408.506.0719
Fax: 814.253.5142
ROCKET Response Copywriting Service
Polished Marketing Materials in 24, 48 or 72 Hours

Make Your B2B Marketing 10x More Readable… and Take off Your Straightjacket


For our 4th Copywriting Tune-up this month, we return to the Silicon Valley 150. I wanted to get outside my comfort zone which is the learning domain. There are times when not being the expert is a plus and this is one of them.

Yours truly knows enough relational database theory to be dangerous and writing dynamic web pages is fun once in a while, but I’m no maven on the enterprise data integration products Informatica offers.

As with many enterprise software companies, the copy on Informatica’s website is stiff. This article proves you can loosen up a bit and still maintain a very respectful corporate tone. Better still, your prospects will respond because you’re talking to them and not some third person academic (no slight to professors or teachers - I’m one myself).

Like our last tune-up, we’ll look at a corporate overview. I consider corporate overviews important because, for many readers, this is their first exposure to the company. This makes it imperative they "put their best foot forward."

Copywriting Tune-up

This tune-up consolidates all of the principles we’ve addressed this month. The challenges are to:

  • Eliminate the passive voice to make it easy to understand

    (for a quick explanation of the passive voice, see my tune-up of the Hewlett Packard white paper on Halo, their collaboration platform)

  • Inject action into the copy so it’s more alive and less like a statue

  • Maintain a corporate tone


Informatica Corporate Overview

Informatica Corporation delivers data integration software and services to solve the problem of data fragmentation across disparate systems, helping organizations gain greater business value from all their information assets. Informatica's open, platform-neutral software reduces costs, speeds time to results, and scales to handle data integration projects of any size or complexity. With a proven track record of success, Informatica helps companies and government organizations of all sizes realize the full business potential of their enterprise data. That's why Informatica is known as the data integration company.

Overview: Why Informatica is The Data Integration Company

Solve the problem of fragmented data across disparate systems. Help your organization capture the whole value of its information assets. Reduce costs, speed time to results, and scale for data integration projects of any size or complexity. Use the open, platform-independent solutions of Informatica to make it happen.

Tap into a proven track record of success. Realize the full potential of your enterprise data. This is why organizations of all sizes from every sector trust Informatica to be their "data integration company."

Readability Statistics

The Before snippet is weighed down with ¼ of its sentences in the passive voice. The After snippet switches to active voice and the passage becomes 10 times more readable.

While it may be possible to bring down the grade level some more, given the highly esoteric nature of Informatica products, eliminating jargon could do more harm than good by transforming the piece into training as opposed to selling.

The Headline: Stallion or Statue?

The Before snippet gives us the usual corporate heading and it’s straightforward, for sure. Even in this context, I think the headline should do more than simply label the section it covers. What’s the purpose of an overview in the first place? It must whet the reader’s appetite for more.

I admit, the headline in the After snippet could be catchier and it lacks an action verb. If I were working at Informatica, I’d know who approves this stuff and have an idea of how far to push the limits of "corporate safeness."

Still, this headline performs far more than just labeling. Informatica chose to conclude its overview by referring to itself as "the data integration company." Sounds like an important phrase and maybe it’s a tag line they use elsewhere so, I decided we should get the reader onboard with this notion sooner rather than later.

After all, if your company were branded "the data integration company," you would occupy hallowed ground in the same way Kleenex, Xerox and WebEx do in their niches. Best of all, your competitors would hate you for it.

Treat Readers’ Eyes with Respect

The Before snippet compacts everything into a single paragraph. It’s already a long page with scrolling. No need to get claustrophobic. In fact, given how many headers follow this paragraph, it might have made sense to provide a sub-menu or some in-page links near the top so readers could go directly to their point of interest.

Unlike dead air on radio which can lose listeners instantly, white space on the page arranges information into manageable chunks and supports the reader’s effort to make sense of it. This is complex material – give the brain a chance to catch up with the eye.

Let Readers Catch their Breath – Write Shorter Sentences

The Before snippet immediately bombards readers with lengthy clauses like "delivers data integration software and services to solve the problem of", "data fragmentation across disparate systems" and "helping organizations gain greater business value from…"

Notice the After snippet uses more sentences and how they’re shorter in length. By starting shorter sentences with verbs, we sharpen our focus on a single benefit. Given few reasonably intelligent people can hold on to two or more bullet points in their head at a time, we should avoid packing sentences with lengthy clauses.

Speak from Your Reader’s Point of View Using Action Sentences

Our last tune-up explains how focusing on action forces us to think from the reader’s point of view. In the Before snippet, none of the sentences begin with a verb. The After snippet starts all but one of its sentences with a verb. Doing so forces you, as a writer, to think, "What’s in it for me, the reader?"

Even if this is not a sales letter, it is sales literature and it should promote some call to action whether it’s reading more, entering data into a form, or navigating to another part of the site.

True, the After snippet does not prompt an explicit action but it does accomplish two things. First, it makes a concise yet powerful case for the branding its headline calls out. Second, it creates interest so the reader will read on.

Moreover, action sentences from your reader’s point of view give you license to use the second person voice. Addressing readers with "you" and "your" creates a hotline from your pen to their minds and maybe even their hearts.

Address Readers Using Second Person Voice without Triggering Sales Hype

For some reason, enterprise software companies labor under the pretense they must write in third person and passive voices or risk coming across as wild-eyed hucksters unworthy of further attention.

Thankfully, it’s easy to address your readers directly without losing credibility. The After snippet maintains a corporate tone while using a second person voice throughout.

One little secret to striking this balance – even if you leave out "you" and "your" in a sentence, so long as you start it with an action verb, you’ll achieve what I call, "implied second person voice." This allows for sparing use of "you" and "your."

Implied second person voice with occasional use of "you" and "your" will raise your credibility because readers find your literature easier to understand yet free from sales hype.

Write for Both Kinds of Readers – Scanners and Scrutinizers

Scanners skim the headlines and read a little body copy here and there. Scrutinizers read every line with rapt attention. Satisfying both types of readers makes sub-heads vital to your success.

For both types of readers, sub-heads act as "connective tissue." Scanners want to skim the headline and sub-heads and come away with a meaningful insight into your offer or value proposition. Scrutinizers want continuity as they complete a section of body copy and move on to the next sub-head.

On the Informatica overview page, following the opening paragraph is the sub-head, "Market Leaders Rely on Informatica."

From the scanner’s point of view, the page so far reads, "Informatica Corporate Overview" and "Market Leaders Rely on Informatica." Scanners will view this as lifeless because there are no action verbs or second person voice. Worse still, the two headers have no meaningful connection to each other. They’re nothing more than labels.

From the scrutinizer’s point of view, the Before snippet fares a little better. The last sentence asserts Informatica is the data integration company and then we have the sub-head, "Market Leaders Rely on Informatica." Not tight but not totally disjointed either.

If the After snippet continued on, I would re-write the next sub-head as "Join the Market Leaders Who Rely on Informatica."

Scanners would read, "Overview: Why Informatica is The Data Integration Company" followed by, "Join the Market Leaders Who Rely on Informatica." One head naturally leads into the next. The sub-head starts with an action verb. This "ratchets up" the intensity as we move along. Chances are better a scanner will think, "Hey, I better get on top of this before our competitors do."

Scrutinizers would read "This is why organizations of all sizes from every sector trust Informatica to be their ‘data integration company’" followed by, "Join the Market Leaders Who Rely on Informatica." The flow here is tight. For good measure, scrutinizers will read body copy invoking the word "trust" followed by the sub-head using, "rely." Two very emotion-laden verbs without triggering sales hype.

Evoke More Emotion with your Choice of Words

The Before snippet uses the term "platform-neutral" whereas the After snippet opts for "platform-independent." The term "neutral" is, well, neutral. "Independent" evokes feelings of empowerment. The latter has a far more positive connotation and it reflects better on Informatica.

Never Diminish Thyself

Avoid using your company’s name in the possessive form. In the Before snippet, we read, "Informatica's open, platform-neutral software…" This has the same effect as tilting a movie camera down on its subject – the subject looks diminished because the viewer can "look down" on it.

The After snippet reads, "Use the open, platform-independent solutions of Informatica to make it happen." By placing the item possessed first and following it with "of Informatica," the effect is equivalent to tilting a movie camera up at its subject – the subject looks powerful and important because the viewer must "look up" to it.


Enterprise software companies need to take off their self-imposed straightjackets when presenting themselves. Sure, one could argue, Informatica, like many enterprise software companies, is doing just fine with stiff copy because their success is a combination of technical innovation, strong management leadership and savvy salespeople in the field.

Then again, clear, crisp copy can make everyone’s job easier with softer landings during lean times and accelerated sales when bull markets run. To me, investing in great copy sounds like buying a call option – you can’t lose anymore than you spent to acquire it and the upside is unlimited.

To your marketing success,

Eric "Rocket" Rosen
Clear Crisp Communications
Tel: 408.506.0719
Fax: 814.253.5142
Email: eric.rosen AT
ROCKET Response Copywriting Services
Polished Marketing Materials in 24, 48 or 72 Hours

What a 184% Increase in Readability Could do for a Fortune 50 Company


In this edition of Copywriting Tune-ups, we target the webpage copy of a bona-fide Goliath – The Thomson Corporation. As of this writing, Thomson Financial is #34 in the Global Fortune 500.

Company literature claims the products and services of Thomson Learning are in use at 80% of Fortune 100 organizations.

Thomson Learning solutions draw upon the resources and expertise of the Thomson family of companies. Among the best known holdings of Thomson Learning are NETg and KnowledgeNet.

A revamp of the Thomson Learning Overview presents several challenges:

  • Shift the perspective from "us, we, our" to "you, your, yours"
  • Emphasize action
  • Retain a corporate tone

Copywriting Tune-up


For more than a century, Thomson Learning has created award-winning content in collaboration with leading experts for higher education, library reference, corporate, government, and professional customers. With our proven methodologies and expertise across many disciplines, we deliver:

  • Insight into your unique needs with your proven track record of over 100 years
  • Market-leading positions in the majority of disciplines in which we participate
  • Learning solutions to 80% of Fortune 100 companies
  • A vast array of products and services delivered in multiple learning formats

We have assembled - in one portfolio - all the critical content, technology and expertise required to deliver education and training services tailored specifically to your needs. We understand the learning process and deliver the full spectrum of support to ensure that you and your organization achieve your specific educational goals.

We deliver our education and training solutions through the expertise of our businesses and brands.

Take advantage of over a century's worth of leadership in solving learning challenges. Work with experts in business, government, academe, and professional services. Use proven methodologies to:

  • Identify your unique needs
  • Build on lessons learned from numerous engagements with Fortune 100 companies
  • Roll out solutions in your preferred formats

Tap into a broad and deep portfolio of content, technology, and expertise you can tailor to your specific education and training needs. Team up with experts in the learning process who can deliver the full spectrum of support to ensure your success.

Power your education and training solutions with the combined strength of our businesses and brands in publishing, learning, and information services.

Learn More.

Readability Statistics

With this Copywriting Tune-up, the ease of reading index skyrockets 184%. There are two other noteworthy points:

  • Total number of words plummets 22%
  • Minimum grade level needed to understand the passage drops by one year

Why Make the Shift from "We" to "You"?

As mentioned above, Thomson Learning products and services penetrate 80% of Fortune 100 companies. It’s reasonable to say, "They’re doing just fine with self-centered marketing literature so, why change it?"

My reply?

"Thomson Learning will capture the remaining 20% if it’s easy-to-read, especially if they place the needs and desires of their target audience ahead of dense, self-laudatory language. What’s more, the value derived from the jump in sales will far exceed the cost of improving the literature."

Avoid Confusion - Use Second Person Voice Consistently

The Before snippet opens with a long sentence and no mention of anything "other" directed until the last word, "customers." In this case, "customers" refers to a third party and not the reader.

To make matters more confusing, the writer front-loads "customers" with an 8-word adjective. Interpreting the meaning of this sentence is not easy. I come away with 3 possibilities where Thomson Learning:

  1. Supplies experts from its own ranks whom are experienced in the same sectors as Thomson Learning customers
  2. Sources leading experts from outside of Thomson Learning whom have expertise in the same sectors as Thomson Learning customers, or
  3. Works with experts supplied by its customers.

The After snippet starts with the verb phrase, "Take advantage," so the reader will understand the vendor is trying to serve their interest. With this added clarity, the benefit of accumulated experience in solving learning challenges comes across more forcefully. The second After sentence interprets the first Before sentence as Thomson Learning supplying experts from its own ranks.

Delivering Benefits or Reminiscing?

"Deliver" is a loaded word. It screams to the prospect, "get what you came for and go home happy." The Before snippet uses it as a verb to be repeated with each bullet point it precedes. This could be a powerful technique but it fails for several reasons.

These bullets are self-focused and congratulatory. Any tie there is between methodology and expertise as inputs and these bullet results as outputs is muddled.

Bullet #1

The first bullet is on the right track when it utters the words, "your unique needs," but it fizzles by surrounding it with vague terms like "insight" and more customer-could-care-less bravado about Thomson’s number of years in business. The first bullet in the After snippet opts for a "less is more" approach focused solely on benefits to the customer.

Bullet #2

In the Before snippet, try reading the lead-in sentence and then skip to the second bullet. Does this make sense? Are satisfied customers the reason Thomson Learning occupies leading positions in the disciplines it pursues? If so, what made those customers satisfied? This is a very obtuse way of touting a high customer satisfaction rate.

Bullet #3

The third bullet almost cuts it. No doubt, 80 customers in the Fortune 100 is impressive. But, from the prospect’s standpoint, how learning solutions delivered to others makes life easier at his company is unclear. The second bullet in the After snippet makes an explicit connection between the quality of work one can expect from Thomson Learning and their previous experience satisfying demanding customers.

Bullet #4

Given this is an Overview and not a more specific or technical document, with the fourth bullet, it’s fair to ask several questions:

  • "Do prospects care about a vast array of products in multiple learning formats especially when they view their problem as unique?"
  • "What is a service delivered in a learning format?"
  • "What is a learning format and is it some variation of ‘general formats?’"

The final bullet in the After snippet keeps this benefit easy-to-understand and generic enough for an Overview. One way to make this bullet more concrete is to list some of the formats.

Focus on Action and You’ll Adopt Your Prospect’s Perspective Automatically

Recall, the first two objectives of this tune-up are to:

  • Shift our perspective from self to prospect
  • Emphasize action

Interestingly enough, the more we focus on action, the easier it gets to be other-oriented.

The paragraph following the bullets is the best one because it makes the greatest effort to speak in the second voice. It hits on "your needs" and "your specific educational goals." Unfortunately, the writer muffles the full impact this can have by starting each sentence with "We." The After snippet makes the broad and deep resources of Thomson Learning less intimidating and easier for prospects to grasp by starting each sentence with a verb so they can "see what’s in it for them."

Start Sentences with Verbs – Early and Often

Notice how every sentence of the After snippet begins with a verb. This is deliberate. Starting sentences with a verb is the best way to move your prospect to action. As mentioned above, it has the added benefit of simplifying the important takeaways in your message. This makes it easier for your prospects to take action or, at the very least, remember your offer.

The final paragraph is cryptic unless we follow the link. This is more likely to cause a prospect to abandon the link than it is to make them curious and click on it. Another reason is there are no verbs from the prospect’s perspective.

In the After snippet, we start with an action verb from the prospect’s point of view. Not only is it less cryptic, we reduce fuzziness about the businesses and brands by listing the major categories in which they operate before showing the link. We encourage prospects to click the link by using the verb phrase "Learn More."

Ironically, the Thomson Learning homepage link to this Overview also reads, "Learn More." It would be a good idea to use verb-centric hypertext links consistently. It’s hard to go wrong with "Learn More."


The prospect thinks you’re only as good as what you can do for them now.

Yes, they’re inclined to deal with vendors sporting an impressive track record, but if the track record and resources you can bring to bear overwhelm your message, the prospect will likely choose the player with a similar record of accomplishment and a benefits-oriented message.

Call me crazy, but I really do think if Thomson Learning adopted the principles outlined here, they’d capture the remaining 20 companies in the Fortune 100 they haven’t already.

To your marketing success,

Eric "Rocket" Rosen
Clear Crisp Communications
Tel: 408.506.0719
Fax: 814.253.5142
Email: eric.rosen AT
ROCKET Response Copywriting Services
Polished Marketing Materials in 24, 48 or 72 Hours

Saturday, August 12, 2006

It's Not About You, It's About Your Offer


When I think of the San Jose software company, Qarbon, I recall the story of David and Goliath. In this case, Qarbon is David and another San Jose firm, Adobe, is Goliath.

Qarbon's products are mainly desktop authoring packages used to create Adobe Flash movies for online presentations and e-learning courses. Their flagship product, ViewletBuilder, competes with Breeze and Captivate - applications from, you guessed it, Adobe.

Qarbon offers registered users of its authoring packages ViewletCentral - a hosted application with different levels of membership. It's a combination of content management system, learning management system and traffic analysis service.

In this installment of Copywriting Makeovers, we re-write the ViewletCentral portion of the current Qarbon newsletter to make it:

  • action oriented
  • easy to understand

Copywriting Makeover


Help us serve you better by participating in our on-line surveys

By completing both of our small surveys, you will be entitled to an exciting reward:

For ViewletCentral users, we will add 3 months to your account free of charge or upgrade you for 1 month to the next subscription level (your choice).

For all others, we will give you a free 3 month subscription to a ViewletCentral Licenced Bronze account worth 75 dollars.

Claim Your Free 3-Month Subscription to ViewletCentral

Complete 2 lightening-quick surveys and you can:

  • Add 3 months to your account at no charge
  • Upgrade to the next level. Enjoy all your added privileges for 1 month free

Not a registered user? Sign up to test-drive ViewletCentral for 3 months absolutely free (a $75 value).

Readability Statistics

Overall, the changes discussed below give us a 43% jump in readability. Notice how grade level drops by 6 years. The Before snippet required a high school senior’s reading ability to comfortably understand the pitch. Now, a freshman in middle school will catch on.

Go Easy on the Eye

White space matters. The layout of your offer must be easy to take in whether you’re scanning or reading it word by word.

Less clutter eliminates the fatigue of information overload. One way to sweep away clutter is to use bullet points. Bullet points accelerate your prospect’s grasp of the offer.

Speak from the Prospect’s Point of View

The most important thing of all is perspective. The Before snippet reads from the vendor’s standpoint. The After snippet reads from the prospect’s point of view.

The opening headlines make this clear. The Before snippet starts with "Help us help you…" Placing pronouns like "I, we, or us" early on in your message causes your prospect to activate their anti-sales defense shields because they haven’t read "what’s in it for them" yet. The After snippet begins with "Claim Your Free..." to immediately couch things from the prospect’s point of view.

Inspire Action not Reflection

Verbs spark motion, nouns just sit there. None of the paragraphs in the Before snippet start with verbs. In the After snippet, starting with verbs transforms nearly every sentence into a customer benefit with a call to action.

Sweat the Subtleties

How to Spin "Give Before You Get"

The newsletter entices readers to take a survey using temporary ViewletCentral membership as bait. Few people like to take surveys no matter how short so, it’s important to put the right spin on it.

The Before snippet opens with "By completing both of our small surveys, you will be entitled to..." This is wordy and leaves the prospect to think, "OK, get on with it, what’s in it for me?"

Now, 2 less obvious points. "Both" means "all" and "all" in this context suggests work – ugh. Next, by using the word "small," the writer intended to minimize the work aspect of taking the survey and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, it unintentionally denigrates the survey itself.

The After snippet looks upon this opening sentence as a necessary speed bump to come clean with the catch before launching into why prospects should love the offer. It labels the surveys as "lightening-quick" to assure the prospect:

  • this sacrifice is virtually imperceptible
  • they get the better of the deal

Make Your Prospects Feel as Welcome as Your Customers

Ever fly coach? Do you sometimes feel like a third-class citizen because you’re not among the first or business-class travelers?

The writer did not intend to have this effect and it is subtle but the phrases, "For ViewletCentral users," and "For all others," emphasize the "in group versus the out group."

The After snippet never mentions the in group because speaking of accounts and privileges makes this clear. By asking the question, "Not a registered user?" we politely and humbly suggest gaining in group status is quick and easy.


Layout, point of view, and choice of words affect our conversion rate. Emphasize action verbs. Make rewards obvious. Their value must clearly exceed any sacrifice required.

Next year, Qarbon will celebrate its 10th anniversary – a true survivor of the dot com bust and everything since. They compete with Macromedia and now, Adobe. They must be doing something right.

Armed with powerful copy, this David can start making Goliath nervous.

To your marketing success,

Eric "Rocket" Rosen
Clear Crisp Communications
Tel: 408.506.0719
Fax: 814.253.5142
Email: eric.rosen AT
ROCKET Response Copywriting Services
Polished Marketing Materials in 24, 48 or 72 Hours