Maslen on Marketing, Selling


Try a little experiment with me. Close your eyes for a few seconds and think about an exciting thing you’ve seen, done or experienced.

Back with me? Now, about that thing you were thinking of. Was it the product or service you promote? Didn’t think so. But to judge from the way many people write about their products, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they must lead very boring lives. Otherwise why would they imagine that their products are exciting to their potential customers?

Yes, that’s right; this month’s missive is all about that reach-me-down adjective, ‘exciting’. So what exactly is wrong with describing what you’re selling as exciting? Well, nothing…if you’re selling trips in a jet fighter, recruiting for Robbie Williams’s personal assistant or offering recipients of your mailshot the chance to wrestle alligators at half time in the next Superbowl.

But let’s be honest. Brutally honest. Most of us find ourselves promoting products or services that may be all sorts of things to our potential customers, but exciting they ain’t. Don’t get me wrong. You may have a product that will revolutionise management accounting. Transform the way companies plan their sales territories. Enable senior executives to take fewer risks. And that’s great! So all you have to do is concentrate on spelling out for them HOW. In detail.

It’s the mark of a lazy writer to pin ‘exciting’ on the chest of a brave young noun, pat it on the back and send it into battle. I’m sure you’ve seen writing of this kind: ‘exciting’ pension plans, ‘exciting’ concepts in office furniture, ‘exciting’ approaches to web-based management information. Can you hear buyers of these products turning to a colleague and saying, “Hey Fred, come and take a look at this exciting toner cartridge.”?

Evoke, don’t emote

Using ‘exciting’ and its siblings ‘important’, ‘amazing’ and ‘fantastic’ means you are emoting not evoking. You’re pouring YOUR feelings about your product onto the page instead of trying to evoke those same sentiments in the hearts and minds of your readers.

If THEY want to use those words that’s fine. In fact it’s brilliant. But they’ll only do that if you show them what makes your product so special. Which brings us to that hoary old line about benefits. Yes, it turns out once again that all you really have to do to sell something is explain to your reader what the benefits are. Calling something ‘exciting’ is not explaining the benefits.

The solution

So here’s what to do. Every time you catch yourself about to use a word like ‘exciting’, stop and ask yourself WHY you think your product/service deserves this overworked adjective. Then write that down instead. It’s always harder work writing about benefits than larding your work with superlatives, but that’s what you have to do.

In summary, be specific. Be explicit. And remember, nobody likes being told how to feel about something.

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