Johnson's World: Be Brief, Be Succinct

Marketing in 31 characters or less.

Steve Johnson10773449

Last month the Nobel Prize committee announced that it was presenting the 2014 Literature Award to the French author Patrick Modiano, “for the art of memory with which he has evoked the most ungraspable human destinies and uncovered the life-world of the occupation.”

Huh? I’ve never read Modiano (I don’t know French), but I’ll bet dollars to donuts that his writing is much clearer and more readable than that meaningless drivel quoted above, word for word from the Nobel Prize press release.

The prestige of the Nobel Prize, though tarnished, is still enough to incent me to investigate Modiano’s works. The press release, on the other hand, tells me nothing.

In his new book Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, author Joseph McCormack observes, “It can be frustrating for people to visit a company’s website, read it, and leave without knowing what the company does. And that happens all too often.”

He goes on to note that this happens …“not just online, but in meetings, presentations and conferences. People talk, but say nothing.”

I related to this passage immediately. I frequently receive spam emails and "junk-mail" letters (the medium doesn’t seem to matter) of introduction that leave me scratching my head. Unlike the Nobel Prize press release, I have no context in which to place these missives, so I promptly discard them without a further thought.

An introduction should leave me with a clear understanding of who and what you are, and why it should matter to me. An announcement should clearly state what exactly is being announced. A sales solicitation must contain a clear call to action.

I’m not talking about mediocre marketing efforts in which I’m not effectively persuaded to buy. I’m talking about sales campaigns where I can’t even figure out who they are or what they are selling.

This is pathetic because these missives have overcome the biggest hurdle; i.e., persuading me to actually open and read their message. Once I’ve done so, the world is their oyster. All they need to do is present me with a unique selling proposition and they’ve got me.

It is difficult to sell when the offer is not unique, but it is impossible to sell when I can’t even tell what the proposition is.

Ah, the irony bites

I’m sure you see the irony of a literature prize being announced with empty, bombastic phrasing. It is not any less ironic to market your marketing services with poor marketing?

It isn’t surprising that McCormack, the author of Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less, has a university degree not in business but in English literature. We can learn from great literature how to improve our own marketing communications.

My daughter, a member of the Millennial Generation, is forced by her high-school English teachers to read the great authors of the last century. She detests John Steinbeck but enjoys Ernest Hemingway. That’s no surprise. Uncle Ernie was the master of the succinct sentence. She also enjoys F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose entire body of work would fit into one of Steinbeck’s longer novels.

She eschews Facebook and Twitter in favor of Snapchat, which has a 31-character limit. Snapchat messages also self-destruct 10 seconds (or less) after opening, Talk about the need for brevity and clarity!

By the end of this decade you’ll be doing business with my daughter’s age group.

If you have something to say, could you summarize it in 31 characters? That is this sentence’s length.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that these Gen Y kids have short attention spans. They’ve read all 4000+ pages of their older siblings’ Harry Potter books and then sat through 20 hours of Harry Potter movies. What they won’t tolerate is pompous or meandering prose. They will only read or watch or listen to you if give them a darn good reason.

No matter what you are promoting, be it a product, a service, or just yourself as you look for a date, take some time to hone your introduction. Make it clear, concise, succinct, and brief. You’ve got 10 seconds. Make them count.