August 12th, 2009

Nuff' Said

If you work in marketing, you probably share this experience: You are trying to write copy for a website, brochure or email campaign. Your client – who might be your boss or an outside client – can’t stop adding to the project. “But we also can provide X! We need to tell our customers that, too. What about the history of the company? Can you add a photo of everyone who works here?”

No you can’t! Not if you want anyone outside your little world to care, much less buy what you are selling.

There is something I like about Twitter, the latest “killer app” that facilitates an endless stream of information online or on your phone at 140 characters per tweet.

It’s not that I subscribe to the “no thought unexpressed” revolution that has us all drowning in too much information. It’s that communicating in 140 characters requires that you choose the right words to convey your message effectively.

Does everyone who “tweets” write clearly? Of course not. But I am an optimist. I believe that we might all benefit from the exercise of editing ourselves ruthlessly.

A friend who teaches at Drexel University recently told me that she is going to have students use Twitter as one vehicle for them to deliver assignments. She said she wants to see if the class can write something meaningful in only a few words.

Writing economically is paramount to capturing the attention of your audience. Especially in the sea of information that engulfs us, few messages stand out. There really can be Too Much Information. And unfortunately, too many business owners and executives in companies of all sizes do not understand that less really can be more.

There are lots of books, articles, conferences, and speakers that tell you to target your audience and write specifically for and to them. You can choose to think like your customer and write what they need and want to hear. You can also follow Martha Stewart who says, “Don’t ask customers what they need. Tell them.” Regardless of the point of view, you have to deliver your message quickly, and that is not so easy.

I recently heard Bill Wasik, a senior editor at Harpers Magazine, discuss “informational environmentalism.” He said that our “mental ecosystems are overwhelmed,” and he likened today’s information overload to a buffet that is producing a new kind of obesity. Our minds are bloated.

We are all trying to trim budgets to ensure financial health. Why not take a look at the messages you are sending out into the world to see if you can present a lean, clear communication?

Try this exercise. It is a new spin on the old “elevator” speech in which you have the time it takes for an elevator ride to tell a stranger what your company does. Try writing it in 140 characters. Our minds will thank you.