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Thursday, August 24, 2006

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


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