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Friday, August 18, 2006

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


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