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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Give Your B2B Marketing Materials a SMOG Test and Find Out if They Read like Newsweek or The IRS Tax Code (Part Two)

Overview of Findings from Part One

In Part One , we looked at the benefits page of enterprise software company, IQNavigator of Denver. IQNavigator technology helps large organizations manage all of the services they outsource to other companies.

It being a benefits page, I was stunned to find its Flesch Reading Ease index at zero in Microsoft Word. So, Part One was dedicated to giving IQNavigator a completely fair review. This meant we had to accomplish two things:

  • Ensure Word was accurately assessing the passage
  • Prove the Flesch Reading Ease metric itself was a reasonable measure

We found Word's calculation of Flesch Reading Ease to be reliable because:

  • My spreadsheet calculation, while slightly negative, basically agrees with Word's zero finding
  • The freely downloadable Java Application called Flesh also scored the passage at zero

The Flesch Reading Ease metric proved to be trustworthy. To come to this conclusion, we analyzed the passage using another measure called SMOG (Simple Measure of Gobbledygook).

Whereas Flesch Reading Ease index rates how easy it is to read a passage on a scale of 0 to 100, SMOG gauges how hard it is to read a passage by calculating the proportion of words with 3 or more syllables.

The SMOG Calculator of G. Harry McLaughlin (its founder) rated the passage as more difficult than the Harvard Business Review yet slightly less difficult than The IRS Tax Code. This is a vote of confidence for the Flesch Reading Ease as a metric and for the results shown in Word.

Why Should IQNavigator Care?

The IQNavigator benefits page is very difficult to read. If we can make it easier to read, IQNavigator will attract new business and deepen its position with existing customers.

Copywriting Tune-up (Part Two)

Clearly, IQNavigator has the right idea dedicating a webpage to call-out their benefits. Still, as we've seen with other enterprise software companies, they write in third person voice and use passive sentences. This makes it harder for anyone to read and understand no matter what their IQ.

IQNavigator wisely uses bullet points to enumerate their benefits; however, each bullet makes for long and dense reading.

So, the challenge for this tune-up is to:

  • Inject the second person voice
  • Eliminate passive sentences
  • Maintain an appropriate corporate tone
  • Make the benefits easier to understand
  • Convert each lengthy bullet into several shorter ones

Before

After

Fast cost savings, Ongoing investment

Enterprises in diverse industries have found that sustainable cost savings and process improvements can be achieved through implementation of an end-to-end services procurement and optimization solution. IQNavigator's market-leading solution provides several bottom-line benefits:

  • Cost reduction: Reduce costs by 10-35% by implementing best -practices for sourcing services, eliminating manual invoice reconciliation, gaining consistent terms and renegotiating with more accurate spending and performance information, and enforcing approvals for all spending, contract extensions and exceptions.
  • Process efficiencies: Automate the procurement and payment processes to reduce cycle time and cost over 70% while improving the resulting services quality, contract terms, and payment speed and accuracy.
  • Manage compliance risks: Ensure compliance with company policies, supplier contract terms and government regulations through configurable compliance rules and approval requirements, and enforcement of contract terms and rates. Financial compliance is also achieved through spending approval requirements and process controls, auditability, and accurate invoicing and cost allocation.
  • Optimization: Improve the business results achieved through outside services by aligning services spending with business priorities and initiatives, continually improving deliverable quality and value, and linking purchased services to internal key business measures. IQNavigator's distinctive business intelligence capabilities provide visibility and analysis capabilities into spending, supplier performance, and business results.

Gain Control over the Service Procurement Life Cycle

Join the companies in every sector who have reduced their costs and streamlined their processes with a complete solution to manage the services they procure and the quality of the services performed.

Address this challenge head-on and you can:

  • Lower your costs by 10 - 35%.
  • Adopt the best practices to procure services.
  • Stop reconciling invoices manually.
  • Standardize the terms in your contracts.
  • Renegotiate your contracts using more accurate spending and performance information.
  • Enforce approvals for all your spending, contract extensions, and exceptions.

When you automate your procurement and payment processes, you will:

  • Reduce cycle time and related costs by 70%.
  • Improve the quality of the services performed.
  • Gain better control over contract terms, accuracy, and speed of payment.

Setup compliance rules so you can:

  • Ensure your company complies with its own policies, suppliers' contract terms and government regulations.
  • Meet your financial compliance goals with approval requirements, process controls, audit specifications, and accurate invoicing and cost allocations.

Enjoy better performance from your service providers when you:

  • Match your spending with your business priorities.
  • Link the services you purchase to your key business metrics.
  • Improve the quality and value of the specifications you give to your service providers.

See the relationships among spending, supplier performance, and business results when you apply the unique business intelligence capabilities of IQNavigator.

Readability Statistics

In Part One , we promised to use composite results for Flesch Reading Ease and SMOG. We found consistent results across all the different tools. The only real deviation was Aella Lei's Writing Sample Analyzer with a Flesch Reading Ease of 11.05 for the Before snippet.

Averaged across 3 different tools (Word, Flesh, and Writing Sample Analyzer), the Before snippet scores a 3.68. The After snippet, with an average of 36.60, improves the Flesch Reading Ease composite by a factor of 9.95.

The SMOG composite is the average of results from the SMOG Calculator and Writing Sample Analyzer's FOG measure. The Before snippet scored a 20.67 – well into IRS Tax Code territory for difficulty of reading. The After snippet average is 13.06 – just enough to take it out of Time Magazine and into The New York Times.

Finally, the After snippet eliminates all passive sentences for added clarity.

Place Heady Headlines in a Guillotine but Don't be Afraid to Stick Your Neck Out

Nouns are "headier" than verbs. Nouns require us to think, "What is this thing?" whereas verbs prompt us to, "Just do it." As a B2B marketer, you don't want the reader to ponder anything. Instead, with zero friction, you want to answer their most pressing question - "what's in it for me?" If you answer what's in it for them then your headline also serves to summarize the main takeaway of the piece.

The first half of the Before snippet headline, even if it doesn't start with an action verb, has the right idea by focusing on a benefit. Unfortunately, the second half doesn't contain a verb either and its meaning as a noun is cryptic at best. Does it mean an investment paying regular dividends or having to continually shell out precious investment capital to get the full benefit of the software?

So, "Ongoing investment" can sound positive or negative depending on the context. Since the context is not yet clear, this only compounds the confusion and confusion in a headline means the reader will:

  • Fail to see what's in it for them
  • Abandon the page

The After snippet opens with an action verb. More importantly, it offers a promise – go wth IQNavigator and you'll get your house in order when it comes to managing all of the services you outsource. Frankly, I think I could have written a more powerful promise but this does the job because it clearly states the main takeaway to be gleaned from reading on.

State Your BIG IDEA Clearly and Avoid Weasel Words

The body copy immediately following your headline is "The Lead." The Lead delivers your BIG IDEA and in so doing, emotionally hooks your prospect into reading the rest of the page. To do this, the BIG IDEA must be powerful and compelling.

The Before snippet opens this crucial part of the copy with a passive sentence in 3 rd person voice. In a previous post , we discussed passive sentences at length and how they are harder for readers to understand because they leave out the subject of the sentence. Often, writers will use passive sentences to avoid assigning responsibility for the outcome of an action.

In this case, the first sentence reads as if we're discussing a phenomenon in nature with no readily identifiable cause. The culprit words are "can be" as in, "Sustainable cost savings and process improvements ‘can be' achieved through implementation…" The phrase "can be" will register with the reader as "weasel words" and undermine any promise made in the headline.

Some might say it's reasonably clear who the subject in this sentence is – "it's enterprises in diverse industries." Not so. All it says is what these enterprises "have found." For all we know, IQNavigator is relating the findings of research these enterprises undertook and nothing more. Nowhere does it say an enterprise implemented an "end-to-end services procurement and optimization solution."

Several other things dilute the power of this lead. One of them is using the verb "found" in the present perfect tense as in "Enterprises in diverse industries have found…" You won't find what I'm about to say at English Grammar Online . By placing "have" in front of a non-action verb like "found," we add another layer of indirection between "Enterprises in diverse industries" and the result IQNavigator wishes to communicate.

Yet another layer of indirection kicks in with the word "that" following "have found." "That" is a signal to the reader to get ready and think at a more abstract level. Nothing kills a trance like having to think more conceptually.

Things get even more abstract when you refer to benefits in noun form instead of connecting them with a subject using verbs. "Sustainable cost savings" and "process improvements" are heady ideas when expressed as nouns. The After snippet gets around this with "Join the companies in every sector who have reduced their costs and streamlined their processes…" Using the past perfect tense with tangible verbs works well when placed in an active sentence.

Can You Describe Your Product in Plain English?

It's important to refer to the noun you're selling as concretely as possible. Does an "end-to-end services procurement and optimization solution" seem easy to digest? Remember, this passage is still in overview mode, so an adjective like "end-to-end" is completely opaque. Adding to this sense of mystery are the two abstract nouns embedded in this product definition – "services procurement" and "services optimization."

Again, nouns are heady and verbs go to the gut. This is why the After snippet refers to the product as a "complete solution to manage the services they procure and the quality of the services performed ." Sure, the After snippet takes 15 words to describe the product where the Before snippet needed only 6 but what's more important here – being brief and indecipherable or longer and easy to understand?

Is it About You and Them or What You can Do for Them?

If you're still in The Lead conveying your BIG IDEA, the last thing you want to do is shift the focus from the prospect to yourself. The Before snippet slips into self-centeredness by starting the second sentence with "IQNavigator's market-leading solution…" This sentence recovers the appropriate focus by ending with "…provides several bottom-line benefits." Still, it comes up short for a couple of reasons.

First, it leads into the bullets with a noun ("bottom-line benefits") and it forces each bullet to start with an even headier noun (e.g., "Cost reduction", "Process efficiencies", "Optimization"). The one bullet starting with a verb ("Manage compliance risks") has an awkward flow if read straight from the lead-in.

Second, this sentence is written in the third person at just the moment we're setting up the prospect to picture this benefit in their mind's eye. Third person prompts the prospect to imagine these benefits in a fainter way because they must now try to make sense of them in a context external to their own situation. As such, the Before snippet turns this "picturing process" into an academic exercise.

Thanks to a clear promise in the headline and an unambiguous BIG IDEA in The Lead, the After snippet flows into the "picturing process" with a simple sentence focused on the prospect's interests. This lead-in sentence ties cleanly into 6 short and sweet bullets, each one starting with an action verb and describing a benefit to support the promise.

Ever Get the Feeling Something's Missing?

Ideally, we'd follow these bullets with copy to prove IQNavigator delivers on these benefits. After a promise and a picture, proof helps cement the bond we're trying to establish with the prospect.

An additional section on what makes IQNavigator unique would flesh out this benefits page. Once our prospect has shown an interest in the promise, pictured the benefits in her mind's eye, and agreed with the proof, learning how IQNavigator is unique would bring us dangerously close to what we want – follow-through on our call-to-action.

Oops, we have a problem…. there is no call-to-action.

Obviously, with enterprise software, we're not going to hypnotize anyone into making a purchase on the spot but all kinds of things are possible:

  • Check out upcoming events
  • Signup for a webinar
  • Read drill-down documents like a datasheet or white paper

Wrap-up

By using action verbs liberally and sprinkling "you" and "your" throughout, we use what I called, in a previous post , "implied second person voice." Implied second person voice helps convert features into benefits with a more immediate feel so prospects can easily see "what's in it for them." If you're a B2B marketer, implied second person voice is your ticket to bypass "sales cheesiness."

As a B2B marketer with complex products, you should use bullets to make your benefits and proof points come across clearly and forcefully. Avoid cramming too much into a single bullet – additional scrolling is worth the added white space and clearer copy. After all, "easier to read means more sales and leads."

To your marketing success,

Eric Rosen
Strategic Marketing Writer
eric.rosen AT clearcrisp.com
Clear Crisp Communications
Easier to Read Means More Sales and Leads

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