August 24, 2006

Filtering Out the Fluff

Years ago we had a programmer working at our company who would listen to our sales presentations or our marketing materials and exclaim, "That sounds like fluff to me!" In fact, he said it so often, that became his nickname: Fluff.

Even though he was a bit hypersensitive to marketing and sales material, he was making a valuable point. Marketing fluff destroys credibility and undercuts trust. We need to filter it out.

In an earlier message, I made fun of four kinds of writing that don't work-Geek, Weasel, Fluff, and Bogart. A few of you wrote to ask how to get rid of the marketing fluff. I'll admit it's not easy. But it's worth the effort.

I recently visited a new client, so one of the things I did to get ready was to visit their Web site. It was not a good experience. The site was well designed, it had nice graphics, and it was easy to navigate.

So what was the problem? The words. Everything they wrote about their services consisted of dull, worn-out clich├ęs-"leading edge," "state of the art," "innovative," even that bloated loser "synergistic." Yuck! Their messages were vague and not the least bit persuasive.

"Marketing fluff" consist of grandiose claims, unsubstantiated by any evidence, that don't actually say anything. Here's an example:
Our firm is uniquely qualified to deliver world-class results. We offer best-of-breed products and customer-focused service to produce seamless solutions. Our commitment to partnering with our customers produces innovative yet user-friendly applications that produce bottom-line results.
Sound impressive? No, not really. In fact, this paragraph is likely to start the client's built-in B.S. detector clanging like a fire alarm.

Why doesn't it work? What makes this writing sound weak and phony?

The problem comes from making big claims unsupported by even a sliver of proof. World-class results? Says who? Best-of-breed products? By what standards? Seamless? So what does that mean, anyway?

The answer is to substantiate your claims with details. Suppose the sentences were written as follows:

Our firm has successfully installed advanced imaging systems in more than 500 financial institutions in North America, more than any other firm in the industry. We offer the latest technology, including digital scanning, and back our systems with a one-year, unconditional guarantee and a service department that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As a result, by choosing us you achieve three important outcomes: First, you are in full compliance with all Federal and state regulations. Second, you eliminate more than 70% of the paper routinely generated in the course of business. And third, your total cost of operations goes down due to reduced information storage costs. On average, our customers saved more than $275,000 annually over the past three years.
Now you'd be a bit more impressed, right? It's all in the details.

When you hire Sant writers, we bring our own patented fluff filters to clean up the language you're using in proposals and sales presentations. You can find out more at our site, You're also welcome to call us at 888-448-7268 (USA) or +44 (0) 870 734 7778 (UK).