Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Working with words to sell products, services and ideas

The effective use of language in print, on the air and online can sell gadgets and unpopular policies, according to the authors of three recent books.

Writing — how words are chosen and arranged to convey meaning and elicit a response — is a craft. Although most literate people can write to express themselves, recount experiences or persuade, in the world of business, the heavy lifting is often left to the professionals. Here are three new books by word mavens who share their wisdom and insights with the rest of us.

The Adweek Copywriting Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Powerful Advertising and Marketing Copy from One of America's Top Copywriters. Joseph Sugarman. John Wiley & Sons. 338 pages.

At the dawn of the tech age, in the seventies, Joe Sugarman revolutionized direct-response advertising for his company, JS&A. With a minimal amount of art and images, he hawked electronic gadgets and tchotchkes that were irresistibly described in several powerful paragraphs, creatively conceived and crafted by Sugarman himself.

Of course, when the CEO is also the chief creative executive and advertising copywriter, he had better be good or the company will soon be selling off its own furniture. Sugarman was very good, indeed, so he eventually conducted seminars on copywriting for other executives and business owners and charged a pretty penny for admission.

This book, which costs considerably less, is an excellent course for writers and others involved with using words to sell their products and services. There's ample discussion of the craft, reasons people buy things and other pertinent topics, all presented in an amiable and interesting manner. While it is certainly no surprise that the author is a fine writer of short text, he is also engaging, inspirational and energizing in a sustained context as well.

E-Mail Selling Techniques (That Really Work!). Stephan Schiffman. Adams Media. 160 pages.
I get tons of spam every day, as I'm sure you do, too, but as I have no need for pills to extend and sustain my extremities, nor interest in investment entreaties from widows of deposed Nigerian factotums, I generally dump the dross. But if I'm already engaged in an e-mail conversation or transaction with a client, vendor, colleague or prospect, good communication is essential.

Schiffman is a sales professional and applies his expertise in advising how to devise, target and create effective electronic messages. His slim manual offers a sharp and succinct discussion of the subject, including when not to use e-mail, which is good to know. He also touches on kindred media, including newsletters and blogging.

Though most effective salespeople are usually excellent communicators, they will surely benefit from Schiffman's insights and instructions.

Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear. Frank Luntz. Hyperion. 350 pages.
As a pollster and spin doctor for the Republican Party,
Luntz did an effective job in providing linguistic cover for their programs, policies and actions over the past dozen years or so. He's the guy who renamed the estate tax, ''the death tax'' and was one of the brains behind Newt Gingrich's "Contract for America."

This expertise in repositioning and reframing the competition to make them sound evil or unpleasant and taking opposing practices and cloaking them in positive and unthreatening language will surely appeal to certain segments of the business world.

Probably without intending to, Luntz provides an effective self-indictment of the politics of dishonesty and obfuscation, though in a last-minute addition, he does offer some self-effacing honesty. The book's addendum, a post-game analysis of his party's recent electoral failures, blames the ineffective ways it communicated with the public, listing the Terri Schiavo matter, Hurricane Katrina and other issues, though not the Foley affair, which may have been the last straw.

But in one sentence, a ray of honesty pokes through, as
Luntz writes, "Not everything about what happened to Republicans in 2006 can be explained away by bad language. There was Iraq.''

You think?

published in The Miami Herald on 1/15/07

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