The hardest thing about good writing is to make it not so hard to read. You should make it flow real easy like.
After a 20-year stint in the newspaper industry, you would think that wordsmithing would come naturally to me. But writing is never an easy affair for those who labor over the words they choose, although very occasionally a piece will “write itself.”
So I am in the midst of rewriting a brochure on site selection consulting aimed exclusively at a corporate audience. (I have a completed brochure outlining my consulting services to economic development organizations. If you want a pdf copy, just ask and I will email it to you. If you are another consultant, don’t ask.)
This future brochure has been a tougher nut to crack. I have written and re-written it many times and none to my full liking. Mind you, it is not because of fuzzy thinking on my part about what constitutes a proper and thorough site search. No, I have my processes in place. I got that part down.
Concise and Punchy
This is more about presentation – how much is enough and how much is too much. The very fact that this is a brochure means it will not be a white paper or a treatise. Rather, this is to be a concise and punchy marketing piece, pure and simple. The goal is for it to be actually read by potential client companies.
In the fewest words possible, I hope to intrigue a company, which is typically a hard-edged manufacturer, into the belief that I can save senior management time, money and heartache by engaging in a process that few of them would or even should know much about.
Of course, many companies do try to engage in site selection on their own. But I would submit that they don’t know what they don’t know, which proves to be a perilous journey when of millions of capital investment dollars are at risk.
Concentrate on What You do Best
The fact is that a company’s core competencies are how it competes in the marketplace. It is what it does – concentrating on its root business — that matters most. If management chooses to venture into unknown territory, chances are that mistakes will be made.
I’ve seen some real costly blunders when companies attempt their hand at site selection simply for the lack of experience and knowledge.
I hope to show in this future brochure that this site selection thing is a phased, winnowing, investigative process designed to take a company where it need to be and that it is best driven by an experienced hand. (That would be me or rather my firm.)
So I will have to show that site selection is data driven with risk management taking center stage. The challenge is how to explain this coherently in a short amount of space. (Earlier this week, I read another consultant’s lengthy attempt at explaining site selection and how should I say this delicately? – Horrible. Just really bad.)
Will It Be Read?
Now there is this view, one which I actually put a lot of stock into, that brochures are largely meaningless, obsolete endeavors — that you can put a lot of money into a lot of glossy paper that will never be read. In fact, most brochures will end up in the proverbial round file.
Still, that does not dissuade many companies from coming up with intricate and involved and no doubt costly brochures that I would no more read than I would roller-skate in a buffalo herd. (Thank you, Roger Miller.) I am not interested into venturing into War and Peace.
I am convinced that more is less and that there is a certain beauty to simplicity. And therein lies the challenge to effective brochure writing.
My Crash Test Dummies
I feel lucky to have a network of professional friends around the country whom I trust to bounce ideas off. They are my crash test dummies, but they are far from dummies. Indeed, they are very smart people, which is why I will periodically turn to them for critical review.
Critical review does not mean affirmation, although if that happens, it makes my job much easier. No, critical review is just that – it’s asking those whose judgment I trust to tell me what they think is right or wrong about some planned endeavor of mine. And it’s usually centered on a marketing piece.
Start with Words
As words mean something, they are my basic building blocks. With words I hope to convey thoughts and images and possibly influence at least some of my readers. That is the foundation for advertising and marketing. So I must choose my words carefully.
Last week, I spoke to group of economic developers in West Tennessee. I included in my presentation – A Consultant’s View: How Communities Should Compete for Capital Investment — a rather silly slide that was a take-off on the Direct TV ads that are so stupid that they are brilliant. So I had fun with my own version.
When you are inexperienced, you want to get experience.
When you want to get experience, you join the merchant marines.
When you join the merchant marines, you go to exotic ports of call.
When you go to exotic ports of call, you get a tattoo.
When you get a tattoo, you get more tattoos.
And when you get more tattoos, you are mistaken for a pirate and thrown into a foreign jail.
Don’t get thrown into a foreign jail, get Barber Business Advisors.
It’s no secret that I have been critical of communities and economic development organizations spending gobs of money on branding. (See Guilt by Suspicion and the Big Hoax.) I continue to remain skeptical simply because of how I go about working a site search project.
Again, this is data driven process where assets and liabilities are weighed and analyzed. If we are looking for a 100-acre, utility-served site, within 10 miles of an interstate, served by rail and with a surrounding workforce possessing certain prescribed capabilities, then truly the colors you use, the logo design that you employ, even the words you so carefully choose to describe yourself matters not.
I say that and then here I am sweating over a damn brochure. Go figure.
Bribed with Starbucks
Periodically, I will engage in marketing surveys, especially when I am bribed to do so. One marketing company that specializes in helping economic development organizations gives me a Starbucks gift card when I take one of their surveys.
The survey usually begins by asking about my general impressions of a wide range of communities within a vast region of the country. But then it narrows down to the point where I am quite certain of the client community that is being represented. And then the questions get really pointed, to the degree that they are trying to put a guilt trip on me.
“So why haven’t you brought a project to Hoofinmouth, Idaho? What is wrong with you?”
A False God?
Recently, I engaged in an interactive, web-based survey in which an ad firm executive showed me images and words describing a certain Midwestern state. I was promised $75 for that one.
So they showed me four or five one-page design pieces, all very attractive. I was their crash test dummy. But I came to conclusion that I didn’t like any of the slides as is, but would take elements of each and cobble together a new Frankenpiece,
And then I had the audacity to drop a bombshell on the poor woman who was questioning me.
“You know, I really don’t think this branding effort will play any role in me representing a client during a site selection process. We’re really not considering this kind of stuff.”
In short, I was telling an idol worshipper that she was praying to a false god, which served no purpose in me saying, even if it was true.
Cutting Through the Clutter
Every day we are bombarded with images and sales pitches and almost become numb to it all. Does any message, anything at all, get through in this marketing tidal wave that washes over me daily?
I’m not sure. I remember the Direct TV ads even if I do not use the service. I don’t recall ever seeing an ad for a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck, but I own one.
In the end, I have to think that I can best cut through the clutter by showing competence and value. That’s what I want to convey in my corporate brochure for site selection. I am the safe choice if not the best choice and here’s why.
Another Seed of Doubt
I will likely include a graphic that shows how the site selection process works. I sketched it out on a piece of paper and gave it to a professional graphics artist who made my idea look, well, professional.
When I showed the graphic to a crash test dummy friend, he warned that someone would likely reproduce it and call it their own. Now why did you have to go and plant yet another seed of doubt?
But I am about tired of my vacillating. I have listened to my friends and have accepted and incorporated some of their ideas while rejecting others. There has never been a consensus as to what is best.
I’ll just do my best and get this brochure thing put to bed. It’s time to move on.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dean Barber is the president/CEO of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas.
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