Have you ever read a product description and still knew nothing about the product?

I recently audited 30 marketing pieces for a Fortune 100 company. The company’s copywriters and marketers had attended classes on writing relevant content; my job was to examine ten “before class” and twenty “after class” pieces.

They asked me to do this work because I spend a lot of time interviewing customers for my clients, I had deep knowledge of their product line, and they knew I could play the role of a “secret shopper,” even though the shopper was typically an IT manager or C-Level executive. And, they knew I train marketers and copywriters as part of my work.

On a scale of 1 to 5, graded on five criteria, the “before” pieces averaged 1.36, and the “after” pieces averaged 2.63. Out of the 30 pieces, there were only three that earned a “5.” At the other end of the spectrum, seventeen of the pieces earned a one-point-something.

Pretty pathetic, when you consider that the training effort was a multi-million-dollar, worldwide affair. And it wasn’t because I was a tough grader. Even the 5’s could have stood some improvements, from the customer’s perspective.

No wonder customers tend to ignore marketing copy these days, relying instead on information they can get from other customers.

Why were the pieces so bad?


For one simple reason: the writers never have conversations with real customers. In the largest companies, like this one, they aren’t even “allowed” to talk to customers. The product managers give the copywriters a list of features, and the copywriters then string those features together with clichéd superlatives. An example:

These powerful configuration and change management capabilities can help the organization improve operational efficiencies for multivendor devices, prevent outages, reduce mean time to repair, maximize security, provide greater standardization and ensure adherence to organization policies and best practices.”

What’s being sold? You can’t tell. The whole piece was like this.

How are all these sweeping promises kept? You can’t tell. Nowhere in this piece does the writer help the customer visualize “what’s going to happen to me after I buy?” which is the question that all copywriters must answer. Most never do.

How many other vendors make these same promises? All of them. This copy does nothing to distinguish this vendor from the competition.