The marketing team at Raven knows my disdain for exclamation points. Any piece with more than one earns a note from me saying, “One exclamation point can live. The others must die. You choose.”
I don’t despise them. They have their place in this world. But pile too many on and you’ve got a crutch for lazy marketers.
And exclamation points aren’t alone. They’re one of four signs of lazy marketing.
(A confession: I’ve made all of these mistakes in my career. I’m telling you about them now in the hopes you can avoid them.)
Not everything at your company has to excite the reader. And you don’t have to pretend it does.
Fake excitement doesn’t make up for poor content and bad copywriting.
I saw a paragraph where all three sentences ended with exclamation points. It was a train wreck.
Lazy marketers forget that readers decide what’s important. They will reward interesting, relevant content for its merits – not its punctuation.
Your writing can be engaging without being exasperating. A tip of the cap to Steve Macone’s “Too Many Exclamation Points!!!” for this point.
Lack of a filter
I had a client in the medical industry. A reporter asked him a simple question: “Tell me about your company.”
20 minutes later the CEO finished talking. He went through the company history, its business model, its product lines and God knows what else. And then he bitched when the reporter got a single fact wrong.
This client didn’t have a filter, and the reporter didn’t have a chance.
Lazy marketers do the same to their readers. They include everything just in case something sticks. For them, the only story is a full story.
Artists and architects will tell you the opposite. Their work is complete when they take out everything except the necessary elements that complete the work. Obviously, the best do so with creativity and an eye for aesthetics.
I did a spot check of news releases about the back-to-school season on PRNewswire. Seven of the 10 most recent news releases included some superlative: leader, leading, best, premier, most, etc.
If you’ve worked in marketing or PR since 1999, you’ve spent some time wrestling with how to describe a client as the top of its field. You either just said it knowing that nobody could check, or you made up some narrow field about which nobody cared. This latter was a favorite trick of dot-com companies. Where are all those leaders today?
I slapped superlatives on everything in my lazy marketing days. One client was the “premier global provider.” Doubled down on that one. Still didn’t make a difference.
Using superlatives in your marketing is akin to introducing yourself by saying, “Hi.I’m the best at [insert business]. Nice to meet you.” Superlatives are all about you and the opposite of showing interest in the other party. Who wouldn’t be turned off by or simply ignore such bravado? Check out “The Art of Being Interested” to understand how this can be a problem for your brand.
Note: There are likely several places on this website in which Raven uses a superlative to describe our company. Be the first to mention them in the comments for some Raven swag. (BTW, our “Ultimate Lists” don’t count.)
The problem with ‘is’
The conjugations of “to be” cause more lazy marketing than any other verb because most marketers finish that sentence with an adjective, often a superlative.
It pulls the punch of any marketing by taking away the storytelling, relationship-building power of verbs.
Fixes for lazy marketing
You can reform your lazy marketing. Here’s how.
You want your writing to pop? Replace all of your exclamation points with good verbs. You have thousands at your disposal. Explore them. Experiment with them. Embrace them.
Throw out adverbs
I would get an automatic “F” in journalism class if I used “very” in an article. Find better words:
- Very big = enormous
- Very smart = brilliant
- Very tough = arduous
A bonus: You eliminate words from your content, another reward to time-starved readers.
Delete all your adjectives
I love this suggestion from Tim Ash in his book, Landing Page Optimization. Write your first draft and then take all of the adjectives. See if it still has the passion, relevancy and urgency you intended.
If not, rewrite it.
Reward your reader from sentence one
We learned in elementary and high school to write term papers where we summarized everything at the end. This style worked because teachers read the entire paper. It fails miserably in content marketing.
When you turn your writing upside down, you start with your summation and then illustrate it with supporting points. Your first sentence sets the tone and encourages your reader to read the next. And so.
A postscript for the peppy
There are genuinely, delightfully cheerful people in this world. We have one on staff at Raven.
These recommendations are for marketing content that represents the company or the brand. They do not apply to interpersonal communication, where exclamation points and superlatives may be your norm.