Medical technologies may cross language barriers, but words are the building blocks of a marketing message. Rob Ashton of Emphasis explains how mastering writing skills can help you target and influence the right people.
Your company has created an exciting medical innovation. Let’s say it’s a new technology that replaces faulty heart valves without the need for open-heart surgery. It’s been patented and is ready to take the world by storm. Not only will it save lives, in the long run it will also save hospitals considerable time and money.
The technology may be impressive, but convincing the relevant decision-makers to buy the product is easier said than done. As you know, healthcare is a fast-moving area and your innovation will be fighting for attention with the scores of new products, techniques and studies released every day.
Your sales team will be promoting the benefits of the product in sales presentations and one-to-one meetings. You can pave the way by creating compelling marketing materials that will generate interest – even excitement – before those meetings take place.
But simply making such material available won’t guarantee that your message is heard. Most managers have a stack of reports, letters and e-mails to wade through on a daily basis. Reading a leaflet or letter on a new heart surgery technology may be the least of their priorities.
That’s why your marketing materials need to be carefully crafted. They need to be written in language that prompts your reader to take action. A powerful, well-written document can make even the most harried managers sit up and take notice. It can convince them that they need your product. But it must address their needs, not yours.
How can you write marketing materials that will really get your products noticed?
Do the groundwork
Whether you’re writing a leaflet, a poster or web content, you need to prepare. Research your market fully before you start and make sure you understand all the challenges your prospects face. A nursing home will have different needs from an NHS hospital, for example. So avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach to your marketing.
Keep your focus on the reader by asking yourself the following questions:
- What is the document about?
- Who will read it?
- How much do they already know about the subject?
- What do they absolutely need to know?
- How important is the subject to them?
- How interested are they in the subject? (Note that readers aren’t always interested in what’s important to them. So you often need to make them interested.)
Then grab a pen and paper and brainstorm all the ways that your product can help to meet your prospects’ challenges. Use the headings Who? What? Where? When? and Why? to help this process. Then use the information to write a set of powerful reasons why they should buy your product.
Arrest the reader
The seven steps below will help you to write effective leaflets, posters, sales letters and web content.
- Create a snappy headline – Eye-scanning studies of website users by research body Eyetrack III have shown that people read only the first two words of a headline and ignore the introductory sections. So it is essential to create a compelling statement that will motivate people to read on. For example, a headline that reads ‘Hospitals gain 20 more beds a week through nanotechnology’ is striking because of the first two words: hospitals are usually overcrowded, so this introduces a solution to a familiar problem.
- Find an angle – Generate more interest by including facts and statistics that relate to the problems faced by your audience. Appeal to their logic and explain how your product makes a difference. For example, you could write: ‘The new nanotechnology means patients spend 40% less time convalescing.’
- Bite the bullet – The Eyetrack III research also revealed that only one in six people actually read websites sentence by sentence. Naomi Baron, a linguistics professor at the American University in Washington DC, calls this the ‘search and seize’ approach. Assuming that your readers will treat all your documents like this will help you to create clear written work.
- So include lots of bullet points and subheadings and use important words that your readers will be looking for. Make your writing as simple as possible, but don’t be afraid to use jargon if you’re certain your readers will understand it. Jargon can actually help to build rapport – but it’s a fine balance between that and alienating some readers.
- Be active – Use the active voice where possible. For instance, write ‘You should notice a difference in three days’ rather than ‘A difference within three days can be expected.’
- Give proof – Boost your credibility by using testimonials or endorsements where leading experts have spoken about the technology.
- Offer a next step – Make sure you tell the reader what to do next. In a letter, you might ask them to call you for more information. Or a leaflet might direct them to your website.
- Keep it simple – Always choose simple words over complicated ones. And if you can’t say a sentence all in one breath, the chances are that it’s too long. Aim for a maximum of 15–20 words per sentence.
According to an Emphasis survey of 200 companies in the UK, senior managers say that at least a fifth of the e-mails they receive are poorly written. So remember to take as much care over your e-mails as you do with your other marketing materials.
The first step is to create a descriptive subject line. For instance, ‘Follow-up documents from 20 March meeting’ may be accurate – but if your e-mail is designed to market a product, you need to be creative. ‘Five ways hospitals can save 50 minutes a day’ should be intriguing enough to persuade a manager to open your e-mail.
Structure your e-mail by following the SCRAP formula:
- Situation – Start by explaining the situation (‘where they are’).
- Complication – Introduce the idea that there’s a problem (‘why they can’t stay there’) they need to solve or a request they need to fulfil.
- Resolution – State how you can resolve the problem or request. It’s likely that your reader will be glad to see a practical, considered solution, whatever it is.
- Action – Suggest what action the reader can or should take.
- Politeness – End with a polite sign-off.
Following this formula will help your readers to understand your message clearly. (You can apply the same principles to your follow-up letters.)
It can be difficult to read lengthy documents on a PC. So if your message won’t fit on one screen, use an attachment for the details. You can make the message easier to read by including subheadings.
But take extra care with e-mails. Remember that it’s very easy for them to go viral. So only write what you don’t mind having broadcast on the 10 O’Clock News.
Having news reports or features appear in newspapers and magazines is an excellent way to build credibility with the people you want to influence. Press releases are the standard format for sending journalists news. But with so many in circulation, it can be difficult to get yours noticed. Journalists are also starting to bite back against releases that are poorly written, irrelevant to their needs or little more than thinly-veiled sales pitches.
How do you get your press release to the top of the pile? The secret is to give journalists exactly what they want: a news story.
The headline is the most important part of your document. Press releases can be very effective if you tie the headline to a topical event. For instance, ‘Medical software helps Haiti earthquake victims’ is compelling because it ties the technology to a major global health crisis. And it presents a clear angle that makes people want to read on.
Next, state the facts of the story. Get to the good stuff straight away, as journalists won’t have time to wade through background information.
Try to put the word ‘today’ in the first sentence to show that it’s news. For example, you could write: ‘Doctors implemented a patient database today in Haiti.’ If you can’t say ‘today’ then use the present perfect tense (‘Doctors have saved…’) rather than the past tense (‘Doctors saved…’) where possible, as the former implies something closer to the moment.
After using the present perfect tense, use the future tense to show that you have your finger on the pulse. So you could write: ‘Doctors will now be able to track patient progress 75% faster than before.’ Using figures in this way is very effective. But where possible, also include people in your document. So opt for ‘One in four people will benefit’ rather than ‘25% will benefit’.
Finally, go back to your first sentence and ask yourself: So what? If you can’t answer that, your message isn’t compelling enough. Refine your document until you’re convinced that it’s news that cannot be ignored.
Think of writing marketing material as an investment. Don’t be disheartened if a campaign doesn’t immediately strike gold. Keep working on your writing style and aim to make it as punchy as possible. The more you practise, the more you’ll be able to write your way to marketing success.
Rob Ashton is Chief Executive of Emphasis, the specialist business-writing trainers.