Business writing has only one purpose: to create a change in the reader. If your writing creates no change in the reader, it has failed.
This is different from other forms of writing. The purpose of fiction is to entertain. The purpose of media is to get you to read as much and as long as possible. (The purpose of news is not to inform you, it is to get you to spend time with it.)
The change you are seeking in business writing varies depending on what you’re writing. For example:
- A white paper seeks to change your opinion about a company.
- A marketing email seeks to create loyalty or purchases.
- Advertising creates a favorable impression toward a brand.
- A web page educates you about products and pricing.
- Instructions seek to educate you about how to use a product.
- A research report gives you insights on how a market is changing.
- An email to your boss explains a problem and proposes solutions, changing her priorities.
- An email to your staff explains a change in strategy and seeks to modify their behavior.
In all these cases, the reader is different — smarter, better informed — as a result of reading. This is the desired change in the reader.
As a reader, you might take action (call the company, buy the product, use the product, change your approach to a market, run the company differently, change what you do at work that day). You might not; you might just save the information for later, or use it to support what you were going to do anyway. But if there is no change in the reader, you’ve wasted the reader’s time, violating the Iron Imperative.
What change does content marketing create?
Content marketing is a special case, because it’s a lot like media. Content marketing can entertain or inform, but it must create a change in the reader as well, or it has failed.
The purpose of content marketing is to get the reader to become positively inclined toward the company, after which they may become a lead, buy something, or just have a more positive brand impression.
If your blog posts, infographics, videos, social media posts, and podcasts don’t do these things, they are failures, regardless of how entertaining or informative they might be.
What this means for business writing
We read lots of media. This influences many of us to create business writing as if we are creating media. That’s a mistake.
Each time you write anything, be clear about the readers and the change you want to create. This will change the way you write:
- Delete anything that doesn’t contribute to the change you want to create. This will make your writing shorter and more effective.
- Measure the effectiveness of your writing by measuring whether you have created the desired changes. For marketing, this means measuring leads, purchases, and brand attitudes, not clicks or likes.
- Educate your team to identify what change they are seeking with each email, Web page, social media post, or report they create.
- If you can’t figure out what change you want to make with a piece of writing, don’t write it.
Your responsibility as a reader
If someone sends you a piece of writing and you can’t identify the change it is supposed to create, reply by saying this: “Why did you send this to me?”
Perhaps this will wake people up and keep them from flooding our communications channels with worthless crap.