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Why My Daughter Getting In Trouble Might Make You Realize Your Marketing Message Is In Trouble

By December 7, 2012March 26th, 2014Writing & Content Marketing
Why My Daughter Getting In Trouble Might Make You Realize Your Marketing Message Is In Trouble

Caitlin really is a very good little girl. But she’s two-and-a-half years old and has her moments.

When Caitlin cops a toddler ‘tude, my wife and I always make her say she’s sorry, and what she’s sorry for, so she knows what she did wrong – at least for the next 30 seconds or so. This is how part of a recent exchange went between my wife and daughter:

Mommy: Caitlin, say you’re sorry.

Caitlin: I’m sorry.

Mommy: For?

Caitlin: Five, six, seven, eight…

The dad in me wanted to laugh out loud and add this to the list of classic kid quotes. The smart ass in me wanted to give Caitlin a high five. The copywriter in me had flashbacks and wanted to bang my head against the wall.

Just because you know what you’re trying to say with your marketing message, don’t assume your audience knows.

Here’s an embarrassing example. I learned the hard way that I can’t just tell people I’m a copywriter without explaining what that means, at least in very basic terms.

If I just say I’m a copywriter, some people will think that means I’m the guy who puts a “©” on copyright material. Then they start asking me legal questions. It’s an honest misunderstanding, but by the time I’ve cleared things up, we both feel awkward and a little stupid.

Yes, this actually happened a few times. Fortunately, the source of miscommunication in this case was painfully clear and easily corrected. Usually, it’s more complicated.

If you’re not communicating effectively on your website, blogs, social pages and other marketing pieces, you may not even realize it – until a potential client points it out.

During the past couple of months, I remember at least two instances when I said, “Will you please explain what your business does? Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I went to your website and I’m still not sure about what you do.”

This is a major fail, mostly because these business owners are probably leaving money on the table.

How does this happen? Your content reads like Shakespeare and makes perfect sense to you, so how can it possibly leave a potential client with more questions than answers? How can they not be following along?

Maybe you tried to be too clever and the real substance of your message got lost.

Maybe your content sounds like a presentation to colleagues at an industry conference instead of a conversation with someone who’s being introduced to your business for the first time.

Maybe you assumed everyone knows certain facts about your business or industry, so you didn’t explain them adequately.

Maybe your content is poorly written and you just don’t see it.

How do you make sure your marketing message is being delivered clearly and powerfully? Here are four simple tips to avoid the most common pitfalls:

  1. Be direct and straightforward. Creativity should only be used to enhance and reinforce your message. Otherwise, it’s just a distraction and a potential source of confusion.
  2. Speak the language of your target audience, not your industry. Write like you would speak in a real conversation, not a keynote address.
  3. Take nothing for granted and make no assumptions. You can be very thorough and concise at the same time.
  4. Enlist the help of a professional writer who knows how to put sound marketing strategy behind the words. A good copywriter (not copyrighter) who has no attachment to your business will give you a brutally honest evaluation and improve your content clarity from the point of view of your target audience.

Do you have to speak to your audience like they’re all two years old? Of course not. But if people who read your content don’t get the message, there won’t be anything cute or funny about it.

Take a good hard look at your marketing content. Is it easy for your target audience to understand?

Join the discussion 22 Comments

  • Erin Feldman says:

    I’m a huge fan of having someone else read my work. Even though I’m a writer and editor, I can be blind to the failings in my own copy.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Erin,

      I totally agree. I’m lucky that my wife is in marketing and has no problem pointing out problems in my writing 🙂


  • Adrienne says:

    First off Scott, Caitlin is just adorable! You and your wife must be so proud. You are really teaching her the right things to do. I applaud you both for that.

    Second, I couldn’t agree with you more. Just this week I had a guy ask me to give him my honest opinion about his blog and the first thing I told him is I have no idea what you do or offer. Nowhere on your blog at first glance, even with the headlines, did I grasp what he did.

    I know for me personally that I need things explained to me. Not that I’m stupid but I don’t absorb things the way most people do. Just that darn learning disability ya know but once I get it I’m on a roll. We just forget that a lot of people just now coming to your site don’t get all this terminology if we’re being introduced to it for the first time.

    Great explanation of where a lot of people go wrong. Not on purpose but just because we forget that no everyone else doesn’t already know this stuff!

    Great post Scott and thanks.


    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Adrienne,

      Thanks for your kind words about Caitlin. We’re trying to do a good job, but it helps that she’s a good girl to begin with.

      You hit on another key point about a lack of message clarity – frustration. It’s so frustrating to read something and end up shaking my head. I feel like my time was wasted. Like you said, even if it’s inadvertent, it’s doing a lot of damage.


  • Ken Pickard says:


    Your little girl is adorable. I remember when my girls were that age. Cute and full of spirit. Sounds like you’re really bring her up with the right kind of values.

    I really enjoyed this post for a couple of reasons. The way you weaved the story throughout this piece made it fun to read. A writing process I hope most bloggers pick up.

    Also the message wasn’t lost on me. True to your point this often happens. Sometimes people get carried away with the extra seasoning on their post that the meat doesn’t taste good anymore.

    I also think effective communication or getting the point across can also be done in the close of the post. Thanks for the message.

    Ken Pickard
    The Network Dad

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Ken,

      Thanks so much. We’re very lucky that she’s such a good girl.

      I’m glad you liked the approach. My wheels started turning about a potential blog within minutes after it happened and I figured it was a relatable way to reinforce my point, so I’m relieved that point wasn’t lost on you 🙂


  • Andi-Roo says:

    In checking over my 8yo daughter’s homework, I pointed out that she had forgotten to print her name at the top. She looked at me like I was stupid & said, “Well, you know it’s my paper, Mom.” And she was right. But… in a wrong sort of way, lolz! Sometimes even when things are explained straight out, the communication just isn’t two-way. Keeping that in mind, even after breaking things down as simply as possibly, one should still expect that question which comes from left field… because even if things are clear to 99% of your audience, that 1% still might not “get it”. Children & Customers — their common feature lies in what they teach us — PATIENCE. haha! 🙂

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Andi,

      You’re absolutely right that even the best content won’t eliminate all questions. Such is life. But if we can’t convey what we do and more importantly, the results and benefits of what we do, we’re in deep trouble.

      Patience – I’m still learning it more and more every day 🙂


  • Hey Scott! Very good points here.

    You know what? I’ve learned years ago how not to assume that people know anything! some 15 years ago as I was speaking to an older man who knew I was from France, thought that Paris and France were two different things (like to different countries). Well, if that wasn’t bad enough, that happened later another few times. So, I learned not to assume people knowing even the basics of things. LOL! And more so about things that are not so crystal clear.

    People are so confused about the term copywriter, that’s not even funny. I totally know what you mean.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Sylviane,

      Yikes. That’s a tough one to prepare for. When people ask what I do, I don’t give a title. I just say I write website content, blogs, feature articles, press releases, etc. There’s just less room for error if I spell it out.


  • I love the answer your daughter gave, “five, six, seven, eight.” Brilliant!

    You’re so right. Don’t assume people know what you do. Most will be two embarrassed to ask or will think they know when in fact they don’t.

    If they still don’t understand what you do after visiting your website, well then that’s a big problem.

    I like how you wrote your bio, Scott. Very clear and effective communication!

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Carolyn,

      Yes, she’s brilliant – sometimes too brilliant for her own good 🙂

      That’s a great point about being too embarrassed to ask. Why would someone want to risk feeling silly when there are plenty of other options that may communicate more effectively.

      Thanks for the compliment on my bio. I do try to practice what I preach!


  • itsjessicaann says:

    so true and something I’ve been thinking about lately. For example, the word “content” is a word that’s thrown around lots in our industry. But the layperson probably has *no idea* what it is. They’ll think it’s an adjective that means satisfied or happy. It’s important to step back and think objectively how the jargon translates to others. great post, Scott!

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Jessica,

      That’s another great example and one that I never thought of. We just leave anything to chance if we want someone to understand what we’re saying and then take action because of it.

      Thanks for the tip!

  • FYI. You have a typo in the email subscription box above: “Get Smart Markting Tips!”

  • “Maybe you tried to be too clever and the real substance of your message got lost.” Spot On. Nice post!

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Thanks, Eric. Regular readers of my post know I talk about my radio background quite a bit. That’s where I learned creativity can’t overshadow your core message. You may win an award, but will you make money for the advertiser? Probably not.


  • Sue Price says:

    Hi Scott
    Like some of the others have said Caitlin is adorable.
    Given I am an Australian and we talk a different language to some extent I am used to explaining myself constantly. I think this carries over to my writing – well I hope it does.
    I started out working as a CPA and realized early in that career to assume nothing.
    Great post Scott and I love the story of Caitlin.

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Sue,

      Thanks so much. As I’ve said, my wife and I are very lucky.

      Interesting point about speaking a different language. Here in the U.S., people speak very differently where I am in the Northeast compared to other regions of the country, and we’re also speaking to a potentially global audience. We definitely need to keep that in mind with our messaging.

      To your point about assuming nothing as a CPA, I think we have to take message clarity a step further when dealing with certain specialized topics, especially financial, medical, high-tech and legal – four industries with their own language.

      Thanks for your kind works and comments!

  • Love the article! So true about being blind-sighted when you are fully entrenched in the subject matter. It all comes down to strategic communications planning. If you have you mission outlined as far as the message you want to convey, it helps control the glam and glitter as you try to acheive corporate goals.

    As far as Caitlin, I wish I had thought of that response when I was a kid…. 😀

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Thanks, Jennifer!

      You’re exactly right. I hate to write blogs that would ever come off as “this is why you should hire me or someone like me,” but this is why someone from outside your inner circle really needs to break down your marketing message. As you said, it definitely needs structure in order to maintain consistency and clarity.