By Henry Mortimer, Aug 2 2015 07:00PM
I have a confession to make: I like poetry.
There, I said it. (And I feel so much better for doing it, so thanks.) I’m a professional writer and a consultant who likes poetry! (That’s my barbaric yawp.)
I not only like poetry, I love it. Everything about it. I like reading poetry. I like meeting poets and hearing them read or recite their poetry. I like writing about poetry. I even enjoy writing the occasional poem and, when I’m lucky enough, having it published.
Poetry is critically important to who I am (and who I was, and who I’m becoming) and to what I do, as a person, as a husband, a father, a friend. Poetry informs almost every aspect of my life, on a regular basis.
Time for a remedy
Why am I gushing and telling you this, here and now? Because it’s in the one aspect of my life where poetry holds the strongest influence — as a professional writer and consultant — that it seems to make the smallest impact on so many others like me, and I’d like to offer a remedy. In fact, so much of the professional writing I encounter these days — on marketing brochures, websites, social media posts — is lackluster and ordinary, flabby and forgettable, devoid of any kind of energy or drama or individuality. In other words, lacking in exactly the ingredients it needs to do its job. That’s where poetry comes in.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you need to hire William Shakespeare or Langston Hughes to craft your next slogan, or even attempt to compose a Wordsworthian “Ode to Spring-scented Deodorant” to roll out your next roll-on product (though wouldn’t that be something). The poets I admire are the ones who write plainspoken, clear-minded, impassioned, musical poems about personal matters (without slipping into solipsism) that speak directly to universal themes. Their poems resonate with their readers because they can be easily understood and memorably appreciated by anyone and everyone.
And that’s the key, isn’t it? As a marketing manager or business owner, you want your messages to be meaningful and memorable, right? (You do! You do!) You want your customers, current and future, to know who you are, what you do, and why it matters to them, right? (You do! You do!) Poetry can help.
Learn the basics
And you don’t need to outsource to a bard or enroll in a poetry course at Johns Hopkins (though either option sounds like fun to me). It’s not that complicated. You just need to learn (or relearn, as the case may be) the basic principles of poetry that are critically important to the creation of the most effective writing — writing that is clear, concise, and compelling. I mean, the kind of writing that grabs your attention immediately, makes you stop and take a closer look, ask a question or two, and then decide to open your wallet to buy the latest iGizmo.
In other words, it’s the kind of writing that sells.
What are the basic principles of poetry? Well, since poetry has been a part of our culture for more than a millennium or two (collectively speaking), there are arguably more than a few core competencies, as they say in the C-suite. Everything from specific themes (love and hate) and subject matters (war and peace) to format (sonnet vs haiku), length (short lyrics and long epics), and so on.
To me, though, there are three essentials of poetry, three must-have’s that make for the most effective writing:
- language (word choice),
- music (sound, rhythm, repetition, and rhyme), and
- literary tools (concrete imagery, comparisons, etc).
All three help to separate poetry from prose — and writing that leaps from writing that sleeps — and create in the mind of the reader an experience that is meaningful and memorable — core components of any successful marketing campaign.
Word choice is fundamental because most poems have limited real estate and rely on fewer words than prose; therefore, being precise and clear is essential for understanding. In other words, say what you mean: When you call her hair “red,” do you mean “ginger-haired” or “as a fire truck”? Specificity is similarly critical to any effective marketing campaign: Nike is never just describing — and therefore selling — a “sneaker” in its ads.
Music can likewise make or break a poem’s chances for success. In fact, poets think about how a word sounds almost as much as what a word means or says. (“Brillig!” as Lewis Carroll would say.) Rhythm and rhyme make poems easy to remember, every time. And being memorable, as I’ve mentioned, is the ultimate goal of any marketeer.
Poets use literary devices, such as concrete imagery and comparisons, to make their ideas relatable and memorable — to give shape to a concept or idea that is personal, or even private, show it in a new way so that everyone can understand and be a part of the experience. Who doesn’t know exactly how Robert Burns was feeling when he declared (crowed?), “O my love is like a red, red rose…”?
The bottom line
The bottom line here is this: There is a cure-all to stop you from writing (or paying for) marketing content — for your brochures, broadsides, websites, and posts — that is lackluster and ordinary, flabby and forgettable. Just a few doses of poetry’s essentials — focusing on word choice, adding some music, and using a concrete image or two — can provide you with the spark you need to generate writing that leaps rather than sleeps.
If you would like to learn more about how poetry can help hone your marketing skills, join me for “Get Your Wordsworth: How Poetry Can Help You Clarify Your Message, Reach the Right Audience, and Even Save Your Life,” held at Betamore on June 9, from 6-7. Register here: http://betamore.com/education/get-your-wordsworth/