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Op/ed: The seven deadly sins of marketing communications


By Darrel Kachan on June 8, 2012

Most business owners and other professionals have a goodwill ambassador or lead generator that often works 24/7 without salary or complaints. But the way they treat this invaluable contributor to their success can be downright sinful.

I’m referring not to a person, but to your public and industry “face,” which is the direct result of all your marketing communications activities. These include not just your ads, as many think, but also these: your web site; sales or educational materials; letters or emails to customers or prospects; PowerPoint presentations; Facebook page or blogs; signage and banners; company booths; request-for-proposal responses; newsletters; announcements; videos; Tweets and PR efforts.

Each is a meme for your business or organization, a virtual “spokesperson” that at any time can influence someone’s opinions about who you are and why you matter. Each time you communicate to clients, customers, prospects, business partners or other key audiences, you have an opportunity to make a positive impression. Or tell your story. Or sell your services or products. Your words and images can trigger a Cialis moment, where things suddenly become much more intimate — or drive your customers to a competitor.

Yet few owners or senior executives view marketing communications as a holistic discipline important to their success. Tactically, they get marketing, that is, the benefits of advertising, websites and sales brochures. But when it comes to the communications component, they often lack the expertise to separate the wheat from the chaff. That’s why you see so many sleep-inducing Geocities-era websites.

Communications that miss the mark are not just missed opportunities. They also can make you look dull, foolish and unprofessional. I cringe when I see a medical group’s home page headline tout its “complimentary” and alternative medicine. Or when I read for the thousandth time companies bragging that they’re all about “service,” or “customer relationships” or, my favorite, “making a difference.”

Sad to say, corporate-speak buzzwords and other such linguistic maladies have gone viral. The cure? First, as Hippocrates counseled, do no harm. Here are the most common and deadly sins of marketing communications you need to avoid like the proverbial plague.

• Narcissism. Glory, glory hallelujah to us. We’ve done this, we’ve won that, we’re the best. If your company can’t stop talking about itself and its accomplishments, repeat this mantra: Nobody cares.

• Irrelevance. What do you want to accomplish with your communications? Change opinions? Drive actions? Inform or entertain? Whatever your goal, consider Steve Martin’s advice to the nebbish John Candy in the film “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”: “And by the way, when you’re telling these little stories? Here’s a good idea — have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!”

• Wallflowerism. These communications are mushy, reticent, almost apologetic, as if the ideas are too embarrassed to be seen in public. Associations, foundations and nonprofits are frequent sinners. Be direct and forceful when you communicate, and make it easy for audiences to understand why they should do business with your company or become involved with your organization.

• Sloth. When your communications are riddled with grammatical errors, misused or misspelled words, clumsy or incomprehensible sentences, typos, pretzel logic organization and wrong information, you look too lazy to care about such details. Professionals aren’t sloppy.

• Grandiosity. A close cousin to narcissism, this sin is about putting on airs. Such communications are usually obtuse, convoluted and laced with jargon and abstractions meant only to impress. Ironically, an understated style also can be grandiose. Check out the web sites of some architectural and high-end graphic design firms, who obviously think they’re 2Cool2B forgotten.

• Babelism. Every profession or industry has its own lexicon unfamiliar to outsiders, including your customers. Don’t speak in tongues. Plain and simple, if you want to bond with your audience (and you do), speak their language, plainly and simply.

• Apathy. I’m referring to the Greek origins of this word, which literally means the absence of pathos, or passion. Never underestimate the importance of connecting with your audiences on an emotional level. (That’s why “caring” and “listening” are such powerful, reassuring messages for physician practices.) In his classic work, “On Rhetoric,” Aristotle considered pathos equally important as ethos (character) and logos (logic) for persuasive appeal. Communications expert Bert Decker says that people buy on emotion (pathos) and justify with fact (logos).

You are what you communicate. In our short-attention span world, what you say and how well you say it matters more than ever. Don’t tolerate godawful writing. Go and sin no more.

• An émigré from a large Chicago agency, Darrel Kachan is a Ventura writer and marketing communications consultant for businesses, professionals and nonprofit organizations. His website is www.dkcommunication.com.


  1. Philip says:

    Well put: “An understated style can also be grandiose.”

  2. Tiffany says:

    Gret article with some good food for thought for our marketing team.