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There's a common misconception among business owners and managers that only certain things fall under the marketing umbrella. This proposal was a great example.

"We don't need to waste our time making the language flowery or sales-y," she added. "This is just so we can get all the details together so they can be reviewed. We’ll have other materials where we can do the marketing stuff."

The simple fact is that anything that represents you before a prospect or customer is a marketing piece. You may not intend for it to serve that purpose, and you may not expect that someone who sees it will react to it as though it’s an attempt to market your business, but in reality, that’s exactly what happens.

Once something leaves your hands, you lose control of where it goes. You have no idea of who in your prospect’s organization may actually review it. Yes, you may have developed your proposal for the buyer or specifying engineer with whom you've been working, but he may have passed it along to his boss. And she may have given it to her boss, or another department head. Do all of those people already know you or your company? If not, that proposal will create the all-important first impression.

So if it's a poorly organized, poorly written document, your company is going to appear to be disorganized and ignorant. If the language is highly technical, the impression will be that you’re unable to communicate with mere mortals. And if it's nothing more than a dry recitation of the facts, your dynamic organization will be seen as dull and uninspired.

"It wasn't meant for people who were expecting to see something else!" you protest. "It was for their engineering team!" Or their accounting staff. Or a medical practitioner. Someone who speaks your language and sees the world the way you do. But that doesn't matter, because it was also seen by someone else who is going to weigh in on the decision.

Besides, it's a myth that engineers will react only to copy filled with complexities, or that accountants find the Internal Revenue Code entertaining and light reading, or that doctors want everything presented to them using as many syllables as possible. No matter what any of them do during the workday, they’re people. And they react to things just like you and I do. They’re motivated by many of the same emotions and fears, even if they have larger vocabularies or actually grasped whatever it was that Analytic Geometry teacher was talking about.

Companies don't buy from companies. People at those companies buy from people at other companies. And if you want people to have confidence in your company, you need to connect with them at a human level.

That's where the kind of language that some people deride as "marketingese" or "flowery" or "hype" can help you. Well-crafted documents and copy are designed to communicate at a one-to-one level. They're written to draw readers -- all readers -- in and guide them to the information they need. They contain all the facts and details, but they present them in a conversational, understandable manner.

Just as important, they're created to mirror the public image your company has worked so hard to earn in our noisy, highly competitive marketplace. Every contact a customer or prospect has with your organization -- whether it's looking at an ad, reviewing your proposal, or reading the instructions for your product -- should carry the same voice and attitude.

Great companies achieve that consistency. Next time you visit Starbucks for your double skinny soy mocha latte, pay close attention to all the written material around you, from posters to packaging. The voice and the vibe are the same, and they scream Starbucks. Next time you fly Southwest, pay attention to how everything from the in-flight magazine to the posters in the jetway to the flight attendants' announcements reminds you which airline is taking you to your destination. You’ll know for certain that you're not on Delta or American.

Those companies recognize that every contact is really a chance to strengthen their brands, so they take full advantage of every marketing opportunity. Doing the same may not make your company a household name, but it can help you grow your business more effectively.

Scott Flood creates effective copy for companies and other organizations. His guide to evaluating freelance creative talent, The Smarter Strategy for Selecting Suppliers, can be downloaded at http://sfwriting.com/freeguide, and his blog is at http://sfwriting.com/blog.

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