The only purpose of business writing is to create change
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.
Spot on. How often do we hear ‘lessons must be learned’, yet nothing changes? I train organizations in learning from practice. The iron imperative here is that if nothing demonstrably changes (operating procedures, standards, personnel) the lesson has only been identified, not learned.
(The purpose of news is not to inform you, it is to get you to spend time with it.) This was like a speed bump when I read it. I tried to weigh it against my own ideas about the purpose of news. Maybe you could write a blog post to unpack this? Or maybe you have already and you can post the link?
This is the kind of no-bullshit thinking that stops someone in his/her tracks. As a freelance writer with an editorial background making a transition into corporate communications and working for business clients, this column should be read every morning by the communications manager or VP at every Fortune 500 firm. Too often, however, (as a contractor) the die is cast before you are brought into the process, and you have to run what you brung when it comes to deliverables. I would say, though, that maybe “change” is a bit too strong a word; I’d be happy if my readers even “cared” about the subject matter and perhaps filed it away (bookmarked, transferred to an e-mail folder to ‘read later’) for future consideration (rare, for sure, but it happens). “Make the reader care” or “why should I care?” is the common mantra of the gumshoe type journalist, and I think it applies to a lot of business communication as well. Of course in publishing this, you might have just fired thousands of useless ‘specialists’ who are stuck in a lower to middle rung of corporate hierarchy without ever going anywhere or making any kind of difference…
The purpose of many blogs on the web is to get clicks and profit, forget trying to inform or change ideas.
If you get someone to click and buy something, you’ve made a change.
If you’re just drawing clickbait, it’s not business writing.
Sadly, this is all too rare. So often in business, one sees long and turgid documents that serve little purpose.
Liz, may I quote you on that. I teach a business writing course.