Mark Twain – What A Dead American Humorist Can Teach Us About B2B Writing

Mark Twain – What A Dead American Humorist Can Teach Us About B2B Writing
Wendy Thomas - Wed Apr 22, 2009 @ 08:03AM
Comments: 12

Tom Sawyer’s partner in crime is non-other than the irrepressible Huck Finn.  When the book first came out in 1885, it was banned by a school in Concord, Massachusetts as being “bad for kids”. The school officials felt the behavior of that counter-societal Huck set horrific examples for children. Mark Twain

Of course now, Huck Finn is considered to be one of the wittiest pieces of American writing and is found in nearly every classroom. Just what devices did Mark Twain use to make his writing so enduring?

Humor – I know, I know, as writers we are often told not to use humor, you never know who is going to be offended we’re taught. But if you took both the subtle and overt humor out of Huck Finn, you’d be left with an unmemorable pile of words on the page. Take a look around, the blogs that are the most popular are the ones written with humor and with a strong voice. These become the most read and end up being the ones that are passed on.

One caveat - not everyone is adept at humor, if you are by now you know it. If you have a strong and tested sense of humor, you need to trust it and jump in with both feet taking a chance in your writing. Intelligent humor, well delivered may sometimes miss the mark but it will always make a splash.

Play to People’s Wishes – Huck is one of the most charming characters in American literature. Oh sure, he’s a boy with a bit of a wild streak but under it all we know that Huck has a good heart. His adventures down the Mississippi River call out to the fantasies of escape and adventure we all have. Don’t we all want to leave some aspect of our lives to do something else?

Before you even set your fingers to the keyboard, determine what it is that you audience wants and play to that wish. Do they want to save money (so that they can then go and travel full time?) Do they want to save time (so that they can spend more time with their families?) Do they want to feel safe (so that they can worry less and enjoy more?)

By tapping into to your audiences desires, you will create a message that will be long lasting and more memorable. It’s sort of like offering them a much needed mini vacation in the middle of the workday.

First Person, TestimonialHuck Finn is told in first person. Huck emits an air of authority and we willingly follow his adventures. He’s been there, he’s done that. We trust him.

First person testimonials are among one of the most effective tools you can use in marketing writing. Boy, if you can find someone to speak highly of your product or to publically endorse your company that will go a long way in creating credibility and authority with your readers. We want to trust others, we really do.

Contemporary Wording – Huck Finn was written in the vernacular and uses some pretty colorful language. Twain did this not to be disrespectful but instead to be true to the culture at the time and the storyline. People could relate to the story.

Copy today can and should freely use contemporary words like “twittering” and “skyping”. Hey it’s the vernacular of the marketing world and remains true to the message. How mind-numbingly boring it would be if we used the phrase “electronic social media shortened communications” instead of Twitter?

Time for another caveat – contemporary vernacular is not the same as slang and while the use of commonly used societal and business words can give you credibility, the use of regionalized slangs words will take away that credibility faster than a J. Lo marriage.

Comments: 12


1. Jamie Wallace  |  my website   |   Wed Apr 22, 2009 @ 10:00AM

Wendy - What a great way to tie an American classic to B2B Marketing. I'm a long-time fan of Twain and have great respect for his mastery of the subtle message. He and Oscar Wilde hold a special place in my literary heart. :)

I'm glad you brought up humor because I think it can be a very powerful tool when used properly. In the wrong hands, it's an absolute recipe for disaster, but the fact is that people are people ... not buyers, distributors, and project managers. They are REAL people. And, real people like to laugh. Give them something that makes them smile (even if it's a cynical smile), and you've quite possibly got your foot in the door.

There's a great example in the book World Wide Rave by David Meerman Scott that talks about a tax audit company, I think, and their trade show collateral that was all about "I love me a good audit" ... or something along those lines. People loved it. The response was great. They used humor to plug into the minds of their target audience with accuracy and a little "zing."

Tks for the thought-starters!

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