Over-modified, Under-substantiated

Over-modified, Under-substantiated

What constitutes an excessively salesy tone in an RFP response? That answer varies by industry, client, and (likely) evaluator. Although there’s no single answer that’s right for all situations, it’s a question worth asking about all RFP response writing: Is this too salesy? Read on for an elaboration of this important topic . . .

And I quote, from front and back covers and preface: “The Ultimate Photographic Guide.  This definitive field guide . . .  innovative photography . . .  A unique fully integrated photographic approach for quick and easy identification of birds in the field . . .    No other work offers, for every North American bird species, the same combination of stunning iconography, including beautiful photographs and precise distribution maps; scientifically accurate and readable accounts of salient characteristics . . .  Furthermore, no other bird book introduces, in such an up-to-date and lavishly illustrated manner . . .  ”

Yikes.  Browsing through my new bird book for the western region of North America – the book I intend to leave in a box in someone’s back room here in Phoenix until my next sojourn in the Sonoran Desert – I begin to feel as if I might not be treating this innovative and stunning book with sufficient respect.

Worse, I begin to feel as if I might have missed the boat in selling my own book.  I did use “indispensable” on the front cover but in a humorous context, and the back cover explains what the heck it’s about and offers an endorsement, but otherwise I am pretty much relying on its content to sell it.

Starting in marketing, lo, these many years ago now, I was startled if not horrified at the boasting tone of so much of what I read.  Over the years my line moved, but I still cringe at a writing style that modifies every noun (definitive field guide, stunning iconography, salient characteristics . . .), especially without providing any, you know, data to support such claims.

I see different words in Proposal Land than in Publishing Land: words like world-class, state-of-the-art, rich, robust, extensive . . .  You get the (stunningly depicted) picture.  If I can’t persuade the writer or the executive in question to dispense with such content-free modifiers, I try to get quantifiable or at least verifiable data to soften the impact of that tone.

But here’s a book that’s been through Publishing Land and that uses words similar to those I eschew. (Bless you.) (Thank you.)  For my book, have I erred?

I don’t know.  Tolerance of, and requirement for, a sales tone varies by person as well as by application.  Me, I didn’t even read the cover or the preface of my new bird book until I got it home.  In the store, I noted its source (a natural history museum of good repute), and then flipped it open to see how it was organized and how the information was presented.  I read a few write-ups.  Then I did the same with a few other books.  How potential buyers of my book will tackle the go/no-go decision remains to be seen.

As for Proposal Land, have I erred in trying to drive out over-modified and under-substantiated  claims?  Nope.  And you can take that as your definitive guide.