What My Degree In Poetry Taught Me About Marketing

It’s kind of remarkable how helpful my degree in poetry has been to my current career. If you didn’t know, my education had nothing to do with any kind of business, marketing, or advertising.

I discovered a love of marketing and a talent for it in mid-life. But my background in writing was not wasted.

I have a BA in Creative Writing with an emphasis on poetry and a MA in Novel Writing. I have written and published novels and even ran my own small publishing company for a few years.

There are two big things I’ve noticed helped me immensely with marketing.

First: Specific Is Relatable

There’s a tendency to think that the more general we make something the more people will relate to it. Many business owners and marketers make this mistake when creating an ideal customer avatar.

Getting super specific is counter-intuitive.

But one of the most memorable lessons I got in poetry class was that the poems that are detailed and specific are the most powerful.

For example, the rich detail of description in this poem lets you see this character so well it hits your emotions:

If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath
I'd live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You'd see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. "Poor young chap,"
I'd say -- "I used to know his father well;
Yes, we've lost heavily in this last scrap."
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I'd toddle safely home and die -- in bed.

Siegfried Sassoon 

This one is also a great example of how extremely specific detail makes it more real and more believable. It’s very intense, though, so I’ll link rather than writing it out.

Don’t be afraid to fill your content with specific detail. The more detailed a description the more people will see themselves in it and be moved emotionally by it.

Second: Make Every Word Count

There is no room for fluff in poetry. In the process of revision you are always cutting back and tightening up. Extra words only weaken the power of the poem.

There’s no better example than Gwendolyn Brook’s We Real Cool. She wrote many amazing poems but this is probably her best known and it is incredibly efficient with words:

We real cool. We   
            Left school. We

            Lurk late. We
            Strike straight. We

            Sing sin. We   
            Thin gin. We

            Jazz June. We   
            Die soon.

The economy of words makes the emotions hit harder and we still see the story so clearly in these few lines.

I find the same is true of writing headlines and email subject lines. Once you’ve written one, take an editing pass and see if you can make it hit a little harder by losing any unnecessary words.

Tightening up your marketing writing often gives it more strength.

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