Hey everybody, guess what my degree is in? Don’t worry, I’m not biased towards the superior communication skills of those of us who spent four long years cramming every inch of this language into and out of ourselves from every direction and at every angle. I’m sure we’re not better at reading, writing, and speaking English than someone else who’s last lit class happened in high school.
All joking aside, I see this over and over in marketing and it drives me absolutely crazy: a company will have their web design, supply chain, and organizational structure on point, but their posts, tweets, and press releases are nearly unintelligible. There are grammatical errors everywhere, and their sentence structure is terribly awkward. It’s difficult for the reader to determine what, if anything, is being promoted. Why do companies do this to themselves?
Marketing people, by our very nature, are salesmen (and women). Our job is to close the deal. First, we sell clients on ourselves; then, we sell the world on our clients. We’re charismatic and can get you to see our vision. For a long time, these skills were all you needed. Now, we live in an increasingly text-based culture. You still need a winning personality, but it has to be able to translate into the written word.
In a world where most of the “word of mouth” promotion happens in 140 characters or less, every word is significant. You need somebody who has the training to be able to accurately interpret not only the meaning but also the tone of incoming messages and deliver the most appropriate response in the narrow time frame available to them. An English degree is the most accurate example of that intensive training. For four years students of English read an unreal volume of material. We pick every piece apart, sometimes sentence by sentence, and write books and books’ worth of cultural, technical, and psychological analysis on that material. We know how words work, and where they came from. We can generate pages of grammatically-perfect writing in our sleep. English majors have the expertise that every organization with an English-speaking market will need on a daily basis.
English majors are also great at giving supporting evidence. Likability is still king in marketing, but people want to know why they should like you. The new consumer wants evidence, wants to meet other people who already have confidence in you. They don’t trust easily, and the more clear and concise your argument for yourself is, the easier you are to like.
Additionally, the Internet provides a paper trail that almost anyone can follow. Consumer Reports, Yelp, and Angie’s List are all based on a level of research that wasn’t previously available in consumer culture. With people researching things as mundane as where to eat lunch, there’s not much room for mistakes. A bad write-up followed by a poorly worded response can lead to a major loss in confidence. It’s important that your communication is honest, helpful, respectful, and enjoyable. Not only for the one customer you’re replying to, but for the 10,000 friends they’ll be telling about it later.