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All Marketers Should Read Hemingway


  Ernest Hemingway_1953 
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I was explaining to some colleagues last month as we were trying to develop some key messages for an upcoming campaign. I said I wanted each message boiled down to both a three word phrase and a one sentence message.

That’s all the attention you can reasonably expect from anyone these days. If the three words aren’t enough to compel someone to read your one-sentence message, then you’ve lost them. Those three words are crucial.

At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old man, I find myself appalled at the lack of education kids are getting these days. People graduate with communications degrees yet don’t have to read or study poetry. Even just a little.  Both are important training for .

I got to thinking about this as I was reading that explains how reporters are increasingly using microblogs like Twitter on the job. The reporter made the point that services like Twitter, with their 140 character limits, have brought journalism full circle, in a sense. "Despite the new gadgetry, these journalists are actually rediscovering telegraphese — the clipped (ideally witty) style that flourished
because of word limits imposed by an earlier technology, the telegraph.
Today, it is the limits imposed by text-messaging."

Hemingway’s early writing experience, first at The Kansas City Star and then as a foreign correspondent with the Toronto Star, shaped his writing style. The short, vigorous, declarative sentences of the KC Star style guide became a hallmark of his fiction. And, in order to save money, telegraph dispatches he filed from France for the Toronto Star were boiled down to the essentials.

In contrast to his contemporary, , Hemingway’s fiction is spare. His "iceberg" theory of writing left much unsaid and left only the bare essential words on paper. It’s often said that Hemingway’s work uses the vocabulary of a high school student.

The point, of course, is that Hemingway whittled his message down to make it as compact as possible. The same is true, especially, of poetry. Choosing the precise words and strictly only the words that are needed is the thing when writing poetry.

Marketing, of course, is not literature but the skills to write poetry and compact prose will serve you well.

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About David Erickson

David Erickson is principal of e-Strategy Media, a digital marketing consultancy based in Minnesota. David has extensive experience in digital marketing and is often used as an expert source by media and asked to speak on the topic before organizations and to sit on panel discussions.

4 Comments

  1. Bela on February 19, 2008 at 5:02 00 pm CST

    Just some comments here:

    “Read Hemingway, read poetry.” Great advice.

    About Hemingway’s vocabulary: actually, according to a test some writer friends and I did, using e-texts of Hemingway’s short stories and four of his novels, copy/pasted and checked in Word Perfect, using Corel’s esteemed “Grammatik” program for determining readability, etc., Hemingway had a “written vocabulary” of fewer than 5,000 unique words, and he wrote on a 4.2 grade level (fourth year, second month). Fourth grade! Not surprising when you discover that major newspapers score eighth grade reading levels. Stephen King comes in at about mid-fifth grade, Koontz is much lower. John Updike scored “highest” of those we checked — our Updike sample was not as large as it should have been, but on the tested material, his prose checked at 13.2. We didn’t check Henry James or Proust.

    Hope you enjoyed that. : )

    Bela



  2. Bela on February 19, 2008 at 10:02 37 am CST

    Just some comments here:

    “Read Hemingway, read poetry.” Great advice.

    About Hemingway’s vocabulary: actually, according to a test some writer friends and I did, using e-texts of Hemingway’s short stories and four of his novels, copy/pasted and checked in Word Perfect, using Corel’s esteemed “Grammatik” program for determining readability, etc., Hemingway had a “written vocabulary” of fewer than 5,000 unique words, and he wrote on a 4.2 grade level (fourth year, second month). Fourth grade! Not surprising when you discover that major newspapers score eighth grade reading levels. Stephen King comes in at about mid-fifth grade, Koontz is much lower. John Updike scored “highest” of those we checked — our Updike sample was not as large as it should have been, but on the tested material, his prose checked at 13.2. We didn’t check Henry James or Proust.

    Hope you enjoyed that. : )

    Bela



  3. David Erickson on February 26, 2008 at 4:27 00 pm CST

    Bela,

    Thank you very much. That’s fascinating information!



  4. David Erickson on February 26, 2008 at 9:27 01 am CST

    Bela,

    Thank you very much. That’s fascinating information!



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