• Blaze Arizanov

Scott Diel on English-Language Marketing In Estonia

Copywriting, content marketing and promotional materials in English have long been something of a curate's egg when it comes to quality.

Some work is excellent, other offerings put up for public consumption would make virtually any native English speaker cringe.

In an interview originally with the the Estonian Marketing Association (Turundajate liit) website (link in Estonian), Tallinn-based freelance writer, U.S. citizen and long-term Estonian resident Scott Diel brings his experience and frank assessment to bear on what Estonian companies in particular are doing wrong (with a few examples in the accompanying pictures) in their English content, as well as what companies should look out for when hiring copywriters.

It sometimes seems every Estonian company creates English-language content for social media. What's the quality like?

I see this content and usually wonder if they really needed to create it. Did it bring any benefit? When I look at LinkedIn, the content put there by companies in this region (and I include Finland, too) is mostly crap. Most of it is just corporate 'hurrah' material, which reminds me very much of high school cheerleaders in the U.S. It probably made the head of marketing and CEO feel good, but nobody else cared.

This is a shame, because LinkedIn can be a powerful tool. I suppose companies use it because it's inexpensive. But when your content is poor, I don't see how it's worth it. A reader is an organism that builds up a resistance. The more garbage you feed him or her, the more he or she learns to ignore it. The more content he or she sees which is similar to yours, the less he or she is going to be able to see yours, too. Consumers see your logo or company name and automatically turn away. If you're going to create and distribute content, it pays to do it right.

But what is 'right'?

I think less is more. Decide what messages are important to you, choose the channels best to reach your audience, and then execute. If LinkedIn or Facebook is part of that mix, then great. But I don't think they should be added just because they're cheap or because everyone else is doing it.

How do you vet people like you who claim to be writers? How do you know who's full of garbage and who isn't?

Ask them for a list of publications. Then ask to see the material that's most relevant to your project or business. Ask for a couple of references, so other clients can tell you what it was like to work with the writer. No legitimate writer is going to take offense at this. If he or she does then don't work with them.

Then, once you've selected someone, start small. Give them a paid assignment for something that isn't super-critical. See how it goes. What was the result like? Did you like working with them?

What's the biggest weakness of English-language writing in Estonia?

Grammar, syntax, and all that aside, the biggest problem I see is that texts can be incredibly naive. The authors are often just parroting something they saw elsewhere, with the result being nothing but a meaningless pile of buzzwords.

Second, the text is often overly complicated and elaborate. I think if Estonians wrote more in English the way they talk in English (i.e. throwing out all the bullsh*t) then their writing would be much stronger.

You seem to focus on clear information and communication. Where does style and personality come into the equation?

Style is a secondary concern. Mostly, companies should just focus on the clear communication of their propositions. Quite frankly, most companies are so concerned with being "safe" that they don't have any detectable personality, even though they think they do. An organization's culture is often highly visible in person, but rarely detectable in its communications. First things first. Make it clear. Then you can worry whether your text has flair.

Regarding the artsy work you do: Is that a plus or minus for corporate clients?

Regardless of what kind of writer you are I think it's important to have creative outlets where you yourself make absolutely all the decisions. Maybe you write books or screenplays or whatever, but having that outlet allows you to write the content that your clients need.

You are then not tempted to hijack your client's case study and turn an article about lean manufacturing into part of your personal oeuvre. It can then be simply a case study on manufacturing, which is what the client wanted. It doesn't mean you won't try to produce the coolest case study ever, but it does mean you won't pollute the process with your own personal ambitions.

I saw this a lot in New York advertising. Every copywriter had a novel in their drawer, but few had published anything. These were the ones who always talked about how "advertising is art." They were frustrated writers working as copywriters, which isn't a good combination. They became angry and bitter and they snapped at clients over nothing. It's like a waiter in L.A. who really wants to be an actor but for whatever reason hasn't gotten the big break yet. He's not really thinking about the food or your dining experience.

Do Estonian brands often have ineffective English-language messages?

Many Estonian brands come under fire for their silly use of English. But I suppose the returns from English-language marketing probably don't justify the costs of doing it right for most Estonian brands. The biggest brands, and here I'm thinking of mobile phone providers, alcohol, etc., are just looking to sell to their own countrymen. So why spend money on English marketing?


Scott Diel was interviewed by Silja Oja of the Turundajate liit.

For an expanded version of this interview, click here

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Well done. Chat you on Friday!