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The Basketball Diaries and Finding Your Voice

Most of us in the SLS Consulting office are avid readers. So in July 2017, we started an office book club. Each book club member (going alphabetically by first name) had to suggest a book we would all read…or at least, chat about. Books had to be about 300 pages or under, and we would meet once a month to discuss them. So far, the genres we’ve read have included gritty realism, social commentary, comic science fiction, British “whodunit,” 1960s dystopian fiction, and magical realism. This is the first of a series of SLS blogs in which we take what we learned from a book club book and apply it to marketing.

The first book we read was The Basketball Diaries by lauded punk poet and singer-songwriter Jim Carroll. The book is made up of actual diary entries the author made from ages 12 to 15, a period spanning, roughly, 1963 to 1966. These entries chronicle the adventures and misadventures of a basketball prodigy coming of age on the mean streets of New York City during a very turbulent time. The book portrays the young athlete’s descent into drug addiction, while also finding his voice as a writer. It is not for the squeamish, and might be described as “postcards from A Season in Hell,” in reference to the original punk poet, Arthur Rimbaud.

What could we learn about marketing from such a non-marketing book?

In our opinion, voice.

Just as in literature, voice in marketing is derived from an amalgamation of elements such as vocabulary, syntax, cadence, sentence structure, and imagery. Writing marketing material is not like writing ad copy, nor is it like writing an instruction manual–it lies in that murky, gray area somewhere in between. It needs to be enticing, while not being flowery. It needs to be informative, while not being dry. Overall, it needs to inspire trust in the reader.

Inspiring trust is not just important in the written content of a marketing campaign; it is vital to the entire presentation. The graphics, the colors, how user-friendly a web page is—all do their part to connect with your desired audience. A law firm’s marketing campaign shouldn’t be full of legalese that the average person wouldn’t understand, but it also shouldn’t be a laundry detergent ad. It needs to lay out the facts of the potential clients’ situation, while also giving them the impression that the firm is there to help. Remember, people aren’t coming to your website to admire your thesaurus skills.

Hemingway isn’t Shakespeare, nor was he trying to be. But, he was painting an equally elaborate picture, just using a different voice. In legal writing, we’d recommend being Hemingway, instead of Shakespeare. (Your clients will thank you.)

When a person searches for an attorney, it is usually in a time of crisis: a child has been arrested, he or she is going through a divorce, is being threatened with foreclosure, has been injured in an accident, has lost a loved one. Web users seek information, and they seek assurance. An astute marketing campaign will provide them with both. A calm, informative, and reassuring voice is what a successful attorney’s website should strive for.

At SLS Consulting, every department goes out of their way to connect with clients. We want to know exactly what an attorney wants from us, what their priorities are, and what their philosophy is. This is why we insist on phone conferences that include the entire SLS staff. Our ultimate goal is to connect you with the demographic you want to serve.

The final entry in The Basketball Diaries finds Jim Carroll a full-blown junkie, disillusioned with his life, but determined to follow his newly discovered muse: Writing. The last line of the book is “I just want to be pure…” That’s what the voice of a marketing campaign should be: Pure.

Pure, as in authentic. A marketing campaign’s voice should directly reflect the product it is promoting.


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