Cannon Fodder

From Cannon’s “About” page:
Cannon has been providing Reliable Responsive Solutions to clients since 1976.
Cannon has earned a reputation for excellence, skillful organization, efficiency, precision, and innovative design solutions.
Quiz: which of these Cannon companies does this apply to?

I keep seeing sites of companies who feel they don’t have to explain themselves.

The other day I saw a CraigsList ad: “Cannon is hiring a temp technical writer!”

I looked into it because maybe they wanted technical copywriting for a marketing campaign. Also, the company is located just a few miles up the freeway from me.

What kind of technology were they involved with? I didn’t know which  Cannon it was.  Google showed me several different companies called Cannon.

Many of them turned out to be civil engineering companies. They talk about themselves in similar language. Each of them expect that you already know everything about Cannon.

Therefore, they don’t feel it is necessary for them to explain what they do. They’re only interested in talking to industry insiders who already know Cannon’s capabilities.

Which one was it? Was it the Cannon that showed people climbing a mountain on their home page?

No, it was this other Cannon whose “About” page  also showed  mountain climbers:

One thing the two Cannons have in common is that neither of them cares to go into any detail to explain what it is that they do. “Dedicated industrial solutions” for one of them, “Reliable responsive solutions” for the other.

Instead, each of them tell you their opinion of themselves using abstract language that ranks very low on the Readability Index. They don’t care if you read it or not. So they wouldn’t be interested in my services as a technical copywriter.

The CraigsList ad said that what they were looking for was a proposal writer skilled in compliance, and able to deliver a “report-like document.” I don’t know what a “report-like document is. Perhaps it is an industry term.

Smaller companies look at sites like this and think this is how big companies do it, so they try to emulate the pedantic tone of abstract principles.

My theory for smaller companies is that, since nobody knows anything about you, you might as well start with a clear plain explanation of what you offer to the world.

Clear plain explanations

By converting your technical information into a clear plain explanation, I can display your competitive advantages to a wider audience.

TorrLube’s home page gives you only aspirational generalities about tribology. Click picture for larger version.

How to break out of the center-of-the-world complex.

If you’re trying to expand your customer base,  you have to be specific about what you are offering.

Here’s what I did for TorrLube, a small company that for fifteen years has been selling a specialty lubricant called PFPE to the semiconductor industry for $5,000 a pint.

You can buy PFPE from the competition for $400 a pint. How does TorrLube command such a premium price?

You can’t find out from their home page. All they tell you is that they’re committed to working with engineers; they eliminate guesswork, they push the boundaries of what is known. Your headaches will decrease.

Their existing customers in the semiconductor industry already realize how much better TorrLube is than the competition. It goes without saying.

I condensed TorrLube’s story into a 260-word elevator pitch. Click to see full-size page.

They told me they wanted to expand into the aerospace industry. I created a clear plain explanation for them.

It was fun to learn about ultra-high-vacuum lubrication. Like a lot of tech companies, TorrLube was blasé about their own accomplishments because they were so familiar with their own esoterics. Their target audience was tribology engineers. There was no need to explain anything to their fellow engineers.

Part of the invisibility of TorrLube’s site is that they bill themselves as “unparalleled.” This may be true. But it doesn’t tell anybody anything. We don’t know what parallels are being talked about. The text gives us no foundation of knowledge to stand on.

I looked at several testimonials from engineers in the semiconductor industry. Many of them said, “I know why your product is worth the money, but I can’t get the suits and bean-counters to sign on.”

So I created a clear plain explanation for them. I studied their information and interviewed the owner and the upper echelon of TorrLube staff to get more information. I studied their foremost competitors. I saw that every other manufacturer was selling their product as a commodity. You want PFPE? Click here to buy.

Then, I presented a draft of information and re-interviewed the TorrLube engineers, now that I had a glimmer of what they were doing. They corrected my mistakes and pointed out new things they hadn’t thought of mentioning before.

I pushed for more explanations of their technology. I told them that my plan was to write about their technology until I got it right, with them correcting me along the way.

Eventually I condensed it into 260 words and a couple of pictures.

I specialize in finding out what is interesting about you.

Technical companies don’t need copywriting flimflam to sell their products. They need clear, rational explanations, not verbal cosmetics. Forcing their unique achievements into the straightjacket of buzzwords won’t help.

I present the facts in a sequential manner. When I begin a job for you, I am a person encountering your company for the first time, and I create a presentation that will demonstrate what I learn about you.

I aim the text at people who might not already know everything about you.


Hi Colin,
I am very impressed with the draft you created. I think you did a great job highlighting the differences between TorrLube and the competition. The copy is really good.

I also like how you touched on TorrLube history with Sputtered Films and I think you did a fantastic job illustrating how the distillation process separates out the narrow band of high performance molecules.

Overall, I think the page looks great. Very well done!

Jason Floyd
Marketing Director
The TorrLube Company