The poetic metric

How is marketing like a poem?

In 1862 when Emily Dickinson was unknown beyond her hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts, she wrote to T. W. Higginson, who was a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, in response to advice he’d written for emerging writers. Dickinson wrote:

Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?

She enclosed poems she’d written.

Our marketing materials—a video ad, a direct mail postcard, a fundraising appeal letter, an instagram post—are akin to poems.

What matters is whether they are alive.

Eight years later, when Higginson visited Dickinson’s home and they met for the first time, she offered her litmus test for whether something qualified as poetry:

If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way? (L342a)

When we write a marketing message, this is our goal: to make the recipient feel as if the top of her head were taken off.

When we are evaluating a design layout to decide if it’s ready to print or upload, this is our goal: does it stop us in our tracks to such a degree that it makes our whole body so cold no fire can warm us?

We cannot be a genius every time (even Dickinson wasn’t), but it’s a worthy goal to measure ourselves by the poetic metric.

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