How to Carve an Elephant

Continuing on my joke theme, the title of this post is based on another long-time favorite:

“How do you carve an elephant?”
“Start with a block of stone, and cut away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant.”

The challenge in writing an effective ad or web page isn’t in figuring out what to say, it’s in figuring out what not to say. One of the hardest parts for clients and managers to understanding is that it’s okay to narrow your focus onto one specific audience or offer. Sure, it’ll miss for some audiences. But it’ll be a direct hit for others. You can’t say all things to all people, and you can always hit that other audience next time.

That’s why it’s important to define the audience and the goal at the very beginning.
And that’s where the joke comes in.

You don’t have to know exactly what your elephant is going to look like before you start, but you have to know you’re carving an elephant. Then, relentlessly cut away anything that doesn’t get you to that goal.

Now, there is a line here. Cut out anything extraneous, but not so much that you lose the actual point of your content. More Picasso than Rothko.

But it’s easy to know how much to write or how much to cut when you have a defined audience and a clear goal. Go in without that, and you’ll get exactly what you planned for. Nothing.


I decided to take my own shot at this topic after reading a few great posts in the last couple of weeks, like thisĀ one from Brain Traffic andĀ another from Copyblogger.