Counting flies and typos to find ROI

Ask anyone in marketing or journalism whether spelling counts, and you’ll get a resounding yes. Typos of any kind hurt.

They signal lack of attention, they erode the consumer’s trust and they’re embarrassing. When readers have little else to judge a writer or a publication, they resort to what they do know, like spelling. It’s like people judging the frame of a house by the paint, or the mechanical condition of a car by the way it “drives.” They’re like a grocery store with flies buzzing around or a dentist who dresses like a slob.

Professionals in every line of work try like hell to avoid those flies in the air. But at some point, of course, the grocer gives up. Sometimes the flies just keep coming back and there’s nothing short of calling out the Army that can kill them all.

For typos, what is that point when you have to give up? At what cost is it no longer worth trying to prevent misspellings, malaprops, bad syntax and other gremlins of writing?

I hear consensus among those I know who use ink stains to indicate their tribe: all proofreading is well spent. Pressed further, they often resort to statements like “Well, everybody knows…” blah, blah.

Imagine the day when a CEO tells his chief marketing officer, “I know. Our catalog’s quality is crucial. Typos are poison. But it’s a tough time. We’ve got to make cuts.”

The marketing exec could lay off the one copyeditor, forcing everyone else to do more. The catalog, not to mention the ezines, web pages, printed brochures and directories, would all lose luster. It’d be like a neighborhood that had slipped.

How can the marketing exec defend that copyeditor? What is the return on a dollar spent on proofreading?

Obviously, it matters who reads it. Typos mean more to well educated older people than they do to one segment of younger people for whom spelling doesn’t seem to matter at all.

Has anyone measured the return? I would like to see any empirical guide—even a solid clue—for any market anywhere. Flies count, but how much?

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