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Russians & Relationship Marketing

What Two Dead Russian Dudes Can Teach You About Relationship Marketing

Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky are probably the two best-known Russian authors…and they’ve held that title since the 1800’s.

In spite of relationship marketing being a relatively-new thing, there are a few key marketing lessons you can learn from these 100+ year-old Russian guys. Read on, and I’ll save you a few thousand pages of reading:

1. Keep it short

Let’s be honest – how many people can say they’ve read novels by both Dostoevsky and Tolstoy? Probably not many. The biggest reason? For most people, the length of their novels is a huge turn-off. War & Peace has even become a punchline – it’s now a poster child for long, dull books. Who wants to read a 1000+ page monstrosity about a cold Russian winter? Anyone? I didn’t think so.

The same thing can be said for your marketing communications. If it’s a long read, you can bet the message isn’t getting across. If you receive an email that looks like this:

A too-long email message

…you probably won’t even make it through the first paragraph. Am I right?

The shorter your marketing messages, the better they convert.

2. Keep it simple

Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina revolves around more than 30 important characters (and that’s not even counting the non-essential characters). For most people, it’s just a little hard to follow.

Again, apply this to your marketing messages, and you can see the issue. I know your product has lots of features. But no one wants to read about all the features of your product in one email.

As a better option, why not segment your audience based on which features they need most? Determine their pain points, then show them the single feature of your product that fills their needs. I’m more likely to buy a product that solves my biggest problem, rather than buy a product that solves a ton of little problems I never knew I had – aren’t you?

Simplify your messaging. Stick to the relevant points, and let your prospects find the details on their own.

3. Write like a human

To me, this is the most important lesson to be learned from these two Russian authors.

Good corporate writing = bad marketing writing.Both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky wrote brilliant, smart books dealing with complex issues. But reading them is like night and day. When Dostoevsky writes about a big, sticky topic like religion, he explores every detail of the issue. And he usually does it in long sentences full of complex clauses.

Tolstoy, on the other hand, explores the same topic differently. He’ll just show two characters having a conversation about it.

By writing shorter sentences, Tolstoy’s message is easy to read and understand – whereas Dostoevsky’s more complex messaging takes time to digest. It doesn’t make it any more or less brilliant – but if the goal is communication, Tolstoy wins, hands-down.

In marketing, it’s no different. Writing conversationally can have great results. I’m not saying you should break all the rules of grammar – but a sentence fragment here or there isn’t going to make someone shut the door on you.


Even if you’re selling to someone in a large enterprise, it doesn’t mean you need to write stiff copy. Lighten up a bit. Write how you talk, and you’ll put your prospects more at ease. (Assuming you don’t talk like Boomhauer. And even that might work sometimes.)

Write how you talk. Have a conversation with your prospects. Don’t write at them – talk to them.

What do you think? When it comes to marketing communications, is simple better? Or are there times when you need to break all the rules above?

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