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Many of the torpid rules about writing can be safely tossed aside. The hoopla about the minutiae of grammar and beginning a sentence with this and that shouldn’t bother you too much – saying what you mean to say clearly is much more important.
True, it is often the case that you have to know the rules of grammar before you can break them. But once you get the tone right – the bedrock of one-to-one communications – don’t sweat about ending a sentence with a preposition (unless you really want to).
As we often say to impish kids, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. So more than anything your tone must be appropriate.
Consider the reader. Whether you are addressing institutions, a B2B audience, high net worth clients or high street shoppers, you have to give them what they expect in terms of knowledge and confidence – you have to show you know their business and your subject.
But you should remember that – like you – they probably enjoy diversions and surprise. So sometimes it’s fitting to lob in a phrase that they might not expect. To rouse them. Great direct mail practitioners do this all the time because they focus on the one-to-one experience.
And language evolves, sometimes at emoji speeds, so it’s best to keep up.
Don’t get me wrong, precision is essential. You still need to hone your arguments so they are as sharp as shark’s teeth. And you should be wary about being overfamiliar until you get to know people a little better.
But don’t worry so much about the writing rules of yore.
* I didn’t use the phrase in the end, not because it was inappropriate, but because I wasn’t making a calculation.
Much talk about branding is dubious. Hopping aboard the brandwagon is a prolific pastime causing the true nature of branding to be often shrouded or positioned ephemerally by those keen to avoid scrutiny. But building a brand is not just about your logo, your followers, your palette or your public face – your identity – and it applies to all businesses.A resilient brand is largely powered by one fundamental thing: your promise to your customer.
Keeping your promise is essential. Even in an era of fancy-pants metrics and whizzy analytics the strength of your brand is crucial. While a Forrester Research figure – 57% of a buying decision is made before your client is even in contact with you – is often touted, this shouldn’t be taken strictly at face value. For example, it depends on the product and whether you simply want to get something quickly and cheaply.
Many of us don’t care if our headache tablets don’t have a swish logo, as long as the basic ingredients do the trick.
Nonetheless, if you intend to be in business for the long haul, what you bring to the table before prospects sit at it matters a lot.
Once you crack brand gold, the result is emotional. This is driven by your customer experience. Drink and food companies build strong brands by creating consistent products over and over for loyal consumers.
And as much as it is difficult to build a great brand, they can be destroyed faster than a ‘total crap’ comment. Remember the great brand Orange built? Even before it was gobbled up by EE it had become just another inaccessible, unfriendly telco.
While many in marketing don’t have a say over the quality of a brand’s products, the elements within our control are most aspects of customer contact.
- Your advertising and marketing must reflect the values of your brand, not just engage in fleeting trickery.
- Your website and other comms need to live and breathe those values/promises throughout.
- Your contact points have to be suitable and approachable – if you trade on personal service and you have no contact name, an info@name sets a rubbish tone.
It doesn’t matter what kind of business you operate, your interactions with your customers have to deliver on the promise of what you stand for.
For some delicious insights on branding, John Murphy
founded Interbrand and pretty much reinvented and popularised the whole game.
He’s written a book about his experiences – Brandfather.
Digging deep benefits your customers and you.
In sectors (eg, finance) where points of differentiation are not always immediate, unearthing the gold which sets you apart is critical in prompting people to choose you.
You may have lower fees than most of the competition, have research capabilities that are almost unequalled, investment pros living in more countries or offer extraordinary service.
Identifying these things is the first step. Then you must dig down to really show how they are better and how they make a difference to clients. Say it, then back it up.
You may indeed do nothing that sets you apart from your peers, but the fact that you talk about factors that matter to people – when others don’t – could easily tip the nod in your favour.
Digging and shouting also makes it easier for readers to decide within a sector. Because it helps them overcome what psychologists call choice overload. Too much choice (or similar choices) means we often make no decisions at all. (Think of all that money getting hammered by low interest rates because people can’t decide between money managers!)
All sectors, whether B2C or B2B, benefit from careful excavation. Many carpet providers brag about the 1000s of carpets in stock. So what? But if you say your chief buyer spent 15 years cranking a loom in Persia that could matter. Or if your rugs are 20% softer because of a special weaving process and typically last six years longer. Etc.
So the next time you are thinking of saying that you offer a tailored service, think about how much more meaning you could add by a little digging.
And if you combine the gold you dig up, with triggers that confidently nudge people to act, you could have a very powerful proposition.
Just get in
touch to find out how.
One of the main roles of marketing (and copywriters in particular) is to help a reader overcome their natural objections. This can be tricky to do as the default option of most people is inertia. Readers don’t want to buy, read, explore, invest, sell, donate – not a sausage – unless you give them a good enough reason to do something.
So if you make an assertion – even the teeniest claim – you must be able to back it up.
Here are some examples of what you say that may cause a reader to think twice about considering you.
We guarantee it – if you pepper your literature with talk of guaranteed service or guaranteed satisfaction you must explicitly reveal what the guarantee is. And then stick to it without question. Same thing with awards: show what you have won (with links) if you say your service is award winning.
We care – smaller companies (and firms which make this a lynchpin of their business) can offered a tailored service, but bigger firms should tread lightly. It’s not believable for a high-street bank or phone provider to say everyone matters. Nor should it be. Promote something else like convenience, freedom or price.
Offering exemplary customer service – another claim that should be backed up with proof (testimonials work well) and rigorous adherence to that ethos. If you say you’re here to help, you must show this.
Sign up quickly – barring a simple email capture, many registrations are tedious and time consuming. Don’t make out that signing up for something is easier than it really is. (But saying it takes 3 mins, for example, really works.)
Free monthly newsletter – you sign up for something and after the initial flurry of useful content, the nuggets dry up. Customers feel short-changed when this happens, and feel you don’t deliver on your promises.
We’ll get back to you straight away – the dreaded info@ (or web-form) on a website makes readers feel their note or query slips into a black hole. If you use these devices, monitor them – and get back to prospects as soon as possible.
Call times and opening hours – if you say you have someone at the end of the phone 24/7, an answerphone at 6.15am won’t cut it. Or someone who sounds like they just stumbled out of bed.
So we know that making exaggerated claims about what you do is an absolute no-no, but even fairly innocuous statements demand your interrogation.
If you can’t balance your statements (‘...you could also lose money’), it’s best to understate and over-deliver. This thinking was behind one of the most successful headlines of all time, by the legendary copywriter (okay, in copywriting circles) Gary Bencivenga.
"How to get rich slowly”
Fix your headlines
According to advertising giant David Ogilvy (and many more), on average, 80% of people will read a headline – but only 20% will read the rest. Because your headline is the first thing the reader sees, try and squeeze a benefit in here. Or curiosity. Or news. At least a reason for the reader to delve into the rest of your text.
This rule applies across the board, but is often neglected on websites. ‘Our services’ just won’t cut it – why should you read about them? Do they save you time or keep your toes warmer for longer?
Make your writing easier to read
Before you click send, do a quick jargon check. You may know your industry inside-out but do your readers? Try using shorter sentences. US press associations found that sentences of around 14 words are fairly easy to read. But ploughing through 29 words or more is very difficult. Find a reasonable balance. And use smaller words in place of long ones. As author Elmore Leonard suggested, "Try to leave out the part(s) that readers tend to skip.”
Use testimonials (advises J. Caples, New York)
Testimonials add credibility quickly. Sure, they can be a pain to accrue, and some say that testimonials are overused. But would you buy anything on Amazon without reading the feedback? Or book a 5-star holiday without checking TripAdvisor ratings? Seeing testimonials on a website helps readers to take a mental shortcut that says, "I trust you more because of what others say about you.”
There are many things you can do to ensure your writing
works better for your readers. But tick these three tips off and you’ll likely make
a meaningful difference straightaway.
When you want to promote anything you should only ever think about the reader. Because otherwise you end up in the land of "we”, which spurs a similar mind-set as the land of nod. And no matter how chuffed you feel about your latest service, product, award or business win, you can only talk about these in ways where they benefit your reader.
When you script something on your website, send an email or tweet or pop something in the post, of course you need to talk about what you do, have done or are planning. But you need to do it in the context of why this matters to an audience.
"We’re proud to have won the blah blah blah award.” Yawn. "Because we helped 11,652 clients substantially reduce their inheritance tax last year we have won xxx.” Better.
"We’ve now launched the blah blah blah.” And? "To help you save money and give you more time to spend with your family, we have launched xxx.” Better.
"We recently landed a new contract to serve blah blah blah.” So what? "Because the region needed a firm which demonstrates outstanding safety and value for money we were awarded xxx.” Better.
Most ways to fix your messaging are not complicated. And if you go to battle against the excess of "we” in your communications who do you think will win?