I’ve been spending a good deal of time over the last month researching and exploring how to improve written communications with clients and customers. Working, as I do with a lot of professionals who have detailed and often complicated information they need to convey, it’s a challenge that I encounter daily. So, I thought I’d write about some of the tips and ideas I’ve been sharing with them.
The one thing that really struck home from my research was how simple much of the advice is, yet how often it is ignored. Here are just three ways we can all improve our business writing and marketing materials.
Don’t flood your reader with information
How often have you read a website, company brochure or even an email and given up before you’ve really got to the point?
Don’t fall into that trap. Organise the information you want to convey, make sure everything you write is relevant to your reader and use the right techniques to structure the information (sub headings, bullet points and so on) to make it easier to absorb.
Renowned copy writer Drayton Bird emphasises the importance of cutting out the waffle or as Roman and Raphaelson (‘Writing that Works’) would have it ‘don’t mumble’. This includes avoiding writing to try and show authority or knowledge when actually there is no valuable content in what you’ve penned. So as Roman and Raphaelson say – don’t write “It is generally desirable to communicate your thoughts in a forthright manner. Toning your point down and tiptoeing around it may, in many circumstances, tempt the reader to tune out and allow his mind to wander”. Instead write “don’t mumble” or better still “don’t waffle”.
I love the often quoted: “If I had had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.” Whether it was Mark Twain, President Lincoln or George Bernard Shaw who said it, I think they had a point. If you are writing for business purposes and especially if you are writing marketing materials you really must take the time and edit ruthlessly.
Keep it short and simple
Don’t show off when you are writing marketing materials. Avoid long or obscure words, complicated sentence construction and paragraphs that go on forever. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. You will be better understood as well as easier on the eye.
Use down to earth language and write as you would speak. Above all, avoid jargon, especially management jargon. “Strategic fit”, “best practice” and “thinking outside the box” might have a place in some organisations but are rarely useful in clear copy.
A good tip all copywriters follow is to read the work out loud. If it doesn’t sound convincing, change it.
Be clear about what you want your reader to do
This is a real bug bear of mine when I receive letters or emails from potential suppliers trying to sell me their services. I had one the other day which not only mumbled and contained very little relevant information but failed to tell me what I was supposed to do.
It was a letter from a print company which mentioned about their new offices and how they’ve been in business for 25 years. They told me all about the type of press they have and I think even included prices but I remember thinking “so what”. I certainly was not inspired to take action as a result, other than to screw the letter up in disgust and drop it in the bin.
It may sound obvious – but if you want your reader to call you – tell them. Provide them with the number you want them to call you on, don’t just rely on them finding it at the bottom of your email, on your letterhead or on the contact page of your website. If you are a printer and want the opportunity to quote on the next print job I put out – ask me to give you that opportunity. Be 100% clear what you want your reader to do – after all, if you’re not clear, how can you expect them to be?
The next time you are writing marketing copy, have a proposal to write to a client or are struggling with a letter of advice, have a think about these basic guidelines – keep it simple, stick to the relevant information only, don’t waffle and be clear on what you want your reader to do.