Today's guest post comes from Brad Shorr, Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, an Internet marketing company in Chicago that provides SEO, PPC and web design services.
Want your website and marketing content to produce more sales?
You need to write like a human to make that happen.
Let’s take a look at how you can turn content that feels like this:
into content that feels like this:
The most important part of writing like a human is to avoid words and phrases that create separation between the writer and the reader.
Data’s “Ode to Spot” contains healthy sentiments, but uses cold, clinical phrasing that sucks all the life out of them. In contrast, Rudyard Kipling’s classic poem “If,” beautifully read by Harvey Keitel, uses simple and straightforward words that fill us with inspiration.
When marketing content is riddled with industry jargon and business school language, readers cannot relate to it and may not even understand it. I’ve written extensively about how to replace jargon with human phrasing at our Internet marketing services agency, including this list of 150 jargon fixes. Here are a few examples:
- Human capital - Ironically, few pieces of business jargon are as dehumanizing as human capital. Much better to speak of employees, workers, laborers, workforce, crew or staff.
- Key takeaways - A puffed-up way of describing important points.
- Pain point - Replace with problem, challenge, frustration, difficulty or headache.
A scholarly tone — or more often, a pseudo-scholarly tone — forces the reader to look up to you rather than across from you. While this communication dynamic is OK for school environments, it is no good for business, which takes us to the second point.
Talk to, not up or down to
In the business world, prospects and customers want to be treated as equals with sellers. Talking down to them with jargon not only creates separation, it makes prospects and customers feel inferior, which creates resentment. Resentment is not conducive to making a sale.
At the same time, content that smothers prospects with insincere praise is just as bad, as it makes them feel they are being manipulated. When content sends that signal, buyer defense mechanisms kick in and kick away any opportunity for a sale.
Learn the language of the customer
How do you talk on an equal level with buyers? You do it by learning their language. If you want to really master copywriting in a particular industry, go into the field with sales reps, and listen.
Or better yet, learn how to review live chat transcripts.
What words do the buyers use? What problems do they have? How do they describe those problems? Why do they resist buying, and how do they express that resistance? Human copywriting hinges on a writer’s ability to answer these questions with precision.
Another great way to learn the language of the buyer is to study SEO and PPC keywords. Keyword analysis is not just for nerds. The search phrases buyers use most when looking for the products and services you sell are the phrases you should be using in your content — not only because they boost SEO, but also because they are the words your prospects favor.
Keep it simple
Complex sentence structures are bad for business. If your sentence needs a colon or semicolon, try breaking it into two or three sentences.
Image Credit: Semi-Colonoscopy © Brad Shorr
Here’s a counterintuitive observation. People assume complicated sentences are the product of an overeducated copywriter, but I’ve noticed that writers who truly understand the subject are able to write about it in simple terms. It’s the writers who haven’t mastered the subject who get tangled up in their thinking — and thus in their writing.
Good salespeople know buying decisions always involve, or are even driven by, emotion. Marketers sometimes forget this, and more importantly, internal editors may fail to appreciate it at all.
In larger organizations in particular, company leadership and legal departments sometimes feel the need to sanitize marketing content. Internal editors from various departments sometimes push marketers to add more facts and figures about their pet initiatives, innovations and other accomplishments that may indeed be wonderful — but are not interesting to prospects.
Human marketing copy must first and foremost strike the right emotional chord. Then and only then will prospects be receptive to acting on factual information.
Use humor (carefully)
Everybody enjoys a good laugh now and then, even when they’re in the market for a cement mixer or podiatrist. A bit of humor here and there humanizes content, but you have to be careful. Too much humor may undermine confidence in your ability to mix cement or heal a bunion. And the wrong kind of humor may offend the people to whom you are trying to sell.
Don’t force it. If humorous writing doesn’t come naturally, there’s no need to make the attempt. If you feel the subject at hand doesn’t warrant humor, follow your gut.
People love a good yarn. Case studies and user reviews that describe how a product or service solved a real-life problem are arguably the most persuasive of all marketing content. Stories have conflict, mystery, problems and resolutions. Humans love these elements. We are fascinated by stories, and drawn to them. Your customers, sales reps and customer service teams have spectacular stories … and are just waiting for an enterprising copywriter to ask for them.
Don’t ignore rules of grammar
In closing, here is one thing not to do. Writing ungrammatically to mimic how people talk — for example, “between you and I” — is a shortcut-taker’s attempt to sound like a human, but unfortunately makes one sound like an uneducated human. This is not good for business. Shoddy copywriting weakens the brand image, making readers wonder whether your products and services are equally shoddy.