10 Things to Never Say in Your Marketing Copy

Are you looking at your marketing copy from your customers’ viewpoint–or your own? Is your marketing copy creating honest communication between you and your customer–or is it leaving them with unanswered questions?

Make a true connection by never saying these 10 things in your marketing copy:

  1. Never simply say you’re the best; prove you’re the best. It is far better to show your achievements, through testimonials, case studies, photographs, awards, achievements, and examples.
  2. Never use your marketing copy to disparage other companies. Why give your competitors free publicity? Instead, use that space to educate customers about what they should expect from a truly great provider (like you).
  3. Never threaten your customers with the dire consequences of not using your services. They know they have a problem; what they need are solutions.
  4. Never be vague about what you can and cannot deliver. Rather than saying you finish projects in “about” three weeks, provide a range or increase the time to a definite four weeks and make customers ecstatic when you deliver ahead of schedule.
  5. Never start your marketing copy with features when you can start with benefits; never drown your customer in a long list of capabilities when you can excite them with potential results.
  6. Never switch your audience in mid-stream. Talk to “you” (the customer) and make sure you (the business) know who that customer is at all times.
  7. Never make disparaging remarks about individuals who refused–or eventually accepted–your services. Customers shy away from a mean spirited provider.
  8. Never fill your marketing copy with 10-dollar words, jargon, and acronyms under the mistaken belief that they make you sound more knowledgeable. Your customers are already depending on you to be knowledgeable. Use everyday language they understand to explain what you do and why it works.
  9. Never allow typos, inconsistencies, or grammatical errors in your marketing copy. Proofread, proofread, proofread.
  10. Never write solely for search engines. Your customers are people. Write for people.

Marketing copy that is clear, precise, interesting, and focused on your customers will always be read. That’s the type of copy we write at TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Contact us today.

Grammar: When Good Copy Goes Bad

Mistakes in grammar pass by many a writer’s radar but they can cause huge problems with marketing copy.

For example, see if you can spot the error in this sentence: “The operations team reported an upward trend in efficiency, training, productivity, morale, failure rates, and innovation.”  An “upward trend” in failure rates would mean that the rates increased, not exactly something to boast about. The writer could fix this problem by changing “failure rates” to “operating life” or by starting another sentence with information about downward trends.

Many problems with grammar come from relying on the grammar checker that comes with Word. That grammar checker seems to hate the word “who,” leading to a proliferation of sentences where people are referred to as things: “The engineers that are responsible for this innovation….” ought to be “The engineers who are responsible for this innovation.” But try telling that to Word.

Common mistakes in grammar include random changes in verb tense from past to present and back again, indecision about whether a company should refer to itself as “we” or “it,” lists that change in midstream from phrases to whole sentences, and lack of agreement between noun and verb.

Why is bad grammar a problem?

  • First, as shown in our initial example, it can send the exactly wrong message to your readers.
  • Second, bad grammar is one of the markers for online scams, according to the founder and chairman of Identity Theft 911. You don’t want your message to be tagged as spam.
  • Third, bad grammar sounds unprofessional. Yes, the misuse of “that” for “who” is so common now that most people will accept it; but it still sounds bad (or it ought to!) and interrupts the smooth flow of your message.
  • Fourth, more and more companies are international. Your readers who speak English as a second language (and any translation software they use) will struggle needlessly if your English is grammatically wrong.
  • Finally, how can your readers trust the quality of your products and services if you can’t even describe them in standard English?

If you aren’t confident in your grammar, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications to review and edit your marketing or technical writing. Make sure your message goes out the way you intended.

10 Ways to Make Writing Easier

Professional writers love to write. But if writing is not your first career choice, you may find it slow at best and painful at worst. So here are 10 tips to make writing easier.

  1. Write first, edit last. Editing at the same time that you write is like taking a giant step back for every two steps forward. That voice in your head that keeps saying a word isn’t perfect or an idea could be expressed better–ignore it for now.
  2. Let the ideal first sentence wait. Holding out for that golden first sentence is frustrating, especially since the best opening sentence often emerges at the end, when your thoughts have coalesced. Start writing and the perfect first sentence will appear eventually.
  3. Start with the simplest structure–first to last, top 10, 3 ways to do something, or 3 reasons for taking action. Delete whatever doesn’t fit that structure. What you don’t use may become another day’s blog post or tweet. That’s a good thing.
  4. Write like you talk, because even your most sophisticated customer knows less about your product and service than you do. Share your knowledge; don’t struggle to sound like a marketing guru or subject-matter-expert. Your expertise will shine through and more important, everyone will understand your message quickly.
  5. Keep your audience in mind. Your goal is not to make yourself sound and look good; your goal is to solve a problem for your customers. Keep your eye on their problem and your solution.
  6. Know your limits. You may be able to write a 300-word blog but trying to write a 1000-word insight paper gives you an overwhelming urge to run away from home. The solution is to keep doing blogs, but wait until you can hire a professional to write insight papers. Alternatively, you may eventually be able to combine 3 or 4 of your related blogs into one long paper.
  7. Review with a fresh eye. Put away the finished piece for at least 24 hours. But remember to take it out again! The review is important.
  8. Edit, don’t destroy. Your goal is to improve what your wrote, not throw it away. Keep your attention on important fixes: Look for sentences longer than 18 words (no period, no colon), words longer than 3 syllables, strings of adjectives or adverbs, inconsistencies ($5M, $5 million), misspellings, and vague words (“on time”) when you could be specific (“within 4 days”).
  9. Listen to outside reviewers–mostly. Ask only one or two people to review and ask them to concentrate on errors or confusion in the content; don’t start debates over synonyms or serial commas. But pay attention to what they say. If you refuse to listen to your reviewers, find new reviewers you will listen to.
  10. Know when to stop. Your marketing copy starts working for you when you send it out into the real world. Words can always be edited after they’ve had a chance to make an impact. Give them a chance to start.

What approaches have you found helpful in easing the pain of writing? Please share them. And if you want totally painless writing, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, where our words mean business.

When Marketing Copy Confuses Customers: What Next?

As much as business owners try to communicate clearly, sometimes customers still find marketing copy confusing.

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize four basic ways that marketing copy confuses customers:

  • Confusion over the message. One of my clients began by helping her clients work through financial issues and then found herself offering advice on straightening out their staff and customer relations. Her background and education made her a gifted consultant in all three areas; but her marketing copy stayed focused on finance, creating confusion for potential clients and referrals. We worked together to sharpen her mission and suddenly everything she offered fell into place.
  • Confusion over the audience. Another client, a website developer, never quite defined his customers’ level of expertise. Part of the time his marketing copy assumed customers recognized high-tech jargon and acronyms; part of the time his copy defined basic concepts in excruciating detail. Customers were either baffled or bored. We settled on a middle course, cutting back on the jargon, acronyms, and explanations to focus on benefits to all his customers. After all, what customers want to know most is: What do I get out of it?
  • Confusion over organization. A company started its marketing copy by listing the products it manufactured–but then the rest of the marketing copy ignored those products entirely and focused on the manufacturing process. Customers want to know where marketing copy is headed. If you say you have four products, they want to read about four products, not three products and a process. If you say regulatory compliance is important, they want to hear about compliance. Guide them carefully along or you’ll lose them in poor organization.
  • Confusion over individual words. Sometimes marketing copy uses the wrong word (for example, “intransient problem” instead of “intransigent problem”). Sometimes it piles on adjectives (“this extraordinary, unparalleled, unique opportunity”) as if more adjectives equal more information. In either case, I always advise clients to use the simplest and most precise language they can–to write like they talk when they are talking to their favorite customers.

Let’s make sure your marketing copy never confuses customers. I’ll help you define your message, audience, and organization, and then choose the right words to grab and keep their attention. Contact TWP today.

How Do I Tell a Marketing Story about My Business?

Q. I’m a small business owner, and I carve gift items out of wood. Everywhere I look for marketing advice these days, the gurus tell me to tell a story. I enjoy what I do but where’s the story? I buy wood, I carve an item, people buy it. End of story, right?

The problem with doing something really well is that it’s easy to forget that other people can’t do it. When I hear that you carve gift items out of wood, I want to know more: What drove you to that business, what tools do you use, what types of wood, what advice would you give me for taking care of the item I purchase, what advice would you give me if I were interested in learning about wood carving?

Each of those questions is the gateway to a marketing story, about you, your skills, and your relationship with customers.

How do you tell your marketing story so that it resonates with potential customers? The best stories feature:

  • An appeal to the senses: Write about the smell of sawdust, the textures of different woods, or how a tool interacts with the wood.
  • Interesting characters: Write about a customer who came in searching for a gift for a special occasion. Write about your fellow woodcarvers or your own history.
  • Interesting events: Write about the journey wood makes from the forest to your workshop or the process that turns a random piece of wood into a beautiful gift.
  • A clear purpose: Motivate potential and current customers to purchase or to spread information about your business.

Stories about your small business and your customers are all around you. You may need to take a step back to see them–but they do exist and they are interesting.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes memorable marketing stories for B2C and B2B businesses, large and small. Contact us today and let us tell your story.

How Can I Focus My Website?

Q. You often say that the best marketing message for customers is: I can solve your problem. But how do I figure out what a customer’s problem is? How do I focus my website’s marketing message for a customer I never talk to?

A. You have a point: If you had a storefront, you would know a customer’s problem right way–you would walk up to the customer and ask, “How can I help you?”

In a way, your website needs to do the same thing.

When you started your business, you must have identified some need in the community or industry that your business would fill. Whether that need is for shoes with velcro fasteners or software to fly a drone, your marketing message should concentrate on the specific types of customer who have the exact need you are aiming to fill. You can not reach “everyone.” Whether by walking in your physical store or by searching online, most customers will self-select based on the problem they believe you can solve. Your website should focus on those customers and your solution.

Are you wondering whether your customer’s needs have changed? Your website’s “contact us” page should allow customers to email or call with questions. By keeping track of those questions, you’ll have a good handle on what your customers are looking for and whether your website and mission are meeting their needs.

Q. My company offers lots of products and services and we’re great at all of them. How do I know what marketing message I should focus on?

A. Let your customers help you decide. First, as explained above, you should ask yourself what what problems your customers need you to solve. Your marketing message should focus on providing solutions. Then ask: What solution brings you a steady income you can live with and the most satisfaction in providing? The hope is that a clear match occurs between what your customers need most and what you need most. Finally, go to the website of your favorite major retail store and study how they let customers drill down through multiple products and services. Give your customers some control over the solution they reach, and they will listen.

Do you have a question about marketing or technical writing? We’re happy to provide answers. Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, where our words mean business–and give your website just the right focus.

 

Exact Words Make for Stronger Writing

Your product is best-in-class; your projects are completed in a timely manner; your company is at the forefront of technology.

So what? Those claims can be made by anyone–by any competitor or even by a company in an entirely different field. Vague phrases tell your customers nothing. When you use exact words instead, you stand out.

Vague words come in two types: Generalities and bad grammar.

Generalities

What industry or internal standard did you meet to qualify as best-in-class; does “timely” means within days or within weeks; and what brought your company to the fore in technology? The answers to those questions are different for every company. They separate you from the pack.

In addition to stock phrases, such as best-in-class, companies often use words that sound specific, but aren’t. For example, they will say, “Our precision measurement …” or “Our expert engineering…” without explaining whether “precision” means to the inch or to 0.000035 cm or explaining what their engineers do that shows their expertise.

Facts, figures, examples, awards, case studies, testimonials: these all require exact words.

Testimonials are a special case. You never want to prod your customers into saying something they are not comfortable with. But you can ask them to relate a specific way in which you helped them or specific results they appreciated.

Bad Grammar

Vague words in marketing copy often confuse customers about who did what. For example, “We introduced the app to the marketplace once before but they ignored it.” Who is “we” and who are “they” and what “it” (the introduction, the app itself) did they ignore? Make sure all your pronouns have clear antecedents.

If you address the customer as “you” in your marketing copy, keep track of who that “you” is. For example: “I tell my customers that you should always update your virus protection software. You should take that advice, too.” In this case, the “you” in the first sentence (all current customers) is a different person from the “you” (the reader, a potential customer) in the second sentence.

When vague phrases take over, your marketing copy is harder to read and your message loses its zip. If you want to be sure you’re using the liveliest exact words possible, contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’re experts at giving marketing material a memorable edge.

Writing Smooth Marketing Copy

Marketing copy should give readers a smooth ride forward like a gentle stream under a water tube–or, given that it is December, like a beginner’s slope under skis.

But all too often readers are faced with sentences like this: “We help companies effectuate change through the innovative utilization of technological solutions.”

The main problem with that sentence is not what it says but how it says it. The sentence is weighed down by 2 three-syllable, 2 four-syllable, and 2 five-syllable words. And so the sentence weighs readers down. They figure they ought to know what it says because all the words are proper English words arranged in a proper sentence but they are fighting their way upstream and uphill.

Now consider this version: “We help you control change by using new technologies.”

It says exactly the same thing but the only word with more than two syllables is “technologies.” That’s a hard word to replace with anything simpler, which is fine.

The revised sentence is also three words shorter. It makes its point and moves on. It immediately engages the readers by addressing them directly (“you”). It carries them forward fast and smooth, which is what marketing copy should do: keep readers reading.

Why do writers bog down their marketing copy with unnecessary multi-syllable words? Partly because they hope a big vocabulary will impress their readers. But marketing copy should never be a vocabulary test. And even people with doctorates in the field do not know a product or service as well as the business that provides it. If they did, they wouldn’t need that business.

Another reason for using obscure and complicated language is that writers think that’s the way marketing copy should sound. So many businesses use phrases like “innovative utilization” that writers feel they have to use them to compete. However, those same writers in the role of consumers–of readers–absolutely hate struggling through dense, static sentences. Why keep doing what clearly doesn’t work?

Readers want marketing copy that moves. They want information they can understand fast. They want clear, everyday words. They want a smooth, fast ride to the buy button.

Do you want to help them? Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. Our words truly mean business.

 

 

How Can I Organize My Thoughts?

Q. I have great ideas for blog posts. But I have so many ideas that they are jumbled in my head. I’ve written them all down, tried to put them into logical groups, and then I start writing and my thoughts fly everywhere. How can I get organized enough to write something that sticks together and makes sense?

A. In some ways, this is a great problem to have: too many ideas. But your frustration in trying to organize your thoughts is common to a lot of writers. My third grade teacher would have said: “Make an outline!” However, I hated outlines then and I hate them now. Outlines are like chess plays; you have to think far ahead and before long you are trapped by your own strategy. Instead, I favor three more organic approaches to organize thoughts.

  1. The Rule of Three. Science has shown that most people remember no more than 7 new ideas at a time. I like to stay well under that number. In this approach to organization, you first explain that you will introduce three ideas about or arguments for/against a topic; then you spend at least one paragraph on each idea/argument; and finally you wrap up by quickly reviewing what you just said and why you said it. (See the end of this blog post for a sample conclusion.)
  2. The 10 Best. This approach is based on a single list–10 best lawn mowers or 8 worst excuses for not mowing the lawn or 5 ways to prevent lawn mower injuries. You start by explaining your criteria for the list, then devote no more than 2 sentences to each of the items. You may find that each item on your list later becomes a complete blog in its own right (“Why I Love My Rider Mower”), but right now you are simply listing. Your conclusion might briefly suggest how readers make their own decision or offer a statistic or conclusion of your own.
  3. How to. This approach to organization is chronological, first to last. You are explaining how to do something, so you need to present the steps in order. Begin with the most basic step: plug in the equipment, press the on button, gather your supplies–whatever genuinely comes first. Never assume. After you finish the how-to, use it yourself to perform each of the steps as written. If your hands start doing something that is not written down, you need to revise the how-to.

By choosing one of these three approaches, you can organize your random thoughts and make sure they stick close to a single topic. If you still feel that your writing is out of control, call in a professional. Contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications. We’ll be happy to help.

Talking’s Easy, Writing’s Hard. What’s Wrong with Me?

Q. I can talk to my customers all day long about my products, services, and company and they are happy and satisfied with their purchases. But when it comes to writing–for my website, blogs, case studies, brochure–nothing sounds right or comes across the way I want it to. What am I doing wrong?

A. The good news is you’re doing one thing absolutely right. You’re talking to your customers in language they understand, engages them, and solves their problem. Here are four ways to translate that great communication from talking to writing.

  1. Write like you talk. Forget about all those other marketing campaigns you’ve seen on the internet or TV; they are cluttering your head with language and techniques that might never apply to your company. Instead, pretend you are talking directly to a customer and record (on your phone or computer) exactly what you say. That spoken information is your strongest possible basis for writing–you already know it connects with customers and conveys your enthusiasm.
  2. Be specific. The one problem with talking is that it tends to generalize. You might say, “Our company is known for our attention to detail,” and people will accept that in conversation. In writing, you should define the how and why of “attention to detail.” You probably should define “known”–according to industry benchmarks, certifications, awards, customer testimonials? The more specific you are, the more weight your writing will carry. If you find yourself adding adjectives everywhere (“superb customer service,” “top of the line equipment”), replace them with specifics or leave them out altogether.
  3. Resist the urge to brag first. When you greet a customer in person, you ask what they are looking for and why. You don’t launch into a 15 minute monologue on everything you can do for everyone. Create the same balance in your writing by opening with a specific customer problem you solve. Then focus on details. Remember, there are always more pages you can write in your website, blog, case study, or brochure; you don’t have to cover everything in the first three sentences.
  4. Consider yourself a teacher. You may know every industry acronym but you wouldn’t litter your speech with them and you shouldn’t litter your writing either. You may know your specialty backwards and forwards, but your customers don’t–if they did, they wouldn’t need you. Make allowances for your average customer’s level of knowledge, just as you would in conversation. If your customers are asking the same questions over and over, address those questions somewhere in your marketing copy. Become the best, kindest teacher your customers ever had.

TWP Marketing & Technical Communications has helped companies just like yours to write clear, concise, passionate marketing copy that is specific, addresses customer problems, and educates potential customers. Contact us today.