Branding Agency; Design, Communications, Web

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Mind your language: How to write kick-ass copy

At InnerVisions ID we love to make our clients look great and help them to communicate clearly. But when we receive client copy it often needs a fair bit of rewriting to make it work.

Here are the top five problems we encounter from clients’ copy. Use this guide when writing your next bit of marketing blurb and it’ll clarify your thoughts and save you time.

1. Too much copy. This always happens, because every business owner knows every little thing about their company – they built it from scratch, out of something they love and are now experts in. But do your time-poor clients want to know all that you know? Probably not.

It’s like that packing tip for holidays – write your copy…and then halve it. Cut the fluff and cr*p. It will get your point across quicker and more directly.

2. Jargon and stupid sentences. Avoid industry jargon or business clichés from courses you’ve attended or books you’ve read. You might use those words amongst your coursemates, peers or colleagues (if you must!), but in the wider world, translate your expertise into plain English so you can communicate your vast knowledge.

Long words and complex sentences do not (contrary to popular belief) show us all how clever you are. They confuse people, turn them off or make them think you’re a show-off.

Business buzzwords can also make people cringe inside and want to commit violent acts. Particular offenders in our straw-poll today: reach out, touch base, blue-sky thinking, takeaways, new and improved, deep-diving, data-driven and future-proofing. More to avoid here. Really, would you talk to your mum like that?!

Here are some brand guidelines, written by another designer, who is clearly trying make himself look clever. Does it work? I don’t understand them and they are meant to help me…!

Gobbledegook example

So short sentences and shorter words help people understand more clearly what you do – and how you can help them better.

Rule of thumb: if an 11-year-old can’t understand what you’re on about, simplify it till they can. (actually, I typed, “you’re pitching it too high” then changed it to “simplify it till they can” – see?). If you don’t have an 11-year-old handy, try this free readability checker. (This piece scored spot-on for 11-12-year-olds, but then I’m a girlie swot).

3. Not writing for your reader. This one is crucial. Most business owners write the copy they, their peers or colleagues understand (although I’ve had business owners who didn’t even understand their own stuff when I read it back to them and asked them what on earth it meant!).

Think about the end reader and what they want to know.

Don’t tell them how amazing you or your product is – they actually don’t care – tell them how you or it will improve their lives. 

Always write from their point of view and only ever speak to one person (address “you“, not “everyone” or “all pet owners…“).

Your reader’s brain is quick-firing, “Why should I open this brochure or click on this link? Is this for me? Why should I buy this? Why buy from you? What will it do for me? How do I know it will work? What do I do now?” and if you’re lucky, at some stage, “OMG, THIS IS SO ME!”

Always use the right language for your reader and it will help your brand’s tone-of-voice. Are they a high-brow intellectual? Sleep-deprived mum? Busy executive?

Imagine how you would talk naturally to each of these individuals and write it just like that.

A new client of mine was struggling with naming his book. He’s a performance hypnotherapist (fancy!) and was re-targeting his business to work with professional footballers.

He had a list of long titles going on about using the power of the mind, tapping into brainpower, harnessing the power of hypnotherapy to enhance performance, blah-di-blah…

Over coffees, I screwed my face up as politely as I could, as each title that had been suggested by his business network was read out. They just weren’t working. They were all trying to be too clever and intellectual. This was a book aimed at footballers!

I gently pointed out that his target readers were not generally known for their intellect and that perhaps a more straightforward, punchy, approach was needed. Short, sharp words, like you might hear in the locker room before a match (no, not those words!)

Me: “Ummm, how about, “Use your Brain, Raise your Game”?
Him: “Whaaaa?! Did you just come up with that…?!” *grabs pen*

And so a book and a brochure title was born…

Mark-Bowden-InnerVisions-ID-Branding-Consultancy Picture

Our brochure cover for Mark Bowden

4. No structure or flow. When writing a document, presentation or article, map out what you want to say before you start. Or as my English teacher used to say, “Have a beginning, middle and an end.”

Another bit of advice, for presentations especially, is “tell them what you’re going to tell them (introduction), then tell them, then tell them what you’ve just told them (summary)

If you’re writing your own brochure or website copy here’s a checklist we developed to keep you on track. This is not the only structure in the world, but it’s a pretty good one: we use it with our clients all the time.

> Your customer problems: why do they need you?
> Your background and credentials: your story
> How you can help them: what can you do for them? Your method? Why is this solution better than the rest?
> The range of products/services you provide: what you are selling
> Testimonials: your clients’ stories
> What they should do now: called a ‘call-to-action’ (CTA) i.e. how to buy, register, contact us or apply.

5. Oh and lastly, don’t forget to spellcheck and know where your apostrophes go. I’ve clicked off sites and ditched brochures with typos in them. If they don’t care enough about their own company to get the basics right, how much will they care about me?

Of course, if you just want the easy way to look great and communicate clearly, get in touch!

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