We’re Writing for Your Customers

May 29, 2013

The most difficult task we have as marketing professionals should be the simplest – convincing clients to think like their customers.

It’s difficult, because clients are wired to think in the language of their industry.  When we translate it into English, it sounds foreign to them.

They are afraid of sounding like they are unprofessional or that people will think they don’t know what they’re talking about.  They are often more concerned about what a colleague or competitor will think than they are about how their Web site copy, brochure, article, e-letter or blog post will sound to the potential consumer.

Our challenge is to write for the target audience and to convince our clients that their marketing efforts will be more successful when we do.

A note to decision-makers in all industries who work with writers: embrace English.  Here are a few tips that may help:

Listen to the professionals.  You accept the advice of your doctor, your lawyer, your accountant and other professionals without question.  We’re professionals, too.  True, writing is subjective and we’re not faultless, but we do this for a living.  Most of us know what we’re doing.

If you’ve hired a public relations consultant or copywriter, and you disagree with the way something is written, ask why it is written that way.

It may help to review edits in a document word-for-word over the phone or in person, so you will understand why something is written as it is and so the writer can understand why you want to change it.

Show, don’t tell.  Don’t say that your product is “state of the art,” explain why.  Don’t say your software is “robust,” explain why.

Avoid acronyms, jargon.  Just because you know what an acronym means, doesn’t mean the person reading your prose does.

Avoid clichés.  Marketing is about differentiation.  If you use the same tired language as everyone else, you’re not differentiating, you’re putting the reader to sleep.  Clichés are used in lazy writing; it’s easier to be trite than it is to come up with something original.

Keep it simple.  Don’t use three syllable words when one syllable words will do.  Don’t use four syllable words when two syllable words will do.  You’re trying to communicate, not confuse.

Omit needless words.  Perhaps the most important rule in Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is “Omit needless words.”  The most important job of the editor is to prune the dead wood.  If a word isn’t doing its job, out it goes.  What remains will be much stronger.

Put aside pride of authorship.  I recently rewrote an important letter that a client drafted.  The lead paragraph had 170 words, most of which were irrelevant to the target audience.  When I rewrote it in 41 words, the client thought I had weakened the meaning.  I didn’t.

No one, except the author, will ever make it through that first paragraph, but the client had toiled over it and didn’t want to change it.

Read it as though you’re someone else.  Keep in mind that what you’re reading is not written for you – it’s written for your potential customers.  Think like a customer when you read it.

It would be easier for us to write for our clients, but when we do, we’re not doing our job.

Understand Your Clients

Of course, as professionals, we also have to put ourselves in the place of our clients.  Like our clients, we need to understand the goal of every written piece.  Sometimes our best prose has to be sacrificed.  So be it.

If you want to write unrestrained by client edits, start a blog.

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