How Businesspeople Can Write Better Things Better: Part 2

Harlands Accountants

We recently wrote and released part one of this story. That first part, and this second part, will help businesspeople write better things, better. Part one contained three areas of guidance. Those areas were, ‘Be Consistent’, ‘Think About Tone’ and ‘Don’t Overcommunicate’.

Here’s part two. Four more tips. The first part, which you should probably read first, is here.

Calm Down.

There’s a great game that marketers play. Even though most of them don’t know they’re playing it. It’s called Marketing Bingo. They play it on website homepages, on the first page of brochures, on exhibition stands, in adverts… in fact, they play it anywhere they can write anything. And if they’re really dedicated to Marketing Bingo, they can even play it in the very first sentence.

Here’s an example.

“Established for over 25 years, we are Nottingham’s leading legal firm, Binghams Solicitors, providing great quality, complete and innovative solutions for any legal requirement via our successful, friendly, passionate and committed team of experts.”

Established. Leading. Quality. Complete. Innovative. Solution. Any. Successful. Friendly. Passionate. Committed. Experts. BINGO!

Marketing Bingo is a rubbish game. Because the more you say, the less you say. The more you give people to remember, the less they actually remember. The more broadly focussed your narrative, the less people you appeal to. The confidence you think you are exuding by listing the same old things that every other pointlessly posturing, blend-in also-ran lists, the less confident you sound. Because you are hedging. You are proving that you have no idea what your customer values most about people like you. And nobody wants to work with any business that does not understand its customer.

(Oh, and there’s a useful built-in test in this point, too. It’s a way you can test whether your Marketing Company is any good. Basically, if they write anything like the example above – sack them. Immediately).

Write (Mostly) How You Speak.

Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced ‘bouquet’, of course) is the exaggerated and farcical central character from the sitcom Keeping Up Appearances. Keeping Up Appearances is a 5 series, 44 episode-long British sitcom created by Roy Clarke that initially aired on BBC1 from 1990 to 1995. Two specials followed in 1997 and 2008.

This sitcom is a simple premise. Hyacinth is on a constant quest to elevate her social superiority and to buddy up to those she considers to be upper class. In actual fact, in typical sitcom style, Hyacinth’s exaggerated and farcical behaviour very often achieves the exact opposite. A work of fiction, this is a relatable surmise, yet not something that we’d ever see in real life. Or is it?

Do you want potential customers to feel free to peruse and consume the content of your website at their leisure? Or would it be great if they’d take a moment to have a look around?

Would you be delighted to receive any potential prospect to your recently refurbished establishment? Or do you welcome drop-in visits to your new showroom any weekday between 9am and 5.30pm (we have fresh coffee too!)

A more conversational tone is generally that little bit more engaging and real. Shorter words mean more to a reader, are faster to read and easier to remember. Because we learned them first. And if you use longer or more obscure words, you somehow distance yourself from the reader and run the risk of killing a working relationship before it’s even started by causing embarrassment or confusion.

As a general rule, if you can’t imagine yourself saying it – don’t write it.

Tell Me What I Want To Know.

If there was an award for stating the bleeding obvious, this piece of advice would win it. Nevertheless, it is astounding how many times a business will tell us things about which we have absolutely no interest. And because these irrelevant things are sprinkled amongst the things that we do want to know, we then have to sieve for the good stuff.

You are the most interesting subject to you. That’s just the way it is. But in business, we don’t need to know all there is to know about you. We just need to know that which is most influential in relation to my behaviour as a consumer and, in most cases, as I approach buying decisions.

It may well be true that your journey to doing well in business today has been a hard one. We appreciate that it took a lot for you to get here. It is a shame that the business nearly went under in the 70’s when the third generation of leadership lost their way a little, largely because new (and thankfully temporary) legislation meant that your cost base doubled overnight and put terrible pressure on the management team at the time. They had to make people redundant. Some were family members. It was devastating. But you recovered, which is commendable. And all of this makes you stronger and more resilient and more grateful today. In fact, you are so proud of the way that your family came through these hardships and built the foundation of what customers see before them right now that you retell the story on your website, in your brochure and in person. Even when all I really want is a new bathroom suite. In Ivory. Delivering and fitting. Sometime in the next four weeks. Please.

You have to know the most important thing to tell your customer about what you do. This forms the basis of your leading-edge proposition. It is where their motivation to buy will initially come from. This is what you talk about. Because all else is secondary.

Ordering, Selecting and Flooding.

This is similar to point four (Tell Me What I Want To Know), but shines a light on how you make decisions about storing or ‘filing’ content with your business communications. Sometimes, a website can feel like an online filing cabinet. It is little more than a place for the business that created it to host, store or file all the things it might need to help build a client relationship. Every individual piece may be laid out in a logical or chronological order, based on how the business thinks that a prospect might want to learn. Which all sounds great. But websites are not linear. We don’t spend that long there. And we rarely read anything to the end.

Flooding readers with too much information is a bad thing. A website homepage should immediately tell me just four things. What you do. Who for. Why you are different and better. What you want me to do next. That’s it. And if you can do all of that in one or two sentences (you really should be able to, by the way) then all the better.

Yes, once I know those four things, I might want to dip into this, that or the other to investigate deeper. That’s where simple, consistent and intuitive website navigation comes in. But all too often, websites and brochures are written assuming that the reader will read the content end-to-end. It’s hard for me to dip on and out at different points. And there’s just too much to wade through anyway.

When you are writing as a business, you really should be able to write just enough so that I want to learn more. Ideally by me arranging to talk to you. We live in an overcommunicated world. The more efficiently you speak, and the faster you say it, the better.

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