By Katrina Olson
Last week we discussed the Chevy Cruze campaign that kicked off with a news release written completely in emoji. Whether you thought it was entertaining or annoying, it got attention. But was it truly “writing?” I suppose it was as much writing as ancient hieroglyphics or modern-day symbols like +, @ or $.
Most of us are content using words to communicate. So this week, we’ll get back to basics with some good, old-fashioned writing tips.
For 10 years I taught college-level writing to advertising, public relations, and business students. Most had a basic knowledge of grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage and word choice. They knew how to write correctly. But my job was to teach them how to be marketers and storytellers—to make their hypothetical target audiences want to buy, join, give, register, attend or act in some way.
Good writing isn’t just correct, it’s effective—it gets the job done. And that’s a lot harder than just writing correctly. Effective writing is clear, concise and compelling. It takes thought, planning, strategy and a little style. Following are some tips for writing more effectively.
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail…to write effectively.
Writing is not just about stringing words together until it sounds good. It’s strategy on paper (or usually on screen). So, before you start writing, ask yourself these questions:
- How does this written piece fit into my marketing plan?
- Who is my target audience?
- What do I hope to accomplish?
- Do I want to persuade, inform or educate my reader?
- What do I want my reader to think, feel or do as a result?
- How will I know if it worked?
If you can’t answer all of these questions about your blog post, website copy, letter, newsletter or other marketing piece, you need to ask yourself why you’re writing it at all.
Be brave enough to be empathetic.
Maya Angelou once said, “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” It’s easy and safe to write marketing pieces that extoll the virtues of your company and products, brag about your company history, and include trite phrases about how important customers are to you.
What’s harder and braver to write is copy that empathizes with your customer. How is empathy different from sympathy?
Sympathy often stops at acknowledging someone’s situation. For example, you might write, “We understand that it’s important to deliver products on time. We’ll promise to always meet your delivery deadlines.”
Empathy is the ability to take the perspective of another person in a specific situation; to put yourself in his or her shoes; to share their feelings and connect with them on an emotional level. Empathetic copy would read, “You know what happens when your products are delivered late. You lose time—and time is money. When you’re behind schedule, everyone else gets behind as well. The customer is angry and they’re blaming you.” Then, of course, you offer a solution.
Get your “you-view” on.
You’ll notice another difference between the sympathetic and the empathetic copy above. The sympathetic copy uses the word “we” (referring to yourself). The empathetic company uses the word “you” (referring to the customer). It’s a small change, but it makes a big difference to readers. It tells them that you feel their pain instead of merely acknowledging it. And each reader feels like you’re speaking to him or her on a personal level.
Here’s another, simpler example:
- We-view: “We offer quick, friendly, reliable customer service.”
- You-view: “You deserve quick, friendly, reliable customer service…and that’s what you get from ABC Supply.”
Most importantly, you-view focuses on the needs, wants and interests of the reader. It’s more than just using the word “you” instead of “we.” It’s finding those pain points or issues your target audience is concerned about, then addressing them. You-view is easy to understand, but more difficult to put into practice. Try it on your next writing project.
These are just a few ways you can improve your writing strategy. Next week, we’ll talk about more specific ideas for actually writing your marketing pieces.
Olson is a veteran marketing and public relations consultant. She has written for tED magazine’s print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine’s Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and emceed the Best of the Best Awards ceremony for a total of seven years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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