5 techniques to power up your marketing copy

Speaking to your audience in clear, simple language is the key to landing your message.

Advertising and marketing work best when messages are easy to understand.

Still, if you’re marketing or selling something more complex than soap or beer, you might struggle to get your message across.

Here are five things to try as you write your own copy:

1. Write directly to your reader. Use your imagination. Give the customer a name, and try to come up with your ideal client’s mental, physical and spiritual perspectives. Then address her directly. This will help you make your point in words she can understand.

Here’s an example:

Advertiser-oriented copy: The objective of the daily cash accumulation fund is to seek the maximum current income that is consistent with low capital risk and the maintenance of total liquidity.

You-oriented copy: The cash fund gives you the biggest return on your investment with the lowest risk—and you can take out as much money as you like whenever you want.

2. Use short sentences. According to Rudolf Flesch, author of “The Art of Plain Talk,” the best average sentence length for business writing is 14 to 16 words. Twenty to 25 also works, but over 40 words and your copy becomes unreadable.

When you’re crafting an ad, you don’t have a lot of space to work with, so your sentences must be even shorter—from six to 16 words.

3. Keep it simple. Simple words don’t distract the reader. Too many syllables and too many fancy phrases, conversely, will just get in the way of your message.

In marketing, don’t try to impress your audience. They really don’t care how smart you are, or how many years you’ve spent in college.

If the word “small” works, why would you use “diminutive?”

It’s also key to avoid technical jargon. Yes, your industry has special terms and acronyms that get thrown around every day, but those terms will be recognized by only a small slice of your audience. Why confuse the rest?

If you’re not sure whether it’s jargon, have your grandmother or an eighth-grader give you feedback.

4. Be specific. To be persuasive, use details that matter.

If your customers don’t care about the facts you use to talk about your product or service, that information won’t help your bottom line.

You’ll usually have at least twice as much background material as you’ll use in a finished marketing piece. If you don’t, do more research.

Here’s what I mean:

Vague: She is associated in various teaching capacities with several local educational institutions.

Specific: She teaches marketing at San Francisco University and copywriting at San Jose Community College.

Try substituting your competitor’s name in your copy to see whether it still makes sense. If it does, go back to the drawing board.

5. Use a friendly tone. Ann Landers, one of the nation’s most widely read columnists, was popular because (she said), “I was taught to write like I talk.” Also called “conversational tone,” this technique is especially important in print or online marketing, because your copy is standing­ in for your sales team.

Next time you feel you’ve got a good draft in hand, read it out loud. Pretend you’re saying these words at a cocktail party or a networking function. Do they sound trite or too formal? If so, you’ll hear it right away and can make corrections. Here are tips for achieving that natural flow:

  • Use pronouns (I, we, you, they)
  • Use colloquial expressions (a sure thing, OK, rip-off)
  • Use contractions (you’re, it’s I’m)
  • Use simple words (see No. 3)

Have any other tips you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below.

A version of this article first appeared on Story Bistro.

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