Posts Taged copywriting

Conversational Writing: The Art of Keeping it Real

Conversational Writing

How often do messages on websites or marketing emails make you wonder if a human wrote them? A lot of content supposedly “targeting” us completely misses the mark. The writing is not conversational. It doesn’t sound like us. It doesn’t make us want to engage, and it lacks personality altogether. Some brands still confuse professional with formal and corporate with serious. Others forget how important it is to tailor content for each medium, coming off stiff and dated in social media and blog posts.

What is conversational writing?

Conversational writing is the kind or writing that makes readers feel you’re talking with them, not at them. It’s meant to keep things fresh and casual, and to help establish a brand’s voice across their website, social media, blogs and contributed articles.

Is conversational content better?

Conversational writing works better in some contexts. When we read content that sounds like us, we immediately feel a connection. As content marketers, our job is to inform, connect, persuade and inspire. We focus on finding the right “voice” for our audience and then on tailoring messages for each medium so they are more likely to convert. Sometimes this may mean relaxing our tone in client’s website’s landing page to establish trust and open opportunities for more personalized connections. Sometimes it’s about writing friendlier, shorter emails with one ask instead of five. It’s not about ignoring all brand guidelines, it’s about tweaking them to match how readers speak in different touchpoints. Some industry experts view conversational writing it as a form of copywriting UX, a way of using language to create more engaging experiences for readers.

But what about the serious technical and business stuff?

There’s still a place and a purpose for jargon and technical writing in formal business pieces like case studies, reports, RFPs and white papers. But don’t expect visitors to stay on a website that reads like an obscure instructional manual or to click on a link inside an email that sounds like a bank’s automated phone system message.

writing, conversational writing, copywriting, audience engagement

Can we write conversationally and still respect grammar rules?

Most regular rules don’t apply in conversational writing because it’s often full of slang and crutch words, creative punctuation and sentence fragments. It’s personable and unpredictable. While it’s never okay to sacrifice clarity for the sake of style, it’s okay to start a sentence with “and” or “but” to match your natural cadence in a blog and to use contractions or #hashtags on social to keep your messages light and your character count low.

A few tips on conversational writing

Conversational writing doesn’t have a style guide. What sounds like a conversation to me may not sound the same to you. The level of flexibility depends entirely on your target audience and the style they connect with. Below are a few tips to start using a healthy dose of conversational writing.

  1. Write as if you were talking to a friend. Start by reading your content out loud. Does it sound like something you’d actually say, or does it sound like something out of the Pelican Brief?
  2. Don’t write for everyone. Know who you’re talking to and write for them. Attempting to write for everyone will only dilute your message.
  3. Start with clarity. Start with your main message first so it doesn’t get lost when you add personality.
  4. Keep your sentences short. You know that amazing white paper intro you want to share on LinkedIn? Try chopping up the sentences to sound less academic. Unless your English teacher is your target audience, you definitely want to keep it short, sweet and light.
  5. Skip the long word when the short one will do. You don’t have to flaunt your vast industry vocabulary everywhere. Don’t let poor word choice stop a reader in their tracks.

Streamline Your Writing: Five Tips

Steve Jobs once said: “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” Throughout your PR and writing career, you have heard more than once to tighten up your pitches, your white papers or your press releases. While it takes practice, the result is worth the effort.

Below are five tips to keep your writing clear and concise.

Avoid passive language.

Is the object of your sentence in the position where the subject should be? If so, it’s probably passive. For example, “The dog was walked by me” should read: “I walked the dog”.

Don’t rely on adverbs as descriptors.

Instead, use a descriptive adjective. Not only can adverbs dilute a sentence’s meaning, but they add unnecessary word count. Instead of writing, “He ate his dinner quickly,” say: “He devoured his dinner”.

Use words that resonate with your audience.

While it might be tempting to infuse your writing with large words or esoteric terminology, in most cases, this approach is not appropriate for your audience. Unless you are writing a technical piece or white paper, aim for a straightforward style.

Minimize prepositions.

Prepositions are used to connect nouns and pronouns to each other. Examples include: “of, for, to, by, at, from, on or into”. Instead of saying “The captain of the boat,” you can tighten the sentence by two words by saying: “the boat’s captain”.

Avoid redundant language.

Proofread your piece for words that can be eliminated because they don’t add meaning. For example, you can eliminate “exact” from the phrase, “exact same,” and “time” from the phrase, “present time”. Pay a visit to this site for 200 common redundancies.

Do you have tips or questions about writing more clearly and concisely? If so, we’re all ears. Share your comments and feedback below.

Avoid Bad PR with Good Grammar

Good Grammar

There’s no shortage of articles about the enduring importance of good grammar in the modern business world. They illuminate the ways it bestows credibility on the writer, indicates professionalism, and ensures clarity and accuracy. As a grammar nut myself, I couldn’t agree more. But there’s one more thing I’d like to add to that list: bad grammar is bad PR.

Grammar gaffes go viral quickly. Just last week the world collectively snickered at attempts by Britain’s Labour Party to mock the Tories’ education record with an email titled “NEWS FROM LABOUR: Nothing is doing more to damage English & maths education than the Tory’s failure to recruit enough good teachers.” Mistakes like this used to inspire a chuckle and then fade, but today they are broadcast worldwide.

Don’t underestimate the negative reactions to poor writing. Grammarly recently released a fun infographic that notes the impact of writing skills on online dating success. The company found that just two spelling errors in a man’s online dating profile reduced his chances of a response by 14%, and that “both men and women rank grammar more important than confidence in a potential date.”

This isn’t limited by demographics, either. Millennials are actually more likely to be irked by grammar mistakes than other age groups. “While we’d assume they’d be accustomed to seeing and using abbreviated speech and lingo because they are a tech-savvy generation, we actually found that they have much higher standards,” a Harris poll found last summer.

The takeaway? If professionalism and clarity aren’t enough motivation, just remember what a mess the clean-up will be when everyone is laughing at you. Then proofread, proofread, ask a friend to proofread, ask another, and then proofread again.

Amazon’s product visualization through press release

Amazon executives are typically a reclusive bunch. So its was a rare treat when Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s senior vice president of consumer business, took the stage this week at Seattle University as part of the Albers Executive Speaker Series.

In an hour-long talk, Wilke laid out the core leadership principles that make up the tech and online retail juggernaut.

Jeff Wilke is a chemical engineer who moved his young family to Seattle in 1999 to join Amazon as the senior vice president of consumer business.

Jeff Wilke is a chemical engineer who moved his young family to Seattle in 1999 to join Amazon as the senior vice president of consumer business.

Wilke’s appearance was rare, but his presentation format — PowerPoint — was also unusual. According to Wilke internal meetings at Amazon start with everyone in the room spending up to 45 minutes reading in silence as they digest detailed documents known as “narratives.”

“We write our thoughts down because we expect leaders to deep dive,” said Wilke.

Amazon believes so strongly in the power of bringing business visualizations to life by writing them down that the company’s new product concepts start with a press release.

“We try to write the headline and the press release that you’d want to use at the launch of a new product,” said Wilke, showing a slide of the initial press releases that managers conceived for products such as AmazonSmile and AmazonStudent. “It is a way to visualize the things that we want to build.”

Putting thoughts to paper. Reading those thoughts. Sharing and selling big ideas in written form. As our communication options continue to explode its incredible to hear that a company like Amazon still considers it its most powerful method.

Here are the 14 core leadership principles as described by Wilke and on Amazon’s Web site:

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Ownership
Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job.”

Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.” As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts.

Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others.

Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Think Big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Frugality
We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers. Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

Vocally Self Critical
Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. Leaders come forward with problems or information, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Earn Trust of Others
Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility.

Dive Deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit frequently. No task is beneath them.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver Results
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

Nine Steps to Awesome Web Content

how to work with a writer

Wondering how to work with a writer to get copy that you love?

Copy is such an important element of your brand and can help you communicate what’s truly special about your company. Whether you’re building your first website or updating the copy on an existing site, finding the perfect words can be a challenge. As easy as it seems, it can be most difficult to write about yourself or what you’re closest to. Outsourcing this job to an expert can be rewarding but like any project that involves multiple people, there are ways to get the most out of the process. Based on my experience, I’ve jotted down my own recommendations for how to work with a writer to get copy that you love.

1. Hire a professional.

Look for someone with experience, a great portfolio and pleasant demeanor. Your copywriter should be easy to work with; someone who makes you comfortable.

2. Define expectations.

Before moving forward, make sure you both have a clear understanding of the deliverables, the timeline, the number of drafts and revisions, the rate and your preferred method of communication (be it regular meetings, emails, etc.). This will ensure a positive experience for both of you.

3. Do your research.

Before meeting with your copywriter, examine the way competitors and other companies are telling their story. Looking at a wide range of examples with a critical eye will help you narrow down what you like and what you don’t like, as well as provide helpful examples for your writer. Don’t be shy about looking outside of your industry. If you find a website you love, share it with your writer and explain what you like about it to give them a better idea of what you’re shooting for.

4. Jot down some notes.

Prepare yourself with some thoughts before you meet with your writer. What are the key words that really describe your company? What makes your business special? What’s your elevator speech? What words or themes do you want to avoid? How do you want people to see your company?

5. Figure out what’s important.

You only have seconds for a visitor to decide whether they’ll browse the site for a while. Compelling images and attention-grabbing copy are a crucial element on your home page. Work with your writer to figure out what information you would like to focus on. If you only have seconds with the average visitor, you need to make those seconds count.

how to work with a writer time

6. Give your writer some time.

Like anyone else, writers need adequate time to do their work well. While it’s important to establish clear deadlines, make sure that you’re giving the writer enough time to be thoughtful and creative.

7. Make some notes.

Getting the first draft is exciting but it’s probably not going to be perfect. That’s okay. Read through carefully and make notes on what you like and don’t like. Jot down questions. Think about what’s missing or what doesn’t need to be said. Part of the first draft is making sure that all the necessary information is there. Start big picture and narrow it down as you go.

8. Don’t be afraid to give feedback.

Writers aren’t mind readers and they need direct, specific feedback to improve their work. Explain what you like and what you don’t like, citing your notes and using specific examples. As you continue to work together, the writer will refine your copy until it’s exactly what you’ve envisioned.

9. Listen and be open.

Sometimes what seems like a great idea in your head doesn’t work on the page. This isn’t your writer’s first website, and they may have some solutions that can elevate your content beyond what you originally imagined.