In the classic text, The Elements of Style, William Strunk, Jr. pleads for simplicity and clarity in language. It’s a noble crusade and one we should all join. As marketers, it’s our job to help our readers — our target audiences — clearly understand our messages.
Normally, we write in language that’s familiar to our targets. We want them to feel comfortable with our copy. It’s a subtle way of communicating our understanding of their world.
If you’re involved in B2B marketing like I am, you need to connect with a variety of targets. Some of them are highly educated: doctors, lawyers, engineers, executives, educators and scientists.
Trying to emulate the tone and voice of these educated professionals can be dangerous. Just because they’re capable of reading complex, technical copy doesn’t mean they want to. Especially if we’re trying to persuade them to think, act or purchase differently.
They’re busy. They’re tired. They’re distracted. And we want them to read and process our marketing messages. Our job is to make it easy. To remove barriers to communication.
At the end of a long day, when our targets pick up a trade pub or sort through their email or search the web, they don’t want to work hard to understand our message. There’s a time and place for technical information, and it’s usually at the end of a PDF link.
These targets need to understand the benefits of our products and services simply and directly, without much effort. They’re really no different from other consumers. They want to know quickly and clearly why they should invest their precious time with us.
Here’s a tip
When you finish your first draft, run spell check. Click on “Options,” and then select “Show readability statistics.” At the end of the spell check, you’ll see some numbers. Focus on the ones at the bottom:
- Passive sentences should be close to zero;
- Reading ease should be greater than 50 (this is a function of word length and sentence length);
- Grade level should be 9 or less.
According to readability expert Ann Wylie, these guidelines make your copy more readable for everyone, including professionals. Remember, just because they can read at a 14th grade level, doesn’t mean they want to.
Make it simple, make it easy, make it clear. Professor Strunk would be proud.