I had a lesson in "writing like a real person" the first day on the job of my Marketing career. It was a brutal awakening, but an easy lesson to pass along - especially for start-ups and lean teams who don't have the budget or resources to outsource creation of their Marketing materials. But I promise, it's actually good news...
As a Marketer, I can say this: we tend to write like robots. This became apparent when I first started at ExactTarget several years ago and went through a rotation in the Marketing Communications department. On my first day, I was given an assignment to write a data sheet about one of our products. I read through some documents online, tried to figure out what the product actually did, then attempted to write the data sheet. When I was finished, I handed it to my manager feeling proud of my work. After all, it sounded very Marketing-ish. I had used as many words as possible to try and describe a product I really knew nothing about. Words like "robust", "optimize", "relevant", "...to the next level", and so on. You get the picture - at the end of the data sheet, you had less of an idea about the product than before you read it. My manager gave me some brutally honest (and much appreciated) feedback. She went so far as to give me a sheet of words that were outlawed that I pinned up on my desk. Her next challenge to me was to understand the product so well that I could explain the overall concept, benefits, and outcomes to someone completely unfamiliar, and then have them explain it back to me. If they were able to, it means I explained it like a real person. If not, I failed.
Ever since my early lesson in writing, it's become a lot easier to convey a message - and a heck of a lot less time consuming. Why? Because I pretend I'm having a conversation with an actual person in front of me, and I write what I think. Would I use cliche Marketing words when describing something in real life? Of course not - it'd be embarrassing. So why do it in your material?
There are countless articles about words to avoid when writing for your business, but here are a few of my favorites from some of my go-to publications:
- Huffington Posts' list of "11 words you should never use"
- Yahoo's "8 horrible words to avoid in your B2B marketing strategy"
- 258 marketing's "100 overused marketing words"
You have about 20 seconds to catch the attention of your reader (if that). Throw in overused words or meaningless phrases or fluff, and your potential customer is gone faster than you can say "read my relevant, meaningful content".
So what's the good news for start-ups and those with lean budgets who can't afford Marketing writers? Do it yourself, and write like a real person. Practice telling your friends or family what you're going to write and see if they can repeat it. After all, your audience is made up of real people who want real content - not fluff they could find on a Google search.