…and how to change the suck and be heard.
Riddle: What takes up space and makes no sense, is boring yet important, makes readers see red instead of being read, and nothing valuable is ever said?
Answer: Business Writing!
If words were clothes, most business content would be stolen rags that offer no more purpose than hiding our special places.
If words were food, most business content would be tasteless, stale, dry, and nutrition free.
If words were a person, most business content would be unoriginal, mediocre, wannabe hipsters with a fake online Ph.D in smartass douchebaggery.
…you get the picture: most business writing is an unfortunate series of copycat, dehumanised, hand-me-downs that are full of buzzwords and empty in meaning.
Our Business is Unique, just like everyone else’s!
Speed Dating and Business.
Speed Dating and Business have a lot in common.
Both require the quick creation of relationships, and when successful it becomes long term. Both need to make quick first impressions and often just good looks (blonde hair, blue eyes, great website design) is not enough for anything more than a one-night-stand.
Imagine you are in a round of speed-dating and all you do is repeat whatever the guy (or gal) at the table next to you is saying. But, the catch is, he is doing the same with the guy next to him.
If everyone is simply saying what everyone else is saying, and doing what everyone else is doing, you are telling the person sat in front of you “I am just like everyone else, so it doesn’t really matter who you choose!”.
No great or smart decision was ever made with a dart-board. By sounding like everyone else, that is what we are asking our customers to do.
“I want to work with someone that is mediocre and unoriginal”, said no one ever. Then why do so many businesses struggle with this blatantly simple idea?
When in doubt: Care. By default.
If you care about the people your product or service aims to help (which you should), if you care about your product (which you should) and are confident that it helps people (which it should), then you should also care about how you describe and talk about your product, yourself, and your business to these people.
(Tweetable: Care about the people. Care about the product. Care about how you describe it. Care. Always.)
Caring is not difficult, nike (just do it!).
Caring is not an extra, its an essential.
Once you start caring, truly caring, you will think differently (or actually think) about how you spend your customers time. Do you waste it? of do you leave them better off for having read what you had to say?
Simply by caring, you will become more considerate, more human, more tangible — and your customers will love you for it. You will finally connect with them and have a conversation rather than expecting them to connect with you while you talk at them.
By caring you will not only care about your first impression, you will also care about every single interaction. You will want your customers to get to know you just as much as you want to know them (and you will really want to know them).
Your story, product descriptions, company descriptions, history, personality, tone and voice will be your best samurai warriors, they will go to battle for you every single day — are they strong enough? fed? and well trained?
Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Oh yes I did!
Its not me, its them: Taking control.
- I don’t have time to care, my boss wont let me.
- I don’t have time to learn about my customers. I have deadlines.
- I’m not sure how to care, I don’t know them.
- I just work here, it’s not my problem. I do what I’m told.
- Its [x] and [y]’s fault that I do not care. I used to.
- [insert your useless excuse here]
We all have excuses, or have heard them. This is an intervention.
Sometimes, its not your fault. Sometimes you have to fight to show that you actually care. Years of dilution of clarity, care and messaging by Legal, Executives, HR, and Marketing have transformed the caring, clear, powerful and descriptive sentence into a jargon-rich, verbose and meaningless vessel of vapid pronouncements.
Stop waiting for permission, transform and educate those that may stand before you, start a revolution. Be awesome.
If you do not take control, things will stay as they are, and the only way to describe the business writing you will put out into the world would be in the immortal words of Shakespeare:
“[…] it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” — Macbeth (Act V, Scene V)
…and if you do not change anything, yet expect different results — thats the definition of insanity.
The Industrial Revolution does not care.
In the Industrial Age, businesses did not care, the customers had to.
In the post-Industrial Age, the age we are living in now, businesses need to care, while customers don’t need to. Businesses who don’t care, don’t last.
In the Industrial Age, it was all about your Marketing & Advertising Budget — the more money you put into advertising, the more people you interrupt, the better your business.
The Industrial Age was about disrupting people to please advertisers.
The post-Industrial Age is about pleasing people, regardless of advertisers.
People have taken control of who they allow into their sphere — you need to earn brainspace.
If people do not find value in what you offer and have to say, they will change the channel, switch off the radio, order Netflix, turn on AdBlock, close your website. They have choice, and its your job to understand that and most importantly, respect it.
When someone lands on your website when searching for something they want, they will ask a few questions that you need to answer immediately:
- Who are you?
- How are you different?
- Why should they care?
- [next step]
Who are you? We are the leading [x] in the industry that supplies full value added end-to-end services that…
How are you different? We are… the leaders? best? er…
Why should they care? …Cause, we are the leading best [x] software company at [y] that… needs their money.
The customers next step? Not be a customer and leave.
You can no longer hide behind a large budget and force people to pay attention — you have to earn it.
Your Tone and Your Voice
Tone and Voice are not the same thing. Too often they are confused, misunderstand and simply thrown around in Marketing teams as care-faking buzzwords.
There is a difference between Tone and Voice (not Tone of Voice):
Voice shares your personality and authority.
Tone conveys your current emotion or attitude.
Voice is consistent. Tone is variable.
Think about voice as your literal voice. If you try and change your voice to sound different, you sound silly, fake and can’t be taken seriously.
The same is true for your business voice — be real, be honest, be true. Find your voice and stick to it and people will take you seriously.
Your Tone can change, you can portray different emotions and attitudes in different works that you write and create. Some can enthusiastic and excited, others nurturing and caring, others empathetic and concerned.
no hablo Inglés
Is your business lost in translation?
Reading some businesses content, I would swear they used an automatic buzzword content generator to create it. Meaningless blabbery.
full-service solutions provider: you do everything? really? I already don’t trust you. If you are for everyone, you’re not for me.
Cost effective end-to-end solutions: this one also does everything, cheaply? does anyone advertise themselves as expensive end-to-end?
Provider of value-added services: Erm… are there any services that are advertised as not-value-adding services?
We follow best practices: We are not innovative, we do whats most common. hope you’re ok with that.
Who in their right mind writes this?
Worse, Who edits and approves this?
The best businesses do not sound like businesses, they sound like people.
Do not try and businessify your content. If its human, keep it human.
Change: “We’re reaching out to our elite customer advocates to leverage a an interactive dialogue about….”
To: “We’re getting in touch with our customers to discuss….”
Change: “assess multiple strategic options and tactical approaches”
Change: “implement an always-on, immediate access, communications infrastructure”
To: “get wireless”
Get rid of jargon, it means you aren’t sure what you’re saying.
‘If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.’ — Albert Einstein
Spend time trying to understand what you are trying to say first, before anything else. If you do not understand it, don’t publish it until you do.
You are what you publish. Publish junk, you are junk. Publish value, you are valuable.
Try re-writing what you said to use less words without losing its meaning — first start with having meaning.
Very much absolutely not.
Try get rid of these words too:
“very, better, more, increase, improve, reduce” / and related adverbs.
“best, leading, #1, most, absolute, all, everything” / and all other absolutes.
Words like very, better, more are fillers businesses use when they are not sure exactly what they are trying to say, or how they do what they do. They are lazy words. You are not very tired, you’re exhausted. You’ve not very happy, you’re ecstatic.
Removing absolute statements makes you honest.
Best? really? #1? really? (douche!) leading? like everyone else.
Be Honest with yourself when you’re writing, and if you care, you will make the effort.
There are beautiful Exceptions.
Finding businesses that truly care are hard to come by, but they exist and have very little competition even though thousands of others provide the same product or service.
Enter specimen #1: Fizzle.co
The Fizzles Tagline:
“Honest Online Biz Building”
It’s not by accident that they have to call themselves “Honest” as their unique selling proposition.
Honesty and personality have become so rare that its now a selling feature.
On the sales page:
Video training you’ll love to watch, thoughtfully prepared to teach you what you need to start growing your business tonight.
It tells me I will enjoy it, that they took thought and care to create it, and what it will do for me by when. In English.
They have a sales video with this description:
What it is. What it ain’t. Click play to learn if Fizzle is right for you. Also,
all-u-mini-um. (you’ll see)
They tell in plain english (and personality & humor) exactly what fizzle is. They tell you what fizzle is not — this gets rid of false expectations and tells the user ‘we do not do everything, we just do a few things amazingly well’.
Oh, and there are inside jokes.
Their about page is brilliant, this is an excerpt:
We help people make their thing online. You want to do great work; work you care about, work that supports your family, work that contributes something meaningful to the world. We like that stuff. We create products and publications to serve the indie entrepreneur* on the journey to creating something they care about.
Have you fallen in love with them yet?
They go further into telling the reader that they create these products because they have been there themselves, they can relate, they understand, and they want to help. Precisely the kind of business you want to have a relationship with — If they were a person I would date them.
Enter specimen #2: Saddleback Leather
I am vegetarian and do not like or appreciate leather products (this is just my personal preference, in fact I do like vegan leather). But the guys at Saddleback Leather make me want to give them money, just because.
The Saddleback tag line:
“They’ll Fight Over It When You’re Dead.”
This is how he describes the quality of bags they offer (setting the scene):
You know how when a magician exposes to the world how other magicians trick people, all of the other magicians get mad at him for spilling the beans? Well, I’m about to spill the beans and ruin it for all of those companies trying to trick you into buying their not so high quality leather…You’re about to learn what to look for and what to look out for as you shop for your next leather piece. By the way, if I soon die by a chopstick to the neck, you’ll know why. I’m a marked man.
He makes quality leather an exciting, or at least interesting, subject.
How about their warranty (something that makes Legal cringe):
All of our products are fully warranted against all defects in materials and workmanship for 100 years. If you or one of your descendants should have a problem, send it back to me or one of my descendants and we’ll repair or replace it for free or we’ll give you a credit on the website (be sure to mention the warranty in your will).
100 years? Descendants? Take my money now.
Wow. you’re at the end of this post, you made it!
A conclusion is not a conclusion without a summary, right?
- Be real.
- Speak English.
- Understand your customer.
- Feel their pain. Alleviate it.
- Be considerate.
- Be Honest.
- Add your voice and personality.
- Don’t be a douchebag.
- Take ownership, Start a Revolution.
- Go Jargon-free.
- Care some more.
- Standout. (by being worthy.)
- Earn your place.