Writing should always be suitable for the target audience. This is simple good sense. It is no good, for instance, writing a sales leaflet for soap powder in the language used by the scientists who developed it.
Some people make the big mistake of twisting this into the idea that you should write what the audience wants to read. This may prove apparently successful in the short term, but generally ends up in a loss of confidence and trust. Why do so many people distrust insurance, double-glazing and every other high-pressure salesman? Simple! After they have bought the product, they realise that half of what they have been told is a con. It may have been technically legal, but it is still, to ordinary folk like you and me, a con. The policy isn’t really free at all, though the sales pitch made it sound very like it; it isn’t really unique in the market, except that it is the only one from this particular company; signing up today isn’t really in the least bit important, despite the salesman’s excitement about the special deal he is getting for you.
Examples of such ‘con selling’ seen all too regularly are those envelopes that regularly turn up informing you that, ‘You’ve won 50 million – all you have to do is claim it’. Most of us chuck them away with a sigh or a snigger. The reason they still get posted is that the pull of gambling is stronger than the immediate negative response. Everybody knows that the headline is untrue (except legally, of course, but then who ever expects the law to uphold the truth?) Nevertheless, that doesn’t alter the fact that someone, somewhere is going to win a large sum of money if they jump through enough hoops. On the way, lots of magazines, or whatever the product, will be sold. However, very few companies can play this game and get away with it.
Enough of my ranting! What should you write? Whether you are composing a leaflet, letter or web page, the general principles are the same.
- Tell all the good points honestly, but don’t make false claims. Let your belief and commitment shine through, but don’t con yourself!
- ‘Talk’ to the customer. Extol the benefits to ‘you’ and say how ‘we’ can help.
- Keep the construction simple. The two longer paragraphs above are too long, I have used complex punctuation such as semi-colons, and some sentences and even words are a bit tricky for the average newspaper reader. (My excuse, of course, is that I am not trying to sell anything!)
- Be positive. The TV in the gym is there to make it even more entertaining, not to relieve the boredom
- Get your writing checked by someone who will be honest. You can look at it a hundred times yourself and not see the flaws. Even the best writers rely heavily on professional editors, and a good editor ruthlessly points out the flaws. It’s no good having someone read your draft and hand it back with, ‘That’s fine. ’ It may be good for the ego, but not the sales figures
John Philip has been a writer, editor and educator for over 30 years. He now mainly provides consultancy to businesses, professions and public services and continues to work for befirstgroup.com, which offers writing and editorial services. He is also a manager with Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, a unique marketing project.