Most of us learned to write at school, where we were taught to use a fairly formal style. Correct grammar, correct spelling, correct punctuation – there were rules, and there were exceptions, and that was that. You didn’t argue for fear of getting a ‘must do better’ note in the margin of your homework.

Some of us went on to learn other types of writing – fiction, poetry, journalism, copywriting – and with them different styles. As professional writers we learned to use more expressive language, a more conversational tone, to write with an audience in mind.

For many leaders in business, however, that formal style from school stuck around. Not quite academic writing but nevertheless dry, impersonal, often overly complex and difficult to read. And today, that’s no longer always appropriate. 

How business language has changed

Language is not static. It evolves as society does. New words are added to the dictionary and old ones go out of fashion. Even rules of grammar shift. 

In the past, business communication always erred towards more formal language but there’s no doubt that’s been changing gradually over the last decade or two. Now that virtually every business has a presence on social media, where communication has a deliberately human tone, we’ve remembered that even in B2B, brands have to talk to people as people.

Informal, conversational writing is effective because it feels more personal. As a result, we’re more likely to be drawn in by it and act on it. It’s persuasive in a way that formal writing usually isn’t. Just think about which one you’d rather engage with – a T&Cs document or an email from a friend. 

So how do you go about making your writing more informal if it’s not your natural style? Here are our tips for improving your business writing abilities.

Use contractions

One thing you’ll notice if you listen to actual conversations is that we use a lot more contractions when we’re talking than we do when we’re writing.

A contraction is when you literally ‘contract’ or shorten a word or phrase by leaving out one or more letters and replacing them with an apostrophe. So can’t is the contraction of cannot and it’s is the contraction of it is

The simple act of using more contractions in your writing will increase the conversational tone and reduce formality in a subtle and business-appropriate way.

Switch passive voice to active voice

Clear communication is the goal of any professional writer. Except a professional writer probably wouldn’t phrase that last sentence like that because it uses the passive voice.

Instead they’d write: every professional writer wants to communicate clearly. This uses the active voice, which makes it more energetic and engaging.

Here are a couple more examples:

Passive: Complex dosage instructions are often misunderstood by hospital patients.

Active: Hospital patients often misunderstand complex dosage instructions.

Passive: The waterfall development model is rarely used in startups these days.

Active: Startups rarely use the waterfall development model these days.

Because we’re more likely to use active voice in natural conversation, using it in most types of business writing will create a more engaging and readable tone.

The difference between ‘I wish to write in a more informal way’ and ‘I want to write in a more informal way’ is small but powerful.

Choose the right vocabulary

A key element for impacting formality in any sentence is the choice of vocabulary. The difference between ‘I wish to write in a more informal way’ and ‘I want to write in a more informal way’ is small but powerful.

So the first thing to do is to strip out any words or phrases that are too old-fashioned. Using ‘thrice’ when you could say ‘three times’ is unnecessarily formal. Ditto ‘endeavour’ instead of ‘try’ or ‘make your acquaintance’ instead of ‘meet you’.

And you can go a step further. There are plenty of words that we use in business writing almost without thinking, which could be replaced with more informal language. ‘Require’ could become ‘need’. ‘Request’ could become ‘ask’.

If there are two choices, go for the simpler option – the one you’d most naturally use in conversation. Not only does this make your business writing more informal, it also makes complex ideas easier to grasp at a glance.

Relax the rules of grammar

Formal writing follows formal grammar rules. Natural conversation usually doesn’t. So by relaxing the rules of grammar, your writing will inevitably come across as more informal. 

This doesn’t mean you should start making up your own rules. But don’t be afraid to start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘but’, or end a sentence with a preposition if you want to. The last sentence you read did both of these things, and it didn’t feel too casual, did it?

Try rhetorical questions

If you look back at the last sentence in the previous paragraph, you’ll see an example of a rhetorical question, which is something we use a fair bit in casual conversation.

Adding one or two into your writing can make it feel more personal and conversation. After all, if the author of an article asks you a rhetorical question, you feel like they’re talking directly to you, right? Just don’t put too many in or you’ll end up sounding like a broken record.

Use shorter sentences

Those writing with a formal tone tend to use not only big words but also long, convoluted sentences and complex sentence structures. Shorter sentences, on the other hand, make your writing more informal. They also make it easier for your reader to quickly grasp the meaning of what you’re communicating. 

You can even use sentence fragments on occasion. Like this one. Or this. Like all rule breaking, just make sure you’re not overdoing it. 

Add parenthesis

Another way to make writing feel more conversational is to add a parenthesis. This is a word or phrase that is inserted into a sentence in rounded brackets (fyi, these are also called parenthese), almost like an afterthought.

How informal is too informal?

Of course, every organisation is different and there are many types of business writing. You’ll need to judge what is appropriate in your business context. Official letters might need a more formal style whereas day-to-day client communication might take a more informal style. Social media posts are likely to be more chatty than strategic business reports.

That’s where brand tone of voice guidelines or other communication style guides come in handy, giving everyone a framework against which to benchmark whether something is too formal or too informal. These guidelines should set out information about your target audience and how best to communicate with each sub-group.

As a general rule though, if you’re aiming for professional writing – even if you’re going for a relaxed, human tone of voice – it’s best to avoid swearing, slang terms or text speak like ‘lol’ unless you’re doing it deliberately to make a point. Likewise be careful to avoid spelling mistakes and other careless typos.

As with any creative subject, you need to know what the rules are, when you can break them and what effect breaking them will have. 

Also remember that it’s not all or nothing. You don’t have to choose between academic writing and the language you’d use in everyday conversation with your mates. There are degrees of formality and you can dial your writing up or down depending on the circumstance. Just take a look at these three sentences: 

If you want to know whether your writing has a conversational tone or not, try reading it out loud. If you feel silly or stuffy, there’s a chance you need to take a more informal approach with your writing style. The phrases that don’t sound natural out loud are the ones to work on.For more business writing tips, follow us on social or subscribe to The Right Words to get a fortnightly dose of creative ideas, content marketing advice and more.

There are many excellent reasons why businesses should add blogging to their marketing mix. But in the end, what you really want from any marketing channel is leads, right? 

Now we’re going to caveat this post by saying something really important: content marketing is about the long game. If you try it out for a month and compare it to, say, paid advertising, that’s a bit of an unfair match.

However, just because blogging leans slightly more towards the brand building side of marketing than the pure growth marketing side, that doesn’t mean it can’t generate leads. If you’re strategic about it.

So here are five strategies to get your blog delivering more leads into your pipeline.

1. Pick that low-hanging fruit

There are a bunch of people out there who want to buy your products, use your services, donate to your cause or in some other way do the thing you want them to do. They just need help to get across the finish line.

Imagine, for example, that you’re the CMO of a rapidly scaling SaaS company. Your platform offers a way to shortcut a key process for your customer – but your competitor is saying the same thing.

That’s where a ‘How we…’ post comes in handy. By giving your audience a glimpse behind the curtain – showing them how your expertise works rather than simply telling them you have it – you earn a greater degree of trust. Trust that makes spending money with you that much easier.

And that’s just one example of a sales-led blog post. You could also write a post that breaks down your approach to pricing and showcases where the value lies for your audience compared to other options on the market. Or you could answer a key objection, like we have in ‘How can you blog for my business if you’re not an expert in my subject?’ 

Sales-driven blog content isn’t about the hard sell. It’s about facilitating great decision making. By the end of a great sales post, you can legitimately suggest that your reader gets in touch, books a demo or even taps ‘buy now’, because you’ve helped them see why that’s the right choice for them.

“Creating chains of interlinked blog content like this is a great way to guide your potential customer or client along the buyer journey until they become a lead. It also helps the reader to hop off the trail if they’re not a good fit for you.”

2. Keep the not-ready-yet audience on your radar

No matter what you’re offering and no matter who you’re offering it to, there’s no way that everyone in your target audience will be ready to buy at the exact moment they read your blog. This is particularly true in B2B marketing where studies show that 95% of your audience is out-of-market.

Your reader might not have the budget right now. Or they might have just bought something similar. Perhaps they need internal sign off, or they just want to think about it a bit more.

But if your blog has engaged them sufficiently, you can capitalise on your success by prompting them to do something.

You might ask them to follow you on social media, for example, or sign up for your newsletter so that you can continue to deliver useful content into their inbox. Or you could sweeten the deal with a lead magnet and create a nurture series to help move the process forward.

This might not be as immediately exciting to you as getting a reader to call your sales team, but by creating a way to stay in touch, you can continue to market to them until they are ready.

Whatever the case, don’t rely on the reader’s initiative. When they’re ready to buy, they probably won’t find their way back to your brand just because they read your blog a year ago. So create a tentative connection now that you can build on later.

3. Create buyer journey blog chains

Imagine your reader is at the very beginning of their buyer journey. They’re in the dark, not knowing they have a problem or, if they do, they’re only vaguely aware of the full extent of that problem or what’s causing it. You can change that. This is where you create content that helps them to explore the problem, validates what they’re feeling and shows them what the real issue is.

They won’t be ready to buy after reading. But they will be able to learn about the various solutions that can tackle their newly defined problem. After which they might be interested in exploring one solution in particular. And once they’ve reached that point, they might want to know the details of what you offer, including your process and pricing.

Creating chains of interlinked blog content like this is a great way to guide your potential customer or client along the buyer journey until they become a lead. It also helps the reader to hop off the trail if they’re not a good fit for you.

In a blog chain, you’ll adjust your CTA as your reader progresses. The earlier posts encourage further reading, lead magnet downloads or newsletter signups, and the later posts can get more sales-led.

4. Combine your blogging efforts with other channels

Good blog content is foundational. It shouldn’t sit on your website in isolation, with the vague hope that people will stumble across it. It needs to work with the other channels you’re investing in – and even feed those channels content.

The best way to get your blog generating leads is to ensure as many people as possible see it. And that means sitting it within a much wider strategy that includes, for example, social media, SEO, paid advertising, PR and so on.

If you’re using more than one marketing partner, make sure there’s enough communication between them. There’s no point having your PR or SEO agency going off in one direction and your blogging agency heading off in another.

Get your sales team involved too so that they make the most of the content you’re producing. It’s far nicer for a prospect to be sent a helpful blog post than to be hassled with a vague and ineffective, “Just wondering whether you need any help with X…”

5. Serve the robots, as well as the humans

If your sales machine relies on a high volume of input then one of the best and cheapest ways to generate the leads you need from your blog is to combine it with a well thought out organic search strategy.

This does not mean that you pick a few low cost, low competition keywords and stuff them willy nilly into a badly thought out post written by a barely literate stranger you found on Fivr. Not unless you’re happy to sacrifice your long term brand image for an initial flurry of visitors that offer nothing more than vanity metrics.

Google and co are likely to become increasingly human in their approach to judging the value of blog content over time, whereas people are unlikely to become more machine-like. So your flesh-and-blood audience still needs to be your first priority.

But there’s no reason why you can’t serve both robot and human. For SEO-led blogging strategies, we use Frase to ensure that we’re hitting the right SEO targets, leaving our writers free to do what they do best, which is create high value, well written, engaging and informative content.

This is how we helped our client Addland generate 150,000 impressions and 7,000 clicks to their website within the first six months after they launched their land buying platform. It’s also why Blueheart’s internal content creator said our approach to SEO optimisation is so hidden that their posts “just feel like solid, well-researched, empathetically-written articles.”

How to build lead generation into your blogging strategy

As with any marketing channel, blogging needs to be a strategic activity with a clear plan that is outlined at the start and checked on regularly. That plan needs to be based on the needs of your audience, it needs to sit within a wider marketing strategy and it needs to have clear goals from the outset.

You’ll need to set your expectations properly too, giving the blog at least 9 months and more likely 12 or even 18 months to deliver regular and reliable leads, especially if you’ve got a long sales cycle.

Blogging isn’t a lead gen silver bullet. In fact we’d argue that there is no such thing. But with the right strategy and a great team to deliver the best quality content, blogging can absolutely generate leads effectively and consistently for any business.

Want to talk lead gen with the blogging experts at RH&Co? Get in touch today.

Every marketer has their favourite way of describing the stages of the buyer journey. Some stick to the basics with Awareness, Consideration and Decision. Others prefer AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. You’ve also got the awareness journey: problem aware, solution aware, most aware.

All are helpful to a degree, especially when planning your broader marketing strategy and channel mix. But if you try to apply them to generating topic ideas for your content marketing plan they’re not always so effective.

That’s why at RH&Co we’ve developed our own framework, based on the process we use to create editorial calendars for our clients. In this post, we’re looking at the five key stages your customer or client is likely to go through and the type of content you should be aiming to create at each one.

Stage 01: In the dark

In stage one, your reader is either not aware of their problem or not clear on their real problem. 

For example, they might not realise that their app’s security is at risk because they haven’t got a maintenance schedule in place. Or they might know that they’re having stomach problems but not realise they have a wheat intolerance.

Goal

At this stage your goal needs to be to educate your audience and raise their awareness, identifying and exploring the problem until they’re really clear on what it is. 

This audience type is right at the beginning of their journey, so don’t try to rush them to a sale. Instead, get them to the point where they feel confident about researching solutions.

Content

You could start with a piece of content about the wider issues facing your reader’s industry or share your opinion on why a particular problem is worth addressing. 

You could also highlight the warning signs that might indicate a certain problem is looming or challenge them to think about an issue in a new way. 

Stage 02: Stuck

Now your audience is clear that there’s a problem – but they have no idea what to do about it. 

In the example above, your reader may be panicking about the security risk facing their new app or feeling relieved that their stomach pain has a genuine source. But how do you improve app security or deal with wheat intolerance?

Goal

The goal in this stage should be to add real value, introducing the variety of solutions that are available. It’s important not to focus too heavily on your own solution just yet – sell now and you’ll look self interested rather than genuinely helpful.

Your reader wants the facts laid out for them so that they can make an independent, informed decision about what’s right for them, without feeling pressured.

Content 

This is where ‘how to’ content comes into its own. You can keep this content fairly broad, or start to narrow it down a little – although keep some ideas back for the next stage (you’ll see what we mean in a moment).

It’s also helpful to dig beneath the problems your reader is facing and help them understand why they’re having them. After all, it’s hard to fix something if you don’t know what’s causing it. And as humans, we’re naturally curious too.

Stage 03: Searching

Searching is like part two of Stuck. Now the reader is relatively clear on their problem and knows solutions exist. So the next step is for them to work out which of those solutions is best for them.

Is it getting a consultant in, training the in-house team or hiring a new specialist to ensure your app stays on top form? Does it mean cutting out wheat, taking a probiotic supplement or trying reiki?

Goal

This is where you start to explore each solution in depth, giving more facts such as advantages and disadvantages of each. 

Again, it’s really important to be honest rather than try to skew the reader towards your own offering. That only leads to unhappy clients and customers. If you’re a poor fit for each other, it’s best get them out of the funnel now so you can concentrate on the better fits.

Content

As we mentioned in the Stuck stage, you can use ‘how to’ content here as well. Only this time it will be more niche, focusing less on ‘how to reduce bloating’, for example, and more on ‘how to choose the right probiotic for wheat intolerance’.

You can also hone your angle to focus specifically on factors that will affect your reader’s choice, such as price, as well as comparing different options like for like.

Stage 04: Almost ready

By now your reader has not only settled on a solution but they’re considering your business – possibly alongside others – in order to make the very best choice.

The non-technical founder who didn’t realise that they had a security risk is now convinced that they do, and that they need a consultant – why should they choose you? Your wheat intolerant buyer is set on taking a probiotic every day but do they get your brand or a cheaper competitor?

Goal

This is where you provide the granular details that allow your reader to make their decision to spend money with you – or at the very least to get in touch to talk to your sales team.

The emotion we want to stimulate now is certainty, and that is best done with facts rather than hype. Although the marketer’s missive is ‘benefits over features’, you need to dig into features here.

Content

Content for the ‘almost ready’ stage needs to contain plenty of detail – prices, processes and anything else your reader might want to know about you. 

Here you can create objection busting content to support your sales team, and you can even put out ‘repel content’ – named by the clever Content Fortress folk at Jammy Digital – to put off anyone who is a poor fit.

Bonus content for any stage

Of course, there is some content that doesn’t quite fit neatly into any of these stages but is very much worth including because it can be enormously effective.

We call this reputation-building content and it can engage people wherever they are on their journey or even if they’re not in the market for what you’re selling at all. 

Goal

As the name suggests, reputation-building content is all about establishing your brand’s reputation, for example as a thought leader, innovator or expert voice.

By doing this, you create a secure brand position that will pay dividends when people do begin their buyer journey, and you’ll also build connections within your industry and with the wider public.

Content

This is the most difficult type of content for your competitors to copy because it is based on your unique IP, experience or perspective as a business.

It can include opinions and angles on current topics, use case studies to demonstrate real life examples, and give glimpses behind the scenes into your culture, values and ways of working.

How to use the RH&Co content framework

In an ideal world, you would fill every stage of your content framework with well researched, highly valuable and engaging copy – preferably with a strand for each separate product or service you offer.

The reality is that you’ll need to start somewhere, so think about your main challenges and the quick wins you want to gain.

Perhaps your sales team needs a boost with bottom of funnel ‘almost ready’ content. Or maybe you’re working with an SEO strategy and want to catch people’s attention while they’re (quite literally) in the searching phase.

If you’re an expert-led business – in other words, your goal is to position your brand as an authority in a given subject area – then you need to start working on that reputation-building content.

We’ll be writing more about how to put our framework into practice in due course but in the meantime, if you’d like to talk about getting our support to create your content strategy, get in touch.

Stage 05: Onboarding

Too many businesses get a deal over the line and move straight onto the next lead. But onboarding your customers and clients properly can give them that feel good feeling that develops loyalty and turns them into brand advocates.
Remember that you understand your products and services inside out but they may be new to them. This can cause some degree of trepidation, whether that’s about making the most of their new purpose or getting something wrong.

Goal

This is all about emotions – making your reader feel happy and satisfied with their purchase decision. They’ve handed over some cash, now they want reassurance they made the right choice.
Whatever you can do to get them more quickly towards their goals or ease any potential bumps along the road will help.

Content

Instruction guides make excellence onboarding content, and the great thing is that they tick a box for those nervous types in the ‘almost  ready’ phase too.
Another way to build loyalty is to give your new customer or client ideas about how to use their new purchase better or more frequently. Think workout guides

There are numerous occasions in business where persuasion is needed, the most obvious of which is in the marketing and sales process. Persuasive writing is therefore an essential skill for marketers and salespeople. But it can be a tricky thing to get right. And getting it wrong can be damaging to your brand.

Luckily, persuasive writing is something that can be learned – in fact, it’s something we offer training in. Here’s a starting point with techniques, tips and real life examples that showcase how it can be done to great effect.

First things first: what persuasive writing isn’t

We need to start by making one point really clear. Persuasion is not the same as manipulation or coercion. This isn’t about tricking people into believing something that isn’t true or forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.

In marketing and sales, your goal should always be to help your customer or client make the best decision for them. This article assumes that you’re a good fit for your audience – you just need to get their attention and help them to understand why so they can, ultimately, act on it.

If we’re all agreed on that, it’s time to look at how.

Persuasion is about people and psychology

Whether you’re trying to persuade a child to tidy up their room or a procurement lead to add you to a preferred supplier list, persuasion is all about psychology. Which is why it’s essential to start by learning about the people you’re trying to persuade.

What motivates them? What are they struggling with? What are their goals? What are their constraints? If you don’t get these basics right, you can craft the most articulate argument in the world and it’s going to fall on deaf ears.

Offer a better version of the future

Once you know what your audience is struggling with or aiming for, you can begin to shape your persuasive argument to address this.

For example, let’s say you have a new HR tech product that makes the staff review process simpler and more efficient. Rather than jumping straight on the various impressive features your product has, paint a picture for your end user.

Help them to imagine what it would be like to spend less time doing face to face reviews. Or to have a happier and more effective team. Ultimately, you want to be able to answer the question “What’s in it for me?”

Persuasion is about stimulating the right emotion

Understanding what a better version of the future looks like for your customer or client is a really useful starting point. Now you have to communicate that message to your audience using words that will engage them, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is to use emotion.

In his book, Persuasive Copywriting, Andy Maslen talks about three main categories of emotion we can use to persuade people.

Have a look at any given website, advert, flyer or other piece of copy designed to persuade, and you should be able to work out what emotion the copywriter was trying to illicit when they wrote the copy.

Here are a few examples of using emotion as a persuasive technique in website copy we’ve written for our clients:

Petals at Bibendum | pride

This copy we wrote for Petals at Bibendum is designed to appeal to high end customers who have the budget and desire to spend several hundred pounds on flowers without thinking too much about it. The words create a sense that there is an exclusive club and subtly asks whether they belong to that club. In doing so, it appeals to the sense of pride that this audience group would no doubt have about their good taste.

AppLaunch | calm

Developing an app might feel like a stressful, complicated process. The team at AppLaunch wanted to reassure their clients that it didn’t have to be that way. This section of copy encapsulates the simplicity of the process and is designed to create a feeling of calm in the reader, causing them to breathe a sigh of relief.

Stylemongers of Bristol | curiosity

Curiosity has got a bad reputation thanks to clickbait headlines that try to hack it in a manipulative way. But appealing to curiosity can be both authentic and very effective, as shown on this sales page we wrote for Stylemongers of Bristol.

Rather than jumping straight into an explanation of what the box contains and why it’s so valuable, the words we use stimulate the reader to use their imagination. Only then do we go into what’s actually in the kit.

Show, don’t tell

If we’d just described the Stylemongers of Bristol kit as a ‘designer in a box’ without adding more detail, the reader would have been left thinking, “Yes, but what actually is it?”

People make decisions with hearts and minds, so once you’ve used emotion to get their attention, make sure you offer something more substantial too.

And be sure you can prove it. Showing is a far more effective way of persuading someone than telling.

So don’t tell me you’re ‘passionate’ about using local produce at your restaurant – show me what percentage of your ingredients are sourced within a 20 mile radius. Don’t tell me your team building exercises improves staff morale – show me a customer testimonial to prove it or a reputable study that backs your techniques.

Other persuasive writing techniques

We’ve already talked about how emotion is a powerful persuasive technique. Here are a few others to try.

Storytelling

Human beings have always loved stories and they can be used in a number of ways in a persuasive context. For example, case studies are a great way of using client success stories to help persuade your audience by providing social proof. And charities often use stories to persuade people to donate by showcasing real life people who have benefitted from their work.

Your brand story might also be important. You’d think that people would choose a soft drink based on how it tastes, for example. But we know that for Lovely Drinks, their homemade, Somerset roots are integral to their brand and why people choose them, which is why we highlighted this in their website copy.

The power of three

There’s something about trios that just work, so long as you don’t overuse them. Whether it’s three words or three sentences, now you know that this is a persuasive writing technique, you’ll start noticing it everywhere. It’s popular in speech writing in particular. And remember ‘Hands, Face, Space’?

We used the power of three on the PlanIt Future website below to build emotion. The first sentence lays out a challenge creating tension. The second builds on it, escalating the tension. Then the third comes in and provides a solution, creating a sense of relief.

Personalised pronouns

Using personalised pronouns like ‘we’ and ‘you’ establishes a more personalised relationship with your audience. And relationship is essential for persuasion, as we’ll come onto in a moment.

We played on this persuasive technique when we wrote the Engineered Arts website. The line “Humans, check this out” as well as the personalised pronouns further enhanced the sense of conversation between brand and reader.

Imagine how different this paragraph would have felt if we’d written, “Engineered Arts has found a way to create robots that mimic people.”

Imperative sentences

An imperative sentence doesn’t have a subject. Instead it begins with a verb. Imperative sentences are also known as command sentences, and they are ideal for persuading people to act. This is why calls to action (CTAs) are usually imperative sentences.

Here’s a good example from Garrett Creative where we used a double CTA, both using imperative sentences, to create options for visitors at different stages of their customer journey.

Building relationships – the importance of timing

Last but not least, persuasion isn’t just about what words you use. It’s also about when you use them. Because if you go in too hard, too early, you’re going to come across like a pushy car salesman.

The most effective persuasion comes from a foundation of relationship. We’re not enormous fans of Gary V’s ‘Jab, jab, jab, right hook’ analogy as we’d rather not paint marketing and sales as a violent sport! But the principle is sound. It’s all about adding value for your audience and earning your right to ask for what you want.

You also need to know where your customer is on their journey. If they’re only just figuring out that they have a problem, don’t jump straight in and try to shove your solution down their throat.

Help them explore the problem and understand it fully, perhaps with a blog post, video or webinar. Showcase the broad types of solution available and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Maybe now they’re ready to give you their email in return for a useful download.

The more complex, important or expensive a buy decision is, the longer it’s likely to take. Which means you might need to adjust your perception of persuasion as a ‘get them over the line’ approach.

Persuasive writing can have an instant effect, of course – we’ve all bought something on a whim because we were hooked by a clever advert from a brand we’ve never heard of. The important thing is to understand where that’s possible and plan for the times when it isn’t.

If you know your audience and what they’re looking for, if you speak to both their heart and their head, and if you let them come to you in their time, you’ll have far more success than if you resort to being pushy.

Whatever copywriting project you’re embarking on – whether it’s website copy, a chunky white paper or a series of expert led blog posts – there will come a point when you need feedback. 

Although in a perfect world you’d be happy with each and every word your copywriter presents in their first draft, the chances of that are practically zero. It may be that there are just a few tweaks that are easy enough to make or there might be broader issues around messaging, structure or tone that you’re not 100% happy with.

So how do you give feedback in a way that will ensure that your second draft copy is that much closer to what you’re looking for? Here’s what we’ve learned over the years, from a writer’s perspective.

Remember that it’s not personal

This is a really important point to start with. A lot of people find giving feedback uncomfortable, as it feels like a criticism. But as copywriters we expect to get guidance from our clients in terms of what’s working for them and what isn’t.

After all, writing is as much an art as a science. There’s an element of subjectivity, and what works for one person won’t always work for another. Our perceptions of what constitutes “formal” or “humorous” or “disruptive” might be different from yours.

So try to take the emotion out of it and simply be as clear as possible about what you do and don’t like so that the next draft is better. That said, positive framing is always nicer to receive than blunt negativity! Try “need something less technical here” instead of “this is way too complicated”.

“From the outset, it’s important to be realistic about what your copywriter will be able to achieve with the tools they’ve been given.”

Does it meet the brief?

Having said that you should be clear about what you do and don’t like, the main thing to consider is how well the copy meets the brief. After all, you’re not the target reader and part of why you’ve hired a copywriter is to bring an outside perspective.

For example, you may have asked for a technically complex piece that still needs to be accessible to a non-technical audience. In which case, don’t be surprised if the copy is simplified and not as nuanced as you – the expert – understand it to be.

Of course, creating a good, detailed brief is part of what a copywriter should be able to help you with. Ideally, work on it collaboratively and sign it off before any writing work starts so everyone is on the same page as to what good should look like.

Be realistic about what’s possible

From the outset, it’s important to be realistic about what your copywriter will be able to achieve with the tools they’ve been given.

Imagine, for example, you’re the marketing manager and your company’s subject matter expert isn’t available to come to the briefing and input their insights. Naturally your copywriter is going to have a hard time creating a unique piece of thought leadership content.

The same is true if you haven’t yet clarified your thoughts about the value proposition of your product or service. Your copywriter is going to struggle to articulate them in your first draft copy without first doing some messaging work with you.

Messaging, structure and tone

There are three overarching elements that you can consider as you put together your feedback notes. By understanding the differences, you can be that bit more accurate about which elements you need your copywriter to work on.

First, messaging. If you had to summarise the point of your blog post in a few words, what would it be? What’s the key takeaway you want people to get from your website copy? If these aren’t correct, then nothing else will be so it’s important to get them right – ideally before the writing even starts.

Structure is about how the key elements of your copy are laid out. This might be the order that you tackle your main points in a blog post, the way you segment your services on your website home page, or simply how copy-heavy different elements are.

Finally, tone is about the actual words used and the impression they give about the brand’s personality, levels of formality and so on. Are you asking people to ‘check out our sizzling deals’ or ‘take a look at our exclusive offers’, for example.

Broad vs detailed feedback

There are two general types of feedback. Broad feedback is an overarching thought about, for example, the angle of your blog post not quite being right. Perhaps the copywriter has taken one point that you made in the briefing and built too heavily on it, skewing the overall feel of the piece.

In this case, a conversation might be the easiest way to give your amends. It’ll mean they can ask more probing questions to get to the bottom of why the first draft isn’t quite working.

But sometimes broad feedback isn’t helpful. If you think the tone is “too formal”, for example, it’s helpful to highlight words and phrases in the copy that demonstrate this. As we’ve said, your understanding of what formal looks like might be different to your copywriter’s.

The practicalities – tracked changes and comments

When it comes to adding feedback into a first draft copy document, there are two different options, which we’d suggest using together. This applies for any text based document, whether you’re using Google Docs (as we do) or Word or something else.

The first is the comments function. This allows you to highlight a sentence or paragraph and say things like “too wordy” or “can we give an example here” without having to do any rewriting. Remember that you’re paying your copywriter for a reason, so don’t do more work than you have to.

If you do want to tweak any wording yourself, use the tracked changes function – in Google Docs this would be editing in ‘suggestion mode’. This gives your copywriter a chance to check the changes for errors and will also help them learn about your preferred style. This is particularly important if you’re building an ongoing relationship.

And if you are entering into a longer term relationship with a copywriter or copywriting agency, then highlighting what you like – as well as what you don’t – is very useful too.

Signing off your copy

Most copywriters will build in a couple of amends stages as standard, depending on the size, complexity and importance of a project. By being as clear and as detailed as you can in the first round of amends, you should find that by the second round you’re down to much more minor tweaks.

If your copy is being designed in some way – for example, if you’ve commissioned a website or brochure – you might want to ask your copywriter to give the content a final once over at the design proof stage. This allows them to catch any errors that might have crept in and potentially help you adjust the length of the copy to fit the design, if that’s needed.

Once you’re completely satisfied with your copy, it’s time to sign it off officially. After this point, if you need any further changes, this will generally be seen as an additional job.

If you’re happy with how your project has gone, don’t forget to tell your copywriter or agency. It’s always nice to get positive feedback! But more importantly, they should be making notes about all the feedback they’ve received so that next time you need some support, they’ll be ready to go. The first draft of your future projects should need far less in the way of amends than the original copy did.

If you say you’re good at what you do, people might be a little sceptical. If someone who has used your business says you’re good at what you do (i.e. gives you a testimonial), that’s more convincing. And if you set that endorsement within a wider context that lays out what exactly was achieved (i.e. a case study), you’re onto a real winner.

We all know that storytelling is a powerful way to engage people. The human race has been using stories – to entertain, to teach, to persuade – since the dawn of time. Good stories use the ‘show, don’t tell’ method of communication to bypass our conscious mind and tap into something much more primitive.

That’s why case studies are so effective. Or rather, why they can be so effective – if they’re done well. This is a guide for business owners and marketers who want to create genuinely effective case studies that get results.

How to pick the right subject for your case study

Naturally when it comes to choosing the right subject for a case study, you want an example where you can show that you delivered excellent results. You’ll also need to make sure that the customer or client in question is happy to put their name to it and, ideally, get actively involved (more on that later).

Beyond this, the main thing to think about is whether the example you’re considering is a good reflection of your ideal customer, client or project. The point of a case study is to attract more of the same sort of work, so if a job wasn’t all that profitable, for example, then don’t feature it, even if the results were good.

The best case studies are the ones that highlight a particular benefit you want to promote, which are in a sector you’re planning to pursue, or have some other feature that makes them a beacon for the kinds of work that you most want to do.

Transformation and benefits – the absolute essentials

The most important element of a case study is the transformation. You want to start out by showing the reader the situation your customer or client was in when they first engaged with your business.

Ideally, this will be a problem that they recognise themselves. Something that makes them think, “Yes, this is exactly what I’m struggling with!” Something that will compel them to keep reading because they want to know what the solution is.

Then, you want to finish with the positive difference that working with you or using your product had on their lives. That contrast – the transformation – is the foundation that every case study should be built on.

Just be sure that you’re not limiting your transformation to the practicalities. We need to go beyond features here, and focus on benefits.

For example, if you designed a new piece of software that achieves a key admin task in half the time of the manual process, that’s great. But make sure that you also talk about how customer experience has improved thanks to the faster service, and employees are happier now that they’re not spending half their day doing tedious admin tasks.

“ You can create the most powerful and well written case study in the world but if it isn’t easy to read, most people are going to give up after a couple of lines.”

Taking it to the next level

Now that you’ve got the foundations in place, you want to start building up layers of evidence that support your case study.

Hard facts

Any empirical facts that you can include will add weight to your assertions. In the example above, don’t just talk about customer experience improving – tell the reader that the client’s average Trustpilot score has increased from 4.2 to 4.8. Or that their staff turnover is down 15% on the previous year.

Direct quotes

Direct quotes are another useful way to back up your assertions, especially if your case study doesn’t naturally lend itself to tangible numbers. 

In one of our case studies, our client Vaq Hussain, marketing manager at Actual Experience, said, “I would say Rin Hamburgh & Co’s strengths are not just in their writing. Rin and her team are excellent listeners. Finding the important details in what we were telling them, understanding the relevance to our audience and converting it to a usable content piece is what impressed me the most.”

If we say we’re good listeners, there’s no reason for you to believe us. If someone else says it, it’s far more convincing.

Other formats

You can also build on your case study by using a range of formats. If your customer or client is willing to give you quotes to include, why not ask them to record a video so you have a visual testimonial to share?

Or if you have lots of great facts and figures, turn them into infographics. These are easy to share, quick to process and perfect for a time-poor audience that wants to engage quickly with your content.

How to interview a client for a case study

If you want to use first person quotes for your case study, you’ll need to think about how to get the information you want from them. Simply asking them to write a few lines or paragraphs about their experience with you is going to get mixed results at best.

At the very least, make sure to email over a list of questions that encourages them to explore the aspects you want to focus on. For example, ask them to describe the problem that they were facing when they came to you, so you have the base for your transformation story. 

If you particularly want to highlight an aspect of your product or service, make sure one of the questions leads to that. Perhaps you know that your machinery operates much more quietly than most. Be sure to ask, “How has using X impacted on noise levels at your site?”

The best scenario, however, is to actually ask your questions live. That way you can use follow up questions to explore interesting lines that emerge as you talk. Often the best and most useful nuggets of information come from pursuing what was originally a throwaway comment.

If it doesn’t feel natural to conduct an interview like this in-house – and it’s true that it can be a bit awkward to ask people to say nice things about you to your face – you can use a freelance marketer or agency such as RH&Co to do it for you.

How to make your case studies more engaging

You can create the most powerful and well written case study in the world but if it isn’t easy to read, most people are going to give up after a couple of lines. Structuring an engaging case study is very much like structuring an engaging blog post.

Subheads

Use subhead to stop the ‘scary wall of text’ effect, which is a sure fire way to put off a busy reader. Subheads can be functional, clearly showcasing what each section contains e.g. The Challenge, The Solution, The Result. Or they can be more conceptual, drawing out elements of the story.

Images

Another way to break up solid text is by using images. Some case studies will naturally lend themselves to imagery – for example, if you run an event business, you can use photographs taken at the event you’re highlighting. But more generic brand images can also work to create interest on the page – see our case studies as an example.

If your case study contains data, you can represent this visually. It doesn’t have to be a full infographic; a graph or pie chart can be enough to lift a page that would otherwise look dull or impenetrable.

Pull quotes

This refers to a single line or short paragraph of text that is highlighted in a different font size and / or colour to help it stand out from the rest of the copy. Like graphics, these provide ‘entry points’ into the page, stopping your reader from scrolling and hooking their interest so that they read more.

How to get more eyes on your case studies

Of course, in order for your readers to engage with your case studies, they first need to know that they exist. That’s why it’s important that you make them as easy to find as possible.

Optimise them for SEO

A byproduct of formatting your case study well with images and subheads is that you will add great SEO value. For images, make sure you’ve included the right keywords in both the image files and the alt text. Other areas to focus on include meta descriptions and the case study URL itself.

Make them prominent on your website

If you have a decent selection of case studies, you should have a dedicated spot on your website where your visitors can go and look through them. This should be easy to find via the menu on your website.

But don’t stop there. Use a panel on your homepage to showcase highlights and include a strong call to action to lead people through to the case study page. You can include relevant highlights on product, services and industry / sector pages too.

Share them on social media

As with blog posts, there are various ways to share your case studies. Don’t just push them out once and then forget about it. Draw out different elements of the story, share testimonial quotes and hard facts, ask questions to find out what struggles your audience is facing. And remember to tag the company and individual(s) involved so that you increase your reach.

Use them in your emails

If you’ve got a newsletter, you can use it as a platform to share new case studies as you publish them. But there are more powerful ways to use case studies in emails too.

If you use lead magnets, for example, make sure to use case studies within your nurture sequences. You can also use them within direct sales emails as a way to help overcome objections and move leads through the buying journey.

Effective case studies – a conclusion

To be effective, a case study needs to do five things.

  1. Be easy to find, be that on social, via search or for visitors coming to your website.
  2. Be easy to read. Forget an off putting wall of text. Use images, subheads and pull quotes to create entry points for your reader.
  3. Be built around a foundation of transformation that highlights the end benefits of your products and services. 
  4. Speak to your ideal audience, drawing in clients who will benefit your business (and vice versa) and putting off anyone who wouldn’t be a good fit.
  5. Stand out from the crowd and be memorable. Use infographics or video to make an impression, and facts and testimonial quotes to back up your assertions.


If you can get your case study firing on all five cylinders, it can be an incredibly powerful tool in your marketing and sales toolkit. For support in creating case studies for your business, get in touch with us on talktous@rin-hamburgh.co.uk or call 0117 990 2690.

The simple answer is yes, no and sort of. Presuming the question is “Can I learn to write for my business?” not “Can I become the next Virginia Woolf?” then we can at least get some of the way there.

What can be taught

In his book On Writing, Stephen King outlines the basics of a writer’s toolbox. This involves understanding grammar (even if you choose to ignore it), avoiding the passive voice and eliminating unnecessary adverbs.

These are fairly easy fixes. Tweaks that can be applied to your existing writing to make it more readable. They are the kind of principles that can be learned – that you can even teach yourself.

King says you cannot teach a good writer to be a great one. And you cannot teach a bad writer to be a good one. But you can teach a competent writer to be a better one. Read any of our ‘how to’ blogs and you will find ways to take your writing up a notch.

“The gift of a good editor is what hones a writer from a free-spirited creative into a focused force.”

What takes time

There are ways to improve your writing. But the amount of time you can invest in writing is an important factor. Think of it like learning the piano. With a little practice you can learn to play Coldplay’s Clocks. But it takes a lot longer to learn how to play Shostakovich. Like, years.

If you have the time to invest, spend it reading and writing. And reading. And writing some more. Much about good writing is learning to recognise the rhythm in a paragraph, the subtleties in sentence structure. This kind of pattern recognition is the product of a seasoned professional. It takes work, but it can be done.

If you’re talking about copywriting, you also need to add in a bunch of stuff that fits around the writing. Like consumer psychology. Brand personality. Customer journeys. General marketing strategy. Copywriting, as we’ve said before, is not just any old writing.

Learning from others

Almost as important as the time you invest is the feedback you receive. The gift of a good editor is what hones a writer from a free-spirited creative into a focused force. Every writer has their blind spots and every new writer has many. 

A good mentor stops you from second-guessing your good writing and they can tell you straight when a paragraph is a load of waffle. They can help you grow in confidence and inspire you to take your writing beyond the perimeters of your own thinking.

If you don’t have an obvious mentor to hand, bounce ideas off your friends and colleagues. What does that word make you feel? Does this sentence make sense or is it confusing? Would you be interested enough to read to the end of that paragraph if I didn’t tell you to? 

Other people’s feedback can begin to build an awareness in you of what your writing is actually communicating.

What can’t be taught

No one can be taught to enjoy writing. If you hate it, if it bores you, you’d be better investing your time elsewhere. In this case, delegation could be your new best friend. Check for writing talent hiding in your staff team or hire a copywriter to make sure your writing is as good as it can be (yes, that was a subtle sales pitch!).

Finally, for some people writing might be something they really want to do, but each and every time they sit at the keyboard their head fills with fuzz. This is a greater creative block than the kind you solve with a few new writing principles.

If that describes you, don’t give up on a desire to write – but writing for your business probably isn’t the kind of pressure you need right now. Take a step back and take some creative risks in a less hazardous arena. Have a go at poetry, a short story, a comic sketch – there’s more than one kind of writer. Mix it up and maybe that creative fuzz will fade and something new will take its place.

The words we use make a big difference to how people perceive us – and it’s no different for brands. In today’s blog post, RH&Co founder Rin picks through the vocabulary choices she has deliberately made in order to make a subtle statement about our values as a business. What impression do the words you use make about your brand?

You know how sometimes you meet someone and you just get a feeling about them that you don’t like? You might not quite be able to put your finger on what it is, but you just sense that they’re a bit arrogant, or condescending, or untrustworthy. 

Chances are that if you were to analyse the language they used in their conversation with you, you’d be able to spot a few words that helped you make this impression.

The words we use are incredibly powerful in communicating our personalities and our values. Naturally, as a writer, I find this fascinating. But is it something that you as a business owner or marketer should care about? I would say yes.

Building a brand one word at a time

Brands are built on a million small things. Just look at how much thinking goes into the colours in a logo, for example. Businesses can spend thousands working out whether a particular shade of green is likely to be seen as trustworthy or whether a sample group of clients feels a  certain shade of red feels aggressive rather than bold.

Language is similarly important. Your brand voice says a lot about who you are as a business. Are the words you use passionate or playful? Sassy or serious? Are you informative or irreverent?

Today’s consumers care about company values in a way they haven’t in the past and they’re more likely to spend their money with businesses that have similar values to their own. So it’s vital that you are clear about who you are as a business and what you stand for. And that you communicate this not only in what you say but how you say it.

Here are some of the language choices we’ve made at RH&Co and the reasons why we’ve made them.

A statement about relationship

There’s something about the word staff that makes me think about Downton Abbey. If I were to talk about “my staff”, I feel like it would immediately place them below me. It would suggest a hierarchy that simply doesn’t exist at RH&Co.

Instead, I always talk about the team, because that’s how I see us all. Yes, technically they’re employees and I’m the “boss” (another word I can’t abide!) but that’s just not how we work. We operate as a cohesive whole. No one tells anyone what to do. We respect each other’s positions, skills and experience.

In the same way, I always talk about the people who work with me rather than for me. The way I see it, we’re all working for the business, because the business is all of us. The better the business does, the better we all do, and vice versa. Again, it’s a team effort.

Creating a positive impression

At RH&Co, we try to speak in a positive way. That doesn’t mean we don’t say things that might inherently have a negative aspect. It’s just that we try to use language and phrasing that presents it in the most positive way possible.

For example, when talking about our website health check, we might tell prospective clients that this service will help them identify what’s working and what’s not. But we don’t want the focus to be on what’s not working, which is negative.

Instead, we talk about where there might be room to get their copy working even harder for their business. In this way, we keep the focus on the positive end results of changing that copy which isn’t working.

What does this have to do with values? Well, as a business we want people to feel encouraged rather than disappointed. Yes, there’s a lot of really terrible website copy in the world. Yes, there are many businesses that aren’t blogging strategically. But being critical isn’t in our DNA. Instead, we’re enthusiastic about the possibilities for improvement and the benefits this can bring to our clients.

Language, gender and equality

There’s no getting away from the fact that we live in a world dominated by white, middle class men. In order for this to change, we need to make changes ourselves, both big and small. Language may not seem like a priority, but it can be powerful for shaping hearts and minds.

For example, as a society, we tend to default to a male pronoun. I notice this a lot when I’m talking to my children. They will often refer to, say, a toy or a creepy crawly in the garden as “he”. As a result, I make a concerted effort to use “she” as often as I can, as in “Oh look, a caterpillar – isn’t she colourful?”

In a work context, we recently had a client who adjusted a phrase we’d written, switching the original “he or she” for “she or he”. Again, an incredibly subtle difference but so easy to change and, along with millions of other small changes, important in the long run. 

Of course, this particular conversation will need to continue as more people choose not to identify with an assigned gender at all, preferring the pronoun “they”.

In the meantime, other ways we try to address the gender balance in our language include making sure never to refer to women as girls, and avoiding adding a gender reference where it simply isn’t needed. For example, there’s no need to talk about a female CEO, a female surgeon or a female engineer when CEO, surgeon and engineer will do just fine.

One or two words or phrases taken in isolation might not seem like much. But they make a difference. That’s why our strapline reads: you don’t need many words, just the right ones. If you want to talk to a professional about your business’s brand voice and core messaging, get in touch to find out how we can help.

Messaging is a tough nut to crack at the best of times, let alone when it’s difficult to explain what your business actually does. Our #WriterInResidence, Sam Whitlock, looks at five brands that waded into these muddy waters and made them clear as glass.

When it comes to clarifying your company’s message, it’s easy to misunderstand the problem. You don’t have to explain what your company or product does, necessarily. You do need to show your audience why they should care.

Some businesses are lucky. The market is known enough, their brand is simple or established enough that they can boil everything down to “Buy vintage clothes online,” and proceed to show you images of Christmas jumpers.  Or they can simply say “All your admin sorted,” or “Get this and get it cheap,” and even at glance their target audience might be interested. 

But if your organisation does more complex or niche work, you’re competing not only against a potential lack of interest but a lack of understanding too. Your branding can quickly fall into one of two traps: 1) Your message gets muddied by explanation. Or 2) Your message becomes generic and doesn’t truly tap into your actual brand offering.

To capture your audience, you need a crystal clear message that goes to the heart of what your audience cares about. Here’s five businesses that pull it off…

Telerick.com – “Modern UI made easy”

You and I might not know anything about JavaScript. But we can probably appreciate that developing a user interface is not generally not easy. If anyone is making it simple, that’s going to be a selling point. Telerick’s website is quick to fill in the gaps for more discerning browsers:

“Build feature-rich experiences for Web, Mobile and Desktop faster than ever.”

“Stop sweating over UI and focus on the parts of the application where you can truly make a difference.”

What jumps out at you here? Phrases like “Feature-rich,” “faster than ever,” and “stop sweating” are getting straight to the core of what developers care about: time, energy and the free rein to invent. And you don’t have to speak code languages to appreciate the value here. So if someone in a design department stumbles across Telerick, they’ll be able to recommend it to their more technical counterparts. 

One of the key tricks Telerick is deploying here is to skip explanations and start making promises. They don’t waste their breath telling you how they’re going to do it (until you read on); they’re getting straight to “Here’s why you should care.”

Slack – “Slack replaces email in your company”

Okay, so this strapline is dated because everyone (basically) knows what Slack is now. They’ve become so established that they don’t have to define themselves anymore. And their new homepage introduces Slack as “your new HQ” instead.

But there was a time when Slack was a skinnier, scrappier fighter trying to get its name out there. It had to define its place in the market while simultaneously ensuring businesses saw its essentiality. If it had settled on, “Slack: Your business’s messaging service,” it would have missed its simplest and central selling point:

Nobody likes email.

If Slack focused on telling you its many functions and time-saving, ease-of-use benefits, it would sound like just another business add-on. But an alternative to email… that’s worth having, surely. For sanity’s sake alone.

The beauty of clear messaging is that it makes conceptual, technical or nuanced ideas very simple to grasp. Slack doesn’t seem like a complicated tool to explain now – but that’s only because their branding team first did their homework. And speaking of this phenomenon…

Apple iPod – “1,000 songs in your pocket”

The iPod worked magic in the mp3 market because their message was clearer than their competitors. While everyone else was trying to communicate that they had a digital walkman device thing, Apple were singing a simpler tune.

The phrase resonated with people so effectively because it spoke directly to their experience. This was a new device, potentially complicated, possibly unwieldy. For many, the idea of popping a CD into a player was much simpler than fussing around with internet downloads and limited storage. But Jobs’ team found a way to make iPod sound limitless and streamlined. Carrying around CDs suddenly seemed cumbersome compared to such a simple idea.

It’s interesting that the words you traditionally associate with tech: digital, future, software, power, innovation, were scrapped in favour of everyday language. While Google’s algorithms will require us to use the keywords associated with our industry (at least for the foreseeable future), we have to be careful we’re not letting that become an obstacle to our message.

UiPath – “We make robots so people don’t have to be robots”

Artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, machine learning algorithms…. can’t we just call them all robots and be done with it? There’s something very refreshing about the way UiPath uses language that could have been understood in 1975.

While many of the AI and automation companies use grand statements to elevate themselves as harbingers of the future, UiPath scales it back. Their message doesn’t meander through the technical hocus pocus but drives straight to the human benefit: your people will be free to use their time, energy and human intelligence more creatively.

There’s a time and a place for grand statements like: unlock the future, power your dreams, achieve the impossible. But they can sometimes be a little bit vague. As if they came out of a slogan generator. UiPath on the other hand, drives home a specific message that makes artificial intelligence seem warmer and more inviting. Almost human. 

SEGA – “SEGA do what Ninendon’t” (and more offensive examples!)

A new generation of video game consoles has been released but their messaging can’t quite match the sassy, cheeky, crass tactics of early 90s SEGA.

At the time Nintendo had monopolised the video game market and even though SEGA were coming onto the scene with a more powerful console, it would be tough to get noticed in the 8-bit world that Mario had come to rule.

SEGA could have pushed their 16bit technology, which gave games greater detail and colour. Or they could have tried to imitate Nintendo’s campaigns that emphasised power. But instead of explaining the console’s capabilities, they made their message crystal clear through their outrageous tone.

Here’s just some of the copy from SEGA’s print adverts. And these are the tamer examples – (I don’t necessarily recommend trying these at home!):

SEGA tone was a clear differentiator from cutesy, child-friendly Ninendo. Their message was razor sharp: theirs is a console for adults, for teenagers, for people too cool for Nintendo (note: these days Nintendo are pretty damn cool too!). SEGA showed they weren’t just “another” console, or a better one, they were their own beast.


If you’re looking to hone your own business messaging, check out our thoughts on how to explain what your business does so people understand quickly or learn how to tweak your copy with subtle subversions so that your brand evokes something new.

***

If you’re a barrister or you own a restaurant or you’re the marketing manager of a coworking space, this isn’t the blog post for you. But if your business is slightly harder to define – if you dread going to a networking event and someone asking, “So what is it that you do?” – then you’re in the right place. 

Many of our clients are experts in complex subjects that don’t lend themselves to a one or two word description. We’ve been working with a number of them recently to create foundational copy, messaging and brand voice guidelines to help them clearly communicate what they do.

If you struggle to explain what your business does so people understand quickly, here are a few tips to get you started.

Does your audience speak your language?

The first and most important step in any communication is to know – really know – who you’re talking to. If you’re a B2B tech brand and your target client is as tech savvy as you, for example, then talking at an expert level and using appropriate jargon is perfectly acceptable.

If, on the other hand, your audience isn’t as familiar with your area of expertise, you’ll need to think about what they might need to understand, what might confuse them, where they might draw the wrong conclusions or be put off by technical language.

The beauty industry is a great example of where brands do this well. Sure, they might mention retinol or keratin or silica to give a gloss of scientific weight to their advertising. But they know that their audience aren’t scientists – they just want younger looking skin, glossier hair, and sparkling white teeth. 

So they chuck in a “here comes the science bit” and then focus on being “worth it” – a much more resonant message.

Forget the features – what benefits do you offer?

One of the biggest challenges we have with expert clients is getting them to stop thinking about all the amazing things they can offer and start thinking about what it is that their audience is actually trying to achieve.

When it comes to benefits vs feature, the best description of the concept is a truth widely acknowledged by marketers – that no one wants a quarter inch drill bit; they want a quarter inch hole.

Your technology (and it’s often technology brands, we’ve found, who struggle with this) may have all sorts of shiny features that make it the best on the market. But what does your audience need to accomplish with those features?

Do they need their employees to be more productive? Do they want to reduce the time they spend collating management information? Do they have environmental safety targets they’re currently failing to meet?

When you identify what benefits your audience is interested in, you have a starting point for what to talk to them about.

Does your audience know they need you?

There’s a big difference between a potential customer who is problem-aware and one who is solution-aware. 

If your audience is problem-aware, they know they have an issue – they need to make more sales, for example – but they might not know that your CRM can help them track and nurture leads to improve conversion.

In this case, what you need to communicate is an understanding of their problem and help educate them so that they begin to realise that you have the answers they’re looking for.

It may be that they are pretty “low problem-aware” and need some helping defining the real issue. So perhaps they think they need more leads but what they actually need is better quality leads or better conversation rates.

If, on the other hand, your customer is solution-aware – in other words, they know they need a CRM and they’re shopping around for the right one – you need to start talking about what makes you different to the competition and a good fit for them.

What if your offering sits within a unique category?

The toughest sell is something that disrupts the market in some way. Something that sits in a category of its own or across more than one category so that people either have no idea what it is or confuse it with things it isn’t.

This is where you really need to drill down and understand the problem that you’re solving for your audience. That way you can sell your product or service with the right framing and value proposition.

Let’s take Nepresso as an example. When they first brought out their pod-based coffee model, people may well have laughed. Why would you want to spend 40p on a cup of coffee you had to make yourself, when you can have any other instant for a fraction of the price? 

But Nepresso knew that their audience wasn’t looking for a better tasting instant coffee. They were looking for a cost effective alternative to high quality take away coffee, which they could make in the comfort of their own home. And so that’s how they communicated their offering.

Use this pitch format to help explain what it is that you do

Whether you’re selling a complex technology product or you’re delivering your service via a disruptive new business model, it’s important that you can communicate your business offering in a way that is clear and easy for your audience to understand.

Spend time getting to know your customer or client, their ambitions and their challenges. Think carefully about the language you choose, how technical or straightforward it is. Look at the benefits working with you or buying your product can deliver. And be clever about the way you opposition yourself to help cement your value proposition.

Then use this pitch format to start honing your key messaging: For [your ideal customers or clients] who are [trying to do X or facing X challenge], [your product or service] is a [product category] that provides [key value proposition]. Unlike [closest alternatives] [your product or service] offers [key features].

If you’re struggling to fit it all in, you have more work to do.

To find out more about how we can help you define and communicate your business offering, get in touch to find out more about our brand voice and other consultancy services.

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