Marketing copywriting 101 or
I went gunning in the fogg to flesh kincaid out, and shot myself in the foot!
Whether it is copy for a web page, white paper, or full color brochure the writing has to be readable. For the purposes of this piece, I am going to ignore the graphics, design, and layout of marketing materials; all of which are critical in catching the attention of your potential clients, but can’t hope to hold them if your message is indecipherable. You may ask yourself “What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” 1 If you are not ready to hear “What do you mean, African or European swallow?” 1 Then you deserve to be whisked away into the abyss. Oh look, I’ve digressed even before I began.
Let me start over.
Good marketing copywriting is simple, to the point, evocative, and most importantly client centered.
This may be tough to take but I don’t really care what you are selling. Here is the even harder fact, no one else dose either. While you have to believe that yours is the best damn ABC product out there, and you have the best features and benefits, or you wouldn’t get out of the bed in the morning. Your competitor feels the same way. If your web page is a regurgitation of your spec sheet, or your proudest points on your shiny product, or worst of all, your engineer’s dream of detailed expository on his/or her design, then you failed; because it is all about you. Your client is looking for answers to her problem. It’s not about what you think she will like, but what she needs.
Ever see this on a web page:
Our state of the art systems approach was crafted by over 20 years of customer centered engineering, designed to reduce the negatively impacting variables of your systems integration throughput, boosting your overall efficiencies while reducing costs on in-house operations.
WHAT the #@%* DOES THAT MEAN? REALLY!!?
Here is a rule to live by– give your copy to a fifth-grader, and have her read it. If she can’t; then your way off. Don’t have a fifth-grader in your house, find one in the neighborhood, or better yet put one on the payroll. Heck, you can pay him or her in gum.
Your client is just like you, bombarded with too much information to read in the time given, and she is searching for quick simple solutions that will solver her complicated problems. Your web copy that has an ease of reading index of 0 to 20 or a grade level of 16 or more is not the magic bullet she is looking for, it is gibberish clouding up the issues.
Good writing is elegant and simple.
Someone asked Georgette to dance, and I went over to the bar. It was really very hot and the accordion music was pleasant in the hot night. I drank a beer, standing in the doorway and getting the cool breath of wind from the street. Two taxis were coming down the steep street. They both stopped in front of the Bal. A crowd of young men, some in jerseys and some in their shirtsleeves, got out. I could see their hands and newly washed, wavy hair in the light from the door. The policeman standing by the door looked at me and smiled. They came in. As they went in, under the light I saw white hands, wavy hair, white faces, grimacing, gesturing, talking. With them was Brett. She looked very lovely and she was very much with them. (Earnest Hemmingway, The Sun Also Rises)
I am not implying that we are all Hemingway’s here, but his simplicity and elegance is something to strive for even on an E-zine about Acne treatments. This passage has an Ease of Readability index of 89.1 and considered third-grade level of complexity. What does that mean? It means that the writing is accessible. Your potential client can read the material quickly and easily. Better yet, he can understand it, and make good choices as to whether your product or service is right for his needs. It breaks down the them and us barrier between you and your client. He does not have to feel intimidated when he calls to make inquiries. He is more likely to call. Your web page is more productive.
Not into Hemingway? Third-grade beneath your clients? OK, Jack Kerouac samples with Ease of Readability at 69.8 and grade of 9.2. Too high, how about To Kill a Mockingbird by Truman Capote sampling at 77 and 7.4 respectively. Not your genre, Tina Fay clocks in at 80.2 on readability and 7th grade for her book Bossypants. These people made their money by being readable, accessible. What makes you think you can sell your product, (through a medium where the client has to read about it) and your prose takes a Masters in Jargon to decipher.
Let’s face it, if Mark Twain had to comply with a “build my rank” SEO keywords qualification to be seen, Huck Finn would never have needed to be banned. Marketing is important. But words for the sake of being seen to the point where the text makes no sense…well… makes no sense unless you are creating a visual picture.
“wordandimageareone” by Sigrid Jones
The Flesch-Kincaid indexing tool is generally available in word processing bundles. It is a tool that allows you, the writer, to estimate the readability (how easy to read and understand) of your text. If the Wikipedia article is true then the military created it to ensure the troops could read and understand the manuals of the equipment the use. Eventually states adopted it to create a standard or readability for insurance policies and legal documents. I don’t think my state adopted it because I have gone over some business plan boilerplate that made my head spin. I wish congress would adopt its use when writing legislation, especially tax legislation, but that is a digression.
Rule number 2– when writing for your client follow the platinum rule. The Golden Rule: treat others how you want to be treated. The Platinum Rule: treat others the way they want to be treated. Make your web copy easy, clear, and concise. Check its readability ratings. When you are searching for answers on the web, searching for a vendor or consultant, do you want to get lost in the jargon jungle or find the answers fast so you can get on with your life? Put yourself in your client’s position and read your copy. Is it centered on his/her needs or is it a cluttered showcase of your features and benefits? Get your fifth-grader a pack of gum and ask her to tell you if she has any clue what you are selling, and would she buy it from you?
PS: this essay clocked in at 75% ease of readability and at 7th grade level.
1 Monty Python and the Holy Grail 1974