Words matter more than we ever think. We may sometimes agonise over which adjective to use to bring a sentence together but do we think hard enough every time? Do we focus on ensuring that what we write is right and that it speaks to the person we are writing for?
Let’s look at how minding your language can help you connect, entertain and build a relationship with your audience.
I love writing. From captions to conference speeches, brochure copy to billboards and even weeks-worth of social media posts in advance. I adore it.
Do I find it frustrating at times? Yes, of course. Do I sometimes hate myself for the lack of creativity and sheer brilliance that should be on display in every tiny piece of writing I do? Only to come back to it and realise that it is perfect for the purpose and we can’t all write ‘The Great Gatsby’ in every tweet, no matter the florid language? Too often, yes.
I also love to read what others have written. Not just books but blogs, news reports and even social media content. As there is beauty to be found in the written word across a wide vast array of media.
However, I’ve noticed a worrying trend starting to creep ever more insidiously into the delicate ecosystem of promotional copywriting. A festering malignancy that is blighting the landscape and I’m trying my utmost to combat it.
“I like good strong words that mean something…”
― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women
The Battle of Overused Words
I loathe this word.
Of course, I didn’t always feel this way. However, much like the experience of my saintly namesake, I had a profound conversion moment that changed my outlook forever.
You see, a former leader of mine, who I sincerely and will forever respect, berated me for using this very word in a piece of copy. Their words are forever burned into my psyche:
“That is a shouting word. FAN-TASTIC. We do not need to shout to get our point across.”
It was as if the scales had been lifted from my eyes. I saw this word for what it is. A powerful word, yes, but an often overused and quite honestly, wrongly used one too. In its truest form it describes something imaginative or fanciful; removed from reality.
Today it is used more as a catch-all word for something or someone that has done anything mildly positive. Don’t just take my word for it: visit your local or regional news website and read any quote from a positive news story, especially a new product launch or special event, and you will see the quotes littered with fantastics. Sometimes it will be used multiple times.
Other words (and they tend to be positive adjectives for some reason) are also suspiciously overused. This includes but is not limited to; amazing, astounding, cutting-edge and unique.
My issue with all of these words are two-fold, and it is not just copywriting snobbery.
Firstly the meanings of each of the words are specific; to be unique is to truly be one of a kind and that is certainly not possible in crowded markets. The same is true for ‘cutting-edge’ as your product or service may be innovative in its approach but if it was truly cutting-edge then there would be nothing like it out there, it would be unique. The same is true with either amazing or astounding. To be lucky enough to be promoting something that truly emulates the meaning of these fabulously-powerful words constantly would be an immense privilege.
It is not to say that many products or services on the market aren’t as brilliant as advertised. Instead, it is the frequency that these words are being used that means they’ve now lost their significance, and that is a terribly sad thing for me. As words have real power to shape minds, inform behaviours and drive change.
“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”
― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Writing for your audience
Let’s leave my considerable issues with ‘shouty words’ behind for a while (but you will catch yourself using them now, you’re welcome) and look at the most important part of the writing process: who you are doing it for.
The one thing I always say to people when they start thinking about producing any kind of content is; “think who will be at the other end.”
Looking at myself and this piece: I wanted to write about why certain words annoy me and to, hopefully, impart some of the things I’ve learnt along the way to help others with their copywriting. I’m hoping it sparks some conversation and debate, that’s why the tone is ever-so-slightly combative and playful, to cause the desired reaction.
That is what copywriting should always be about – creating an action.
You should always have this action (or reaction) in your head before you strike the keys.
Types of Action
- To inform
- To persuade
- To provoke (and be careful with this one!)
- To celebrate
Setting these objectives gives your writing a focus, and with that in mind, you can then move onto ensuring that your communication style matches your audience.
“I don’t want just words. If that’s all you have for me, you’d better go”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned
Build your connection
Words are important, just look at the paragraphs I’ve given over to talking about them in this piece, but they are not the only component in writing engaging copy. Your tone of voice, the way you shape your narrative are just as, if not more, important to the overall experience.
In short: it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
Things to keep in mind
- Does your target audience like to keep formal or informal?
- And, if informal are there any specific ‘slang’ words of phrases used within the community?
- Where does your audience go to consume information?
- This will shape the length and structure of your copywriting
- Are you writing as an expert, as a participant or an outsider?
It is important to think about how the audience will react to your content. If you are trying to break into a new market that has an established culture and lexicon, for example, and you don’t use or, even worse, misuse a phrase then you could permanently lose respect and their collective attention.
Conversely, write too rigidly and formally and you will come across unapproachable and your audience may feel that you and your brand is unapproachable and maybe dismissive or in contempt of the wider public. As such, they may distance themselves from you.
Marketing, at its very core, is about establishing a relationship. For a brand not to communicate effectively with the written word is a concern, as we still read far more than we consume any other type of communication in media. From customer information on websites to weather forecasts on apps, we are constantly reading and consuming. So, it should be engaging, and dare I say, enjoyable too?
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
― Rudyard Kipling