Sunday January 25, 2015

Mind the gap

How to avoid a common copywriting pitfall

Mind the gap sign on the floor of a London Underground station with a railway line beyond

“You’ve got the wrong idea about me…”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of that particular gem?

There’s lots of different ways you might react – puff up with self-righteous indignation, lament how you’ve been taken in or even blame yourself.

But chances are, it’s not you that got it wrong.

Your words will find you out

There’s a pretty high possibility that you were actually given the wrong idea – either because someone was careless with their words, deliberately misled you or felt the need to create a particular, and as it turned out, inaccurate impression.

And as in life, so in business.

The words you use have a habit of finding you out. If there’s a gap, a mismatch, between the expectation you convey and the experience you deliver – beware!

So how can you stop your marketing communications tripping you up, over, and into the expectation/experience gap?

Say what you mean, mean what you say

By doing what your mum told you – telling the truth! Or rather, aligning your marketing with the reality of your product or service. And in making the voice, tone and words you use consistent and truly your own.

Communicating with your target audience in a way that resonates with them is vital but don’t lose the essence of who you are, what your business stands for and why you do what you do.

Own your words

Do your research, seek inspiration and work that “good artists copy, great artists steal” thing.

After all, no-one can help but be influenced by things that have gone before. But take whatever you borrow – be it slogan or sales approach – as no more than a starting point. Make sure it lends itself to your way of doing things and then put your own spin on it – make it your own.

“Being yourself,” and being authentic may have taken their place as marketing-speak perennials alongside the now tired-sounding “passion,” but they’re important things to bear in mind. All your communication, be it a tweet or a podcast, should show what it’s like to do business with you in real life.

Things to avoid

You’re not doing yourself any favours when you adopt a “this is what I think I should sound like” mindset.

Jargon or esoteric terminology (unless you can guarantee that everyone in the room or all your readers totally get it) and business-speak (to be avoided at all costs), conceal meaning and character.

Build trust with consistency

Working on a website re-write with a fine food client recently, highlighted this issue. They brought me in as they weren’t happy with how the words on the various pages of their site fitted together.

As it stood, anyone coming to them online couldn’t really be sure what they were getting. The Home/About Us/Our Mission portions of the site were friendly, witty and spoke of the company’s commitment to sourcing the best local ingredients. But once you entered the product, online shop and Contact areas, the words took on a distinctly corporate chill.

The business had been built up in farmers’ markets and selling through small, independent, local retailers. Introducing online sales was a new venture and the writing had subsequently fallen into the “this is us in real life” / “this is us online” (or rather, this is how we believe we should sound if we’re to be taken seriously online) gap.

The mismatch in tone reflected the areas in which this relatively new outfit felt uncomfortable and lacked experience. We worked together to bring the e-commerce aspect of the site in line with the established business values, style and tone so that the company’s distinctive voice rang pitch-perfect through every part of the website.

Fabulous fits – substance with style

As Hemingway said, style is “the awkwardness of a writer in stating a fact…if you try to write like somebody else you’ll have the awkwardness of the other writer as well as your own.”

And so, inadvertently, two sets of expectations to manage. Now isn’t that something worth avoiding?

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