When you get right down to it, the success of any writing is based on one thing – whether your intended audience actually reads it, understands it, and is influenced by it.
It’s really a simple rule: If your audience likes what they read, they will react favorably towards you.
Crisp, compelling writing persuades people to do business with you and/or your company. It entices readers to buy your products or contact you. Great writing allows readers to understand and agree with your position, or to think of your company/brand in a positive light.
So why do so many organizations have such ineffective writing?
There are a few reasons I think this happens. Let’s tackle these one at a time:
Reason 1: Writing is subjective
Notice this article isn’t about “bad” writing – it’s about “ineffective writing”. That’s because all writing that the public sees was written by someone, and that someone doesn’t think it’s bad (even if it really is.)
Since “everyone” can write at a basic level, writing is extremely subjective.
The marketing manager of a Fortune 500 company thinks the writing he or she wrote for the brochure is good. The business owner who wrote his or her own website thinks their writing was fine.
And hey, they may have even asked colleagues and friends: “here, read this – is it good?” And the person will read it and offer an opinion (almost always positive, too.)
But there are a few flaws in that.
The obvious flaw is most people won’t tell you the truth. Your loved ones… well, they’d rather not tell you your writing is boring. And if you’re the boss? Forget it – you won’t get the truth, and will instead get what people think you want to hear (unless, of course, I worked for you. As most of my old bosses will attest, I was pretty clear about letting them know how I felt.)
Anyway, back to your writing – your writing doesn’t have to impress your loved ones or the people who will lie to you because you control their paycheck. Your writing has to impress complete strangers, which is an entirely different ballgame.
That’s because once these complete strangers graduated school, they generally stopped reading things they didn’t want to read. You do it yourself – you don’t read things that don’t interest you or are poorly written, right? Why would you?
This is why so many companies don’t have effective writing. They simply don’t know it’s not effective, because nobody tells them “I didn’t read it because it wasn’t interesting”.
Reason 2: People do not read the way you want them to.
Most people on my website will not read this blog article. Even fewer will read this far into it. In fact, if more than one out of a hundred visitors reads this sentence, I’d be really surprised. In simple terms, nobody will read your writing like you want them to. In fact, it’s proven that many people, after reading the beginning of a letter, will jump right to the PS at the end.
It’s like that for all business writing. Prettymuch the only things that get read from beginning to end are articles and books (and even then, some people cheat and skip to the ending of a book.)
This is why “scanability” is so important. Subheadings, bolds, calls to action… it all matters, very much. This brings me to the next point…
Reason 3: People write without purpose.
I used to make resumes for friends in the past. One of my friends would want all this elaborate stuff on his resume, and agonize that I wasn’t telling his story perfectly…. he was forgetting something: a resume has ONE purpose (and only one purpose) – to get you a phone call.
That’s it. That’s the purpose of a resume. And that’s what I was writing for – to tell his story so he gets called. NOT to tell his story as he saw it (which was way too long and boring). In other words, the resume really isn’t meant to please HIM, but the potential EMPLOYER.
Too often, people look at their resume as a “deal closing” tool. They want to shine so brightly in it, they somehow think the resume itself is actually going to get them a job.
It isn’t. Its only function is to get you a phone call.
It’s the same with business writing – it should have a clear purpose.
While sometimes I do write to ‘close the sale’ and sell a product, most of the writing I do is meant to spur a contact (an e-mail, a phone call, etc). All too often I run across writing that is trying to close the entire deal instead of trying to get a phone call. There’s a big difference.
Giving a few good reasons to call you and then asking readers to do so is great. Listing every single reason why they should do business with you – that isn’t so great. It’s probably boring.
That’s like the business card that says “One call, that’s all” and “no job too small” and “free estimates” and “we deliver” and “lowest prices in town”…
I’ve sold business cards in the past, and some people do just that. They think those silly slogans get them business, so they’re going to put ALL of them on there.
It’s the same with websites… If you’re looking for a contact, keep things short and simple. Two thousand words on a page is about fifteen hundred too many in asking for a contact. I’m not saying it isn’t important to give good reasons to contact you. But the writing should have a goal, and not lose sight of that goal. This is true with every piece of writing out there.
And with that, I’m off – going to spend the weekend in Vermont with Maryellen and our friends, the Wakefields.