In Other Words
By: Sharon Berman,
Published: Los Angeles Daily Journal
Writing for Marketing Demands Different Approach
Persuasive writing is the hallmark of many a litigator. Writing for marketing purposes, however, requires another set of skills. Marketing writing, even when addressed to other attorneys, is different from the type of writing you learned in law school or your English classes. It has its own set of guidelines, although few hard and fast rules. In fact, when you write for marketing purposes, rules are sometimes there to be broken. Remember Apple’s recent “Think different” campaign.
So where do you start if you want to write for marketing purposes?
Think about your audience. Because marketing writing is meant to be close and personal, it’s important to think of your audience as people. Try to talk directly to them personally and persuade them that you understand their challenges and they can trust what you say. For example, use the word “you” as opposed to “our clients.”
The tone should be conversational, as if you were talking with a friend. Conversations with friends are informal, full of contractions and sentences ending in prepositions. Although we’re often directed to write as we would speak, as soon as we put fingers to the keyboard, our best intentions are held in check by our English teacher’s voice correcting our grammar. Try to ignore your English teacher somewhat when writing for marketing purposes.
When you are writing as a marketer, you usually have a call to action such as an invitation to a seminar or an offer of educational materials which you want answered right away. Exhortations such as these require clear, bold and unequivocal statements that grab your readers’ attention. One way to do this is to use of the active ineffective verbs such as “is” or “has been.” Keep your language energized and the sentences short and punchy. While oneword and fragmentary sentences may not pass the software’s grammar check, they do pass the test for marketing. Think of Citicorp’s successful motto: “Live richly.”
Keep your paragraphs short. Persuading readers becomes more challenging if they become tired looking at your copy. Only a reader who is already very interested will plow through massive blocks of text. Vary the length of your paragraphs. Having nothing but very short paragraphs can make your prose too choppy.
Vary the words you use. Use your thesaurus to find different words to describe the same thing to avoid repeating words. Also, the book “Words that Sell” by Richard Bayan, offers choices when you’re trying to say something differently.
Quantify your language as much as possible. Try to be specific. For example, if your results demonstrated success, just how much success are you talking about? While it’s not always possible to state things in numerical terms, avoid generalities.
Aim for an easy read. Something that looks like a quick read is more apt to be voice. Use action-oriented prose and avoid read. When you are looking at your copy on a page, make sure it has lots of inviting “white space,” meaning the empty space on a page. Sometimes it’s the amount of area without words that initially invites readers.
Whenever possible, use bullet points instead of putting everything in one long sentence.
Always use a “ragged” right margin. Margins which are both right- and left-justified tend to deter a reader, while uneven margins have more appeal.
Minimize jargon and legalese. Having to stop and think about the meaning of a word interrupts the flow and might prompt the reader to stop reading.
As you are writing, keep asking yourself, “so what?” What does what you are saying mean to your audience? Why should they care, for example, that your firm is the largest? Why should the reader be excited about your 50th anniversary? Make your message matter to your reader.
Be careful when you ask someone to read your copy and give you their opinion. Since many may be anxious to fix your “mistakes,” explain that it is not an academic essay but a marketing piece. While you want to be alerted to typos, bad grammar and unclear statements, and want suggestions for saying something better, evaluate these suggestions in a marketing context. Remember that when you are writing for marketing, you are allowed some poetic license. Make use of it to break away from the pack. You’ll set yourself apart from the others, and your audience will remember you for it.
Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, Marketing Strategy & Implementation, which specializes in law firm marketing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.