Copywriting Clue: Write The Way You Speak

Posted on 09 July 2009

Don’t you just hate impenetrable, pretentious, meaningless marketing messages?

As an example, here’s some blurb I saw recently on the website of a hotel in Phuket: “Your personal desires find their perfect fit in a setting of sleek satisfaction.” Huh? The individual words and phrases sound impressive, but put them together and they’re meaningless. And the juxtaposition of the phrases “personal desires”, “perfect fit” and “sleek satisfaction” makes me think of, well, “adult toys”, which I don’t think was the writer’s intention.

And here’s a tweet I received recently from the boss of a “website review and strategy company”: “We excel in providing an enhanced service offering second to none!” Again I have to say, huh? So what? It’s impressive, corporate-sounding jargon, but what does it mean for the customer? And the syntax is confusing – I had to read the sentence several times to figure out that the word “offering” is functioning here as a noun, not as a verb.

Or how about official letters from government bureaucrats: “Should you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact the undersigned.”

The problem with all those examples is that nobody actually speaks like that! It’s not effective communication.

I encourage you to write your marketing messages the way you speak. That way, you’ll come across as much more friendly, likeable, authentic, credible and trustworthy, and people will be much more likely to want to do business with you.

So imagine you’re having a friendly one-on-one conversation with someone (you’re not writing an academic essay), and:

  • get straight to the point
  • use plain, everyday language – “before” not “prior to”, “use” not “utilise”, “start” not “commence”, “buy” not “purchase”, “need” not “require”
  • use (mostly) short and simple words, sentences and paragraphs
  • avoid jargon and acronyms
  • avoid self-congratulatory “PR fluff” and hype – people find it annoying and they just don’t believe it
  • turn abstract, intangible nouns (“the development of”) into verbs (“to develop”)
  • change passive verbs (“It has been decided that…”) into active verbs (“We’ve decided to…”)

One of my favourite examples of turning incomprehensible, alienating jargon into clear, simple, effective, conversational language comes from an article by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, co-authors of “The Church of the Customer Blog” and regular contributors to my favourite website,

They tell the story of how executives from ABC Technology Services (not the company’s real name) described the company’s service to prospective clients: “ABC delivers network and systems management solutions that assist companies in cost-effectively maximizing the performance and availability of their network infrastructures.” I have no idea what that means.

McConnell and Huba interviewed some of ABC’s clients, asking them to describe in their own words what they most valued about ABC’s service. Using that information, they transformed ABC’s “elevator speech” into this: “You know how when you are at work, and you are pulling your hair out because of computer problems? Your system is slow; you can’t send or receive email, or you have to reboot your computer a lot? Well, we fix those problems for businesses.”

Ahhhh! NOW I understand!

The Lesson: People prefer to do business with people they like, trust and respect. You’ll communicate much more effectively and build that “like, trust and respect” factor if you write the way you speak.

Action Steps: Review all your marketing communications material and re-write it the way you speak. And I invite you to send me the best (or rather, the worst) examples of impenetrable, pretentious, meaningless marketing messages you’ve seen.

4 responses to Copywriting Clue: Write The Way You Speak

  • Write good ads…

    Very interesting post. On the other hand, good copywriters are very well considerated because they achieve very good results. For exemple, a good headline can make that much more people read your post. Richard Kein…

  • Nina East says:

    Excellent reminder, Kay. And I love the example you gave from ABC Company. I definitely prefer to do business with people I can understand. Not only do I know what they are talking about, I trust them because they speak the same language.


  • You’ve hit the nail on the head, Kay.

    Speaking is our most natural form of communication. As a species, we were speaking LONG before we invented writing. It is through speaking that we naturally connect with others in an empathic way.

    Yet for some reason, we tend to have this mental block when it comes to writing. We suddenly feel we need to write “proper”. So we look for impressive-sounding words and phrases until all meaning and emotion and true connection is stripped away.

    It’s no wonder most businesses fail at marketing. The confused mind doesn’t buy. The unengaged, unmoved prospect won’t open his wallet–in fact, he won’t even stick around long enough to figure out what you actually do!

  • Kay: We follow each other on Twitter. Our mindset is so similar! I hope you’ll check out my site and blog. The site gives access to the blog and the blog shows a broader range of my writing, since marketing copy is specifically listed under “Projects.”


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