Plain language makes marketing work MUCH better!

| August 26, 2014 | 0 Comments

plain English campaign crystal markIt’s time for another look at the latest marketing news and views. This time I’m exploring the nature of communications in general, diving into useful stuff like direct response marketing, plain English, small print, legalese and cliches.

Persuading people to follow your Twitter links

So many Tweets include links. Your feed is probably stuffed with them. Everyone’s doing it. So how do you make your links stand out from the crowd?

Very like an email marketing subject line, a Tweet is a mini-direct marketing project. When you get it right you encourage more people to read your content.

How? It helps to sandwich your link in between a succinct inspirational statement and a call to action. Imagine you’ve written a piece about where to find ideas for blog posts. You might tweet something like this:

  • Lost in space with blog subject matter? Blank brain? www.link.com reveals how to track down great blog post ideas.
  • Gone blank? Run out of blog post ideas? No problem. www.link.com reveals where all the best ideas live…
  • Want to inspire your target audience? www.link.com shows you the planet’s best-kept content ideas secrets.

You can also leave the link ’til the end. For example:

  • How to stand out from the crowd, dream up brilliant content ideas and *get read*: www.link.com.
  • Want winning blog post ideas that people love to read and share? Here’s some inspiration: www.link.com.
  • Where do the best bloggers get their ideas? Get down and dirty with the big boys… find out here: www.link.com.

Down with public notice-speak, long live Plain English!

For some reason the public sector is often utterly incapable of speaking plain English. The private sector can be just as bad. The results are ugly, some of the worst communications in town.

Why does it matter? Because it’s rude to communicate poorly. Surely you want people to understand your message easily, accurately and quickly?

Here are some hideous examples of public notice-speak, and some suggestions for making amends:

  • Replace “The next stop is Brighton. This train terminates here” with “Brighton is the last stop on the line.”
  • Replace “Passengers must steer clear of the doors while the train is moving” with “Danger – Please keep away from the doors while the train is moving”.
  • Replace “CCTV in operation here” with “CCTV is watching you!”
  • Replace “Please note that this seat will fold up automatically when vacated” with “Take care – these seats fold up when you stand.”
  • Replace “These mistakes should be rectified at your soonest convenience.” with “please correct these mistakes as soon as you can”

Other serial offenders include the legal profession, the financial services sector – including banks and insurers – and the government / EU, all of which do their level best to baffle and befuddle us. One of my ‘favourites’ is this, a super-dense example of legal sector Public Works Contracts gobbledegook:

“The revocation by these Regulations of a provision previously revoked subject to savings does not affect the continued operation of those savings.” 

Eh? Oh, get a grip, people! If I had a solicitor and they sent me something this baffling, I’d send it straight back. And I would refuse to pay the bill until they explained themselves clearly.

Last but not least, here’s one from the Plain English Campaign website, lifted from a letter sent to a patient, poor sod. If you can make head or tail of this, you’re a better man than I…

“‘The criteria are embedded within an indication of needs matrix, encompassing the contiuum of care needs. The criteria for fullyl funded NHS care (levels 5-6) are designed to take account of the needs of those only at the most complex end of the continuum. The vast majority of those in receipt of care from health and social care services are provided from a range of mainstream services, which are available to all according to their need, or packages of support provided jointly by health and social care working in partnership (levels 1-4).”

Small print? Forget it

Do your marketing materials contain a load of small print? If so, it’s time to get rid of it.

How come? Because if something is worth saying, it is worth saying clearly and openly. If you feel the need to hide the real meaning, extent or fine details of a service or product in the small print, ask yourself why. Is it because it seems much less attractive when you explain everything in full, up front?

As a general rule, it’s best to avoid small print and caveats altogether and be straight, transparent and honest. If you can’t turn your small print and caveats into positive statements that you’re happy to make in the main body of your message, perhaps your products and services need to be improved?

If you’re prone to bullshit and don’t understand what makes English plain and easy to ‘get’, the Plain English Campaign is an excellent starting point… and they hold courses.

Plain language terms and conditions – it’s the law in Britain

HSBC’s Terms and Conditions run to an astonishing, mind-numbing 34,162 words. I wonder whether they realise they’re sailing scarily close to the legal wind? The British Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations say this:

In Britain, the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1994 say that terms in consumer contracts must be in ‘plain and intelligible language’. The regulations also say these terms must be accessible, which means they must use clear design and typography. Consumer contracts are those between a member of the public (a consumer) and a firm that is selling or supplying a product or service to them. If a consumer challenges a term, and it is found to be unclear or ambiguous, the court must interpret it in the way that best favours the consumer. The Office of Fair Trading regularly warns firms to change such terms before they are challenged in court.

If your terms and conditions are less than clear, you can find out how to get it right here.

Cliches are not a no-no – they’re seriously useful

Some marketers think the humble cliche is the worst of the worst. I disagree. Good communication is about being succinct. If a cliche means you cut all manner of long and tedious explanations out, use it.

Cliches are not a no-no. They’re an excellent way of instantly and eloquently expressing complex concepts. In a time-poor world, they’re seriously handy.

Always write with your target audience in mind

An IFA wanted me to write website copy in the tone and style of The Telegraph, because she wanted her business to come across as premium / aspirational. She didn’t like plain English either, insisting the message should be very corporate and formal.

When I asked about the target audience, she said it was ‘everyone who needs independent financial advice’. The point is this: unless your audience is 100% aspirational and rich, it’s counter-productive to come across as posh and expensive.

It doesn’t matter how you want your business to sound. The important thing is your audience’s expectations, needs, desires and tastes, not your ego.

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Category: copywriting and marketing

By Kate Goldstone - ()

Originally from Middlesbrough, I lived in Brighton for many years before moving to North Devon. I’ve had a passion for words all my life and this is my twelfth year as a freelance writer. In my spare time I draw, paint, sculpt, carve wood and rock, garden, read, write poetry and enjoy long distance hiking. I sing and play the recorder. I collect modernist paintings, vintage rugs and mid-century German art pottery. I’m a member of The Poetry Society. And I am an experienced volunteer shepherd, a ‘Lookerer’.

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