Honesty in business writing

Let’s be honest: everything written in business aims to increase sales in some way, whether it’s a press release, white paper, job advert or report.

I don’t see a problem with that, as no business can exist without sales. What can be a problem is how honest the writing is.

For example, ‘new’ has long lost its credibility when used to describe soap powders or laundry products. Over-use has destroyed any impact the word once had.

Likewise, ‘enhanced’, ‘improved’, ‘bigger’ and ‘better’ – from bitter experience many consumers know that the only aim of re-packaging or re-launching some products is to get them to buy ‘more’.

Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting people to buy more, unless the consumer feels they are being tricked into buying something.

The best result for any business is for the consumer to buy a product and feel really pleased with their purchase, not conned out of their money.

This is where copywriting can help to develop a sales advantage. It is possible to attract people to buy without using the ‘new, bigger, better’ promises, but it requires thought and hard work.

If honest, effective writing can differentiate a product from its competitors, isn’t that worth the effort – for more sales?

Robert Zarywacz

Does marketing work?

At a business breakfast this morning, I chatted with a client about the effectiveness of marketing.

We agreed that most of the direct mail we received went straight in the recycling bin, most emails were deleted and that we ignored most TV commercials.

It didn’t sound very good for marketing, then. But, although many businesses waste thousands of pounds on ineffective marketing, marketing can achieve results, when both client and marketing supplier work hard.

It’s not about producing glossy mailers or flashy web sites, but about identifying a specific target audience, tailoring the message to their requirements and creating material that captures their attention and persuades them to take action: making contact with you or buying your product.

It’s not always easy, but it is achievable.

So marketing does work when you take it seriously.

Robert Zarywacz

What is English?

Recently, we’ve been working for several clients who have widely differing views of the English language as used in business.

First, there’s the client who prefers heavy punctuation with commas, semicolons and other marks used at every possible opportunity to help the reader fully understand the message in the text.

Then there’s the client who prefers minimal punctuation, which leads the reader to stop frequently because it’s not always easy to understand what is being said.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. Heavy punctuation can help to ensure the meaning is understood, but can get in the way. Light punctuation keeps the text uncluttered, but can hinder understanding.

The whole point of punctuation is to guide and help the reader. Surely, the best approach is to use sufficient punctuation to enable the reader to read at a good speed and to understand what is being said.

Writing for business usually requires the message to be understood fully, quickly and easily. The best way to achieve this is to put personal preferences aside and use only the punctuation that the readers needs, because if the reader can’t understand the writing, it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

Robert Zarywacz

Reflecting people’s views

As the editor of a magazine for an organisation, I was interested to hear someone criticise some of the views expressed by contributors to the magazine.

Now, as editor, I do not necessarily agree with or share the views of contributors, but I don’t believe my role is to censor those views which do not coincide with my own.

As long as people do not break the law in any way, do not use incorrect facts or figures, do not use bad language and as long as they express themselves coherently, I believe they can say pretty much what they like, if it is relevant to readers of the magazine.

Editing is a responsibility. I aim to leave as much of the writer’s original text as possible, only cutting text that does not add anything to the article and correcting spelling, grammar and punctuation.

I think it is healthy to be able to disagree with someone’s opinion and that they have every right to express that opinion.

Robert

Do you have anything to say?

There is so much information published today, but how much of it do you find useful?

If you’re running a business, it is vital to broadcast messages to potential customers, suppliers, the media and other audiences. Yet they are being bombarded with messages from every side, so how can you get through to them?

The answer is to be selective. Select the message you want to get across and the audience you need to reach. Is it a message that this audience will be interested in? If not, how can you make them interested? If you’re just trotting out the same words that everyone else is using, your communication will be ignored, along with millions of others.

So what can you do?

Make sure you know your audience and that it is the right one for you. For example, would an audience of over-50s be interested in baby goods aimed at young families. On the face of it: no. But could you interest them as grandparents to buy the products for their grandchildren? This is why it is important to analyse your audience thoroughly to ensure you are targeting people who will take the action you require – usually making a purchase.

Once you’ve identified the right audience, you need to identify what excites them. If they are not excited by your message, they won’t take the action you require of them.

It’s likely that you have many competitors doing the same thing, so it is a challenge to think up a new message, but it is possible. And when you do find the right message and an innovative way of presenting it, it will make a real difference to your results.

People will only take notice if something catches their attention. It is better not to publish something that is ordinary, non-targeted and unexciting. Be selective: you may have to work harder, but it will be worth it.

Robert

Why is proofreading and checking important?

Recently, I received a newly printed brochure from a local company.

It looked very good, but unfortunately a glaring error stared out of the text. The spelling was correct, but it was the wrong word.

Watch out for this when checking text using a spell-checker on your PC. It will not alert you to the fact that the wrong word has been used, because it is not clever enough.

Ultimately, ask someone independent of the production process – ie not the writer, designer or you – to proofread text before publishing or going to print. It’s well worth it.

Here are some similar sounding words, which have different meanings – take care when using them:

• their (belonging to them) and there (at that place)

• bear (to carry) and (bare) plain, unclothed

• compliment (to praise) and complement (to make complete)

• discreet (unobtrusive) and discrete (separate)

• dependant (one whoe depends on another) and dependent (depending on)

• principal (first in rank) and principle (fundamental truth)

• programme (plan of proceedings) and program (computer software)

Use the right word, as the wrong one can change the meaning of your text.

A proofreader can spot errors such as these.

Robert

Why is copywriting important?

No business can function without words. Whenever you draw up a contract, give an instruction to an employee or answer the phone, you use words to communicate.

But you can’t use any old words.

Often, a few, well-chosen words will convey a message more effectively than pages and pages of text.

Appropriate communications

Just imagine the shopfloor of a department store. You probably won’t see a sign saying: “Please select the goods you wish to buy, place them in your shopping basket, then go to the checkout next to the fire exit where our staff will scan them, take payment and wrap your purchases.”

But you probably will see a sign saying:

“PAY HERE”

The first sign is more accurate, but when you’re scanning the horizon for a checkout it’s unlikely to catch your attention, whereas the shorter, less comprehensive statement actually tells you all you need to know at that stage.

The “pay here” message works because it is appropriate. This is important, because there are so many ways we can use language to communicate and in each case the writing must suit the purpose.

Adopting a suitable style

For example, a business producing two newsletters – one for its customers and another for its employees – will probably use different styles for each audience. It is likely to adopt a more serious tone for its customers, to ensure it appears professional, while the employee newsletter will tend to feature more light-hearted, even irreverent articles to entertain staff.

But that does not mean that customer newsletters shouldn’t include light-hearted content or that employee newsletters should not include serious articles about the company. Generally, each newsletter will adopt a tone finely tuned to its specific audience. And this is where the skill of the copywriter comes into play. Understanding the message that needs to be communicated and the style most likely to succeed with the target audience is crucial.

After all, a brochure aimed at selling music to a teenage audience is unlikely to succeed if it is crammed with long paragraphs of text, while a magazine aimed at readers of epic literature is unlikely to be filled with jokes and gags.

Targeting

So knowing your audience – or your market – and the best way of communicating with them is very important.

In business, people like to receive their information in different ways – from business magazines to web sites, text messages, brochures and detailed technical documents. If we are trying to communicate with a specific group of people, we’ll have more chance of succeeding if we use the method of communicating that they find works best for them.

Can I write it myself?

Yes. Why not?

Some people are perfectly capable of writing good copy. Others may find it more difficult or not have the confidence. If you can write good copy yourself, there’s no reason why you should not write your own text for your brochures, web site or press releases, other than whether it is the best use of your time. Do you do your own accounts, your own legal advice, selling or IT support? Probably not, because you don’t have the time to do them all. You’ve got to run your business.

Tips for good writing

• Develop your own style. See how other people write, by all means, but the best writing comes from ourselves.

• Don’t use jargon. Assume everyone reading your copy knows nothing about the subject.

• Keep it short. People are bombarded with so much information these days that many will not even bother to read something that looks long-winded. Length does not guarantee quality.

• Check your spelling: it does make a difference. Use a dictionary rather than a spell-checker.

• If you’re unsure of your grammar and punctuation, start writing in a simple style and develop it as you become more confident.

• Sometimes grammatically correct writing does not sound right. It’s nearly always better for your writing to sound natural, so learn the rules, but know when to break them to avoid clumsy-sounding text.

• Check your writing by reading it aloud. Does it sound natural? Or ask a colleague or friend to read it. It’s better that someone close to you spots any mistakes before you send it out to the rest of the world.

Words are a powerful tool

Always remember that words are a very powerful business tool. Whether you’re writing text for a brochure or a presentation or speech, words can achieve a lot – often at little cost to yourself.

Although you may not have a big budget, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to communicate more effectively than your competitors, and many small businesses are better at communicating than bigger ones.

• You can find more practical advice and prompt sheets at www.editorialresources.co.uk

Do you need a customer or employee magazine?

We are just sending to press the 8-page magazine for The Business League, which we have written, edited and laid out.

I’ve worked in corporate communications for some 20 years and am experienced in creating lively, informative magazines for companies, clubs and organisations.

It’s something we enjoy doing and we take away all the hassle of compiling articles, interviewing people, etc.

Please get in touch if you’ve thought of producing your own magazine, but been put off by the thought of all the organisation, planning, writing and production. We will make it easy for you.

Robert Zarywacz

Zarywacz’s PR excellence reaches the South West

Zarywacz – the PR consultancy and written communication experts – have broadened their business horizons with the opening of their North Devon office.

Managing partner Robert Zarywacz’s recent move to Ilfracombe now enables Zarywacz to offer their PR and copywriting expertise to businesses in the North Devon and the South West region of the UK.

“Ilfracombe is a lovely part of the country,” comments Robert, “For creative activities such as writing, it helps to work in a pleasant environment. And in the modern world of telephone, internet and email the geographical location of your business is becoming less important.”

Wokingham-based partner Simon Zarywacz will continue to service new and existing clients in the Thames Valley.

“Everybody needs to market and promote their products and services – no matter where they are based. So now we’re looking forward to developing new business relationships in the South West,” adds Simon.

Now enjoying their tenth year of trading Zarywacz’s other business activities will continue as normal.

%d bloggers like this: