April 2009
Copywriting Curiosities
Write Better Marketing Copy Now!
In This Issue
"Professional" Website Copy--What's That?
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I wrote and optimized the copy for the new BeaconLive website. I also wrote the white paper that's available on the home page (it's free to download). Check out the website here

ThermoFab's Superhero
I'm proud to have been part of the Precision Marketing Group team that brainstormed a "superhero" concept for a manufacturing client. Check out the video here, which has been picked up by a number of industry pubs, giving the client incredible exposure.
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Dear Robyn,

I used to teach a writing course to first-semester law students. I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. But this brilliant little law school where I worked decided it wanted "real" writers to teach its student how not to write like stereotypical lawyers.

As a professional copywriter and creative writer, I had a blast. I championed the use of contractions, conversational tones, and first person viewpoints. Of course, the problem is that the legal profession has certain standards and expectations. The rules of formal writing prevail when it comes to writing legal briefs and contracts. You can't use contractions in your wills, and no one cares about "me" or "you" in legal briefs--you need to write them in third person. Still, I think students got the point we were trying to make: don't make your writing overly complicated.

In this month's newsletter, I'm going to talk about why simple and conversational trump any other style you might be considering for your website.

"Professional" Website Copy? What's That? 

Let's start with the KISS Rule: Keep It Simple Stupid. This is something I stress with clients. "Keep it simple and conversational," I tell them. The problem is too many people think that "simple" means "unsophisticated" and that "conversational" and "professional" are mutually exclusive. But that's not necessarily true.

It's imperative that you make your website copy conversational, readable, and even--dare I say it--"simple." Why?

Well, stop and consider your own surfing habits. You don't read websites. You skim them. We all have so much white noise in the background and so much communication vying for our attention that the simpler you make the message, the better chance you have at the message getting through and sticking to someone's gray matter.

But it never fails that I'll get the client who doesn't get this. Just the other day, I got an email with this comment: "The style of the website is more casual than we were looking for - We would like to come across as more sophisticated and professional. The relaxed conversation styled dialogue, I believe, does not fit with the image we are trying to project."

Which begs the question: what image would that be? Stuffy and boring? Long-winded and meandering?

What's interesting is that this client runs a nursing home--a place that's all about warmth, compassion, and quality care. Or at least should be. Remember, know thy audience. Who would be looking at a nursing home's website? Let's see, I can think of two audiences: Family members thinking of putting a loved one in a nursing home and perhaps people who are searching for one themselves. What do you think these audiences want? Professional, yet distanced copy, or professional, yet conversational copy? My money's on the latter. Of all sites that should have a professional, yet conversational style, this one is it.

Styles of Professionalism: Which One Will Your Company Convey?

And see, that's the key. It's not about whether a website is professional or not--I'd like to think any copywriter crafting copy for a client wants the copy to be "professional," and I'd like to think most companies and businesses believe in being "professional." But there is a difference in the styles of professionalism.

We've all encountered "professional" people dressed in suits, sporting dour expressions and limp-fish handshakes. They're on time, they do their jobs well, and they pay their taxes. They're professionals, right? Sure.

And we've all met people dressed in suits, sporting smiles and warm handshakes. They're on time, they do their jobs well, and they pay their taxes. They're professionals, too, yes? Absolutely.

The difference is in the style of professionalism. I'll take warm and conversational over distanced and cold any day, for any client, in any industry. I don't care what you're selling. If you have a website, I'm going to champion a professional style that's warm and conversational over any other (yes, even for a law firm website that has those attorneys who need to write briefs in legalese and especially for a nursing home website).

Warmth sells. It sells politicians. It sells diamond rings. It sells vacation packages and hotel rooms.

Cold doesn't sell. When you think cold, you might think of your cranky English teacher from eighth grade, your local DMV (which always get bad raps--even when they've improved their image...see that's the thing, once you're labeled "cold," it's hard to reinvent yourself as warm), or that person who broke your heart when he told you he didn't love you anymore and refused to take your calls.

I think many people are scared of warmth--at least in writing, where it can live in infamy. Warmth is not a sign of weakness, people! It's a sign that we're human. But wait--if you're running a business, you need to be firm and unfeeling and even cutthroat, right? I mean it's BUSINESS, after all. That's a bunch of baloney.

The best way to illustrate what I mean is with an example:

Example #1
The Shady Pines Nursing Home is located in Anytown, Massachusetts. It has 150 beds and two main units: Short-Term Care, and Long-Term Care. Regular activities are an integral part of care and rehab and include morning social, bingo, and musical entertainment. To set up a tour, call or email.

Example #2
Located in Anytown, Mass., our 150-bed nursing home welcomes short-term care patients and long-term residents. We believe an active person is a happier person, which is why we offer regular activities that encourage socialization and fun. Think morning socials, afternoon bingo, and musical guests, such as singers, pianists, and magicians. Want to experience Shady Pines for yourself? We invite you to set up a tour by calling or emailing us now.

As you can see, there's nothing "wrong" per se with example #1. In fact, it sounds awfully professional, doesn't it (and perhaps a bit dry)? But let's look at example #2. It includes the same information, but it also humanizes the text. There's nothing "unprofessional" or "unsophisticated" about either example, but which one do you think would result in more tour requests?

Tips on Writing Conversational Copy

  • Use contractions
  • Use first and second person
  • Show, don't tell
  • Use specific, concrete examples instead of general statements
  • Forget "just the facts"--this isn't a police report. You can--and should--add some "color" to the writing
  • Read the copy out loud--you'll likely hear when the copy sounds stilted.
Remember: don't let anyone tell you that a conversational style isn't "sophisticated" or "professional." Ever. And do your best to educate those around you.

**Parts of this article appeared on a post I wrote for Blue Acorn's blog. Blue Acorn is an eCommerce development firm based out of South Carolina.

We're enjoying incredible weather in the Northeast right now! Regardless of where you are, I hope you're having a great spring. See you next month.

Robyn Bradley
E.T. Robbins Productions
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