Guest Post by Edward Moore
In the world of marketing writing, being correct on a technical level doesn’t always mean you’ve done things right. Using too-casual language (or too-formal language) in the wrong context can bring down the effectiveness of a piece that otherwise would get a pass from your marketing strategist. It’s important for a marketing writer to be able to adapt to the voice of a company or a particular marketing campaign, and not simply write in their own style. There is a time and place for casual, conversational language, but using it at the wrong time can have a negative effect on how your piece is read. This seems obvious, but you’d be surprised when little problems with voice sneak into your work.
Earlier in the week, I came across an advertisement presenting itself in a very serious, formal way. It was nothing particularly astounding, but it was getting the message across effectively enough. Then, towards the end of the ad, things took a turn for the worse: the word “really” blundered its way into a sentence, destroying the professional image the ad had been building. I felt like I was watching a figure skater faceplant on the last note of her performance. I cannot at this point remember what the advertisement was selling (a sure sign of a poor ad in the first place), but that use of the word “really” stuck in my mind. It’s such a weak word. It carries no real descriptive power as an adverb and tosses any sense of formality out the window.
Now, most people who aren’t writers probably didn’t see the ad and dwell on that single word the way I did. And it’s not as if there aren’t times when the word “really” will fit. For example, a piece going for a humorous tone might use “really” on purpose and it doesn’t matter if the word is weak, or a spokesperson might use it when attempting a more casual, conversational tone. But in an ad so clearly projecting an aura of professionalism, it was clearly out of place. Your average viewer may not dwell on that single word, but the piece will certainly seem less professional to them when they hear or see it. Any word you can think of has connotations and connections that go beyond its technical meaning, and it’s the job of the marketing writer to wield these connotations successfully to give the consumer a certain image of the company and product they’re representing.
Those who write for entertainment or for their own pleasure rarely have reason to reign in their own voice. In fact, it’s often seen as a strength when writers have a distinctive or entertaining voice. Authors such as Bill Bryson are well known for their ability to make nearly any subject entertaining simply because of the way it’s written; but that’s not the case for marketing writers. As a marketing writer, whatever you write should come out as if it was from the mouth of your client, and you have to give it the appropriate voice. A successful marketing writer needs to be able to write one minute for a sophisticated law firm, then turn around the next minute and write for a laid-back, fun-loving pizza joint. An important part of controlling this sense of voice is your word choice.
Think of it this way: No one wants to be represented by a lawyer who uses the word “really” in the courtroom. You want to be represented by a lawyer who makes strong, clear, formal statements with all the facts in place. Meanwhile, a pizza place that sounds too uptight might not sound like the place to bring your friends on a Friday night.
None of this is set in stone, of course; for example, an obvious, intentional disconnect between the tone of language and how a business is generally perceived can be quite funny. But if you do deviate from a proper voice, be sure you’re breaking from it for a reason, not just accidentally slipping your own voice into the piece.
One word—if it’s a particularly bad choice—can leave your audience with a poor view of the company you’re speaking for. Remember, you’re not speaking as yourself, but as your client. Choose language that’s appropriate for the image they want to project. Presenting the wrong image with incorrect word choices is, like, really not good.