Be Bold. Be Brief. Be Gone.
These words hung at the desk of a software salesperson at my last Corporate marketing director gig. Ironically, the guy was kind of a windbag but the wise words have stuck with me all these years.
Clarity and conciseness are not necessarily hallmarks of my writing. I often play with words to find just the right way of explaining a concept – and have the habit of over-explaining things to the point of confusion. A flaw of which I am very well aware and try to remedy.
In the 2nd edition of my book, Branding Basics for Small Business: How to Create an Irresistible Brand on Any Budget Alexandra Franzen, communication specialist and author of 50 Ways to Say You’re Awesome, dropped some wisdom bombs about effective messaging. She and I have long collaborated on clients – and on my own brand messaging. A wizard with words, she knows just how to say something in a carefully curated yet oh-so-simple way. Where you and I may take 100 words to make our point, Alexandra can name that tune in 20 – and do it with spark and sizzle.
Here is an adapted excerpt from the book you’ll enjoy:
Many entrepreneurs, especially those with a purpose-driven business, get wrapped up in flowery language when describing their work. But Alexandra advises that the clearest way to express an idea is best.
“Think about the last time you read a blog post, heard a TED Talk or listened to a story at a dinner party that really impacted you, that made you want to do something,” she asks. “Was it long, convoluted, unnecessarily detailed? Or was it simple, clear, direct and conversational?” Alexandra adds, “Writing about the work that you do—your ‘reason for being’—is a form of storytelling. And if you want to inspire people to take action, a simple story is best.”
An exercise I play with clients is to ask them to tell me how they would describe their organization to their grandmother or their five-year-old daughter. Often, what they say is exactly what they need to communicate to adults.
Alexandra says. “If it takes you eighty-five paragraphs to explain something, you’re probably not clear on it. Particularly in the online space, people have a shorter attention span. Customers will be skimming your site, flipping around, spending just a few seconds here and there. You need to be exceptionally simple.”
Alexandra advises taking lessons from scientist, astronomer, and author Carl Sagan, or beloved children’s TV show host Mister Rogers, or English broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough. “These people were legendary educators who had mass appeal because of their incredible skill in distilling information so that anyone from any background could understand. This is what makes them so beloved and great. Distillation is not the same as dumbing down (Tweet!). It’s about expressing the purest essence of an idea—without any unnecessary clutter.”
When crafting your messages, ditch the jargon where you can. Of course, you need to speak the language of your industry but don’t overcomplicate things. The goal is to make your target audience feel competent, not to make them feel dumb. “When crafting copy for your business,” says Alexandra, “above all, your job is to make the person reading feel competent. If they think to themselves, ‘I don’t understand the words on the screen in front of me, and now I feel dumb,’ they’ll probably click away from your website and never come back. But if they think to themselves, ‘I get this, and it sounds like precisely what I need!’ they’ll be excited to take the next step.”
Follow the lead of one of the smartest people who ever lived: