“Be conversational. What does that even mean?” I hear you ask.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary it means:
- An informal talk involving two people or a small group of people: the act of talking in an informal way.
- Something that is similar to a spoken conversation.
I’m going to focus on that second definition: “Something that is similar to a spoken conversation.” Obviously, you and I aren’t talking right now. You’re reading words on a screen that I wrote earlier. But because of the style and tone of my writing, you may feel like we’re having a conversation.
Well, to start with, I used a question I thought you might ask as the opening line to this blog post. Second, I’ll use the words “you” and “I” a lot in this post. Third, I assume that you’re interested in what I have to say. So I write about the topic as though there was a back-and-forth rapport between us.
What does this get me? Well, a few things. It gets your attention, it keeps you reading, and a conversational style makes it easier for you to digest and process what I’m trying to get across.
Think about the last time you had to read something written in a formal writing style: It was probably very dry, boring and hard to wade through. Your attention probably wandered a lot and you had to drag it back to focus on the page, as much as you didn’t want to. You probably wanted to be just about anywhere else than sitting there, reading that thing, whatever it was.
Now think about the last time you read something written in a conversational style, like this blog post. It probably grabbed your attention and lead you through the entire piece. You probably really enjoyed whatever it was you read. You probably mentioned that piece to a friend later on, because you enjoyed it and you remembered the point it made.
You received a benefit from reading that piece.
Now turn that around and look at your current marketing. How do your customers view the tone of your marketing? If your marketing tone is formal and dry, your potential customers may not be getting the benefit you’re trying to give them. They may not hear that you have the solution to their problem, so they may not become customers.
If your marketing tone is conversational, your potential customers are more likely to get that benefit. They’re also more likely to become your customers.
So how do you make that happen? Here are a few techniques you can use.
Talk to Your Customer
I wrote a different blog post about this a few weeks ago, but it always bears repeating. You’ll notice I do that throughout this blog post. I’m talking directly to you, not at you.
More importantly, I’ve made this post about you. You are the focus. You receive the benefit. You find the solution to your problem.
Notice a pattern here? The word “you.”
Use it throughout your copy and your potential customers will feel like you’re interested in them and their problems. (Which is what you want, since you have the solution to their problems.)
For more on this subject, please check out the other blog post, I think you’ll enjoy it.
I know. It goes against every rule of grammar you learned in grade school. But when we have a conversation, we use contractions all the time. I’ve used them throughout this post. (See, I just did it again.)
Using contractions does two things:
- It makes your words more accessible: Some people get hung up on the formality of “they are” versus “they’re” and they tune out.
- It lowers your Flesch-Kincaid score: I’ll talk more about this later. But it’s a good thing, and it’s important.
Write in the Active Voice
“What does that mean?” I hear you cry.
This is another one of those weird grammar things that you probably internalized in grade school and don’t even realize you do (if you do it).
Here’s an example of writing in the active voice:
- Sarah kicked the ball.
Sarah is the focus of this sentence. Sarah takes action in relation to the ball.
Here’s an example of writing in the passive voice:
- The ball was kicked by Sarah.
The ball is the focus of the sentence. Sarah, though she was the one kicking the ball, is passive.
What does this mean for your marketing?
Active language sounds more compelling. Therefore, it’s more likely to get your customers to… well… take action. And since that’s what you want them to do, write in the active voice.
Write to Your Audience’s Reading Level
As I’ve mentioned before, I used to write marketing copy for lawyers. The most common complaint I heard was, “This isn’t sophisticated enough. My clients are smarter than this, and other lawyers will think I’m stupid if this is on my website.”
Okay. I agree, to a point. If your audience is particle physicists, write to particle physicists. They’ll get what you’re trying to say.
But (to use the lawyer example again) if your audience is people who may or may not have a high school degree and need a lawyer because they’ve been arrested, you need to write in language they’ll understand. They won’t understand legal jargon and complicated ideas. They’ll skip right over your website and go on to someone who “gets them.”
“Okay, so how do I write to my audience’s reading level?” You ask.
- Use simple words: This is the difference between “citation” and “ticket” (to go back to the lawyer example). You need to use the same vocabulary as your audience.
- Use contractions: Using contractions makes a sentence easier to read for most people.
- State your message simply, clearly and to the point: Don’t clutter up your writing with fancy words or ideas that don’t support your message. That will just confuse your audience. Clear messaging is easier to understand and will result in more people saying “yes” to your marketing.
- Keep your Flesch-Kincaid Score at 8 or lower: Told you I’d get back to this. The Fleisch Kincaid score (or scale) indicates the grade level of a piece of writing. This blog post has a Fleisch Kincaid score of 5.5, which means someone who is half way through 5th grade can understand it.
“How do I figure out my Flesch-Kincaid score?”
Well, if you use Microsoft Word, it’s easy:
- Go to the menu at the top of the screen and click on “Word.”
- When you see the dropdown menu, click on “Preferences.”
- When the Preferences box pops up, click on “Spelling and Grammar.”
- In the Spelling and Grammar window, look toward the bottom of the list and check the box that says, “Show readability statistics.”
From now on, you’ll see this box after you run your spell check:
The readability statistics are at the bottom of the list. The higher your Flesch Reading Ease score, and the lower your Flesch-Kincaid grade level, the easier it is to read your writing.
If you don’t use Word, I recommend the Hemingway Editor. It includes the readability statistics and it points out which sentences are hard to read. It also helps you remove adverbs and complicated words, and it shows where you’ve used the passive voice.
“But isn’t writing to my audience’s reading level like talking down to them?” You may wonder.
No. Not at all. Most marketing copy is written at a 7th grade reading level or lower. People are busy. They’re not going to take the time to read something they can’t understand right away.
Ernest Hemingway wrote at a 4th grade level. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote around the 6th grade level. Seth Godin writes at the 7th grade level. Don’t believe me? Check out this chart of Flesch-Kincaid scores for various writers.
Go Forth and Be Conversational
Now that you have a bunch of tools to improve the tone of your marketing, go use them! I’ve put together the Conversational Language Checklist for you, so you remember to include each of these tools in your writing from now on.
As always, if this seems like it’s too much for you to handle, I’m happy to help you with your marketing projects. As you can see, I have the conversational language thing down.
Do you use conversational language in your marketing? If not, why not? Tell me about it in the comments section.