Good writing is infrequently considered a business skill, but when practiced, it can make everything from brand building to email marketing more effective. It's especially important now that businesses have been relying on digital channels to stay connected to their customers during the pandemic, finding themselves competing for attention with virtually every brand that has a social media presence.
Now is an excellent opportunity to hone your writing skills and craft a style that stands out in the era of social distancing — not to mention emoji, images and acronyms.
1. Make your communication easy to digest.
Writing may not have been your strongest subject in school, and English might not be your first language—but as a business owner, your credibility depends on steering clear of grammatical pitfalls.
While you can absolutely take advantage of the “smart” features in word processors or presentation software to catch spelling and grammar errors, don’t rely on them exclusively. When in doubt about a word, phrase or sentence, check out online resources like Grammarly, 5 Minute English, FluentU and Grammar Girl.
If you’ve ever received advice for giving a memorable presentation, you might have heard this rule: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” This guidance applies to every form of written and oral communication. If you want your reader to absorb the message, share what you're about to say and why, explain the details and then summarize the key points.
Aim to get to your main idea quickly. Pretend you only have less than 30 seconds to sell a product to a just-browsing customer in a store, and make your document easy to scan with large headings.
2. Know your audience.
Your content and tone will vary depending on the target of your communication — for example, is your audience an investor, a customer segment or a group of frontline employees?
Think through what this audience wants to hear from you. What is this group worried about? What answers to do they need?
You may need to do some research via survey and interviews to determine where and how your audience consumes content. If your audience will be more receptive to certain messages and completely turned off by others, you want to know that before you start writing. A few questions to consider asking:
- Do people read an internal blog or e-newsletter?
- Are they on public social channels or is real-time instant message more their thing?
- Do they value expert advice?
- If they visit multiple channels, what would they most prefer to read on each one?
- Is there a particular type of content that your organization is best suited to deliver?
Remember that your communication must strike a balance between what you need to say and what your target audience wants to hear. This is admittedly tough, so even if you are writing to a large population, it may help to imagine a single person reading the communication.
3. Sharpen your message.
Different writing objectives call for different tools. In the marketing world, many use the AIDA approach—Attention, Interest, Desire, Action—to prompt readers to “do something” because of the communication.
The “Attention” step involves adding language that will catch the person’s eye and make them want to continue reading. It could be an intriguing email subject line (“Can you guess what our best-selling product is this week?”) or a startling statistic from your own or third-party research.
Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.
In the “Interest” and “Desire” steps, you address the reader’s needs by pointing out of the benefits of and help they will receive from reviewing the communication in detail. For example: “You might not be getting enough exercise right now, but these strategies will ensure you stay healthy while you stay safe at home.”
The final step, “Action,” states clearly what the reader should do now. (“Email our Customer Care specialists with questions about deferring your contract.”)
If your intention goes beyond persuasion, you might need an alternate approach. For instance, if you're introducing a product, lead with benefits rather than features. If you just want to share that you care about your audience during this stressful time, be thoughtful and genuine in your language and avoid unnecessary ties to your products or services.
4. Promote a culture of good writing.
It's not realistic to expect that you and your team will be universally strong writers. However, you can put tools and processes in place to make effective communication a way of life in your organization.
Finally, if you've done audience research or simply have internal communication preferences, document and share any writing "rules" or etiquette for your team. If you want written communication to be emoji or acronym-free, spell that out, and if you want to avoid competitive mentions or links, note that too. Your team should know how to refer to a colleague or customer (i.e. first name or Mr. or Ms. Last Name) and if there are brand style elements like color and font they should adhere to.
When you are accustomed to speaking to people in person, a switch to written formats can be intimidating. By practicing these good habits, you will produce communications that inform and delight employees and customers alike.
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