Is Your Writing Style Alienating Your Audience?

Are you more focused on style issues, such as never using contractions, than you are on actually finding the best words to communicate with your audience? Stop typing now, and follow these tips.
October 21, 2013

There are branding guides galore that will give you tip after tip for better connecting with your audience. I want you to shove all those tips aside for a moment and ask a question:

Am I writing the way my audience speaks?

A meaningful content strategy goes beyond meticulously proofreading Web copy and perfectly editing your blog posts. The best content strategies weave the brand's personality into every fiber of a company’s online presence. And that includes injecting it into the writing style that meets your audience day in and day out.

Let’s review the three keys that can help your brand amp up its writing style.

Is Your Audience More "Yo" Or "Hello"?

You have to know your audience. And you need to mimic the way they speak. When you're writing for your brand, think about where your audience lives, how they talk, and whether their day-to-day work environment is more suit-and-tie, hard hats or board shorts and flip flops. The same writing style isn't going to appeal to all three. You need to tailor your communications to your audience, right down to the way you present it to them.

Grab A Contraction

I know it’s hard. You took so many business writing classes in college and your post-grad workplace bosses have beaten the contractions clean out of you. By now, it’s engrained in your psyche to write “I will not” versus “I won’t.”

Nothing alienates me as a reader more quickly than when I’m reading through a blog post from an otherwise cool company and the writing is stuffy and "text-book" perfect. Business writing is often devoid of contractions and colloquialisms and more concerned with being right than being relatable. Unless you're writing a formal contract or other similar type of business communication, leave the stuffy stuff behind.

First, don’t be scared of contractions. People use them all day long. It's how people talk. Using them is a surefire solution to that stuffy writing syndrome that could be alienating your audience.

Second, using a contraction doesn’t make you sound less professional. Contractions make you sound human. Friendly. And if that’s something you want your brand to be (you know—likable, approachable, relatable), you need to lighten up a little on your contractions ban in communications.

Finally, daily business writing is nothing if not casual. I’m not saying there’s no place for strict AP style, but it’s probably not in most of your daily brand communications. If you’re creating content on a regular basis, you’re probably blogging, and blogging is an inherently casual form of communication. Blogging with a more casual style is a fantastic way to start a conversation with your audience. Just think about the way you and your customers chat when no one’s listening.

I’m betting those are some of the most productive—and most memorable—conversations of all. And they’re filled with (gasp) contractions.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Writing for your customers should be fun. In a world filled with the likes of BuzzFeed, meme photos and fantastic infographics, your audience runs to the Internet for relief. They're looking for a bit of fun between Project A, which wrapped up at 8:57 a.m. and the first meeting of the day at 9:15 a.m.

Is your content giving your audience the relief they crave, or is it more concerned with conveying your ever-so-important message in the most proper way?

Don’t bore your audience. Have fun with your business writing. Always seek to delight your audience with every piece of content you create. It's not about being unprofessional or off-brand. It's about giving your audience the relief they crave.

This short checklist will help you walk into each piece of content fresh every single time.

  1. Start with the end: What do I want my audience to feel when they’ve finished reading this piece of content?
  2. Become the purveyor of fun: How can my brand make this a fun message to receive?
  3. Don’t waste anyone's time: What are three things I can do in this blog/article/infographic/video/direct marketing piece to deliver exceptional value and not waste my audience’s time?

Now, think about the online destinations you consistently return to for work-related reading. Are they stodgy? Ever-so-proper? Or do they give you valuable information in a compelling and ultimately enjoyable way?

Your brand can deliver both value and relief with the right writing style. It’s about finding the style that meets your audience where they are and speaks to them in the words they relate to.

And sometimes, it’s about ending a sentence with a preposition because that’s the best way—though not technically the “right” way—to communicate a point.

Read more articles content marketing for small business.

Photo: Getty Images