No room for rambling: send your customers a clear and concise message
You need to talk to your customers using plain language. Otherwise they won’t hear you above the noise
There are many aspects of running a business. You need to consider finances, sales, strategy, and more. Another key aspect of running a business is how you communicate. How will you convey your message to the world? What does your target market care about? Well, there is one constant that holds true across sectors.
Readability is crucial. Your company needs a clear and concise message. There is no alternative to plain language. Customers want to know what is going on. They do not appreciate words for the sake of words.
Josh Bernoff is an author and a contributor to The Harvard Business Review. In 2016, he surveyed 550 businesspeople. As many as 81% of them said poorly written material wasted a lot of their time.
Remember, what feels like great business writing does not always equal great writing. You do not need to write long, descriptive sentences to connect with your company’s target market. In fact, if anything that will drive readers away.
Consider a company’s mission statement. A company’s message begins with a mission statement. So, they should be simple to understand. They should also be clear and concise. With that in mind, let’s consider an example of a well-written mission statement.
IKEA’s mission statement is: “To create a better everyday life for the many people.” This is both simple and clear.
This statement uses no difficult words, and has no ambiguity. Someone with a Grade 6 reading level could understand this mission statement.
Now, let’s look at an example of a mission statement with poor readability. This is from U.S. company Universal Health Services, Inc.
They want “to provide superior quality healthcare service that: patients recommend to family and friends, physicians prefer for their patients, purchasers select for their clients, employees are proud of, and investors seek for long-term returns”.
This is a very long sentence, with a reading level of Grade 19. That’s equivalent to an advanced third-level degree.
It may make sense after a few readings, but how many customers will still be interested? This brings us back to our original point. You must use plain language to succeed in business. Long sentences, buzzwords and sales-speak will do nothing but turn customers off.
CV Library conducted a survey of 1,000 workers in the UK in 2017. They found that 74.1% of workers felt that people only used buzzwords to sound more professional or intelligent. Also, 70.9% of workers said they didn’t think buzzwords were necessary in the workplace. Now, if workers feel that way, we can safely assume customers agree.
Consider the content your company has been producing.
- Are certain words included for the sake of it?
- Could certain things be described in an easier way?
- Is the flowing, descriptive & jargon-filled language we commonly see in business articles clouding your message?
- Remember, you can communicate perfectly at an 8th Grade reading level.
So, how do you fix your content? For our analysis, we used VisibleThread Readability. It’s a lightweight readability tool for Doc, Web and Text analysis. The nice thing is that it flags issues at paragraph level and it’s free. There is also a paid version which generates some nice reports. But we were fine with just the free version.
Take this example of a blog written by Gabriel Shaoolian, CEO of digital agency Blue Fountain Media. This was published on huffingtonpost.com and dealt with themes that we are exploring here. This blog doesn’t have an awful readability level, but long sentences comprise over 40% of the text. This makes the blog post unnecessarily complicated.
It’s easy to imagine someone getting bored with this article. The overly long sentences lose a reader’s attention far too quickly. It is clear we need to see plain language. Here’s a simple fix of the last sentence of that paragraph.
Encourage users to subscribe to your newsletter, to explore other types of content, and of course, to get in touch on social and through the regular channels of email and phone.
Encourage users to subscribe to your newsletter and explore other types of content. They should get in touch on social media, through email and by phone.
This fix moved that sentence from a Grade 14 to a Grade 7 reading level.
Business messages demand simplicity and clarity. You can achieve great readability by using short sentences and the active voice in your writing. After all, it is a small price to pay for customer satisfaction.
- What feels like great business writing does not necessarily equal great writing.
- We analyzed good and bad mission statements, and explained why they performed that way.
- Workers are sick and tired of corporate buzzwords.
- We analyzed a blog post that used far too many long sentences.
- You can easily score content for plain language by using tools like VisibleThread Readability. These tools provide instant reports on problematic content and suggest fixes.
- You can use tools like this for any subject matter, scoring product brochures, blog posts etc.