Talk To Your Customers, Not About Them
BY: DAVID LEONHARDT ON FRIDAY, JULY 20, 2018
When writing your website content, how you "speak" is as important as what you say. The problem is that a lot of business folks forget how to talk when they write. The words that flow from their keyboards are not the words that would flow from their mouths. Could you be one of those people?
Let's look at three typical business writing habits you might have that you can easily turn around.
Write in plain language
When you speak with friends and family, you speak in plain language. For instance, you'll say, "We need to buy eggs and milk. Get in the car."
You won't say, "We have a requirement to purchase eggs and milk. Embark in the automobile."
Words like "purchase", "embark" and "requirement" show up all the time in business writing. Worse, sentence structure built on phrases like "have a requirement" and "conduct an outreach campaign" can make business writing almost impossible to read.
Sure, big words and complicated sentences might make you look smart. But using them is not smart. Even if your audience is highly educated, research shows that they want simple, easy-to scan language.
Takeaway: Write in plain language, regardless of your audience.
Write in the second person
When you speak with friends and family, you probably speak in all three persons.
- You use the first person (I, me, my) when talking about what you did or what happened to you.
- You use the second person (you, your) when talking about the person you're speaking to.
- You use the third person (he, she, they, him, her, them, his, their) when talking about somebody else.
Your website is selling something. It might be a product. It might be a service. It might be an idea. It might be a subscription. Whatever it is, you are selling and the person reading is the customer. And who is the center of attention when selling?
Mrs. Patterson down the street?
Of course not. It's the customer. So you need to speak to the customer. That means speaking in the second person, using the second person pronoun: "you". While this might seem obvious, it is easy to fall into a couple traps.
Trap number one: generalization. You might be tempted to talk about what "people" do or like or find convenient. Who cares? Tell your prospects what they can do, what they might like and what they will find convenient.
Trap number two: Narcissism.Oh how we love to talk about ourselves. We offer the best solution. We are ten steps ahead of the competition. We won an award. Yawn. This is company newsletter material. The customer wants to hear about himself or herself, not about you.
How this works in action is pretty clear by the six-step instructions at myUKmailbox.
Notice that five of them are written in the second person.
Just one is written in the first person; that's when the company commits to an action for the customer. When making a commitment, best to use the first person. Customers want to know that you take your commitment to them seriously. Your commitment to them is, ironically, about you.
Takeaway: Write in the second person as much as possible.
Let your customer answer in the first person
The interesting thing is that the customer is not trying to sell to you. Anything they say is all about them. Sorry, but even when they want speak to you, it's still about them, not you.
So what do you do when there's a button to click? Do you write, "Send my free sample"? Or do you write, "Get your free sample"?
Given that clicking the button is how the customer speaks to you, it should be written in the customer's words. So " Send my free sample" is best. In fact, one study showed a 90% increase in leads by changing "your" to "my" on the submit button.
So above the form on my website, I have "Get your free quote now..." But on the submit button, I have "Get my free quote."
Takeaway: Write in the first person for call to action buttons or pre-filled fields in forms.
Test. Test. Test.
The caveat to all this is to test, then test some more and keep on testing.
Some websites have had more success with "your" in the button, and others with no pronoun.
Sometimes, a particularly powerful story about a customer, in the third person, can make more sales. There are times, such as when making a promise to customers, that the first person is best.
And occasionally, some big words are better – although I have yet to see a place where complex sentences work best.