Do the words you use "have your BACK"?
Words can make it or break it — in life and in business.
From not-quite-convincing declarations of love to inadverturtledly cringeworthy product packaging: Valentine's Day has reminded us that it's worth spending some thought on how you want to come across, and what words you want to use.
Here at From Scratch, we focus on love letters to customers rather than messages on Tinder. And we like to keep things simple. So here's a practical, 4-step plan for choosing the right words for your business, all wrapped up in a memorable acronym: BACK.
If your words have your BACK, they are:
Are your words branded?
If your brand has a distinct style, everything you write needs to speak the same language — including your customer care. Otherwise your company will appear disjointed, and people will trust you less. You may want to keep things a little more serious when writing about serious stuff, and take the fun side of your brand up a notch when you're celebrating. But many companies we've seen have a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing going on: their marketing and customer service are completely unconnected.
- Choose 3–5 words that describe the attitude you want to come across when you're writing. Those words are a great start: you can always refine them later. For example, we chose a bright, down-to-earth, energetic and warm tone to represent From Scratch and our enthusiasm for DIY, science and good business ethics.
- If you've never thought about a branded tone of voice, use a style that feels approachable, clear and knowledgeable (more on that below). It helps people connect with you emotionally, understand your messages, and believe what you're saying.
Do you sound approachable?
Think of the people who buy from you as 'co-creators' rather than 'consumers'. Customer feedback shapes how companies operate, what products they make and even the rules and regulations surrounding entire industries. Traditional, 'corporate' language won't be able to engage co-creators — you'll want to be at eye level, sharing expertise like a knowledgeable friend. It's not always easy to hit the right tone, but it's worth refining your writing until it connects with your audience.
It's worth the effort: the more you talk about people's needs and how you meet them, the more non-sleazy your marketing. At the same time, your support turns into a marketing channel. And your customers will feel empowered.
- Use your customers' words. For example, look at what people are saying in their emails and reviews. Mirror their exact words as often as possible. As soon as you start paraphrasing, you reduce the emotional impact of your message. You’ll also be more likely to use jargon and buzzwords, which can hinder people’s understanding of your message.
- Show your face. Use photos of yourself and your team. Especially in your Help and Contact sections, photos of your customer care team can mean people use a friendlier tone when they get in touch — because photos help us all be more empathetic online.
Is everything clear?
Clarity is a must for any business.
The Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level is a useful test if you want to check the readability of your website. It will tell you how many years of formal education your page visitor needs in order to understand it. Aim for grade 8 or below — that’s the level of most Stephen King books.
- Use the language of your customers (see above).
- Shorter words tend to be easier to understand. Longer ones are often borrowed from Latin or French: "Britons sweat, Romans perspire."
- Keep your sentences to 25 words or less — so you can say them out loud in one breath.
- Use the active voice whenever it makes sense. The passive voice should be avoided.
Do you sound knowledgeable?
You’re the expert in your brand, products and services — you have the right to speak with conviction. A confident tone helps people believe what you’re saying, which is so important in this age of transparent business.
- Avoid expressions that plant doubts in the minds of your readers, like "hope", "should", "would", "could" and "might".
- Precision is smarter than vagueness, so choose your words carefully. But stick to plain English. A fancy vocabulary can make you seem like you’re trying too hard.
Once site visitors feel this safe with you, they'll be more likely to buy. And less likely to contact you just for reassurance.
Over to you
We covered quite a few techniques in this post. So how can you make this work for your website, emails, brochures and social media?
Step 1: Review the "BACK" list above. Choose the area where you see your biggest business challenge at the moment.
Step 2: In the comments below, tell us more about your specific challenge, where you're stuck, and how we can help.
We'll help out for free right here in the comments!