Please excuse my vanity for a moment but I like to think of myself as a somewhat respectable writer. I’m almost definitely never going to with either a Nobel Prize in Literature or a Pulitzer but when push comes to shove, I can confidently say that I could write better than the average Joe/Jane you find walking on the street. Even with all of my capability as a wordsmith however, I have the absolute confidence that I could never write as well as the kind of people that works in a corporate legal department. I have right now in my hand a by-the-numbers employee contract and I am amazed at how they could make something so simple sounds needlessly complicated.
If you’ve ever read an employee contract or any other similar form of legal documents such as the ubiquitous terms and conditions agreement, I have the absolute faith you know what I’m talking about here. Legal documents are some of the most obtuse writing the human race to the point that there’s an official government website in the United States of America dedicated to making government communique, especially legal documents, more digestible to the average public. This website is part of the larger plain language movement all over the world and it’s this philosophy that I believe is also relevant to content marketing services and other marketers.
Have you ever read a press release or a company profile only to find that you have absolutely no idea what they’re trying to say? Join the club then, my friend because that is exactly how I feel about how most car companies handle their marketing in the past few years. I’m not exactly much of a petrolhead but I do like to follow what’s going on in the greater world of automotive and motorsport and as a result, I get to read a lot about what companies are saying about their new cars and all I can say is the words they’re using and how they use them is a lot which might sound like a good thing even though in reality, it’s kinda not.
Earlier this year, the American Automobile Association or the AAA did a study on the various driver assist systems available in the market and group them based on what they actually do. Based on their findings of 34 automakers in America, they found a total of 20 different variations for adaptive cruise control systems, a system that automatically adjust a vehicle’s speed to maintain a safe distance from vehicles ahead. The variations include “distance assist”, “high-speed dynamic radar cruise control”, Mercedes-Benz’s “distronic plus”, etc. A turd by any other name is still going to be a turd and having 20 different ways to describe what is essentially the same thing is just going to be confusing for customers.
The beauty in simplicity
There’s this webcomic that I infinitely love called Strange Planet created by Nathan Pyle that examines this issue in an absurdly humorous way. The gist of the comic is that there’s these humanoid beings not unlike ours that participates in the usual human behaviors but describing them in a strangely familiar way. One notable example is a parent tucking in their kid into bed but instead of saying “sweet dreams” like you would expect, the parent instead said “imagine pleasant nonsense”. On a purely technical level, these two phrases carry the exact same meaning but if the former is delivered in perfect English, the latter feels like having English translated into German which was then translated into French then into Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Spanish and back into English again.
I completely understand that as a writer, you’d like to showcase what makes you better than everybody else but the mark of an exceptional writer is not someone who sounds like they memorized the contents of every thesaurus known to man but someone who’s capable of conveying the complexities of life using simple languages. As a prime example, I would like to shine a spotlight on the winner of the 2017’s Nobel Prize for Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro. Among his contemporaries, Ishiguro is known for the simplicity of his prose. There are no obvious theatrics in the language that he uses and yet I’m comfortable in saying that at their best, Ishiguro’s work is an emotional tour de force.
The beauty in brevity
Another point I’d like to make is the beauty of brevity. I’m not saying here that you should make blog posts containing less than 1,000 words every single time but even when you’re doing an in-depth piece revolving around a subject, you want to be as brief and as straight to the point as possible. Purple prose, the act of using extravagantly flowery text characterized by an excessive use of metaphors, is a risky technique to employ in literature and they can be even more damaging in the world of content marketing as they’re wholly unnecessary. Try using less complex sentences and break them down to smaller, simpler sentences whenever possible.
That being said, don’t be afraid to use analogies
When used clumsily, analogies can add unnecessary burden to a text but for me personally, I find them to be an excellent tool when trying to explain a relatively complex subject or when I’m trying to prove a point. The whole philosophy of the plain language movement is to simplify obtuse text into something anyone can easily understand and what better way to do that than to use a common analogy as an illustration? Analogies can also be a useful tool for writers to try and inject some of their personality into the writing without having to add unnecessary complexity to the text.
Using conversational language in marketing
The final and most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to language in content marketing is to simply write how you talk. This is plain, simple common sense and yet I’ve lost count of how many supposed writers I know of that can’t even follow this one simple advice. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about the latest developments on Brexit or your thoughts on this year’s The Bachelor; all you have to do is make sure that your writing sounds equally natural. Try reading what you just wrote and if you feel awkward saying them aloud, that’s a surefire sign that your writing could use a little bit more time in the oven.