If digital marketing increasingly depends on visuals and videos, does good writing still matter? Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of Everybody Writes, makes a compelling case that it does. In fact, she says, “Writing is still very relevant to what marketers need to do today.There’s even more pressure on it now because we’re in a world of exploding content.”
Ann is this week's guest on the Marketing Cloudcast , the marketing podcast from Salesforce . Her book Everybody Writes is one of the first resources I recommend to aspiring marketers because it focuses on writing best practices that anyone can actually implement.
According to Ann, even those who aren't born with Shakespearian (or Hemingwayian, or even Vonnegutian) abilities can indeed learn to become better writers, and she's developed valuable tips and checklists to help everybody become a more capable writer. Almost every job in digital marketing — from email to social, and content marketing to display advertising — includes writing and communication as core responsibilities, so why not improve your effectiveness?
Listen to the full podcast episode to hear Ann's useful writing tips first-hand, or hear a preview below:
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From the podcast episode, here are six of Ann's top writing tips for marketers.
1. Think first. Write second.
All forms of content begin and end with great writing — and great writing hinges on clear thinking. As Ann puts it, “Great writing is great thinking, and anyone who can write well can communicate well.” Historical author David McCullough agrees: "To write well is to think clearly. That's why it's so hard."
If you can't communicate your meaning simply, then you don't understand it well enough. Before you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), wrap your brain around the clearest, most simple way to say it. Only then should you begin drafting your copy.
2. To write well, write often.
Ann is full of clever and memorable adages about writing, like this one: "Writing is like the gym: the more often you go, the more results you see."
To improve your writing, Ann believes you must practice your craft regularly. Write not only for work, but about topics you personally care about, too. Your skills won't improve by collecting dust.
3. Respect the reader's time.
“You do need to be audience-centric in your approach. You’ve got to make sure that you’re not wasting your audience’s time, and you’ve really got to respect that relationship," advises Ann.
It's true — too many blog posts, social media messages, and marketing or sales emails waste the reader's time. No matter your industry or audience, folks are bombarded with reading material. So when writing any type of marketing copy, distill your meaning into only the necessary points. If you retain your meaning while deleting this sentence or that paragraph, do it.
4. Use jargon sparingly.
“Jargon is like cholesterol: there's a good kind and a bad kind.” There's Ann again with the memorable writing quotes. Contrary to what you might expect, Ann says some intentional jargon is actually OK in marketing, especially B2B materials. Jargon can demonstrate that you're an insider in your industry and know the lingo.
What's unadvisable is using so much jargon that your copy becomes pretentious, alienating, and clunky. Your writing should still have plenty of copy and context that's easily understood by newcomers to the industry. Straightforward and simple messaging is always best.
5. Be an empathetic writer.
“To me, the thing that's most important in marketing today is the idea of empathy. I would even go so far as to call it pathological empathy. You’ve really got to focus relentlessly on the recipient," Ann says.
Remember why you're writing in the first place — to help your audience better understand a topic or what your company offers. Ann explains it best: “Put yourself not just in your customer's shoes, but also in their shirt and pants. And put on their hat and try on their skin. Really try to understand their point of view, their pain, what they might be feeling.”
6. Write like you.
Ann says the best content comes from authenticity. In other words, “Don’t be who you aren’t.”
Focus less on the latest bright, shiny objects in digital marketing and more on the real voice of your brand. If emoji-laden copy doesn't come naturally to you, don’t attempt it. Be bold enough to find your voice and stick with it.
We discussed much more with Ann Handley (@annhandley) in the 38-minute podcast episode. Join the thousands of smart marketers who already subscribe to the Marketing Cloudcast on iTunes, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.
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