content

If you remember the Internet from way back in the 1980s and 90s, you’ll doubtless recall there was no buying or selling stuff online back then.

No web browsers. No web.

But a lot of text-only discussion lists and bulletin boards.

That’s where we all got into conversation. Lots of conversations.

That why I say conversation is the native language of the web.

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Um and Er in conversation

If you ever do any public speaking, or give presentations for work, you probably obsess a little over getting rid of all those Ums, Ers and other “fillers” that creep into your language.

Speaking coaches will train you to avoid them when speaking live. And audio engineers will edit them out when producing recorded speeches, presentations or training products.

But… it turns out that Ums and Ers actually have an important function.

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A cure for corporate gobbeldygook

Any kind of language that creates distance between a business and its prospects and customers is a problem.

Put simply, you can’t turn a stranger into a customer by creating distance, by pushing people away.

Much of the time that distance is created by the language a company uses in its business and marketing communications.

First, overly promotional language creates distance simply by stimulating the reader’s defenses. Try to sell at me too hard and I’ll defend myself by stepping back, walking away or ignoring you altogether.

Secondly, overly formal, corporate language, filled with impenetrable jargon creates distance.

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Marketers lie

About 5 years into my career as a copywriter I was working on a campaign for a client in the pharmaceutical industry.

The product I was being asked to write about was a hospital analgesic – a painkiller for dealing with severe pain in a hospital setting.

The trouble was, when I looked through all the clinical studies for that product, I couldn’t find any evidence that it was effective as a painkiller.

In fact – and I remember this after almost 30 years – the best I could find was a statement that described the product as “slightly more effective than placebo, but not significantly so”.

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Isn’t it a little odd that we try to communicate with our audiences in so many different voices?

Many companies – and the writers who work with them – seem to struggle when it comes to finding a single, consistent voice for their websites.

For example, a company’s homepage might be written in a fairly cautious, descriptive tone.

Their About page may feel even more formal and corporate.

Meanwhile their sales pages are much louder and pushier, written in a voice that would be better suited to old-school, broadcast media like TV and radio.

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