Commercial Writing: Selling Without the Spam

Do you hate unsolicited calls from telesales people? Purely “salesy” content is almost as bad. When people read, they do so to find information, and if the information is good enough, it might lead to a sale. That means that commercial writing can no longer consist of hyperbole and unsubstantiated claims. Don’t get me wrong, you can sell, but you have to place yourself in the shoes of a well-informed consumer to do so. Never make the mistake of thinking that your reader is stupid!

Dumb Down? No! Business Formal? Clarity is Key

Many writers and editors have identified so-called “readability” as an important element. Simply put, your text shouldn’t be hard to read. The idea is to use short sentences without being too choppy in style, and to keep vocabulary fairly simple.

There is a huge difference, however, between patronizing your reader with “dumbed down” content and keeping it readable. And yes, sometimes we need the big words too.

Some businesses overdo things in the opposite direction. They’re in love with what they do. They think they’re pretty smart, and they want their readers to see them as being pretty smart too. B2Bs are big culprits here. The important thing to remember here is that business commercial writing isn’t about your business and how smart it is. It’s about your customer and how smart he or she will be if they choose your company. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one. Business formal doesn’t have to read like a bowl of alphabet soup. It should be clear, factual, and more client-conscious than it is self-conscious.

Beware the Buzz Words and Superlatives

Packing your text with buzz-words is a sure way to make whatever you say look spammy. If you use a few here and there, be sure you substantiate them. For example, there isn’t a company out there that doesn’t think it’s “innovative,” but if they haven’t innovated anything, using the word isn’t going to persuade readers that it’s an advantage.

If you really have improved on the industry standard by applying a solution that nobody else has thought of yet, that’s something to be proud of and you can use the “i” word fearlessly. Just be sure you substantiate it, or your reader will be thinking “Ho-hum… and?”

Superlatives should also be used with caution. Here’s an example: “I’m the best freelance writer for your needs.” What was your first thought? “Why?” or “I’ll be the judge of that, thank you!” You’re probably a bit annoyed with me for making such a sweeping statement. Just who do I think I’m kidding, right? Assume that your customers are reading critically, and do your best not to annoy them with superlatives unless you have absolute proof that they’re true.

Identify the Problem. Give Your Solution. Call to Action

When people read articles and blogs online, they’re looking for information because they have a problem they need to solve. I’ve had editors that don’t like me opening articles with a question, but I feel that if the question resonates with what a website visitor is asking, and I continue to the solution, I’ve already got them hooked. Feel free to explore alternative solutions and indicate why yours is the better one. I have a personal dislike of “calls to action,” that read “call us now,” but it’s accepted theory that they should be there, and having presented a solution, we need to make it easy for the reader to act on the information he or she has acquired. So I’ll grudgingly admit that they have utility, even though they lack charm.