07 Dec Don’t fear the contraction
In our early days at radii, we worked with a company whose CEO decreed that all marketing communications would avoid contractions, following the example of The Wall Street Journal. We complied, of course, because fighting with CEOs about punctuation would be one of those classic blunders, like getting involved in a land war in Asia.
Reading the web content and product literature we wrote felt like listening to someone declaim in tights and a powdered wig. It had an excessively formal quality that did nothing to engage the reader.
Formality has its place — in legal briefs, white papers and technical documents. We usually recommend against it in the B2B content we create, because formality exists to preserve distance between people.
Our goal is to connect with readers and draw them closer.
Listen to the voice of the customer, but listen to yours too
If you’re trying to engage, it’s up to you to make the first move. What makes the most sense tactically? Trying to add a sense of dignity to your authority or coming across as knowledgeable, approachable and relatable?
If you know your subject, then speak your piece, but don’t think that avoiding contractions or plain speech makes you sound more professional or adds legitimacy to your argument. Anything that dulls the edge of your writing — avoiding contractions, passive sentence structure, 50-cent words — works against engagement because it makes it harder to read.
Remember, reading B2B marketing content is always optional for prospects.
So after you’ve researched your content, optimized it for search and buffed it to a high-gloss finish, read it out loud and ask yourself, does it flow?
If you don’t use contractions in your content, listen to what that sounds like. Chances are, you’ll wish they were there, because then it would sound like a real voice — and the way people speak.
“Beware the tendency to over-write. Simple, cogent expression is best.”
One of my college English profs scribbled that advice in the margin of one of my over-enthusiastic freshman papers, and it’s held up remarkably well over the years. I’ve learned that conversational writing is the most effective writing in marketing, because it sounds like one person talking to another.
If you had the chance to talk to your best prospect, what would you say? That’s what we want to capture when we create content.
We’re not arguing for the written equivalent of being overly familiar or backslapping. Don’t talk down to your prospect, or try to ingratiate yourself with slang or vernacular — make your case simply and memorably, and the engagement you want will follow.