Do the words you use “have your BACK”?

Words can make it or break it — in life and in business.

From not-quite-convincing declarations of love to inadverturtledly cringeworthy product packaging: Valentine’s Day is always a good reminder that it’s worth spending some thought on how you want to come across, and what words you want to use.

light box saying "I hate nothing about U"
Awww, don’t be so enthusiastic, you’re making me blush.
Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash
M&S chocolate turtles. The packaging says "I turtle-y fancy you"

Sweet tortoise! Probably the most romantic animal on earth.

Yep, we focus on love letters to customers rather than messages on Tinder. And we like to keep things simple. So here’s a practical, 4-step plan for choosing the right words for your business, all wrapped up in a memorable acronym: BACK.

If your words have your BACK, they are:

  • Branded
  • Approachable
  • Clear
  • Knowledgeable

Are your words branded?

If your brand has a distinct style, everything you write needs to speak the same language — from your Facebook ads to your customer care. Otherwise your company will appear disjointed, and people will trust you less.

You may want to keep things a little more sober when writing about serious stuff, and take the fun side of your brand up a notch when you’re celebrating.

But many companies have a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing going on: their social media marketing, sales pages and customer care sound completely unconnected.

Tips:

  • Choose 3–5 words that describe the attitude you want to come across when you’re writing. Those words are a great start: you can always refine them later. For example, From Scratch sounds curious, upright and colourful.
  • If you’ve never thought about a branded tone of voice, use a style that feels approachable, clear and knowledgeable (more on that below). It helps people connect with you emotionally, understand your messages, and believe what you’re saying.

Related: How to keep your brand personality going in the face of complaints

Do you sound approachable?

Think of the people who buy from you as ‘co-creators’ rather than ‘consumers’.

Customer feedback shapes how companies operate, what products they make and even the rules and regulations surrounding entire industries.

Traditional, ‘corporate’ language won’t be able to engage co-creators — you’ll want to be at eye level, sharing expertise like a knowledgeable friend.

It’s not always easy to hit the right tone the first time around.

So here’s a tried-and-tested shortcut: listen really closely to how the people you want to engage with speak, and mirror that. Spoken language is a better guide than the written word, because we tend to censor ourselves subconsciously when we write.

It’s worth the effort: the more you speak the language of your tribe, talk about people’s needs and show how you meet them, the more your marketing cares for your customer.

At the same time, your support turns into a marketing channel. And your customers will feel empowered.

What better definition of ethical marketing?

Tips:

  • Use your customers’ words. Look at what people are saying in their emails and reviews. Mirror their exact words as often as possible. As soon as you start paraphrasing, you reduce the emotional impact of your message. You’ll also be more likely to use jargon and buzzwords, which can hinder people’s understanding of your message.
  • Show your face. Use photos of yourself and your team. Especially in your About, Help and Contact sections, photos of your team can make people use a friendlier tone when they get in touch — because photos help us all to be more empathetic online.

Related: Read more about the human touch

Is everything clear?

Clarity is a must for any business.

The Flesch-Kinkaid Grade Level is a useful test if you want to check the readability of your website.

It will tell you how many years of formal education your page visitor needs in order to understand it.

Aim for grade 8 or below — that’s the level of most Stephen King books.

Tips:

  • Shorter words tend to be easier to understand. Longer ones are often borrowed from Latin or French: “Britons sweat, Romans perspire.”
  • Keep your sentences to 25 words or less — so you can say them out loud in one breath.
  • Use the active voice whenever it makes sense. The passive voice should be avoided.

Related: How to KISS

Do you sound knowledgeable?

You’re the expert in your brand, products and services — you have the right to speak with conviction.

A confident tone helps people believe what you’re saying, which is so important in this age of transparent business.

As an expert, you can also afford to be really specific.

Hyper-specific.

Refer to real situations in your customers’ real lives, as if you were writing a novel.

Most brands stay generic because it feels safe — but those specifics are what sets you apart as the true “we understand exactly what you’re going through” experts.

Related: How to help your support teams show that your heart’s in the right place

Tips:

  • Avoid expressions that plant doubts in the minds of your readers, like “hope”, “should”, “would”, “could” and “might”.
  • Precision is smarter than vagueness, so choose your words carefully.

Once site visitors feel this safe with you, they’ll be more likely to buy.

And less likely to contact you just for reassurance.

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