writing for the ear

Languishing over language: how to improve your copywriting

In a fascinating interview with National Public Radio in America, UCLA professor Keith Chen spoke about how language can affect the way one thinks. Specifically he mentioned how different languages impact the way in which certain cultures view and save money.

In Mandarin for example, one does not say “tomorrow it will rain”, but rather “tomorrow it rain.” According to Professor Chen, this equalisation of the future and present impacts their worldview. In this way, Mandarin-speakers view saving money for the future in the same mindset with which they view having money in the present. This leads to an observable increase in their monetary savings.

Writing languate we got

In English we’re stuck with a ‘present progressive’, meaning that in order to speak about an event in the future we have to use an ‘obligatory form’. If that makes as little sense to you as it does to me, put it this way:

Today it is raining.
Yesterday it rained.
Tomorrow it…

There’s no future tense for rain. The only way to say it is: “tomorrow it will rain.”
The theory dictates that this characteristic of the English language means we’re predisposed not to put the future and the present on equal footing, but rather to view the future as a vague, incomprehensible eventuality sometime down the road. Thus, English -speakers tend to save less.

Language can literally shape the way we think.

Bad language past present future

The Internet can be an unforgiving place.

As a copywriter at Messages On Hold, my primary goal is to craft messages that shape callers’ thoughts about a company, product or idea. So how do we use language subtly yet effectively in our on hold messages? Allow me to show you.

Take for instance this sentence:
Did you know that when customers sign up with Tim’s Mowing they experience our great commitment to customer service by getting access to discounts on our full range of services!

The sentence is long-winded, bulky and the focus is on the seller, not the customer. If a caller is on hold hearing this message, not only will the sentence not sink in, but it doesn’t even leave the caller with an understanding of what Tim’s Mowing offers them!

Better writing through comedy buzzword
Let’s remove the excess details, drop the generic opening, turn the focus from the seller’s features to the buyer’s benefits and craft a clear message.

How’s this?
Sign up with Tim’s Mowing for all your professional landscaping and garden services  at discounted prices.

There’s no fancy language only a professional copywriter could come up with. There’s no brilliant eloquence to rival Shakespeare, Dickens or Austen. However, the sentence is succinct, unambiguous and focuses on how the listener/reader benefits.

We’ve ditched the words “can”, “commitment” and “when”. Those are all words that just fluff up and obscure what the client wants to hear. No one cares what you can do; they want to know what you will do.

The second example lays it all out effectively; you have landscaping requirements, they will provide a solution and this is how to engage with that service.

Eat your words, writing and choice of language
The specific language you use (or don’t use) will affect the way in which a caller might receive and absorb the information. In fact, at Messages On Hold we have a list of phrases we avoid at all costs.

Your messages need to orient the caller so they immediately understand what they stand to gain by engaging with your services. When it comes to improving your writing, it’s all about the specific language you use. Keep it simple, keep it focused and keep it targeted.

Tomorrow, we will write better.