Writing

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.

Avoid These Phrases

On Hold scripts have come a long way since I began writing them over five years ago. Every day we’re finding new ways to promote products and services even more effectively than we have before. The scripts are more creative, compelling and rich. However, with everything we know now about writing for the On Hold medium, I still see companies who insist on inserting ‘nothing phrases’.

A ‘nothing phrase’ is one that does nothing to distract the caller from the fact they’re waiting. It doesn’t help to reduce the perceived wait time and it doesn’t promote any products or services. In fact, it sometimes draws the caller’s attention to the fact that they’re waiting!

Customers Tune Out When They Hear 'Nothing Phrases'.

Customers Tune Out When They Hear ‘Nothing Phrases’.

So what are these phrases and why should you avoid them? Good question – let’s take a look at the worst offenders.

1) Thank you for holding. Being thanked by a recording is impersonal and drawing the caller’s attention to the fact they’re still holding makes the wait time seem much longer than it is.

2) Your call is important to us. Is it really? That’s the first thing the caller will think when they hear this phrase and they’ll immediately get their back up. This is not the frame of mind you want your caller in when your staff pick up the call.

3) We’ve been around for 40 years. Big deal! This is a great milestone for you but to a potential customer it means nothing. They’re focused on themselves and want to know how you’re going to help them.

4) Our friendly team delivers attentive customer service. This phrase is bad in two ways. ‘Friendly’ staff and ‘customer service’ should be a given – if not, you’re in the wrong industry.

5) A range of products to satisfy your needs & requirements. These are just plain lazy. Be specific about what need or requirement you are ‘satisfying’ and use your wait time wisely.

6) Call us. This one is self explanatory – they’ve just picked up the phone and dialed your number. It’s thoughtless and the subtext is you don’t care.

7) We appreciate your patience. Similar to number 1, this phrase is impersonal and does nothing to sell your products or take the caller’s mind off the fact they’re holding.

8) Visit our website 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s 2013 – people know how the internet works. Instead, give callers a reason to visit your website. What’s in it for them?

So there you have it, the top offenders of on hold messages. At Messages On Hold, these banned phrases are ingrained in every copywriter to ensure we use every second of an on hold production wisely. If you have an on hold message service, have a listen to your production: do you hear these phrases? If so, get rid of them! If you’re thinking about getting on hold messages installed on your phone system (and you should be!), avoid these phrases at all costs. Alternatively, give Messages On Hold a call!

– Lachy

Time For a Proofread

Here in the Message On Hold Copywriting Department, we write a lot of scripts.  We proof them personally before we submit them to be proofed by the other copywriters. Needless to say, we’re forever looking for errors in our copy.  There are a few cardinal sins… using stale phrases like ‘one-stop shop’ and ‘needs & requirements’ or mistaking ‘you’re’ for ‘your’. Proofing is where these sorts of subtle errors get picked up.

Should a mistake slip between our fine-toothed comb for one of our clients to pick up, we find a fair bit of egg on our face. If they don’t, the gentlemen in studio will, making it virtually impossible for a written typo to be recorded that, in turn, makes our clients sound foolish.

This is not a luxury you get with all marketing efforts, especially ones you do yourself. You can now make and host your own website, print out your own pamphlets and upload your own videos to the web (as mentioned in this story). If no one is looking over the copy you’re putting out there, you run the risk of public embarrassment. If you want to bottom out your credibility as fast as possible, just chuck in an obvious typo and watch your brand equity evaporate.

Typos are never fine.

Typos are never fine.

I recently found a website that contained the word ‘personalised’ in the company name yet in the ‘About Us’ section they had referred to themselves as ‘personzlied’.  ‘Personz lied’ to whoever thinks this is an acceptable public display of your brand. The easiest typos to miss are the skipped words (e.g. ‘the’, ‘that’, ‘a’). Unless you want to sound like you were raised by apes, get someone else to read over your copy… more often than not you’ll be surprised by what they find.

Take this opportunity to proof-read your website and ad material, if you catch any typos… you can thank us later.

– Jakub