Write Human. Win Hearts. Sell Stuff.

filed under: Copywriting

Writing copy for your business can often feel like you’re trying to herd cats: words and ideas going left and right with no direction whatsoever, some even nonchalantly licking themselves in a corner entirely ignoring your every beg and call. “Fluffy? That’s not my name today. I won’t come. Meow.” Worse still, it can feel like a wild (and very small) cat has actually found its way inside your head and is scratching your eyes out. From the inside. And all you want to do is SCREAM! “This isn’t working! It just doesn’t even sound like me! I don’t sound like me! AAaaarrrggggg.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Words aren’t really cats (phew!) and you can get them to do precisely what you want, much more easily than you can teach a cat tricks. All you gotta do is be H.U.M.A.N.

H: Hone In

The biggest hindrance to clear communication is often the message itself. Or rather, the lack thereof. We get an upsetting email from a client and we react thoughtlessly and rashly. We’re writing the sales page of a new program and list everything we’ve done. We log into social and start asking for views. These aren’t messages. They’re indulgences: letting our instincts and our ego take over.

True communication isn’t about me-me-me. The Latin roots of the word “communication” actually mean “to make something common.” And in order to share something in common with someone else, both parties have to care. So before striking even a single key, take a minute to hone in to what your audience really wants and needs from you. Instead of writing a defensive response to the client, try to understand her real concern first. Instead of trying to sell your program because you put a lot of work into it, talk about the benefits for your customer and why she should care. Instead of asking for views on social, connect with people personally by listening to what they want and create a common bond by giving first, so you can later ask.

U: Un-filter everything

Why un-filter? Because we’ve become so accustomed to filtering our own thoughts, lest we offend the (assumed) ideas of those around us, that we often don’t even know what we really think for ourselves. Using filters, of course, is not all bad. It’s called being considerate. No one wants you going around the internet screaming like a jack-ass and offending everyone in sight. But chances are that your unfiltered self isn’t really all crude, is it? You’re not some ill-meaning bot that aims to insult every single human being online. So cut yourself some slack, drop the “shoulds” and give the filters a rest for a bit.

Allow yourself this: the first draft of every copy will be for your eyes only. Once you hone in on the message you want to communicate, let it all hang out, naturally. Don’t censor yourself, and don’t worry about whom you might offend. Just write down what you really think. Once you have it all out your system, you can edit according to the occasion using whatever filters feel right to you.

M: Marinate, don’t mince

Bland copy, anyone? It’s all pure words—no taste, no flavor, and no personality, hun. Can I indulge you in a boring little message? Yeah. Thanks, but no thanks. There’s nothing worse than dry, stilted copy that’s all words and no emotion. You gotta add some flava to it, yo. Snap it up, give it spunk, put in some pow! It doesn’t matter how good or important your message is. If the delivery is hard to swallow, no one will consume.

And that’s why you’ve got to marinate that message in your unique personality sauce. Make it spicy. Make it hot. Make it sweet and tangy. Make it however you want. But marinate. Which is not to be confused with “mince.” Mincing your words is never a good idea. Mincing doesn’t add flavor, it just makes a hot, mushy mess out of everything when you’re not sure what you’re trying to say. Yuk! So remember this: never sacrifice clarity for style. If you’re not sure that your words are getting the message across, mixing ‘em up won’t help. You first have to find clarity, and then spruce it up with style.

A: Apostrophize

Fastest way to get your copy acting like a human? Using the apostrophe. That’s right. This lil’ guy that shortens everything and brings words together. Why? Because that’s how we really talk. And it’s also the way most of us write when sending casual emails to friends and family. Yet, when we sit down to write something for our business, we put our “formal” hats on, and start sounding like a snooze-inducing English paper from the last century. No one’s gonna read that. Not even your English teacher wanted to read that. So stop imposing it on your clients.

Do not write like you have got a stick up your behind. It just will not sound human, no matter what. See? That’s terrible! So, don’t write like you’ve got a stick up your backside. It just won’t sound human, no matter what. And even if you miss a few apostrophizing punctuations the first time around, you can always catch them in the edits. (Bonus tip: run a search through you document for “you are” “it is” “can not” etc, and clean ‘em up, nice and good).

N: Natural

Final check: make sure it sounds natural. It may seem funny to say, but natural doesn’t always come natural in writing. There are many reasons for this. Our thoughts run faster than our fingers on the keyboard. Our ingrained filters keep interrupting our train of thought (and hijacking it to places it never meant to go). The image of our English teacher suddenly appears on our screen and admonishes to stop writing colloquially. A thought about that never-ending to-do list mistakenly slips into our copy. Etc, etc, etc.

Don’t be discouraged. Even professional writers rewrite texts many times before they get them to sound like they want. After all, “writing in rewriting,” as Nora DeLoach once said. And natural writing, naturally needs rewriting.

Now we’re talking!

So there you have it. Human speech in 5 simple steps. Which step is your favorite one. Or the one you need to practice more?

Do you have any other human-copy tips you LOVE using? Share them with us in the comments! We’d love to know!