Let’s talk about messaging and hard it is to do well. Have you ever noticed how bad most website copy is? How every B2B software company’s website looks the same? How every sales outreach email feels like it's copied from one template?
There are thousands of blog posts and apps trying to help people write better. But somehow most business copy still stinks. It’s too long, it’s too convoluted, it’s too generic.
Sales and marketing copy is bad. It starts with the website, but extends to product copy, sales collateral, marketing campaigns, company emails, and so much more. In some cases, it's bumper sticker marketing, where it sounds clever at first, but then you realize it doesn't actually mean anything. In other cases, it's just way too long, wayyyy too much copy.
And before we go further, I will be the first to admit I haven’t figured this out either. I'm constantly trying to make our messaging better. But it is something I've spent a long time working on, and hope I get a little better every time I write. So please know I'm telling you this out of love, and I understand how hard this is. But together, we can do better.
Why is sales and marketing copy so bad?
Business copy is bad for so many reasons. Mostly, it's bad because it doesn't really need to be better than it is now. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't work to make it better.
You need to speak to your customers in a way they respond to; you need to speak their language. But you also want to differentiate yourself from your competitors. That's a difficult balance. You're probably also struggling with the balance of trying to stand out while also fitting in. All of us are trying to find our brand voice. We want to speak with authenticity. But what is "authenticity" when it comes to marketing? Ultimately, we're all trying to sell something. That's another tough balance.
It also comes down to time. There's always so much to do, and sometimes we just don't have any more time to spend on the copy we use to sell something. It's also often the result of a committee. For example, how many people were responsible for the copy on your company's website? Probably a lot. The copy gets written by a few people, edited by others, moved around, changed over time. It's probably never going to be Shakespeare, but it can be better than it is now.
How can you improve your messaging?
It takes years to become a better writer. But there are small actions you can take right now to improve. And over time, those make a big difference. So here are 10 ways you can improve your copy.
1. Find your brand’s voice. Infuse your copy with your personality. Try to write like you’d speak. Even B2B sellers and marketers are people, talking to other people. Talk like a person. Just figure out what kind of person you are first.
2. Figure out what makes you different. As a company, as a salesperson, as a product - what sets you apart from your competitors and the rest of the industry? Lean into those elements.
3. Understand your customer. The better you know your customer - and your customer journey - the more personalized you can make your messaging. What is your customer trying to achieve and when? You’ll likely be speaking to different audiences at different times, so customize your different messages accordingly.
4. Speak plainly. Stop using so much jargon. You should communicate in a way your customer can understand, and don’t bury the important stuff in acronyms.
5. Make your site/email/process easy to navigate. It should be easy to figure out how to learn more or request a demo. Try to keep things simple.
6. Limit CTAs. Don’t give people too many things to do. Decide what the most important action is for a particular website page or sales email, and only include that one CTA. Confusion leads to inaction.
7. Read and write more. One of the best ways to improve your own communication is to practice. Read everything you can - books, newspapers, social media, web copy, anything. Learn from what others have done, both good and bad. Keep improving. And if you're looking for more help, there are tons of books about writing; my favorite is On Writing by Stephen King.
8. Stop doing what everyone else does. Stop using cliches. Yes, they’re shortcuts - everyone knows what they mean - but they’re lazy. Go through your website and email cadences and replace every mention of over-used terms like the following:
- Actionable insights
- Low-hanging fruit
- Hit the ground running
- Our product makes things easier, faster, smarter, better!
(If you’re looking for a quick way to get extremely drunk, go to one of your competitors’ websites and drink every time you see one of those phrases.)
9. No more series. One of the most common copywriting lazythings is chaining together two or more items in a single sentence, and then repeating that pattern. We over-list and over-comma. “Our product enables you to X, Y and Z. With our best-in-class software, you get this, that, and the other thing. Access one of these, one of those, and two of these.” Once you notice this, you start seeing it everywhere. Simplify. Stop using single-sentence series.
10. Write and then re-write. When you have the luxury of time, do a few revisions. Even if it's something as simple as a short email, it will benefit from at least one round of rewrites. Write your first draft, then step away to do something else. When you come back to your copy, read through it carefully and see what you can improve. You will always find something.
So much sales and marketing copy is mediocre at its best, and downright bad at its worst. We can do better. Our customers deserve better. We deserve better. With these tips, hopefully you can improve your copy, even just a bit. Good luck!