Whether you sell car widgets, consulting, cab service, camping stoves, or customized cabinets, the day will come when you have to write up something to sell them.
My best advice is to be straightforward: Simply write who it’s for, what it is, why people should buy it, and how to order. If your clear and direct draft then seems just too boring to you, you don’t have to do the verbal equivalent of dressing up in a plastic burger suit and jumping up and down at passing cars.
You can give your copy a little rhythm and oomph with one or more of these more subtle jazzifying moves:
In the first sentence of this article, I purposely overdid alliteration by having five things in a row that started with the letter “c.” When you use only two or three sequential words beginning with the same letter or sound, however, it tends to stay under the radar while perking up the reader.
Tell an illustrative story in only a sentence or two.
For a lightweight camping stove, your story could be, “One of our customers came in after hiking the whole Pacific Coast Trail and thanked us for all the cold mornings the stove had enabled him to have hot coffee and oatmeal instead of granola, granola, and more granola.”
In the description of my program on information marketing, I wrote, “In the 1990s, my husband and I would sit in our living room opening bins full of envelopes, then stacking checks and money orders in one pile and dollar bills in another heap so high they’d begin to topple over.”
3. Before and After
Right after that sentence about the dollar bills, I contrasted the scene with the present day: “These days it’s not as much work to count the money, but it’s just as much fun to tell each other how many orders came in while we were sleeping, enjoying the outdoors, or traveling for weeks and months at a time.”
Likewise, you can add color to your pitch by comparing how something used to be and how it is now: “Five years ago, Fineran Consulting had only three clients. Through word-of-mouth, it grew in leaps and bounds until its client list looked like the Who’s Who of the Twin Cities.”
4. Sentence Variety
To inject life into a page that seems like a snoozer, simply fiddle with the sentences so some sentences are short and others much longer, rather than all being of average length. How short? Very short is fine. Inserting a question here or there livens things up also. Notice how I did that in this tip?
5. General to Specific
Suppose I had started off this post like this: “Whatever you sell, the day will come when you have to write something up to sell it.” It’s OK, but my actual opening sentence is spiffier. Look for places in your text where you made general statements, and bring them to life by substituting or sprinkling in particulars. Phrase patterns that accomplish this include “ranging from X to Y” and “such as A, B and C, to name a few.”
6. Freshened Cliché
A cliché is a phrase so familiar that everyone can finish the wording if you stop halfway through:
- Dead as a doornail
- The real McCoy
- Read you the Riot Act
Foil the reader’s expectations by changing one of the words so the phrase still means much the same, but gains an interesting twist or takes on the opposite meaning. For instance:
- “In 2009, the local real estate market was dead as a doorstop.”
- “Bill Barringer, our founder, is the real McSpy of competitive intelligence.”
- “When you come to Gentle Waters, we read you the Relaxation Act.”
7. Translated Jargon
Most of the time you’re wrong when you think everyone understands the insider lingo that’s etched deeply into your brain cells. For that reason, and also for a change of pace, it’s a relief to readers when you add a plain-English explanation of industry terminology, as in “Human capital—that is, people viewed as company assets,” or “We bring together all the stakeholders, which in most cases means the landowners, people from town government and representatives of local environmental groups.”
8. Unexpected Word
Is “jazzifying,” in the third paragraph of this article, a word? Maybe not, but I’m sure you recognized it meant “to make more jazzy.” Don’t be afraid to use one or two words that aren’t normally part of business talk.
Those words shouldn’t be graduate-level, abstruse terms like “ossification” or “anthropocentric,” but, rather, colorful verbs, nouns, and adjectives, like “bamboozle,” “poorhouse,” or “antsy.”
Foreign words, too, like “hara-kiri,” (ritual suicide, Japanese), “alfresco” (outdoors, Italian), and “verblunget” (totally confused, Yiddish) simply have a certain “je ne sais quoi” (an elusive yet pleasing quality, French) that adds sonic texture to your prose.
9. Shorter Paragraphs
When I update articles that I wrote 15 years ago, when I had one foot in the print world and one foot online, often all I do is divide my long paragraphs in half. They then read much more crisply on the Web.
Try it yourself.
If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing one of the reasons is the examples. When someone not only says what you should do but also rounds out the advice with examples, readers’ minds get spinning more usefully than from the same advice with no illustrations of how to do it.
11. An Exception
Dial back on a positive attribute of your product or service by describing an instance when that attribute isn’t or wasn’t true.
Adding such an exception often has a humorous effect, and it makes your overall claim more believable: for example, “Unless you stick them in a meat cooler for a month, our widgets start up instantly.”
The best example of this I’ve seen of this approach in business is by The Linton Company, which says, “Where nice people answer the phone (with possibly one exception).”
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A little of the above goes a long way. If every sentence dances at the reader, you’ll provoke dizziness rather than desire to buy. Use just enough to wake the reader up so he or she pays attention instead of skimming on by. If you start getting comments about your writing, you may have done a bit too much.
The feedback that indicates you’ve done it just right? More people inputting their credit card information, opting in, or calling you for appointments.