7 Tips to Instantly Give Your Content Personality

Content with personality sells. Brands spend big bucks developing a distinct voice that makes them stand out. Conversational words engage your prospects instead of putting them to sleep, or worse, buying from someone else. This idea of copy that is personable and professional at the same time is what I built my career on. And here are some tips I’ve learned along the way to help your brand stand out from the pack.

1. Keep words and sentences short.
Big words do not make you sound smart. (I actually had to re-write that sentence. Originally it said, “Big words make you sound pretentious.” I have to keep even myself in check.) Long sentences make you seem boring. Readers, especially savvy web-oriented ones, don’t actually read — they scan. Short sentences keep these scanners more engaged, which leads to more sales. I try to keep most of my sentences to one thought, or clause. Sometimes two. More that that, and I try to break it up into separate sentences. Another way to put this idea is, “write like you talk.”

2. Use contractions.
When we’re talking casually, we use contractions — those “shortcut” words like can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, etc. We say – “I’d love to join you, but I can’t. Maybe next time, when I don’t have a conflict.”  In conversation, we’ll use the non-contracted form when we need to clarify or make a point. For example, “Joe, for the last time, I will not go on a date with you. Please, do not ask me again.” Using contractions instantly lightens the tone of your communications, and (you guessed it) makes your readers feel more engaged with your content.

3. Choose the “sparkle” word.
Which has more personality? “We’re happy to announce…” or “We’re thrilled to announce…” They essentially mean the same thing, but “thrilled” jumps out just a little more because it’s more exact. Happy is generic. It’s probably the first word you’ll reach for. Stretching just a little bit for that vibrant word can make your copy sing.

4. Write in the present tense, active voice, second person.
In non-academic terms, this means – avoid the words “have” or “been” and use the word “you”. Writing in this style is one of the most powerful ways to connect with your reader. It puts them in the here and now. It makes it feel like you’re having a conversation with them through the screen. Compare, for example, these two sentences: “We have enjoyed working with wonderful clients like you.” Versus, “You are a wonderful client. Thank you for your business. It makes ours more fun.” See the difference?

5. Know which (few) grammar rules you can break.
On occasion, I’ll start a sentence with “and”. I sometimes end with a preposition, too. That’s because these grammar rules help facilitate the conversational style. But there are some rules that when broken, make you look silly, or stupid, or ignorant. Here’s just a small sampling.

  • Your (you own it) vs. You’re (you are)
  • There (not here) vs. Their (it belongs to them) vs. They’re (they are)
  • Assure (give support) vs. Insure (to buy or sell insurance)
  • Affect (verb) vs. Effect (noun – can you put “the” in front of it?)
  • “A lot” is two words.

There are plenty more, and feel free to vent in the comments below. To keep your writing neat and tidy, try typing your opposing words in a search engine with “vs” between them. You can also check out The Grammar Girl.

6. Accessorize with styles.
Not to sound like your high-school English teacher, but rhetorical styles such as alliteration, metaphor, similes, rhyme, and repetition are marks of great writing. So use them. A word of caution though; too much of any of these styles, and you can easily swing to the other side of the personality pendulum (the one where you sound like an amateur and we don’t want that). It’s best to think of these styles like an accessory — add enough to accentuate your content, but not too much where you overwhelm the message.

7. Read out loud before you publish.
And by “out loud”, I don’t mean “really loud and slow but still in my head”. It means with your voice, at a natural volume. In addition to catching typos, this form of editing is perfect for making sure your content is conversational. Does it sound natural? If there’s a sentence that just doesn’t flow, work with it until it sounds right. Then, give your content to someone who hasn’t read it yet. Ask them to read it out loud. Then, massage any phrases that tripped them up.

With these simple tweaks, you can transform writing that’s bland and impersonal, into content that brings your readers closer to your brand. These are great tips for all sorts of business communications in both print and web. Have a question about how to implement these styles? Have a story about how you turned your copy around? Want to vent about your grammar pet peeves? Put it in the comment below.

Thanks, and happy writing!

On becoming a web “triple threat”

Tap Dancer

Believe it or not, I started school pursuing Classical Voice. My dream was to be on Broadway (it’s still on my list of things to do before I die). The only problem? I’m not a great dancer.

You see, to really make it on Broadway, you need to be able to sing, act, AND dance. Two out of the three won’t do. If you’re deficient in one area, that means countless hours of practice just to get up to par. I just wasn’t willing to invest the time, and so I changed my major to Marketing. Smart move, I think.

The same idea of a “triple threat” applies to the web. A web site or application is made up of three main areas: Content, Design, and Development. As clients demand more and more sophisticated sites, and as the web experience becomes more integrated (think mobile), it’s more important for those of us in the web field to cross-train in the different disciplines. Yes, it’s hard work, and countless hours, but this time, I’m excited about it!

Here are some of the resources I found most helpful while I was learning. Hopefully, they’ll help you, too.

Content

Design

Code/Development

    Lynda.com (yes – they get a plug twice, it’s that good)

Image Attribution:

Taking the leap…again.

b&w photo of girl diving into a lake

Next Tuesday is my last day at Capital One. It’s been a great ride. I’ve made lots of friends and learned a ton, but I never quite shook the own-your-own-business bug.

I’m thinking it’s genetic. My brother’s an entrepreneur, too. And when you look at our childhood, it’s not hard to see why.

When I was five (1986) my father left his job as an IT big-wig, bought a Macintosh computer, and started a graphics design company with my artistically inclined mother. I asked him “Why?” for a project in 6th grade. His reply? “So I could see you get off the school bus every day.”

I grew up stapling blank invoices to manila folders for a penny a piece.

In middle school, I started running my own business doing “over printing.” This was before digital printing came along. My parents would create a shell brochure for companies with multiple offices. My brother and I would collect orders from individual offices and carefully feed the glossy paper through a bubble-jet printer, set it on the floor to dry, run it through a folding machine, and ship it out. My father and I still laugh about my mishaps with the (really finicky!) folding machine.

By early high school, my parents had merged their business with a pre-press and printing company. I came up with the name and tagline — Proximus; Next generation printing — by opening my Latin dictionary. That was my first foray into copywriting and I’ll never forget the thrill of seeing my idea scattered all over signs and stationary.

At the age of 24, I quit my job in sales because of an ethical belief. When I became frustrated in the job search, my parents bought me a laptop, desk, and a copy of Quickbooks. Within a month I had landed three clients. For three years I finessed my skills and made my living as a freelance copywriter. I started a blog. Capital One read it, a recruiter called me out-of-the-blue and asked me to come write for them.

That was two and a half years ago.

For a while, I really enjoyed the steady paycheck, vacation pay, sick days, and 40-hour work weeks. These were luxuries I never had when I worked on commission or freelanced. The first week, my manager would have to remind me to go home at 5:00. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Compared to the 14-hour days I was used to, I essentially felt like I was leaving at lunchtime.

I got a bonus and flew to Australia. I won the 3-legged race at the Brand Olympics. I went to some kick-ass conferences. But I also stopped blogging, watched my inspiration slowly fizzle, and became daunted by corporate politics.

Then, last September, I bumped into one of my best friends from high-school at our 10-year reunion. He owned a software company and needed marketing help.  The next day we sat by the pool and dreamed about offering copywriting and coding services to designers. In November, I became a Partner in Corgibytes. Two weeks later, we had our first client. In March, he proposed — at the same spot where we dreamed up our business plan (I said yes). Today we’re living that dream.

I suppose for some people, the itch to be an entrepreneur is just inherent. You do it because you don’t want to do anything else. Because you’d rather work for yourself 14 hours a day than work for somebody else for 8. And because life seems more fun after you dove in than it ever did watching from the dock.