Should You ‘Dumb it Down?’ Write Smarter: 5 Rules for Marketing Copy
I’ve got to agree with Alison Davis: I’m not a fan of the expression ‘dumb it down.’
As she points out, the phrase first emerged “as movie-business slang in the 1930’s, and was used by screenplay writers.” It was used to describe rewriting content “to appeal to those of little education or intelligence.”
It feels cruel, however, and as someone who works with scientific firms to convey complex ideas in digestible formats, it incorrectly summarizes what our team does.
Besides, do we really need to dumb it down? Are we actually getting dumber?
As it turns out, no, we’re not.
I’m with Davis when she says, “I love the fact that people everywhere are getting more intelligent.” That’s right, a recent meta-analysis found “an average gain of about three IQ points per decade, or roughly 10 points per generation.”
(Yes – that means our children are probably smarter than us.)
But how smart or dumb we are (or are becoming) isn’t the key takeaway. What matters is that the ways in which we all consume content have been changing. Reducing our content to the lowest common denominator isn’t the right answer. Understanding how people consume it is.
Do you seriously want to deliver something that is considered ‘dumb?’ And how far down should you go?
For our life science, pharma, healthcare & B2B clients, we can’t dumb down content. But it can be synthesized, and rendered into formats that lend themselves to rapid consumption.
So if, in fact, people are becoming smarter, that means we have to write smarter. Let’s face it – people don’t read like they used to. Even as far back as 2008, research found that only about 20% of online text was actually read word-for-word.
It’s a numbers game. “Over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every single day, and it’s only going to grow from there. By 2020, it’s estimated that 1.7MB of data will be created every second for every person on earth.”
The scanning-instead-of-reading phenomenon isn’t new, and as marketers, we see it across every industry. And when you are tasked with conveying complex scientific or technical concepts, it affects how you develop and present content.
Writing for the Journey
The ‘we need to dumb it down’ school of marketing thought is that people are moving so fast, they won’t stick to a traditional buyer’s journey anymore. It’s too long. They don’t have the time or attention span. So because some marketers think there is no longer a customer journey they put every possible piece of information in their materials right up front.
It’s not true.
The buyer’s journey still very much matters – but how they consume content on the journey itself is changing.
Here are 5 rules for writing copy:
- Be clear about your value.
Be sure to communicate your value proposition but leave them wanting to know more. Don’t try to cram every product you offer into one piece of content. If you give away your entire message up front, the reader will be overwhelmed and your message lost. Focus on simple and clear language that targets your customer’s pain points. Your materials should be a conversation in which you clearly share elements of the value of your product or service.
- Deliver scannable content.
Since you know readers are going to scan your content, it’s important to ensure your content is clear. Your value proposition should be easily identifiable, and readers should be able to take away key points from every piece of content you produce.
- It’s a journey – not a pit stop.
In many cases – especially at the start of the buyer’s journey – your content serves as a first touch. Make sure it’s a relatively quick read that makes them want to learn more. Whatever the content format – web, brochure, case study, landing page, email – provide a path for prospects to follow to acquire further information. Ensure your links are clear and easy to follow. The journey needs an easily-decipherable path in order to bring the reader along the path and into your funnel.
- Create visual impact.
The data or technical information you share with prospects and customers is critically important, but it also has its place. Being (rightfully) proud of their accomplishments, some companies want to emphasize it and so they’ll overwhelm a content piece with multiple visuals.Let’s just talk software marketing for a minute. Imagine a brochure with multiple screen shots. Now imagine that the screen shots are so small that no one can read them. How well do you think those visuals are going to work to attract your potential customers? They aren’t. If you think that screen shot is a selling point, you’d better make it big enough to make an impact.
- “Me, me, me…we, we, we…us, us, us.” Arrghh. Please stop.
Long after marketers (should have) learned that bragging and self-congratulatory writing won’t help sell products or services, many companies (with their marketers in tow) are still at it. They fill brochures with references to “We at ACME Corp.” I get it…you are proud of your company, its products or services, and its accomplishments. But customers want to hear you talking about their problems and their challenges. They need to know you get it, so they can feel confident that your solution adequately addresses their needs. There you have it – five rules for developing copy and keeping your content smart. Remember, prospects are smart and getting smarter. They are also consuming content in quick, scannable bites, but that being said – a prospect will read every word if they are interested in the value you provide.
Brandwidth Solutions serves the healthcare, life sciences, energy and contract pharma industries. We work with companies that want to make the most of their marketing – who want their marketing empowered to help drive leads – and ultimately sales. If you want to move your product or service forward in a smart way, we want to work with you. Call us at 215.997.8575.