"Their website doesn't reflect their personality at all," said the marketing provider committed to revamping a small financial company's online presence. As this marketing provider's go-to writing subcontractor, my mission was clear -- rewrite competent but dry-sounding text to give it a warmer, friendlier tone. But would I be able to do that without sacrificing the sense of clear-eyed professionalism and wisdom so important for a financial firm?
The answer, happily, was yes, but the question certainly bears asking. If you're a medical clinic, accounting firm, insurance agent or some other type of B2C consultant, you must tread a thin line between conveying your expertise and projecting a genuine sense of humanness. You want people to feel comfortable and familiar with you, but not to the point of adopting such a down-home, aw-shucks tone that you torpedo your professional image. Here are some ways you can negotiate that tightrope successfully.
Use direct address. Many business make the mistake of falling mostly into the third person in their marketing content: "XYZ Corporation helps homeowners with the following problems...." Yes, the results can seem impressively professional -- but also cold and alienating. You don't want to read about what some company out there does for its target market; you want to know what our company can do for you. You can't come across as friendly unless you're addressing the reader directly. Making this change can be as simple as adjusting, say, your employee bios from third person (in which you're describing them) to first person (in which they're describing themselves).
Limit your vocabulary. You don't have to dumb down your content for an audience that expects a certain degree of skill and knowledge from your company. But you do need to go through that content and replace the five-dollar words with shorter, simpler ones wherever possible. Clear, simple word choices make the content easier to read -- a friendly gesture in itself -- while making you appear less intimidating and more approachable. The concepts are still there, the solutions are still sophisticated, but the language is that of your reader, not "business speak" or "tech speak."
Keep it other-directed. Every marketing student knows that you're supposed to emphasize benefits instead of features in your content. By staying focused on the reader's everyday pains, needs, and wishes, you show a genuine concern for their situation even as you explain how you provide the solutions that make their lives better. This emphasis alone can help transform cold, forbidding lists of "What We Do" into a comforting reassurance from a new friend who wants to help. Even if you have to throw out some of the details of your services, that's okay if it prompts the reader to contact their new trusted advisor (you) you for more information.
So never fear -- you can sound like a real person and an expert at what you do. Your products, services, and experience will continue to speak for themselves. Just make sure you're addressing your ideal clients or customers on the issues they care about, in terms they can understand, and then offer the solution they need. That's what friends are for, right?