Listening to your marketing materials

You probably read the copy for your advertising, brochures, and other communications material very carefully, because you want to make sure the information is correct and presented in an attractive, readable manner.

But do you ever listen to what those materials are subtly saying about you and the products and services you offer? Have you ever taken time to think about the way they speak to your current and potential customers?

Content and design are important, but there’s a third consideration that deserves your attention: the voice used in the materials.

“…you want to provide answers to common questions about them. ”

What exactly is this “voice” and why is it important? Start by considering the reasons you use ads, brochures, direct mail, and the like in the first place. You want to make current and prospective customers aware of your products and services, and you want to provide answers to common questions about them.

Those ads, brochures, email newsletters, and other tools stand in your place. They sell and inform for you when you can’t be there to do it yourself. In a way, you’re quietly sending a trusted employee into the homes and businesses of your customers and prospects.

When people read those ads and other materials, they hear that trusted employee’s “voice” through the words and sentence structure. It’s not a conscious thing; it just happens.

Think of the times you’ve read a novel and later viewed a movie or listened to a taped version. A lead character speaks, and your mind protests. “He’s not supposed to sound like that.” You’re uneasy because you already heard the character’s voice in your mind.

Based on the voices they hear, people draw very important conclusions about you. They decide whether you can be trusted. How you will treat them. Whether you’re genuinely friendly or just acting nice. You can control that impression, because you can control that voice.

Sometimes, presenting the right voice means ignoring some of those grammar rules your ninth-grade English teacher drummed into your head. Why? Effective copy talks to people, and people don’t speak with textbook grammar. We start sentences with conjunctions, we end them with prepositions. We even use fragments. (That doesn’t mean grammar is unimportant. Forgetting basic agreement or structure can make you sound uneducated. Don’t be afraid to break rules – but do it selectively and with reason.)

Once you’ve found the perfect voice, hang on to it, and use it everywhere. Customers should always encounter the same voice. Your ads should speak with it. So should your brochures and customer magazines. Even your employee newsletters should carry the same voice. If you’ve done the job well, you’ll start to hear it in the voices of your employees. It’s contagious.

What’s the best way to determine whether the voice in your materials is correct? It’s the simplest: read everything aloud. (You might want to close your office door first, or you might hear hints about early retirement.)

If you find yourself stumbling over the phrases, running out of breath, or grimacing because it “just doesn’t sound right,” ask for a rewrite.

On the other hand, if it sounds exactly like the way the sales rep of your dreams would explain something to one of your favorite customers, it’s probably right on the nose. Or, right off your lips.