Content Marketing

Why Writing Style Matters for Content Marketing – Here’s Why #118

Style is the sauce that makes the dish when it comes to effective writing, but many marketers ignore it or at least fail to make use of it.
In this episode of the popular Here’s Why digital marketing video series, Perficient Digital’s Mark Traphagen explains why developing a proper style is key to making sure your marketing messages hit home.

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Eric: Mark, many of our viewers may not know that you have a background in teaching English.
Mark: Yes. That’s right, Eric. I taught literature and writing for almost 20 years.
Eric: Do you think that background helps you as a marketer?
Mark: I really think it does. I mean, absolutely. It’s all about communications in marketing. So I’m still using those skills every day.
Eric: I know you still keep current on the subject of written communication. Share with us something that you recently learned.
Mark: I’d be happy to. Let’s talk about your style, Eric.
Eric: I’m comfortable with the way I dress. So just keep your criticisms to yourself.
Mark: I’m not talking about your clothing. It’s more the importance of style in writing, and how we communicate in our marketing messages.
Eric: What do you mean?
Mark: One of the best books I’ve read recently on writing is “Sense of Style” by “New York Times” bestselling author and Harvard psychologist, Steven Pinker.

Backed by modern research into how the written word actually communicates to readers, Pinker dispels a lot of the conventional wisdom on writing and explains how adopting the right style creates writing that is at the same time crystal clear and a joy to read.
Eric: So that’s great for writing in general. But how does style matter at all for marketing writing?
Mark: So it matters for at least three reasons.

  1. The right style helps get the message across. It removes barriers of understanding between the writer and the reader. As marketers, we certainly don’t want to be throwing up any blockades that would prevent prospects from getting our message.
  2. The right style earns the reader’s trust. Caring about consistency and accuracy in your text implies you care about it in your subject matter. Studies show that sloppy writing and grammar are a prime reason for early rejection of both job candidates and dating prospects on dating sites.Eric: When you’re marketing to someone, it’s a lot like you’re applying for a job or asking for a date. You’re asking the other person to trust what you’re telling them.
    Mark: A style that is clear and respectful to the reader’s intelligence shows you care, and that goes a long way toward earning trust.
  3. Great style adds beauty to the world.Eric: We’d all be in favor of adding some beauty to our world. Does that matter for marketing?
    Mark: It sure does. I mean, doing something with just a little art in it, even if it’s something as prosaic as a product description. Well, that creates a pleasant atmosphere. It relaxes the recipient, making him or her more receptive to the message.

Eric: Good style in writing removes barriers to message communication. It helps to build trust, and it contributes to a pleasant atmosphere around the message. So how do you develop a writing style that does all that?
Mark: So first, you need to be an avid reader yourself. Just as someone who wants to become a great jazz musician dedicates many hours to listening to jazz, so an aspiring writer needs to steep himself in the writing of others.
Pay attention when you run across writing that stands out to you that you really like. What are its characteristics that cause your positive association? Now, Pinker says, “Writers acquire their technique by spotting, savoring, and reverse-engineering examples of good prose.”
Second, don’t get too hung up on rules. Don’t ignore them, but don’t treat them as absolutes. It’s more important that your sentence says what it means to say than whether or not it ends with a preposition.
Finally, strive for what literary scholars Francis-Noel Thomas and Mark Turner call the “classic” style. Classic style aims at a shared seeing of the world between the writer and the reader. A writer of classic prose must simulate two experiences, showing the reader something in the world and engaging her in conversation.
Classic style contrasts with plain style, which simply spells everything out, such as the writing you’d find in an instruction manual. Or prophetic style, which proclaims a high idea of it, simply states it to be so on the basis of the authority of the author. Classic style wants the reader to do a bit of work, actually, while clearly and coherently spelling out all the pieces she needs to do that work. The goal is a reader who is much more likely to be committed to what you propose in your writing, because she went on a journey led by you to get to it.
Eric: Mark, how can our viewers learn more about the value of style for marketing writing?
Mark: I definitely recommend reading “The Sense of Style” by Steven Pinker. But I think the first tip I gave is the most important one. When you’re reading marketing writing, whether a blog post or ad copy, or a product description, train yourself to pay attention to the style with which it is communicated. The more you observe what does and doesn’t work for you as a reader, the more you’ll be able to improve your own writing.
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About the Author

Mark Traphagen was our Content Strategy Director for Perficient Digital until February of 2019. He has been named one of the most influential content and social media authors in numerous industry listings.

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Thoughts on “Why Writing Style Matters for Content Marketing – Here’s Why #118”

  1. No truer words spoken, and in my opinion, this is lacking quite often with modern copywriters. Whether it’s for search optimization, or to launch a product –style is just as important a the subject matter itself.
    As always, another great video Mark. Lit like a 4th of July parade! 😀

  2. Mark Traphagen

    Thanks, Michael! You might have picked up that I’m passionate about this topic 😉

  3. I had no idea 😛 I also think it’s something that newer marketers really need to embrace, in lieu of automation tools, bots, and the like.
    Style can draw numbers, albeit it may take hard work. Too many go for the sterile responses of automation tools.
    Instagram comes to mind. I am so happy that bots are finally being culled on that social network. It means a lot less shots of dopamine in one’s day, but at least we know it’s human.
    Anyways, I won’t linger any longer. Look forward to the next post, have a great day Mark!

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