If you were ever been put in charge of writing marketing emails for your company, you know that they can get out of hand fast — especially if they’re drafted by committee. By the time everyone on your team has a say, your message can be bogged down by all sorts of extra words and extraneous ideas that are sure to turn off your customers.
Fortunately, you don’t have to live with information-free emails. Josh Bernoff, business blogger and author of “Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean,” has great advice for cutting through the noise to get to the point.
The Meaning Ratio
We don’t often think of applying data to wordsmithing, but Bernoff has a simple formula to apply to your written work to see if it’s working. The “meaning ratio” is simply the number of meaningful words divided by the number of total words in your email. That’s it.
You can try this with any email: Just take a highlighter to go over the phrases that offer real value to help your understanding of an issue. Count up those words and divide it by your total word count to get a percentage. If your meaning ratio is anything less than 70 percent, you’ve got some editing to do.
Top 3 Things to Avoid to Keep Your Meaning Ratio High
If you want to skip the math and get straight to work eliminating some of the fluff from your marketing emails, avoid these big no-nos as you work:
Writers use jargon when they’re trying to impress, but nothing drives your reader away faster than industry-specific phrases and vocabulary that complicate your meaning. Your goal is always to be as clear as possible, so visualize your audience and make sure the writing is for them — not your IT department or the C-Suite suits who like to talk fancy. When you fill your emails with jargon, you run the risk of alienating your reader. If a shorter word will do to explain something, use it. Every time.
2. Passive Voice
If you were absent the day your high school English teacher warned you about passive voice, here’s your refresher. Passive voice happens when you write a sentence in which the subject is hidden. For example, “John threw the ball” lets the reader know who did the action. That’s active voice.
However, rewriting the sentence to say “The ball was thrown” hides the actor. That’s passive voice, and it’s usually used to hide something and avoid taking the blame (think of lame corporate non-apologies in which “mistakes were made”). Passive voice gets wordy and tends to take your company out of the picture, so rewrite those sentences to make it clear who the actor is at the outset — especially if it’s your product!
3. Weasel Words
According to Bernoff, “weasel words” are “vague intensity indicators” that writers use when they’re trying to make something sound amazing or important. Unfortunately, weasel words often end up making your writing seem wimpy. Adverbs are usually the culprits: deeply, often, incredibly, very, and frequently are all good example of words that want to add meaning but are too vague to get the job done.
Other weasel words include adjectives like many, few, strong, huge, etc. If you really want to make your point about the value of something, use solid numbers or a testimonial to make your case instead of throwing weasel words into your writing.
Writing a great marketing email takes practice, but these tips will help you streamline your style and craft stronger messages right away. For more help with your direct marketing campaign, check out the Penguin Strategies blog today.