Messaging matters. Work on your wording with 5 writing hacks.
Mission statement, presentation, email, press release, social media post: Is what you’re communicating in text being understood? Do your readers know what to do next?
C’mon, we all know what it’s like to get stuck on wording — whether you’re a founder trying to eke out affordable copy on your own, or a seasoned marketer with a fully sharpened set of tools. It’s easy to trip over ideas, though, and fall prey to the misconception that just because it made sense in your head, doesn’t mean it’s legible in text. If you expect people to read what you have to say — write like you mean it with clear, concise messaging.
We all get wrapped up in our wording. But there are paths to type/backspace/retype/delete our way towards clearer core messaging and calls-to-action.
I’ve been crafting brand, marketing and product messaging for 15+ years in every content format, and it still creeps on me — the stuck. The rambling. The overcomplicated. The best to do is step back and flex some messaging muscle.
Here are five exercises I use.
(1) Choose a reader.
Get in your recipients’ heads — specifically, start with one. Who is receiving this email? Is it Jamie? Ok, so write the material imagining Jamie sitting in front of you, reading it. Whether it’s a pitch, a newsletter, a product launch, a cold outreach, imagine this person/a and write it to them. Then read it out loud. Do you think they got the point? Do they know what action to take?
Then choose someone else in this grouping (Cathy?). Read it to her imaginary presence out loud. Change what you need to. Don’t be afraid to delete any rambling. Jamie and Cathy don’t like rambling.
(2) Constrain yourself.
You know how sometimes you get a task done more easily when you have a looming deadline, like say, 15 minutes from now? Try it with space, too.
Specifically, use the Twitter compose box, which indicates character count, to see how you can pare down your message in a more succinct way. Let that little red character limit intimidate you into trimming the fat. Of course, this isn’t only applicable to social media formats.
(3) Use a creative writing prompt.
Jump start your idea into text by breaking it down in an alternative structure, and seeing what patterns or wording emerge. Try taking your brand messaging and writing it as a short story (just a few paragraphs), with your customer as the main character. Then rewrite it — from an investor’s point of view.
Or write your messaging in the form of a bulleted list. Break down the challenge your brand solves with a beginning-middle-end format. It’s less about using the right words and more about seeing your messaging pop out through different structures.
(4) Storyboard a video.
Write your messaging out as a video script. You’ve watched enough product/homepage/brand intro videos over the last decade to know the classic format: Present a challenge, introduce the solution, explain how it works and why it’s the best fit.
Then consider visuals that match your ideas — it may stimulate better wording.
(5) Tear up existing material.
When it’s really rough, try taking an existing piece of content — a one pager, an about page, a powerpoint presentation — make a copy, and then rip it up, working to get from where it was to where you envision your new piece being. Sometimes using something existing is easier than staring at a blank page.
With this method though, be careful not to get trapped in old wording you loved, or not going far enough. You have to keep your end goal in mind, and read it back/get feedback from others to make sure it’s coherent by the end of the exercise.