Writing style? What writing style?

“If any of you thinks you have your own writing style, you can leave the room now,” said the wonderful and inimitable Bill Galley, who was our senior tutor at the (then) Watford Art School Advertising Writing Course in southern England.

With his gruff voice, aggressive beard à la James Robertston Justice in the “Carry On” movies and an up-yer-nose attitude, Bill was a veteran of the 20th century Madison Avenue creative advertising era. Despite being a Brit his b*lls were more than big enough to make him heard above many of the famous types who populated the advertising industry at that time in the USA.

Writing style? What writing style?

Our beloved course tutor, Bill Galley, looked a little like James Robertson Justice from the old “Carry On” movies. His eyes weren’t quite so skewed, however…

In his latter years Bill freelanced back in London and paid the rent by teaching us little squirts how to write ads. After we graduated he became our mentor and go-to expert on anything from creative brainstorming to how to win an interview to how to cope with and mend broken hearts. We were distraught when he died; he had become like another grandfather to us all.

And we always remembered those words about not having your own writing style.

Were Bill’s words and thoughts irrelevant? Thoughtless? Repressive of creative input?

No. They weren’t. Writing for advertising is not, and has never been, about your writing style. And that’s true as much for DIY advertisers as it is for professional copywriters.

When you’re writing to sell, your style is your potential buyers’ style. End of.

It’s quite simple: much as you (or your boss) may think it’s cute and snappy to use a pun or a little joke that their sister-in-law thought would make a great advertising headline, the rough truth is it’s not about “us” … our clever ideas … or our love of the things that helped us build our business up.

As I have shared on a number of occasions, if you don’t write words that your customers / clients can identify with, you have lost brownie points – big time.

So how do you pick up on your readers’ way of speaking?

Seems like a silly question, but actually it’s not so simple. It’s not so much how your readers (and let’s call them readers, although of course they are potential and/or existing buyers) speak, as how they think.

That’s where research into what your readers want and need can pay huge dividends.

Even if your business is tiny, you still may advertise on a local basis and need to understand not so much what you sell … but what what you sell does for people. That’s a first step into getting inside their heads and showing your readers that you understand what they want and need.

As I have said many times (and many other advertising wallahs have said), never forget the following:

People may buy from people they like and trust, and usually do.

But sure as hell they don’t buy anything that doesn’t instantly tell them what’s in it for them, whether they like/trust you or not.

And how does writing style work here?

Particularly in these SEO-dependent days, forget fancy, mysterious headlines and concepts. Share what’s in it for the reader. If you can share that with something clever and memorable, all the better. But if push comes to shove, avoid obscuring what’s in it for them with anything else.

Above all else, write in a way that your readers understand and can identify with. Talk to them about what they need: no pompous corporate speak, no self-congratulatory bullsh*t.

Needless to say, use relatively plain English (or other language as appropriate, if you’re in another language zone.)

Don’t feel that flowery, obscure or literary wording can enhance your message. In days gone by it may have done so, but these days your readers have so much stuff to absorb that you’re lucky if they spend more than a few seconds on your website, advertisement or whatever.

Unless it’s written in their style, in a way that shows what’s in it for them, and in a way that shows how you are the ones to do it for them.

Keep your own writing style for other projects

I’m certainly not saying that you should strangle your own writing style.

But keep that for writing stuff of your own, whether entirely off the business radar – e.g. fiction, poetry, etc., or for more free-flowing business writing such as blogs, eBooks and full-length books. For more about how I can help you with that sort of thing, click here.

If you have a small business, do you manage to write for how your customers think?

I hope so! If not though, drop us a comment here and I’ll help you as much as I can.