Long live the superlative – or not?

Blog post from Oct 22, 2019

No other type of business communication involves as many assumptions and preconceptions as marketing language. To give just three examples of this:

  1. Marketing language is the language of superlatives.
  2. Adjectives are essential to breathing life into texts and being in touch with the target audience.
  3. Marketing language is young and trendsetting and, as is prevalent in many countries where English is not the main language, cannot do without Anglicisms.

But is that really true? What's the reality?

It is true that many companies continue to make use of marketing clichés in their copywriting. Now and then, however, it can also be seen that companies are realigning their Tone of Voice. With the help of language, this conveys the right "image" of a company in the minds of potential customers. It uses language to express the values of a company and can best be described as a set of attributes that language can have.

There is a general trend towards more casual, welcoming language that appeals to people on an emotional level and evokes sympathy. However, marketing language "inflated" with words in an attempt to make an impression, is now seen less often than a few years ago.

Where did the trend towards more casual language come from?

As is often the case, companies like Microsoft are the pioneers, also in the area of marketing methods. A quote from the new Microsoft Writing Style Guide:

"We need a simple, straightforward style guide that everyone can use, regardless of their role. And it needs to reflect Microsoft's modern approach to voice and style: warm and relaxed, crisp and clear, and ready to lend a hand."

The Style Guide, which is available in English only, presents style guidelines as follows:

  • Get to the point fast. Start with the key takeaway. Put the most important thing in the most noticeable spot. Make choices and next steps obvious. Give people just enough information to make decisions confidently. Don’t get in the way.
  • Talk like a person. Choose optimistic, conversational language. Use short everyday words, contractions, and sentence-style capitalization. Shun jargon and acronyms. And never miss an opportunity to find a better word.
  • Simpler is better. Everyone likes clarity and getting to the point. Break it up. Step it out. Layer. Short sentences and sentence fragments are easier to scan and read. Prune every excess word.

These styles clearly don't sound "higher, faster, farther (and more flowery)". Instead, a more relaxed, "human" and very clear Tone of Voice takes center stage.

What characterizes the new marketing language?

We are now going to show you a few golden rules to create friendly, casual texts. Language is an open system and marketing is a domain that is as creative as it is fast-paced. That is why the list represents only a small sample of the possibilities.

Liveliness

Most writers agree that texts written in a lively manner appear human and close to the reader. In order to sound alive, monotonous, machine-like language should be avoided. This can easily be done by varying the length of sentences in texts. There should be some alternation between short and long sentences.

Lightness

Lightness is a concept that stands in contrast to unwieldy, vastly information-laden language, as well as to classic "marketing speak". This variant of language often contains not only adjectives and adverbs, but filler words as well. An example of a product description teeming with adjectives:

 „Meet the next generation of outdoor cookware – and fire up the flavor – with our innovative fry pan, which makes it easy to cook crowd-pleasing stir-fries, vegetables and more on your grill. Thanks to our exclusive perforated design, your favorite foods take on savory, fire-smoked flavor.“

However, adjectives and adverbs should not be dispensed with completely - having the right measure of is what counts. This could be done by stipulating how many adjectives and adverbs are allowed in the overall text.

Comprehensibility

Comprehensibility is essential for any kind of communication. Especially in marketing communication, texts are instrumental for customer loyalty. They are meant to project a positive corporate image, and they are supposed to ensure frequent customer contact and successful conversions. If readers get mentally lost because they don't understand parts of the text, the texts won't work. In the area of marketing there are many things that can be done to improve comprehension.

Consider, for example, foreign words or words that are not generally known. They pose two dangers to comprehensibility. Danger 1: to a certain extent, knowledge of specific words is knowledge specific to certain audiences, for example, depending on age group, some words that might not be known to one group may be part of the basic vocabulary of others. Wrongly used, the text does not reach the target group and is not understood. In addition, the more unusual a foreign or loan word is, the greater the risk that it will not be understood by all target groups and that the message of the text will be lost. Danger 2: It may occur that although loan words and words that are not widely known can be understood, they can only be mentally processed slowly or with delays. This disrupts the flow of reading and prevents the intention of the text from being fully revealed.

Also detrimental in terms of comprehensibility are long lists of words in continuous text that are of the same category, particularly when they are redundant in meaning:

  • Example: "Cleaner XY helps you to clean knives, forks, spoons, dessert forks and coffee spoons" vs. "Cleaner XY helps you to clean silverware".

While loan words can be found and criticized either on a lexical basis or depending on their morphological formation, the problem of long lists requires a solution that can establish semantic connections.

What if I want to write like that?

Marketing is everywhere. There are many types of content in product marketing alone: product-related content such as inserts, product catalogs or descriptions of products published online. This content is distributed through all conceivable channels (apps, product data sheets, sales information). This means that modernization or improvement of marketing language expands into several areas and is scaled accordingly. But at the same time there is also a certain amount of effort required to comply with text guidelines in a number of teams and for multiple end products.

To avoid having to tackle this job all by yourself, you can get help from authoring assistance software. It enables you to have your guidelines checked on a linguistic basis and to keep your mind free to concentrate on all the other challenges of everyday marketing.

tl;dr

In marketing, there is a trend towards more relaxed, welcoming language that appeals to people on an emotional level and evokes sympathy. This post shows the features this type of marketing language has and how authoring assistance software can help you formulate it successfully.