Why the Goal of Blogging and Marketing is NOT to Sound Intelligent

by Marcus Sheridan

I had an interesting debate last night with the owner of a large company about blogging and content marketing. Essentially, our disagreement started when he told me the following:

“I’ve read some of your blogs. They are very conversational. But conversational isn’t our brand. We need to sound professional.”

Needless to say, I knew the conversation with this gentleman wasn’t going to go well from that point. Basically, he is so warped in terms of corporate-speak and old-school “professionalism” that has completely lost touch with the most important marketing skill in the world—communication.

In fact, when all is said and done, whether you’re talking about TV, print, magazine, radio, Inbound, Content, Social, or whatever type of “marketing” you can think of, everything comes down to clean communication.

The Death of Great Communication

At its core, the reason why the gentleman I talked to last night will not find major success with his online marketing is because it’s his goal to sound intelligent and ultra “professional”—which essentially has become the death of great marketing copy and messaging for companies large and small in this information age we all live in.

Furthermore, I’m here to say that it should never be our goal to sound intelligent.

Whether it’s on a stage.

In a board meeting.

Or on a blog post.

No, the goal is not one of sounding intelligent (although it can naturally happen), but rather a singular focus of doing your best to achieve one thing—understanding.

Yep, that’s it, understanding. In other words, the person reading (or watching) the message knows what the heck you’re talking about.

A Career Built on Simplicity of Message

At the risk of sounding like I’m patting myself on the back, over the past 3 years, my brand as a leader and speaker in the marketing realm has risen drastically, the majority of which stems from the main comment readers and listeners make about my style—It’s direct, concise, cuts through the bull and clearly states the message in a way everyone can understand.

But this success would never have been achieved if my goal was that of sounding incredibly smart and guru-esque.

This is also why I use as little “marketing-speak” as possible in my core message, as it simply doesn’t resonate with the majority of people in the world.

Communication Goals

When I write or speak, I really only have one main goal—action through understanding.

When people hear me give a talk, what I really want them to say is, “Wow. This totally makes sense. I finally get it. And I can do this!”

See where I’m coming from?

The same applies to blogging or any other form of communication for that matter.

The Kindergarten Teacher

The bottom line is we have to make a choice as to the type of communicator we want to be.

We can either be the college professor that seeks to makes his students impressed with his vast knowledge and linguistic base, or we can be the kindergarten teacher, with our only goal of simple understand through simple words and simple messages.

So I say chuck the complex—in all its forms. Rid your company copy of it. Rid your messaging of it.

Say stuff so people actually understand what you’re saying and allow your “genius” to come out through your simplicity.  By so doing, you’ll not only build fans, followers, and appreciative customers—but you’ll also make a difference.

Is there anything professional than that??

Your Turn

As always, I’m curious to get your take on this subject. Do you agree that many businesses suffer from this problem of trying to sound “smart,” ultimately speaking above their audience? Also, what do you feel is the key to “dumbing it down,” especially when it comes to blogging?

Inbound and Content Marketing Made Easy

The Book

Join over 13,000 other businesses and marketers around the globe that have downloaded Marcus' FREE 230-page marketing eBook.






Mad Marketing Podcast

If you like the articles, you'll love Marcus' podcast and insightful tips on business and life.

Click to listen

Subscribe to Future Articles

Read Marcus' future articles and stay on the cutting edge of business, marketing, and life success tips!

Click to subscribe

{ 71 comments… read them below or add one }

Shamelle August 24, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,
I know someone who demands his ghostwriters to write web articles in a formal style. It’s not because he thinks formal writing is more appropriate for his subject or audience. He said he wants to be “seen as a sage, not one of the boys.”

But here’s the thing: When you’re writing to inform, entertain, or sell, you want to be one of the boys (or girls). Conversational writing isn’t about playing dumb or being smarmy. It means sounding natural and genuine.

Points to ponder,
When you write, are you thinking more about your audience, or more about yourself?
Are you more concerned about what your readers get from your writing, or are you more concerned about how you sound?

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

GREAT points Shamelle.

It ain’t about us. Nope, not at all. :-)

Appreciate you stopping by,

Marcus

Reply

Mauro D'Andrea August 24, 2012 at

Hi Marcus, I agree with you when you say that’s important to communicate in the best way with your audience.

I think that relationships are one of the most important element in success and to make great relationships is not good to seem too smart.
Ok, people may be attracted to professional “guru”, but poeple link with other people.
People prefer human-to-human relationships :)

One of the greatest things that happened to me was to go on another site in my niche where one of my reader wrote a comment.
He said that he followed 4 sites before mine and that he felt I was like a friend.
One of that 4 sites looks so much more professional than mine, but he decided to follow me.
Very awesome.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Wow, that is a powerful story Mauro, and certainly a testament of your ability to touch readers and relate to them.

Well done my friend!

Marcus

Reply

Mauro D'Andrea August 26, 2012 at

Thank you Marcus.
It’s because you teached me well ;)

Reply

Rebecca Livermore August 24, 2012 at

Marcus,

I doubt that people who write for the mind impact the heart very often. And I suppose if you don’t care whether or not the heart is impacted, you can go ahead and write for the mind. Most of us, however, want to get to the heart, because that is what really drives people.

Also, it does not good to make people feel stupid, and you might do that if you write in a way to “sound professional.”

There are times when intellectual writing makes sense, such as in medical journals, read by people who have advanced degrees and understand all of the terminology. But a medical journal is quite a different type of writing, with a very different purpose, than a blog.

I just did a quick Google search regarding the impact of the reading level of a blog and came across this interesting article: juicystudio.com/services/readability . I was happy to find that my site has a “low” reading level — the same reading level as the Bible.

I found that interesting, because of course the Bible is a book to grapple with, and yet it is meant to be understood by even the simple minded. I love the thought of our writing being able to be comprehended on different levels and that there can be great depth, even when simple words are used.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Great points Rebecca. I’ve done some of those graders as well that judge your web content, and typically my stuff is still “middle school”—which I’ll take ;-)

You rock,

Marcus

Reply

Eric Pratum August 24, 2012 at

I know where you’re coming from, and doubtless, there was more to the conversation than you showed here, but sounding professional and being conversational do not necessarily have to be at odds.

If you were blogging for a bunch of auditors, you might want to be highly professional and not care so much about conversation because that audience might only come to you for highly informational posts, because they only take professional information from people they respect, and they’re not likely to care to comment. The same could be said of any vertical where the bar for attention cannot be reached until professionalism has been shown. If at the same time that audience does not engage much, they won’t have a blog like yours. Rather, they would have more of a one way communication piece, which is fine.

It just really depends on the audience, doesn’t it?

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

You’re right Eric, they don’t have to be at odds. I think my main point here is that of *trying* to sound intelligent versus simply writing to have a discussion with the reader.

But yeah, the audience will ultimately decide what is what–every time.

Hope you’re well my friend,

Marcus

Reply

Jon Loomer August 24, 2012 at

Boom. Agreed completely. There are some highly acclaimed bloggers out there whom I have a hard time reading. They are over my head. It doesn’t mean that they intend to sound smart. It just often doesn’t make sense to me. As a result, I don’t connect with their content.

I guess it may partly depend on what your’e trying to accomplish (though I can’t think of an exception at the moment). If you want to “teach,” it absolutely helps to be as straight forward in plain English (or whatever language you use) as possible. People come to your blog to solve a problem, not be wowed by your intelligence (again, I guess there may be a few exceptions to this).

Then again, I have a conversational writing style (with a very minimal vocabulary), so I may be a bit biased. But I know what I like to read. I like to read your stuff because it’s clearly written and easy to understand — all while teaching something new.

So keep writing dumb, Marcus. It works.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Dumb it is then Jon ;-)

And when you have my brain, that ain’t too hard brother ;-)

Great thoughts man, and I do appreciate it.

Best,

Marcus

Reply

Carmelo August 24, 2012 at

This is just so true. I wonder how long it will take before people really do get it. We have a sports club and the president of the club is a magazine editor (20,000 subscribers.)

For this club we control a small email list where we inform our members and prospective members of events, etc. On occasion I’ll send an email update for him to send out to the list. Of course I’ll make it light, fun, and conversational. Ahhh, but that won’t do!

I’ll get it back all doctored up and proper – oh so professional! (he can’t imagine ever blogging, he says.) And this is for a few club members and prospects that we know personally! Well, to each his own. But, as communicators, we really will do well to take your advice here.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Dang Carmelo, that’s a bummer my man, and I bet it’s pretty frustrating.

Keeping working on him, maybe he’ll come to his senses at some point ;-)

Cheers,

Marcus

Reply

Carmelo August 26, 2012 at

Eh, a small thing really but it certainly does illustrate your point. I can take my frustrations out elsewhere!

Reply

Srinivas August 24, 2012 at

Marcus,

You just hit one of my hot buttons. I think corporate blogs in general suck for that very reason. My friend Greg Hartle made a really good point a few weeks ago. These days the same information is available from hundreds if not thousands of sources. What draws a person to a particular blog is the person or people behind it. Even for a business we want to know that there are real live humans behind it. “I wear a suit almost everyday. Just not to work. It’s a wet suit. I also prefer boardshorts over the boardroom.” That’s something that’s no secret and something I’m not afraid to put in my blog or branding.

The goal of a blog isn’t to sound intelligent. It’s to be interesting, entertaining, and informative. If you sound intelligent that’s just a fringe benefit. I’m not sure I ever sound particularly intelligent, but people seem to read and listen to what I have to say.

When I was asked to build a company blog for Flighster, my boss was really smart. He said “you know what most companies do? Do the exact opposite and be creative.” So I went and found the most interesting bloggers I knew and made them my team. The result was 20,000 page views on a brand new company blog.

Somebody put a graphic on my wall the other day that said “life is too short to spend it working for a boring company.” Somebody else replied, life is too short to spend it building one. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

If you sound intelligent that’s just a fringe benefit.—-You absolutely nailed with with that one line Srini.

If it comes it comes, but for the love of Pete, let’s keep it real.

Thanks for dropping in my friend,

Marcus

Reply

Wade August 24, 2012 at

As time goes by, I am learning that communication is the key to a successful…anything! In my case, communication comes in handy for guest posts, link exchanges, and other types of blog promotion. Not really the type you were talking about, but still the same idea!

Failure to communicate can be a tragedy to someone just getting started.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

That’s exactly it Wade, this is a universal principle, and it goes wayyyyy beyond blogging.

Appreciate the thoughts my friend,

Marcus

Reply

Julie | A Clear Sign August 24, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,

Honestly I’d never thought about it before until I read it here, but I am told over and over again how I write so that anyone could understand it. My reaction to that is always,”What would be the point of writing if it wasn’t understood?”

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Exactly Julie!

And whenever anyone tells you that going forward, you should see it as a major compliment, as it truly is!

Have a great weekend,

Marcus

Reply

Cheryl Pickett August 24, 2012 at

It’s funny that this is the topic of your post today. I help out with marketing part time at a sprinkler company and it just so happens that my boss asked me to look at a draft of an email he’d written today. The point of it is to let people know it’s almost time to schedule to have their systems winterized.

I ended up rewriting most of it. Why? Though it got the point across more or less, for such a simple message, it was actually sort of formal and over written. The thing is, I know that it wasn’t on purpose. He’s just a techie/mechanical type. When it comes to fixing stuff, those talents come in handy, but for writing sales copy, not so much.

So my point in telling this story is that sometimes people don’t even realize that they have trouble in this area. To them, what they’re writing sounds perfectly normal.

How do you fix things in a case like this? Know who you are writing for, then ask for help to see if you’re going to reach or bore or overwhelm them. In our case, we’re writing for the general public so conversational and easy to read is definitely important so that was most of the rewrite strategy. It was also still professional and appropriate as a business to consumer message. (And my boss was very happy with it).

Love the post. Could not agree with you more on this one!

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

*Formal* is a good word that I should have brought up here Cheryl, so I’m really glad you mention it.

Fact is, we’re going into the age of “anti-formal”, at least from a relationship standpoint to content and messaging.

Great points my friend!

Marcus

Reply

Mitch Mitchell August 24, 2012 at

Interesting thoughts Marcus, and I can’t say I disagree with you, though you know I have to put my little spin on it. lol

When one has a business blog, they do need to sound professional and like they know what they’re talking about; they’d better. At the same time, if it’s not conversational no one’s going to want to read it and it’ll just sit there without visitors and without comments. That’s a mix that many CEOs and the like really haven’t quite figured out, and why it seems to work better for small business owners that write blogs.

Obviously you know I have multiple blogs. Two are specifically business blogs and thus business topics. And yet, I talk about the issues, giving my professional opinion, but often start with a little story that leads into the post, which I also do on my other blogs.

So you’re right, until your friend gets the two concepts to merge, it’s not going to work out all that well. I just had then dropped a writing assignment for a potential client, an academic, because she didn’t want conversational either, but more “technical”. The thing that she’s also missing is that if everything on the blog was purely technical, it wouldn’t be anything anyone would want to read. In a seminar it’s great stuff, but to read it like that… ick!

Besides, every paper I wrote in college got a B; academia was just above average for me. :-)

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

You stressed a point here Mitch that I didn’t hit enough in my post—merging the two.

Yes, that’s the thing. In fact, maybe we should call it “professional conversation”?? ;-)

Thanks for stopping in my friend,

Marcus

Reply

Matthew Stock August 24, 2012 at

IMHO…those who try to sound smart are either covering up for something they’re lacking or they’re just not sharp enough to dumb down the topics.

Us simpletons will keep laughing…all the way to the bank.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Well put simpleton ;-)

Reply

John Falchetto August 25, 2012 at

It’ about communion not self glorification with fancy words. Good luck to that man.

Reply

Lana August 25, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,
Again, I totally agree. I have found that the blogs that I continue to follow and always read are written conversationally. The writers are real with humor added in as well as mistakes they have made, and always in the spirit of helping and sharing. For myself if a blog is too professional and guru like it does not let me feel a connection with the brand or the writer. Those are usually the ones I will unsubscribe from.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Yep, and I think what you’ve described here really speaks for the masses Lana.

Without question, it’s about being real. Yes indeed.

Thanks so much for stopping by,

Marcus

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

That may be true Falchetto, but don’t you understand that I’m the king. The big Mufasa. El Rey Leon???

Heck, my intelligence barely fits in this comment box ;-)

Marcus

Reply

Keith Davis August 25, 2012 at

Hi Marcus
“I’ve read some of your blogs. They are very conversational. But conversational isn’t our brand. We need to sound professional.”

Many people believe that when they start Public Speaking.

The truth is… the audience must always feel superior.
I’ll say that again… the audience must always feel superior.
It takes a while to really understand that adults don’t want to be lectured to by a know-it-all.

Sure if you’re an expert in something, make sure you get your facts right, but in between the facts take a few shots at yourself and let the audience know that you are just like them… human and falable…. sorry, fallible.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

A big, fat AMEN to that Keith.

Showing a bit of our fallibility sure goes a long way in demonstrating sincerity.

Great seeing you my man,

Marcus

Reply

Wade Balsdon August 25, 2012 at

Marcus, I really got this message in your free book Inbound and content marketing made easy. You explained yourself incredibly well in that book.

My wife is a bit of techno fiend and often loses me when trying to explain technical stuff to me. My standard reply to her is “talk to me like I am 2 years old” I got that from a Denzil Washington movie years ago. ( I think it was Ricochet) :-)

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Hahaha, sounds like you and your wife have some pretty interesting conversations there Wade ;-)

Much thanks for dropping by my friend,

Marcus

Reply

Jennifer Donald August 25, 2012 at

Hi Marc! This is a great article and should be a “must read” for any new blogger. Admittedly, finding time to keep up my own blog has been tough, but I totally agree. Have you ever read or spoken to an artist whose goal is to use only art-speak to convince the listener/reader that they are worthy of adulation?

Even worse is their writings in the 3rd person. Really?? You really talk like that??? I get a lot of compliments on my “About the artist” page because I wrote it so that readers would know ME. I’m learning a lot lately about making better connections with my visitors, whether in person or online. This article and responses are really helping me open up more.

All the best,
Jen

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Jen, this is so cool!!! I just smiled and smiled hearing from you :-)

Go girl!!

Reply

Brendan August 25, 2012 at

Hey Marcus: I’d say you’re halfway there.

The real issue is that most business writing is pure junk: it’s jargon, technospeak, designed (if at all) to show the writer/speaker is a member of the club.

That’s b/s.

I’ve written for every medium (successfully, for cashola and not a few awards) and time and time again I’ve relearnt the same old lesson: elegance = simplicity.

But in blogging, because attention spans are contracting all the time, elegance = authenticity.

Not one person in reply to your article has noted this—the web is one big b/s detector. Spin me jargon and you’re gone. That has nothing to do with dumbing down—it has everything to do with Orwell’s Rules.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_and_the_English_Language

The other attribute (and this is what most people mean by ‘conversational,’ seems like) is intimacy.

This is a totally unsung attribute of great clear writing: it feels close to your own lived experience—it’s beautiful because it’s true. (And if it’s true because it’s beautiful, it’s art: literature).

I disagree wholeheartedly that ‘dumbing down’ is the answer to anything. The solution (to echo Orwell) is knowing what the bleep you’re talking about in words of fewer than five syllables.

Clarity of thought before clarity of prose: can’t have one without the other, I do believe.

Example: I’m an expert in how data-driven storytelling is a powerful tool for exposing consumer insight and thus new markets. When I tell my story to potential clients, I don’t talk about story. Or data. Or insight. Or anything else jargony…and believe me, I learnt this lesson the hard way, in pitch sessions from Fortune 500 clients to the pub around the corner.

I talk about bees…because bees share intelligence (I used to be an investigative reporter with lotsa spooks as sources, so I get intelligence work).

And bees share intelligence in precisely the same way online networks share stories.

That’s not dumbing down: that’s the power of illustration, of the single vivid, telling example. I’d argue it’s the opposite of ‘dumbing down’: the example rewards the (largely unchallenged) imagination of most readers.

Final note: a populist take on how we communicate is always a good thing. But Shakespeare and Chekhov will be around a lot longer than any corporatespeak…now why is that?

Because those guys spoke truth. And that’s the irreducible challenge of any writing: to speak truth. And you can’t be foggy, obtuse or sloppy in your thinking (and thus your writing) if that’s your touchstone.

Great examples of this? Seth Godin, the Heath brothers, anything by Peter Bregman and most of all, my unsung heroine, the queen of cause marketing strategy, Beth Kanter (yes, with an ‘ee’).

I’m new here. I’ll be back. Thank you.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Brendan, if you’re new here bud, then welcome….and holy guacomole to that comment you just tossed out.

Awesome. Dang awesome actually.

In fact, you should take that puppy and do your own version of this post, because there was more than one nugget up there :-)

Come back again, as I’m sure you’re not done laying it out there,

Marcus

Reply

Cristian Quinteros August 25, 2012 at

Completely agree Marcus! The first thing this reminded me of was an HBR article I read last year where Dan Pallotta talks about how he just doesn’t understand what people are saying anymore. To much professionalism and jargon. Interesting supplementary reading to your dicussion if the group is interested: http://blogs.hbr.org/pallotta/2011/12/i-dont-understand-what-anyone.html

Thanks Marcus!

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Thanks for sharing that post with the community here Cristian, Pallota makes a GREAT point.

Enough of the jargon already! ;-)

Marcus

Reply

Deb Prewitt August 25, 2012 at

Perhaps this is why I read your blog more regularly than I do a lot of others (with a lot of the same information). Because it isn’t talking ‘down’ to me or acting like I am too stupid to know anything……You write as I expect you talk, as if you are having a conversation. I like it. I try to do the same thing. I don’t want people to visit my blogs and then meet me and wonder who the heck I am. Which is what happens when you try to make your blog speak in a superior way.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Hey Deb, I do appreciate these words here as well as your readership.

There have been many occasions when people have come to me after hearing me speak and said, “Marcus, I’ve read your blog but not that I’ve heard you speak I realize you sound in real life *exactly* as you write!”

That one always gives me a little chuckle ;-)

Thanks again Deb,

Marcus

Reply

Leon Noone August 25, 2012 at

G’Day Marcus,
Being a modest bloke like you, I don’t want to say that I’ve been a published author for over 50 years. It just makes me sound old! But there’s one thing we all need to grasp.

The purpose of communication is to convey meaning. This applies whether you sound smart or dumb, intelligent or moronic. If listeners and readers can’t understand what you mean in their terms, you’ve wasted your time.

And always remember the “in their terms” bit. Your friend should realize that “intelligent and ultra-professional” must be in the “eye of the beholder;” the reader or the listener, not the writer.

One final thing: it’s not only a question of how well you write. There’s also the question of how well you present your material. It may come as a great surprise to many managers. But auditors are people too.

I wrote a blog post earlier this year about “writing to be read.” Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it clearly, you probably don’t understand it well enough.”

I’m with Big Al!

Avagoodweegend mate

Leon

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

GREAT quote by big Al there Leon.

And your point about the listener (or reader) and not the writer is extremely well made.

Thanks for being the good fellow you are Mr. Noone ;-)

Marcus

Reply

barbara August 25, 2012 at

If you are a professional it will come through without trying to ‘sound’ important. If you are a phony everyone will know it instantly. Never works when you try to put yourself above those you’re speaking to. Really bad form, in my book.

This is why you have skyrocketed Marcus. Carry on!
b

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

Thanks Barbara, I do appreciate the comment and kind words.

And yes, it NEVER works the moment we attempt to look down on others….not even close.

Thanks again,

Marcus

Reply

margie clayman (@margieclayman) August 25, 2012 at

I dunno Marcus. I know where you’re coming from, but I guess I have a problem with equating intelligence with “old professional speak.” If you didn’t sound intelligent here at ye olde sales lyon, would people keep coming back? Yes they come here because you have a great writing style that can help you connect with people, but ultimately, people know that the information and perspective they are getting here is *intelligent.* You aren’t leading people down a tunnel that will earn them a lot of snake oil or pain.

There are ways to sound professional, intelligent, knowledgeable without shoving it down peoples’ throats. I am not sure the person you were talking to was as much off their rocker as might have hit you to begin with. I think perhaps we are living in a space that is too black and white. Yes, you need to have a professional air about you if you’re a business (depending on the business I suppose) – but that does not mean you can’t also engage with your readers.

Right?

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 25, 2012 at

I see what you’re saying Margie, but really my main emphasis is *trying* to sound intelligent. Key word being *trying*.

For example, Jay Baer is very, very intelligent and sounds it and looks it.

But he doesn’t try. He just is himself.

Ultimately, that’s what wins the day in my opinion.

Oh, and the business owner in this case was way off, but you had to of been there ;-)

Marcus

Reply

Jens P. Berget August 26, 2012 at

I absolutely agree with you Marcus. I’m like you when it comes to marketing and communication. But what I have discovered after I started my business is that some people and businesses are used to having it their way (the professional way). If you do it that way, you’ll have an easier time to get them as clients.

But I find it better to tell them that they’re wrong and that it’s their time to adjust, and not you :)

PS. I’m having my first blogging course for a client in about a week. I can’t wait for the discussions. It’s going to be awesome.

Reply

Nancy Belusky August 27, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,
Oh, you hit my hot button with the term “dumbing it down.” I work for a medical marketing agency, and long before health literacy was trendy, we worked hard to write patient education materials at a sixth or seventh grade level. Even today, people still ask “Why are you dumbing it down?” Here’s why: because no matter how smart or educated you are, if you’re in a medical situation, you can’t understand complex language. You want to know what’s wrong with you and how a doctor can fix it. In this era of short attention spans, whether you are saving lives, selling consulting services or pushing product, you need to be clear, concise and understandable. Years ago a writing teacher once told me, “If you are truly in love with a sentence, throw it out, because you’ve made it about you and not your audience.” It’s advice I use every day. I wish more “professional” writers would take that to heart.

Reply

Ralph August 27, 2012 at

So, does this count? I had a convo with the managing principle of my firm recently about a presentation I needed to give around the terms of a contract renewal and the advice he gave me was, “Make sure my six year old son can understand it.”

I had trouble with that at first and then I understood what he meant. Keeping it simple works and by simple I don’t mean stupid. Thanks for the reminder.

Reply

Steven August 28, 2012 at

Some people just don’t get it, a blog that sounds ‘corporate’ is no good, it’s not what blogging is about. I like your conversational style, works well.

Reply

Jacko August 28, 2012 at

Yeah good point we don’t need more people who “sound” intelligent on the internet. What is intelligence without wisdom anyway?

In my experience the best teacher has been experience.

I recommend people to learn by trying stuff out for themselves.
Keep what works, throw out what doesn’t and repeat. Following tips from sites like this one will help a ton also.

Reply

Rob August 29, 2012 at

Great post, this has become my mantra as I tackle the technical complexity of my services and products.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 31, 2012 at

That’s awesome Rob, and if you stick with that central goal, you’ll eventually find your way to the top of your field.

Keep up the great work,

Marcus

Reply

Erin Larson, Socialot.com August 29, 2012 at

Hi, Marcus-
Amazing post with amazing timing: my colleagues and I are having this exact discussion. (A client is insisting, for example, that you never begin a sentence with “And.”) So how do we explain that social media campaigns have their own set of “editorial guidelines?” And how do we convince someone so set in his (I hate to call them “traditional”?) ways?

Like commenter Brandon, I’m new here. But if this post (and the subsequent comment stream you generated) are the norm, you can bet I’ll be back!
- Erin Larson, Socialot.com

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 31, 2012 at

Erin, a pleasure having you here :-)

what you’re discussing is very true, and a tough balance. My basic point to companies is this– Your content should sound like your real employees. If it doesn’t, it’s leading them on…in a bad way.

Do employees start sentences with And?

Yep, sure do.

Heck, if I couldn’t start sentences with And I’d be in BIG trouble! ;-)

Hope to see you again,

Marcus

Reply

Erin Larson, Socialot.com September 4, 2012 at

Hi, Marcus-
How often do your “advisees” ignore this advice? And how much do you push before letting them have it “their” way??
Thanks-
Erin Larson, Socialot.com

Reply

addie August 31, 2012 at

Great post! I like to try to be conversational in my writing. When I try to formal or “professional” it always comes out all stilted and just not … well me, for lack of a better descriptor. I also had to have a discussion with my boss about “mini-skirt” writing when I was hired. Longer does not always equal better, more interesting or more informational.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan August 31, 2012 at

Hmm, I’ve never heard that phrase “mini-skirt” writing Addie but that’s a good way to put it!

Reply

addie August 31, 2012 at

I learned that from my 6th grade English teacher. “Writing should be like a mini-skirt: long enough to cover the subject at hand but short enough to be interesting.” I thought she was pretty cool.

Reply

Anton Koekemoer September 4, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,

Personally – If you are knowledgeable on a topic, you are allowed to come across a bit more smarter than the average user – though it is not necessary to exploit it to the maximum self-promotion and rubbing in the faces of others. As you’ve said; Too intelligent can mean the death of great marketing, never the less good marketing and losing your customer and or potential sale by confusing them and not communicating on the same level.

Reply

DC SEO September 4, 2012 at

Whatever you write, read it aloud. If it reads like you’d say it, hit “publish.”

Note – this assumes you don’t speak like a corporate yo-yo.

Reply

Marcus Sheridan September 7, 2012 at

“Corporate yo-yo”—-Hahahaha, love that phrase ;-)

Reply

Barbara Behan September 7, 2012 at

I agree. Writing that tries to sound smart is intimidating to read. If I read something that makes me feel dumb, I’m going to leave; I’m not going to be impressed and stick around.

On the other hand, I think there’s such a thing as dumbing down too much. I feel the best of all possible worlds is to use simple language to communicate messages for intelligent adults. If we can share information that’s new, complex, or thought-provoking in a way that people understand, THEY will feel smart, and I think that’s fantastic.

Reply

Sam Owen September 13, 2012 at

Totally agree with what you say. Yes you want people to recognise your expertise but you need to be someone they can relate to, be amiable, and someone they can understand. The old school way of doing business is out, that corporate, stuffy style. This is the era of relationship based businesses and business people – companies and people who understand that forming relationships is key, in life AND in business.

The blogs, vlogs, podcasts should allow you to build a connection as well as understanding. Something you clearly do well!

Reply

Marcus Sheridan September 15, 2012 at

Sam, thanks for the kind words and it certainly appears you’ve got the right vision of what this era of marketing and business is all about. Well done :-)

Marcus

Reply

Sam Owen September 20, 2012 at

Thank YOU, Marcus. Am following you on Twitter from@samowencoaching (feel free to follow back) and am reading your free ebook which I am really enjoying. I have decided that I am going to use blogging more than I am, much more, as per your advice. I wonder how long it will take to see good results. Want fast results, as do we all! Am excited about the outcome! Thanks again, Marcus. God bless! :-)

Reply

Marcus Sheridan September 21, 2012 at

Sounds awesome Sam, I certainly wish you well w your blog…but be patient too!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Marcus

Reply

Wintress Odom October 29, 2012 at

Don’t get me started! We had a client once that absolutely flipped out because, in the copy we wrote for him, we:

(a) started sentences with “and”
(b) ended sentences in a preposition.

I mean, he absolutely flipped out. Asked us how we could call ourselves writers if we didn’t know basic grammar, etc.

I’ve had many other clients who had similar misconceptions. I have had NO luck talking them out of their opinions either. :-)

Reply

Marcus Sheridan October 31, 2012 at

Yep, that’s exactly it Wintress…it’s a tough nut to crack!!!

Good luck :-)

Marcus

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: