In a classic New Yorker cartoon, a man approaches the pearly gates. Saint Peter, greeting the new arrival, gestures to a sign saying "Birth, Death & Beyond" and comments, "Actually, I preferred 'Heaven,' too, but then the marketing guys got hold of it."
Ah, the dreaded "m" word. Instead of inspiring awe and admiration, it's now more likely to prompt contempt and eye-rolling.
And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to copywriting. Whether your medium is direct mail, Web site text, advertising, or simply, an e-zine article, your reader has less time and less inclination to read than ever before.
The traditional advice for copywriters, of course, is to engage readers by focusing on problems rather than benefits. For example, software marketers shouldn't talk about RAM or gigabytes. They should describe how the software will allow a client to pull a report in half the time (solving, say, a customer service problem).
Now I can't quibble with this counsel. It's spot on. Unfortunately, it just doesn't go far enough. In truth, a host of techniques can improve your readability. Here are seven of the best:
1. Begin with a story
Always try to start your writing with an anecdote. This can be a story from one of your sources, a story from your company's history, even a theoretical story about an imaginary customer.
We human beings are hard-wired to love stories, and it's possible to make almost any business point you want with an anecdote as I did at the beginning of this article, recounting the New Yorker cartoon. Most of all, remind yourself that the beginning of your story does NOT need to "sum up" your subject; your main job is to get the reader interested enough to read more.