Before the Web—a zillion years ago now—marketing copy was a one-way, broadcast affair. Companies simply pushed their promotional messages out through mass media.

And their audiences had no way to push back.

The Web changed all that because it's a two-way—or multi-way—medium.

It's the perfect medium for marketers to truly engage with their readers and viewers. It's a place where you can really listen and get into conversation with your prospects and customers.

Wonderful. Transformative.

And yet...

Here we are, more than 20 years after the arrival of the Web, and most marketers are still in push mode—still broadcasting their sales messages at their audiences.

Perhaps I exaggerate a little when I say most markets are still in push mode. But if I do, it's not by much. Pretty much every one of us could do better.

Here are five simple ways to level-up our efforts to create truly engaging messages.

1. Don't be that pushy salesperson

The pushy, adversarial approach to selling and persuasion is a holdover from the days of broadcast media.

Back then, simply to be heard, you had to create messaging that was loud and pushy. Why? Because your ads and commercials were always unwelcome interruptions. Ads interrupted your favorite TV and radio shows.

When a message is unwelcome, it won't be heard unless it's loud.

Online, we can take a different path. By asking permission first, we can tone down both the volume and the tone of our messaging.

We no longer need take the loud, pushy, and obnoxious approach.

2. Use simple, conversational language

Once you've put aside the pushy sales approach, your task is to ditch that weird business writing style so many writers picked up at some point in their careers.

Taken from the wild: "Frakbar Cost Management empowers organizations to monitor cloud spend, drive organizational accountabilities, and optimize cloud efficiency so they can accelerate future cloud investments with confidence."


Maybe we can simplify that a little: "Looking for smarter ways to manage your Cloud expenses? At Frakbar, we can help with that."

Here's an easy way to review and improve marketing copy on your website.

Sit down with someone on the opposite sides of a table. Get yourselves a coffee and a large plate of cookies. Open up your website on a laptop, then read a page of your website to your colleague.

Read it as if you were having a conversation with that person, between sips of coffee. Look your colleague in the eye.

Imagine he says, "Hey, tell me a little about your company."

Then start reading from your company's "About" page.

If—within that conversational, across-the-table-with-cookies context—reading that page out loud makes you sound like a complete idiot, then it's time to do a rewrite.

3. Get the language right by listening first

Imagine you're a nutritionist attending a conference of your peers, but you accidently join the wrong meeting and find yourself stuck with a group of sanitation engineers.

I'm guessing you'd find it hard to engage in any meaningful way with others in the room: different vocabulary, different concerns and priorities.

You'll find a similar disconnect between many companies and their prospects and customers, simply because the companies never bother to listen carefully and figure out the vocabulary, concerns, and priorities of their audience.

That's odd, because it's super-easy to listen to your audience online.

Here are four ways to get started:

  1. Encourage more interaction through your social media channels, and then study the language of your most enthusiastic commenters.
  2. Publish more surveys, and include open-ended questions. Study the most-detailed replies.
  3. Invite visitors across all your digital channels to ask you questions. Get a feel for their priorities and their use of language.
  4. Read relevant reviews at Amazon, and check out questions and answers on Quora.

Collect, collate, and study all the data, and you'll be in a much better position to truly engage with your audience.

You'll be speaking their language.

4. Leave space for your readers with questions and stories

The old-school way was to write both editorial and marketing materials in lecture mode: writing at the audience.

Writing in this one-way style is a terrible way to engage anyone.

A couple of simple ways to correct this are to...

  1. Ask more questions in your headlines and within the body text. A question signals inclusion. It makes space for the reader and his or her feelings and opinions.
  2. Tell more stories that are relevant to your audience. That's another way to make them feel included. They'll feel you get them. They'll feel more engaged.

Either way, you increase engagement by leaving some space for the reader.

5. Be imperfect, approachable, authentic

Don't make deliberate errors. But you can make your business feel a lot more human-friendly if you stop trying to be perfect.

Your writing doesn't have to be totally grammatically correct.

And if you make mistakes, own them. Customers will almost always forgive you when you own up to an honest mistake. They won't forgive you if you try to qualify or water down your apology.

It's OK to be imperfect. People connect with that. They'll feel closer to you.

Let's wrap it up

There's nothing terribly hard about any of these five ways to make your marketing copy more engaging.

That's not the problem.

The problem is that too few companies make the choice to be more engaging. They're still stuck in old-school, broadcast, command-and-control mode.

So that's step one.

Let go of the command-and-control thing. Commit to being more engaging.

Get into conversation with your audience.

They'll love you for it.

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image of Nick Usborne

Nick Usborne has been working as a copywriter and trainer for over 35 years. He is the author of Net Words, as well as several courses for online writers and freelancers. Nick is also an advocate for Conversational Copywriting.

LinkedIn: Nick Usborne

Twitter: @nickusborne