Meeting with the MD of a creative agency today, we discussed the importance of adapting your language according to the sector. It’s something I’d never really thought about at great length before as it’s something I instinctively do when I’m writing copy.

But what do you think? Is it important?

Is it important how you refer to customers?

They’re your customers, right? If they consume your product/service it stands to reason that you could refer to them as a customer.

Or are they a client? Does it matter?

What about if you’re in retail; would you be a client or a shopper?

When my husband visited A&E this morning was he a customer or a patient?

When it comes to hospitality, are you a customer or a guest?

The list goes on. The point is, the words all mean the same because you’re always consuming the product or service, but use the wrong incarnation of the word, and it immediately impacts your credibility.

I work for a client that wants to increase exposure of their services to the charity sector. Read the editorial guidance of any publication and it specifically states that you must refer to people as donors, not customers. It’s because the moment you say customer, it immediately shows that you don’t know the audience, and therefore don’t understand their pain, and why your product/service would be important. In essence, you’re there to sell, not help.

Is it important whether you use UK or US English?

If you’re trying to demonstrate that you know me, and sympathise with my pain and believe you have the perfect product/service to overcome that pain, why would you speak in a language other than my own?

I was born and live in the UK, so I hate seeing the letter ‘z’ in content I read. It immediately jars and makes me stop mid-sentence. Now I’ve lost my train of thought, and you’ve lost my engagement.

In the US, there’s a culture of ‘home grown’; people like to buy from US brands. Similarly, if they’re reading copy about a ‘programme’ or ‘colour’, it’s going to jar.

And that’s before you get to the words or concepts that just don’t translate. In Florida I went to a Starbucks and asked for a white coffee. The barista stared at me with a blank expression and said they didn’t have any coffee made from white beans.

If you’re serious about your business, and serious about engaging your target audience, you have to communicate with them in their language.

Is it important if I talk about features rather than benefits?

Working predominantly in the IT sector, one of my pet hates is companies that insist on giving a features pitch about how wonderful their product/service is. My response: so what?

Your storage runs at lightning speed. So what?

Your application seamlessly integrates within the existing infrastructure. So what?

Your SaaS platform has 27 different features. So what?

Why does this matter to the audience?

Features are only interesting when they’re accompanied by a business benefit. Put yourself in your audiences’ shoes.

  • Your bonus relies on getting customer satisfaction figures up 75%. Super-fast storage means you can retrieve customer data quicker and get a solution to their problem faster. Now you have a happy customer.
  • You’ve just spent £100k on IT infrastructure that doesn’t do everything you need it to. Seamless integration of your application means you can finally do that thing, it’s not going to disrupt business-as-usual, it protects that £100k investment, and you’re not going to look stupid in front of your boss.
  • Your company ‘rock’ for the quarter is to increase productivity by 20%. So if feature A saves people 1 hour a day searching for documents, feature B automatically reports on a data set, and feature C sends notifications to outstanding tasks, very quickly you can calculate how you can help people meet and exceed that target.

Is it important?

Yes. Absolutely. Always.

Most people think they can put pen to paper and write. But that doesn’t mean you can write copy.

The value of a true copywriter lies in the instinct to automatically adapt the writing style to a particular media, adapt the language to a particular sector, and then make the copy engaging enough to force someone to take action.

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