“I know; I know,” said my client, as he watched me eyeing his boss’ document.
His managing director had rewritten a perfectly good piece of copy. I didn’t mind the approach or the direction, but in the attempt to market a new global financial product, the language was grounded firmly on the tarmac—without clearance for take-off.
With lucky license to edit, I slashed here. Burned there. Tore down, rebuilt, installed bridges, walkways, scenic views. The finished copy had infrastructure, which gave it a desired ease.
This is no isolated incident. Financial copywriting, often troubled, is one of the world’s foremost perpetrators of the bland. A close friend, a communications executive at another global asset management firm, came to me to find out what was wrong with $75,000 worth of website copy written by various outside marketing consultants.
“Why does it drag?” he asked.
“No rhythm” was my simple answer. Every sentence clocked in at 30+ words. (This sentence is 6 words long. 30 is a lot.) There were other issues, but this was my biggest objection. He got it, and off they went.
Of all B2B industries we write in, I’d pick financial content first for revolution. Why? Four reasons.
1. Compliance bulks up copy like winter layers on a toddler.
Quick question. Which statement does FINRA prefer?
- X Investment increases your income stream.
- X Investment is designed to increase your income stream.
The second, of course—and for good reason. Compliance-speak earns a) a thumbs-up from in-house compliance folks, b) a bypass from regulators, and c) a thumbs-down for potential liability.
But heck, safety engineering doesn’t mean you can’t make the building at least look nice. In years of writing for financial advisory firms, private equity shops, asset managers and the like, ask me how many synonyms I’ve got for that all-important pivot: “designed to.” (Is intended. Plans to. Strives for. Attempts. The list is as long as my friend’s sentences.)
Remember that your reader’s brain likes things clean—and add your layers with care, and a healthy dose of synonyms.
2. You CAN leave them hanging.
“Being outcome oriented matters,” I once wrote. I then added the relevant context. This ignited hot debate.
My financier friend felt that on its own—even with the context which followed—that standalone sentence just wouldn’t do. I parried.
On its own, that sentence delivers a concept. Whenever a concept enters the room, the brain needs a breath to take it in. Think of concepts as the 21st century debutantes of digital marketing. Dressed splendidly, they need merely be introduced …at first. Then, they can flow naturally into the conversation.
3. Rhythm lightens the load.
I’d recommend against loading all of your sentences with the kitchen sink. See tip #2 for how standalone sentences can give the brain a breather—and make your copy more of a delight to read.
4. Transitions are the window to the soul quicker absorption.
Like Alka Seltzer, or Mary Poppins’ spoonful of sugar, transitions help the medicine—in this case technical information—go down. They’re little signposts, similar to what you use every day in conversation. This doesn’t mean you need one hanging off of every branch (sentence). But having one or two per graf can go a long way in making your copy inviting and unified—and getting it crucially read.