Content Marketing

How to Speak Like a Human (and Why It Matters)

badge guest post FLATTER How to Speak Like a Human (and Why It Matters)We’re living in the middle of an information explosion, which is preferable to a literal explosion, but still pretty bad if you’re a marketer.

The sheer amount of information out there—online, in stores, in our inboxes—makes it extremely challenging to engage with customers and prospects. In fact, the average shmuck gets hit with almost 3,000 marketing messages per day.

So, in the midst of all this clutter, why are we still sending out emails like this?

att cancellation email1 How to Speak Like a Human (and Why It Matters)

Given our information overload, it’s more important than ever to connect with customers and prospects in a real way. To think of them like humans, and to speak to them like humans.

And not just because it’s nicer to treat people like humans and not like a demographic swath of your audience come to life. Speaking in human makes people listen, gets you leads, and builds loyalty.

Here’s a couple ways you can start speaking in human.

1. Write the way you talk.

Here’s a typical explanation of an employee benefit plan:

benefits blah1 581x1024 How to Speak Like a Human (and Why It Matters)

Not very engaging, right? Or even easy to decipher, really. This description is filled with jargon and elaborate explanations—elements that make your readers seek comfort in the arms of a nice, soothing GIF.

Here’s the same benefit plan, written as if you were having a natural conversation:

blahtoah 1024x768 How to Speak Like a Human (and Why It Matters)

Same information, but much easier to understand—which makes it much likelier that your audience will listen and take action.

This sounds like a “duh” concept, but it’s actually really hard to do.

You’re intimately familiar with your company’s offerings. In fact, you’re such an expert on them that it’s probably hard for you to remember what it was like not to know everything about widgets or smart phone helicopter blades or what have you. This makes it extremely difficult for you to explain your product to a non-expert—i.e., your customers and potential customers.

This phenomenon is called the Curse of Knowledge, and studies have found that it’s a real, knotty obstacle to good communication. There’s a well-known psych experiment where a subject “tapped” out a song on a table, while another subject listened and tried to identify the song. 50% of the tappers estimated that the listener would be able to identify the song; however, only 2.5% of listeners could actually name that tune. When you’re the expert, everything seems obvious. When you’re the listener, everything is gibberish.

So to speak in human, you have to consciously examine your marketing materials for your knowledge bias.

I find it’s helpful to imagine myself having a chat with one of my favoritest clients, mentally explaining our new product (or the webinar that’s coming up next month, or whatever I’m trying to promote), and then jot down the “transcript” of the conversation that’s playing in my head.

2. Let people respond naturally.

Now that you’re speaking more like a person and less like a walking, talking whitepaper, wouldn’t it be nice if our customers and prospects could respond in kind? Unfortunately, we usually don’t let them.

As someone being marketed to, your channels of communication are usually limited to giant “Act Now!” buttons and forms. Maybe you get lucky and get to fill out a survey. (Where the answer choices don’t really reflect your feelings. Am I “satisfied” or “dissatisfied” with the napkins at my local Hot Dog Hut? Where is “don’t care”?)

Turns out, if you let people respond in a way that’s more natural, they’ll be more excited about talking to you. Here’s a real live example from our Jellyvision website. This is our old “Contact Us” form:

old contact us How to Speak Like a Human (and Why It Matters)And here’s our new “Contact Us” form:

new contact us 1 1024x706 How to Speak Like a Human (and Why It Matters)

The new form, which allows website visitors to talk to us in a more natural way, got a daily lead capture rate that’s 83% higher than the old form.

As you can see, we were bad little A/B testers and rolled out the contact form update with a host of other website updates, so can we attribute 100% of that uptick to the new form? Probably not. But it definitely helped. And in addition to more people filling out the form, we’re getting more data, so our salespeople can turn around and have a more human, personalized conversation with these leads.

So there you go. Communicate with your audience like you talk to real, live people, and let them talk human back to you. And try to speak in human in everything that you do, which includes login screens, autoresponder emails, contracts, everything.

Everything is marketing, and every touchpoint is a chance to connect with your audience on a real Homo sapiens to Homo sapiens level.

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benefits blah How to Speak Like a Human (and Why It Matters)
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How to Speak Like a Human (and Why It Matters)
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We’re living in the middle of an information explosion, which is preferable to a literal explosion, but still pretty bad if you’re a marketer. Learn how to cut through the marketing clutter with these tips on how to speak like a human.
  • Vincent Falcicchio

    This is a great article. I am a digital marketer myself and I try and try to do this everyday. However, I always get the backlash of it’s a company we need to speak professionally and with all the industry jargon possible. This is not the way most customers talk though! They do not use all the buzzwords or corporate speak, and when they hear these words they feel like a robot is talking to them. It is good to read an article like this knowing that more people market like this!

    • Melanie Davis

      Thanks Vincent! I was a copywriter in a past life, and I can’t count how many times a client asked for writing with a “professional” tone—a.k.a. as many buzzwords as possible, please. Sometimes, a little A/B test can do wonders to show that people do prefer human to robot bleeps and bloops. Keep fighting the good fight for people speak!

  • http://flavors.me/40deuce 40deuce

    This is sooooooooooo true!
    As a marketer myself I hate when I have to write in jargon and big words (although I understand that it has to be done every now and then for certain industries). But when I write things for our brand, like blog posts or emails telling clients about product updates, I write like how I talk; in a simple and easy to understand way that still gets the important information across. And people like and appreciate that.
    I think I’ve always been this way though. Even when I was in university I refused to use big fancy words in papers unless they were necessary. I also hated reading (and still do today) things where people use use big fancy words to make them seem smart when they could say the exact same thing in a way that everyone could understand without having to read it with a dictionary handy.
    People like to be talked to like people. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t know this.

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    • Melanie Davis

      Thanks for resisting the big fancy, Sheldon! I’m sure your readers appreciate it.

  • BrittBrouse

    Great post! Thanks for the useful tips and examples. Plain language is really hard to come by, especially in the B2B marketing world. The worst is when a company names a widget or service something very “jargony” that is too long and requires an acronym or imparts zero meaning to the customer.

    • Melanie Davis

      Thanks Britt! Acronym names are one of my least favorites. And only partially because I always seem to pronounce them wrong, usually in an embarrassing fashion.

  • Jarrett Smith

    Fantastic post, Melanie! This sort of plain talk can be especially helpful when your company screws up. In fact, Buffer just did an excellent job with this a few days ago when they released a new “feeds” feature. From what I can tell, within the first 24 hours they got a ton of feedback from their customers saying it was too limited. Their response? Less than a day later they sent out an email with this subject line “We got this one wrong. We’ve adjusted all paid plans: Now add up to 15 feeds.” Wow! Good on them for resisting the temptation to issue the standard corporate “non-apology”.

    FTR, I have no affiliation with Buffer, other than being a long-time (and suitably impressed) customer.

    • Melanie Davis

      Love that. Definitely sends a much different message than the standard “we’re sorry we have to deal with this” apology.

    • http://twitter.com/joecardillo Joe Cardillo

      +1 Buffer rules…I’m a huge fan of their product, and culture.

  • http://twitter.com/joecardillo Joe Cardillo

    Really like that lead form example – I’ve got a lengthy customer service background and one of the most powerful things was always the chance to acknowledge the human connection (there’s a good recent good post from Jay about transcending the transaction). Once you do that a lot of doors open.

  • http://thejoshcollins.com/ Josh Collins

    By sheer randomness did I see the headline and immediately clicked through. Glad I did. Refreshing actually. This weekend I give a TEDx talk on this subject itself—being a human being online. So good to find a like-minded individual! Gonna have to stalk you some now Jay. :)

  • Guest

    Great article! I make video content in oz with the same principles in mind – find the true story behind your enterprise, y’know – the one that motivates you out of bed in the morning and tell this Story in a natural human way – because being relatable attracts your *ideal* customers, gets you more responses and converts more often.

    Can you point to any ready posts or info that supports your (out there) proposition that speaking like a human actually works!?

  • Morgan Newall

    Great article! I produce video content in oz with the same principles in mind – find the true story behind your enterprise (the one that motivates you out of bed in the morning), tell this Story in a natural human way – because being relatable attracts your *ideal* customers, gets you more responses and converts more often.

    Can you point to any ready posts/info that supports your (out there) proposition that speaking like a human actually works!?