There’s science to prove it.

Studies show that advertising and marketing are most effective when messages are easy to understand.

I know, right? Sounds simple enough. But if you’re marketing or selling something more complex than soap or beer, you may be having a little trouble getting your message across.

Here are five things to look for as you write your own copy:

1. Write Directly to Your Reader – I’ve said it before (see Keep Your Dinner Guest in Mind), so it must be true: it’s so much easier to get that marketing piece written if you pretend you’re writing to a particular person.

It’s okay to use your imagination here. Give this customer a name. And try to come up with your ideal client’s mental, physical and spiritual perspectives. This will help you say what needs to be said, in words that she can truly understand.

Oh, and here’s a good technique to try: address her directly. Just as I’ve been doing (see previous paragraph). It’s called the You-Orientation.

Here’s a good example of what I mean:

Advertiser-Oriented Copy The objective of the daily cash accumulation fund is to seek the maximum current income that is consistent with low capital risk and the maintenance of total liquidity.

You-Oriented Copy The cash fund gives you the biggest return on your investment with the lowest risk. And, you can take out as much money as you like — whenever you want.

2. Use Short Sentences – According to Rudolf Flesch, author of The Art of Plain Talk, the best average sentence length for business writing is 14 to 16 words. Twenty to 25 also works, but over 40 words and your copy becomes unreadable.

And when you’re crafting an ad, you don’t usually have a lot of space to work with. So your sentences need to be even shorter — usually between 6 and 16 words.

So how do you reduce sentence length? You break those pesky buggers up!

Whenever possible, insert a period. Or a semi-colon. The em dash (–) is one of my favorites.

Don’t worry about being grammatically correct here. You need to vary the lengths by keeping things short. Even if that means writing the occasional fragment. Or lots of them. Whatever sounds natural when you read it out loud.

3. Keep it Simple – Simple words communicate better because they don’t distract the reader. Too many syllables and too many fancy phrases will just get in the way of your message.

And in marketing, isn’t your main goal to communicate? Don’t try to impress your audience. They really don’t care how smart you are, or how many years you’ve spent in college.

If the word “small” works, why would you use “diminutive?”

It’s also key to avoid technical jargon. Yes, your industry has special terms and acronyms that get thrown around every day. But those terms will only be recognized by a small slice of your audience. Why would you want to confuse the rest of ’em? If you’re not sure if it’s jargon or not, have your grandmother or 8th grader read it and give you feedback.

4. Be Specific – To be persuasive, you absolutely have to use details that matter.

There are probably lots of concrete facts you can use to talk about your product or service, but if those aren’t the ones your customers care about, they won’t mean much to your bottom line.

You’ll usually have at least twice as much background material on hand as you end up with in a finished marketing piece. If you don’t, then maybe you need to do some more research!

Here’s what I mean:

Vague She is associated in various teaching capacities with several local educational institutions.

Specific She teaches marketing at San Francisco University and copywriting at San Jose Community College.

One way you can check this is to try substituting your competitor’s name in your copy to see if it still makes sense. If it does, then back to the drawing board!

5. Use a Friendly Tone – Ann Landers, one of the most widely read columnists in the country, was popular because (she said) “I was taught to write like I talk.” Also called the “Conversational Tone,” this technique is especially important in print or online marketing where your copy has to be the substitute for your sales team.

Forget everything you were taught in school. This isn’t about using the right grammar. It’s about having a conversation with your customers.

So next time you feel you’ve got a good draft in hand, try this: read it out loud. Pretend you’re actually saying these words at a cocktail party or a networking function. Do they sound trite? Too formal? If so, you’ll hear it right away and can make the right corrections. Here are some more tips for achieving that natural flow:

  • Use pronouns (I, we, you, they)
  • Use colloquial expressions (a sure thing, okay, rip-off)
  • Use contractions (you’re, it’s I’m)
  • Use simple words (see #3 above)

Have any other tips you’d like to share? Or maybe you’ve got a question about how to clarify a specific sentence or two? Leave a comment below and let’s have a conversation of our own!