Close up of a person with a yellow pencil writing on a sheet of paper thumbnail

You’ve probably heard the old joke about how to tell if you’re talking to an extroverted engineer (answer: they look at your shoes when they talk to you).

Although the punchline is a caricature, even some of the largest companies in the world essentially do the same thing when it comes to technology marketing. Whether they’re writing web copy, brochures or even social media posts, they shy away from directly addressing the reader.

You can easily spot timid writing like this by looking for the word “customers”, which often shows up in phrases such as:

  • Customers can use our SmartWidget™ to …
  • SpiffyTechService helps customers …
  • Our experts are available to assist customers 24/7 …

“Customers” is merely one of the most common examples. You’ll also find similarly vague and impersonal terms like “clients”, “stakeholders” and “decision makers” cropping up pretty regularly.

The problem with this approach is not just that it’s the written equivalent of staring at somebody’s shoes (yours or the customer’s). It also sends an unspoken message to the reader that you’re talking about someone else — even if they’re already buying from you.

This matters in marketing because whenever you make a sale, even if you’re providing a multimillion-dollar solution to an international conglomerate, you ultimately won’t sell it to “customers”, “stakeholders” or even “decision makers”. You’ll sell to people. And more often than not, the final decision comes down to one person. Shouldn’t you be writing for that person?

It’s Time to Get Personal

Marketing copy is often seen as something that needs to appeal to a mass audience, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, it’s often sent to hundreds, thousands or even millions of people.

Yet the experience is very different when seen from the perspective of your target audience. They don’t consider themselves as part of a crowd, but as a unique individual who’s the leading character of their own story. When your message hits their email inbox, physical mailbox or is handed to them by a sales representative, there are two possible outcomes:

  1. The reader will see your message as something that is personally relevant to them and will take further action now or in the future.
  2. The reader will decide that your message doesn’t apply to them, and will delete, ignore or throw it away.

Although this decision happens in a split second, you can significantly increase your chances of the first outcome by making the reader feel like you’re having a one-on-one conversation with them. This holds true whether the reader is someone who makes final purchasing decisions or a low-ranking junior employee of someone on the committee who makes buying suggestions to executives higher up the food chain.

In short, no matter the size of your mailing list, each message you send needs to read as if it was written specifically for the person who receives it. Because whether they realize it or not, that’s the experience each of your potential buyers wants to have.
Here’s how to make your words “look them in the eyes”, metaphorically speaking:

Seven Ways to Humanize Your Copy

  1. Use pronouns. The most important words in marketing copy are “you”, “your” and related variants like “you’ll”, “you’ve” and so on. These words instantly make your copy sound more personal, as if you were having a conversation at a trade show or even a coffeehouse. They also support the impression that you’re thinking about what the reader wants or needs. You’ll want to use them often throughout your entire message. (Look closely and you’ll notice that I’ve already used some form of these words more than 30 times in this article already — four times in the first sentence alone. I don’t mind letting you in on this little secret, because it’s just us here, right?)
  2. Know which pronouns matter. The “you” that’s most important to the success of your message isn’t you; it’s your reader. So while you’re making connections with “you” and “your”, dial back on words like “we”, “our”, “us” and so on. As awesome as you may be, your readers mostly care about themselves.
  3. Personalize your message. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, but readers are more likely to engage with your message when they see their own names. “Dear Mary,” will generate a stronger response than “Dear sir or madam” practically every time (unless of course your name isn’t Mary).
  4. Benefits, benefits, benefits. One of the easiest marketing traps to fall into, especially in the tech sector, is to focus on features rather than benefits. Although these may seem like the same thing, what matters isn’t what your product does (features), but what it does for your buyers (benefits). You may be very excited that the new DooDad 3000® has the latest X-39 processor, Bluetooth connectivity and a built-in neck massager. But your buyers will be far more interested if you can show them how it will help them outperform the competition, cut costs or improve worker retention. (Bonus points if you can pair benefits with clear, quantifiable statistics.) Failing that, try my colleague Bill Weinstein’s laziness and ignorance approach to reveal undiscovered insights readers will really care about.
  5. Develop buyer personas. Create one or more fictional individuals who represent common traits of your target audience or one of its key segments. Ask yourself this question: If your audience were a person, who would they be? Give that person a name. Find a photo that represents them and set it where you can see it when you write. Then craft your copy as if you’re having a conversation with that individual. (Watch this space for a more detailed post about persona development soon.)
  6. Segment different audiences. As convenient as it might be for your marketing department (and budget), one size doesn’t always fit all. It might cost more upfront to create different messages for different groups, but the payoff you’ll see from a stronger response often makes it worth the investment. For example, if you’re promoting a new tech startup, you might need to influence the engineers who will use its product in the field, the C-level executives who will make buying decisions, investors who might back the company and journalists who can provide free publicity. Each of these audiences has different goals, motivations and levels of technical expertise, so the business case is strong for targeting each of them with custom-tailored messaging.
  7. Don’t try to please everyone. Many marketers are so afraid to offend or discourage anyone that they write for the lowest common denominator. But this results in bland, boring copy that doesn’t excite anyone. If you know your buyers well, embrace what they’re passionate about and don’t be afraid to scare off others who aren’t a good fit. This radical form of prequalification can save your sales team a lot of time by keeping bad prospects out of your customer funnel while sending your best buyers the message that you really “get” them.

See the Transformation for Yourself

Let’s wrap this post up by applying just the first two of these strategies to the examples from the beginning of this article. We’ll change “customers” to “you” and delete all the words that suggest navel-gazing:

  • You can use SmartWidget™ to …
  • SpiffyTechService helps you …
  • Experts are available to assist you 24/7 …

Although none of these phrases are likely to win major awards, they’ve gone from staring at the floor to looking you in the eyes with just a few small changes. The result is copy that feels more personal while conveying a greater collective sense of confidence and credibility.

Applying these strategies can quickly make your own copy stronger without a great deal of effort. For even better results, consider calling a talented, award-winning agency in Dayton that specializes in boosting the success of B2B technology organizations like yours.