Using plain language improves your engagements with consumers before, during, and after they purchase from you.
Brand voice is a powerful tool for creating impressions and building your brand with internal and external audiences. Employing a great brand voice, optimized with plain language, will help your brand create emotional connections with audiences, stand out from a crowded sea of competitors, and occupy space in consumers’ minds.
A crucial, yet often overlooked part of the branding process is defining your brand voice. The many components of brand voice, tone, word choice, content, and communication channel, help bring your organization to life.
Learn more about the parts of brand voice by downloading our white paper, “Defining Your Brand Voice.”
Brand voices vary widely both across and within industries. Competitors may use voices that are similar, or they may take very different approaches. But whether your brand voice is tailored to convey worldly sophistication, “down-home” charm, or trusted expertise, there’s one characteristic you can’t neglect: plain language.
What is plain language?
According to Wikipedia, plain language is “writing designed to ensure the reader understands as quickly, easily, and completely as possible.” That means eliminating jargon, going easy on the adverbs and adjectives, and avoiding words that the typical member of your audience needs a dictionary to understand. The goal is clarity and accessibility. A reader or listener should understand your message the first time around.
Plain language is also well organized. Grouping like information and ideas and ensuring they unfold logically allows readers to easily skim documents and find what they’re looking for. The visual presentation of information matters, too. Being intentional when selecting your layout, font, text size, and graphic elements goes a long way towards improving understanding and retention.
Using plain language doesn’t mean you have to “dumb down” your message or sacrifice your sense of style. When you take confusing language out of the mix, you can express even complex, intangible concepts in a way that resonates. The great plain language brand voices aren’t bland. They create interest by varying sentence length and structure, and they use clear words that allow them to connect to their audience.
Plain language has many advocates, especially in the legal profession and in government. In 2010, Congress passed a law requiring all federal agencies to develop “clear government communication that the public can understand and use.” Adopting plain language makes contracts easier to understand and interactions with government programs more efficient. But it’s not just for buying houses and paying taxes. Regardless of industry, companies should strive to use plain language any time there’s a possibility for confusion—and that’s pretty much all the time.
How about an example?
When you’re stumbling over legalese or reread an official document four times just to sort-of understand it, the absence of plain language is obvious. You feel frustration; you see the minutes ticking by as you struggle to follow along. On the other hand, plain language is almost unnoticeable. The meaning comes through loud and clear, and you’re able to understand and get on with your life. It’s seamless.
Find the benefits of writing in plain language by comparing it with something that’s not. The Center for Plain Language and the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) offer “Before and After” comparisons that are pretty eye opening.
So let’s look at an example, courtesy of PLAIN.
Here’s the “before”: “When the process of freeing a vehicle that has been stuck results in ruts or holes, the operator will fill the rut or hole created by such activity before removing the vehicle from the immediate area.”
This concept isn’t complicated—if you make a hole, fill it in—but the message is lost in the clutter. The language is overly wordy and complicated. The sentence structure is awkward, and the voice and removed perspective make it difficult to understand what’s expected in this scenario.
Here’s the “after”: “If you make a hole while freeing a stuck vehicle, you must fill the hole before you drive away.”
Much better. The language is clear and concise, and expectations and responsibilities are obvious. The “after” tells you just what you need to know, without unnecessary fluff.
Once you become aware of how plain language works, you can put it to work for your brand. Not sure where to start? Try reading your content out loud. Ask yourself if your users will be able to easily find, understand, and act on the information you’re providing. If the answer isn’t an enthusiastic, “You bet!”—start editing.
Why does it benefit brands?
The principles of plain language encourage user-centered thinking. It’s all about keeping your audience in mind when making communication decisions. So when brands use plain language, they help their consumers as well as their employees.
This isn’t just about altruism. Using plain language improves your engagements with consumers before, during, and after they purchase from you. When consumers understand your offering, they are more likely to buy. Creating clarity in marketing and sales materials can result in shorter sales cycles. Clear, easy-to-read instructions result in fewer customer service calls and returns.
Your employees will benefit from using plain language internally, too. When a process is clear, it’s easier to follow. Moreover, the better your employees understand your business and goals, the more successfully they can do their jobs to help you achieve them.
Whether you’re B2B, B2C, or B2B2C, make plain language the foundation of your brand voice. That is, unless you’re selling snake oil or involved in a criminal organization. In that case, muddy the waters as much as possible (*wink wink*).
Learn to develop your brand voice with our blog post, “How to use personas to develop your brand voice.”