Stiff Copywriting.

I’d like to voice a strong opinion about business copywriting.

It seems that a good many of us, at some time in our lives, were taught that proper business copywriting style requires using formal, stiff language in order to be taken seriously.

That means never:

  • use contractions, as in “we’ll” and “you’re”
  • start a sentence with “And”
  • address the reader directly, as in “you” and “yours”

It also means to try, when possible, to write in passive voice. Instead of writing, “We’ll send a welcome package to you by mail in seven days.” write, “In seven days, a welcome package will be sent in the mail by us to customers.” See the difference? Active: “We’ll send…” Passive: “…will be sent…”

So, in order to sound like a serious business, choose the first of the following two options over the second:

Option 1: “We are pleased to announce that in seven days, a welcome package will be sent in the mail by us to customers. Should it be required sooner, however, then please feel free to contact our customer service department. It will be our pleasure to be of assistance.”

instead of,

Option 2: “We’re excited to send this welcome package to you in the next seven days. But if you need it sooner, just call us. We’ll be happy to help you.”

Now, I’d bet that most of us would enjoy reading the shorter, more colloquial, active-voice, contraction-using paragraph that addresses us directly, over the clumsy, stiff, formal, third person narrative of the first option.

But, and I kid you not, I still all-too-frequently see the longer, stiff form of copy in business correspondence. And not just in business letters, but in brochure and advertising copy too!

Nobody likes to read this kind of copy. So why do business writers still insist on writing it?

Because, conventional business wisdom holds that a less formal tone, which might be fine in B2C marketing communications or when two people are having a conversation, is too “flip” and “personal” for business communication. This is business after all.

I’ve often experienced business writers who are literally too afraid to adopt the more conversational tone. They think it might reflect poorly on their brand and their business.

This is a marketing misfire. And it can hurt your business.

Because the truth is, business people are actually just people, like all of us. And pretty much all of us would rather be engaged in a warm, familiar and conversational tone and style.

In fact, using the formal construction and tone does more to confuse and alienate customers than it does to maintain their respect for your business. It makes communication sound like it came from a robot. Robots have no soul. And not one of us wants to do business with something that is soul-less. We want to feel a personal connection to the entities we entrust with our business.

So let’s stop this charade, once and for all. To be effective business writers, here’s what we really should avoid:

  • writing like a robot
  • using incorrect grammar
  • forgetting to spell cherck
  • making Creative USE of Capital Letters in your Business Communications
  • writing copy that’s all about the company, instead of about helping the customer
  • using trite, meaningless and unproven phrases like, “We are number one” or “We are the leading provider of…” or “We are the fastest growing…”


I’m starting a new movement: “Let’s end stiff copywriting.” Hashtag: #endstiffcopy.

Together, we can make our business communication human – and have our customers actually enjoy reading our words.

See you next time on the brander’s journey.