Language has leverage. From your professional correspondence to your website content, the way you use the written word is just as meaningful as the words themselves. But sending an introductory email with a potential client’s name spelled wrong is definitely worse than using a sentence fragment in a blog post to illustrate an idea.
Your business is built on your brand messaging, so every piece of writing you produce that’s consumed by your target market and your current customers needs to be consistent in language, usage and tone. HOW you choose to use language to reach your target audience, however, need not be constricted by our traditional understanding of language and grammar.
Get Yo’ Grammar On
Grammar is important, yes. Grammar is a tool to help the reader understand the writer’s intended meaning. I understand the importance of correctly and beautifully communicating an idea through language. For Pete’s sake, I was an English major in college; I’ve highlighted at least one typo in nearly every book I’ve read. (I’m fun like that.) Yes, I grimace at the wrong use of your/you’re/yore, but if I’m reading my 11 year old cousin’s Facebook status, I might give her a break. If I’m looking to contract a writer or looking to engage with a business and their website is littered with typos and weird language? Not happening. To me, it looks unprofessional and careless. I don’t want to work with people with those qualities.
On the flip side, we should all be aware that grammar is evolutionary and sometimes there are quite a few grey areas, especially as new terms appear before the Grammar Gods have their say. Don’t believe me? Try starting a sentence with eBay or iPhone. Another example: you understood the headline to this section because, presumably, you’re a well-educated problem solver who has visited the Internet before. In short: you knew what I meant. I am writing to people like you. Mission accomplished.
On Lamenting the State of Language
Yes, yes, you’re a language lover lamenting the decay of modern usage. *yawn* Hey, I agree, when people TYP3 LYK D1S, they look ridiculous. But the problem isn’t so much in the new use of the language. The problem is that every single person who reads that has to look at it WAY too long to derive the meaning.
If it takes more than a half a second to read a few words, the language is ineffective. Period.
Using new words and commonly understood grammar in an effective manner improves the reading experience and connects the reader to the content. Well before we were ever “friending” people on Facebook, Shakespeare invented over 1,700 words including such gems as amazement, hint, and radiance. (Actually, we’ve been using friend as a verb for over 800 years. Surprised?)
In reality, people are always complaining about the decay of the English language, and they have been for a LONG time. Evolution implies that language adapts to survive. I didn’t say language keeps getting better; it just needs to be different to be as effective. It’s the reason we study Shakespeare: because no one converses in Shakespearean language while waiting for the bus. That’s not to say sloppy grammar is acceptable. Not at all. Hey, the Grammar Gods change the rules all the time, too! The Chicago Manual of Style updates a slew of grammar rules with every new addition. Instead of getting all hyper about it, we should all behave as linguists: recognize various language changes, note interesting patterns, then move on.
(Side note: I’m all for truly improving language for efficiency. I suggest the following contractions: phonecall, posterchild, floorplan, timebomb, SIDENOTE, tuneup, harddrive, pricetag, lightbulb, tastebud, whitepaper, speedbump, warmup, bedsheet, punchline—I could keep going. The Germans are on to something. Seriously.)
Language Has Leverage
Your website content and marketing collateral must use language that resonates with your target audience. If you’re selling an iPhone app for teen girls (like Love Spell XO), the words you use, and your tone and voice are going to be a lot different than copy on a medical supply company’s website. So if your target market is teen girls, you shouldn’t shy away from using words like “celeb” and “OMG”—that’s the language required to reach that audience and to get your point across. Likewise, a medical supply company’s website will use very specific, highly technical language to appeal to particular buyers in the medical field.
Language is effective when it communicates an idea and the intended meaning is understood.
If you’re not sure your written copy on your website, blog or marketing materials is effectively appealing to your target audience, it may be time to reevaluate how your business uses language. You might be missing out on more customers—and that’s not cool.