Thursday July 21, 2016

Try to Sound Like a Human


I have a friend who overcomplicates everything. If I text him about doing something, I’ll periodically get an answer back that looks like this: 

“Oh, well isn’t this unfortunate timing. I wish I could, but I already have a previous engagement I agreed upon a few weeks ago. There is a chance it may end early, but those odds are very low. I will keep you updated. My apologies.” 

To which I’m often like… what???


A simple, “Sorry, have plans already,” would have more than sufficed. That would have been, you know, a human response. Instead this just comes off as… robotic. 

In this context, he’s just talking like this to a friend. There’s no repercussion from using language like this other than being mercilessly made fun of by me. Unfortunately, failing to sound like a human in other contexts can have much bigger consequences.

A key sin of marketing is sounding a lot like my friend – overly formal and robotic. You know it when you see it: too wordy, too proper, and generally just trying too hard. Marketing that is EXTREMELY aware it is marketing.

Falling into this trap of robotic messaging can be easy to do. So how do you get out? 

Brands are brands, not people 

Let’s start with something you probably already inherently know. Messaging coming from a brand, whether that be a corporate social media account, email blast/newsletter or any other platform is going to come off as hollow. Because people do not trust brands. I don’t; you don’t; none of us do.

Everyone knows that brands are out there for one thing – to make a profit. That may sound cynical, but turning a profit is the most basic point of business. Which means all their messaging is geared around getting consumers to purchase their products or services. This built-in subtext means that messaging, and poor messaging in particular, can come off as fake and dishonest.

So when going about messaging – especially on social media – consider using actual people as the distributors of your message. Emails can be sent in the tone and voice of a real person and BY a real person. Employees (if they feel comfortable doing so) can tweet or post about things at the company that excite them. Then, this type of content can be shared via the company’s official account. Though it should only be done sparingly, it can add some credibility to your messaging. 

The automated opening line 

There are times when you may feel the pressure to write something that sounds like what you think marketing should sound like, rather than use your own voice to convey a message. As a general rule, this is never a great idea. Especially when this urge ends up taking over the all-important first line of your message.

Your audience knows this technique when they see it. If your first line uses this tactic, then you’re going to lose them before they ever get to the core of your message.

Writing a formulaic intro line is an easy trap to fall into. Trying to frame the way your messaging should be centered is a stressful and nerve-wracking decision. You might ask yourself questions like: What if people expect me to be more formal? What if, by trying to deviate from standard business emails, I end up alienating and losing customers? 

This is just the fear of the unknown talking. Sure, there are scenarios when more formal messaging is called for depending on audience and situation, but most of the time, people do not want formalities void of substance. They want you to get to the point and move on.

Here are a four select opening lines commonly relied on that you should ditch today: 

Have you heard the news?

Why does this matter? And what is the news? Is it just an offer you are unveiling to me for the first time today? Then, obviously, the answer is no. Should have just led with the offer to start with.

A completely unnecessary phrase.

I wanted to reach out…

Great, I see that, why else would have emailed me? Again, get to the point quicker.

 I’d greatly appreciate it if you had a moment to talk…

I personally overuse “appreciate” in my own emails to basically everyone in life. Why? I guess I just really want to get across that I’m sincere in thanking people for their help or time, but in text it just comes off as disingenuous. 

I was looking over your (blank) profile and happened to notice…

This is making the message all about you, when if you want someone’s business, you should really be making it about them. Flip it to something like, “Your interest in (blank) can be solved by (blank).”

A simple way for correcting these and other problems is to just remove the opening line. The next time you’re stuck with marketing copy that you know is too robotic, just eliminate the first line or clause. You’ll get the point sooner and streamline your messaging. 

I scream, you scream, we all scream because we overuse exclamation marks!

The king of robotic marketing. Putting an exclamation mark in your messaging does not make an offer more exciting or valuable. It just means you’re shouting at someone.

The temptation to throw one in is a strong one, I know. Getting across excitement or enthusiasm can be difficult to do in text. Sometimes punctuation seems like an easy fix to this problem, but really it’s just corny. Exclamation marks = eye rolls.

A human, a real human posting somewhere on social media or through email, can get away with using exclamation marks. But a brand? They try, but it’s just annoying. It’s really only acceptable if it’s clear that the exclamation is coming from a human and is commenting on something currently going on that is NOT product or sales related.

Keep it simple

The most essential thing to keep in mind when crafting marketing messaging that wants to sound conversational and human, is to just take it easy. Keep it simple. Try to write how you would normally speak – just use full sentences.

A common mistake people make with writing is failing to read it back out loud. Things may look great on the page, but when said aloud, collapse. So write it down, read it back, and adjust.   

If you’re feeling the need to be witty or funny but can’t come up with anything, then know it’s OK to let it go. Getting to the point can make much for more sense. Hubspot, for example, promotes all their content with simple, usually one sentence-long posts. 


This gets straight to the point, delivers value and clearly communicates the offer without any false marketing language.

Most importantly, it sounds human. Which makes a world of difference.  

Written by Scott Rogers |

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