If you want a piece of marketing to work, you probably want people to understand it. If they don't understand your ad, your commercial, or your business card - you're throwing your money away.
Microsoft Word has an amazing tool that allows you to check the readability of something you've written. I wish more people would learn how to use it. If you find it, it includes two figures such as flesch reading ease and flesch-kincaid grade-level. The tool also tells you the percentage of passive sentences. I'll explain the readability tool in this post.
One of the things I do a lot for my clients is rewrite their text. I rewrite web advertising, print, and direct mail pieces. Most of my clients have great ideas, but have trouble putting them into compelling text.
In general, compelling text is short, active, punchy, and understandable. This doesn't mean dumbed-down. However, marketing communication is not the place to impress people with your vocabulary. Unless you know you are marketing to PhD.s in English literature - keep it real.
If your marketing text is full of words like obsequious, ubiquitous, aromatic, malapropism, etc. - you are losing people.
So how do these reading scales in word work? They are based on a number of factors such as average paragraph length, word length, and number of letters per word. Basically short words, sort sentences, and short paragraphs usually equal easier reading.
The number to pay attention to in is the flesch-kincaid grade level. This roughly equates to grade levels in American schools. So a 13 should be understandable by a Junior in college. The problem is that even most educated people have lower reading levels. A good level to shoot for is around 8.
Winston Churchill is known for the persuasive speeches that helped England through World War II. I have read that his speeches rate at a 5 or 6 grade level. Nobody calls Winston a dummy.
"War is hell." - Winston Churchill
"There are many horrors in the combat in which we are now engaged." - I just made that up.
Clearly Winston's three word sentence is direct and compelling. You get exactly what he means. The crappy second sentence kind of meanders around the point.
Passive voice weakens your text. You want to get this percentage as close to zero as possible.
"The dog ate the food"
"The food was eaten by the dog"
Yuck, the second example almost doesn't make sense. Passive voice is weak and confusing. Avoid it like the plague when you write.
I once spoke to a court translator who told me that people who are lying almost always use passive voice. Instead of saying, "I broke the lamp," they might say, "the lamp was broken." He would have the judge force the person to use active voice full sentences which translate better.
For some reason, many marketers like to bury their benefits. They write long paragraphs that beat around the bush. Why? If your new pill will cure baldness, tell me up front I will attract more women.
By the way - this post has a flesch-kincaid grade level of 6.
J D Moore - Marketing Comet