Sticks and stones can break your bones…You remember the rhyme you learned when you were young, meant to teach you to shrug off the verbal abuse kids can dish out. But, as any kid can tell you, words are powerful tools. When it comes to your business, you might as well change that lesson to say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but the wrong words can cost me customers.”On the other hand, the right message using the right words is a powerful motivator. Would you feel as confident in a company that promised delivery “sometime this week-ish” as you would in the company that says, “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” What about the company that tells you their cereal is the “breakfast of the average Joe.” It’s a little more inspiring to eat like a champion, isn’t it?

While your tagline or slogan might be your most visible form of verbal communication, they aren’t the only ones that have an impact on your customers. All the words you choose in your ads, on your website, or in your signage should be carefully considered. And the good news is, you don’t have to have an advanced degree in English or creative writing to craft effective copy for your business. By following a few basic rules, you can keep your stress to a minimum when you’re deciding how to word your advertising.

1. Check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
Okay, it’s not going to help you develop the next award-winning slogan, and your customers may not even be aware that you’re being so diligent. However, they’ll certainly notice when you’re not. Proper grammar, correct spelling, and appropriate punctuation help you look professional, which gives your customers a reason to trust you. If you don’t feel confident in these areas, run your copy by the nearest English major. Or your fifth grade teacher–you know, the one who had an unnatural enthusiasm for diagramming sentences.

2. Shoot for a 6th to 8th grade reading level.
We certainly hope that the majority of Americans have the ability to read more sophisticated copy, but when it comes to advertising or marketing, it’s not the time to bust out your best graduate-level writing. Using shorter sentences and common phrasing means readers don’t have to do as much work to understand what you’re saying. And the easier it sinks in, the easier it is for your customer to remember and act on your advertising.

3. Tell them what to do.
People in the sales profession are familiar with this concept. You have to ask for the sale. Your marketing copy is no different. Give your customers clear instruction: call our toll-free number, visit our website, come by our store today. Don’t be shy about using details and action-oriented language. The more descriptive you can be, the more responsive your audience will be.

4. Avoid jargon.
Every business has jargon, and it doesn’t help that much of it involves confusing acronyms. If you work in the healthcare industry, you probably hear HIPPA and EOB multiple times a day. Or maybe you remember the line from Good Morning Vietnam, “Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn’t we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? ‘Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we’d all be put out in K.P.” Don’t use these kinds of words in your marketing copy unless you have to. While some of your customers will be familiar with your industry’s language, not everyone is. Plus, when you start throwing around jargon, you give your customers the opportunity to disconnect from what you’re writing. Keep them connected and invested in what you have to say with words that are relevant to them.

5. Keep your customers in mind.
No one knows your customers the way you do, which means you know what they respond to best. Are they the, “Hey, bro, how’s it hanging?” crowd, or would they respond better to, “Good afternoon, Ma’am. May I interest you in an amazing sale price?” Write like you’re standing in front of your favorite customer having a conversation.

Of course, if writing is intimidating to you, or you don’t have time, or you just want that special touch, you can always hire a professional copywriter. These people are experienced in developing advertising language that’s engaging and compelling. They know how to massage text to appeal to your core group of customers without turning off the general public.

The right copy makes a real difference in your advertising. Written words are a powerful way to connect to your customer. Choosing copy that resonates with your target audience establishes trust, an important factor in any relationship. While writing marketing copy can seem like a daunting challenge, if you stick to the basics and follow the rules, you might find yourself enjoying the creative process.