Marketing content is full of abstract words and phrases that readers, and buyers, can’t stand. So, what do these abstractions look like, and how can concrete language help? We break everything down in this post.
Have you ever started to read something and then, after you get about halfway through, you realize you have no idea what on earth you’re reading? Sure, you might have a vague awareness about the topic. But you’re not actually comprehending any of it. If anything, the writing introduces more questions than it answers.
If you’ve experienced this, you’ve experienced abstract writing.
What is Abstract Writing?
Abstract writing is writing that is full of words or phrases that obscure clarity. These abstractions represent the concept or point the writer is trying to make. But instead of getting to the point, they dance around it, leaving the reader frustrated and full of unanswered questions.
If you’re a writer, this is a problem because if you don’t answer those questions, the reader will give up and stop reading.
Why Abstract Content is Bad for Business
Abstract writing is particularly bad if you use writing to sell things. Like the way a business uses content marketing.
If potential customers stop reading your content, how will they learn about you? How will they know what makes you different from your competitors? How will they feel compelled to pay for your product or service?
It seems obvious that businesses would understand this. It seems obvious that, as a result, they would make sure their content wasn’t turning away readers.
Nope. The reality is that BUSINESSES ABSOLUTELY LOVE ABSTRACT WRITING.
Why So Much B2B Content is Abstract
I know what you’re thinking. Surely, businesses don’t love abstract content. Well, if they don’t love it, then why is it all over websites, ads, blogs, case studies, emails, LinkedIn bios and anywhere else content can be found?
Think back on your own experience. When was the last time you got tired of reading and just skimmed a business’s homepage or case study? When was the last time you gave up and hit the back button? It happens every day and abstract writing is the reason.
But here’s the thing – even though businesses seem to love abstract writing, it’s not their fault. It’s not anybody’s fault. This is because we’ve all been conditioned to think this is what B2B content writing should be. We all think abstract words and phrases are what people want to read. But they are not and we’re going to see why right now.
Examples of Abstract Marketing Content
So, what does abstract writing look like? I went ahead and dug up some examples of common words and phrases. Stuff that pops up in B2B, and even B2C, marketing content repeatedly. Not extensive by any means but it should give you an idea:
- Drive business
- One stop shop
- Do more with less/in less
- Plug and play
- One solution for…
We’ve all seen words and phrases like these, and we all use them. It’s what makes it easy to write stuff like:
[OUR B2B COMPANY] helps [YOU, THE CUSTOMER] drive business forward with one proven, flexible solution for all of your [INDUSTRY] needs, streamlining operations and optimizing [WHATEVER IT IS YOU DO].
The problem, though, is that the sentence above doesn’t tell the reader anything. It’s vague, full of business-speak and doesn’t sound like a human being. This makes it instantly forgettable. So, how do we fix it?
Turning Abstract Writing into Concrete Marketing Language
Whenever I encounter abstractions like the ones in the above list (even in my own writing) I ask myself questions like “what kind?” or “how much?”. Here are a few examples to show you what I mean.
Look at the word “results” in this sentence:
Company A helps technology companies maximize results with intelligent, plug and play solutions.
What does results mean here? Does it mean leads? Does it mean sales? If so, how many leads or how many sales? How can we define the word “results”, so the reader has a better idea of what we’re talking about? How about this:
Company A helps technology companies maximize monthly leads with intelligent, plug and play solutions.
Even that slight tweak makes the sentence more interesting. The reader has something to grab onto. Maximize monthly leads? Is that possible? How do you do that? Now they’re interested in what you have to say. If we wanted to go further, we’d do the same for “plug and play solutions.”
Here’s another example. This is the kind of marketing content a business will use in its core messaging:
ABC Systems intelligent software solutions help companies overcome their biggest challenges, empowering innovation and driving business forward.
We’ve all seen value props like this. What is this company trying to say? Who does their product help? What does it help people do? The reason we don’t know is because the language is too abstract. Instead of just coming out and saying it, the company hides behind broad generalizations.
Here it is again, but with slightly more concrete language:
ABC Systems builds custom software solutions that help accounting departments streamline operations by automating manual, redundant processes.
This is clearer. We now have an idea of what ABC Systems does, who they help and what kind of problems they solve. We even get some hints about why their customers would need them. But there’s still something wrong.
It uses too many big words.
Most experts agree that you should write at a 5th grade reading level. That means shorter, simpler sentences and words. Let’s do that to our example:
ABC software helps accounting teams work faster by automating the tasks they don’t have time for.
Much better. This is closer in style to how people talk to one another. As a result, it comes across as genuine, not stuffy or corporate. (An easy way to test how “genuine” your writing sounds is to read it out loud.)
But does it read at a 5th grade level?
According to the above screenshot from Hemingway App, it reads at a 4th grade level, so we’re good!
Another thing you may notice, I eliminated the word “solutions.” Solutions is a popular word in B2B writing but it’s very abstract. Besides, in this example it is the software that solves the problem, not the abstract-sounding solution. We should say it that way.
One final thing I want to touch on. This sentence is also a good example of showing rather than telling with your writing. You don’t have to say something like “streamline operations” if you can show what streamlining operations actually means. Like by saying: work faster by automating the tasks you don’t have time for.
Conclusion: Be Concrete.
If you use abstract words, it seems like you’re trying to hide behind them. This makes you look unsure and readers will pick up on your uncertainty. Would you buy from someone that came across as unsure about their product? Would you give your email to someone like that? Would you give your email to a website like that?
One way to force yourself to be concrete is to write shorter sentences. Think of facts. Facts don’t need flowery language or embellishment. They stand on their own. If you want to be convincing, write like you’re stating a fact. Again, Hemingway App is great for this. Which reminds me, how easy was this blog to read?
Nice, thank god.
You now have a better idea how to spot abstract content and turn it into concrete terms. Now, get out there and start making sense. Good luck!