Talking nonsense

I recently spoke to a corporate partner in a fast growing, mid-sized law firm about his ‘partner profile’ for a website. He had provided a particularly long-winded profile, full of legal phrases and jargon, detailing everything from his law school and training to a list of around 30 projects he had advised on.

I rang him up to see if we could whittle down the profile over the phone by being more selective in the information we included, more succinct in how we phrased it, and less jargon-happy.

One of his replies epitomised a classic error that is still prevalent in much professional services copywriting. He said: “But I have to use jargon – that’s how I show people I know what I’m talking about.”

For him, as for many people in professional services, using jargon and buzzwords in his copywriting was like a badge of belonging. He thought it showed he was a ‘serious’ corporate lawyer, an expert in doing deals and putting complex financial packages together.

Simple words, effective messages

Deliberately using jargon, long convoluted sentences and bureaucratic language in your writing, however, shows you are more interested in grand-standing than responding to what your clients want. It suggests a lack of commercial awareness and a dogmatic, unimaginative mindset. Probably not the brand values the firm espouses elsewhere.

Clients don’t choose their professional adviser by the number of words they can fit into a sentence. They don’t opt for the one that baffles them with the most long-winded case notes. Or the one that can quote the most pieces of legislation at them. Copywriting that is impentrable, meandering or just plain dull is a barrier to client engagement and, crucially, it undermines your brand.

Proving you’re an expert is rarely what a client wants to see. They already know you’re an expert. That’s why they looked you up. What makes you stand out is not the level of knowledge you have, but how you use it, how you communicate it and how able you are to apply it to your clients’ specific situation.

It’s not about demonstrating your knowledge; it’s about demonstrating your ability to apply that knowledge to your clients’ needs. And the best place to start is with clear, consistent, concise copywriting that shows you understand what those needs are.