Writing Copy Even Grandma Will Love

Grandma is frustrated

It just happened again.

I’m reading, but I’m not getting it. Maybe if I continue to read, all will become clear.


I feel dumb.

Obviously, there is something I’m missing. It’s my fault. I’ll read it again.

Nope, still not getting it.

The pictures look great, nice web design. Looks like a trustworthy company.

Keep your money, Chris. Maybe somebody can explain it to me later (if I remember).

Sorry friend, you’ve just lost the sale.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the jargon, the industry short-hand, the acronyms—especially in a technical field. But you have to remember that your audience is not entirely made up of people exactly like you. Your prospects will not become customers or clients if they don’t understand what you’re saying.

We might know our widgets from our thingamajigs. That doesn’t mean every reader will. The person who wants the thing isn’t always the person who decides if it should be bought. Sound familiar?

If you can’t pre-qualify your audience before presenting your message, then you are going to need to take the time to explain a few things. You won’t lose customers by making your copy too clear, but you just might by making it too complicated. Keep things simple and clear at all times.

Now don’t think I am expecting you to dumb your copy down. This is not about writing for children. Just get a second opinion, preferably from a non-niche-geek. Perhaps from your Mom or Dad, your spouse, or your assistant.

Maybe even Grandma—the ultimate test.

A confused prospect is unlikely to make you their first choice, and odds are the sale is lost forever at that point. Plus, you want to convey the impression that you are someone who is easy to work with, and unwieldy copy at first interaction is not getting off on the right foot.

Hey, if you make your message easy to understand, it becomes not only easy to buy from you, it’s also easier for others to spread the word. That’s the word-of-mouth bonus you need for spectacular growth, and simplicity is the key.

Simple ideas simply work better. What can you simplify today?

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Reader Comments (45)

  1. says

    Yup, thats right…i have had clients asking me about meanings of words in the write-up! its easy to present yourself as complicated, but it does not serve the purpose…it is not good to “incite” these values, i mean take in these values….hehe…

  2. says

    Heh, yeah while we can fall in love with our own poetic and technically correct writing, if our prospects don’t understand what good is it? :)

  3. says

    Great thoughts, Chris.

    I used to make it a habit to run my pitches for software projects by my wife and kids — slides and all. My kids would ask lots of questions, some even about the presentation :)

    But it did help me make sure I wasn’t being overly complex. One of my favorite quotes on the subject is from Denzel Washington’s character Joe Miller in Philadelphia:

    “Now, explain it to me like I’m a four-year-old.”

  4. says

    We can almost always simplify our headlines, as you’ve taught many a person before (including me).

    Strip out those personal ramblings that no-one’s interested in outside your immediate family.

    Thanks for this, Chris.

  5. says

    Great reminder, Chris. It’s almost common sense, but a lot of us do get so wrapped up in our own little industry niches that we sometimes forget that insider jargon isn’t everyday language for most of the planet.

  6. a person says

    It’s not even jargon that can throw you. I’ve often had to read blog posts over and over where a word was omitted, like *not*, or there was a mixing up of he’s & she’s, typos that created totally different words, etc. Small problems that were easy to correct. But it was a huge time waster for me and the passage remained woefully unclear until I started throwing in random words to make it work.

  7. says

    I always run copy by folks in the office and ask them to read it with these questions in mind – Do you understand it? Does it flow? Do you want to keep reading?

    Any word or phrase that makes someone stop is immediately rewritten, no matter how much I may personally like it.

  8. says

    Spot on. It’s so easy to forget that readers don’t always have the same technical knowledge as the writer. After spending the day dealing with people in the industry, you can get acclimated to people knowing what you’re talking about, and thus forget when to turn it off.

    The funny thing is, the company I’m on contract with specializes in computer skills training and helping small business owners put up a site, and I keep seeing coworkers and even our website being guilty of talking way over the heads of our clients. I vividly remember a recent meeting where the client remarked “you guys know more about this than me; you keep mentioning ‘metatags’, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

    Always nice to have a helpful reminder to scale it back.

  9. says

    Excellent post. Lately, I have been struggling with some of the copy surrounding our product, and imagining my grandmother trying to understand it will be a useful device. If she can read the description of a software product and “get it”, then I have definitely accomplished something. Of course, I’ll have to make the font a little bigger. :)

  10. says

    As someone who’s been touting simple for a long time, I agree with all four thumbs up !

    Too simple sells WAY more than too complicated.

  11. says

    I often run post drafts by family members or friends who are not familiar with the subject matter for this very reason. Nice post, Chris.

    Where’d you get that pic of my grandma!? :)

  12. says

    Amen! I like to quote Albert Einstein to my clients: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” And Winston Churchill: “Short words are best, and the old words when short are best of all.”

  13. says

    Have your feedburner reader plug-in gone crazy again or did a link from Seth’s blog turn into 1.000 subscribers?

    Subs are up about 350 since end of last week, which is a bit better than a normal week (and it’s only Wednesday), so I’m sure Seth helped. Remember, Feedburner sub numbers dip on the weekends and don’t correct until Tuesdays, so the rise always looks dramatic. 😉

  14. says

    One of my favorite biz bloggers K wrote about this same thing, making a great point: “Within a week of working in an industry you already know more and care more than your average customer.” Good to keep in mind- here’s the link to her post:

  15. Geoff says

    Another point to remember is that is often marketing folks think that when they right for B2B that they can get away with a lot of jargon…to establish authority or some such rubbish. I’ve been a steadfast believer that executives are people too. Busy people even. And if they have to weed through pounds of big-talkin’ to get to the real content, you’ve got them working too hard. Nobody, I mean nobody, likes to read jargon-thick copy, but everybody wants to use it.

  16. says

    “Nobody, I mean nobody, likes to read jargon-thick copy, but everybody wants to use it.”

    Jargon has its place. When your audience knows the terms it saves time (for the reader) and makes the communication simpler and more effective. It’s when the audience is unknown or misunderstood that jargon is a bad thing.

  17. says

    Great post and excellent point. I think I need to be more conscious of it when writing my Marxist rants as I seem to have grown familiar with certain words that are common around my socialist circle of friends.

  18. Geoff says

    Good point, Mike. I guess I should’ve been more clear.

    People who use jargon as a means to show they know how to “talk the business” as opposed to letting it naturally occur in the discourse are missing the mark. Having spent years in marketing, I’ve seen this entirely too much. But you are right, when it is actually used to make the communication more simple, it is effective. Some people, I have noticed, have a hard time finding the line.

  19. says

    I will put my hands up and admit to writing things completely undecipherable to anyone but me!

    My new method is to run everything via my partner or Mum they’re both very good at going “Mmm, I don’t get this…”

  20. says

    Your excellent post reminded me of a lesson long ago. A successful journalist I knew, who wrote brilliantly and always in clear, down-to-earth style, told me that when he started as a cadet on a rural newspaper the editor barked at him “You got a grandmother, son?” “Yes,” he replied. “Well write for her.” He said whenever he got stuck he used to picture his grandmother and do just that.

  21. says

    Great post and very true,
    If i can just add,,
    Grandma seems to have mild visual impairment as do most “seniors” and keeping your fonts clear and on the largish side as well as easily read, Will make grandma very happy she found your site.

    This blog is a perfect example.

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