I received an email from a marketing agency last week, which made me laugh and despair at the same time. Perhaps they thought I would be impressed by the complex language and jargon, or encouraged to work with them thanks to their access to “doctorate level segmentation analytics” and ability to “finesse paradigms”.
My first thought was not to take up their offer of a “mutually beneficial collab” but to wonder whether they would be able to communicate clearly with consumers if asked to.
All companies, in whatever industry, have a duty to keep things simple. And simple language is something we have struggled with in the protection world. When it comes to clear communications I always try to stick to three rules.
First, use the customer’s language. Most people do not talk in passive language so why use the passive voice in communications? If possible, dictate the first draft before refining the copy at the editing stage. That way you will write like you talk and clients will appreciate the simplicity.
Second, have a no tolerance policy for jargon and management speak. “Customer journeys” and “value propositions” may be tolerable around the corporate meeting room table but not in stuff you want customers to read.
Third, do not fall victim to the curse of knowledge. When you work in an industry day in, day out you learn the language of that industry as you would Spanish or French. You will also know all the acronyms.
It is easy to assume everyone has the same level of knowledge but they do not. Always assume no knowledge at all and work from the most basic facts first. It can be difficult to follow these rules all the time. Take critical illness, for example. We have to use complex medical words in definitions in order to decide whether to pay a claim. But few outside the medical profession know what they mean.
An American insurance company called Lemonade is doing a great job keeping things simple. It is a masterclass in following my three rules. Here is how it describes what it does with insurance premiums: “Lemonade keeps a fixed 20 per cent fee. This pays for developing loads of cool tech, paying our team’s salaries and hopefully making some profit!”
And here is what it says about what it covers: “Your policy covers you for 16 bad things, or perils, and also covers extra living expenses if one of those covered things happens. For example, if a kitchen fire forces you out of your apartment or condo, or your upstairs neighbour leaves a faucet running all day and it’s now raining inside your apartment – you may need to get a hotel.”
It is not perfect. It uses some passive language on its website but I forgive it that little lapse. Lemonade only does home and contents insurance at the moment. But I am intrigued. If we were to rewrite our critical illness policies in the same style, how much simpler could the language we use get?
Roger Edwards is managing director of Roger Edwards Marketing and marketing director of Protection Review