Business writing

Writing is a core creative and communication skill you can use to improve the impact of your business. In this guide, we give an overview of the key uses of business writing skills for marketing. We cover basic principles of business writing, such as having a clear purpose and how to think about the structure of your writing. And we close with the importance of writing drafts and editing.

How to start writing

How this guide raises your game.

1. Understand where business writing skills have the most impact on marketing. 

2. Learn about the importance of purpose and structure in business writing.

3. Read about the importance of writing drafts and editing. 

Reading and writing are basic life skills for most people.

But business writing takes the skill of writing to another level. It’s much more of a challenge to create, commission or critique writing that has to persuade and influence customers to engage with, and buy your brand.

Business writing is a skill you can learn and continually improve.

You can use it to influence your target audience, make your brand stand out, improve the way consumers interact and experience your brand and have a long-term impact on brand sales.

In this guide, we’ll show how you can improve these key areas of marketing with good business writing skills. 

Then we’ll go on to cover the importance of having a clear purpose and structure for your business writing. Then, we close off with a look at the process of writing. In particular, we focus on the skill of editing and the value it adds to business writing.  

ountain pen writing on lined page

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The role of writing for marketing

There are three key areas of marketing where good business writing plays an especially important role.

Firstly, the tone of voice and style of writing you use will play an important part in how you create your brand identity. 

Then, in many parts of your brand activation like your advertising and your website, good writing is key to improve your chances of achieving your communication objectives. 

And finally as many parts of your customer experience may involve sharing information, good writing skills can help you remove pain points from the customer journey. 

Business writing - three key roles for marketing

Writing and brand identity

Our guide to brand identity shows that your brand is made up of a collection of intangible and tangible assets.

These are either mandatory (rules) or optional (playbook). Writing plays a key role in each of these areas.

Your target audience will read what you write about your brand, or on behalf of your brand and use it as a way to position your brand. What you write defines what your brand is and what it stands for. 

Business writing about your brand brings to life intangible brand assets, both mandatory and optional. 

Brand identity asset classification examples

The way you write about your brand on your packaging, your website or in your advertising helps demonstrate your essence, your values and your personality.

The way you write about your brand is called the tone of voice of the brand. This tone of voice creates mental associations for the reader.

These associations should be consistent with the intended brand identity. The words you choose, the way you structure those words and the way you link words together. Together, these create a tone of voice that consumers “see” and “hear” in their minds. It’s as if you were talking directly to them face-to-face.

Let’s look at how this works with a quick example. 

Brand identity and tone of voice example

Let’s imagine you work for a business that sells children’s educational books and you work on Brand A. You define your brand values as credible, authoritative and knowledgeable. Your target audience are parents who want their children to succeed in life through education and making well-informed choices. 

When you write for Brand A, your tone of voice needs to reflect these values.

With this tone of voice, you are more likely to use facts, evidence and references to back-up what you say.

 

Young Girl reading book

The structure of your business writing will be logical and well-thought out. The topics you cover will be substantial and tangible. You’ll tend to use longer sentences and longer paragraphs.

Now imagine, you instead work on Brand B.

Brand B also sells children’s educational books. But Brand B’s values are quite different. Brand B is fun, enthusiastic and exciting. The target audience for Brand B are parents who want their children to enjoy the simple pleasure of reading. They want to use education to stimulate their child’s creativity and imagination. 

Same industry. But different target audience and positioning. So, the writing tone of voice will be quite different for each brand.  

For Brand B, the words you choose will sound less serious. The sentences will be more playful. And shorter. The topics will talk more to emotions and imagination than cold hard reality. You’ll use words that are easier for the reader to understand. Your tone of voice is very different to Brand A.

Example tone of voice – Brand A vs brand B

Let’s apply these two different tones of voice to an example writing task. 

Look at the image of the girl reading in the picture. Imagine you had to write about that image for Brand A and Brand B. 

For Brand A, as it has to reflect your brand values of credible, authoritative and knowledgeable, you might write something like this. 

This book increases the likelihood this girl will excel academically, because as the evidence shows, reading serves to improve cognitive function.

 

Business writing - Brand tone of voice example

But if you analyse this sentence, you can see it’s fairly complex. Using an online text analysis tool, we can see that the sentence is 21 words long. It has four complex words, that’s words of 3 or more syllables. And its average syllables per word is 1.86. Because of the relative complexity of words like ‘academically’ and ‘cognitive’, this sentence requires a more advanced level of reading knowledge to follow.

But, jump over to Brand B, with its brand values of fun, enthusiastic and exciting. Your copy might read something like this.

Shhhh! Imagination at work. Right now, this girl’s deep inside the dragon’s dungeon. She’s ready to take back the treasure that’s rightfully hers.

See the difference?

Here, we’ve written about the same picture, with almost the same number of words.

But we’ve broken it down into four separate sentences. It’s much easier to read four short sentences, than one long one. We only have 2 complex words this time. And the average syllables are less at 1.43.

Using shorter sentences and shorter words helps ‘lighten’ the feel of the copy. Using more informal language like shhhh and and the exclamation mark, makes the copy feel more casual. It’s much less formal and stuffy than the writing for Brand A.

That’s how you start to articulate the tone of voice part of your brand identity.

Brand guidelines

As we cover in the brand identity guide, you should document the rules and playbook for the brand in a brand book.

You should include guidelines for copywriting in this brand book, and refer back to the brand values and personality. 

Ideally, you would include some examples of Do’s and Don’ts to guide anybody who will write for your brand in the future.

These should include examples of what would be acceptable and what wouldn’t. Your aim is to drive consistency of style. 

Brand identity book contents

For example, how formal or informal should the language be? Are there specific terms or names which writers should use consistently? Do you aim for longer more complex sentences to show knowledge? Or shorter sentences to make it easier to understand?

When you set these rules for writing, you make sure that your brand has a consistent tone of voice against all future projects that need business writing. Ideally, you then apply these guidelines into your brand activation activities.

Writing and brand activation

The second area of marketing where business writing makes an impact is in brand activation.

Writing has a role to play in all parts of the marketing mix, but it is most commonly found in the area of promotion. At heart, writing is a communication skill. 

As we cover in our marketing communication skills guide, the role of communication and promotions is to move people though the brand choice funnel.

So, business writing as a part of marketing communications plays a similar role. The objective of most business writing usually relates to the relevant stage of the funnel. 

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

Trust and awareness

When you want to build trust and attract or capture the attention of consumers through advertising, copywriting forms a key part of the message that you want consumers to notice and remember. 

This could be as simple as your origin story. Or your credentials that prove you can do what you claim. And in advertising, it could be a headline, a slogan or a memorable piece of copy that makes consumers take notice of your brand. 

If done badly, with business writing that shows you haven’t understood your target audience or that’s full or mistakes and errors, you run the risk of losing your audience at the first hurdle. 

But, when done well, great advertising copy can have a major impact on the quality of your brand activation. It’s a very specific business writing skill, that we cover in more detail in its own separate guide.

Consideration

While advertising is great for capturing the attention of your audience, the job of persuading and influencing them to actually buy your brand often requires more than a snappy line of advertising copy. 

So, when you write blogs that are either educational or entertaining for your target audience, you make it more likely your brand will appeal to your target audience. You create opportunities for your audience to engage with your brand. This type of business writing helps reinforce and validate your brand positioning and brand identity. It makes consumers think more favourably about your brand. 

We cover more on the specific writing skill for blogs in its own separate skill guide.

Writing for search

But there’s also a related and interdependent skill which is writing for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).

This skill overlaps with the marketing expertise area of secondary research. Because search Keyword research is a secondary research skill that helps you understand the search behaviour of your target audience. 

But SEO writing also overlaps with the area of marketing technology. You can use software and systems like Yoast or SEMrush to make it more likely your writing will be found on search engines.

Because for your business writing to have an impact in key areas like websites and online stores, consumers need to be able to find it. 

Research on your own using tools from Google

Trial and loyalty

Finally, unless you work in a business or industry where you talk directly to the purchaser, your business writing also needs to persuade your target audience to try and buy your product. In e-Commerce in particular, you need your product copy at the point of purchase to persuade the consumer to buy. There are many ways to do this. It’s a specific skill to write sales copy that we cover in its own separate guide.

But even when you have that sale, you have to consider that you ideally want to create loyal consumers. You want consumers to come back again. The best customers are the ones who keep coming back to your brand because you meet their needs again and again. 

A big part of creating this loyalty is the ‘conversation’ that you have with these consumers through CRM activities like e-mail marketing and through social media content. This also requires good business writing skills to write for these loyal consumers and maintain their good customer experience. 

Writing and customer experience

The final marketing area where writing plays a role then is customer experience. This is similar to brand activation. It also tries to move customers through a journey.

But, there are more specific business writing jobs to be done at each stage of the customer experience compared to brand activation. 

This might be the Call to Action on your advertising copy for example. The Call to Action is a clear statement of what you want the reader to do next. Visit your website. Click this link. Visit our store. Contact us.

Good business writing skills focus on making this key element crystal clear to improve the customer experience.

Customer Experience Journey Map

But also, think about the role of your website in the customer experience and where business writing skills can help there.

There are many interactions the consumer might have with your website that are not necessarily brand activations. But which make the customer experience better.

For example, when you write clear privacy policies and terms and conditions pages, you help consumers evaluate if your brand is trustworthy and credible.

When you write a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section for example, you help the customer experience by removing the need to contact you directly.

So, business writing plays a role to improve your brand identity, brand activation and the customer experience. That’s mostly about you, though. 

The next key question then is what does business writing actually do for your target audience.

Writing for your target audience

The most successful business writing comes from a deep understanding of the target audience and what they need. When you are clear what people need, what issue or problem they have, you can write content that solves an issue or problem for them. 

This makes your writing more relevant. And relevance is key when it comes to whether consumers will actually read your writing or not. If it’s relevant to the consumers, they are more likely to read your writing. It’s more likely to mean something to them.

It’s an important part of good business writing that you write with the target audience in mind. Try to understand what will make your reader think, feel or do something different because of what you write. 

To get to this level of understanding, you should refer to the customer persona that we cover in the guide to customer experience.

You create this persona through a mix of market research skills and through choices made in the segmentation, targeting and positioning process. Its aim is to visually bring to life the target consumer. 

From a business writing point of view, it directs you towards the type of content and the style of writing that will most appeal to your target audience.

It makes your writing more efficient, more effective and more impactful when you write with a specific target audience and specific need in mind. 

Customer Experience Personal Template Blank.001

The purpose of your business writing

For each piece of writing that you create, you should have a clear purpose related back to one or more of your brand identity, brand activation or customer experience goals. Does your writing need to make your audience think more positively about your brand? Is it to inform or influence the reader? So they think, feel or do something differently? Or, is it just to make an experience easier or better for the consumer? 

If you don’t know what your writing is for, then it’s unlikely your audience will be able to work it out either. For every piece of business writing, you should be clear on why the reader should care about it. Why would they give up their time to read it? What’s in it for them? 

The value of reciprocity

When you write content for your target audience, and do it with their needs and wants in mind, you are giving them something of value. Whether that’s information or an entertaining experience. But in return, they give you their time, the time to read your writing. So, you need to consider carefully what you want the outcome of this time spent to be. If the target audience read your writing, but then don’t do anything with it, it’s effectively a ‘dead end’ from a customer experience point of view.

Good business writing doesn’t have these dead ends. 

You should aim to meet the needs of your consumers, obviously. But also leave them with either a better opinion of your brand or a clear next step (call to action) to move down the brand choice funnel. You can help to clarify and define which of these it is and what the writing needs to do for your brand and audience by first, writing a brief for the writing itself. 

The communication brief

When you create or commission a piece of writing, it is helpful to plan ahead. You should aim to put some structure into the task of business writing.

If it’s part of a bigger project like new advertising or a website, you’ll probably already have written a communication brief to summarise the objective and intent of the project. 

But even a stand-alone writing project, say a blog or article can benefit from having a clear brief. The brief reinforces five key elements that help set the writing within the context of your business and brand. 

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

Five key elements of the brief

The brief covers core elements of your brand identity like the essence, personality and values. As we showed above, these influence the tone of voice of the writing. The brief also covers the business, marketing and communication objectives. These set the goals and measures for the piece of writing. What is the change in thinking, feeling or doing that you need to happen as an outcome from the writing? How will you evaluate the impact?

The brief also then covers the rationale. These are the reason why and the reason to believe that help support the key message or messages of the brief. What is the evidence that sits behind the key communication message or messages that the writing needs to land?

And finally, the brief needs to set the specific project scope of the writing. How long does the writer have to complete the piece? What is the budget for writing it? And who has overall approval of the end result? 

From a business writing point of view, there are some extra considerations that you would include in a writing specific brief. For example, what is the media context of where and how the writing will be read? What are the limitations brought about by the context of the writing? Are there specific touchpoint considerations that will impact the writing? 

Static written content

If the writing is for a printed advert for example, you will have limited space available on the page or poster. It’ll need to fit around photography and / or graphic design elements. 

You will likely have a minimum and maximum word limit if it’s part of a media campaign with a fixed space. And even if it’s on your own website where you will have more flexibility in terms of space, there may still be limits on the amount of words you can use depending on how your Content Management System is set-up. 

Spoken video content

If your business writing appears as part of video content, then you have to consider how it sounds when it is read aloud as opposed to written on a screen. 

Viewers have short attention spans, so business writing that ends up in video content needs to be concise, attention-grabbing and distinctive. It needs to sound natural and not stilted or awkward. 

Writing for specific touchpoints

If your business writing is for copy on packaging, there will again be limitations on the space available. But you’ll also likely have to include certain text to meet legal requirements.

For example warning statements and contact information. Some categories like food or medicine also mandate use by dates, ingredients and nutritional information for example. 

For certain parts of your website like your policies and terms and conditions, you’ll need to make sure the business writing is clear and you write in a way that protects the interests of your business. 

When you have this clear purpose in mind for your writing, this helps you define where you want the reader to end up. It helps you define the expected outcome from your business writing. The next step then is to set out the structure. These are the steps in the path your reader needs to follow to reach that end destination. 

The importance of structure in writing

The most basic and common structure in writing is the three-part process of the beginning, the middle and the end.

In very simple terms, the beginning is the first thing the reader sees. The end is the last thing the reader sees. And the middle is everything else. Each of these key parts of the structure has a slightly different role to play. 

The beginning

The first thing your reader sees is clearly important. It decides whether the reader will read the rest of the content or not. It sets the tone and expectations for the rest of the content. 

In marketing and e-Commerce, it’s particularly challenging. Consumers are exposed to thousands of advertising and sales messages every day.

Your writing needs to be able to stand-out and cut-through the noise from all the competing writing that’s out there.

Because if it doesn’t, it’ll end up ignored. No-one will ever see it.

Three stones - marketing creative - selling

In the past you may have had 30 seconds to land your message in a TV ad. Now, the average consumer decides in the first few seconds whether an ad is relevant or not. We’ve seen a huge increase in recent years of 6 second advertising thanks to You Tube. That’s 6 seconds to land your message. If you assume 2 words per second, that means you need to land your message in twelve words or less, That’s eight words LESS than the sentence you’ve just read.

Make an impact right away

So, when you write, particularly for advertising, you need your opening sentence or statement to capture attention. To make an impact. Make it clear to the reader what they will get from reading the content. Will it inform them so they can solve a problem? Will it entertain them, so they have a great experience? 

The beginning of many piece of business writing needs to make a definitive statement to the reader. It’s not an area where you should be hesitant or unclear. 

Be bold. 

Be creative. 

Make it clear what the reader can expect. Make it clear why the reader should read more. 

The end

So, we’ve deliberately skipped over the middle section, because in terms of importance, the end is the second most important part of the writing structure. It’s what the reader is most likely to remember.

You want the end of your writing to wrap up any key points you’ve made in the middle. But end with a clear and simple outcome. 

And if the purpose of the writing needs the reader to then think, feel or do something different, make sure the end of the writing makes it easier for that to happen. 

If it’s a click or a link to a website for example, make sure that naturally flows from the end of the writing. If it’s a specific behaviour, then use the end of the writing to encourage the reader to act on that behaviour. 

Good endings are important in business writing. 

The middle

It seems a little obvious to say the ‘middle’ of the writing structure is then what links the beginning and the end. But it is. 

And it’s also important. It’s where the biggest quantity of writing in terms of words, ideas and concepts will sit. But because of that, it’s also the area where if you don’t get it quite right, there’s less obvious impact.

It’s more forgiving of getting it wrong. Because there’s more writing there. And the good points can cover any minor bad points. 

You need to think about the key points you need to land during this middle section. It often helps to write out an outline of how you will talk through the key points.

This outline should list the key points in an order which feels natural to the reader. When you have an outline, it helps to link together key points in a way that makes the reader want to move from one point to the next, before you fill in the details. 

When you do this outline before you write the detail, it gives the middle section a sense of order and logical progression from one point to the next. It stops you writing a rambling series of unconnected points that don’t link back to the overall goal.

Because, that happens a lot. 

We know from experience. 

Writing drafts and editing

Writing for professional and business purposes is generally an iterative process. It starts with the writer writing a first draft.

This draft is then reviewed and critiqued in a stage of editing. An editing stage tightens up the draft and proposes and makes changes to make the writing sharper, clearer and more impactful. This draft – editing loop can have several rounds before the writing is approved. 

This draft – editing process can transform average writing to great writing. But it’s a tough and very detail-focussed part of writing. It takes thought and experience to work on how to improve the impact of the writing. 

But it all starts with the first draft. 

Write your first draft long …

While having a clear purpose and a clear brief is a good start to the business writing process, it doesn’t actually deliver any words on the page. 

With both purpose and brief in mind, if you are the one who has to write to meet the brief, it can be a challenge to know how and where to start.

As a creative skill, writing is quite unpredictable. 

 

Woman writing at old desk

Sometimes, the words will just flow as ideas are sparked in your head from the purpose and brief. But other times, there’s the horror of the blank page. The horror of the mental block and nothing coming to mind. Whichever situation you find yourself in, when it’s a first draft, your aim is just to get something down on paper. Something. Anything. Because here’s a golden rule of writing that’s not often shared.

First drafts will be rubbish.

But second drafts will be better than first drafts. And any subsequent drafts will likely improve the quality and impact of your writing. So, whatever comes out at the first draft stage, doesn’t matter too much. And a rubbish first draft is still better than a blank page. 

Everyone expects the editing and re-drafting process to make the writing better. There will be a sweet spot in terms of the number of drafts where you just can’t make it any better. But to get started, just write something down that’s at least vaguely in the direction of your writing objective. 

You’ll often find that once you start writing your first draft, it’s like breaking a dam. You’ll suddenly find words, ideas and concepts pouring out, until you can do no more. And then you’ll read back what you’ve written and realise it’s (a) probably too long for what you need and (b) the structure of what you’ve written isn’t doing what you need it to do. 

And that’s good. Because that’s where editing comes in. 

Editing is the skill that makes your business writing next level

Writing the words on the page is really only the first half of the skill of writing.

Editing those words together so that they ‘fit’ together properly takes writing to the next level. When you can edit writing so that it flows, inspires and informs, it takes that rubbish first draft and polishes it into something much more valuable.

The aim of the editing process is to refine writing through correcting, connection and simplifying where possible. 

Correct

At the very basic level, editing lets you go back and correct spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes.

You should check that all the points make sense and that you haven’t contradicted yourself. Anyone who has written a first draft and then gone back and read it later will recognise all these common quality issues in a first draft.

Connect

But editing when you have version of the full piece of writing, also then helps you connect pieces together better.

 

Write without fear

When you write a first draft, you don’t know for sure what the end will be. Or what you will say later in the writing. When you edit the first draft into the second draft, you do know what the end will be. You can refer to what’s coming much more easily. You can make direct references to what is coming or give hints if you want to create a sense of intrigue.

Simplify

And then finally, editing should aim to simplify where possible. When you read something, your brain is in an active state. It takes energy to read. That’s why you rarely read a book from beginning to end, unless it’s very short. There’s only so much reading your brain can handle in one stint. So to make it easier for the reader, the more you can streamline your writing, the easier you make the process of reading for them. 

It’s draining to read long sentences, with fancy words. Shorter sentences are easier to process. Simpler words are easier to process. 

Editing tips

Whether you edit your own writing or you are critiquing a piece of writing from an agency to approve it, you should aim to get into the habit of correcting, connecting and simplifying. Simplifying in particular is where the editor often adds the most value.

When you edit, you should ask if there’s a simpler word you can use. Can you cut words out and still have the same meaning? The shorter and punchier you can write to land a key message, the better for your reader. That’s not to say you should always aim for short words and sentences. Your brand identity might suit a more verbose and academic style. 

But as a general rule of thumb in business writing, shorter is better. And editing is the key skill, that gets you to short and impactful writing. 

No-one will thank you when you use long words and over-elaborate sentences to show off your knowledge. 

Active voice

In particular, you should aim to write in the active voice rather than the passive voice where possible. Your sentence structure should be subject-verb where possible. This is much easier to read. Look for variations of “is”, “are” and “were” in the writing and see if you can flip the order round to make it more active. 

Kill adverbs

You should also be very careful with adverbs. Adverbs are usually unnecessary in business writing. Unless they change the meaning of the verb, you should try to avoid them. Look for words that end in “ly” and question if they add real value to the sentence. If the sentence still means the same without it, kill the adverb. No-one will miss it. 

This editing skill to go back and rearrange take words out can be a challenge. Especially, it you write and then edit your own work. You get attached to words, because they’re your words, your creation. It’s always a good idea to get someone else to read your writing and help with the editing. You want to get a different viewpoint and perspective. Professional editors can be invaluable sources of feedback to raise your writing game. 

In our view, this ability of editing to make writing shorter, tighter and more specific is what separates average writing from great writing. 

Business writing conclusion

In this guide, we’ve covered the key areas of marketing where you should consider the use of business writing skills as a way to grow and improve your business.

Across brand identity, brand activation and customer experience, business writing skills can attract and engage audiences. They can persuade and influence consumers to buy.

We covered why having a clear purpose for the writing helps you to focus the writing process on creating relevant content.

Man writing blue shirt

And why then having a good structure or outline for your messages helps you take the reader towards that end purpose or goal.

Then finally, we outlined the basic experiences of writing. Where you start with a first draft that you know will need more work before it reaches the required standard. And how editing adds value and improves the quality of your writing. This editing process to make your writing clear and concise is very important.

And on the subject of ‘very’ important, we want to close off with one of our favourite editing quotes from Mark Twain.

We’re damn sure that’s a great way to end this guide on business writing.  

“Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Three-brains and writing

We have a lot of experience and expertise in business writing.

From creating and commissioning writing to the editing and refining of it for marketing and e-Commerce purposes.

We specialise in coaching and advising on how to raise your business writing skills. Whether you use writers, manage it in-house or want to build your own writing skills, we can help. 

If you want to know more about how we can support your business writing needs  through our coaching and consulting services, click the button below to get in touch.

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