Bad writing and poor readability are costing your business money

Unhappy coffee

Bad writing and poor readability are costly. Your business could be losing thousands, if not more. All because of poorly written content.

I’ve been working in marketing in one form or another for the last 20 years. With every campaign I’ve run, I’ve looked at the return on investment. As any marketer should, I don’t get any prizes for originality there.

In the early days, I looked towards what money was being spent on outside agencies and partners.

  • Was my club night printing enough flyers? Were we printing too many?
  • Has the $5,000 spent on a video been money well spent?
  • Should we employ a freelance graphic artist or should we bring it in-house?

The ‘bring it in-house’ was an expense I never, to be honest, took much notice of until I had a team to manage. When I did, I wanted to demonstrate to my CEO that my team was worth their salary.

To do this, I broke down the time it took for each blog or piece of content to be produced.

We then set targets around the revenue that content would bring in. Our initial marketing spend was targeted at 20% of revenue.

If a blog cost us $250, we’d expect to bring in at least $1,250 of revenue. Multiply this by the year and the expense and goals get much higher.

Expense: $25,000
Expected return: $125,000

I’ll break associated costs down in more detail later in the blog.

If our content had been poorly written, which some of it was, we’d have no chance of pulling in that kind of return.

Success did come, but it wasn’t overnight. But, we put a plan in place that could help us achieve it.

Within two years, our content was returning close to $250,000 a year.

Let’s look at a couple of expensive mistakes. Thankfully, made by other people...

Coleco go out of business

Poor content was a big contributing factor to Coleco going out of business in 1983. The manuals for the new Coleco Adam computer were so unreadable it caused customers to return their computers, en masse.

Users were told by the manuals to put a tape into the drive before turning on the computer. This caused a surge of electricity on startup and erased the tapes… Rendering them useless.

Coleco lost $75 million in a single quarter. It also affected the sales of Toys ‘R’ Us, who reported a 50% year on year loss for the Christmas period.

Hurricane Sandy aid not distributed

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey and destroyed over 40,000 homes. Federal emergency aid of more than $500 billion was issued.

However, more than two years later only a few hundred homes had been built.

What went wrong? Why were so many people still out of a home and living in temporary accommodation?

New Jersey residents complained that aid application documents were too confusing. The docs were contradictory in places and it wasn’t clear what the rules for aid were.

The most saddening aspect is not that a business lost money. It was people not being able to live their lives.

A clear reminder of why writers need to put themselves in the place of the target audience. If documents were written in clear language, personal suffering would not have been as great.

 

How much money?

 

Be aware of how much poor writing is costing you

We’ve just looked at two outcomes of bad writing. To understand the full cost involved, you also have to look at the cost of content production.

A lot of time and resources is spent on content, with most businesses having no idea of what it fully costs them.

If you’re not spending wisely, you’ll end up with a lot of lost opportunities. You’ll then miss out on potential revenue and cause yourself further problems.

Let’s take a look at the potential cost of a single 1,500 word blog.

 

WHO

WHAT

HOW LONG

COST

Marketing Exec

Research and writing

1 day

$173

Second Marketing Exec

Proofreading

1,500/200 words per minute reading time = 7.5 minutes

$3

Chief Marketing Officer

Proofreading

1,500/200 words per minute reading time = 7.5 minutes

$6

Marketing Exec

Editing and rewrite

0.5 days

$58

Second Marketing Exec

Proofreading before sign off

1,500/200 words per minute reading time = 7.5 minutes

$3

Chief Marketing Officer

Proofreading before sign off

1,500/200 words per minute reading time = 7.5 minutes

$6

Total:

$249*

* costs taken from Dice’s salary calculator and based on working in New York

On it’s own, £249 isn’t a lot. But, factor in two blogs a week over the course of the year and you’re looking at a spend of $25,000.

For more meaty projects, like an eBook, the cost is much greater.

WHO

WHAT

HOW LONG

COST

Marketing Exec

Research and writing

10 days

$1,730

Second Marketing Exec

Proofreading, twice

5,000/200 words per minute reading time = 25 minutes x 2 = 50 minutes

$18

Chief Marketing Officer

Proofreading, twice

5,000/200 words per minute reading time = 25 minutes x 2 = 50 minutes

$38

Marketing Exec

Editing and rewrite

2 days

$346

Second Marketing Exec

Proofreading, twice, before sign off

5,000/200 words per minute reading time = 25 minutes x 2 = 50 minutes

$18

Chief Marketing Officer

Proofreading, twice, before sign off

5,000/200 words per minute reading time = 25 minutes x 2 = 50 minutes

$38

Total:

$2,189*

* costs taken from Dice’s salary calculator and based on working in New York

That’s ten times the price of a blog. Producing just one eBook a quarter will cost you around $9,000/year.

Between eBooks and blogs, you’re spending £34,000 a year on writing alone. Granted these are salaried costs, but you still need to be making a return on that investment.

A reduction of between 25% and 50% in time and expense is achievable. But, only if you adopt plain language and readability best practices.

 

Car crash - learn from mistakes

 

Learn from the writing mistakes of the past

Even though Coleco suffered their demise in the 80s, the same problems are still happening.

Let’s look at how a similar situation would pan out today with the fictional Acme FamilyPod. Sold around the world as the next big thing in home tech.

  1. FamilyPod’s setup manuals are hard to understand. They’re full of jargon and have overly complicated descriptions.
  2. This leaves customers not knowing how to do simple things. Like connecting their phone, playing music or controlling their thermostat.
  3. FamilyPod customers go online for guidance.
  4. The online walkthrough guides are just as hard to understand. Explainer videos offer no help and are basically ads for FamilyPod. No valuable information is available the FamilyPod website on how to use the device. All the website talks about is features and price.
  5. Even worse, no support Knowledge Base exists. Online or off.
  6. Customers spend half an hour waiting to speak to someone through FamilyPod’s online chat. Only to be given a link to a PDF of the manual.
  7. Some very frustrated customers manage to call FamilyPod’s support team and clog up the lines.
  8. Internal comms at Acme is even worse than external. Meaning FamilyPod’s support teams are left in the blank about some of its key features. They are of little help to customers.
  9. Both customers and FamilyPod’s support team are left frustrated.
  10. Customers start to return their FamilyPod. Followed by some more, then some more…
  11. Revenue plummets as customers disappear. FamilyPod’s support team don’t enjoy their work and go to find new jobs.
  12. Shareholders panic and sell shares. Those that don’t, want answers.
  13. Acme releases a statement that offers no real apology and no real solution. Maybe they’ve been influenced by Samsung and their pathetic apology for making phones that catch fire.
  14. $17 billion of lost sales are reported. Which is how much Samsung lost with their Galaxy Note7 debacle.
  15. Acme’s CEO resigns.
  16. A plain language operation guide is finally released.
  17. Acme has lost too much ground with the competition. They give up on the FamilyPod.

That’s a worse case scenario, but a realistic one. Completely avoidable too with some easy steps.

Such as:

  1. Internal and external comms are fully planned out and finessed. They are clear and straightforward.
  2. Acme sends out internal comms to the whole company about FamilyPod.
  3. FamilyPod’s support team have plenty of time to read the comms and understand them. Additional internal training takes place to fill in the gaps, with further clear guides being handed out.
  4. FamilyPod is released with an easy to follow user guide.
  5. Blogs, videos and podcasts are released to the public via their website and social channels. Each shows customers how to get the most from FamilyPod and highlight key features.
  6. New users love their device and use it every day. Hell, they even buy one for the living room, kitchen and bedroom.
  7. Sales and revenue exceed expectations.
  8. Acme CEO buys a small island and holds a large party for all staff. The Beatles reform/come back from the dead, so they can sing ‘Let it be’.

 

“Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be

Whisper words of wisdom

Let it be”

 

Ok, that’s the best case scenario and maybe the last point could never happen… But, it highlights at a top level what should and shouldn’t be done.

 

Picture of the plain train

 

Get onboard the plain train

Simplicity of writing is not a natural thing. We need to learn it and we need to embrace it.

If you can’t communicate your message quickly and easily, who’s going to listen to it?

To make your content writing life even easier, readable.io is a tailor made content writing solution. Run your next piece of content through its readability tools to quickly see what you need to work on.

Adopting plain language will save you time, money and give you clear content that customers will love.

Don’t miss out on writing great content. Don’t miss out on the island party with The Beatles…

Try readable.io for free today. You know it makes sense.

Sources: hurleywrite.com, impact-information.com, wikipedia.org/wiki/Coleco_Adam, chicagotribune.com

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Steve Linney

Steve has been a marketer for the last twenty years, covering a diverse number of sectors. Including club promotion, corporate responsibility and e-learning.

   


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