Who do you think you’re talking to?

Before I followed my passion and made writing and content marketing my career, I took some time after college to get my head together and mature a bit. Many of my friends did the same; backpacking around Southeast Asia, working on a fishing boat in Alaska, or embarking on similar pursuits. I, on the other hand, went to law school and spent 16 years as a trial lawyer. I didn’t own a decent backpack and I got seasick easily, so it seemed like a good call at the time.

During my brief sojourn in the law, I saw a problem with content marketing that I still see in a wide range of industries, services, and professions. Oftentimes, writing designed to convey expertise and thought leadership fails to do either because it doesn’t take the reader’s perspective and priorities into account.

It is said that law school teaches you how to “think like a lawyer.” Unfortunately, thinking like a lawyer often had the side effect of causing one to write like a lawyer and communicate like a lawyer, even in contexts where doing so was ineffective or counterproductive (just ask my wife).

This problem manifested itself most often in interactions with clients and prospects. They were looking for a lawyer because they had a complicated legal matter involving issues or laws they didn’t understand. It wouldn’t do those folks much good if all I did was simply regurgitate these complexities in an equally incomprehensible way, as brilliant as my regurgitation may have been.

The desire to impress (and justify our six-figure student loans) through conveying our expertise and deep understanding of the law would lead to marketing content which, while accurate and on point, was often worthless and unenlightening to those untrained in law.

The fundamental issue was the failure to modify substance, language, and tone based on the content’s intended audience or desired purpose. What works in a legal brief submitted to a judge isn’t necessarily right for a blog post to a wide and varied audience. Winning a legal argument is not the same art as converting a prospect into a client.

No matter your business, you want folks to know that you know your stuff. You want to provide thought leadership and relevant, actionable information. But you need to remember that your expertise must remain accessible to be effective. That doesn’t mean “dumbing down” your content or being condescending. It just requires you to step out of your own mind and instead think like your readers.

Ask yourself these questions when you’re writing client-facing content:

  • Who is this content for?
  • Why would someone want to read this content?
  • What is the reader’s likely knowledge base about the subject or your company?
  • If you knew nothing about the subject, would you understand what you wrote or why it was important?

As Atticus Finch told Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view… until you climb inside it and walk around in it.” When crafting your content, try to think like that lawyer.

How do you make sure your content is approachable? Tell us about it in the comments.

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