I remember going into my dad’s closet as a kid. On the left was a whole section dedicated just to suits. It’s what he wore to work every day, so he needed several.
My closet looks nothing like that. I have slacks. I have button ups. I have a few jackets. But none of those are musts to wear to work.
I am a beneficiary of our cultural shift toward business casual. We have finally realized that we don’t need to wear uncomfortable clothes in order to get work done. And judging from the client offices I visit, it looks like most of corporate America has at least moved away from jackets and ties.
Why then does so much of our content still feel so buttoned up?
The truth is, it shouldn’t. It used to be that a prospect’s first impression of your business was when they spoke to someone face-to-face at your office or sat across from them in a sales meeting. That’s not the case anymore. Today, our first interactions with companies are through the content they produce, so your content needs to match your culture. If you are business casual then your content should be, too.
Before you brush off this idea, remember that people increasingly say they want authentic experiences with brands and that they are quickly losing respect for those brands who don’t provide them. Look at the reaction to the Super Bowl ad from Gillette earlier this year. The chief complaint was that this new message didn’t fit the image the company had spent the previous decades building. It was inauthentic, and the public wasted no time calling Gillette out for it.
That’s a big example, but the point is when even the smallest part of your pubic image doesn’t match up with who you are as a business, you run the risk of coming off as inauthentic. So, if your culture is business casual then the content you introduce into the market and the language you put into that content need to match that.
What is business casual content?
When referring to how people dress, business casual has a bad rap because it’s too open to interpretation. But as a way to describe the voice and tone of your content, it actually works really well.
What is it? Business casual content is content that respects the seriousness of the subject matter and understands its importance but is written in a way that’s still approachable.
Achieving a business casual tone in your content isn’t actually all that difficult. It just requires remembering a few things.
You can forget everything your English teacher taught you.
He or she meant well, but take all of those things that you were taught and set them aside. It’s important to know the rules before you intentionally break them, of course. However, readability is the most important thing in business casual writing. A good experience for the person consuming your content is your number one priority. That means it’s OK to use contractions. And starting the occasional sentence with a conjunction is fine, too. Want to end a sentence with a preposition? Feel free to.
Fifty-cent words are better than $50 words.
Don’t try to use your vocabulary to look smart. When expressed in a clear and understandable way, your already-smart ideas will do that for you. Using big words that few people know doesn’t really impress, it just confuses. And confusing someone when making a first impression is a good way to lose the opportunity to make a second.
Leave the academic language to the textbooks.
There’s a reason that we all dreaded reading textbooks. It’s because, with so many of them, we had to read everything twice before we actually understood what it was trying to say. Producing content like this isn’t doing you any favors. Take another pass at it. Lighten it up. Make it accessible. And leave the academic writing for those still stuck in a classroom.
So the next time you’re browsing through your B2B content closet, take a hard look at what’s hanging there. Does it look and sound a bit too much like a boardroom, a grammar classroom, or even a doctoral thesis? If so, send it away for a few alterations and make sure it better matches today’s business cultures—especially your own. Your high school English teacher may not approve, but believe me, your CFO will.