The importance of grammar for marketers can’t be overstated.
Sure, you probably haven’t thought much about sentence structure or punctuation since high school.
That’s what autocorrect and grammar-checkers are for, right?
But errors can still run rampant despite such tools. Grammar mistakes on social media are particularly tricky when your message has gone live and you have no way to click “undo.”
The grammatical error in this tweet is eating at my soul but @JimGaffigan already like it so I can’t delete and repost.
— Josh Sneed (@JoshSneed) March 22, 2020
Consider also how grammar slip-ups beyond social media (think: email, print, sales pages) can hurt your brand’s credibility. This is especially true if you have to make constant corrections.
The good news? You don’t have to go back to the classroom to get your grammar on.
In this guide, we’ll break down the basics of grammar for marketers and crucial rules to follow (and some you can break).
Why is grammar important for marketers?
So, why does grammar matter so much for marketers? Consider the following reasons, for starters:
Grammar goes hand in hand with clarity
No surprises here. Whether it’s a tweet, sales letter or something in-between, just about any marketing message gets muddled without good grammar.
How so? For example, something as simple as a comma splice or run-on sentence can cause confusion in your copy. Forcing readers to re-read and do double-takes isn’t good news for converting customers.
Clarity is particularly important for global brands and non-native speakers trying to wrangle the complex grammar rules of other languages.
Proper grammar makes you look more credible
This is the big one.
Think about it. Let’s say you come across a grammar error in a marketing email. You might pick up on it or gloss it over without a second thought.
But let’s say it keeps happening. You’d rightfully be skeptical of a brand that didn’t bother to proofread their campaigns, right? Errors raise questions about their sense of professionalism and attention to detail, too.
On the flip side, companies are expected to put out error-free content and copy. It’s when they don’t that people typically start to notice.
They claim to have had a hand in some of the biggest Kickstarters ever, like the Pebble watch and Coolest Cooler. But there are no testimonials, reviews, or clickable links. These are just images and text.
Also, another grammatical error. pic.twitter.com/mq4kALRBlm
— Iron Spike (@Iron_Spike) March 22, 2020
If you’re making careless grammar errors, people will call into question what else your business might be overlooking. This might be a bit of a leap in logic, but it’s understandable.
On that note, a one-off grammar mistake isn’t going to kill your business. Repeat errors are bad news, though.
Good grammar equals greater accessibility
For brands concerned with accessibility, grammar is critical.
This statement from MailChimp highlights how much clarity matters for readers with disabilities:
About 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability. That’s one billion people. Of those billion people, 285 million are visually impaired and may use a screen reader to access web content.
These assistive devices use page elements to navigate web and email content, and read text aloud.
For those living with disabilities, accessible content isn’t just about convenience, it’s about necessity.
Brands should embrace accessibility and empathy. This means that all of your audience is able to read your messages without any roadblocks.
How to avoid grammar errors and mistakes as a marketer
Again, getting a grip on grammar for marketers doesn’t require a bunch of memorization or complicated rules.
Here are some tips and resources to consider to help you level up your grammar without having to crack open a textbook.
Take advantage of proofreading tools
Chances are you’re doing this already. Tools such as Grammarly are must-haves for marketers looking to quickly catch common errors in social posts, blogs and emails.
The platform’s browser plugin automatically picks up on issues without having to leave whatever you’re writing.
Tools like the Hemingway Editor are perfect for double-checking the readability of your marketing copy. Anything you can do to increase the clarity of your copy is a plus.
Similar to Grammarly, tools such as Gramara are perfect for non-fluent English writers looking to make sure their copy makes sense.
However, grammar for marketers is about more than just installing a grammar plugin and calling it a day.
By paying close attention to your apps’ suggestions, you can actually learn what a comma splice is and stick to subject-verb agreement rules. Using grammar tools as a crutch doesn’t help much in the long-run.
Share your copy among your team for a “second opinion”
Listen: nobody is immune to errors.
The more teammates that are able to scan your copy, the easier it is to catch mistakes.
Collaborating on your copy also serves as a sort of “second opinion” on your message. Just because something makes perfect sense in your head doesn’t necessarily mean its clear on paper.
And much like blog posts and presentations typically go through a back-and-forth editing process, so can your social media posts.
That’s why many brands today have a dedicated social media approval process that requires messages to be reviewed and refined. With tools like Sprout Social, you can stick to a collaborative process that doesn’t require you to bounce between email chains. Instead, you can approve messages within a single click.
Establish a style guide (and make it shareable)
Another important piece of grammar for marketers is sticking to a dedicated style guide.
In short, the function of a style guide is to provide a reference point for your marketing messages. This includes specific instructions that break down the following:
- How to speak to your target audience
- What your brand voice should be (think: humorous, serious)
- Terms you should and shouldn’t use
Having a style guide handy gives you and your colleagues a consistent reference point for how to talk to your audience. You can likewise create a secondary style guide for those outside your organization (think: agencies, creatives, contractors) so they don’t mix up your messaging, either.
When is it okay to break grammar rules?
Don’t worry: we’re not in school.
Grammar for marketers is largely situational and you don’t always stick to rigid rules. Let’s look at some examples:
When it’s okay
If your brand voice is informal or humorous, strict grammar isn’t make-or-break. Throwing around slang and text-speak is a-okay in social posts.
— Halo Top (@HaloTopCreamery) May 28, 2020
For customer support, grammar is somewhat of a gray area. We recommend sticking to proper grammar when dealing with more serious issues, but quick shout-outs and “thank yous” don’t need to pass any tests.
Thank u for supporting!! Means the world
— Milk Makeup (@milkmakeup) May 30, 2020
When it’s not okay
Bear in mind that there are some situations where you probably shouldn’t play loosely with grammar rules. This includes:
- Marketing emails
- Product descriptions
- Product page and service pages
- Presentations and reports
- Public statements and apologies
- Internal documentation
These sorts of messages should ideally be clear and error-free for the sake of professionalism.
5 grammar rules that marketers can break
To wrap things up, let’s look at some examples of traditional grammar “rules” and situations where marketers can break them.
Active vs. passive voice
If you’ve ever had to write a blog post, chances are you’ve been hammered on and on about the need for active voice versus passive voice.
Active voice: “A new business opened…”
Passive voice: “A new business has been opened…”
In short, statements using active voice feel more immediate, actionable and to-the-point. On the flip side, passive voice often results in needlessly lengthy and drawn-out statements.
Although most marketing messages are written in active voice, there are situations where passive voice makes sense. For example, tutorials or step-by-step guides often require statements in the passive voice (think: “This feature can be used to…”).
The takeaway? Passive voice doesn’t automatically mean that your copy is “wrong.”
Contractions (think: “can’t” vs. “cannot”)
Contractions are conversational. They represent a subtle way to keep your messages from sounding needlessly robotic.
Brands should talk naturally and speak their customers’ language. Sprinkling contractions throughout your marketing copy allows you to do so without your messages losing their meaning.
“I don’t think so, but that shouldn’t be a problem!”
“I do not think so. That should not be a problem.”
Heck, you’d be hard-pressed to find a brand that doesn’t use contractions.
Beginning a sentence with a preposition
Beginning sentences with prepositions (think: “but,” “and” or “with”) might be a pet peeve of your editor. That said, doing so is totally fair game in social posts or blogs.
We often see prepositions kickoff sentences in marketing copy, much like this section from Slack’s homepage:
Whether or not you should rely on slang depends largely on your industry. Many companies do, especially those marketing to Gen Z and other younger crowds.
Much like contractions, slang makes your copy more conversational and conveys a casual tone to your audience.
That said, relying on slang too much might make your message seem out-of-touch or otherwise trying too hard. When in doubt, use slang sparingly.
Sentence fragments (think: “In the car” or “At home”) are actually used frequently in marketing copy.
Punchy and easy to understand, fragments often simplify your message and highlight key features of your product without too many details.
Here’s an example from Evernote’s homepage:
These types of messages are likewise effective on social media where posts are typically on the shorter side, anyhow.
And with that, we wrap up our guide!
Have you mastered grammar for marketers?
Improving your grammar skills might not seem like a priority.
But the short answer to why grammar is important for marketers? It makes your messages easier to understand.
Going through the effort of doing so makes sense for brands in just about every industry. Meanwhile, the process of coming up with a style guide ensures that your marketing messages are crystal clear no matter who’s writing them on behalf of your business.
Speaking of which, make sure to check out our how-to on coming up with a social media style guide yourself!