This is a diagram I often draw in training courses (the photo is me speaking at a Success Matters event in St Albans earlier this month).

Top down v bottom up

The stick figure at the top of my drawing is you.

The stick figure at the bottom is your reader.

You have a message you want to get into the brain of your audience.

The problem is that they already have something in their brain. They are thinking: “What’s In It For Me?”

Chances are that your message includes the words ‘I’, ‘Us,’ We’ or ‘Our’.

But the only words that answer the question in the mind of your reader are the words ‘You’ and ‘Your’.

There’s only one word in the English language that’s more powerful than those, and that’s a person’s own name. [You’ll know the power of your own name if you’ve ever been in deep conversation at a party or in a noisy coffee shop. Your ears can’t help but prick up as soon as you overhear someone using your name in the opposite corner of the room.]

Top tip: Personalise your communications if you can

Any statement starting ‘We are’ is what I call top-down. It’s the company talking to the audience.

Top-down language used to be appropriate for much business writing – until social media hit the mainstream about nine years ago. That was when Stephen Fry got stuck in a lift. He tweeted throughout the rescue operation and the story was reported in the media. After that, everyone jumped on board this new communication bandwagon.

With social media today, the people have the power.

Ordinary people write the news (it’s called ‘citizen journalism’). For example, locals will tweet photos of an event before any official journalist can get over there to write a professional news story.

What other people say about you (in reviews, testimonials and recommendations) is more compelling than anything you say yourself.

And the power is with your customers who will vote with their pockets, by choosing to spend their money with you, with someone else, or not at all.

That’s why the best marketing statements are bottom-up, taking the reader’s point of view as the focus.

To achieve this, use the words ‘You’ and ‘Your’ as much as possible. It’s almost impossible to over-use them, and is one of the main ways to turn ordinary writing into compelling copywriting.

Top tip: Change ‘We offer’ to ‘You can choose’

In advertising and marketing, using customer-focused language has always been the way to go. I’ve been talking about ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ language for a long time. Here are just a few of my other articles on the subject that you might find useful:

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