No, I am not talking politics. I am not talking about Donald Trump as a person, either. However, we can learn something from him that hasn’t got anything to do with politics: his language. Despite improved online tools and with the Covid-19 pandemic, we communicate less and less face-to-face. As a result, the choice of our spoken and written words is increasingly important.
So, it’s not about Mr. Trump’s political agenda. It’s about his language. To be more precise: the simplicity of his language. I strongly believe that one of the main reasons for successfully reaching his voters is how he says things. He makes extremely short sentences and he uses words that everyone can understand. Mostly very simple words. It doesn’t matter whether this is due to his ability to translate complex issues into crisp messages or whether he is just a simple mind. I will leave this up to you. One thing is for sure: with his simple and straight messages, he has reached every single American, independent from education, race or social background. Trump’s phrases usually come without subclauses or nested sentences. Actually, you can measure the simplicity of his language using so-called readability tests such as Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning-Fog, or Simple Measure of Gobbledygook (SMOG). For instance, the analysis of his inauguration speech showed that only a fourth- to fifth-grade level of education (9- to 11-year-olds) was required to follow Trump’s words. You remember his campaign slogan from 2016? Correct: ‘Make America great again!’ – four simple words, one easy-to-understand, positive message. You remember Hillary Clinton’s slogan? Probably not. Her campaign communication was rather academic, complex and elite. And Barack Obama? I’d bet my shirt you remember it: ‘Yes we can!’ Three simple words, positive. Bingo!
What is valid for politicians is valid for your proposals, too
And why is this important for our proposals? It’s about bringing messages across. We need to reach our clients in the same way that Trump reached his voters. Short and concise messages are easier to understand than long and complex ones. The most outstanding value proposition is useless when it is not understood. Unfortunately, many people believe that it is ‘best practice’ to write in a certain marketing-ish style (“We are the leading provider of…”) but they get ‘best practice’ mixed up with ‘common practice’. Everyone does the same (wrong) thing because it’s within their comfort zone. But the fact that everyone does it this way does not mean that it’s the best practice. There are better alternatives to a marathon of buzzwords. Such things are not best practice! Simplifying your text is much more efficient:
- In our proposals, we should avoid sentences that stretch over three or four lines. We should make two or three short sentences instead. Unfortunately, when reviewing proposal text, we are tempted to ‘improve’ the text by adding more precision. In other words, by adding more details which in turn make the sentences (that might be read by those who might be the decision makers) longer and therefore more difficult to understand. You know what I mean.
- We make proposal text easier to understand by leaving out filler words like ‘basically’
- Use active voice instead of passive voice: “We will deliver within two days” is better than “It will be delivered within two days”
- We should use everyday language rather than academic language or marketing twaddle. Unfortunately, many organisations have adopted an inflated expert lingo. This may sound somewhat professional but usually, it doesn’t reach the customers’ hearts and minds. I recently consulted a manufacturer of medical equipment, and we changed “The device will reduce the mortality rate” into “The device will save more lives”.
And here comes the best part: This is all very easy to do! Very often, writing down what we would tell our client in an informal and relaxed atmosphere is better than playing bullshit bingo. As a test, read it out loud and listen to yourself. Would you talk to a customer like this? Would you buy this?
So: Simpler is better! When we explain the benefits of our products and services in a very simple and easy to understand manner, we will win more and more often. Easy, right?
This article was written by Chris Kaelin.
Chris is a global authority on bid and proposal management. He was co-founder and chairman of the German-speaking APMP chapter and regional director for Europe/Africa. He is APMP-certified at Professional Level (CPP APMP) and is an APMP Approved Trainer. In 2013, he received the prestigious Fellows Award.