In first grade I attended school in Germany where I learned, among other things, that all nouns are capitalized. When I returned to the U.S., my teachers had to remind me (repeatedly) that English nouns are not that special. They only get to be capitalized when they’re proper.
Lately there’s been a serious outbreak of capitalization. Capital letters seem to be everywhere in marketing content – and not usually to the benefit of good communication. Acronyms and out-of-control capitalization is making it difficult for companies to do quality storytelling.
Too Many Special Words
Brand names are proper nouns. So yes, they should be capitalized. In fact, the Hormel company wants you to know that SPAM is luncheon meat, while lowercase spam is not. However, some companies have decided that any word they deem special deserves to be capitalized.
Title case is the headline stye in which the first letter of nearly every word is capitalized. This style is now being used for sub-heads, bullet points, and lists, too. And now product features are being capitalized. That would be like a car company saying their vehicles include Tires, Seats, and Windshield Wipers. I even know of a credit union that insists on capitalizing the word Members – because they want their members to feel special.
Reading content that includes so much capitalization is like riding in a car with someone who’s got one foot on the accelerator and one foot on the brake. All that capitalization disrupts a smooth read. Resist the urge to capitalize.
Don’t Let Your Acronyms Out in Public
Then there are acronyms – the secret language of techies. When I was working in telecom, I sat with some engineers who were talking about LAN, WAN, ISDN, and POTS. I had never heard of POTS, and thought maybe they were messing with me. Straight faced, they explained that POTS stands for Plain Old Telephone Service – a regular landline. That’s right – they had an acronym for a phone line.
Too many acronyms, though, can be hazardous to marketing. Unless an acronym is commonly understood by the target audience, it will unnecessarily encumber communications. Similar to over-capitalization, acronyms force the reader to stop in order to decipher what you’re asking them to read.
The use of jargon and acronyms is often justified with the argument that it makes the company look smart. This comes from the idea that if you have to ask what one means, you clearly aren’t part of the insider club. But it’s generally not wise to assume the purchaser of your product is as knowledgeable as you. Making your potential customer feel stupid usually doesn’t make a good impression. In fact, explaining your product in plain language can be a relief for your customers and it will set you apart from the competition.
Finally, I think it goes without saying, because I know you feel it too: WRITING SENTENCES IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS IS JUST TOO SHOUTY. All caps can be a stylistic choice for short headlines and a call-to-action, but as a rule, you don’t want yell at your customers. Engage your customers with good writing and they will want to read what you have to say.
Contact me if you’re looking for help telling your company’s story.
Copyright 2020 Liz Behlke