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"T" is for Typo: Why Good Grammar is Good for Business

Nyla Smith | Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Possibly the most expensive typo in history was made by NASA in 1962. The omission of a single hyphen in a mathematical calculation resulted in the destruction of Mariner 1 mere minutes after launch and cost $80 million. While your typos may not cause rockets to explode midair, they could keep your profits from skyrocketing.

Trouble with Typos

If the brainiacs over at NASA can make such mistakes in their writing, where does that leave the rest of us who aren’t rocket scientists? Hey, let’s face it: We’re all human and we make mistakes, including using “your” when it should be “you’re.” But when it comes to making the right impression on your customers, typos can undo your best intentions. Errors in your business writing give the impression you are not credible, not competent, or both. And, ultimately, typos can have a negative impact on your business’ bottom line.

As the web has evolved, so has our discernment of what is legit and what is a scam. Poor grammar and typos are immediate clues that give rise to skepticism. Do you ever get those shady e-mails that contain run-on sentences, are littered with misspellings, and have a total disregard for capitalization? Do you trust the sender enough to wire that money he’s asking for? Me neither. Not just because of the message, but because of the manner in which it is delivered. We don’t trust a message full of typos, and that distrust remains in force during all of our online interactions. We have a tendency to equate persistent typos with untrustworthiness, even if only on a subconscious level.

If you’re trying to convince consumers that your product or service is worth their time and money and that you are an expert in your industry, you want them to believe you. So why undermine your credibility with something as small as a typo or grammatical error?

The Devil’s in the Details

Even if you can’t remember the correct way to spell broccoli — though you put it on your grocery list every single week (guilty as charged) — that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unintelligent. But that is the impression you are making with your brand when you produce marketing copy riddled with misspellings or grammatical errors. People don’t want to do business with brands they perceive as unintelligent. Think about it: Would you want to hire a contractor who doesn’t know which end of the hammer is up? Consumers want to feel like they are making wise spending decisions, and hiring someone as smart as (or smarter than) themselves is a big factor in who they choose for the job.

Details matter in every business I can think of. If I am entrusting an accounting firm with my taxes, I want to be sure they are meticulous in handling my returns so I don’t end up in big trouble with the IRS. Seeing a typo in their marketing materials would certainly give me pause and make me think twice about working with them. In your written communications with others, whether customers or potential investors, don’t give them reason to think you are lazy, sloppy, or inattentive.

All of this may not seem like that big of a deal to you. Even large, well-known brands make mistakes every now and then and people understand, right? But there are cases where typos can damage your brand’s reputation and cost you money.

H&M t-shirt: 'Genious is one percent inspiration and ninety nine percent perspiration'. 
…and zero percent proofread-ation, clearly. Photo source: Scripps Media

Check out the unfortunate typo made by clothing retailer H&M. Thanks to social media, that one extra letter in the word “genius” will stick around online to haunt the company forever.

Conversion optimization blog Conversion XL reviewed studies conducted to reveal the costs of poor grammar in business communications, and in one instance found a website was losing money based on a single misspelling. Fixing it resulted in an 80% jump in conversions.

When was the last time you went through your website to check for mistakes? Those small errors may be costing you more than you think.

Grammar in the Real World

While I appreciate grammar for promoting clarity over confusion in written communication, I am not saying you have to sound like an English professor in your marketing materials.

Keep Calm and Stay Woke
Slang can be a great way to communicate sometimes, if it reflects your brand's authentic voice.

On the contrary, prim and proper grammar may be just as much of a turnoff to some people as improper grammar. The #1 grammar rule to follow is: Speak the language of your audience. Your marketing materials will, for the most part, need to be conversational and relatable. Knowing your brand’s personality can help you figure out the best way to communicate and connect with your audience. Craft a specific voice based on how your audience communicates with each other and with your brand. That may even include using slang or a certain Internet or regional dialect.

Smart brands will take cues from their audience’s typos. While you don’t want to mimic a user’s typographical error in your marketing copy, hearing how your audience speaks and incorporating those stylistic cues into your written communications can help you craft a more authentic, persuasive conversation with those who matter most to your business.

Yes, this may mean some grammar rules will fly out the window. However, in the true definition of the word, this is not a typo (mistake or typographical error), but rather an intentional or stylistic use of language. You will still want to make sure you are checking for mistakes, though. For example, if you’re going to use “ain’t,” at least make sure the apostrophe is in the right place, OK?

Some Final Words on Grammar

The long and short of it is that typos and grammatical errors are unprofessional. They can have a direct impact on how your business is perceived, which can have a direct impact on profits.

If spelling is not your strong suit, you’re a clumsy typist, or you have better things to do than read and follow the advice of grammar guides — enlist the help of others! Have a second set of eyes look over everything written to represent your brand or hire a copywriter who lives and breathes that kind of stuff to do the writing for you. In addition to writing in your brand’s voice, a pro will make sure it is not rife with embarrassing errors that could be damaging to your brand — or your profits. Bringing in a professional writer could very well be one of the best investments you ever make for your business.

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 12 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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