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updated 1/28/2013 12:19:31 PM ET 2013-01-28T17:19:31

A favorite adage of my college journalism professor was this: "Assume the reader knows nothing, but don't assume the reader is stupid." In other words, deconstruct the complex to make it easily understood, but don't dumb it down. In my years since school, I've realized the wisdom of that approach applies not just to journalism, but to business and marketing, too.

Products and services (especially digital ones) can be complex. Your job as a marketer is, in part, to make the seemingly impenetrable easily understood, to lose the corporate Frankenspeak and convey your business's value in human, accessible terms.

Businesses that develop buyer personas for their products or services exemplify the "keep it simple" mantra. A buyer persona is a representation of the type of consumer you believe will be interested in what your company is selling. The idea is to address customers' wants and needs directly--speaking to their specific pain points from their specific points of view. More broadly, it can be handy to envision intended prospects as people who--like my college prof--demand clarity and simplicity. This will help you to market effectively.

Here's a checklist of how to keep it simple, without getting stupid.

Speak your customer's language. Former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt once said, "If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen [then you must speak German]."

How do your customers describe your products? What words do they use? Be sure to use the same ones. You might refer to your online educational program as "professional services development," but if your prospects are searching for "training" or "virtual seminars," they won't be able to find you.

If you can't directly survey the people you are trying to reach, you can gain insight into their language online: Read the same publications or blogs they do; listen in on conversations on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn ; and use keyword research tools (like Google AdWords or Keyword Discovery) to see exactly what terms people are using in searches.

Solve problems. Consider the world from your prospects' point of view: How does what you sell improve their lives? Shoulder their burdens? Ease their pain?

Remember, your value is not in what you do--your value is in what you do for others. So, don't just talk about your product's features; rather, talk about what those features can accomplish for your customers. That seems simple enough. (In fact, it's marketing 101.) But for entrepreneurs who live and breathe their businesses, it can be tricky to view the world via a customer-centric perspective.

Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why, preaches that people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it. So consider how that perspective might alter your explanation of your goods. For example, at MarketingProfs, what we sell is marketing training and knowledge. But why we sell it is to empower marketers to grow efficiently and effectively, to do their jobs better and advance their careers.

Make the customer the hero of your story. The best marketing has a human element to it. Your customers are people, which means they will relate better to your story if it's somehow about them. Said another way: The more you align yourself with your customers, the more likely you will be to win their hearts (and their business!). Even if you sell something mundane (e.g., toasters) or seemingly intangible (e.g., back-end technology), put the focus on how it can touch people's lives.

Anticipate needs. Higher-ticket purchases can have a very long sales journey--sometimes as long as 18 to 24 months. In such a scenario, your buyer may already be 50 to 85 percent of the way toward a decision when he or she gets in touch with a sales rep, according to some estimates. That means you'll want to anticipate his or her questions and answer them ahead of time, through the content you create (blog posts, FAQs, e-books, white papers, etc.).

Create marketing content that is honest, empathetic to the needs and wants of customers and seeded with utility. Your marketing content is on the front lines, playing the role a sales rep might have played in the pre-digital era.

So give these rules a go, because doing so can help you market more effectively, which calls to mind another fundamental rule of journalism, and of marketing, and perhaps of life itself: "No one will complain because you made something too easy to understand." 

Copyright © 2013 Entrepreneur.com, Inc.

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