Copywriting is only effective if it’s understood by your audience – that’s rule number one. But understanding goes beyond your words’ legibility. If you want your audience to truly comprehend what you’re saying, your readers need to be able to relate to it. In some industries, there’s plenty of relatable content for you to fire at customers. But in construction? It’s a lot more challenging.
Construction is one of the UK’s biggest and most important sectors. It contributes around £90 billion to the economy every year, making up almost 7% of the country’s GDP. The sector also employs around 3 million people, equating to roughly 10% of our workforce [building.co.uk]. But a lot of us don’t appreciate just how vital the construction sector is to our country in the most basic way. Instead, we associate it with roadworks that drag on way longer than they were supposed to and make our commutes more difficult than they need to be.
One way that construction companies try to highlight how much they are adding to the economy is by using big numbers in their communications. For example, EDF states that three million tonnes of concrete will be needed to finish Hinkley Point C. This seems like a pretty impressive amount.
But when you think about it, what does three million tonnes of concrete look like? How much bigger than the average house is that? And how does it compare to three hundred tonnes, or three billion tonnes instead? Most people don’t know. So, while massive figures might impress those in the know, they don’t mean anything to the general public without any context. And it’s all to do with our perception of the world.
Cognitive neuroscientists have discovered that when we can’t put a figure into terms of our everyday lives, we struggle to engage with it. We can imagine, say, 100 forks, as both the fork and the relatively small number of 100 are familiar. But when it comes to something unusual, like 1 million square metres of concrete, we’re unfamiliar with both the measurement, the number and the material. We just cannot comprehend its size and, as a result, have no genuine understanding of the significance of the statistic.
This explains why it can be difficult to evoke the desired response to large numbers in construction communications. So how can the industry and construction copywriters change their language to create a better connection with their audience?
First off, they need to start smaller. For example, EDF states that, to date, 430 apprenticeships have been created by the Hinkley Point C project. This means that 430 eager young professionals have been given the chance to start their construction careers because of the works. And, though it’s still a big number, the fact that £11 million has been delivered to local community projects as a result of the works brings emotion to the usually apathetic world of bricks and mortar.
They could also use familiar objects to compare relative size. Some do this already, with football pitches being the scale of choice. But this could be expanded, using different examples that reflect a more modern, diverse world.
Construction copywriters can also think about showcasing projects through the benefits they’ll bring rather than the materials used. For example, saying that a new housing development will give 100 families new homes is much more emotive than saying it used a certain amount of concrete to create.
By using construction copywriters to make the industry feel more human, both in its scale and the impact it has, people are likely to care more about what it’s doing. And, at a time when political uncertainty is making things difficult for the construction industry, it needs the general public on side to make sure its words still have an impact.
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