May Insurance Marketing Grammar Goofs

May Insurance Marketing Grammar Goofs

Insurance-MarketingA little dash of hyphens: how small mistakes can add up to lost sales

You’ve probably heard the phrase “The devil is in the details” before, but have you ever truly thought about what it means? The phrase, which dates back to the mid-1800s, means that sometimes, it is the smallest of things that can foil a larger plan.

The same is true with marketing and good grammar. Imagine a bus wrapped in a large and powerful advertisement – it could generate a lot of attention and recognition. However, that glaring typo that no one caught in the proofing process turns into the butt of jokes, not sales.

This month, we’re drilling down and focusing on the minutia. Perhaps one of the smallest but most misused punctuation marks is the hyphen.

To hyphen or not to hyphen

That pesky little dash has tripped up many insurance marketers. Think of a hyphen as a joiner, connecting two words to avoid confusion or to convey a single idea. Though there is some wiggle room, the hyphen has five key usage guidelines.

Five guidelines to remember

1. Avoid ambiguity. Hyphens often clarify meaning as shown in the examples below.

  • Correct: The small-businessmen meeting was held last week. (This sentence makes it clear the businesses are small, not the men.)
  • Incorrect: The small businessmen meeting was held last week. (Without the hyphen, the reader is not sure if the businesses or the men are small.)

2. Create a compound modifier. A compound modifier is when two or more words combine to create a single concept. They typically go BEFORE a noun.

  • The first-quarter insurance sales numbers will come in by Friday.
  • The well-dressed man will make more sales than others.
  • Insurance marketing is a full-time job.

Note: When a hyphenated modifier that typically would come before a noun is instead after a form of to be, such as is, are, was and were, it maintains its hyphenation.

  • The company’s marketing program is well-maintained.
  • The new insurance menu is first-rate.

Now, to add to the complexity of the hyphen, those common combinations are not hyphenated if they come AFTER a noun.

  • Insurance sales numbers for the first quarter will come in by Friday.
  • The insurance marketing agent works full time.

3. Don’t use with other modifiers. And, let’s add one more twist to the world of hyphens: the adverb. Any adverb ending with –ly and the word very do not get hyphens. This is because readers already expect adverbs and very to modify words.

4. Avoid using a hyphen to create action. Many writers misuse the hyphen to join two words to create an action. Instead, the two words should either be combined or separated. When in doubt, check with a reliable dictionary. A common mistake is follow-up. As a noun or an adjective, it is hyphenated. However, when used in a verb form, it is two words, no hyphen.

  • The follow-up on perspective insurance sales is vital.
  • I will follow up on those perspective clients next week.

5. Use in moderation. On a final note, use hyphens sparingly. Sometimes, you will want to reword sentences to avoid overuse of hyphens.

Stay tuned for more insurance marketing Grammar Goofs in June. If you haven’t yet subscribed to the Insurance Marketers’ Blog, do so now by entering your email in the top right corner of this screen.

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