What I’ve learned about copywriting – best read with cake.
It’s my birthday today. An opportunity to take stock. And eat cake.
So in lieu of party bags, I’d like to share with you some of the things we’ve learned about the commercial copywriting process.
- What skills and attributes do copywriters need more than any others?
- What’s more important – process or creativity?
- Why do we all need to take a big bite of humble pie every now and then?
Let’s find out…
Commercial writers work hard to ensure every word works. We know that if our copy is as compelling and as target-oriented as it should be, we’ve done a good job.
But sometimes it’s tough.
When you’re writing your umpteenth product sheet about superconductors, socks or Zizzer Zoof Seeds, it’s hard to keep the enthusiasm going.
So our ongoing commitment is crucial. Because we know that if our enthusiasm flags, so does the quality of our content.
What do we do to keep my enthusiasm going?
- We need to like or admire the product or service.
- We need to get a good relationship going with the product or service provider.
- We need to think like the customer.
That’s all it takes. Any one of those things is enough. And we know that if we can’t do any of them, it probably isn’t the right project for us.
This realisation is liberating. It gives us a fool-proof system for ensuring we can commit to every project. We can give our clients just what they need to sell their goods and services convincingly.
Clear Comms was originally set up thanks to a bit of a clarity crusade. Five years later, it still is. So why are we still so stoked up about this?
Like most other copywriters, we care about the craft of copywriting. We care what people think of our industry when we tell them what we do.
But there’s more to it than professional pride…
Great copy can be as affecting as art, music or literature. The right combination of words, phrased in just the right way can change perceptions. Or move people to take action. Or make them feel better. And the beauty of it is that they don’t even have to be long words. Sometimes the simplest words, carefully chosen, can be the most powerful.
So of course, we care about clarity.
Most overblown business-speak is needlessly complex and unnecessarily confusing. It uses more words to say less. It puts its audience on the back foot and keeps them on the outside, looking in.
Great copywriting should be direct and accessible. After all, it’s got a job to do. It’s got information to impart, friends to win and sales to make. That’s why concise copy, short sentences, and clear propositions make all our jobs easier.
There is way too much bland, innocuous and identikit copy out there.
Good copywriting has personality. Lots of it. It’s got a distinctive tone of voice too. It needs to reflect us and our companies, however brash, ballsy or relentlessly uncompromising they are.
Business copy can be surprising too. In ‘Talk like TED,’ the author Carmine Gallo says that, according to the neuroscientists she’s interviewed, “novelty is the single most effective way to capture a person’s attention.” So the best sales copy will always intrigue you and inspire you to find out more.
Like us, you probably prefer sales copy that plays it softly-softly. We don’t want it to bash us over the head with the benefits, we’d rather it give us a comfy chair for the riveting story it’s going to tell.
So, my advice is – make sure your web copy talks like you. Leave out blatant sales messages when you can and give it a big dash of your personality.
Your customers want the real you.
If we let the fear of making mistakes hold us back from making brave creative decisions, we’ll only ever deliver listless copy.
So how can we learn to embrace mistakes and failures as part of the creative process?
Well, here are a few ideas, courtesy of a great TED talk.
And here’s our take on it…
We need to give ourselves the time to get creative – but we need to make sure all that wild endeavour and rampant creativity happens at the beginning of the process while we’re still at the planning stage. Then, by the time we’re working on our first draft, we know exactly what we’re doing. We’ll have mapped out our creative approach, and we’ll have eliminated the possibility of making any mistakes when it really matters.
- First, get a good briefing to nail down the copy requirements
- Next, experiment with form, messages, and tone of voice.
- Finally, get agreement from all parties on the direction the copy will take – all before the formal writing process begins.
A good process underpins everything.
Writing effective copy is a process. It happens bit by bit.
There’s a briefing… initial ideas… development of ideas… approval of ideas… drafts… reviews… redrafts… sign off.
The ‘creative’ part of the process happens in bits too.
Some of it happens at the briefing stage when we assess what will work and what won’t. Some of it happens when we wake up in the middle of a night still thinking about a project. And some of it happens at the draft review stage – where we fine-tune the copy before letting it fly…
Putting a clear process in place first means that all of these bits happen in the right order. It gives us all – writers and clients – the opportunities to make important contributions at the right times.
It means everyone knows what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen. A good process, with milestones, checks and approval stages, helps keep projects on track and on time.
When people ask us what copywriting books we recommend, we don’t recommend any. It’s far more important to develop your own style and your own way of working.
It is useful to take a little look at other writers’ work from time to time. Just to see what’s out there. Social media makes that easy. Rather than slavishly following writers or brands and replicating their ideas, we can interact with them and exchange ideas. That way, we learn from each other. Much healthier.
We can all get a little bit ‘precious’ about our own way of doing things. But if we’re humble enough to accept that we’re all learning and developing as we go, and that we can all learn from each other, our jobs will get easier.
Humility applies to our dealings with customers too, of course. And to customer feedback in particular.
We should be prepared to accept that sometimes, we’ll have to make changes. And if those changes improve the copy, all well and good.
We should make our interactions with customers as collaborative as possible. Draft reviews should give all parties the opportunity to discuss openly, honestly and without prejudice what works and what doesn’t. Just so long as we’re not fighting over every comma.
Bottom line: what serves the client’s objectives best?
Over to you
Well, that’s what we think. Now we’d love to hear what you think… feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or drop us a tweet: @ClearComms_PMM.