When it comes to copywriting, you’re never done learning. Why? Because, whether you’re an above-the-line creative or a digital content writer, you’re part of an industry that’s forever evolving. Brands change. People change. Ideas change. Perceptions change. Consumer behaviours change. So, obviously, the way you approach your job has to change.
Which is why you should second-guess those prepackaged and easy-to-use “tips and tricks” passed down from your well-meaning mentor, college textbook or ad school lecturer. I’m not saying you should never use them or that they aren’t valuable, it’s just that you can’t rely on them. Basically, when it comes to copywriting, you can’t always trust that these “tips and tricks” are relevant to what you’re working on, the brand you’re selling and the audience you’re targeting. And, mostly, they’re cool-sounding one-liners that lack depth unless you unpack them properly.
However, there is some advice for copywriters that has stood the test of time. It’s the kind of advice that applies to every job you work on. Hard sell, soft cell, value-add content or brand awareness – what you’re about to read can help with all of that. So, forget the quick and easy “tips and tricks” because here’s some advice that’s worth remembering.
Ask yourself “why?”
This is something so basic that often gets overlooked, even by more senior copywriters. You need to ask yourself “why” regularly while you’re working on a project. To start off, why were you assigned this task in the first place? What is the objective? Is it to create brand awareness? Drive traffic to a website? Sell a new product? Rebrand an old one? You need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing and remind yourself constantly of your purpose.
Then, you need to look at everything you write and think about why someone would care enough to look at it. Why would a potential customer be attracted to what you’ve produced? What’s in it for them? Why would they choose to pay attention to your billboard, blog, flyer, TVC... when they’re already being bombarded with information and advertising wherever they go?
Finally, if you’ve written long-form copy, look over it and make sure the reader isn’t going to be asking “why?” You may say this new product is better than the one that came before, but why? You shouldn’t just outline the services offered, you need to tell the reader why this brand is better than all the others (just not in those words).
Convince yourself to buy what you’re selling
Not literally. You don’t have to go out and buy every product or service you advertise or market. But you do have to buy into the brand and everything it stands for. Whether or not you worked on creating the actual brand identity, you have to convince yourself it’s everything you want in a shampoo, car, lifestyle experience... whatever it is you’re selling. Even if you think the brand is gross as soon as you’re done, you need to love it while you’re working on it.
This certainly doesn’t mean you should gear your writing to appeal to you. Because you won’t always be the target market. What you need to do is become the audience you’re trying to reach, even if it’s just for the duration of the project. Become the woman who spends R6 000 on perfume or the man who so desperately wants to cure his baldness that he’ll do practically anything. Get inside their heads. Know their wants and needs. If you aren’t supplied with a detailed description of the ideal consumer, then create this person in your head. What do they enjoy doing on a Saturday afternoon? Are they family-oriented? Driven and ambitious? Or care-free, young and loving the single life? Then think like them, hear their voices in your head instead of yours.
Why is this important? For two reasons. The first being, if you can’t mentally become the person you’re targeting with your copy, it means you don’t understand them. And if you don’t understand them, how are you going to appeal to them? You need to speak their language or they aren’t going to be interested. Secondly, if you can think like them, actually feel like you’re one of them, and you don’t want to buy what you’re selling when you read your copy, you’re not doing your job properly.
Talk to yourself
Every writer is told to read their work out loud. Unfortunately, some people take the “out loud” part too seriously and end up disrupting everyone around them. If you’re alone, sure, go for it. But generally, “out loud” is simply a way to emphasise that you’re not just meant to read over your work for errors. Instead, you’re testing the copy for flow and tone. You can use the voice in your head for this. Just focus on each sentence and how it moves on to the next. Does it make sense, as well as read easily?
Talking to yourself also helps you create a conversational tone. Yes, in some cases, the tone does need to be stiff and formal. But a lot of the time, consumers want to read something that makes them feel like they’re part of a conversation, even if it is one-sided. It helps them connect with the brand and feel as though they are being spoken to instead of sold to.
The fewer the words, the more the editing
The shorter your copy, the more attention you need to pay towards it. That certainly doesn’t mean longer copy can be left as a first draft. But what it does mean is that you have less space to create the message, so you have to use your words wisely and make sure each one counts. If you have one sentence, try writing it several different ways. Make sure you’re able to say everything that needs to be said while still being clear and concise. Keep it simple and when in doubt, cut it out. Don’t waste your word count on something that sounds cool but says nothing.
I’m sure there’s plenty more advice that seasoned copywriters will willingly offer you. But these offer a great place to start when you really want to write good copy that delivers results.