Writing for the Customer: The Artful Copywriter
Who doesn’t love a good secret? I know I do. I can’t help but feel excited when someone leans over, lowers their voice, and says, “Hey, can you keep a secret?” My imagination begins to concoct at warp speed, and I find myself feeling like a giddy little schoolgirl.
I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty good at keeping secrets, which is why I hear so many. I especially like hearing secrets about my craft: copywriting. Every so often one of these secrets is worth passing on to the upcoming generation of writers and marketers. If you’re a copywriter, marketer, business owner, or up-and-coming in the industry, move a little closer to the computer screen. I have some secrets to share with you…
Copywriter and Copywriting: A Textbook Definition
The dictionary defines a copywriter as “a writer of copy, especially for advertisements or publicity releases.” The word originates from 1910-15, but writers have been around for eons in comparison. For the writer, copywriting is simply another tool in our satchel.
Wikipedia says that copywriting “is writing copy…for the purpose of advertising or marketing.” The purpose of the copy is “to persuade someone to buy a product or influence their beliefs.”
Copywriting: The Art
Textbook definitions of the copywriter who performs copywriting are educational, but they fail to convey the art of the trade. Writing copy is like sculpting. Have you ever worked with clay on a pottery wheel? It can be an incredibly relaxing experience, or so I was told the first time I attempted it.
A few years ago, I was on a stress relief kick. A friend of mine who sculpts for a living recommended pottery class. Initially, I found the activity to be more of a stress causer than releaser. But after a lot of practice, I learned a bit about the art behind the craft. I was able to work the clay on the pottery wheel, and it became something that was somewhat recognizable.
The experience taught me a valuable lesson: to become proficient at a craft one must not only learn the art behind the craft, but also have some amount of talent that can be developed into precision skill. Copywriting for the copywriter is no exception. After spending over a decade on my craft, I’ve learned the ultimate secret—the secret that dates back to the very creation of the writing craft:
The secret to amazing [copy]writing is ensuring that every sentence makes your reader want to read the next.
Here’s another secret: I learned the above secret very shortly after starting a career in literature and writing. However, it took me years to truly understand the ins and outs of it.
Writing copy is like growing up again. The day you begin, you write as an infant. As your career grows, you learn new techniques and take in different forms of criticism. At first, you respond like an adolescent, convinced you know best. Eventually, you mature. As your mind opens, you begin to learn proficiency and discover how the tools at your disposal can be wielded to create unique, compelling, and breathtaking copy. One day—if you’re lucky—you’ll take your place among the masters, the very writers you looked up to and idolized.
The Number One Mistake New Copywriters Make
We’ve established the purpose of copywriting: to create copy that persuades. In most cases, copywriters are writing advertising and press release material. The number one mistake new copywriters make is writing like a cheap advertisement.
Don’t get me wrong; sometimes you’ll be called upon to write a piece that is pure advertising. The client’s instructions regarding this will be quite specific, though. These projects will be some of the simplest you undertake as a copywriter because the creative requirements will be low. On the other hand, most copywriting projects require the art of copywriting: writing without advertising.
The Artful Copywriter’s Toolbox
How does a copywriter write without advertising? It isn’t easy. In fact, it can be just as frustrating as that first pottery class I mentioned earlier—or any “first” for that matter. In order to master the art, you’ll need to use every tool at your disposal with skillful technique. Let’s take a look at three of the most powerful tools copywriters can use:
- “Speak to one person.” I quote this from a superb Mashable article about startup copywriting and writing compelling content. A lot of writers mistakenly think that they must write for a large, diverse audience. If you try to take this approach, you’ll likely overthink and stifle the piece before even writing it. Here’s a secret about your audience: they’re all human. What should this mean to you? It’s important to understand your target customer. You need to know the issues that are important to them and the solutions they’re seeking, but at the end of the day, every potential customer in that giant audience is human. They all respond and connect to the same basic things: emotion, need, desire, want, and resolution. Speaking to one person means speaking to these basics.
- Grab attention and hold it. If you use the first tool, you’ll have a head start on grabbing your readers’ attention. Seizing attention when writing copy is about more than crafting a gripping introduction. In today’s world, people are skimmers. They look at a piece of copy and first see the headline and subheadings. If those perk their interest, they pick a place to start reading. You can write a gripping introduction that rivals the opening scene of a Cinemax film, but it might not be where every reader starts reading. This is why every sentence must make the reader want to read the next.
- Focus on positives. Most good copy contains positives and negatives. It’s important to balance any negatives with positives, and focus more heavily on the positives. Copywriting should focus less on product or service features and more on benefits. Potential customers connect better to benefits because they look for them. When’s the last time you shopped purely for features? Most of us know what we want a product or service to do, and we look for the benefits of choosing a particular product or business over another. Features tend to be something we skim over, nod our head at or shrug our shoulders at and move on.
How to Write Without Advertising
Unfortunately, there is no set formula for writing without advertising. However, there are some industry standards that can be used like a compass:
Provoke a reaction: the best copywriting grabs and holds the reader’s attention, no matter where they start reading. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to use the entire piece to provoke a reaction. By tapping into the human experience, you can provoke just about anything. Here are some of the tools at the copywriter’s disposal:
- Use descriptive illustrations
- Incorporate the personal experience of a customer
- Incorporate the personal experience of the copywriter
- Use emotionally charged words
- Use a metaphor that is built upon from the introduction to the conclusion
Make the reader curious: why did Alice follow the white rabbit down a daunting hole? She was curious. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but when we’re curious, we tend to ignore everything until we satisfy that curiosity. Seeds can be planted throughout copy, provoking curiosity. You can do this by:
- Using loaded questions and leading up to the answers
- Weaving an illustration or metaphor throughout the piece
- Using several illustrations or metaphors
- Sprinkling tips throughout the piece, telling the read you’re about to reveal some juicy secrets
Persuade without selling: this is perhaps the toughest tool to wield because it takes a good amount of creativity. It’s fine to introduce a concept, product or service, but this should be done gently. You don’t want the reader to feel like they’re being propositioned to buy. You want them to feel as if they’re gaining knowledge and becoming an informed individual.
You might start by introducing a prevalent problem or issue the audience is concerned about. Use this opportunity to connect with the reader. Show them you “feel their pain.” Next, introduce the concept, product, or service, but don’t talk much about it. Let the reader wonder. As you write the body of the copy, incorporate illustrations, metaphors, and experiences that build on the benefits and solutions the audience seeks. Then, ever so slightly nudge them with more mention of the concept, product, or service. By the conclusion, your reader should be thinking, “Gee, I want to know about that.” Give them what they want. This is how you persuade without saying, “Buy me!”
The Evolving World of Copywriting
Two decades ago, copywriting was practically all hardcopy. Today, we live in a technological era. Copywriting—like everything else—has shifted to the intricate web of the Internet. Professional copywriters are adapting to become “Google-Friendly.”
Cyber copywriting is a challenging new art. Not only does it involve the creation of high quality and compelling content, but it also requires the expert insertion of SEO keywords and phrases plus linking. Google sets the bar high, and for the really good writers out there, we love the new standards.
SEO focus is shifting. Instead of forcing us to stuff keywords into copy, creating a grammatically challenged and irritating piece of nonsense, Google is now saying quality content is more important than keywords. Why the shift? Because the potential customer—the reader—wants quality, compelling, educational material; they want a good read!
Copywriting and Business
It doesn’t matter if your business is small, medium, or large. If you own a business, you should tap into the artful talent of a skilled copywriter. Skilled copywriters can write:
- Informative and interactive web content
- Compelling press releases
- Educational and technical articles and documents
- Inspiring blogs
- And much, much more
Copywriters are perhaps one of the most under hired professionals out there. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I can write! I just don’t have enough time, but give it to me and I’ll write that for you.”
Let’s be honest: creating the idea for a piece of copy is a million times easier than writing it. If you aren’t writing for a living, you simply will not produce the artful quality of a professional copywriter. Just how much goes into copywriting?
For starters, take a look at Copywriting 101 from CopyBlogger. Just take a moment to skim through the bold headings throughout this piece, which offers resources for learning the basics of copywriting. I count 32 different topics, and this is just the basics of copywriting. Professional copywriters go beyond the basics to the intricate techniques of writing and editing.
Does the average “I can write if I just had time” individual truly understand the grammatical and spelling side of the English language? Do they know which words to use to temper a negative message with a positive spin? Can they tap into emotion, painting a picture with only words? How quickly can they produce a 500 to 1,000 word article that is chalked full of quality information, well written, perfectly formatted and 99.9 (or even 100) percent free of grammatical and spelling errors?
Contrary to popular opinion, writing isn’t easy! Copywriting is no exception. In fact, I would say copywriting is more difficult than general writing. It takes both talent and developed skill to:
- Get to know the audience
- Select the proper research
- Incorporate the truly helpful facts and statistics
- Weave in a metaphor or illustration that everyone—regardless of background or education level—can understand and connect to
- Write the actual copy, incorporating all of the footwork
- Proof the copy intelligently to not only improve it, but to also ensure it is as well written, formatted and as free from errors as possible
Don’t trust the art of copywriting to just anyone. Believe me; the artful copywriter will appreciate you if you don’t. Where can you find us? Well, we’re holding down the fort in copywriting agencies and freelance markets in your local, national, and international communities. We are your best and last defense when it comes to weeding out bad copy and replacing it with compelling copy.
Photo Credit: Writing for the Customer/shutterstock
Julia McCoy is the manager/CEO of Express Writers, http://expresswriters.com. Since launching in May 2011, Express Writers has served over 2,000 clients and provided quality content for all industries, from tax lawyers to appliance repair contractors. Julia has 10 years of experience writing, a track record of academic achievements in writing, and is located in Springfield, Missouri.
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