While I am not equipped with 30 or 40 years in the biz, I think my 6 or so years as a copywriter give me licence to weigh in on what I think makes a successful wordsmith. Sure writing well is a prerequisite; I mean nobody wants to read about a product or service if it looks like the copy has been strung together by a drunk monkey. But there are a number of other factors to take into consideration. Below are a few of the things which I feel every copywriter must bear in mind while trying to deliver a company’s message to both its existing and soon-to-be customers.
Be aware of the company’s image, history and values
While it is a copywriter’s job to take charge of a client’s branding and message, no copywriter can do this without actually working with the client. Many of the companies a copywriter works with will have a long history; after all, nobody puts their life into running an organisation without believing in what they are doing. It is important to realise what these beliefs are and to identify the values on which the company prides itself. Lifelong dedication is something a potential customer will respect, and is always something which should be highlighted if it’s there.
Entertain the reader but not at the expense of the message
What would you think if you were reading a description of a certain product and 50% of the copy consisted of jokes? I know what I would think; I’d think ‘there obviously isn’t anything great about this product and it doesn’t have a USP because otherwise the writer wouldn’t be waffling on about jokes I wouldn’t even tell my nan’.
Customers are all for a bit of word wizardry, especially if it makes their reading experience slightly more fun, but what they will never put up with is irrelevant filler which has no bearing on the matter at hand. The worst mistake a copywriter can make these days, in my opinion, is to condescend the reader; modern-day customers will sniff this out like bloodhounds and go for a stroll to see what the (most likely very strong) competition is like. Essentially, if a company has produced a product or is offering a service, this is because the product/service has a market and a certain appeal; the reader simply wants to be told, in more detail, about how this product/service can help them, but the details must be organised in a way so as the reader can slide through them like a knife through hot butter. Excellent copywriting, just like a song, should have good rhythm.
Be prepared to produce your best in a short period
Copywriting isn’t just about creating engaging, entertaining and informative content, it’s about doing all of this in a certain period of time; missing deadlines is not a habit that any copywriter wants to pick up. Producing your best work within a set period is something that becomes easier with experience. Every laptop-toting copywriter out there has a number of go-to phrases or techniques which they know, from experience, to be very effective. So while all content is unique and tailored to the client, a good copywriter will have a sense of the shape their work will take as soon as they have learned a bit about the client and the subject matter being addressed.
Get inside the audience’s head
This is no secret. Every copywriter-related article talks about knowing the audience you are pitching the product/service to, but there is a reason for this. Understand what makes the audience tick, and more importantly what brings the hands of their clock to a shuddering halt, and you can write much more informed and effective copy.
As I will also allude to below, trends and technological advancements are constantly changing the dynamic of certain market segments, and so, for example, an extremely effective approach to the young gamers market a year ago, may not be as effective today. It’s the old ‘be like water’ trick I guess. Having an edge to your copy can be a lot of about adapting the quickest.
Get the technical stuff right
Depending on the product, there may be very little room for fancy writing. Say somebody is in the market for a new camera, that person has one interest and one interest only – getting the best specs for the lowest price. When it comes to electrical products there is nowhere to hide these days. The internet is packed full of reviews, YouTube comparison videos, and advice on how to choose the best product. Someone who doesn’t know what they’re looking for is a rarity, and so a copywriter must be ridiculously well researched before approaching copy of this nature.
A call to action
This is a loaded term, and one thrown around all over the place willy-nilly. In my opinion, the call to action has to be sewn through the entirety of the copy. Consumers aren’t going to fall for a simple ‘be sure to go out and buy it today’; this is condescending, presumptuous and alienating (see here for examples of some presumptuous slogans). Informing the reader of any website addresses/contact information is completely normal, and is something completely expected. However, a potential customer is much more likely to gravitate towards a site or call a number if this information is not surrounding by ill-thought-out tricks trying to hustle them into acting.
Never think you know it all
Putting aside the fact that there is always more to learn and nobody should ever think they know everything, a copywriter must always be adapting to the market, to changes in technology/trends, and to people’s ever evolving tendencies. In that way it is, quite literally, impossible to know it all. I find it helpful to look at copy produced by other people, as well as slogans from the past. I ask myself what the people behind the copy or campaign were trying to achieve and I try to figure out what the client may have put in the brief or what they might have asked the copywriter to focus on. I think this is just a really good habit as it gets you thinking about the mechanisms behind the words.
The way I look at it, it’s a case of conducting thorough research and then having fun with it. Of course it’s important to tell the reader what they need know, but at the same time, if you’re not enjoying writing it, the odds are they won’t enjoy reading it. If you’re sure you’re getting all of the product’s main selling points in the copy then this will allow you to loosen the creative reins slightly. Weaving creative tapestries around solid technical information and USPs is very different to weaving creative tapestries around yet more creative tapestries.