Some of the first things taught in elementary school are shapes, colors, numbers and letters. These are the building blocks for communication and problem solving skills.
And while we all make use of what we learned in school, some people are better than others at specific tasks. So it’s no surprise that some people become accountants, while others become artists, writers, carpenters, plumbers, doctors, and so on.
Even within all of these professions, reading and writing skills are a non-negotiable requirement. Consider the disadvantages to someone who is illiterate. Even signing a simple contract could be a disaster if the contents are not known. Imagine trying to find a street location when the letters on the signs mean nothing to someone driving a car.
In marketing and advertising, conceptualizing creative and copywriting are two key pillars to any successful communication. Thousands of books have been published on these subjects because perfect solutions really don’t exist. Creative ideas can be presented a multitude of ways (print, web, apps, video, etc.), but copy is pretty much relegated to letters, words, headlines, subheads and sentences.
At one time, copywriting spun stories to engage readers. If you study older magazine advertisements, you’ll see that cars, laundry soap, cigarettes and other products were sold by weaving them into “fairy” tales. Today’s communications are much more concise since our culture has “compressed” the time we spend reading and “sped up” the time we take to “digest” communications. That being said, copywriting is probably more important today than it ever has been. Fewer words mean less chance to connect with a potential target audience member.
Words matter; just ask a lawyer or politician. If he were alive today, you could ask John F. Kennedy. He once proudly stated he was a jelly doughnut (Ich Bin Ein Berliner) to a German audience when he butchered their native language!
Remember, when writing copy, it’s important to work toward a goal. Below are some suggestions to get you started on the right track. You can also refer to our 5-step process to help you clarify in your mind, the “who, what, and where” of your communication.
Aim and Hit the Target
The first step in copywriting (or any creative communication) is understanding your target audience. You can’t converse with a surfer in Southern California the same way you would to a “C” level executive, dude! (or sir, for that matter). Every audience has their own “speak,” their own phrases and terms. The surfer is going to talk about “curls, hanging five” and “catching the big one”… it’s gnarly dude! A Senior V.P. is more interested in “comprehensive planing, funding, sales, the bottom line” and “thinking outside the box,” thank you!
In fact, connecting with your target audience mandates you to “speak” their language. Otherwise, they will know you are faking it. Imagine being in a foreign country and trying to communicate with a stranger. No matter what sounds you make from your lips, the other person will not understand you! Bottom line, make sure you correctly identify your audience and use their terms.
Understanding the Purpose
Have you ever read “mice type?” You know, that very small copy appearing at the bottom of the car ad. It explains your leased Lexus only allows you 12,000 miles over a year’s time. Anything over this amount is billed on a mile-by-mile basis. And your college drop-out daughter’s recent trip out west to “find herself” put you 3,000 miles over your lease agreement.
Why do advertisers bother with this type of copy? Because of purpose. These tiny disclaimers protect car dealers from lawsuits originating from fathers with college drop-out daughters. Point being… define your purpose and write to it!
In marketing, copy is usually written for informational or “action invoking” purpose. As with any copy, correct grammar, spelling and punctuation matter. There’s no quicker way to show you don’t care about your target audience than to misspell words and butcher the language. In other words, “Don’t be a jelly doughnut!”
If necessary, (especially for communication copy), start with an outline to clarify your purpose. This will keep you from randomly bouncing your reader from one “non-linear” piece of information to another. You can even write down some simple goals for “action invoking,” persuasive copy such as getting the viewer on your website to fill out the contact form. Do whatever works for you, but the idea is to copywrite like you mean it.
General Information Copy
You’ve bought a new swingset for your child. You’re faced with an instruction booklet on how to put it together. You’re either going to make your golf tee-time tomorrow or curse the person who put together a confusing instruction booklet written in broken English. In the end, you may have to take everything apart because you forgot a bolt in the second step of assembly!
The take away? Instruction copy needs to be very clear and to the point. No ambiguity here.. say what you mean, mean what you say. Pare down your words to a minimum while still getting your idea across. Edit, edit, edit. Make sure important statistics or directions are not buried – separate them out and call attention with bold or italic type treatments.
When writing general information copy about your company or product, keep in mind that people want to know what solutions you provide for their problems. Thinking about and keeping your copywriting purpose in mind will drive the correct words. A good place to start is asking why my target audience reading this copy? What do they want to know? How can I help them?
The idea is to persuade, to encourage, to invoke an action. Based on these parameters, you want to connect with your reader emotionally. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. You, yours, own, try, experience it, have and belong are all strong words that can connect with your target audience. Appeal to your readers’ emotions; love, hate, joy, happiness, fear and so on. You want to convince your reader that your product is theirs and it solves their problem. And by the way… if your product does not solve a problem, and provide a solution – you probably shouldn’t be wasting your time on copywriting. Don’t forget, there are other competitive products that a consumer may choose over yours, but there is only one brand that matters! Yours. To better understand brands, you may want to spend some time researching what a brand is and how to nurture and build it.
To summarize persuasive copywriting, you are looking to invoke an action. You’re suggesting to a reader that they take the next steps in relating to your communication such as requesting information, making a phone call, purchasing your product, giving a donation. Furthermore, it’s ok to make these statements as a “call-to-action” (CTA). Finally, like informational copy, pare everything down to a minimum. Remember, people spend less time reading than they did in the past.
Copy for Retail Packaging
Copywriting for packaging is an art in and of itself. A packaged product on a shelf represents the very last opportunity for a sale. Poorly written copy on a package will “turn-off” customers quickly. Haphazard creative design, duplicated phrases and irrelevant information create confusion… and if there is one thing that the “buying, human brain” hates, it is confusion.
For most packages, you’ll need your branding (logo/design), product title and three to five key selling points on the front of the package. The copy should cover the F&Bs (features and benefits) in a very concise fashion. You can expand on features by using the sides or back of the package. In all, use terms that make sense to the potential customer and help them understand the benefits of buying and using your product.
Copy for Sales Collateral
While very similar to packaging in some regards, writing sales collateral copy provides you with the opportunity to provide your reader with more information. It’s easy to get mired in useless minutia. Lead a potential customer from the “macro-to-the-micro” information. You can do this by well-written headlines (macro), to sub heads, sub, sub, heads, call outs and general running paragraph copy and specs (micro). Don’t try to fill up all the blank space in a document with copy just for the sake of having no empty areas to your material. Good design dictates positive and negative space… or places with and without copy and graphics.
If you are offering multiple items or services, list the items or bullet point the information. Break large chunks of information down into smaller paragraphs and reading points.
Provide your information in a disclosing fashion. If your car gets 38 mpg, make the statement and then follow up with information on how your sedan achieves those numbers. Maybe it has a hybrid engine or variable valve timing… whatever the reason, people follow copy easier when they are given reasons for what they have just read.
Copy for Websites
At one time, printed material was the only way to read. Now with vast amounts of information, people just “Google” for an answer, product or service on the Internet. Not only do people read website information, so do the major search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo. These search engine companies review sites with a “spider.” Spiders go out and read the content (copy), underlying code, metadata, image captions and other elements that create a total website.
In the case of a website, copy actually serves two purposes. The first and foremost is to provide information to your viewers you want them to read. The second purpose is to validate your website with the major search engines so you show up in search results. Fortunately, when done correctly, copy written for a website can substantially cover both requirements.
Major search engine companies use algorithms to catalog your site. The information the spider “sees” when “crawling” your site is passed through mathematical equations to determine what the site is about and how to catalog it for a potential search. What makes things more difficult is search engine companies do not reveal how their algorithms work. So a bit of trial and error comes into play when it relates to search engines, but good copywriting always is beneficial.
Like copy for sales collateral, take your reader from a “macro-to-micro” view when presenting information. Think of web pages as places to hold information on one topic. Unlike printed materials, people can quickly jump from one page to another without having to thumb through paper sheets. So getting people from point “A” to point “B” is much easier. In fact, good web design dictates a person should be able to get to the information they want within 3 clicks.
Writing in headlines, subheads, sub sub heads and paragraph copy is important for your website. Search engines tend to weight these elements, giving headlines more priority over paragraph copy. With that in mind, make sure your headlines are descriptive. An “Our Improved Product is Easy-to-Use” headline gives a reader little information. Search engines see the copy is ambiguous and have no idea what type of product you are selling, what changed to improve it and what makes it easy to use. A better headline would read “Improved Crest Toothpaste Now has Sparkle Whiteners and Comes in Convenient Stand-up Tubes.” Search engines spiders will now pick up your brand name, toothpaste and improvement.
Knowing that words are key to search engines (hence the term keywords), not too long ago, people duplicated a specific word over and over in their websites. This is called “keyword stuffing” and people did it to get search engines to rank their sites higher in search results. As the algorithms got better, these types of sites were now seen as what they are, fraudulent. Search engine companies rank these types of sites very low, if even at all. By the way, it takes a lot of work and money to get on the very first page, first position of a search listing, so don’t make it tougher than what it is by trying to trick search engines. Sites that are found to be deceptive are dropped from search results completely and/or black listed.
It is important to use descriptive language for your website, making sure your product, service, descriptions, address and other appropriate terms are written into the copy for your website. Make it easy for search engines to find out who you are and what you are about. Use concise descriptive headlines, sub heads that further explain the headlines and paragraph copy that details the headline and subhead. In essence, leading the reader from “macro-to-micro.”
And while computers are getting smarter, and some now have the intelligence to determine what is in a picture, copy still remains one the dominant factors for search engines to review. That being said, home pages that consist of a large image with little copy give the search engines very little to catalog. A past trend of having a splashy “movie like” home page have fallen to the wayside in lieu of a home page that gives relevant, purposeful information for the viewer to read and see.
Now You Know…
Obviously, there is a lot more to writing copy than just what has been mentioned in this post. There are passive and active voices, first, second and third person narratives, and much more. As stated at the beginning, some people are better at certain tasks than others. When in doubt, use a professional copywriter or at least engage the help of a professional copy editor. Both services are offered to clients of G5 Creative Group. Give us a call today and learn more!