What do copywriters do when not sparring with art directors or contemplating some existential crisis over a demitasse of espresso/glass of wine/tumbler of absinthe?
Those who are experiencing any sort of success as copywriters are doing at least some, if not all, of the following things:
1. Drawing You in with a Story
A story fascinates. And provided it’s not an epic tome, it can be a powerful tool.
Way back when Apple was developing their earphones for the iPhone 5, they shared this story:
Apple engineers asked more than 600 people to test over 100 iterations of the Apple EarPods. Testers ran on treadmills in extreme heat and extreme cold. They performed various cardio workouts. They were even asked to shake their heads side to side, up and down. The result: Apple EarPods provide stronger protection from sweat and water, and they’re remarkably stable in the ear. Which means they stay in, even when you’re on the go.
Such a heartwarming tale.
Maybe not. But it does provide a solid visual. You could just see the sweaty testers in the gym shaking their heads to test the stability of the earphones.
And then you imagined that one guy on the treadmill in the red shirt who got annoyed when one of the ear buds from theblonde woman on the neighboring treadmill nailed him directly in the left eye - but who later did a graceful jump off the bench press when Apple at last succeeded in their venture and a rainbow of balloons fell from the ceiling.
That might be a little specific.
But the point is, you did picture something. And next time you’re looking for ear pods, you’ll remember that graceful jump. Or the balloons. Or whatever.
2. Tilting Your Perspective
Every story has a whole slew of angles. All the copywriter has to do is find the one that resonates with the audience. It takes some detective work sometimes, but it’s totally do-able.
Yet, there’s such a wealth of blah blah blah in advertising and marketing messages that we’ve become terribly adept at blocking out the vast majority of them. So why does this happen so much?
Well, either A) the copywriter rolled his/her eyes, took the target head on and didn’t bother to ask, “why does it matter?” or B) the copywriter took the time to write a stunning piece that broke down the reader’s guard with an unexpected edgy approach, which the client immediately vetoed because s/he “didn’t get it.”
Okay. So it’s not really that cut and dry.
The true answer probably lies somewhere on the spectrum between those two options. But the copywriter’s primary job is to find the larger story behind the message. Making the client to get it is something else altogether.
Quiz time! Do you think this business will be successful? (It’s another gym analogy.)
A family is gearing up to launch a gym in an area already saturated with gyms. And these are gyms have classes, smoothie bars, personal trainers, specialty spas and Olympic sized fountain-of-youth swimming pools. These gyms get a workout just going head-to-head with one another in this seriously competitive industry. How is the family going to compete?
By not offering ANY of those amenities.
Seem like a solid plan? If you said no, you’re wrong. It’s rock solid. And we’re going to tell you why. Mostly because we unfairly left out one really important aspect of the story:
The family took the time to grasp an understanding of its core audience.
Before launching its new gym, they listened to their primary market of gym-goers. Yeah, people liked the luxury gyms and especially Dirk, the message therapist. But they didn’t like the expensive rates and complicated contracts.
So the family decided to simplify. They found a large target audience in those who wanted to go to the gym to, well… workout. You know. Get in. Get out. Call it a day.
And the copy in both its launch campaign and across its marketing materials reflected that sentiment.
What are we trying to say here?
We’ll let Copyblogger's Robert Bruce break it down for you:
"Humble yourself and truly serve your audience, listen to their needs and desires, listen to the language they use. If you listen carefully, your audience can eventually give you everything you need, including much of your copy. Get out of their way.”
And by all means, get out of your own way.
4. Persuading You with Problems
What are the features and specifications of a product or service? You can spew them out as a string of cold, hard facts - a particularly effective tactic if you’re conducting a sleep study.
Keep readers engaged by presenting features as solutions to their problems. For example:
“Another brilliant feature of the Cute Raccoon Sweater? It’s reversible to a Squirrel Sweater. That means you need only pack one rodent-themed sweater for that weekend away!”
Sure. It might not be a big problem. Or even real one. Because honestly, who packs two rodent-themed sweaters for a weekend getaway?
So try this one on for size instead:
“New noise-canceling technology on the transistor radio reduces background noise. So when you hold it up to your ear in a loud room, you’ll hear what matters most - music and news from the 1960s.”
You get the point.
5. Promoting Readability
And the way it does this is with short and broken sentencesthat would make your high-school English teacher cringe. It’s grammatical anarchy.
But so be it.
See? We started that last sentence with But. And we just started this one with And. Both of which are red-pen worthy offenses in high school.
But we’re not talking about high school. We’re talking about
You might be saying, “But you said to tell a story earlier. And that requires, like, full-on sentences.” We’re still standing by that. When it has a purpose. If it isn’t going to make the ad memorable, forget it. Why bog readers down with unnecessary content?
These days, people are busy. They’re moving fast. On the go.
Short sentences are much easier and more enjoyable to read than long sentences that lack spirit and personality. In fact, we might have JUST lost you at “short sentences.”
Plus, short sentences have rhythm.
Bringing it back around to Apple, they’re big fans of one-word sentences:
“All-new Lightning connector. Smaller. Smarter. Durable. Reversible.”
Hear the staccato rhythm? There is nothing toe-tapping about the grammatically correct version - All-new Lightning connector: smaller, smarter, durable, and reversible. (It just slithered off a cliff.)
Rule of thumb for copywriters - keep copy under 12 words per sentence on average.
Short and sweet, y’all.
So Now You Know
The life of a copywriter is not all glitter, glamour and lime light. Clearly it’s none of those things. Because, let’s be honest, writing sales copy isn’t making great strides in making the world a better place.
But if it’s good enough, it might just stick in someone’s head long enough to make the sale. And for clients, that’s what matters.