The Hows and Whys of Compelling Copy

by Cassandra Moffitt on

Understanding the fundamentals of copywriting can put you on a path to marketing success. Although copywriting is only one tool in the marketing tool box, it’s as influential and important as a pair of scissors for a do-it-yourselfer. Copywriting is used in every piece of marketing you do, and it can make or break your entire campaign, so it’s worth understanding the hows and whys behind this often overlooked art. And while it’s true that successful copywriting comes naturally for some people, for the rest it’s a skill that takes time and effort to perfect.

What sets copywriting apart from other types of writing is the ultimate goal. With news articles, editorial writing, or blogs, the goal is to inform your reader about a topic. With marketing, you’re trying to convince someone to take an action, also known as the “call to action”, without beating them over the head with capitalization and exclamation points. And while your messaging should always be able to stand on its own, its effectiveness can be maximized if it works in conjunction with your design and the marketing medium. Below, we explore the different facets that go into making your copy successful, and what they mean for your marketing.

Know Your Target Audience

The goal of all copywriting is to connect with your reader, and that means starting with understanding who will be reading your copy in the first place. Are you addressing current or potential customers? Men or women? Old or young? Every piece of demographic data you can define about your audience will guide the copy that you write by helping you select terminology, make social references, relate to cultural ideologies, and more.

Define Your Goals

Every piece of marketing has a goal, whether that’s to drive sales of a particular product or service, educate about a topic, or even to just to keep your business top of mind. You then use your copy to help guide the customer towards achieving that goal using a “call to action” that is clear and concise. For example, let’s say you are hosting a fundraising event and want to solicit monetary donations from local businesses. The goal of the campaign is to, therefore, secure donations from local businesses. The copy should be used to explain the how and why of the fundraising; it should explain the cause, give a compelling reason as to why supporting the cause is important, and outline any benefits that a business would receive from donating. The call to action, in this case, may be to “mail a check” to an address. Overall, the copy should be used to guide your viewer down a path between receiving your marketing, understanding your goal, and completing your call to action so that your goal for the campaign is met.

Use Their Terms

When writing marketing copy, you should be constantly re-reading your text through the lens of your target audience. If you don’t, it’s akin to speaking English to a room full of French only speakers. They may get the gist of what you are trying to say, through things like your body language and universally understood gestures, but the details will be completely lost to them. So, too, is it important that you use terminology and language that your target audience will not only understand, but associate with. A younger demographic, for example, may not understand your reference to the “joys of sharing a mixed tape with your closest friends”. Asking your readers to “share this on Instagram” will be lost on an older audience.

Differentiate Yourself

We live in an age where your potential customers have incredibly easy access to not only you, but your competitors. They can, and do, research and compare your services, pricing, and reviews before making the decision on which business to choose. It’s best to choose one difference that sets you apart from your competitors, and make that your selling differentiator. The most typical differentiators you hear are price or customer service, but it can be a number of other things, such as coverage range, face to face time, community involvement, or level of expertise in your field.

Value Add

The easiest and most effective way to compel a reader to complete the goal that you have laid out is to provide them a value for completing it (often called the “conversion”). For example, a gutter cleaner may be trying to encourage pre-booking of their seasonal services, to ensure a consistent and balanced workload. Their value add may be to offer 20% off any service that is booked before the end of the month. This encourages the reader to act within a certain time, and react to the call to action (“call now to book your appointment”). Value adds can vary wildly between businesses, which is another reason why it’s so important to understand your target demographic. What type of value add you decide on should be driven in large part based on the types of rewards or offers your specific demographic is known to respond to.

Be Consistent in Voice and Tone

As with any of your marketing, make sure that your copy is consistent in voice and tone. When people read your content, they have a voice in their head that they use to represent you, as if you were speaking to them. It’s important to try to guide this voice selection so that it not only matches and supports your brand, but remains consistent from campaign to campaign. For example, if your postcard calls you “the best darn-tootin’ accountant in the West”, people are going to form a distinct impression about your brand. They will probably hear the voice as being an old timer miner’s voice, complete with a mental picture of a flannel clad, beaded man holding a pick axe slung over his shoulder. If your goal for your brand is to portray yourself as a detail oriented, corporate accountant, this voice misses the mark.

Understand Your Medium

The type of copy you write relies heavily on the medium that you are writing it for. When considering your copy, try to envision your end reader in the typical setting they would be in when exposed to your copy. If you are writing for a billboard ad, your end reader is probably commuting to or from work, driving at an average speed of 55 to 65mph. They won’t have time, or necessarily the interest, in reading five sentences of copy, even if it IS the most engaging content in the world. Alternatively, when working on a brochure, you can guarantee that anyone who is reading the back panel is trying to dig out every detail about your topic that they can find, since they bothered to flip through the other panels and ultimately turn to the back side. Understanding not only the space that your copy can fill, but also the intent of the reader when they get to that copy, can help you narrow down what your copy contains.

Keep it Simple

At the end of the day, you don’t want your copy to sound like a carefully selected set of calculated words aligned side by side to maximize effect. Keep your copy genuine, honest, focused on what you want to share with the reader, and what benefit they will gain from reading it. Recognize that this is an exchange of your readers’ time for your information, and each side as to be equal in importance and benefit in order for your copy, and therefore your marketing, to be successful.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user dtron.