Writing great copy is easy. Writing powerful, attention grabbing copy that will help you sell is another story. I usually
overcomplicate, think too much, duplicate sentences without realizing it and end up having to start from scratch. Now that I have attended a copywriting workshop I hope some of the lessons will stick long enough to help me improve.
Not all workshops are good, most of the ones I’ve been to are actually pretty bad but once in a while there’s one that stands out and this time was the copywriting workshop I attended a couple weeks ago. Far from exceptional (I am a very harsh critic) and very focused on basics, I nonetheless had some great insights and came out with great action-ready items I am putting to the test at work.
The Copywriting Wimp
The workshop instructor was Sandra Blum, a renowned copywriter, columnist for Dynamic Graphics magazine, and more recently one of the judges for DMA’s Echo Award. That in itself is a good indication that the material was above average. She not only customized the course the way she thought it should be delivered but was also able to get the group of 20 or so to interact and dictate the pace. Gotta love her for that.
Besides being a nice refresher of some basics, we all got some really good actionable items that we took back to our work and were able to put right into practice. Copywriting is easy, but writing powerful copy that sells is what separates the wimps from the champions. If you feel like a wimp sometimes, or need to get a good checklist of stuff that will help you during those difficult moments of “how do I make this sound more exciting?”, then read on.
10 Nuggets of Copywriting Wisdom
Here are some of the key insights I got from the workshop and I hope these few key lessons can help you improve your copywriting too.
1. “People don’t want more information, they want better information”. Before you start scribbling away, think about the two most important things about what you are writing, namely your objective and the action you want the reader to take.
Examples of objectives for your copy:
- Lead generation
- Public Relations
- Generate Interest
- Create anticipation
- Arouse Curiosity
- Provide information
Examples of actions you may want your readers to take:
- Return a response card
- Visit a store
- Place an order
- Join up
- Ask for an estimate
- Give feedback / fill out a survey
- Tweet or blog about it
2. “It’s not how long you make it, is how you make it long”. Sometimes you just have to write that extra paragraph and cutting more words won’t make your copy flow better. As long as your copy is engaging, your readers won’t mind. MarketingExperiments has an interesting test on short copy versus long copy that is worth checking out and Sonia Simone from CopyBlogger has a great blog post on the same subject.
3. The goal is to write persuasive copy. It’s what Joe Sugarman calls the “Slippery Slide”, in his book “The Adweek Copywriting Handbook”, explaining that “The headline must be so powerful and compelling that you must read the subheadline, and the subheadline must be so powerful that you are compelled to read and so compelling that you must read the next sentence, and so on, straight through the entire copy to the end”. He also calls it “Reading Gravity” because it’s like a force pulling you through the copy. The ultimate test is whether the reader acted on your call to action.
4. Headlines and subheadlines are key to making your copy flow. Some people will only read those, while others will be compelled to keep reading. When used effectively, headlines will help you:
- Grab the reader’s attention
- Qualify the audience
- Deliver a message
- Draw the reader into the copy
5. Make working with copywriters work for you by using a creative brief. Sandra told us some interesting stories about having to use creative briefs to manage outsourced copywriters. Great idea! Why keep creative briefs a tool for only your marketing department to use? Make sure that copywriter you are hiring really gets it and ask him or her to fill out a creative brief, then use it to manage the project.
6. Decide on a style guide. Seems easy enough but if you are a freelance writer or if your company is using one, that is one of the first things you should do. Whatever the guide you use or that you created along the years based on your industry, product, or service make sure everyone is on the same page as to what are the standards. Avoid confusion later by spending some time deciding it now.
7. Work on your opening lines. Seriously. Opening lines can make or break your email, landing page, website, blog, or any other type of writing you do. Here’s a brief list of styles you can choose from:
- Tell a story
- Sell a benefit
- Share news
- Evoke curiosity
- Present a problem
- Present a solution
8. Simplify your writing. Tailor your writing style towards your audience and be aware of how difficult your copy might be for someone to read and comprehend. There are several indexes out there for this kind of thing, like the Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning Fog, and one of my favorites (because of its name) the Simple Measure of Gobbledygook . The simplest way to use the readability test is by configuring it in your MS Word program.
9. Design and copy should be worked together. This is a key point for me because often times I write or edit copy then send it to the graphic designer who will insert it into some kind of layout he created. And often times the design needs to be changed because it doesn’t work with the copy. Make sure your designer understands the purpose of the piece you are writing, the benefits, and the desired outcome. Only then will you be able to have the design strengthen the copy.
10. Understand the benefit of your benefit. This was an aha! Moment for most people at the workshop. We all know about features and benefits but how about the benefits of the benefits? That means going a step further and really understanding the “so what” of what you are writing about. The lesson for me here is whenever I think I’m done with my copy, I go back and try to read it asking at every point “so what” and see if it still makes sense. For a nice article about features and benefits, check out Michael Fortin.
Here are some great resources for those interested in learning more and fine tuning their copy making skills:
- The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook, Joe Sugarman
- The Copywriter’s Handbook, Robert Bly
- Web Copy That Sells, Maria Veloso
- MarketingSherpa: www.marketingsherpa.com
- MarketingExperiments: www.marketingexperiments.com
- MarketingProfs: www.marketingprofs.com
- Direct Marketing Association: www.the-dma.org
- Copyblogger: www.copyblogger.com
- Copywriters Crucible: http://copywriterscrucible.com
- Chris Brogan: http://www.chrisbrogan.com/
- Forrester Research Interactive Marketing Blog: http://blogs.forrester.com/marketing/
- Beth Harte: www.theharteofmarketing.com
The Gran Finale
Books, blogs and websites abound on copywriting and how to write killer copy, so I know a single post will not change your life. I do hope that some of the points I make above will help you in some way to get better or at least to try harder. Remember, copywriting is easy. The difficult part is to get people to read… and buy!
If you attended the workshop, what are some of the key lessons you learned? If you are an experienced copywriter, what resources do you use that you recommend others?