How to think like a copywriter – when you have no choice
Some nine-year-olds like to draw. Others dance, run or skate.
But when I was nine, I spelled… one word, as fast as I could, for every willing face I met.
Approximately. A-P-P-R-O-X-I-M-A-T-E-L-Y. Approximately.
That’s 13 letters, 5 syllables, 4 vowels and 1 very proud grandpa.
It made sense then that as I grew, my love of words did too. In 2017, I took the next step by becoming a professional copywriter.
On day one, I was thrown into the deep end as I learnt how to think like a copywriter. And over the past year, I’ve seen that our clients have to reluctantly do the same for one reason or another.
Whether your resident writer is away, your timelines are too tight or you don’t have the budget for a qualified copywriter, don’t panic.
Here are 7 rules to follow when you have to think like a copywriter:
1. Your readers don’t care about you
They care about themselves. And how you can solve their problems.
So that’s what you need to focus on – every time.
You can do this by highlighting the benefits of your product or service to your audience, rather than hammering on about what makes your company great.
It’s a common mistake. But an easy mindset to shift.
Take this example:
You’re writing a Christmas newsletter for your customers. Instead of harping on about your company’s achievements, focus on how you can add value to your readers. This might be helpful tips on navigating the festive season or useful information on your business’s holiday hours.
2. Jargon? That don’t impress me much
‘Core competency. Streamline approach. Actionable goals.’
These are just some of the buzzwords you might have heard in the boardroom. But that doesn’t mean you should include them in your marketing copywriting. In fact, it’s your very job to avoid these words.
Why? Jargon is boring, vague – and massively overused. It can also make your company appear cold and distant.
Take this example:
‘As a leading education provider, we deliver and facilitate meaningful cross-cultural relationships between our transnational partners in foreign countries.’
Although that might have made some sense, it certainly wasn’t fun to read (or write!).
Instead, you should always use clear, concise and simple language that’s meaningful to your target audience.
Now, here’s the same example written without the jargon:
‘As a leading education provider, we have strong partnerships with institutions around the world.’
3. Key stuff comes first
‘Our programs are fun, simple… and will completely transform your life!’
What’s wrong with that sentence? It starts with the nice-to-know – not the need-to-know.
Unlike a novel which builds to a climatic point, copywriting should get to the crucial details straight away. No suspense. No plot twists.
That’s because you’re writing for time-poor readers. Or should I say scanners who like to skim through your precious work (don’t worry, it’s them, not you.)
Instead of leaving essential points at the end of your content, follow the Inverted Pyramid structure – an age-old journalism formula.
How does it work? By starting with the ‘need-to-know’, followed by the ‘helpful-to-know’ and then the ‘nice-to-know’ (which you can even leave out).
4. It’s all about the customer journey
In copywriting, you’re not writing for a random reader. You’re writing for a potential customer who’s at a specific point in the sales funnel. This could be:
Take the time to familiarise yourself with your customer at each phase. This means understanding their questions, desires and pain points.
Once you know where your reader is in the customer journey, you can produce relevant copy that helps transition them to the next phase.
Remember: different consumers want different things. An exploring customer wants information and advice while a conversion customer wants special deals and other incentives.
5. Copywriting drives action
Fiction entertains. News articles inform. And travel pieces create wanderlust.
But with marketing copywriting, your goal is to encourage your readers to act. This could be buying your product, calling you or visiting a webpage to learn more.
While the action doesn’t always have to be a sale, it should progress your prospect down the sales funnel.
So before you even start typing, ask yourself: What action do I want my readers to take at this point in their customer journey?
6. Copy should be short and sharp
This is true of all writing. But in copywriting, it’s the golden rule.
In fact, if there’s one thing that separates copywriting from journalism or leisure writing, it’s the focus on creating impact.
And that means lots of short and strong sentences. Like this one. See?
Punchy points are easier to read and more likely to compel your audience to read on.
7. It’s not a hard sell
You’re not Frank Walker from National Tiles. So don’t write like you are. Please.
This means no intense selling. Or shouting through exclamation marks (!!!!). Because there’s nothing worse than aggressive writing. It’s intrusive and off-putting.
While copywriting has a stronger focus on getting action than other writing modes, it should always be credible and transparent. You can do this by using testimonials and other objective measures of success.
Some copywriting is also purely educational, such as an informative brochure. This means minimal selling.
So remember: an explicit sell repels – while clever copy compels.
Have you ever had to don your copywriting hat? I’d love to hear from you.