Lately I’ve seen a few examples of organisations – including big ones – rolling up their sleeves and having a go at writing their own advertising or content, without using a specialist copywriter.
I know what they’re thinking. Everyone uses words, right? So how hard can it be? Interestingly fewer people seem inclined to view themselves as designers (perhaps the software puts them off).
Well, the results I saw spoke for themselves…. And that wasn’t a good thing.
It’s true that we all need to write but no matter how good you are at something, nothing beats doing it for a living. A big part of why you’d bother hiring a professional copywriter is simply that they do it every day. But what a exactly does a professional copywriter bring to a business’s content and advertising, beyond simply knowing how to write?
Here’s five things I think every good copywriter will help you understand.
1. They’ll figure out exactly what you’re selling
It sounds obvious but it’s one of the most common problems with advertising, especially in the services sector where we do a lot of work. And when I say this I don’t mean understanding the features of your product or service. People connect with their emotions not with a list of pros and cons. A good copywriter doesn’t just write text, they come up with a million and one ideas on how to do it, the angle, the sell, and what it is you’re really selling. What difference will it make to people’s lives? Is it convenience? More money? Prestige? Happiness? As Leo Burnett once said: “Good advertising does not just circulate information. It penetrates the public mind with desires and belief.” If you think McDonald’s sells hamburgers, you’ve got a long way to go.
2. They’ll help you find your audience
A good copywriter can connect you with your audience. That’s no small feat. One of the first things any decent copywriter asks themselves is who am I delivering my message to? What makes them tick? What are their fears and desires? What kind of language do they use? And how does that affect what I’m saying? Advertising legend David Ogilvy said: “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.” A good copywriter can tailor their language, voice and even message for any audience. It’s a real skill.
3. They’ll help refine your narrative
All good products and all good companies come with a good story. Think of IKEA, Nike or Apple. But having a good story doesn’t mean writing a novel: far from it. Writing compelling content of any length – a news article, an advertorial, blog or even a three line advertisement – requires similar skill and effort. In fact, it’s often the shortest ones that take the most effort. It once took me a couple of weeks of solid work to find the right narrative for one financial services product I was asked to sell. In the end, the ad was just 10 words long. My father-in-law looked at it and said “they paid you to write 10 words?” They did, because they saw the power in choosing 10 of the right words.
4. They’ll keep your message simple
Stories are often a great way of simplifying complexity too. A lot of people with a complex service or product to sell trip up when they try to involve their audience in the complexity.The best copywriters always manage to keep the message simple, even when what they’re selling is far from it. David Ogilvy believed nothing ever needed to be longer than two pages. I’m not quite that inflexible but even the most sophisticated ideas can usually be expressed simply.
5. They’ll do the unexpected
I once had a potential client tell me they wanted to look and sound exactly the same as a rival. What’s the point of that? A good copywriter will find what’s unique about what you’re selling and position you differently to your competitors. If you go with what’s already being done, you’re basing your business plan on a coin toss (or worse, a price war). A good copywriter will also find an interesting way of getting your message across, because, as another advertising legend, William Bernbach, put it: “In advertising, familiarity breeds contempt”.
And that’s just the start… What else do you think a decent copywriter brings to the table?
About the author: Ralph Grayden
I’m Ralph, owner @AntelopeMedia, sometime author, lover of history and (most) sports and very amateur brewer of beer.