Every time I teach a class or give a presentation, I inevitably get asked what qualities constitute effective copywriting. There are many rules, and some of them you learn only through experience.
But no matter if you’re a novice or professional, writing is only as good as the thinking behind it.
It’s easy to get caught up in a theme or some catchy sentences and forget your objective – to build the brand, to drive readers to a site, to get people interested, to evoke a response. The priority, however, should always be to create copy that precisely reflects the strategy and serves the objective.
While this may seem like an obvious guiding principle, many marketers struggle to transform this ideal into a finished piece. What’s the solution? Consider these tips for your next creative project.
Do Some Executive Group Therapy
Before starting a project, the key decision-makers need to agree on objectives, key messages, how to execute, and so on. As elementary as this may sound, it’s not uncommon to have the CEO, VP of Marketing and Sales Director disagree about strategy.
Without such collaboration, unforeseen issues will creep up during the project, which stalls decisions and delays production. Even if you do complete the project, it might not be on strategy, and at best you’ll get lukewarm results.
Avoid this mess by conducting strategic brainstorming sessions. These gatherings allow the group to chip away and uncover the true pros and cons of each strategy. Everyone can voice the rationale behind their opinions, which ultimately fosters true agreement and builds genuine consensus on the project’s goals. In turn, you’ll be clear about how the copy can best support that strategy.
Go on a Sales Call
Get inside your prospects’ heads by going on some sales calls. After all, these are the people you’re targeting. In doing so, you’ll discover their pain points and how your products can solve their problems.
Also, by witnessing your sales folks in action, you’ll get a sense of how you can help them do their jobs better. Take that knowledge and apply it to your written materials. Don’t forget: those leave-behind pieces are also essential sales tools.
Write an Outline
Once you’ve agreed on your strategy and how to target prospects, put your thoughts on paper.
Write out everything: the key messages, the benefits of your offerings, the current market condition that has created the need for what you sell, potential objections, how you want to be perceived and, if applicable, the call to action. Then make sure your copy addresses every one of these areas.
Also agree on a “tone of voice.” It should match both how you want to be perceived and what people respond to. You can be arrogant, friendly, professional, whimsical, conversational, hip, authoritative, wacky – the list goes on. Whatever tone you choose, be sure that it’s in line with the strategy.
Don’t Skimp on Creative Expertise
When you view creative services as a commodity – going for the lowest bid – the results will create a perception of your business as a commodity.
Bring on people who know how to translate strategies into persuasive marketing and sales pieces. Trying to save money today will most likely end up costing you more (and not just dollars) in the long term.
Always Come Back to the Objective
Sometimes, your copy and design may appear to be on target, but they miss the mark because they’re based on a questionable strategy.
It’s critical that you periodically revisit your strategies and the assumptions that formed them. Measure traffic to your Web site and make any necessary adjustments. Through user testing and feedback forms, you can discover what people don’t like or can’t find. Try different lists, formats, and follow-up methods for your direct response mail and e-mail.
When you take action without understanding your intention, you’re just guessing. And guessing is about as effective as sending a message in a bottle. Now that’s a strategy that no copy can keep up with.
About the author: James DeKoven
James DeKoven is a strategist and copywriter based in San Francisco who helps companies increase awareness, response and sales.