A while back, I was invited to contribute something called “How to Write Copy” to the website of a large, well-known women’s networking organization with numerous “star” participants and a robust online presence. However, my contact at this group dropped the ball and the piece was never published. To assuage my irritation (and for your edification, of course), I’m posting it below. The original thesis was that women make superior copywriters. But I sincerely believe this “how to” exercise will also benefit not only gay men, metrosexuals and hopeless bromantics but other male varietals as well. Take that, female chauvinists!
Anyone can be a copywriter, but it helps to be a woman.
Copywriting is selling. Selling is persuading. Persuading is connecting. And who connects better than women? The point of nearly all writing is to forge an emotional bond with the reader; copywriting is no different.
So how do you use this womanly wile to write copy? Tell a story. Maybe you’re not a fan of gossip. Still, I’m sure you’ve noticed that when you DO tell a tale to a pal about a mutual friend, you’re strengthening your relationship with Ms. All Ears. When you’re SELLING in the telling, just remember these five little words: who, what, when, where and why (though not in that order).
WHO: The “who” is the person with whom you’re creating a bond. The much ballyhooed COPY THAT SELLS is all about the reader. What are her hopes, dreams and desires? What does she need? Even more importantly, what doe she WANT? Dig deeper. What is she afraid of? What does she regret? What is that ruminative thought she can’t quite shake? The more fully you identify your “who,” the more forcefully you’ll be able to connect with her.
WHY: The “why” is the benefit of the product or service you’re promoting. This is where you’ll seduce the prospect into thinking with her right brain, going with her gut. Simply speaking, how will what you’re selling improve her life? How will it save her money or time or face? How will it help her make a difference or ease her pain or smite her enemies?
WHAT: The “what” is what you use to back up the “why,” aka the features of your product or service. This is where you encourage your “who” to think with her left brain, her head; this is how you help her justify the purchase. This is also where bullet points come in handy.
WHEN: The “when” is now. Attach some “Why wait?” urgency to your “unique selling proposition” (how your “what” delivers the “why” better than your competitors can). Offer a freebie to anyone who subscribes to your newsletter before the end of the month.
WHERE: The “where” is the URL, phone number, e-mail address, retail location or other info your would-be customer/client needs to find your goods or services. Make her hunt for them at your peril.
Now, what story should you tell? The same story you’ve captured in your case study. A case study is a story about how your product or service benefited one of your customers or clients. It not only provides the emotional connective tissue you’re looking for but also the third-party credibility of a testimonial.
To review: You’re a woman and you have a story to tell. Excellent. “But what about that pesky writing part?” you may be thinking; “I’m not a writer.” Perhaps not, but you ARE a talker. If you can TELL a story, you can WRITE a story. In fact, the most irresistible copy is more akin to someone speaking to you than someone writing to you. Which means you can break the rules. You can end a sentence with a preposition! You can write in incomplete sentences! You can use everyday language – no jargon or marketing buzzwords required! You can’t make a connection with someone if you don’t speak her language. Still have doubts? Just tell a friend your story (make sure to include juicy, specific, personal details) and record yourself. Use the transcript as the basis for your copy.
Let me add to the litany above: You don’t have to try to sound smart! Trying to sound smart – saying “utilize” instead of “use” – puts a wall between you and your reader. It’s essentially the same thing as trying too hard (also see: hype, which includes the excessive use of exclamation points). The only thing you can do to make you look not smart is to not proofread. Spell-checking alone is not enough; you MUST print out your copy and read it carefully, line by line. Then do it again. Sloppy copy implies sloppy service and slipshod products.
Another piece of good news for the writing-averse: Your copy doesn’t have to be long. Au contraire – it should be brief. Keep in mind, Lincoln only needed 272 words to write the Gettysburg Address. Think of all the shoes that have been sold with “Just Do It.”
That bit of ad copy also provides the ultimate eff-you to the blank page that terrifies so many of us. When you sit down to write, give yourself permission to write the most craptastic crap ever written. It’s true – there’s no such thing as good writing, just good rewriting. You’ll be amazed at how much better your copy gets with each pass. Even as early as the third draft, you’ll be saying to yourself, “Gee, I guess I CAN write copy.”
Or not. In which case you’ll do what all smart entrepreneurs do – hire a professional. But if you do want to keep at it, take heart in the knowledge that for most of your life, you’ve been a woman making emotional connections by telling stories and are thus halfway to becoming a brilliant copywriter. The rest is practice.
About the author: Julia Rubiner
Julia Rubiner is a partner in Editorial Emergency, a Los Angeles copy shop specializing in content manufacturing and brand communications for entertainment, lifestyle and nonprofit concerns. She is also a personal-branding consultant, writing resumes, LinkedIn profiles and executive bios, among other tools, for people in creative fields who want to advance their careers. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, she was an editor of reference publications. Rubiner wears the label “word nerd” as a badge of honor.
Join me on editorialemergency.com