Is it magic? Do you have to pay an outsider good money to get great copy? Well, maybe. But you can also build your own skills. The key is being adaptable: daring to go beyond your first draft. Here are five tips to help you.
Focus on the reader
Don’t talk about stuff; talk to your reader. Address them directly. Imagine speaking to them, and write down exactly what you would say.
Then edit the copy – ruthlessly.
Think benefits, not features. Why should your reader care about what you have to say? A colleague of mine talks about ‘tuning in to Radio WIIFM: What’s In It For Me?’ What matters to your reader? Corporates and business partners have quite different values and priorities to individual customers.
Think also about how the reader will encounter your copy: project proposals command quite different levels of attention from campaigning emails. How committed is your reader to reading? Are they sitting at a desk or scrolling on their smartphone? How can you capture – and hold – their attention?
Keep it simple
Two messages is one too many. Decide what you want your reader to do as a result of reading your copy and say what you need to say to achieve that action. Make the ‘ask’ specific.
Persuade in three dimensions
Great copy seduces. The reader feels that they’ve decided what to do, rather than being persuaded by you. You can seduce your reader in three ways: through reasoned argument; through credibility and reputation (why should we respect your organisation more than others?); and through emotion.
Most buying decisions are based on feeling rather than logic. And that’s as much about stimulating the imagination as about arousing emotion. Show, don’t tell: avoid emotive language that tells the reader what to feel or what you feel. The feelings should occur in the reader – not in the text. Use stories and examples and let them do the work.
Make it zing
You can bring your copy to life in (at least) four ways.
First, use power words: single-syllable words, human words, action words, feeling words, concrete words, words that stimulate the senses, and onomatopoeic words (chop, fizz, crash, scrape).
Second, use personal words: words like ‘you’ and ‘we’, but also words that name the people (and non-humans) that are doing things in your copy.
Third, use strong, specific verbs, and avoid abstract words (recognition, awareness, opportunity).
Finally, express your ideas as positives. Don’t write about what isn’t happening, or won’t happen; tell your reader what is happening, what they can do, and how the world will be a better place as a result.
Integrate your copy with design
All copy has some sort of design element. It might be no more than a paragraph break. Email newsletters can include colour and pictures; flyers have fronts and backs; brochures have covers and inside pages. Blog posts can include cross-line headlines (like the ones breaking up the text here) and standfirsts (short paragraphs sitting between the main headline and the body text – just like the copy in italics at the head of this post).
Make your copy work with the design, not against it.
Oh – and one final hint: work at least four times as hard on your headline as you do on your copy. After all, four times as many people will read the headline – or the subject line of your email – as read the body copy. Don’t try to make your headlines cute or clever. If you’re stuck for ideas, start your headline with ‘how’, ‘why’ or a number.
(Yup, that's what I did. Actually, I also used CoSchedule's free headline analyser. It doesn't entirely convince me, but it's great fun.)
If the headline works, chances are that they’ll read your copy. And all your hard work will not be in vain.
My copywriting course reveals more secrets of the copywriter’s craft. Take a look at the outline and contact me to find out more.