Think of the brands or organisations you trust. The ones you get excited about. Think of the adverts, the emails, the social media posts that they put out there – what jumps to mind? Why do you like them?
Now think of ones you don’t like. Social media posts that have rubbed you up the wrong way, or just don’t make sense. Messaging or blogs that make it clear that they really don’t understand who their audience is. What is it about them?
I’ll hazard a guess: it comes down to the messaging. Maybe the words they use. The way they communicate.
That’s the copy, and like it or not, copy represents your business. We always think of our visual brand as representing us, and it does, it draws the eye, but it’s the copy that convinces us it’s worthwhile (or not worthwhile, if they don’t have it right). It’s the copy that really sells. Hopefully, it’s what builds trusts.
So, whether you like it or not, it is part of your brand. It helps you tell your story. It conveys the business’s benefits, making sure to connect an audience with the solutions they need. It sets the tone for who you are, for what you are. It draws the reader in. Connects with them. Makes them think, feel and respond. It conveys how valuable your content is. It lets your audience understand that you understand them, that you’re here for them. That you want to help them.
You get the picture. All in all, it can make or break your brand, so let’s start taking it seriously. Let’s make it stand out.
Copy encompasses anything and everything you write – emails, blogs, social media posts, call outs to potential customers, even internal messaging.
Everything you write needs to reflect your company’s brand, values and messaging. If this all sounds like a big ask, don’t worry, you don’t have to be a natural writer; there are tweaks that can help make your writing stand out and work for you. Here are some things you can do.
Have a consistent tone of voice. This will differ from company to company (at Virtual College, for example, it’s human, simple, smart and confident), but make sure that it’s consistent across the business. Also make sure that everyone knows about it and are on the same page! There is nothing more jarring and off putting than seeing a smiley, cheery, friendly social post asking you to join a webinar and then receiving a cold, impersonal rejection email telling you it’s full (believe me, I’m talking from personal experience). It comes across as disjointed, totally inauthentic and as if it had been written by two different people (it probably had). It shows a complete disconnect.
Show that you know who your audience is. Talk to them on their level. Acknowledge their challenges, fears, motivations. Your audience might consist of different personas, so make sure you tailor your messaging to the right persona. Don’t just take a ‘one size fits all’ approach. This isn’t only relevant when you’re writing external communications, but needs to be considered when you’re writing internal comms too.
You may know what your company’s jargon and terminology means, but does your audience? Don’t alienate them. This goes back to knowing your audience, so talk on their terms, at their level. If you’re certain they’ll know, then great. But if they don’t? Then don’t turn them off by boring them or drowning them in jargon. Introduce it later when you’ve got them hooked and when they’ll have an idea of what you’re referring to.
Emotions help people remember things. Make them smile. Acknowledge their fears, challenges and then show them how you can help. Be quirky, make them laugh. It’ll help your message stick.
A story hooks the reader in, gives them something to relate to. It often puts the topic into perspective. Look at how I started off this article – I got the reader to think. I didn’t just delve into why copy is important, I put it into context, presenting a scenario that the reader could understand and then used that to dive into the topic. Going back to the previous point, stories also draw on the emotions, and make it a more interesting read too.
Talk to them like the humans they are. Google now ranks pages on how ‘human’ web page copy is. Boring lists written for SEO purposes? Not needed anymore.
My personal favourite – vary your sentence length (and it’s summed up perfectly in this blog about Amazon’s leaked email template.) Varying sentence length makes a piece sing. It makes it flow. It takes the reader gently through the piece. Don’t underestimate its power.
It’s the classic copywriting advice – get them to read the first line, and the next and the next. Hook them in from the beginning, it’s the only chance you have to keep them reading.
Writing is your chance to be creative, to push the boundaries. Try something new. And have fun with it. If you aren’t enjoying what you’re writing, then your audience probably won’t either.
Everyone always thinks that writing should take no time at all. But believe me, good copy will not be rattled off in a matter of minutes. It probably won’t even be rattled off in one attempt. As the writing guru John McPhee says ‘The way to do a good piece of writing is three or four times over, never once.’ That takes time.
Hopefully this has given you some food for thought. If you are now eager to start but have no idea how to begin, then check out our infographic which outlines our ‘four draft’ writing process – a useful way to overcome that horrendous paralysed feeling we experience when faced with a writing task.