Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Give the audience what they want...

Whilst steering them in the right direction.

We've already established that copywriting needs to be written for a particular audience. It must sell the benefits not the features. It must also have a call to action to get the reader to react and buy. Your job is to take what the client has, give it a certain appeal and place a bunch of words before a target audience. When all goes well, your client sells loads of the product and everyone's happy, but...

How often has a client returned a draft of sales spiel and said something like "That's not really what i wanted. Can you add more about me, or my stamp collection and hobbies blah blah blah"? 

And you come away thinking...

How is your ancient collection of knots, made from camel's nasal hair, going to help sell bathroom suites to midget miners in the Antarctic?

Yeah yeah, but you get the gist. 

So now you have to try and explain that you've done research on the target audience and, no matter how interested in their personal habits the client is, it won't help to sell their product. Or is it best to just keep quiet? Should you just agree, give them what they want and take their money? After all, the customer is always wr... right. 


If the copywriting doesn't "sell", is that your fault or the customers? 

Well, if you didn't take the time to explain why their additions don't help, then mainly yours. Your job is to sell their product after all. But if they came to you for an experts opinion, then steam-rollered over it giving you no chance to reason with them, I guess you have to let them find out for themselves.

Or, let them use both versions

Why not? Let them have your original draft, and their revised version, and tell them to try theirs first and yours afterwards. They'll soon know which one worked best and you'll gain instant credibility - why? Because you gave them the best of both worlds and allowed them to get what they wanted and, where clients are concerned, that's pretty important.

More soon folks.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

First impressions - should they count?

It'll all make sense if you can get past the boring intro...

One night, a few years ago, I was in the pub with my girlfriend; it was one of those nights that just gelled. It was perfect, and I was happy to talk to anyone. So, I'm up at the bar ordering a couple more pints of old tongue-loosener, and a geezer strolls up and says hello. He's in his fifties, bearded, with a neckerchief type thing going on - not somebody I'd have naturally struck up a conversation with (my first impression was already made). Initial thoughts were of an art dealer type, out for a glass of wine and a bite to eat.

"How's it going?" says I, and we continued for a few moments with the usual small talk.

Job jobbed. I thought that would be it, collected my beers and walked to our table. The geezer soon strolled across with a bottle of red and asked if he could join us. We were surprised, but said yes. He asked if we wanted to get a couple of glasses so we could share his bottle of wine - I was amazed! A total stranger offering us a drink. We declined, but began to chat.

Was I ever wrong about that fella!

Turns out he was a builder, working on a barn conversion, and came out for nothing more than a drink and pleasant conversation. An incredible character, with endless stories and far superior general knowledge than I'll ever possess. It really was a great night!

The next morning my wallet was gone! No, not really.

The next morning I began to recall certain parts of the night, and I remembered how I'd initially formed my opinion on him. One totally unfounded. Yet he didn't judge me once - if he had, I wouldn't have this example now. It made me think how quickly, and wrongly, we judge people based on that first impression.

  • A first interview that went badly - but the applicant's superb at their job.
  • Poorly-cooked food in a restaurant - maybe a one-off, sloppy mistake.
  • A parcel arriving late in the post - who's to blame? Or don't you care?
It's fact, there is only one chance to make a first impression, but how much are we missing out on because of it?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Criticising Copy - must be able to give and take.

You may as well get used to it, because if you write, you're going to get criticism. Whether it's close family or friends, complete strangers or a client - it will happen and it will hurt!

You may have spent hours carefully crafting the perfect piece, only to have someone let rip about a part of it. So be prepared, and start growing the thicker skin required.

So now it's your turn, but not to criticise others - this is your own work. I touched on the "proofreading a day after you wrote it" a while ago and this reinforces it. You need to read through your work once you've forgotten all about it. Go in completely open-minded and treat it as if it was a competitor's work. If it doesn't flow, fix it. If it sounds like a load of rubbish, be honest and rewrite it.

Do not send it to your client until you're happy with it and then, if they criticise it, be gracious and put it right. This is why you need to allow a certain amount of time when writing, it's not the initial draft, it's the edits!

When to STOP!

Ok, you've checked it day-after-day. But every time you read it, you alter something and feel it's a never ending process. You're not sure if it's good enough, what do you do? Send it. 

It may go against your principles, but editing is there for a reason. Let the client read it and decide for you, it's their work and they will soon let you know. When it's only minor issues, and you're a bit of a perfectionist, you'll keep altering it until it's no longer the original piece. You're wasting time on something that's probably cock-on in the first place!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Don't think... write.

How often have you gone to the pc and drawn a blank? Nothing comes - no inspiration, no mind-blowing ideas and certainly no writing. Well it happens to us all. Sometimes I'll stare at the screen for a while, then pick up my phone and check for messages, maybe surf the net aimlessly before eventually giving up. It's hard.

Everyone has different ways to combat this, and certain things work better than others, but my favourite has to be a walk combined with a coffee shop. Bring it on! Just being in the open air does something to the senses. All that new information bombarding the brain sparks it into action. From cars passing by, to the clouds above, or conversation all around - the brain has no option but to start working overtime, and then the ideas happen. 

Colours, sounds, smells and shapes; all things we take for granted, but for some reason, when we are out and about, and moving amongst them, ideas flood in. That's why, at the very least,  you should always carry a notepad and pen with you. Of course, an Ipad2 would be nice, but that'll have to wait until funds allow.

So what else gets the creative juices flowing?

Magazines.  Open one up and look through the pages. It doesn't matter what it is, flick through and scan the headlines. They should be show-stopping, attention-grabbing beauties, and that might help the sudden dullness you've been struck by. 

Newspapers.  Jam-packed full of stuff, good and bad. There's bound to be something in the news or adverts to spark an interest. And you might learn something on the way through. Cut out headlines that make you smile, or sad, and keep them in your ideas file. One day, you might be glad of them.

Blank paper.  And a pen. Now go and sit somewhere and start writing, anything - it doesn't matter. Once you start, so will the ideas. Force yourself to come up with headlines, stories, blog pieces, whatever. 
If you really need to force yourself, set a time limit and aim to get 20 ideas down in 10 minutes. The ideas can be useless, it doesn't matter, but the very fact your mind is working will help the whole process along. Job jobbed.

Photographs.  As much as I like to look at old pics and remember the good old days I also like to look around the actual event. The countryside in the background, the houses or a parked car. It lets the imagination take over and allows you to see more than you thought about at the time the picture was taken. Happy days.

Think of anything else?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Red Text? You having a laugh?

  • it's bright and brash,
  • it stands out from the page,
  • it's a break from the norm,
but some say we can't use it in copywriting.


Red says STOP!  It warns of DANGER!

There you are, trying to sell something on, or offline, and the last thing you want to do is risk subconsciously putting people off the deal - obviously. So that leaves you with the choice of using plain black text, or a variety of bright colours. But nothing stands out like RED!

Does it really put people off?

Well, people in sales have been warned about using it for years, for that very reason. And guess what? Things change, someone will come out and say "Stuff that, red works great!", and we're left with a dilemma. Red or black?

  • Does it look right?
  • Does it stand out?
  • Does it grab attention?
Do what feels right. It's your piece and if you follow someone else's advice, you'll never know how it might have turned out. Stand out from the rest and demand red as right!

I think it looks GREAT!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Benefits or Features? And why...

Before I got into copywriting I, like most people, had no idea what the difference between a benefit or a feature actually was. I didn't need to know, and frankly I didn't care. Whatever adverts I'd seen or read had obviously worked (or they hadn't), and I wouldn't have been able to offer any explanation as to why, if I tried.

So that got me thinking. How many people out there want to entice people into buying their product, but don't know how to offer it? Well, here goes.


The features of a product could be described as its specifications - such as your car's weight, your washing machine's speed, or the amount of blades in a disposable razor. That's all very nice to know, but does it matter to the buying public? Well, generally no.

You see, your new car might be significantly lighter than the old model, and you can see this on paper, but what does that mean to you? Nothing... yet. You could tell your friends about it, but they probably won't care either. So how could we make it more beneficial to you, or the owner?


Well, it now weighs less, so it'll almost definitely go further on the same amount of fuel. Cheaper to run - that's a benefit. It may also handle better because there's less weight to carry - yet another benefit. Suddenly, this car is sounding good, maybe better than the competition and it might be the one to own. 

Likewise, the razor with three blades might sound good (a feature), but if it's guaranteed to give a smoother shave, in less time, then the benefits start to make it look like a worthwhile purchase. And on it goes.

So, you can see the latest features, but you can feel the benefits - they make a real difference to you and your life. It's emotional, and that's how you need to appeal to the public.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Why The Headline Is The Most Important Sentence On The Page.

If You Don't Grab Them At This Point, You've Lost Them!

So much has been written on this subject, but unless you can sell the product here, you're wasting your time with the rest of the copy. So...
  • How do you write it? 
  • How do you grab attention? 
  • How do you make people read your spiel?
The most important aspect of your advertising copy isn't the long sales letter, the colourful brochure, or even the call to action. They all have their place, and the copy would be pretty useless without any of them, but if the reader doesn't get past your headline, none of it will get read anyway!

So what's the plan? 

What would make you open an email, or an envelope? We've all received junk mail (and thrown most of it away), but sometimes you just have to take a peek. So what made you want to take a look? Maybe some sort of offer, a free gift, or even a secret (after all, knowledge is power). 

OK, let's try a few examples based on those three ideas.

1)  Buy Before Saturday And Shipping Is Free!
Hmm, without even knowing what the product is, you might be inclined to look a little further. In fact, I'd probably click on the email to see what it's all about.

2)  Free Magic Beans With Every New Purchase!
I've wanted some magic beans for a while now, so that would probably get my interest. Even baked beans would probably do the trick, depending on what you're selling!

3)  WARNING: This Is The Information They Don't Want You To Have!
That is going to pull even the most cynical of punters. They'll know it's some sort of ploy to get you to open the email but the intrigue will kill them! It won't take long to have a look, so they'll soon be into the main body of text.

It can be that simple, but it can also take hours of mental brainstorming to come up with something that suits the product. Just remember, make the punter want more, leave them in wonder, appeal to their wallet and you'll be popping out headlines like a good 'un!

p.s. If you want to cheat, keep snippets of magazine headlines that interested you. Cut them out and put them in your swipe file. They're only words, and they've all been used before, but they'll serve to inspire when all goes blank!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cheap Copywriters - Worth it?

Buy cheap - buy twice.

The internet has provided a means for thousands of people to get online, and sell their literary skills, without even having to meet the client. And that's fantastic!

Or is it?

I guess I work that way sometimes so I should be happy, and I am, but what of the people who don't have much of a clue when it comes to writing sales copy? They can bid for copywriting jobs on sites such as Elance and work away to their hearts content - again, great news. But on a website such as Elance, where the "average" bid can be ridiculously low, I wonder how anyone actually makes any money!
I had a quick think and came up with four reasons why:
  1. The writer doesn't value his/her time,
  2. They do it purely as a hobby,
  3. They are incredibly talented and can write great copy that sells, within minutes, without the need to edit or proofread,
  4. Or they just write any old rubbish..  
Where does that leave the buyer? Probably with reason number 4, and a sales letter that converts few, if any. That's a lot of business-crushing time wasted, and they're left with two choices - spend more money and employ somebody else who can generate and convert leads, or just walk away - with the feeling that copywriters aren't all they're cracked up to be. A very expensive mistake!

I had to turn a job down on Elance last week because the money just didn't match the hours. I really wanted to do the job because it was of great interest to me, but the thought of rewriting 20 articles, of 300 words each, for the sum of $140.00 wasn't very appealing. Even if each article only took an hour (which is optimistic), it would work out at $7/hr. So, less than the starting wage at MacDonalds for articles designed to showcase a website/blog.

What quality of work could the client expect for that? 
And would it achieve what they wanted?

When you take your car to the main dealer for a service, you expect to pay in excess of $100/hr to get the job done correctly, and maintain your vehicle to the highest standard. You know you could take it to Fast Fred Fixit round the corner and save hundreds of dollars, but would it be done properly? Did he really take all the wheels off and check all of the brakes? Did he use the correct oil? Hmm, maybe a hundred dollars per hour doesn't sound quite so steep when you look at it in that way. And yet some businesses would like to pay a quarter of that to get sales copy that can produce thousands of dollars in profit per week! Something doesn't add up...

You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Editing and proofreading (or edetin and profreeding) - When to do it?

The next day!

Whenever you write something, make sure you do your read-through the following day. I always try to write in the mornings (because I'm fresher and more alert), then leave it alone for the afternoon, possibly a look over in the evening with basic edits - and finally, I always try to do my proofreading in the morning.

Why? Because when you read something you've just written, it's almost impossible to spot the mistakes; your brain will read it as you just thought it. You won't be able to tell if it flows correctly - maybe it doesn't even make sense at all. 

But, the next day you will have forgotten how it went; the grammar, the words, the flow, the paragraphs etc. will all be new to you again and, if you don't like it, you have the opportunity to fix it and read it again the next day. Clients don't always understand this process, but it's more important to get it right first time than for them to think your cat wrote the copy!

There are times when I've needed to get something off to a client quickly (after reading several times), and they've sent it back because they've found a spelling mistake! That's not the best way to showcase your writing and can be quite embarrassing. 

A spell check tip I learnt from the great copywriter, Bob Bly, is to read the entire piece backwards. Because the writing won't make any sense, you tend to look at each word individually; this way you're far less likely to scan over the mistakes.

Of course, if you have someone on hand to take a look through, don't be afraid to ask! 
Now where's my wife?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Appeal - do you have it?

How do you know? 

At some point when you write something - anything in fact - a few readers aren't going to appreciate it. Perhaps they won't understand what you're trying to communicate, maybe it's in some way offensive, or they just plain don't like your style!  But it's going to happen sometime.

The key?  Keep your target audience in mind at all times and go with the client's opinion - how they want you to write.  Writing a sales letter for the latest computer hardware?  Target the intelligent, professional, maybe slightly geeky (sorry) crowd.  They probably have money waiting for the newest, must-have gadget, they certainly want the latest updates in a rapidly changing world and they want status amongst their peers. 

So appealing to that person could be about:
  1. How they will stand out from the crowd,
  2. Being the first one to use it,
  3. Saving them time because this hardware can do so much more than previous versions. 
Pretty soon you'll have their attention.  Telling them it looks nice on the desk, or that it's made from recycled yogurt pots probably wouldn't appeal to that particular market, but hey, it might work for someone into aesthetically-pleasing goods that are good for the environment.

Target audience is important - keep them in mind throughout!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Building trust when writing copy

One of the hardest things we have to do as a copywriter is build trust - in a relatively short space of time and words. It is true that people tend to believe things that they see written down. They take it for granted that a great deal of research has gone into writing the piece before them, so therefore it must be true.

But, when you're trying to make them part with cash - you need a little more. Think about it:
  • We don't have the benefit of speech/gestures to allow clients to warm to us.
  • We need style and pizazz just to make them read past the headline.
  • We also need to sell them a product or service - reasonably quickly.
And on top of all that, we need trust - or the customer will suspect it's just about taking their money.

So how do we build trust? We need to show why we are qualified in that particular subject.
If you're a mechanic, maybe you've had five years experience on a certain model of car; as a plumber, perhaps you're the leading authority in a new pipe sealing method.

Whatever your silver-lining happens to be, work it out and then find a way of integrating it within the copy. Make it natural and let each paragraph roll into the next. If it's a pleasure to read, the client will take it all in and the bridge between the both of you is built.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Ooh, touchy subject - and with good reason.

Cliches in copywriting are very often met with groans and disapproval, and why? Because they've been heard so many times before. Not much good if a client is looking for a unique piece...

So you need to think outside the box. Oops.

But do they work? Obviously they do (or did once), or they wouldn't be so well known in the first place, but can we seriously get away with using them now?
It depends, sometimes they look like a real cop-out - as if you couldn't be bothered to find the right words - and that will never do when selling your creativity. Your client deserves better.

However, although hard to believe, there are times when they fit perfectly and my advice is to ask yourself these questions:
  1. Would you enjoy reading it for the first time (and not laugh)?
  2. Would you buy a product if the spiel was cliched?
  3. Does it make your partner/friends cringe when they read it?
Trust your instincts, if you're doubtful, rewrite it. The feedback from your client will soon tell you if you made the right choice.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Copywriting - The How to Guide.

What is it? Why do we need it?

Firstly, great copy needs to engage your reader - draw them in. Give them what they want to hear. Make them want to read the first line, then the second, then the third...

Forget everything else for a moment and keep that in mind; if they're not reading it, you're not selling it. Like a good story, your reader will find it enjoyable and feel they're gaining or learning something.

Easy so far?

Hopefully. Now we need to add some extra aspects because a story, after all, is just a story. We need to use that story to try and sell something, and that takes a little more effort because we still want the customer to read, and ultimately enjoy, our copywriting.

Let's just say I want to sell you the latest navigation app for your Android or iPhone4. I could tell you how popular the app is, how much research and development went into it, why I think it's worth the money I want for it etc., but would that make you want it? Or make you buy it?

At this point, you'd probably only buy if you actually needed it - for a specific reason or element of the app itself. Otherwise, there's loads of navigation apps out there so why pick that particular one?

But if I could include a few benefits of the app within the story (copy), you might be a little more intrigued. Let's dream a little and imagine my app gave you the ability to teleport yourself anywhere around the world? Yes, we're in cloud cuckoo land but teleporting is a major benefit, and that in itself would probably make everyone on the planet want to buy it. 

So the headline could read something like

Teleport Yourself Anywhere at Anytime for $4.99 

We now have everyone's attention! 

The reader might not yet fully believe it (I wouldn't), but I'm willing to bet they'd read the next line just to check it out. Why? Because of the human need to find out for themselves, make sure they're not missing out on something. It's a strong emotion and, at this point, you have them where you need them - interested and wanting more.

Forget the English teacher's take on how a sentence should be structured and what goes where, concentrate instead on holding your reader while you fire a few more must-have benefits at them. 

OK, that's a start to the blog and you can expect more on the subject soon. 

Right, I'm off to invent my teleporter app.