Copywriting is one of those things that you think you can do on your own but really shouldn’t. Not if you want your communications to be effective.
There is no denying that good design plays an integral role in marketing, which is why marketers spend significant amount of resources hiring the best designers. Visual aesthetics are important but if it is accompanied by poorly-written copy, it becomes superficial.
Design and copy are two sides of the same coin and they work hand in hand to help marketers reach their audience. They should therefore be treated with equal importance. No one likes stopping to admire a brilliantly designed poster or website only to cringe when they read terribly written copy. This can be damaging to your campaign and to your brand.
Bad copy lowers brand credibility
A quick Google search will present you with a long list of copywriting blunders that have been mercilessly archived on the Internet – yet we never learn. The United Overseas Bank’s diamond-embellished card gaffe is an example of how poorly written copy can undermine all the hard work you’ve put in for the rest of your campaign. Two wording errors in a ten-word sentence all but destroyed the prestige this card was meant to embody; a short proofreading session could have saved UOB from the embarrassment. You might be thinking, “Well then, I’ll just make sure my copy has no grammatical or spelling mistakes. Done.”
Not so fast.
Good copy is more than just perfect grammar and spelling. It is about understanding the nuances of language and being able to find the most compelling way to say something. This is an important skill to have, particularly in today’s attention economy where marketers have to fight tooth and nail to capture even just a second of consumer attention.
If done right, your copy can be so arresting, so persuasive, that it could stand on its own – like this ad from Durex.
This single, punchy sentence tells you everything you need to know about Durex and their products; all without fancy visuals. Now that you have (hopefully) gained newfound respect for copywriting, we present to you a list of
ways to create striking copy that will get your brand noticed. This list is useful for those just starting out as copywriters as well as marketers who want to know how to sieve out the good ones from the bad ones.
How to write copy that stands out in the attention economy
1. Always keep your audience in mind
This is the cardinal rule.
Copywriters (myself included) may get carried away trying to come up with the wittiest copies possible because, well, it makes us feel smart. However, we should constantly remind ourselves that stroking our own egos isn’t the goal here – it’s about the target audience. We need to write content that connects with them, not us.
Before you start writing you should always ask yourself:
What are the pain points of my target audience?
How can my brand help to relieve these pain points?
This ad for The Economist is a great example of how answering these questions can help you craft brilliantly effective copy:
Do you want to remain a Management trainee at 42? Exactly – nobody does.
This copy not only builds a sense of prestige around the publication and its readers, it also creates a desire among non-readers to be part of the in-group and to feel like intellectuals. Good copy cannot be written if you don’t understand what makes your target audience tick so be sure to do your research.
2. Be concise
The phrase “brevity is the soul of wit” has never been more true in copywriting. Less is more. Nobody wants to read a wall of text in a bus stop ad, especially when they don’t already care. Consumers are bombarded with ads everywhere they turn. If your copy doesn’t get straight to the point, it will probably be lost in the sea of information.
So how do you write concisely?
a) Decide what is most important.
Trying to squeeze everything on a product or service into a single print ad or social media post is counterproductive. Most people don’t have the patience or time to decipher a wall of words. Focus on one key message; just be sure to let them know where they can go to get more information.
b) Remove unnecessary words
This point is especially important if you are writing short-form content like social media posts. If a word doesn’t add value to your copy, it shouldn’t be there. For example, the sentence “you can pay in cash at the counter” can be shortened to “pay in cash” without any loss in meaning.
When you’re writing, ask yourself: Do you really need this word? Does it help you create a certain tone? If not, will removing it make the sentence awkward? If you answer is “no” to all of the above, then remove it.
c) Avoid superfluous language
Nothing is more cringeworthy than reading a copy filled with convoluted sentences and BIG words used the wrong way. There is no shame in using a dictionary but there is plenty of shame in publishing copy riddled with incorrect word usage. Always double-check if you’re unsure.
In fact, convoluted sentences and obscure words should be avoided in general. Remember point #1: your copy should be written for your target audience. Will they be able to understand what you’re trying to say if you use “brobdingnagian” instead of a more common word like “gigantic”? Probably not.
3. Be compelling
Good copy should have a great hook that is usually positioned at the beginning. The hook should stop your audience in their tracks and entice them to read on, like the phrase “Peek-a-boo! Look who’s looking at you” in this Facebook post we did for EZ-Link.
Human beings are emotional creatures so try to use words that are affective.
For example, instead of “XXX is a good drink for a hot day”, you could write “XXX quenches and refreshes – perfect for a hot day”. The latter makes the beverage sound much more enticing.
4. Read everything
We are talking about novels, newsletters, billboards, posters and even what’s written on the back of your cereal box. Read with a critical eye; always ask yourself these questions:
a) What is the writer’s aim?
b) Has this aim been achieved through his/her writing? How?
It may sound tedious but by learning from others, you develop a keener sense of what works and what doesn’t. It also exposes you to different writing styles for different mediums which helps you build versatility. Conversely, you also learn which words and phrases are clichéd and to avoid using in your writing.
Try these suggestions out for a start and as you get more experienced in copywriting, you’ll gradually develop your own set of guidelines. We’ll be sharing other marketing news and tips with you regularly so stay tuned to this blog!
We’ll leave you with another great piece of writing advice from the father of advertising himself, David Ogilvy:
“Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.”