Great writing makes great communications whether it’s for press-ads, brochures, websites, or broadcasting. Here are some tips gleaned from top writers that you can apply to supercharge your marketing communications.
Over many years of working in advertising and communications I’ve had the good fortune to work alongside some great copywriters. Their advice is not about writing elegant copy, but about approaches that really work.
Tips you can use
- Know your audience – get personal. Don’t look at the demographics of a group – focus on writing for an individual. Think of somebody you know who is typical of the audience. It may be your sister, a business colleague or somebody in your sports club. Then write just as though you were talking to them. Use the same voice and use the sort of arguments you would use to persuade them.
- Read your copy back out loud – ideally, to somebody else. If it sounds silly out loud you can be pretty sure it will read silly on the page.
- Be clear what action you require from readers. When they have finished – what do you want them to do? Does your copy clearly lead them to that action?
- Avoid the ‘so what’ trap. Read through your copy – if at the end of it your reader can say ‘so what?’, you have missed something. You have not been clear about what benefit the reader will get from the proposition you are making. Potential customers only listen to one radio station, WIIFM – What’s In It For Me.
- ‘Prove it’ – whenever you make a claim about something – how good you say a product or service is – give the evidence to prove it. A good ad is usually just those two things Claim and Evidence. Evidence can be basic data, such as using fuel consumption figures to support claims for a car’s economy, or more narrative. You could use references, testimonials, demonstrations, surveys and more – the important thing is ‘prove it’.
- Don’t tell – show. Usually it’s not the product or service that is special it’s the effect or benefit it delivers. I think of an excellent opticians’ campaign where they don’t show glasses at all, but the humorous effects of not visiting that particular optician. Think how best to demonstrate benefits.
- Never be satisfied – create multiple headlines – one famous creative director stated he always writes at least 16 possible headlines for every ad. Don’t choose from a shortlist of one.
- Write then edit. Writing and editing are two separate activities. Writing is a creative enterprise – it should be a flow of consciousness. When writing don’t worry about grammar or spelling – forget about the target word count – just write. Editing is a technical activity – taking that raw material, trimming, discarding, honing and polishing. Both are vital endeavours, but get used to keeping them separate.
- Forget the rules – there are no rules in advertising, only results. As David Ogilvy famously said; “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative”. You are in the business of communicating – if it makes better sense to begin a particular sentence with ‘And’ – then do it. Sound like a person talking, not a text-book.
- Entertain – Think of the most recent copy that made an impression on you – what ad can you remember from yesterday? You can guarantee that what you recall is being entertained – made to smile, be thrilled, feel sentimental. Entertain and engage your readers first – then persuade. Don’t be afraid to build an idea around a joke.
- If you’ve got a great offer, shout it out loud – if not, use pizazz. You should always be looking for an awesome customer benefit – then make it clear and undeniable. But sometimes you are dealing with a commodity with little to differentiate it from the competition. That’s the time to use showmanship – use your creativity to create that difference. Examples may be seen in lager advertising – basically, there is little difference for brands to build upon – no tangible benefits. That’s why some of the most entertaining ads of recent years have come from the sector. Great writing uses humour, showmanship and pizazz to entertain and differentiate.
Don’t forget to write. The more you write the better you will get. Some writers say they need to write 3,000 words a day or 1,000 to keep in practice. There is no magic figure, but writing something every day will certainly sharpen your skill.
And, finally – don’t forget to read. Great writing starts with great reading.