How to be a copywriter image

Find a great copywriter. Keep them close.  

We all know great copy when we see it, but most people don’t know exactly why it’s great. Writing quality copy is both an art and a science. As an art, it takes aptitude, knowledge and creativity. As a science, it requires many years of practice, trial and error, improvement and training.

So, how can you find a copywriter that has the right mix of both? To start with, read through their copy and ask yourself if they:

1. Take an unexpected approach

Good copy demands attention. There’s lots of numbers floating around that estimate how many marketing messages hit us each day. While it’s difficult to accurately define, we say the range is between 300-600. The best copywriting breaks through the noise by straying from the script and taking a different approach to an idea. Good copy makes you look (and think) twice about what you’re reading, which makes it memorable.

Often, the most obvious message isn’t the best one. For example, if Acura had stuck to the Product Manager’s PowerPoint slides, this ad may have read: “Our top-of-the-range luxury family car.” Instead, the writer looked a little deeper and asked ‘why and when would a customer purchase this car?’

Acura advertisement Image for Blog

2. Understand the customer

Copy fails when it’s pitched too broadly, or worse, to everyone. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try to. The best copywriters can identify more than just a general target audience or demographic. Successful copy speaks to one person by understanding their specific situation, motivations, needs, desires and challenges. Know your customer, give them a name, and write for and to them.

3. Build an emotional connection

Good writers find a way to empathise with their readers to build trust and rapport. This involves looking more deeply into the problem that your product or service solves and showing empathy. For example, customers that are buying a pillow online are likely to find copy that looks something like, “We make the best organic cotton pillows. Buy our pillow.”

A better approach is to understand your customerlet’s call her Sarah. What’s Sarah’s primary reason for buying a new pillow? Maybe she’s not sleeping well. Maybe Sarah’s so tired that it’s negatively impacting her performance at work, her mood or how she feels. If that’s the case, the fact that your pillow is made from organic cotton is not enough to persuade Sarah to hand over her credit card number. You haven’t connected to her on an emotional level.

Instead, see how Westin pitched their hotel beds in this print ad:

Westin hotels ad Image for Blog


4. Nail the headlines

A recent study by Sharethrough showed that 1 in 5 Millennials say that they only read the headlines when browsing social or content feeds. Headlines, including email subject lines, have always been a critical tool for hooking in an audience. David Olgivy famously said that five times as many people read the headline than the body copy. If the headline or email subject is dull, your audience won’t read on. The trick is to spark curiosity without giving away the whole story. Make it emotive, relevant, timely and punchy. Humour, play on words, and unexpected one-liners are great ways to grab attention. Check out these headlines from Urban Daddy, a magazine for new products, experiences, and eateries:

  • It’s an indie film festival, obviously
  • 10 people causing the most panic in the White House this week
  • Six days. That’s how long you have until 65% of your body is turkey.
  • The $185 paper clip. Don’t act so surprised, it’s Prada.

5. Make things simple

Ain’t no one got time for big fat words and long, unwieldy sentences. Good copy gets to the point. It’s hard to be concise, so if you’re eager to test out your copywriter’s brevity – give them a word limit. The trick is to cut out extraneous words. Choose shorter, more efficient ways to get across your meaning.

  • Use active voice instead of passive: Instead of “A confirmation email will be sent to you on completion of your order,” try, “We’ll send you a confirmation email after you order.”
  • Replace space-hogging phrases with one word: Replace “At this time” with “now” and “to be able to” with “to” and so on.

6. Avoid jargon and hyperbole

Synergy. Unprecedented. Cross-functional and multi-disciplinary. Deep-drive. Revolutionary.

Have you left yet? We’re all tired of hearing buzz words–otherwise known as corporate crap. Unfortunately, some copywriters fall back on these words when they’re unsure of how to clearly describe their product or service. The best copy is written for thinking humans. So call a spade, a spade–not a ground penetrating system. This includes you, Braun.

Braun shaving ad Image for Blog


7. Pay attention to detail

It sounds basic, but how often have you caught typos, spelling mistakes, broken links, or repeated words in published work? It doesn’t bode well for your brand, but it can happen to even the most experienced writers. Copywriters should use an external proof reader to pick over their work before it goes to the client or gets posted. If you don’t have a proof reader on hand, and the deadline is looming, walk away from the computer for some time, and read again later. Reading your work out aloud can also help to pick up rogue words and clunky sentences.

Attention to detail isn’t just about avoiding errors, it’s also about consistency. So, if you referred to the shortened version of a book title in paragraph one, don’t use the longer version in paragraph four.

Choose wisely

You have only a small window to engage with your audience, so choose your words, and your copywriter, wisely.

I’m curious: what do you consider to be some common signs of great copywriting? Leave me a comment below.

Laura Prael

Author Laura Prael

Laura has more than a decade of experience in the digital communications industry and has worked for big brands including Google Australia, Westpac, Sanitarium, Weet-Bix, Avon and Elle Macpherson Intimates. Laura holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Newcastle, and a Master of Public Relations & Advertising from the University of New South Wales.

More posts by Laura Prael

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Tessa says:

    I laughed so hard at “Product Manager’s PowerPoint slides”! So sadly true for copywriters, as is the client’s inability to see creativity or take a chance. KPI’s rule/ruin advertising.

    • Laura Prael says:

      Thanks, Tessa. When I was at advertising school, one of our industry lecturers told us that “clients ruin good copy.” Luckily we have great clients that trust us completely!

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