Welcome back to the third and final series of what not to do in copywriting. Properly practiced copywriting requires focus, intention and empathy — three things easily overlooked when the mind is lazy and the passion is tepid. The next three pointers are the difference between forgettable communications and engaging dialogues with your particular target audience. There’s nothing new here that hasn’t been practised by accomplished copywriters for decades, nevertheless, they are easily overlooked in the rush to a deadline.
NOT GREAT #8: POINTLESS HEADLINES
If your advertising, sales letter or web content doesn’t make a clear, concise and compelling proposition, if it doesn’t tell a story (big or small), the chances are very high that you’re not going to get any engagement. This is as true for telling (editorials, academic essays and research reports) as it is for selling.
We want to know what’s your point. And in the first three seconds of reading your story (if not sooner).
It doesn’t have to be a unique. There is no unique story. There is no unique voice. We’re all saying the same things that everybody else is saying. We’re all giving the same kinds of promises that everybody else is giving. So there are two parts to this: the promise part and the unique part.
The Proposition: All they want to know is what’s in it for them.
The proposition is the promise of what will benefit your target audience.
What are you offering that will benefit them? What will they get out of it? What desirable experience are they going to have as a result of becoming your client?
If you’re not making an attractive proposition that out-shines the competition’s proposition, there is really not a lot of reason for people to pay further attention to you.
Be clear and concise about the proposition begins at the communication brief stage — that’s where all the data and information is turned into knowledge and insight. And that insight is the makings of a stand-out proposition.
The Less Ordinary: A little difference can make all the difference.
You don’t have to be the most unique in the entire planet of 7.4 billion people (as of March 2016).
If you’re a business coach, you don’t have to have some breakthrough approach that no other business coach on the planet has. It might be useful if your business coach in Melbourne to be the only business coach in Melbourne who offers a certain methodology.
You just have to look for what makes your subject unique enough to set it apart from the rest. It could be the location. It could be an attitude. It could be just the way you say what you say. The latter usually requires some creative copywriting and art direction.
NOT GREAT #9: SMARTY-PANTS HEADLINES
As soon as people are asked to write a headline, they get very clever with funny puns, clichés and bon mots. Perhaps impressive, but not expressive of the point of the story. Hence, confused reader doesn’t buy in.
One insight is worth a thousand clever headlines. And the best of these insight-driven headlines are headlines with a benefit in them. As long as the propositional content is expressed clearly and concisely (what I call a responsible headline) then the job is done, and done well. But if you can stretch your copywriting skills and make the headline compelling as well, then you’re up there with the best of them.
The job of the headline is to get them to read the first line of the copy (be it an editorial, a post, a sales letter or a report). And the job of your first line of copy is to get the second line read. And the job of your second line of copy is to get the third line read. And the job of your third line of copy is to get the forth line read. And so on, all the way to the final full stop.
NOT GREAT #10: NO PROOF NO EXPERIENCE
I’m going to cover these two no-noes under one sub-head because they’re closely related.
In case I haven’t already said it enough, copywriters are talking to a reluctant and impatient audience, and the last thing they want to do is read your copy. That is, unless its interesting (which is largely determined by #8 and #9). So right from the get-go, you’re faced with an audience that’s in a state of disinterest, disbelief and distrust.
So you are going to have to earn their permission for you to keep talking (that is, they keep reading or listening). In short, you have to prove your worthiness of their precious time and also prove your point.
The proof is in the substantiation sentences.
These are the sentences that follow the introduction copy, and they talk about the features and benefits of your product or service. Most copy stops at features. This is not proving your point, only big-noting the brand. By adding a benefit, the substantiation sentences become meaningful, valuable and/or useful to the reader. Then you have proven your point and earned their buy-in into your story.
This element of proof is what copywriters call “the reason why”. Here’s a secret: whenever you’re putting together a reason, use the word “because.” The word “because” is hypnotic. It puts people’s brains on halt for a second and assume that on the other side of that because is a reason that makes sense. Of course, your reason better make sense.
In the social media world, meaningful proof is what other people say about you or your brand. This is far more believable than what you say about yourself. Testimonials, and especially social media testimonials are real puddings of proof.
There is no way you can counterfeit hundreds of people hash-tagging, “Man, this webinar is great. I’m getting good information. It’s really a good use of my time. Thank you guys so much.” That’s social proof.
Another type of proof is numbers, specific numbers. So don’t say “up to (or around) 50% more efficient”, quote the actual statistic and if it’s 48.7% or 52.4% then say it. Use a specific a number as you can. Specific numbers are believable and round numbers feel like hype. Generalisations and rounded-off numbers don’t feel trustworthy. The more specific your copy, the more credible and sincere the take-away.
The experience is in the descriptive sentences.
No experience is when you’re not letting them know what it’s going to be like on the other side. You’re not letting them visualize being there. You’re not letting them visualize benefiting from the product or service in question. This is fairly simple to correct: you just describe, in concrete words and active verbs, what it’s like for your reader.
Here’s an example from a recent copywriting piece my client and I did together for his tour guide website:
Where do local heritage buffs go to uncover modern Singapore’s forgotten past?
At the edge of the Civic District, they trek up an ancient hill called Fort Canning. They walk along a winding stone pathway through a mystical forest. After the short walk, they arrive at the summit to enjoy panoramic views of the iconic Singapore River and Marina Bay.
You too can discover the historic heart so dear to Singaporeans on my private tour.
You notice you’re already on the tour, and experiencing the place like local Singaporeans experience it. The benefit of seeing Singapore through Singaporean eyes is laced throughout this piece of copy. In short, you have just had a Singaporean experience.
Descriptive writing like this lets people take a test drive in their mind. Of course, this takes advanced writerly skills, so if you’re not a natural copywriter, it’s time to either hire an accomplished copywriter. Or hire a graduate from an Arts and Creative Writing student course; they are trained to create vivid descriptions that put you right into the picture. And of course, there is always my copywriting in action course.
When you write about experiences, you’re telling a story. And your reader is the protagonist. You put them in the picture so they can see or feel for themselves what the experience is like.
Now that you know all the reasons that don’t make for great copywriting, you’re ready to elevate your own copywriting to great, greater and even greatest.