In the fast-paced and frenetic world of small-business ownership, writing good copy can often get marginalized. Sales, cash flow and inventory management get priority over what many believe are just words on a page or screen. But great copy is more important now in our digitally driven, socially networked age. Audiences have shorter attention spans, content gets shared faster than ever and consumers are barraged with more messages than they ever have before.
Whether you’re writing your own copy, or hiring a professional to write it for you, your marketing copy should follow these six basic rules, so that it stands out and gets noticed for the right reasons.
1. Know your audience. Knowing who you’re writing for is the first step in creating good copy, but you’d be surprised how many companies skip it. Without a clear vision of your customer base, it’s impossible to strike the proper tone and speak the right language. Is your company trying to appeal to a young and hip crowd, or is it more traditional? Are you selling software to developers or strollers to new parents? Each audience has its own language and requires a specific messaging approach that’s complete with its own lingo and cultural shorthand.
2. Find your voice. The best marketing copy seeks to reinforce the brand image of the company it’s speaking for.
Finding your own unique voice and maintaining that tone online, in print and in retail settings is an important element of brand cohesion. Ask yourself a couple of questions:
- How does my company express itself to consumers?
- How do our style, tone and messaging methods help or hurt our brand image?
Consider how Apple’s clear, rigorously minimalist and design-conscious image pervades every level of the company—its products, advertising, packaging, retail stores and online presence. As perhaps the best example of a company that has found its voice, it’s a model that deserves to be emulated.
3. Be brief. Brevity is difficult to achieve, but it is essential to successful copywriting. Short, impactful copy is more likely to be read, understood and shared—all home runs in the world of marketing.
4. Make it memorable. Balancing brevity with punch is where science and art meet (and why hiring a talented copywriter will always pay off).
Without flair and creativity, brief copy is, well, just brief. Imagine if the California Milk Processor Board’s 1993 slogan had been “Have milk?” instead of “Got milk?” The brief, punchy, informal and youthful slogan was pure genius. It made drinking milk cool again and was replicated, satirized and adopted into an entire generation’s cultural lexicon.
5. Clarify the action. Very few pieces of marketing copy exist purely to inform. There’s always a goal, and that goal should be clear to your readers. What do you want them to do? What action do you want them to take?
Create your copy with an eye toward the call to action and build your message around it. Make it easy for the consumer to make the next move—give him the information and visual cues to act on your message without clutter, additional searching or unnecessary clicks.
6. Unify copy with user experience. In Web parlance, user experience (or UX) refers to how an online user navigates content. Think of it as industrial design for the Web.
UX professionals design where the clickable buttons go, write copy and design the fields that accompany online registration and sign-in processes, and ultimately make complex and interdependent content navigable. They bridge the disciplines of copywriting, psychology, and design. For companies with a strong online component to their business, it’s important to make sure your copywriters, designers, and tech teams are all working in concert with UX top-of-mind.
Creating good copy is a cross-discipline team effort that starts and ends with your readers. Every word you choose should clearly reflect who your potential customers are, honor their time and priorities, encourage their sharing and make it easy for them to deliver more business to your doorstep.Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Ore. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist, and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Kentin runs a small online antiques business.