I had a great time last night talking to the lovely people at the Horsley Business Network about copywriting, bringing together my experience as a journalist, a coach and a copywriter.
Most people leave the words on their marketing collateral – from websites to flyers – till last. I would argue that without great content – the words that sell your business and tell your story – there’s no point having a swanky design. Brilliant copywriting is a key way of ensuring your marketing collateral is working as hard as possible for you, and not putting off customers who don’t get what you are about and what you can do for them.
So here are Besparkle’s Ten Steps to Sparkling Marketing Copy…
Before you even try and put pen to paper, I would recommend you establish your core values. If you’re running your own business, your personal values and your business values are likely to overlap. Values are attributes that you hold dear in your life, from integrity and service to innovation or creativity. With many of my copywriting clients, I start off by doing this classic coaching exercise (just email me on firstname.lastname@example.org for a free copy of this exercise). Once you’ve identified your top five or six values, they are a really useful benchmark when you’re producing written materials, to check that what you are communicating is in tune with what your business is really about at its heart. When you run your business – and talk about your business – in a way that is consistent with your values, you have what is called an authentic business. Authentic businesses tend to be successful because they are a genuine extension of who you are, your skills, and what you care about.
2. BRAND PERSONALITY, TONE AND STYLE
Add another layer of insight by defining your brand personality. You could work with some more coaching questions, such as:
- What do you want to be known for?
- What differentiates you, and your business, and makes you stand out from everyone else with a similar background, experiences and offer?
- Imagine you are 80 years old. What would you want people to say about you and your professional achievements? What would you like your legacy to be? What would you like clients and employees who have worked with you over the years to say about you?
Then think about the voice of your business. Are you formal or informal; professional, friendly? Do you want to be seen as small and personal, or more corporate? This will inform what’s called the tone and style of the language you use in your written materials.
3. TARGET AUDIENCE
We’re still not ready to write. The next step is to define who you are talking to.
- Who are your customers and clients now, and who do you want to be working with?
- What do they need to know from you?
- What problems do they have that you can solve for them?
- What are your key sales messages for them?
- What is the perceived quality and value of your brand in the minds of customers: are you the cheap solution, the good value for the money solution, the high-end, high-price tag solution?
4. YOUR MISSION STATEMENT.
One more step before we start drafting. I review a surprising number of websites where it’s not at all clear on the front page what the company does. I would suggest you make sure you are happy with, or write, a clear one or two sentence description of your business. Who are you and what do you do? Even if you have this sort of written boilerplate already, go back and review it after doing the values and brand personality exercises. You may also want to take another angle and think about how you would describe to a child, or your mum, what you do. Think in terms of using real language rather than the way you think your should describe what you do, or what everyone else in your sector says.
5. START WRITING!
Now you’re ready to start drafting your copy. Bearing everything you’ve defined and discovered about you and your business by going through the first four steps, you’ll hopefully end up with a first draft that sounds like it could only be about you and your business, and really communicates the experience of what it is like to work with you. Check your drafts against your values, brand personality, your chosen tone and style, and your boilerplate description.
6. EDIT OUT THE BULLSHIT
This is the bit I’m really passionate about. Go through your drafts or your existing marketing copy, and strip out all marketing bull and corporate jargon. Be honest about whether there is any way of expressing yourself more clearly or succinctly instead of the phrases you and your sector might always have used. Cut out meaningless words like ‘unique’, or ‘solutions’. Avoid generalisms that could be about any business: I received a press release this week that started ‘In the words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a changin’. I still have no idea what company it was for, or even what industry.
Use language carefully and precisely – well written copy is extremely powerful.
Check your second drafts for clarity. Would your child or you mum or best mate or gran understand what you’ve written? This isn’t about being simplistic or dumbing down: it’s about explaining clearly in a way that will resonate with your target audience. There is an argument that journalists on the Sun are more skilled than those on the Telegraph because it’s harder to explain tricky concepts in universally-understood language.
Once you’ve established your house style and settled on a way of expressing what you do that feels right, check for consistency across all your marketing materials. Don’t produce a really chatty, cheeky special offer flyer if your website is very formal-sounding, for instance. This applies to social media as well: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook count as written marketing collateral too, and your voice should be consistent across all of them.
9. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU
Focus on your customers and clients, not just on yourself. Check that every Tweet and every sentence in your website doesn’t start ‘I’ or ‘We’ – turn it around so you are showing your potential customers and clients what you can do for them. This links back to the point about defining your target audience and understanding what problems you are solving for them.
10. THE BASICS – GRAMMAR AND SPELLING
Proof what you’ve written and double check grammar and spellings. It might sound basic, but a misplaced apostrophe can put people off. Avoid capital letters other than at the start of sentences and for proper names. Write out numbers one to ten and write 11 and above in numerals. Get rid of any exclamation marks. Spell out any acronyms, especially the first time you use them, and keep them to a minimum. Read what you’ve said aloud and check it flows well and sounds right.
Finally, know when to stop editing – there comes a point where your drafts have to be good enough, and you just need to get that essential bit of your marketing arsenal signed off and winning business for you.