Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Some Tips for Successful Copywriting

One of the biggest challenges for copywriters -- even professionals -- is knowing how to start. Brainstorming and outlines are, of course, incredibly useful tools, but for me, the most important thing is to try and understand the folks for whom your copy is intended. Because if you don't have a clear understanding of your intended audience, no amount of bullet points will save you!

Know who you're really writing for
This is especially true when it comes to writing about software or technology solutions. Typically, as a writer, you have several people feeding you information about the great new technology product or service that they want you to promote. There's the technologist, who is understandably proud of their efforts to bring all those zeros and ones together and assemble an attractive, functioning piece of software or web tools. There's the company owner, who is convinced that his technologists are smarter than any other technologists on the planet. And there's the owner's brother, who knows just about everything there is to know about writing... except how to actually do it. Taken all together, you've found yourself smack in the middle of several competing voices, all of whom may well have good points, but whose judgement is often clouded by their relative proximity to things.

Put yourself in the reader's shoes
What you, as the writer need to do, however, is to step back and try to imagine yourself as your intended reader, typically a prospective customer. In my business, the thing that resonates most with prospective and current customers is how focused we appear to be on helping them to solve their problems. Which means, not so much a focus on them as a prospective buyer, but more on how we can help them to solve challenges with their prospects or customers. So, you need to get deep into the minds of your prospects or customers, and gain some understanding of what their business challenges are... which means also getting into the minds of your customer's prospective customer, and identifying those pain points, as well. Once you've done that and have mapped-out this schema of interconnected challenges, then you can begin to see how your product or service can help them to address those respective pain points. Confusing, isn't it? But necessary.

Who's writing the check?
Next, you need to identify who is involved in the purchase decision for your product or service. For technology and services, there are typically several individuals who are influential. There a P&L owner or line-of-business manager, who is looking to impact some metrics, whether its decreasing cost, increasing revenue, generating a greater number of leads, or something like that. Then, there's usually a technology leader -- a CTO or a CIO -- who is suspicious of anything that was developed outside, or brought to his attention by a non-technical person. Lastly, is the end-user -- the employee(s) most likely to actually be using your technology or solution. As you can imagine, each of these individuals has their own (sometimes competing) agenda, and what is a benefit to one of them is not necessarily a benefit to all of them. Accordingly, you need to be able to identify a series of benefits for each of them, and communicate them clearly and succinctly.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? But I can tell you that when I discuss this with my clients, many are surprised, and have never thought of it in this way before.

Write for all of your audiences
This customer-centric approach to copywriting applies not just to technology marketing, but to virtually all types of marketing. No matter what you're selling, if you can build your marketing message from the prospective of each participant in the value chain, you'll wind up with a message that is much more clear, more compelling, and more effective. Of course, taking this kind of approach requires a little more effort at the front end -- you need to understand the needs of your prospective customers and their prospective customers, and figure a way to promote your product or service as a tool that can help them to be more efficient and effective. More work, for sure, but well worth the effort! 

Thankfully, there are lots of web resources that discuss copywriting in greater detail, and the time you spend researching will be time well spent. The Google is your friend...!

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