By Greg Jackson Effective copy benefits all businesses – no matter how successful they might already be. It provides a significant advantage over competitors by enabling you to connect with customers and persuade them to take the next step. Here are five examples to show you how. (I use the terms businesses and customers throughout the article, but these principles apply to any organisation, commercial or otherwise).
1. Climb Google’s ladder
So, you’ve set up your business’s website and it’s now just a case of sitting back and waiting for the customers to roll in, right? Unfortunately not – establishing your own corner of the internet is just the beginning. For a start, there’s little point in having a website if it can’t be found. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase SEO (search engine optimisation). This simply means tailoring your website so it achieves a higher ranking in online searches (predominantly Google, as it’s is by far the most popular). Recent changes in the way Google ranks websites mean those with relevant, unique and fresh content are rewarded with higher rankings. It’s no good cutting and pasting information from your last brochure and forgetting about it – you need to keep the ball rolling, which means regularly creating quality copy that’s relevant to your business and those who are searching for you. For instance, if your company provides financial services, write a blog post that offers financial planning advice or budgeting tips. Better still, split it up into a series of articles over a period of weeks. If you’re a charity, write an online diary about a fundraising campaign, or publish regular stories as you approach a particular target. Not only will it benefit your Google ranking, it shows visitors you’re on the ball and that your site is up-to-date. There really is no substitute for interesting and relevant web content.
2. Stand out from the crowd
It’s a competitive world out there and if you want to emerge from the pack, knocking your copy into shape is a must. Accurate spelling and correct use of grammar and punctuation should be a given, but it’s amazing how often basic errors appear in promotional and sales copy. And it’s tough to battle back after these mistakes, because you’ve already lost a chunk of credibility in the eyes of the reader. Secondly, your writing needs to be concise. Simply getting to the point when promoting a product or service will give you a head start on of your competitors. It’s all too easy to get carried away with irrelevant details and unnecessary adjectives when penning promotional copy – and it’s a trap many businesses fall into. Your copy needs to have a clear goal and remain focused on that. Remember, writing clear and succinct copy is far more persuasive and authoritative than long, rambling prose. If you don’t know why you’re saying something, the chances are it doesn’t need saying.
3. Sell don’t tell
Promoting benefits over features is the cornerstone of effective sales writing. It involves describing precisely what a product can do for customers because, ultimately, that’s what they’re interested in. When Apple took their first iPod to market, did they shout about its dinky size or the fact it had 1GB of memory? No, they wrapped up its features in one memorable benefit – ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’. It’s obvious when you think about it, but many businesses struggle to bridge the gap, because they’re too close to the product and can’t see the wood for the trees. I should add that stating features isn’t a total mistake (when writing about highly technical products, it’s very important). You just need to make sure the benefits come first.
4. Talk your customers’ language
Establishing your brand’s ‘personality’ in writing – or tone of voice – is vital to ensuring your copy strikes a chord with customers. A useful way of thinking of this is, if your brand was a person, how would it talk? I use the term brand, because some business may have a number of brands, with contrasting ‘personalities’. Before defining your tone of voice, you need to fully understand your target audience. This may sound back-to-front, but if you set out tone-of-voice guidelines before sussing out what makes your customers tick, the two might be incompatible and your copy will be less effective as a result. Bookmaker Paddy Power have got this down to a tee. They’ve established a laddish, mischievous (some say crass) personality that connects perfectly with their young, male target audience. While you’re probably most familiar with Paddy Power’s often controversial TV advertising, their tone of voice is applied across all platforms, whether it’s a press ad or tweet.
5. What’s news?
Positive local media coverage provides great – not to mention free – exposure for your company. However, a journalist’s radar is finely tuned to detect the slightest hint of free advertising when it appears in a press release – you might think it’s headline news that your sales are up 15% on last year, but very few reporters will (unless it’s for inclusion in a trade publication). You need to make sure your news stories are just that – news – or it’s a waste of time and resources writing them. Whenever you can, find an interesting line or human interest angle that people can relate to. This is easier said than done because, ultimately, your aim is gain publicity for your business or organisation. But it can usually be done with a little digging. Once you’ve found your angle, concisely outline the story in the opening sentence and then elaborate in subsequent paragraphs, which also need to be as tight and punchy as possible. Use of jargon and industry speak is also a common pitfall for businesses that write their own press releases. A story that refers to a ‘customer-centric business model’ is far more likely to find its way into the deleted folder than the news pages. Greg Jackson is the founder of Clarity Copywriting, which provides professional writing services for businesses.