29/08/2012

By Jackie Barrie, Copywriter, Trainer & Author at Comms Plus

While working full-time, I did an Open University degree in psychology — both social (to understand what makes people tick) and cognitive (how the brain processes words and symbols). When I submitted my first essay, I carefully made it an interesting piece of writing as well as an answer to the question. Or so I thought. When it came back, the tutor had marked me down with a comment: “Your paragraphs need to flow better”.

As a professional writer, I was outraged!

Once I’d calmed down, I had to make a decision. Did I want to pass the exam, or did I want to show off my copywriting prowess? I decided my goal was to pass the exam, so I swallowed my copywriting pride and wrote all following assignments in the academic style they wanted. I got a 2.1 and narrowly scraped a first.

The point is, you have to write to suit your objective. And the academic writing style you were taught at school is not suitable for writing marketing copy.

Here are the main lessons you need to unlearn.

Structure

Academic writing demands that you start with an introdution, then make maybe three main points each supported by evidence, and end with a conclusion.

Marketing copy turns this on its head.

No-one is going to read to the end unless you hook them in at the beginning. So you start with the conclusion. What’s your main point — the benefit to the reader? Your headline should answer What’s In It For Me.

You still need to provide evidence of your claims in the body text. For example, I recently rewrote some web copy that included the line “We are highly regarded in our industry”. I asked: “How is that measured?” and used their reply to craft some convincing new wording. An ezine I edited included the phrase: “We’re London’s number one”. I asked: “Can you substantiate that?” They couldn’t; it was just meaningless puffery. Readers see through that these days. Don’t do it. Instead, use independent research, testimonials, case studies, external endorsements, any tools you can to prove your claims.

You end any marketing piece with a call-to-action. That’s so important I wrote a whole separate article about it! Read it here.

Finally, you put your logo last, because no-one cares who you are until they know what you can do for them. That’s so important I’ll repeat it. No-one cares who you are until they know what you can do for them.

Rules you can break

- Yes, you can start a sentence with And or But

- Yes, you can boldly split infinitives if you bl**dy well want to

- No, you don’t have to use passive language. Not “The chemical was put into the test-tube”, but “We will send your order within 24 hours”

- No, you are not being clever by using long words and complicated constructions. Not “Your missive is of utmost importance to ourselves” but “Your letter is important to us”

- No, you do not get extra points the more you write; yes, it works better when you get your point across quickly. We’re all busy people. Don’t waste our time with unnecessary verbiage and waffle.

Follow these tips and you’ll go to the top of the class!


Jackie Barrie writes without waffle for websites, blogs, newsletters, brochures, leaflets and speeches, in fact, anything to help your company make more money. She is the author of ‘The Little Fish Guide to DIY Marketing’ and ‘The Little Fish Guide to Networking’.

Find out more at www.comms-plus.co.uk or 0845 899 0258.