Experience tells me that if there’s one thing we all dread doing, it’s writing copy. And whether that’s a few words for the back of a flyer or a fully blown website, it really seems to startle a lot of you. When clients ask me how long it’ll take them to build their website, I always give them an estimate with the caveat that the biggest thing that will hold up the build is them supplying the copy.
So when Maja Pawinska Sims came and spoke at the Horsley Network on Monday night on Ten Steps to Sparkling Marketing Copy I knew I just had to share her steps with you. Speaking as someone who is writing copy for a new Flourish website right now I promise you they are incredibly useful! What I love most about Maja’s approach, is that she is doing for words what we do with imagery. She’s writing to build a brand voice, just as we build a brand image.
Maja’s Ten Steps to Writing 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 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.
Maja Pawinska Sims is one of the most inspiring people I know. She is an excellent copywriter (and has worked with us on a number of projects at Flourish) and has a real knack of writing copy that really resonates. She’s not a “beat-em-round-the-head-with-a-wet-fish” type of copywriter, she’s more subtle than that. But her stuff is powerful, inspiring and it really works. You can find out more about Maja professionally at be-sparkle.co.uk
Not only that, but over the last eighteen months she has fought (and I mean, fought, she is one strong lady) breast cancer whilst running her business and bringing up two very small children. Inspirational stuff. You can read about her journey with her two small children and the dreaded C word at her pinchypants blog. Make sure you have some tissues at the ready…