As a copywriter with a few years of solid experience under my belt, I've encountered briefs of all shapes and sizes. Some of them are a paint by numbers affair, with the client providing all the guidance and detail I need to deliver precisely what they want. Others are more flexible and open-ended, allowing me to stretch my creative wings and take the initiative. In almost all cases, I run into the same issue - my clients are terrified of breaking the rules. Here's why breaking the rules is sometimes a good thing...
Good copy, bad copy, let's call the whole thing off.
One of my main anxieties as a copywriter isn't whether my words have hit the mark or not, it's whether they're actually being read. I'm convinced that many of the businesses and agencies I write for don't read what I produce - they just publish it. I sometimes have these devious thoughts about misplacing an apostrophe or sneaking in a few lines from Star Wars just to see if they'll notice, but those pesky ethics get the better of me.
This morning it dawned on me: if I'm worried about my clients reading my work, do my audience even bother?
As copywriters, we'd all like to think that the piece of copy we wrote on the difference between steel blue and royal blue paint is being lapped up like the latest episode of Game of Thrones, but in reality it's probably just filler. Filler is okay. I, like many writers, started out writing filler content and I still do to pay the bills occasionally. It still has to read well, but you know as well as your client that nobody outside of a cardigan and a pair of well trodden slippers is going to even cast their eyes over it, much less engage with it, but that's okay.
What I'm worried about is the good stuff. The articles we labour over. The statistics we pluck from the depths of the internet and cleverly spin into meaningful prose. The witty metaphors we conjure out of thin air. The late Friday nights spent hunched over a keyboard, eyes darting to the unopened bottle of wine in the kitchen every time we hit a full stop.
The internet is a noisy place. In any given location or any niche that exists on the web, there are thousands of businesses competing for impressions, clicks and conversions.
They want your money. Of course they do. They're businesses. There's nothing inherently wrong with a business wanting people's money, but the way they go about earning that money has changed enormously over the years. It's my opinion that in the past decade, this has changed more than ever before. Never before have so many businesses been able to position themselves in front of so many people at the same time.
Before I go on, I have a confession to make. I'm a copywriter that doesn't believe in cold, hard selling. I've written for some of the biggest brands in the world in a variety of industries, and never have I been more uncomfortable than when writing copy where the sole and solitary objective was, 'sell fast, sell hard'.
After navigating the ad-strewn splash pages of Forbes this morning, I came across an interesting read. According to People Per Hour, 50% of workers across the UK and the US will be freelancers by 2020.
Freelancers are in demand, and it's wonderful. Agencies and businesses across the world are starting to realise that it's far easier (and cheaper) to tap into freelance talent than it is to secure that talent it in-house. Agile working is on the rise, and the freelance workforce is leading the charge.
I love what I do. I get to use the power of words to engage, influence and inspire audiences on behalf of some of the world's best brands. One minute I could be writing a video script for a new mobile phone advert, the next writing a press release for a steel manufacturer in Japan.
It's not all sunshine and roses though.
Did you know that when you read something, you also ‘hear’ it inside your head?
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean we’re all going stir crazy. Science types have simply concluded that we use that little voice in our head to process what we read, and how it ‘sounds’ internally can have a massive impact on whether or not it holds our attention.
Feeling slightly wired after my morning coffee, I decided to do some research into this. I found a few compelling sources that claim our ‘inner voices’ are pivotal in how we absorb written information, most notably this article from New Scientist, which went as far as discussing methods of ‘eavesdropping’ on someone’s inner voice to advance research in helping those who can’t to communicate.
“If you’re reading text in a newspaper or a book, you hear a voice in your own head,” says Brian Pasley at the University of California, Berkeley. “We’re trying to decode the brain activity related to that voice to create a medical prosthesis that can allow someone who is paralysed or locked in to speak.”
I then convinced myself. If we didn’t ‘hear’ words as we read them, things like cadence, lyrical flow and rhythm simply wouldn’t matter. We’d just pick up raw information from words on a page and construct some form of meaningful output in our minds. Of course, it is still up to us to extract and construct information, but grammar, tone of voice and how we balance words within sentences really helps us out; we do hear words and sentences when we read them, and how they sound in our heads directly impacts how we engage with them, and how well they engage us.
Come on, you know what I'm talking about.
'10 reasons why your content marketing is failing!' or '5 guaranteed ways to instantly increase landing page conversion!'
I've been bemoaning the increasing use of these so-called listicles (*shudder*) for some time on Twitter, much to the annoyance of my followers I'm sure. I guess they started out earnestly enough; how-to guides conveniently crafted to offer step-by-step instructions on how to achieve something. Once upon a time, these types of articles had a good home and we knew exactly what we were getting when we clicked on one. Then modern day content marketing happened.
I'm not some scrooge here to argue that SEO and other marketing tactics inherently reduce the quality of content (though they certainly go against the grain in a lot of cases). In fact, it's my job as a copywriter to navigate the plains of digital marketing, delivering valuable content that can weather the storm of meta-tags, keyword ratios and calls-to-action, and I firmly believe it's possible - even necessary.
But in my humble opinion, listicles (I've made my peace with the word) encourage poor content, and we're seeing a lot of it.
I recently received a few messages and tweets from fellow writers who were in wholehearted agreement with the sentiment 'less is more'. Why then, in a professional setting, are copywriters repeatedly encouraged to overcomplicate things? It's something I've encountered throughout my writing career, most notably when working in-house for big companies who want you to make their content sparkle.
Unless you’ve spent the last few weeks under a rock on some remote island, there’s a good chance you’ve heard some of the buzz around Pokemon Go. It’s the Pokemon game that fans of the series (many of them now in their early 30’s, myself included) have been waiting for, and it’s sent Nintendo’s stock price soaring. It’s popular alright. We’re still waiting on UK figures, but over in the US, 60% of users who have download the app use it every single day, and factor playing into their everyday routine. So how can your business tap into this phenomenon? Is it even worth it? Let's review...
Why are Google getting rid of side ads? How will it benefit users and what will it mean for businesses? We know that less advertising real estate will push up the value of paid positions and likely lead to bidding wars, but nobody is talking about the impact it may have on organic search results or what it may mean for smaller businesses who aren't able to compete. On balance, I think it's a good thing, and here's why...