We all have bad habits, from world-renowned athletes to scribes who do their work in relative isolation, no one’s immune from occasionally doing their jobs in less-than-spectacular fashion. The thing with bad habits is that they can creep into any routine if you’re not alert to them and that’s why a framework to keep you from veering off course towards excellence is so important.
When it comes to copywriters, we all need a periodic — albeit gentle — elbow in the rib to remind us that we’re slipping into old habits that ultimately undermine our work.
This article servers as that gentle elbow. Keep the following in mind if you find yourself losing the plot as you do battle with your trusty keyboard.
You’re writing for the wrong audience
As someone who spends a lot of time researching online I see this mistake being made all too frequently. For example, writing about your CRM platform as if you’re targeting the company secretary is definitely not going to get the responses you’re hoping for.
For copy to be effective it has to speak directly to the right person’s pain points, concerns and aspirations. Knowing who your ideal buyers are will give you the focus you need to get them in your crosshairs and fire off effective copy.
This applies to any product or service and should be fairly obvious. Yet, I see far too many founders or budding intern writers produce copy that has no real value to the person it should be targeted at.
How to fix it
The cure to this common bug in your copy is to do your research well before writing a single word. If you’re a time-starved business owner with no budget for a copywriter’s services you still have little excuse for writing vague copy.
Knowing your ideal customer should be something you’ve fleshed out long before writing your first blog article, webpage or whitepaper, agreed?
Writers have even less chance of explaining themselves out of this one. If you think that half-assing your research is okay, then you deserve more than a gentle elbow in the rib to remind you that you’re making a fundamental mistake.
Make sure you’ve got your ideal customer in super-sharp focus by doing a thorough buyer persona analysis and include any external factors (industry trends, market preferences, product development, etc.) that may influence their decision to buy from you.
People and situations change so this needs to be an iterative excercise that maps the ebbs and flows of a buyer’s evolving purchase cycle. Understanding your audience and the factors that influence their decisions is absolutely fundamental to producing effective prose.
Sticking to the first headline that comes to mind
Not only does sticking to an initial headline box you into a certain concept of what the copy should be about, but it’s often the case that your first idea — which may have sounded great at first — was nothing more than a glorified brain fart.
Also, once an article has been written you have far greater context around what your headline should say and that helps to make it far more catchy and original.
I’m guilty of being pig-headed about changing headlines myself and have made it a habit to come back to it once I’ve fleshed out the majority of my copy. I usually find that ideas for a headline come more organically this way as the article begins to take shape.
As long as you stick to the brief and follow the guidelines stipulated therein it’s okay to venture outside of the restrictions of a headline and let your creativity guide you.
How to fix
Keep writing. Don’t let the absence of a headline get the better of your OCD and force you to write it first. You’ll often find that inspiration for a catchy title will hit you in the middle of your article, landing page or whatever piece of content you may be writing.
Just make sure you stick to the brief and that you’ve got all the pertinent topics covered and start getting your ideas on paper. Also, write a good couple of test headlines before committing to one; the best idea doesn’t always come first.
You’ve got to be willing to try out a few before landing on the perfect title for your piece. Persevere and you’ll see the results.
You’re selling instead of solving problems
“Our services include…” “We can…” “No other company will…” While these may sound like perfect preludes to a world of wonderful benefits that only you can offer, in reality, they can come across as desperate.
And truth be told, it kind of sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself instead of your reader about the merits of your offering.
Never come across as desperate in your copy. Be confident that you’re able to solve the problem your reader is having and demonstrate how you’re going to do that. People won’t care about your product or service unless it can solve a very specific problem they have. In short, it’s not about you, it’s all about them.
How to fix
Confidence in your copy comes from confidence in your product and that belief stems from having tested every conceivable hypothesis your product will be subjected to in the real world.
If you’re a founder who writes blog articles for your website then you should understand your unique selling point better than anyone under the sun. If you’re a copywriter tasked with writing about a given product then it’s your job to immerse yourself in it. This is the only way you can effectively communicate how it will alleviate their pain points and solve problems for them.
Do your homework and all that desperation will be replaced with confident prose that makes your audience look for the CTA button before it shows up on their screens.
You’re all over the place
Another common mistake is to lose track of the purpose behind your content. Copy accompanying any blog, landing page, social post et al. needs an intended action that readers should take and few things can muddy the water more than confused messaging.
This mistake is rooted in bad research, a lack of focus or just plain laziness. Copy that doesn’t guide readers on a step-by-step process towards an outcome is the result of not understanding what that outcome is supposed to be.
Even worse, the writer fails to understand how a product solves a given problem that the reader is experiencing and is incapable of communicating that value effectively. The result? Copy that’s all over the place with disjointed messaging that leaves readers confused about that critical next step.
How to fix
No writer is beyond reading a brief, CI guideline or product documentation in its totality. If you’re labouring under the impression that briefs are for wimps then it’s best you check that chip on your shoulder, Mr/Mrs Hemingway.
Don’t make any assumptions, even if you’re writing about vacuum cleaners; don’t think that you understand everything there is to know about them.
Make sure you understand how the product you’re writing about solves your audience’s problem and why this particular brand of vacuum cleaner is preferable to the 100’s of other makes out there.
It all comes down a willingness to do the necessary research to produce content of value to the reader. Trust me, they’re not taking time out to read your work because they like you, they’re doing it because they’re hoping to find a solution to a very specific problem they’re having.
The mistakes mentioned in this article points to a serious problem we find in the world of content creation. Watered down, lazy, badly researched and self-centered copy is littering the web like plastic bags are ruining our beautiful oceans.
Keep that mental picture with you the next time you’re tempted to take shortcuts when producing copy that’s meant to persuade readers that your product trumps others.
People are more fickle than ever and are wise to the tricks brands play to get them to click, request, sign up, join or do whatever it is they want them to — and that’s a good thing.
Why? Because it separates the proverbial men from the boys when it comes to producing content that is deserving of our paying customers’ attention. Capiche?