I have no qualms with saying that the most well-honed weapon in my marketing arsenal is the ability to create written content.
I’ve been doing it for a long time, after all. I supported myself through college by freelancing as a copywriter. I took my first steps into the film industry by winning screenwriting contests. I’ve published fiction in several anthologies, and my “how-to” guides on writing occasionally reach #1 Top Seller status on Amazon.
Now my articles on MSP marketing are being published by well-known industry websites, and I write marketing emails that convert like crazy.
Regardless of anything else, I know that I have chops when it comes to the written word.
I wasn’t born with this skill. I had a love of reading and a desire to write from a very young age, but I wouldn’t say any of my abilities are the product of some natural gift.
My abilities come from thousands and thousands of hours of writing. I’ve been cranking out web content, articles, emails, and stories for over fifteen years.
In the copywriting industry, that’s about how long you have to be working in the trade before you can be considered a legitimate professional. Getting good takes a lot of time.
On the surface, writing is easy, just like slapping paint on a canvas is easy…but exceptional writing is no easier than painting a masterpiece. Like many aspects of marketing, it’s both an art and a science.
I can assure you that understanding the value of great writing is one of the first steps to better marketing.
I’ve heard countless people say “I write my own emails, but they don’t work. So email marketing is a bad idea,” or “I wrote tons of content for my website, but my website still doesn’t convert. Therefore, web traffic is useless to me.”
Well, if you’re not really a writer, then it’s no surprise that your writing isn’t accomplishing anything. I don’t mean any offense by this, but there is a definite and measurable difference between the writing of a “DIYer” and a professional.
And no, I don’t just mean technical differences. Even a master of grammar and sentence structure can write terribly. While poor word choices and improper punctuation are incredibly off-putting in marketing copy, correcting them is not the key to efficacy. In fact, there are a number of very well-known works that completely eschew proper grammar and punctuation and still manage to impact millions of readers.
So what makes a good copywriter?
It’s hard to distill years of experience into bullet points, but I will try to point out a few things that you can take into account when writing your own copy, or when searching for someone to write for you.
They Appreciate the Power of the Written Word
An amateur thinks that writing is simply a way to communicate information. The truth is that the written word is a programming language for interacting with the human mind.
One of the most basic and uninspiring things that you can do with writing is transmit knowledge from Point A to Point B. It’s hard to mess this up, which is why so many people are quick to write pages of raw, boring information and call it content. It’s the easiest way to fill up a page, but on the whole, it stinks.
How would a feature film do in the box office if it consisted of someone standing in front of the camera telling you a play-by-play of the story? You’re getting all of the “information” you paid the ticket price for — characters, plot arcs, conflict, twists — but you’d walk out of the theater before you had time to open your Sno-Caps.
That’s because you, like most people in the vast majority of situations, are not there for the information.
The power of cinema is that it creates an immersive experience that bombards the senses and draws the viewer into another world.
The written word has the same power, it simply reaches the audience through different channels. Written content can engage, stir emotions, draw the reader in, and trigger subconscious responses. If it’s not doing these things, the writer has wasted its potential.
Execution is complicated (which is why experience is so crucial) but if a writer doesn’t even know that they should be harnessing this power, they’re starting off on a very bad note.
They Write With Purpose
I’ve organized and attended countless writing groups over the years. Evaluating the writing of hundreds of strangers taught me a very important lesson: You have to write with purpose.
I noticed that when someone’s work came across as boring, ineffective, confusing, or otherwise sub-par, there was usually a common issue: there was too much on the page that simply didn’t need to be there. Useless details, extraneous words, entire paragraphs that meant nothing to anyone but the person who wrote it.
When writing, it’s important that every word you add to the work has a good reason for being there. Such judgement needs to be made from the perspective of the reader and how that word will affect them, not from some internal place that’s biased to the writer.
Again, the written word is like a programming language for causing responses in the reader’s brain. If you’re writing code for a computer program, you don’t add anything that isn’t essential. Every line has some known effect on the outcome of running the program.
Writing for humans works the same way. As you create, you should be thinking how each part of the writing will affect the reader as they “run the program”.
This word will make them realize the severity of what I’m saying.
This sentence will make them relate the story to their own childhood.
This question will set them up for the call-to-action later.
There’s a lot going on in someone’s mind while they’re reading, and you want to make sure you’re using all of that activity to your advantage.
Direct response writing is a great example of this. Think about those sales letters you’ve seen with big red headlines, short sentences, and lots of white space. This style works because it’s carefully crafted to infiltrate the reader’s mind, trigger responses, and compel them to act.
They Layer Concepts and Intentions
A great writer is able to communicate numerous concepts simultaneously. Another shortcoming of purely informative writing is that it is very cold and shallow by nature. Not good traits when you’re trying to convince or persuade.
Through masterful word selection, metaphor, narrative, and cleverness it’s possible to reach a reader on several different levels. The same sentence can deliver information AND remind them of their childhood AND set them up to convert, and so on.
You won’t do this in every case, but a writer should understand how to do it effectively when the time is right.
This is the skill that’s most important when it comes to writing short copy for social media or brief emails. You really want to be able to stuff those few words with meaning!
They Understand Visual Design Concepts
You’ve undoubtedly heard terms such as contrast, space, repetition, and balance when referring to visual mediums. These are immensely important visual design principles that we readily apply to photography and oil paintings. Every first-year art student knows them well.
But these concepts aren’t simply important because they influence how we see images. They’re important because they’re fundamental to how our minds process information.
The act of reading takes place inside the human mind — the nexus of experience. Everything that impacts our appreciation of the senses comes into play. This extends beyond the visual and into the aural as well. Tempo and pacing, rhythm, and intensity are all part of the work.
They Have Diverse Knowledge and Experience
A writer’s mind must be a well from which to draw inspiration and ideas. Many people believe this only applies when writing fiction, but it’s absolutely true in all cases.
It actually goes double when writing copy, thanks to the importance of metaphor and narrative. Storytelling is a powerful marketing tool, but you have to be a good storyteller to pull it off.
There’s a level of creativity and inventiveness required that comes from having a wealth of experiences and knowledge to play with. For best results, the experiences and knowledge should be spread around. If you’ve only had one hobby throughout your life, your metaphors and stories are probably all going to sound the same after a while.
As with all marketing, the ultimate judge of skill and execution is the reporting dashboard. It always comes back to results.
The effectiveness of copywriting can be a measured to a degree, especially in the case of email marketing. I look at my open, read, and response rates very closely each time an email is sent out. The fact that my emails consistently produce above-average click rates is tied directly to the way I write them.
If your emails, web content, blog post, or social posts aren’t getting the response you want, then it’s probably time to look at the writing. How does your copy measure up?