It’s a natural assumption to make that to be a good copywriter, you need to be a good writer.
Fortunately, that’s not strictly true.
You see, copywriting, isn’t the same as regular writing. And it doesn’t follow the same rules. At school, writing is scrutinised, judged and marked on a set of criteria that had zero to do with selling to people.
When did your English teacher ever mark your paper, hand it back and say:
“I loved your description of the orthopaedic mattress with memory foam. I didn’t realise I could be crushing my energy levels with night after night of poor quality sleep, but it makes so much sense now. Where can I order one?”
Instead we heard things like:
“Don’t split the infinitive, don’t start a sentence with “Because,” “But” or “And.” Don’t use colloquialisms, write more formally…”
Our writing was shaped into formal, squeaky clean, beautifully formed prose.
But let’s be honest, for most people, if there’s the choice between reading John Milton’s 10,000 lined poem Paradise Lost or the latest John Grisham novel which do you think they would choose?
For most people, reading a classic is an accomplishment, you have to sweat a dictionary to get through it.
And unless you’re appealing to an elite, academic crowd, you really don’t want the same to be said for your brochures, leaflets, web copy or sales pages.
Copywriting doesn’t need to be perfect prose. It doesn’t need big fancy words, it doesn’t need to follow every grammatical rule in the book, and it doesn’t need to be something your English teacher would love.
What does it need to do?
It needs to follow the 10 commandments of copywriting, and:
- Get the attention of your ideal customer
- Highlight their pain or problem
- Show them a compelling solution
And that, my friend, has nothing to do with the regular rules of writing.
Do You Really Just “Write Like You Speak?”
You will often hear in copywriting guides to “write like you speak.” But you shouldn’t actually write as you speak as most people deliver umms, ahhs, repetition, an jumbled story line in their day to day conversation.
What it really means, is that when your reader sits down in front of your copy, it should sound in their head as though you were sitting there with them talking to them.
So for example, hopefully when you read this article, you get a feeling of me sitting opposite you chatting casually on the subject of whether or not you need to be a good writer to be a good copywriter. Most formal prose does not give you this feeling.
Compare these two pieces of copy. One which may delight an English teacher, one which may delight a customer.
This aural device has been impeccably crafted with the most sophisticated technology so that on application, all exterior soniferous vehicles are inaudible. Perfect for uninterrupted slumber or completing occupational tasks while travelling.
These ear plugs will drown out the sound of babies crying on an aeroplane, letting you work or sleep in peace.
If you want to sell something, you can do it as simply as outlining:
- Why you think your customer is interested
- What you have
- Why you can promise it works
Many excellent copywriters will admit they’re not the best writers, but they know how to sell.
A lot of people who excel at writing as was taught at school, struggle with copywriting because they just can’t shake those rules, or the desire to find a fancier way of describing something.
How to find confidence in your copywriting
One of the best ways to start is to read examples of other copy. In fact, I’ll start you off with some collections from my growing swipe file (with photos of the copy so you can bookmark and come back to them or print off and add to your swipe file).
Here you can read about
- Yoga mat advertising
- The no-pain dentist advert
- The national geographic copywriting without hype
- Caravanning copywriting
Next, an exercise which may help is to listen to a short TV or radio advert, or video advert, and transcribe the text. By writing it out you will start to feel the natural flow and style of advertising copy as opposed to formal prose.
That’s all I want to give you at this stage to get you started on journey to better copy.
If you want to continue with bite-size learning to help you break those perfect-prose rules, don’t forget to sign up to Fast Copy Fridays where you’ll receive one action copywriting tip each week direct from me to you.
And always written in a friendly, conversational, rule-breaking style.