How to avoid the most common mistake in copywriting
The recent Best Words copywriting seminar for business owners and managers was rated ‘excellent’ by all participants.
“Practical and inspiring. It made me want to get on with writing copy for my own business.”
“Excellent: lots of ideas and inspirational.”
“Succinct pointers. Once we ‘got it’, it was easier to form things in the right way.”
It’s not about ‘us’, it’s about ‘you’
At these seminars it’s always gratifying to see how dramatically people’s copy improves after they put some of the ideas into practice.
During this session we discussed the big mistake that more than 90% of small businesses make when promoting themselves online, which is simply this: talking too much about themselves.
That can seem like a strange thing to say. If we’re promoting what we do, shouldn’t we be putting our efforts into telling people how good we are?
Yes, we should, but everything depends on how we do it. For example: Your company was founded in 1827 and has been in continuous operation ever since. Impressive, but how can you use this information to sell?
Sell the sizzle, not the sausage
When your prospects know and appreciate what is ‘in it for them’, there is a much better chance that they will respond. So this is how you must write – in a customer-centric way.
This takes time and effort and is a lot harder than just plonking down some words about how great you are. But to persuade and then convince potential customers, this is what we must do.
A broad rule of thumb for online copy is: 75% ‘you’, 25% ‘us’.
To write ‘you-centred’ copy you must determine what aspects of your services or products have appeal for your market and then you must work to:
- Understand who you are selling to. Who are the customers? What is their pain? What are your competitors currently doing to address that pain? How do you do it better or different?
- Understand your own offering. It’s easy to assume others know what you are selling as well as you do. But that is not the case. So draw up your table and put the features of what you’re selling in the left hand column. In the next column, identify at least one customer benefit for each feature, using the ‘so what’ approach.
You might say, for example, ‘our services are only ever one click away’ and assume that people will appreciate the benefit of that. They may, or they may not, but either way, you have to tell them.
Then, when you’ve outlined the benefits of all the features, take it one step further and in the next column, write the ‘benefits of the benefits’ – and see how far you can take this before things start to lose focus and become too general.
When you’ve done all of this work researching competitors and matching benefits to particular customer needs, you’ll be in a position to write effective ‘customer led’ copy.
You’ll also have a clear understanding of why prospects should use your company and not your competition. And you may conclude that for particular market segments, your competitors are actually a better option. Contrary to what you might think, this is not madness.
The old saying: ‘It’s important to be disliked by the right people’ rings true here. This concept helps you define and consolidate your market.
And this in turn relies on a clear appreciation of all that separates your business from others in your field – your ‘unique selling proposition’ or USP.
“But we don’t have a USP”, I sometimes hear business owners say. And I say: “Oh yes you do.” Every business does.
The moment two people come together to form a commercial enterprise, a culture is born, and the USP is right at the centre of this because it is defined by relationships and the particular ways that people work together.
If your copywriting and other marketing communication is to be effective, you must invest time into drilling down, defining and articulating your culture – and thus, your USP.
As you can gather, marketing copywriting is a huge field. Although the digital world is taking it in new directions, there are tried and true principles which are as relevant now as ever they were.
For more on this, I recommend Robert Bly’s seminal work The Copywriter’s Handbook, published back in 1985.
I hope you’ve found this piece enlightening. If you want to find out more or discuss your copy needs, call me at the Best Words office: 01582 761212