Listen, Solve a Problem, Don’t be Precious: Copywriting 101

Looking to communicate in a way that gets attention and connects? Try a pie in the face and a hand buzzer. No, that’s both annoying and much too time consuming. How about writing that connects and grabs the right people’s attention?

Several years ago when I started out in marketing/corporate communications, I began to hear comments like: “Wow! You really captured the essence of the project/product that we’ve been trying to tell people about.” That’s actually how I found out I have a knack for writing. Sometimes you don’t know you have a strength until somebody points it out. So I’m reflecting on what makes for strong marketing writing and sharing a bit of that here today.

Lesson One: Listen

Listen to the client. I was describing a project to a local reporter once, being diligently, obnoxiously clear about who our target audience was. When I read the news report the next day, the description of our target audience was the exact polar opposite of what I had described. Come on! Just listen, ask some clarifying questions, and then get feedback. In a client relationship, you’ll definitely get feedback, so being a careful listener up front will save some headaches along the way.

Lesson Two: Features are Cool, But Solve a Problem

How will your product or service solve a customer/client’s problem? This is basic, and you probably know this, but it takes some finesse to get your message out this way. In listening to a client recently, I discovered that they were perhaps the one remodeler in the universe who absolutely stays on budget. That solves a big problem! The customer’s pain of “How much is this new sunroom REALLY going to cost me?” is solved. That is a unique position in the marketplace and should be shouted from the mountain tops. So that’s what I encouraged the client to do.

Lesson Three: Less I/We language, more You Language

Related to solving a problem is to focus on the customer. Uber copywriter Sonia Simone gives the advice of writing to one customer. She suggests developing an “avatar” a specific customer to whom you direct your attention. I hadn’t thought of it exactly that way, but it’s a great idea. Make your copy personal. Say what you need to about the company, product, or whatever you’re selling – but it’s really about the customer. Write to them and about them as much as possible.

Lesson Four: Don’t Be Precious

This just came up for me in a meeting last week. There are LOTS of ways to say something. Don’t be precious about your writing. Maybe you’re a genius. Maybe you love the little flourishes you put into your copy. But you’re probably working on a team, and if not, you’ve got a client to please. Choose your battles. Don’t die on every hill over whether to say “you’ll be pleased as punch,” or “you’ll be happy as a clam” (though think hard before using either of those.) It probably isn’t going to break the campaign. If you’re 1000% sure it will, that’s the battle you should choose!

Ok, that’s all for today. More ideas may come, but I hope this is helpful for you. Let me know!


Getting Stroft With Your Customers

Via the web, I get to hang around with some really smart people. Two of my favorite conversationalists are Olivier Blanchard (the brand builder) and Kristi Colvin (she wears a lot of hats! You can find her at Design For Users.)

Kristi recently wrote something (which Olivier also quoted) which is truly remarkable about the core of brand strategy:

The heart of a brand, like that of an individual, is vulnerable. It must be both soft enough to prove genuine caring, and strong enough to withstand scrutiny and adversity. But it is your core offering – not your products and services – and if you aren’t in touch with and know what’s in the heart, establishing lasting relationships with customers will be difficult or hit and miss. Do you want a shallow relationship with the people that interact with your brand, or a sympathetic bond that can withstand conflicts?

I hate to say it, but you probably won’t get your user experience 100 percent beautiful 100 percent of the time. Branding is not, I don’t think, about perfection. And when we are imperfect, it is not about the art of the “spin.” It is, as Kristi says, the art of relationship building, being real, being vulnerable.

That doesn’t mean offer crappy service and an iffy product and just put on a big smile when trouble comes boomeranging back at you. It means real people will appreciate other real people doing their best, offering their best. The way to build bridges over inevitable errors now and then is to build those “strong yet soft” relationships with your customers. It’s about time to get stroft (there’s a paper towel campaign in there somewhere.)

Notes from WOMMA-U

Word of Mouth Marketing Association University is happening as we speak in South Beach. For those, like me, who can’t attend, there is still plenty of intel to be gathered. 

Here are some notes from the 360 Digital Influence Blog. The notes are from a talk given by Geoff Donaker, COO at YELP: Click the link above for the full post. The notes connect with my own observations of small business love/hate relationship with word of mouth. Are you ready to give up control of your brand? The paradox is that, in order to thrive, that’s exactly what you’ve got to do.

  • Small businesses (some would argue, the engine of the American economy and spirit) have a lot to gain from WOMM, but are still just as afraid to relinquish control of their brand as are large brands.
  • Utilizing WOMM can drive down marketing costs, but your customer service has to deliver … if you are going to rely on what people say about you (vs. advertising, where you say what you want about yourself) you have to deliver a stellar experience and respond to/fix the not-so-stellar ones.
  • Manufactured reputation usually backfires … you can’t manufacture WOM.  You can provide the tools, the dialogue, the forum and the product – but the community will do with all that what they please.

Does this connect with your experience? What are some other barriers to uleashing word of mouth? What are some of the successes you have seen? Let’s start a conversation.