Marketing Copy Turns “Sticks And Stones” On Its Ear
Samantha Gluck is a Texas-based copywriter I met some time ago on Twitter–and glad I did. I’m impressed with her bold style and energy. Her post today is the perfect reminder about how the DIY spirit can be harmful to businesses when it comes to marketing.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
So goes the mantra chanted by elementary-aged children everywhere, when targeted by the cruel words and strong-arm tactics of school bullies. Does the sentiment of this mantra hold true in your world–the world of a businessperson hoping to engage meaningfully with a fickle and highly mobile target market?
Words can absolutely crush your business. Even one instance of poorly crafted copy associated with your unique products and services can have a profound negative impact on your brand and public perception of the business itself.
“But I’m a Hands-On Business Owner”
As an entrepreneur, your executive role requires that you devote time and energy to multiple aspects of your business–aspects that have little or nothing to do with collateral content or ad copy content. You may not know what actually makes the difference between copywriting that sells and copywriting that fails.
It’s not what you think.
Provocative Copywriting Sells, MBA-Speak Fails
Congratulations on your MBA. While it will prove quite useful when approaching angel investors and other funding sources for capital needs, it takes great copywriting skills to know the difference between provocative and antagonizing headlines and subheads. And the copy that follows must paint a picture for the reader; it must carry them to a world in which they envision themselves purchasing and benefitting from your product or service.
Your potential customers are pros at spotting sensational copy filled with hyperbole. They know, consciously or unconsciously, when the wording and call to action is attempting to create a false sense of urgency within them. And they do not respond well to what they perceive as dishonesty.
Tone: Fueling the Power of Words
A skilled copywriter addresses the reader using a voice and tone your reader relates to comfortably. Copywriters know just how and when to change tone and voice to match a particular reader group or demographic. If you don’t adjust your tone when speaking to match the character of the varied and diverse groups you engage, you’ll lose their attention–and their engagement–early on.
Copy that sells rather than fails uses a tone and a voice your readers will understand and appreciate. The required change in tone of the written word is often barely perceptible; experienced, successful copywriters can easily discern the level and character of the necessary changes. Getting it right makes the difference between the sell and the fail.
Constant Companions to Success
The DIY attitude is common to many high energy, high ambition, high achieving entrepreneurs. And it works for a while, in the beginning. But as your company grows, things will begin to fall through the cracks and your business will suffer.
So stick to your true role as an entrepreneur. Use your natural and experientially earned talents within the scope of your executive position to bring your business to the tipping point. Then don’t hesitate to collaborate with others who have proven skill and authority where you’re lacking. Because no matter how high-powered your marketing strategy, if you put out a poorly written message, you’ve wasted your money.
And words, badly written, will hurt your business.
Samantha Gluck is a freelance journalist, experienced copywriter, and business owner. She specializes in writing for the health care and small business industries. With feature stories in prestigious publications across the US, such as the Houston Chronicle and Hartford Courant, Gluck’s reputation for excellence and professionalism continues to grow. Check out Freelance Writing Dreams and Medtopicwriter – The Bleeding Edge to read more of her work and to learn about her amazing editorial team.
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I choked on my coffee at, "Congratulations on your MBA.". But don't worry; I dedicate Saturday mornings to copywriting blogs over a hot cup before I get into my normal workload. This post is a treasure.
One thing I always try to impress on small business owners and entrepreneurs is they'll spend a LOT more money trying to write copy themselves than if they let me do it. I'll be a ton more effective, as well. It can be a hard battle - especially if they want to fiddle with the copy before publication - but I've never met anyone that didn't relax once they've seen success in the market with a tidy bit of copy.
Thanks for making my morning.
I'm so glad you didn't spill it on yourself... ;-) Thanks for your kind words. You just made my day! I agree that once the client sees results from a pro piece of copy, they'll stop their hand-wringing and fiddling. And you're right, it's a hard fought battle, but well worth it in the long run.
Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!
Great article AND great discussion. As a manuscript editor, I find that authors who are super bright and high achieving can't imagine what an editor could do for them that they haven't done already. One of my authors said, "it's as easy to WRITE a good book as it is to READ one." By the time his manuscript was ready for publication, he felt quite differently!
BookMD As easy to write as to read... Oh, my, I'm sure you gave him the education of his lifetime. Good to see you here!
ShakirahDawudBookMD Nellie! Thanks for stopping by (breathe)! I'm honored that you came by and shared your thoughts about paying for quality professional help, whether it involve copywriting, editing, or both. You're an amazing author and editor, Nellie, and I bet you do run in to some of the same push back that we do. Thanks again, XO
Samantha, I think most entrepreneurs have a hard time delegating, and not just because they think they can do everything, but because they tend to operate on a shoestring budget while they're launching or trying to build a clientele. You're right, though --there are some things that are so important, they need to be handed off to professionals! This brings me back to my call for service providers, especially creatives, to find a way to express their prices to potential customers. I realize it's impossible to name a price ahead of time without knowing the particulars, but even sharing case studies on a website [here's what we did, here's how much it cost the customer] can go a long way to assuaging the fear folks might have of saying, "I'm sorry. I can't afford you." I think creatives would get a lot more business if they found a way to let potential customers "look around the store" before buying. What do you think?
New England Multimedia I totally agree; although, I haven't ever thought of it that way -- as looking around the store. What a great analogy. I think lots of people who need creative and technical services are scared away from seriously considering hiring them for a couple of reasons:
1. When people don't see a price or fee listing (something most of us don't provide), they associate it with expensive. You know, like the 5 star restaurant you go to on a special occasion that doesn't have prices on the menu...
2. While they can pick the creative whose style and ideas jive with their own vision, it's difficult for them to compare on a value-based scale without seeing price.
You have the perfect solution: case studies that include pricing for the project. Another solution is to allow them to contact past clients (with pre-approval, of course) for testimonial purposes and to get an idea on pricing for certain projects.
texascopywriter Exactly. Especially in this "new" economic climate, when so many of us are being better stewards of our finances and our time, we want to see a menu before we ask for a table. We also don't want to have to ask for the menu, knowing we might be subject to the pressure of a savvy salesperson trying to strong-arm us into a purchase if we start to walk away. People want as much information up front as possible first, so the easier we can make that on THEM, the better for both sides. For our Wordpress website prices, for example, we put a base, bare-bones price on our website and spelled out exactly what that includes. That way, we have something to build on if a client wants more bells and whistles, and a potential customer knows immediately if we're out of their price range. We get a lot more contacts now via our website, because folks know what to expect price- and value-wise. Everyone saves time.For our video production services (impossible to price without details!), we revealed the RANGE of prices that we've charged for various projects, then put 10 of those videos on a website page without telling the reader which videos cost how much. The potential customer can look at those videos, look at the range of prices we've charged, and determine whether or not he or she might be able to afford us. I could see any creative doing the same thing.
texascopywriter Really sorry about the awful lack of paragraph breaks. Livefire says they're working on a solution!!
New England Multimedia That's a great way to hand the client a menu -- they'll see the range of possible prices, from grass-fed Kobe beef down to the still lean and tasty angus ground burger meat. You're definitely a creative! ;-)
No problem on the lack of paragraphs. Sometimes when I comment on posts, I'm so excited and compelled to get my thoughts out and through my fingers that I forget to create paragraph breaks!
New England Multimedia Case studies, I know you've mentioned them before, Michelle, and I have to say I'm trying to put a few together for when my website comes up. I'm trying to decide between that and a "model" listing. Because the truth is, I think all of us have a base and a normal range we can name off the tops of our heads.
"Congratulations on your MBA." I'm not sure if you meant to be funny but I laughed aloud! Sometimes I think some writers need to make everyone aware of their advance degree. What can we do beyond reassure them that writing that people can understand is more powerful than the bizarre cadences of business-speak?
jennwhinnem LOL! I'm glad you got a kick out of that little comment. I suppose it was meant as a true congratulations (it's a pretty big deal to get an MBA) and as a bit of a humorous aside. You're right, business people, especially entrepreneurs, often want to do everything themselves. They have so much energy and passion wrapped up in their business. This characteristic is one of the ingredients that make entrepreneurs successful. But it can also cause them to be a "jack of all trades, master of none".
To answer your question, I think that, as writers, we need to validate the hard work and energy that goes in to starting and running a successful business when talking to the principles and owners. In the same conversation, we must remind them that the high achievers in business -- the ones everyone aspires to emulate -- worked with a team of people who shared their own talent and knowledge in areas outside of the scope of executive management. They didn't get there alone, in other words.
texascopywriter jennwhinnem I know I'm that way--if I can't do it, it doesn't get done. But I do have my limits. This site, for example. I tried (as you can see from my blurry, too-expanded signature in the banner) but I know I'm no designer, so I saved my pennies to hire one. Working with someone else has been well worth the money for the time and peace of mind I get to keep.
ShakirahDawudjennwhinnem That's a great example, Shakirah! If I tried to do anything remotely related to website design, I can assure you, it would be an epic fail! So, I hired a guy with lots of experience and knowledge about the Genesis framework and design in general.
jennwhinnem I know, Jenn, right? I sometimes wish I had the patience (sometimes not) with people who feel *that* good about a piece of paper that (at least in the beginning) is literally outlining everything they *Haven't Yet Done.* But corpwritingpro is doing a yeo(wo)man's job combatting that way of thinking at her place; you should check it out.
Aw *blushing* thanks Shakirah! And yes, writing so everyone can understand is vital! (It still amuses me how often the copywriter's guild over on LinkedIn reams me out for starting sentences with conjunctions. Trust me, I know better. But it's a blog!)
corpwritingproShakirahDawudjennwhinnem Thank you for saying that out loud, corpwritingpro! Blogs, even if they're associated with your business page, lend a little more creative freedom to the writers there than a professional brochure website. Seriously, people...lighten up!
I love this piece especially on the provocative copywriting. It takes skill not just an education. Knowing your audience and listening to them. Something I want to get better at. Samantha is truly amazing at it and inspires me.
lisabuben290 Thank you, Lisa. A lot more goes into creating the copy that moves people to spend their hard earned dollars on a company's product or service. Experienced copywriters can act as chameleons, in a way, by changing their voice, tone, style, and sentence structure to accurately match the comfort level and needs of the target audience. Thank you for your kind words, Lisa. It's an honor to hear that coming from someone with so much talent and such a strong entrepreneurial spirit.