Copywriting is very much an art, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hard science behind some of the principles used by more successful writers. These scientifically-backed #copywriting tips should graduate your game to the next level, no matter your skill level.
Teaching copywriting is difficult. You can only lay some ground rules that point people in the right direction, and most tips and advice are merely opinions based in anecdotal evidence, relentless practice and educated guesses. So it can be hard to know what works and what doesn’t. Thankfully, Gregory Ciotti put together a list of seven copywriting tips that are supported by some level of scientific research. We summarize three of his more useful tips below.
1. Leverage an Emotion That’s Already There.
+ Tip: Find an emotion that your target often feels, and make them feel that again. Don’t tell them what to feel. Like a novelist, the goal is to craft copy that leads them to that place on their own. Then, mix your message into that good emotion.
+ Science: Mirror neurons can make you feel what you see. It’s why men cringe when they see another man get hit in the balls. Make your target relive the emotion by showing them a scene that takes them back to it. The emotion makes your message more attractive and more memorable.
2. Don’t Sell Money. Sell Time.
+ Tip: Even low-quality brands hardly advertise their low prices. It’s something stores do for brands, but you almost never see a brand thumping its chest about its absurdly low prices. That’s because it doesn’t really work. Time is a more precious resource, so sell good times, not good prices. Miller’s slogan (“It’s Miller Time”) is the perfect example.
+ Science: Customers are willing to pay more for good service, which means they are generally more concerned about quality than price. That doesn’t mean lower prices can’t help you outsell your competitors, but it does mean that you’ll have to convince your target audience that your lower prices don’t mean a reduction in quality as well. Focus on the quality of the product. The low prices market themselves.
3. Don’t Avoid the Counter Argument
+ Tip: Your product, service or brand is not the answer to your target audience’s every problem. More importantly, there is usually a clear argument against it. Don’t ignore the opposing argument because it will be recalled by the target when you present yours. As a result, it’s best to tackle those opposing viewpoints head on. Think about it: Pepsi doesn’t ignore the existence of Coca Cola, not even in its own ads. Apple doesn’t ignore the existence of Windows, and I’m sure you’ve seen car commercials that feature the competitors’ products.
+ Science: Psychologist Charlan Nemeth tested two styles of debating, one that acknowledged the opposing viewpoint and one that didn’t. Of course, the arguments that did better are those that didn’t pretend there is no opposing viewpoint. That’s because when you’re “real” with your target audience, they are more likely to trust you, and when you answer their questions, they don’t have the opportunity or the desire to find answers elsewhere.
Whether it’s a brand slogan, a promotional giveaway, a marketing email or a highway billboard, the best marketing copy is rather short and simple, but it can be far from easy to write. Effective marketing copy can take a long time (maybe even several days) to produce and revise, and it sometimes requires a draining amount of frustrating effort. But improving your copywriting skills can add a significant boost to your business’s success, so it’s important to continuously refine and hone your work.
I’ve recognized three key principles throughout my career that have helped me improve my copy over time. Keep these principles in mind the next time you write to help you boost the quality of your work (see the #copywriting tips page for more).
Don’t Start with Words
+ Don’t start with words; start with a feeling. You shouldn’t write if you don’t know what feelings you want to evoke, but if you identify and target a specific feeling, such as relief or confidence, you’ll have a much better idea of what you are really trying to say. After all, that’s the point of marketing copy (to evoke or sell a specific feeling, not really the product itself). People don’t care much for products or services, but they love the good feelings certain products or services bring them.
+ The example above doesn’t feature any marketing copy, but it does a good job of evoking the the childish joy and wonder of one’s imagination. Actually, the intentional lack of marketing copy amplifies the feeling, so it’s also a good example of the “less is more” principal described later in this article.
Short Verbs Are Safe Bets
+ Get in the habit of starting your copy with an action word; it’s beneficial to your writing process to start your copy with a short verb, such as “win” or “boost”. That’s because good marketing copy gets to the point fast, but the practice can also direct your writing process in a positive direction. You may find that this rule is too formulaic in certain situations, but most of the time, it’s a safe bet - especially if you’re pressed for time and not feeling super creative.
+ The example above is a perfect illustration of this concept, and it gets right to the point. The feelings being evoked are joy and laughter, and that emotion leaves a positive impression with you as it associates joy and laughter with the name “Chick-Fil-A”. Furthermore, when a customer creates an emotional association to a brand, it makes the brand more memorable.
Less is More
+ I can’t stress this principal enough: use less words whenever you can. The shorter your message, the more people will consume it and understand it. It’s not a difficult concept to understand, but it seems to be a difficult concept for newer writers to apply.
+ In the above Nike ad, the writer could have written: “It doesn’t matter what you do. It doesn’t matter how or why you do it. It doesn’t matter how good you are when you do it - as long as you do it and you do it for yourself.” But the standard Nike slogan, “just do it”, works much better. It communicates the same message in a fraction of a second, so the team that designed the ad effectively maximized the audience that will consume and understand the ad.
Here’s an extra bonus tip that can apply to any creative professional, not just writers: develop amazing, outstanding taste. Simply by improving your taste (for example, learning to enjoy more sophisticated books or higher-quality blogs), you will improve your creative work. That’s because you can more easily and quickly identify bad ideas, so you can trash those ideas before you finish them. The best creatives kill almost all of their ideas, and they only keep a few shining gems to refine. Similarly, you should find a thick pile of unused ideas in your trash bin at the end of any writing session.
For more copywriting advice, check out "10 Ways to Improve your Marketing Copy."
Throughout the last decade or so, copywriters have taken a backseat in the marketing industry. Unfortunately, that means poor marketing copy is more common than ever, but text and message are two critical components of any marketing campaign. Improve your marketing copy, and you’ll gain a significant advantage over competitors that forget the importance of the written word.
During our early-morning reading spree, we stumbled upon an excellent piece, courtesy of Entrepreneur, that describes five ways to better marketing copy. We break down the basics below - followed by some of our own in-house tips.
+ Find better reading material. Expose yourself to exceptional writing, and, eventually, you’ll notice a significant improvement in your own.
+ Vary your sentence structure and vocabulary. Find new ways of saying the same thing. You might be surprised at what’s possible with the English language.
+ Stop using static text in your marketing materials. Your newsletter/flyer/whatever shouldn’t feature the same opener every month.
+ Carry a pen and notebook everywhere you go. Some people, like myself, use it mainly for notes and brainstorming. Other professional writers actually write everything by hand before finalizing it in the digital world. Handwriting uses different parts of your brain, so you may develop new and interesting writing styles this way.
+ Try what you haven’t done before. The best way to learn anything is to get your hands dirty with it.
These are some excellent points, but don’t stop there. You can do a lot more to improve your marketing copy. We add our own in-house tips below.
+ Add a dictionary, thesaurus and grammar guide to your arsenal. Don’t be ashamed to look up word definitions, synonyms and antonyms. More importantly, double check your grammar if you’re not 110% sure about it, though in some cases, you may choose to intentionally break grammar rules. No one expects you to have every minute detail of the entire English language memorized, but incorrect grammar is embarrassing in most situations (see the above picture).
+ Test your marketing copy! This could mean a lot of things, including the use of market research and focus groups, but always test your copy on the medium on which it’ll be published. For example, if you’re writing copy for a billboard ad, put the text on a mock-up billboard to see what it’s like in action. Similarly, if you’re writing for the homepage of an e-commerce site, upload the text onto a dummy version of the site before publishing. You might be surprised at how different it looks in a real-world setting.
+ Read Mark Twain’s work. Study his writing philosophies. As the inventor of the American novel, his writing style and story-telling techniques continue to be imitated to this day! Even if you never write a novel, understanding why his work is so massively beloved is important.
+ More is less. Writing a big message with many words is easy. Writing a big message with few words is much harder. In the world of marketing, if your message is made up of less words, it’s more likely to be consumed and understood. This is actually one of Mark Twain’s fundamental principles on good writing.
+ Never stop writing. Develop habits that keep your hands busy with a keyboard or pen. Practice makes perfect.
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