Something different – imagine! This week I decided I’d be terribly cheeky and beg a copywriter I admire for a few pointers I could share with you.
Andy Maslen is a bit of a legend in copywriting circles, for his kindness and humour as well as his writing. I met him recently at a copywriter meetup (#CopywritersUnite) and he did not disappoint. Here he is, for your delectation:
1. Where should copywriting come in a small business’s (scarily long) list of priorities?
I would say above office cleaning but below paying off debts. Having said that, the only way you’re going to pay for anything is to make money. Specifically, more money than you’re spending or investing. That calls for profitable sales. And guess what? That calls for copywriting.
It wasn’t so long ago that you could build a very successful and profitable business without a great deal of writing. In the days, which I remember, before the Internet, you might have a team of people who brought home the bacon with face-to-face or telephone sales.
Now, those days are pretty much gone for ever. Every business has a website, emails, ads, mailings, brochures, press releases, Facebook advertising, blogs…the list is growing longer by the day. Each of those items on the marketing list has writing at its core.
But how’s the little guy supposed to keep up with all that?
Get it right and you can leave your website and all those other marketing elements to work on their own while you run your business. Customers are finding you on Google, clicking through to your site, signing up for newsletters, downloading product guides…even buying things! All because they found the words you put in front of them interesting, relevant, compelling, emotionally engaging and, ultimately, persuasive.
So a small business does need copywiting?
Absolutely. Does it need a copywriter? That depends. It needs someone, who has mastered the craft of copywriting, which I’ll define here as writing to influence, persuade or sell. It could be a marketeer who works in your company. But they will have a whole raft of responsibilities that go way beyond sitting quietly at a desk, sucking the end of their pencil and trying to figure out precisely which arrangement of words will best persuade a prospect to become a customer.
It could be you. But, really? Come on! You’re running a business. If you have time to write copy, you’re ignoring something else you should be doing.
That leaves the third option. A professional copywriter. Agency or freelance, it doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t, I hope, fix a leaking toilet in the customer restrooms: you’d call a plumber. You wouldn’t do your own end-of-year accounts: you’d hire an accountant. Specialist jobs call for specialist skills.
2. What IS this content marketing everyone’s blathering on about?
Oh, lordy! Where do we start? OK, at its simplest, content marketing means exchanging information of one kind (useful to your prospect) for information of another kind (their contact details).
In recent years, that naked commerciality has been cloaked in a lot of talk about trust, so that the new definition is about giving people stuff now so they trust you enough to pay for other stuff later on.
It’s been around a very long time. Ever since the first baking powder manufacturer sent 1950s housewives cake recipe books in exchange for a filled-in coupon with their name and address on it, there has been content marketing. The only thing that’s changed since then is the ease with which you can create content using digital media. None of that annoying paying for printing or mailing.
But what is content for ME, as a small business owner?
It could be anything from the aforementioned recipe book, to booklets, games, videos, articles, checklists, videos, audio clips, interviews (like this one), bookmarks, colour-selector wheels, industry, jargon-busters…if you think your customers might find a piece of information interesting, entertaining or useful, and you don’t mind investing to create it, it’s content.
But here’s the thing. You have to make sure of two things. First, that you know WHY you’re doing it. Second, that you have a mechanism in place to gather some sort of information in exchange. My recommendation would always be to collect first names and email addresses.
And maybe a third thing: a strategy. Strategy is one of those grand words people love to bandy about without always having a clear idea of what it means: in general, or for their business in particular. So, are you going to use content to establish yourself as an industry expert. Or as a trustworthy source of guidance. Or as a storyteller? You need to make your mind up BEFORE you start paying people to create, upload and distribute your content.
3. Is it possible for a ‘boring’ business to write an engaging blog?
Define boring! I get this quite a lot in copywriting courses I run. A young marketeer (usually) will stick their hand up and say, “How can we write interesting copy when our product is so boring?”. And I always reply, “Boring for whom?”.
Suppose you make widgets that stop pumps from leaking. Perhaps, on the surface, that looks like a ‘boring’ business. (Although not, I suspect, to pump manufacturers. Or to people who use pumps to stop sewage treatment tanks from overflowing.) Could you write an interesting blog post about your business? Of course you could! Maybe we’d have a headline like this one:
10 Beautiful Things That Came in Small Packages
You could write about Tiffany diamonds, the world’s smallest automatic watch, a fully working robot human just three centimetres tall and so on. Number ten might be your widget.
Or you could have a blog post that looked at how big inventions that failed first time out of the traps worked only after an engineer solved the problem with a little doodad.
The trick, as with all copywriting, is to think yourself into the mind of your reader. Figure out what problems they’re trying to solve and talk about those. And always remember that we love stories. The moment you start telling a story, rather than delivering a lecture, people will give you their attention. Possibly their undivided attention.
And that’s an invaluable quantity for somebody trying to build a profitable business.
About Andy Maslen
Andy Maslen is managing director of Sunfish, a writing agency specialising in corporate communications, direct marketing and digital content. A lifetime Fellow of the Institute of Direct Marketing, Andy’s clients include The Economist, Prudential, World Vision, Christie’s, Hamleys and the BBC. He writes and speaks regularly on copywriting and has written a number of successful books on the subject including Write to Sell and Persuasive Copywriting.