Why You Need Good Copy, Not Exciting Copy

Email inboxFor the last 10 or so years, we’ve all been blinded by the shining light of goodness that is Innocent’s tone of voice.

So fun, so quirky.

They’ve had a very good run with their copy style and, although I’m personally quite tired of the schtick now (old and bitter, is what I am), they’re still doing just fine.

But we’re not all Innocent. Not all our customers are Innocent people. There’s a lot to be said for copy and websites and marketing material that just do their damn job – and ‘delight’ is a secondary or even banished concept.

Innocent on Twitter
@innocent on Twitter

Here’s my case for functional over fantastic copy

Most of your customers come to you because they need something done that’s getting in the way of their schedule. They want their carpets cleaned or they’ve broken their phone screen. They are not sitting at home, wishing they had a brand to interact with so they could feel some human connection to capitalism.

As marketers, we forget this. We’re not only not the most important part of someone’s day – we barely even register unless we screw up in some fabulous way and demand their negative attention.

That’s as it should be. We should be solving problems easily and unobtrusively, so our customer can get on with their actual life.

Some brands, of course, are in the business of selling a lifestyle. Topshop sells hipness, Evian sells wellness. But if you sell problem-solving, part of your job is to have as little impact on someone’s life as possible.

Knowing when to step back

It’s so tempting, when you really care about your customers, to be matey. You do actually care about their lives but they may not want you to. Being too friendly can come across as invasive or even unprofessional, when all they wanted from you was a quick solution.

When a customer shares something personal with you, of course you should emote. Your customer interaction at that level is where you should be your most friendly and human.

On the other hand, if you’re emailing admin details or sending account alerts, it needs to be clear as day and easy as pie. ‘You’ve updated your account details’ is always going to beat ‘Yo! You’ve done a change and we LIKE IT’ because no one wants your ridiculous brand personality when their attention is really only needed for 0.001 seconds.

Brand vanity (see also: award winning) should always come lower than ease-of-use in your priorities. It also saves you time and money when you think like this – a beautiful, clever ad may be a waste of money if people are more likely to buy from something more straightforward!

None of this means you should ditch your tone of voice for functional copy. No way – your usual style still applies. You just need to make sure you know which register (level of poshness but also chumminess) you use in every situation your customer experiences.

Examples of tone shift from delight to function:

  • Marketing email: full-on brand experience with jokes and emojis (delight)
  • Account set-up email: clear and precise copy that makes the customer click the button (function)
  • Bus stop ad: eye-catching and brand-selling for long-term brand recall (delight)
  • PPC ad: clear, to-the-point and written to convert, convert, convert (function)
  • Website: conceptual and persuasive to move people through the sales funnel (delight / function)
  • App: concise and data-light (function)

I’ll say it again: no one is asking you to be boring but your customers very likely need you to take up as little space in their lives as possible. Never forget to take a step back and think “Is this for them or for me?”