Tips, techniques and inspiration for marketing communications from Richard Groom at Peterborough Copywriting Bureau.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Three assumptions that can kill your marketing writing stone dead

Is the way you write almost guaranteeing that your readers will move on to something else right away? It could be, if you are building unnecessary assumptions into your content.

Here’s a quick look at three examples of assumptions that can damage your content – but that can be easily fixed.

1. Assuming that people remember the last thing you wrote

Often in a blog or email newsletter article you read something like ‘following on from last month’s update on our CFD-3000 widget we are delighted to announce that…

The writer is assuming that the reader read the previous piece AND that he/she remembers it. In reality of course, the reader may never have read the previous piece, and even if they did it might have been one of dozens or hundreds of pieces of content they had to process on that day. There’s every chance it will have been forgotten by now.

An easy alternative would be to write something like: 'Last month we wrote about the new capacity of the CFD-300 widget (you can read about it here), and now we have even more good news about the upgraded product.

So don’t be afraid to recap on what was written previously, even if you think most readers will remember it.

2. Assuming that people know who you are

Just because someone is on your email database doesn’t mean they will instantly recognise your company name when you send them an email. This is especially true if you don't send emails very often.

Some newsletter copy jumps right into content without reminding people who the sender is and what they do. Like this: ‘It’s been a busy month for all of us here. We’re especially pleased that our product manager Peter has completed his Level 5 training and is now fully on board with our product portfolio.’ 

The poor reader is thinking ‘I think I know who this is from but I’m not sure’ or worse still, ‘I have absolutely no clue who these people are’.

So make it a habit of having the essential ‘remember us’ copy as early as possible in the piece. For example, a strapline can do the trick, like ‘Keeping you informed about the latest poultry-keeping accessories’.

3. Forgetting that many of your readers are in different sectors

This applies especially to LinkedIn. Do you feel as frustrated as me when you browse through your LinkedIn feed? Among the dozens of updates I have to wade through, many of them make absolutely no sense to me.

Like this: ‘Had a great time at CuddlyFun2016 this week! Awesome performance from everyone involved and we have been nominated for the prize of ‘Best Exhibitor’! WooHoo!’ But I have no idea exactly what CuddlyFun2016 is and I can’t remember what my connection’s business does. 

So how about writing: ‘Really enjoyed showcasing our superb teddy bear outfits at the world’s biggest soft toy exhibition this week. Awesome performance from the team and we were nominated for ‘Best Exhibitor’ at CuddlyFun2016! WooHoo!

Yes, I know – the main target audience for a post like that IS people who know exactly what CuddlyFun2016 is. But presumably you are connected to everyone else because you want to communicate with them on some level, so why not do it with clarity for them too?

Step into your readers’ shoes for a moment

As with all good writing, the trick is to remember that your readers don’t live in your world. They aren’t as interested in you and what you do as you are. So give them those extra little bits of information to help them quickly ‘get’ what you’re writing about.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Why draft #1 is rarely perfect

Writers know that it's important that everyone involved understands the process we use. The process may seem painful to some people, but it's how all writers eventually produce the right words.

We writers churn out (sorry, carefully craft) thousands of words each day. Most of what we write is intended to be draft copy for others to review. Ultimately, it is client - either an actual external client, or a boss if we are working in-house - who has final say on what's published.

Experienced writers know that we can't hope to get every word right, every time. Or rather, we can't hope to write what our client wants, every time. There is a process going on where we write a draft, get feedback on the draft, write another draft and so on.

Anyone - writer or client - who thinks that a 'perfect' version should always be written on draft one, two or three is being unrealistic. Yes, it can happen, and it's great when it does. But more often than not, it's a process that takes a bit longer.

Let's look at why multiple drafts might be needed before we get to the final, approved and published version...

Writers don't care as much about words as clients do


What? Is Richard now saying that even though he has been writing for 20+ years he doesn't care about words? In a way, yes.

The issue is that we writers have lots of options about the words we use. There is never 'one correct way' to phrase something. Ultimately, it is the client who chooses what's right. That's why we don't labour endlessly over every word and every phrase in early drafts.

The client reading a draft usually has a very clear idea about how they want the message to be phrased. Or, more likely, they instantly know whether they like or dislike the writer's choice of words when they read a draft. So it would be daft for the writer to try to make a first draft 'perfect' because no matter what we write, the chances are the client will see things differently.

Here's an example. A writer working in the automotive sector writes this:

'Buy this product and you will instantly transform your motor maintenance costs'.

The client could like that and approve it immediately, or have any number of thoughts about that phrase, such as:
  • We shouldn't say 'buy' as that emphasises the fact they customers have to give us money, so we should say 'invest in' instead'.
  • I don't like the word 'product': I prefer 'solution'.
  • 'Instantly' is too big a promise so we should say 'soon' instead.
  • I think that 'vehicle' is better than 'motor'.
  • Using the word 'you' sounds too informal.
Now, none of these reactions are wrong. And none are right. They are all subjective feelings about words. True, they may be informed by knowledge of the target market and overall context, but they are subjective nonetheless.

The point is that the writer cannot possibly know whether the client would rather say 'motor' or 'vehicle', or 'buy' or 'invest in'. Even the best briefing process won't go into that amount of detail about every word or phrase.

Great writing is a process of draft, feedback and re-draft

At some point, the writer has to get something down on paper (so to speak) and get it out to the client. The client needs to know that the writer will very likely use some words or phrases that the client won't like. The writer may miss out important messages. The overall tone of voice, length of copy, amount of detail and so on may be wrong.

But here's the thing: it doesn't matter. Because when the boss/client gives detailed, specific feedback about the first couple of drafts, the writer will be in a much better position to craft words that are suitable. 

That feedback stage is a vital part of the briefing process. Writers and clients alike need to embrace the process. Yes, it can feel a bit painful at times. But it's an important part of the work both parties must do if the end result is suitable, effective content.