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What Kind of Copywriter Are You?

  |  November 1, 2001   |  Comments

You're good. You're versatile. But are you as versatile as you think? Even our resident copywriting expert discovered -- after two decades on the job -- that no matter how good you are, you can't necessarily write all things for all people.

This article isn't about copywriting online. It's about copywriters online.

Or, to be honest, it's mainly about me. And a discovery about myself as a copywriter that took 20 years to figure out.

Here's how it starts.

I've always taken pride in the fact that I can write good copy on any subject.

Over the years I have written for Apple, Chrysler, Eli Lilly, TV Guide, Bell Mobility, AOL, Franklin Mint, Fidelity, Diners Club, Citibank, and a host of other companies.

That list represents a very diverse group of products and services. I even have a dozen or so awards in a filing cabinet that prove I helped bring in the bacon for these guys.

So I'm pretty flexible, right? Well, I like to think so. And I think there are a lot of copywriters out there, offline and online, who also take pride in being able to write great copy for any kind of company, whatever the size or the audience.

That's been my promise to my clients, and it has put food on the table for a couple of decades now.

But just recently I have discovered that, for me at least, that promise is showing some cracks.

For this painful epiphany, I blame the Web.

Recently, I was asked to write some key site pages for a company that builds and markets a range of very technical and expensive products.

No problem. Or so I thought.

These products are complicated and sold to large institutions with complex management and decision-making structures.

I stumbled. And I crumbled. And I wrote some pages of passable but ultimately indifferent copy.

In the words of my client, "Nick, your copy usually blows my socks off. But this didn't even untie my shoe laces."

Not good.

With some wriggling, bowing, and scraping, I slowly reversed my way out of the job. And felt pretty embarrassed about it.

The Web has brought things into focus for me. It has helped me figure out what kind of clients I can serve best.

I'm at my best as a copywriter only when I can clearly see and empathize with the end user. I have to be able to understand that person well enough to make my sale in a sincere, one-to-one manner.

If, however, I find myself selling to a complex structure involving multiple decision makers, I do that stumbling thing. When I can't see that final user, I just lose my communication skills. I start mumbling about the product or service, rather than the end-user experience.

I guess this has always been the case with me. Which is why I tend toward business-to-consumer (B2C). Or if I am writing business-to-business (B2B), I do my best when I am selling to just one person.

I suppose it's my nature.

This is pretty late in the day for me to finally figure out some key strengths and weaknesses in myself as a copywriter.

Why now? Because writing online really throws these differences into sharp focus. I am drawn to copywriting online because the Web enables me to see that end-user much more clearly. My need to see and empathize with the final customer is supported by the Web. I can listen to my customers in discussions lists. I can read their feedback. I can see how they rate products, services, and companies through sites such as GÓmez and PlanetFeedback.com.

The Web allows me to write better, because I can connect with the person I'm writing for.

When corporations and their customers use the Web as an advertising or virtual print medium but do not participate in the online experience, I can't get a sense of the people within the companies. I can't "see" who I'm addressing.

That's when I become an indifferent copywriter instead of a good one.

How about you? If you're a copywriter, do you write equally well for all types of companies and audiences? Do you really and truly?

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Nick Usborne

Nick Usborne speaks, writes, and consults on strategic copy issues for business online. For Web sites, e-mails and newsletters, he crafts messages that drive results. He is the author of the critically acclaimed bookNet Words - Creating High-Impact Online Copy.

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