The three constituencies you must please to make copy go from good to extraordinary.
Ideally, there are three audiences you need to please when you write copy.
You need to write to please your readers (your prospects and customers). You need to please your client or employer. Finally, you need to please yourself.
When you achieve all three, when these three paths meet at a single intersection, that's where great copy happens.
Writing to Please Your Readers
This is what we hear most about as copywriters. Copywriting 101 focuses on the skill of writing to the needs of your audience. In other words, you don't just write about the features or even the bare benefits of your product or service. You need to write, to express the benefits of what you're selling, in such a way that your message connects with your readers, one by one, at a personal, meaningful level.
That said, this isn't an easy thing to achieve. To be a good copywriter, you need an abundance of empathy, of compassion. You really need to feel the lives of your audience before you can truly write in a way that will touch people and hold their attention.
Cynics and professional "power-word" manipulators need not apply. Writing great copy is a profoundly human activity. You need to care about and respect the people to whom you are writing. You need to love the craft of writing.
Writing to Please Your Client
In an ideal world, all we'd have do is focus on our audience. Real life isn't like that. Whether you are writing for an outside client or from within an organization, the "client" will have his own needs and demands.
Every email, home page, or newsletter is, in part, a publishing space for the company or organization that creates or buys it.
In addition to saying what we feel the audience needs to know, we are under pressure to include what our client wishes to say about themselves.
To see what I mean, take a look at the home page of any company with multiple divisions. See how the home page is divided to please all the various stakeholders.
All too often, these divisions are not created to please or help the site's visitors. They are made to satisfy the factions within the organization.
You'll see the same pressures and divisions working, albeit more subtly, within any ad, email, or newsletter.
You will see how the message has been divided and constructed to please the reader and the organization.
The trick, although it is not really a trick at all, is to find the single point at which the needs of the customer and those of the organization intersect.
What can you say and how can you express a single message that is absolutely right for both? It's a hard thing to do but well worth the effort.
If you can find that intersection point where a single message will please both audiences, that's where you find great copy.
A divided message is a compromise. It leaves both audiences dissatisfied. A single message pleases everyone.
Writing to Please Yourself
This is where gold lies. If you can write to please both your audience and the powers that be, you've achieved a great deal.
If you want pure magic, find the intersection where the needs of the audience, the organization, and you, the writer, meet.
Yes, copywriters are professionals. Yes, we learn to empathize with our prospects and understand the needs of our clients. On some days we compromise, we struggle and wriggle and do the very best we can in the circumstances.
And for sure, we shouldn't be inserting ourselves, our voices in this message. We are simply craftspeople, the conduits.
When we look deep inside, do we feel equally engaged by every job we do? Do we feel equally comfortable with every message we create?
From time to time, you may find yourself writing about a product or service you truly believe in or feel passionate about. That's a great thing. We'd be kidding ourselves if we didn't recognize that a personal passion and commitment in the writer will find subtle expression in the finished work.
Even if the product or service isn't something you care deeply about, a committed copywriter can look for and find a place where the message she creates rings true within herself.
When you do that, when you find a way of expressing a message that rings true for the audience, the organization, and yourself, that's the one place where truly great copy comes from.
That's a rare moment, a rare thing. Only copywriters who truly care about their craft will have the vision to recognize such a moment for what it is.
Grasp it. And love it.
On the heels of a fantastic event in New York City, ClickZ Live is taking the fun and learning to Toronto, June 23-25. With over 15 years' experience delivering industry-leading events, ClickZ Live offers an action-packed, educationally-focused agenda covering all aspects of digital marketing. Register today!
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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