Briefly Speaking

First things first. Thank you! My last article generated a ton of feedback. It seems that I’m not alone in my difficulty when it comes to writing for an audience with which I cannot truly empathize — or that I don’t really understand or “get.”

Two observations in particular jumped out at me. First, never forget that the people who brief you are an integral part of the creative process: Mr. Usborne’s article beautifully underscores the importance of a well-defined target audience and a well-written creative brief. In the end, copywriting in the corporate arena is not a solitary task; it’s something of a team effort.

How true. In the good old days, when creative teams could kick some serious butt around the agency hallways, we used to drive the account executives crazy with our demands for information and insights into our audience. Of course, the best account people always knew that bringing the audience into focus for us was half the creative battle.

How many interactive agencies have that same kind of structure within their creative groups? How many development companies have teams comprising a writer, designer, and account executive? Not many, I’ll bet.

This lack of structure could be one reason for thin or nonexistent briefings, and the quality of the copy inevitably suffers. How could it not? How can even the best copywriter produce his or her best work without the essential information?

Then there is the middle ground — not thin, but not terribly useful. When copywriters get a mediocre briefing, it inevitably comprises yards and yards of product or service information — just the facts.

What about some information on the audience? It’s so very ironic that information on the audience is so often inadequate in the most interactive marketing environment ever conceived. When marketing online, how can you fail to take some steps to find out a little about your target market?

Anyway, it happens. Tons of raw data are dumped on copywriters’ desks. “Here’s the brief.” Well, thank you.

This brings us to the second great nugget that came in last week’s feedback: “Working with many technology products, I find myself easily tempted to resort to technobabble.”

Sound familiar? This is the low ground to which copywriters retreat when faced with a thoroughly useless briefing. The writer doesn’t truly understand the product or service. He or she has no information on the audience. Nobody else seems to care. And the deadline just passed.

What does a writer do in those circumstances? All too often, he or she will “resort to technobabble.” In other words, take lots of important-sounding phrases out of the raw data provided, weave them together into some copy that sounds impressive, and hope that nobody figures out that it’s all nonsense. Of course, none of us would do such a thing. But most of us have, just once or twice.

The point is that great copywriting depends on a strong creative brief. And a strong brief is a lot more than just a dump of raw product data. If the brief is made up of product data alone, the copywriter can hand you back a beautifully written product description. But if you want a result that really sells, you need a briefing that includes some real and genuine insights into your audience. Copywriters need to “get” the audience before they can craft the sale.

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