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For The Love Of Good Content
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We've all been traumatized by tragic attempts at copywriting that left us wishing we'd never even bothered wasting our time reading it. Creating the stark opposite - copy that grabs, engages, entertains and informs the reader - is a craft that is improved over time. To become a Copywriting Jedi is to endure the process as you carefully learn the ways of the pen. And no Padawan, no matter how gifted, can escape the basic rules of good marketing copy.
Effective copy is an important part of creating a strong foundation for any marketing effort. And whether you are a professional writer or a marketing pro who has been strapped with copywriting duties, the challenge of creating fresh, effective content presents itself every time you face the blank page.
The last thing a copywriter wants is to create painfully dry copy that exhausts or confuses the reader. Begin with these guidelines and you are unlikely to find yourself in this predicament.
Have Something to Say
First, begin with a really clear, strong marketing message. This gets into a much larger issue - your company's internally defined identity, value proposition, competitive advantage, brand and image in the marketplace. If the company's message is not clear, as a writer you will find it difficult to consistently convey that message.
But when the message is clear and consistent - when you think of bargain one-stop-shopping, you think of Wal-Mart; when you think of the "cool" MP3 Player, you think of the Apple iPod; when you think of a motorcycle, you think of a Harley - you know in which direction your writing effort is going. And even when faced with the most challenging copywriting task, you will have a defined starting point for the writing process.
Write, Don't Sell
The challenge of marketing copy is that, by its very nature, it must be somewhat "salesy." The trick is, it can't sound "salesy" because the reader is likely to gloss right over it, or worse, simply dismiss the content altogether.
The easiest way to achieve this is keeping the content simple and conversational - just as a salesperson does when talking with a prospect. You talk about the product like you are talking with an informal acquaintance or colleague. Be authentic in your approach and get specific and to the point so the reader does not feel as if their time is being wasted.
Throw Out Your Grammar Book - Or Don't
Nothing kills your credibility like copy that has gross spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. While checking to prevent this seems like a logical step, it is often dismissed.
But is proper grammar really that important? A marketing copywriter's bible would be quite handy to resolve issues such as this: copy that follows the rules of grammar vs. copy that follows the rules of language. Which is best?
All over the Web, you will find content that supports both theories. Most writers will argue that it just depends - and, truthfully, it does. There are instances when the standard rules of grammar just won't work because it makes the copy seem too stiff and structured. And, there are instances when proper grammar is essential to project a level of professionalism and expertise.
Making this step a priority can mean the difference between being perceived as a professional or as an amateur attempting to be a professional - the difference between being trusted and not being trusted, getting the sale and not getting the sale. Think about it: if a company is too lazy to make sure the marketing materials they distribute are polished and professional, then how can I, John Q. Prospect, trust that they will do any better for me?
The bottom line is: using proper grammar or not is a judgment call. However, when you err on the side of grammatical correctness, the copy has a tendency to flow better - not that you have to get it exactly right all of the time. But if you at least make the effort to be grammatically correct, you'll already be ahead of most of your competitors.
Break It Up
If the reader is looking at a rather dense section of marketing copy, the page must be aesthetically pleasing to hold their interest. This is easily achieved with style and formatting techniques such as increasing font size for major headings; bolding, italicizing and underlining text; double spacing between paragraphs; adding in bullets; and using art and graphics - preferably color. And when you are copywriting for the Web, incorporating links in the copy using anchor text to send the reader to another page on your site is essential.
At Least Two Sets of Eyes
No matter how brilliant you think your writing is, sending out any marketing copy without someone checking behind you is careless and ill-advised. If you have been doing this, then check your ego and your Jedi Inksaber at the door and get someone to read behind you. There should always be at least two sets of eyes - yours and someone else's - reviewing any copy before it leaves the office.
The problem with writing copy and then attempting to be your own editor is that you are more likely to read your copy the way you wrote it, not the way it appears on the page.
In other words, you need a pair of objective eyes to read your copy behind you. This two-step reviewing process gives you the opportunity to better see what the reader will see. You'll quickly learn if your overall theme is clearly conveyed, if the major points of the writing make sense, whether or not the copy flows well and if you've missed any of the fine details.
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