Why does good writing on websites resonate? Often writing strikes a chord because the writer seems to encapsulate something you were already thinking. They capture an idea that was swirling around in your mind, and they skewer it perfectly. That’s it, you think! That’s what I meant to say! That’s what I need to do!
The intimacy that this kind of resonance creates is powerful. We trust people that understand us and share our view of the world. We want to get closer to them.
So how do these writers do it? What’s the secret for writing so it feels like a one-to-one conversation?
Sadly there is no magic formula, but there are some techniques you can learn which will give your writing more power, and make more people feel that you are genuinely talking to them.
Picture someone you know well — a client you’ve been working with, a colleague you know inside out — and tailor your writing precisely for them. This act of visualisation will set the right tone. You want writing that feels like a conversation, not a lecture.
Don’t tackle too broad a subject. It’s better to be deep than wide. You worry that fewer people will read it? Perhaps, but it means that the people who do choose to read it are already in the zone. Your niche headline will pull in the right readers, who in turn are more likely to share it with their circles of like-minded contacts. Try and be everything to everyone and you end up pleasing no one.
There’s nothing like a spot of confession to make people feel more inclined to warm to you. I’m not suggesting you fill your business blogs with your deepest darkest fears, but revealing something of yourself instantly makes your writing feel more intimate. If you want to see this done brilliantly, sign up to Chris Brogan’s newsletters. He’s the master of copy that feels like it’s written just for you.
Don’t be afraid to tackle difficult subjects. Some of the strongest writing touches us deeply because it taps into things we’re not even admitting to ourselves that we’re thinking. It’s a cliché to ask clients what keeps them awake at night, but writing that addresses those issues in a helpful way demonstrates that you understand, and will be welcomed.
If you know your clients well, you’ll know precisely what it is that they’re searching for, and you can provide the answers or guidance that will help. The right article, at the right time, creates that buzzy serendipitous feeling that gives your writing power.
We write a lot about the need to talk about your business in a way that’s free from jargon, in language that your clients understand. It’s all about being likable and making connections.
Stories, rich in plot and studded with metaphors, like those you remember from childhood, can help you build even deeper roots into the hearts and minds of your clients.
Writing your business story is a creative exercise. It’s not like any of the other writing you do — very different from blogs or sales proposals — and you need to approach it in a different frame of mind. Fire up your imagination, prepare to be playful, and silence your sensible side for a while.
Five steps to finding your business story
1. Once upon a time
All stories need a beginning. Where did yours start? Describe the world that existed before your business burst into the world. Use metaphors and analogies. Were your clients stumbling around in the dark before your services lit up the path ahead? Were your customers tangled in a mire of misery before your products transformed their lives? You have permission to be silly here — no one’s going to see this draft so write as freely as you can, without inhibition. Go off at tangents. Dig for emotions. Make yourself laugh.
2. Your hero
Your story needs a character, and yours is your client. What are they like? Mild-mannered and meek? Powerful but lost? Embattled under siege? Jot down as many ideas as you can. Don’t censor yourself. Think in archetypes. The knight in shining armour. The soldier on the front line. The earth mother. At this stage it’s perfectly permissible to have a hero who is a cross between Basil Fawlty and Mother Theresa. Go with the flow and keep going.
3. The obstacle
What is standing in your hero’s path? A fire breathing dragon? A bottomless pit? A 3,000-strong braying mob? Describe the hero’s obstacle in a way that captures its emotional power. Bigger obstacles make for better stories. Overcoming one cross wasp isn’t going to grab anyone, but make it a buzzing cloud of killer bees and people will keep listening. (Yes, I know, in reality your client’s problem is just slow running IT or a difficult ex-business partner, but focus on how that obstacle makes your hero feel.)
4. The final battle
The climatic point in any film and the page-turning dash to the resolution of a great book. Describe the final battle. How does your hero slay the monster? How does she solve the giant Rubik’s Cube that’s standing between her and the door to paradise? Which powers does she use? What does that power feel like?
5. The happy ever after
Describe the world after the battle’s been won. How is it better? What does the resolution do to the landscape? Think of the words that best capture the spirit of this new age. Is it calm? Ordered? Peaceful? Joyous? Throw in some analogies — “like the day after the great storm”, “the first rain after drought”, “dawn breaking after a long night of the soul”. Don’t be scared of pushing it — this exercise is all about searching for words and images with the emotional power to resonate with your audience.
And now what?
Read through what you’ve written. Look for threads — ideas and thoughts that can be linked together to form a narrative. Now’s the time to edit hard. Words or images that are too left field can go. They’ve served their purpose. Stick with the ones that feel right to you. Trust your intuition here. What would you feel comfortable saying? (Say them out loud and see which ones come easily and which ones make you stutter.) Which ones would help explain what you do to your dream client?
The power of a good story is it is memorable; easy to tell and retell. It grabs people, burrows deep and stays with them. What’s yours?
Guest post by Tom Albrighton
Modern marketing is a lot like a party. Work the room right and you’ll attract interest and new contacts. Fail to shine and you’ll be going home alone. Here are the ten marketing partygoers you never want to meet – or be.
1. The counsellor is full of unwelcome ‘why don’t you’ advice for everyone she meets – she’s the answer to a question nobody asked. Marketing moral: expertise is becoming devalued; cultivating strong personal connections may work better than positioning yourself as an expert.
2. The egotist holds forth interminably on his favourite topic: himself. Marketing moral: focus on the customer, not yourself. (See this post for more.)
3. The wallflower stands shyly on the sidelines even though her best friend could be introducing her to plenty of guests if asked. Marketing moral: proactively cultivate and request referrals and testimonials.
4. The geek batters you into submission with an enthusiastic but crashingly dull monologue about his phone, computer or other gadget. Marketing moral: don’t confuse technical features with customer benefits.
5. The clown keeps the jokes coming even if they’re not appreciated, appropriate or even funny. Marketing moral: Humour doesn’t travel and should be used with care – can you guarantee the reaction you’re hoping for?
6. The miser brings Liebfraumilch but drinks Moët. Marketing moral: In modern marketing, particularly social media, you have to give something (of yourself) before you receive.
7. The butterfly is always looking around the room for someone more interesting to talk to. Marketing moral: don’t neglect here-and-now customer needs in the quest for new connections or business.
8. The gatecrasher shouldn’t even be here at all but he never misses the chance to party, even if he doesn’t know anyone. Marketing moral: don’t waste time and money making a big splash when you really need focused exposure.
9. The nervous hostess flits between conversations, asking everyone if they’re enjoying themselves (and the vol-au-vents). Marketing moral: don’t over-regulate the conversation about your brand or content; allowing criticism shows strength and confirms authenticity.
10. The chatterbox just won’t shut up! Marketing moral: We can’t talk and listen at the same time; make time for learning as well as pushing out content.
Guest post by Tom Albrighton
The other day, a client facing a big marketing setback confided to me that he was going to go home, have a glass of wine and try to think it through.
I nodded sympathetically. Many’s the time I’ve combined work with leisure by doing some copywriting over a drink in the evening. A drop of something can often loosen up the flow of words, particularly when something expressive or colourful is required. (However, it can also cloud the judgement, so I always wait until the morning to send the results to the client.)
No-one who enjoyed Under Milk Wood, Sgt. Pepper or 'Kubla Khan' could deny that alcohol and drugs can enhance the creative process. Some of our greatest cultural works had their genesis in altered states. And they reached even those who never touched anything stronger than tea.
Yet I’m not sure how my clients would react if I revealed that their copywriting had been done under the influence. Even those who liked a drink themselves might be disquieted. And if I told a client I was going on a week-long acid binge to get ideas for their slogan, I’m pretty sure they’d be looking for another copywriter. (Not that I ever would, I hasten to add.)
The serious point I’m making is that although we know of many factors that boost creativity, we often deliberately exclude them from the workplace. We might grudgingly allow a few pictures over a desk, or a radio on in the background, but these are intrusions of leisure into the world of work, not deliberate attempts to stimulate our minds. Even something completely wholesome, like spending some time in a natural environment, is only allowed in the rigid structure of the corporate ‘away day’ (if at all).
Those in the creative industries often make more effort to stimulate creativity through the working environment (although one suspects that it’s also partly for show). In my view, all work is creative – not just marketing, but every other business function too. We all have innate creativity that we use in solving the problems of our day. Why don’t we do more to let it flourish in the workplace?
What is spam?
It doesn't matter. Definitions or legal views of what constitutes spam don't matter. Your personal interpretation of spam doesn't matter. What does matter is people's reaction to your marketing activities. Because the moment someone calls your marketing 'spam' it becomes spam.
Can the Spam to Spare the Ham
Your email campaign or brilliant Twitter strategy may be legal, legitimate marketing efforts with every opt-in box ticked, but if people start shouting 'spam!' then you've got a problem. Even if you can rightly argue that you're on the right side of spam laws, you shouldn't waste your breath. Apologise, stop the campaign and come back with something less offensive.
A Brighton-based business recently discovered how this principle works in reality. They were using Twitter to push a new web directory, when people starting crying 'spam!'. The company argued that they were using Twitter reasonably to promote their directory. No, argued many in the local Twitter community, they were abusing Twitter and generating spam. Enough people flagged them as spam and within days their account was suspended. A brilliant social media campaign? No, it was a disaster. They managed to alienate the very people they should have been trying to woo.
Listen to your audience. If you hear even a whisper of 'spam' then be wary. Be prepared to change your approach in the face of criticism. And don't bother arguing the definition of spam. If someone feels that you're spamming them then you are. So stop.
If you have a website and want to gain new customers, why not build landing pages optimised for search terms with geographic modifiers. If that sounds like gibberish, I’m talking about creating special pages to attract potential customers who enter (for example) ‘copywriter Norwich’ instead of just ‘copywriter’ into search engines. Because location searches are more specific, there’s generally less competition for them, increasing your chances of achieving good SEO results. For example, as I write, my page on Copywriters in London ranks at #4 in Google and #1 at Yahoo, outperforming the sites of dozens of other copywriters who really are in London! When visitors click through to the page, it explains that they could get practically the same level of service from a copywriter in Norwich and save money, since our overheads are inevitably lower. Is it ethical? Am I bending the truth? Believe me, I’ve agonised over this. But I only considered it when I saw competitors doing the same thing. And all I’m really doing is creating a page about finding copywriters in London, not masquerading as a London copywriter. Does it sell? I believe so, although I don’t always grill my new clients on how they found me (I know I should). You’ve got to be realistic. Drop-off rates will inevitably be high when people seeking local suppliers twig that you’re 100 miles away. But some are bound to be convinced. If you want to do something similar, just create a web page with 300-500 words of text talking about finding your product or service in your target location and linking that to your own offering. Explain how you can easily reach customers in the location and, if appropriate, mention any clients you already have there. Make sure you use your keywords in your HTML page title, heading tags and throughout the text. Aim for a keyword density of around 5% - you can check it here. Use keywords in the document name too (Yahoo likes this). The ‘description’ meta tag carries no weight for SEO, but may still appear in search results. So you can use it to grab searchers’ attention with a punchy message like ‘Looking for an electrician in London? Call our national helpline to find a reliable, affordable contractor.’ (For more help with SEO writing, see this guide to SEO Copywriting.) Remember, your page is primarily aimed at search engines. You don’t really want people to read it! So make sure people who arrive at it can easily click through to your home page, perhaps via a link in the first sentence. To boost rankings further, link to your page from blog posts and online PR articles. The only thing you can’t do is get listed in local online directories for your target locality - although you could always make that possible by investing in a virtual office. A final word of warning - if people do choose you, they’ll be expecting you to match the service a local supplier could provide. Make sure you can keep your promises!