Real people + real problems = great copy
By Helen Nesbitt, Head of Content
The landing page that doesn’t tell you quite what you expected, the direct mail that reads more like a roll call of features than the answer to a problem you have right now. In the written content we all consume every day, there is a lot that’s great quality, that’s engaging, that speaks to our needs. But there’s also so much that doesn’t quite hit the mark.
What’s the difference between copy that resonates with a reader and inspires them to click, buy or sign up, and copy that doesn’t?
In answer, inspired by a brilliant session by Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers at a previous #CopyCon conference, here we’re looking at how important it is to work the voices of real people into your writing. Finding authentic ways to reflect the experiences of the people who use the products and services you’re selling is where the real magic is. It’s how you’ll create the depth and colour you need to make a real connection with your reader.
Keep asking why
How can copywriters do that? Well – it starts long before the words hit the page.
The foundation is proper research – you have to make sure you really (really) understand what you’re writing about. This is important whether it’s the launch of a new product in a consumer market, or a specialist offering for a professional services business.
A deep dive into the market, as well as the specific product or service, is the only way to give what you say in enough detail to convince a sceptical audience.
As Glenn Fisher writes in The Art of the Click, “You must keep digging into the story, into the product itself. Read as much as you can with the why at the front of your mind”. He advises, don’t be tempted to skip details that seem too granular or complex – if you, as the writer, are not clear on how something works, or why it is the way it is, then what you write won’t be clear either.
Where do the real people come in?
So, you’ve covered the basics in your background research: you’re on top of the market data you need to understand the wider context, as well as the key features about the product or service itself. So far so good. But what we know is that readers will not be moved to act based on a shopping list of features. They need to understand the benefits of what you’re selling, and more than that, the benefits specifically for them.
This is where you need the voice of your clients or customers, and this is not only true in a B2C context: it’s just as applicable in B2B sectors. As Ann Handley says in Everybody Writes, “Even if you are a company that sells to other companies, focus on how your products or services touch the lives of actual people”, so whether you’re writing about hair dryers or complex tax advisory services, you’re looking for the difference you make in people’s lives.
Your task then is to uncover those voices and weave them through the copy you write. You’re listening for what clients or customers were worried about when they chose to use your business. What it was about what you offer that swung their decision? How they felt before you solved their problem? How they felt afterwards? Reflecting these sentiments back to readers will root your writing in your customer’s world. Look not just for the ideas expressed, but the language used. Immerse yourself in the words and phrases real people use when they are talking about the challenges they face, and mirror them in your writing. But where do you find this raw material? In her CopyCon session, Joanna highlighted a huge range of sources to tap, here are those we’ve found yield the best results when we’re writing for our own clients:
Online reviews. If you’re an industry where online reviews are commonplace, you’ll have a rich seam of material. The more you read, the more common threads you’ll pick up – and though the commonalities are useful, you’ll also find the individual quirks and details that will lend your writing real authenticity. As Ann Handley describes, what you’re looking for is the details you can re-use that mean you can be “specific enough to be believable, and universal enough to be relevant”.
Social media comments. Facebook can offer a useful window on to the perspectives and experiences of potential customers or clients. Use it to find out how people talk about the problems that your business can help with – whether that’s completing a tax return, managing a specific health condition or working productively from home.
Testimonials and endorsements. We all know the power of a good testimonial or a strong case study. Beyond their function as endorsements of the quality of what you offer, the insights you glean gathering customers’ feedback in this context can go so much further when you look at them as more than just quotes for your website.
Surveys, audits and research. Delve deep into whatever mechanism your business uses to gather data on client or customer satisfaction. In a professional services firm, if there’s an in-depth annual process designed to steer strategic marketing decisions, you’ll find this can also act as a valuable source for your copywriting. It can provide pithy snapshots of how the market perceives your firm’s strengths and what you always get right. One-off research projects can also yield useful detail – when we carry out branding audits for clients, we often find the insights we gather – whether from employees, clients or other external stakeholders are a treasure trove of detail we can use down the line in our writing.
Your own in-house experts. Spend some time with the specialists who work with clients every day. If you deliver healthcare, talk to the nurses who spend the most time with patients; if you’re in recruitment services, talk to the consultants who work closely with clients and candidates. Ask them the worries that surface most frequently, and what the first question is they are asked. If your company set up is such that there’s a founder or owner, talk to them, ask them what inspired them to do what they do, what was it that they knew they could do better, faster, more imaginatively than anyone else was doing when they started out? How does that original vision play out in what the company does today?
We’re not as different as we like to think we are
It’s human nature for each of us to want to believe our own problems and challenges are as complex and unique as we are as people – but inevitably if we have a problem to solve in our business, or need a professional for a specialist task, chances are other people have had the same issue. A copywriter’s job is to seek out and corral the language that exactly mirrors how people talk about their challenges, so we can connect with them, and answer the questions they haven’t even asked yet.
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