You might be forgiven for thinking that the art of copywriting has changed unrecognisably with the new communications tools, like Twitter, Google+, Facebook, blogs, e-shots and the like. I’m not so sure myself. I think the principles of good writing as suggested in 1946 by George Orwell, still hold true, whether you are writing a novel, a blog, a piece of sales copy or even a tweet:
“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?”
George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
What are you trying to say?
Funnily enough I think most people get stuck on that very first question – ‘what am I trying to say?’. Before sitting down to write anything you should have a very clear sense of your objective – what message do you want readers to remember? The best way to think about this is to ask yourself – what would you like them to repeat back to you having read your message? Your readers certainly won’t remember all the details, so you need to grab them with your main message.
Sometimes it’s hard to stick to a single message – you have so much you want to include about your latest product, you want the reader to know all about its features and have the full details about pricing and offers. But you will be far more effective if you can stick to one simple message in each piece of marketing communication. You can obviously add details at different steps in the knowledge or buying process – so for example you will build on your single, most compelling message from the home page or headlines on your website with more detailed content deeper within. Or you move from a compelling headline in an advert or on a leaflet, to more detailed copy reinforcing your main message.
Making your message compelling
Selecting the right words is a crucial stage in the writing process. And when I say the ‘right’ words – they need to be correct in several different ways. They need to be words that reflect your brand and how you want your brand to be seen. Is that professional, reassuring and reliable or irreverent and fun? Do you want to be seen as down to earth or challenging and provocative? Knowing how you want your brand perceived will help determine the words you use.
Use the language of speech and the language that your target audience would be familiar with and be attracted to. Here it’s important to have a deep knowledge of your target audience. You can gain this by spending time with them, reading what they read, hanging out where they hang out, listening to them and if necessary research. Make your copy livelier by using the passive voice, short words and short sentences.
When you are writing copy think of the one person you can imagine reading it and write it for them. One of the most important words to use is ‘you’. Addressing the reader as ‘you’ is one certain way to make a closer connection when you write.
“Do not address your readers as though they were gathered together in a stadium. When people read your copy, they are alone. Pretend you are writing to each of them a letter…”
Your message needs to resonate with your target audience, it needs to be compelling. The words you use must engage the reader. Make what you are saying lively and interesting, and really grab their attention. That means you must have something worth saying, and often in business writing that can be the biggest challenge.
If you want your marketing copy to be read then you could do much worse than ask yourself Orwell’s four questions each time you sit down to write.