Wednesday 15 January 2014

Writing is thinking

Don’t let the job title fool you. When it comes to copywriting, the actual putting fingers to keyboard bit is probably only one third of the job. Here’s what we do the rest of the time.   

Avoid being a nodding dog
Some copywriters just smile and do what they’re told, regardless of whether they think the client’s plans will work or not. This isn’t just a little cowardly, it’s also a tad unprofessional. Challenging the brief – or at least ensuring there is a cogent brief  is a huge chunk of the copywriter’s remit.

Questioning the obvious
Don’t worry, we practice what we blog. Recently, a FTSE 100 retailer asked us to produce a series of posters. Great – we love writing in big letters. However, it quickly became obvious that there was simply too much information for this medium. So we suggested some cuts and using a leaflet for the longer stuff.

Challenging but not obstructive
None of this is an excuse to be difficult or precious about your writing. That reminds me of my favourite copywriter joke:
'How many copywriters does it take to change a light bulb?

Copywriter: 'F*!& off, I'm not changing anything.'
What are we trying to achieve?
That’s the first question you need to ask yourself. Quickly followed by: is this goal realistic? To decide that, you need to figure out where the audience currently stands. Slip on their size tens. Who are they? What do they think and feel about this thing? And what do we want them to think, feel and do after they’ve experienced the communication? 

Harder to read than ‘Atlas Shrugged’
People are complicated. Their emotions are difficult to fathom. That’s why us writers have to spend so much time asking questions and getting to understand what makes people tick. And even more time thinking about the consequences of the answers.

What’s going to shift perceptions?
We’ve got to decide what will work. What will move the audience to where we want them to go? What information explained, incentives presented, benefits evoked, objections countered…what will alter their views? Will one message do it? Or will we need to present several?

Order! Order!
Of course, some media – such as corporate brochures and websites – are more than capable of handling multiple messages. But before writing long copy, you have to think about message ordering. What’s the most persuasive way to structure your piece? What will give it flow? What’s the story?

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’, Leonardo da Vinci
Having gathered all this insight and planned your messaging, you still need a key thought - the idea all this information is helping to convey and support. It’s what they call in advertising, ‘the single-minded proposition’. And the thought process that leads to this has been called, ‘Brutal simplicity of thought’ (by ad guru Maurice Saatchi in his book of the same name).

One more wise insight on the subject: ‘Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful’, John Maeda, The Laws of Simplicity. Exactly right. Seeking the meaningful... it takes a lot of thought.

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