Allow me to share an anecdote. A decade ago a PR account manager introduced me with one of his clients. At the first meeting with the Marketing Director, he told me he wanted to hire me to write a white paper on what the office market expected from colour laser printers. As we discussed the subject, the MD emphasised the complexity of the subject and his scepticism about an outsider being able to write a decent paper on such a complicated matter. Still, he was willing to give it a try. We agreed on the price and I went home to work on the assignment.
I spent about a week researching the topic, the company, its products and markets, and on writing the paper. At the end of that week I sent the MD my first draft. Soon after, the MD invited me to come over to the company’s offices again. I honestly thought I’d messed up when the MD began asking questions such as where I got my information from and how I got to know that specific market. When I finished explaining and after a brief silence, the MD asked if I was interested in writing all of the company’s technical and marketing content, including the brochures for his business unit. Several years later he told me I got the job for the speedy delivery of that first paper and the style of writing, but even more so because I had managed to put my finger on issues they weren’t even aware of.
Four principles that govern the creation of good technical and/or marketing copy
Twenty years of writing haven’t turned me into the world’s greatest marketing content creation expert, but I have learned a few things on the way, nevertheless. The first is that you can’t expect excellent copy without the creator having a keen interest in the subject of his writing. If he doesn’t understand the product or the business and won’t learn these things, he can’t write great copy for any sort of business purpose.
That’s where Rule #1 comes in: A technical / copywriter worth the money should manage an assignment as if he/she were aiming for a cum laude college degree on the subject.
When the MD hired me, there was another task he wanted me to take on as well. I was to “teach” the company’s ad agency what I knew about the technicalities of the products we would be covering. That proved to be quite a challenge.
The ad firm, as most are, was especially interested in clients with ‘exciting’ products like motorcycles and sports cars. They were well equipped for that job, running top-of-the-bill 3D software on matching computers. Knowing my new client’s products and the associated market was too much to ask. It wasn’t going to win them prizes as most of the work revolved around photographing the product against a white backdrop and write copy. Their lack of interest to know what the market wants prevented them from finding unique benefits to write about. No wonder that all their brochure copy sounded the same.
Rule #2: Superior, interesting and/or exciting content is the result of digging deeper and finding a way to stand out from the crowd.
But it’s not ad firms alone that don’t perform. An attitude I have seen creeping into communications over the past few years, is to treat all output channels the same. Some PR firms and marketing service providers manage social media as yet another press release outlet. They often take one text as the foundation of a wash-rinse-repeat workflow. Go take a look at some companies’ social media content and you’ll find variations of the same copy in the same style whether you’re on Twitter or Facebook.
It’s fair to assume the target audience will be present on all of these platforms as it is fair to assume they won’t be particularly enthused by finding their content streams filled with endlessly repeated messages — just as those pesky TV ads we all try to avoid watching. If the Internet enables one thing, it’s diversity. The way to use social media is first to find out what different groups of buyers expect from a product and then address them with a context they can relate to in a style that’s fitting for the medium.
Rule #3: When writing content for Facebook, Twitter or other social media, don’t just announce new products, but put yourself in the shoes of the end-users (the customers) and write from their point of view.
In addition, most business users of social media will stop at Twitter and Facebook. A small number will also auto-post to LinkedIn and Tumblr. An even smaller number will also publish the occasional video on Youtube. However, there are a few dozen sites that can help with distributing a message, including curation sites and microblogs, but “auto-posting” isn’t the best way to use them.
That’s where Rule #4 comes into play: Adapt copy to the media you’re writing for. That doesn’t just mean writing shorter sentences. It usually means you have to fine-tune all that different copy by hand, carefully craft it for every channel — optimise it.
That’s labour-intensive, but good writing always is. It might sound like a truism, but a good content creator loves his trade and is genuinely interested in the subject he writes about and the business he creates content for.