Copywriting Made Simple: How to Write Powerful and Persuasive Copy that Sells
by Tom Albrighton
This is an excellent introduction to copywriting, offering general advice on the process as well as specific tips for print advertisements, audio and video scripts, sales letters, emails, brochures, and social media posts. The book is divided into three parts: plan your copy, write your copy, and improve your copy.
“A copywriting brief is simply a document that says what your copy needs to do. It’s the mission statement for your copywriting project… Setting the brief is about convergent thinking: making either/or decisions to home in on a clear and simple plan. Once the brief is decided, you move on to divergent thinking: exploring the many different ways to answer the brief and write your copy.”
In the planning phase, you familiarize yourself with the product, the benefits, and the reader. “The strongest argument for working through a lot of background info is that any tiny detail could be the spark that sets fire to your copy.”
“Site visits are worthwhile for any product, but are particularly useful for things like professional services. Here, the end client (that is, the client’s own client) is really ‘buying’ the people who’ll deliver the service, and the culture of the company will have a big impact on their experience… Often the client will use simple, direct phrases that they’d never put down in writing, but express important truths about the product. Listen out for them, and don’t be afraid to put them straight into your copy.”
“Benefits live at the sweet spot where the things you want to say about the product overlap with your reader’s self-interest.”
“The most direct way to get to know the reader is to talk to people who already use the product, or one like it. They may tell you why they like the product, or how it helps them, which helps you empathize with them. They may even talk about some drawbacks, suggesting objections you need to address, or areas to steer clear of… However, bear in mind that people may never express the emotions that make them buy a product… They’ll give a rational answer if you ask them, but it may not be what actually motivates them. So, it’s important to consider what customers do, as well as what they say.”
“Marketing headlines have the same job as headlines in newspapers and magazines: to grab attention and make people want to read on. David Ogilvy found that five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. So it’s worth spending time on yours, because it might be your only chance to get your message across. In fact for some projects, like outdoor posters, the headline might be all the copy there is.”
“As a copywriter, your most precious resource is your reader’s attention. You start out with none, grab whatever you can, and waste it at your peril.”
Albrighton suggests writing the middle first. “It’s often easier to leave your opening until later, rather than trying to write it first. First, nail down the core of your copy, which is usually the part about the benefits of the product… Then write your headline, and decide how you’ll get the reader from that starting point to the benefits. Finally, link through to your [call to action] with some persuasive points.”
“Creativity means making your copy original, witty, or emotive so you can dramatize benefits, answer the brief and sell the product… Bob Levenson, one of the original ‘Mad Men’ of 1960s Manhattan, suggested a simple test… ‘If you look at an ad and fall in love with the brilliance of it, try taking the product out of it… If you still love the ad, it’s no good. Don’t make your ad interesting; make your product interesting.’”
“Only make a pun to make a point… In the 2017 presidential election in France, centrist Emmanuel Macron defeated far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, prompting this riposte from airline Royal Jordanian: ‘France is not that far… right?’ … As with plays on words, these ideas worked because they made a real link between the event and the brand.”
“You can make your copy even punchier—if you don’t mind breaking a few rules.” For example, ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’ was written by a creative director named Maurice Drake. “There’s a big difference between leaving in careless mistakes and making a conscious decision to bend the rules for greater impact.”
“To make your conversation with the reader flow, use the same words they use. Matching the reader’s language obviously helps them understand you. But it also shows that you understand them… You talk to them as an equal—just one person telling another about something they might like.”
Simple words are strong, honest, clear, and “accessible to the widest possible audience… However, copy that’s simple to read isn’t always easy to write… You might expect the first thing you write to be the simplest, but in fact it’s usually the other way round… As you rewrite, your job is to find the simple words behind the complex ones.”
Albrighton refers to Robert B. Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion: social proof, liking, authority, scarcity, consistency, and reciprocity. The book covers several types of scarcity: quantity, time, competition, exclusivity, and invitation.
“Many objections are rooted in fear” such as the fear of disapproval, making a mistake, or being ripped off. “Seen in this light, it’s clear that your job as a persuader isn’t to bully or manipulate the reader, but to reassure them… Whatever you’re selling, you’re always selling peace of mind.”
“In B2B particularly, there are times when you need to start by giving the reader information, or building up your credibility. You can use different bits of content, linked by calls to action, to take the reader through these stepping stones to a sale.”
“Tone of voice helps brands connect with readers by communicating consistency, character, and value… Some marketers call tone of voice ‘verbal identity’… When people like a brand’s character, they’re more receptive to its marketing messages… You’re aiming to give the brand a human voice. So when you’re exploring its character, make sure you focus on human traits, not marketing terms or corporate buzzwords.”
Rewriting is an essential part of writing. The author advises, if your draft sounds too “writerly” go back and make it more conversational. “As novelist Elmore Leonard put it, ‘If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.’”
Chapter 16 is about dealing with feedback from the client. “Your copy can only be as good as the brief you were given. Before you dive into making changes, check the feedback against the brief. If the changes are so radical that acting on them would take the project in a completely new direction, one of two things has happened: either the brief was wrong in the first place, or new insights have emerged during the project that mean the brief needs to change… Don’t try to revise the brief implicitly, by just patching up the copy and hoping it will fly. Have the conversation with your client first.”
Albrighton says, “copywriting is really copythinking. The actual writing is just capturing the results of that process.”
Albrighton, Tom. Copywriting Made Simple: How to Write Powerful and Persuasive Copy That Sells. Leicestershire, U.K.: Matador, 2018. Buy from Amazon.com
Note: I have modified the spelling to appease my American spellchecker.
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