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When Few Will Do: The Art of Copywriting

Want to learn how to take your copywriting skills to the next level? In its purest form, advertising copy packs huge ideas into just a few accessible, memorable and enticing words—words that hopefully drive readers to action, whether that’s clicking, buying, filling out a form, voting, endorsing or any number of other things. Its difficulty is often underrated because of the choice few words that make the final cut, but when only a few words will do, they have to be exactly the right words.

Choose your next copy words carefully

As with any creative work, people who find themselves in the dynamic world of a writer approach the task from all different angles, and the overriding message is brutally simple: if it works, keep doing it. There are plenty of methods, models and formulas for writing copy, just like you’ll find for writing fiction or poetry. Also just like you’ll find with fiction or poetry or any other creative activity, following a set of instructions is not going to create a masterpiece for you.

“Got milk?” and “Just do it.” are great examples. Clear, incredibly concise, memorable—these are two of the most recognizable pieces of copywriting on the planet. The average American can type around 50 words per minute—ten times the number of words contained in those two bits of brilliant copy. Learning how to become a copywriter involves accepting that finding the right few words could mean sifting through thousands of the wrong ones.

Forming great copy: 4 ways to bring skill to the art

For ease of reference, whatever is being marketed, be it a thing, a service or a person, will be referred to as ‘the product’ below.
  1. Break it down. The first step in copywriting is breaking down your target audience and where your product fits into their lives. Here’s a list of questions you should be able to answer:
    • Who’s your audience?
    • What sort of language appeals to them? Offends them?
    • What interests your audience? What makes them tick?
    • What do they want generally? What do they want from your product? How can you give them both?
    • How do they express themselves verbally and otherwise?
    • How are they being marketed to already, and what’s working?
    • Who are you forgetting, and what’s their story?
    • How would your product sound if it had a voice?

    Write out as many answers to these questions as you can. Analyze those answers, and write down more.

  2. Let your creative words flow. Once you know who you’re talking to and you’ve got a good idea of what you’re talking about and how to say it, it’s time to open the creative flood gates. You don’t need mental scattered showers for this part; you need a brainstorm. Nothing is stupid. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is wrong or tasteless or dull or boorish or crude or brilliant. Bad ideas help spark other, hopefully better ones. Ridiculous ideas help you think about the product from a different angle. Get every idea out. After you’ve done that, mix and match ideas, combine them, tear them apart, swap out words—go crazy with it, and write everything down. Play with compelling calls to action.

  3. Start narrowing phrases down, and be brutal. Once you’ve got all of your ideas in front of you—from the best to the worst and every combination that makes any sense—it’s time to start whittling down your list. Don’t be nice to bad ideas; their job was inspiration, and it’s done. Get rid of them. You should try to narrow things down to three to five good ideas. Once you’ve got those ideas, refine them. Go back through the questions above and see how your copy stands up. If you’ve used any slang or jargon, make absolutely sure you’ve used it correctly. If you aren’t sure, chop it out.

  4. Mock ‘em up. See how the text of your best ideas looks and feels in place. This might not always be possible, so be prepared to create a fake or mocked-up version of the ad. As you do this, you may find limitations you weren't previously aware of; you may even come up with entirely new ideas. Don’t get stuck in the process, and never be afraid to start over from the beginning.

The right kind of copy rings true

The best copy rings true to both you and the audience you are trying to target. If, after you’ve made it through to the mock-up stage, nothing stands out, try crowd sourcing. Ask yourself why it doesn’t quite feel right, and again, don’t be afraid to start over from the beginning. When you’re done, your copy should speak to your audience, speak well about your product and speak for itself.

Cover image and top image from Shutterstock.

Karl Fendelander, a writer for OnlineColleges.com, cut his teeth on web writing in the late nineties and has been plugged in to the newest technology and tuned in to the latest trends ever since. When he isn't flexing his creative writing skills, Karl can be found biking about town and hiking and climbing throughout the West.

Additional Sources:
Danny Iny • Introducing The 6 + 1 Model For Effective Copywriting (Better Than AIDA!) • Oct 11, 2011 • http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/http://uxdesign.smashingmagazine.com/2011/10/11/introducing-6-1-model-for-effective-copywriting/ • Smashing Magazine

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