I’ve met a lot of copywriters over the years and most of them shared the same thing in common: They weren’t natural born writers.
Sure, a lot were struggling poets and novelists, even aspiring screenwriters.
And in their spare time they still are. I’m in that camp.
But most fell into writing professionally…
20 years ago, I got a first class philosophy degree
Which these days might make me as unemployable as a steelworker. I could have been: I was born in Scunthorpe.
Anyway, I was living in Oxford with my cousin. He ran a design agency and wanted me to come and work with him.
But I was useless. I couldn’t code worth a damn. Actually, that might be another thing copywriters have in common:
A healthy aversion to math.
So my cousin asked me to write their website and brochures.
Then the websites and brochures of their clients.
And hey presto, a Nietzschean copywriter was born!
But not without some birthing pains. Because one of the most important lessons I learned very early on was this:
YOU DON’T WRITE FOR THE CLIENT: YOU WRITE TO THE CUSTOMER FIRST.
My cousin was instrumental in helping me grasp this truth.
In meeting after meeting, I saw him stand up against his clients when they conceptualized the design work.
Time and again he would say to the client – whose money the fledgling agency needed badly – that the design had to appeal to the customer first, the client a distant second.
And by their customers he meant not everyone; certainly not the whole world. He meant individuals. Of a certain age, gender. Living in a particular place. With discernible problems and needs and tastes.
See, my cousin knew that his agency would only be a success if the websites they rolled out there were a success. And that meant designing websites to please customers first, business owners second.
Luckily, a lot of clients bought into this. It makes long term business sense after all.
But some were like terriers and wouldn’t let it go. Every Monday morning, they would barge into the office (often with their accountant in tow) and say things like:
‘My husband said over dinner that paisley was back in fashion – whaddya think?’
To which my cousin would smile politely, then reply firmly:
‘Do your clients wear paisley? And is your husband a professional designer?’
These days, we are both freelance. And while his customer-first approach has stayed true, the copy crowd has changed.
It’s still true that I write websites that speak customer speak to the 20% of site visitors who actually want what my clients are selling.
And it’s a lot easier now to find customers on social media and get into their heads and soak up their language. You know, hear it from the horse’s mouth.
And it’s still true that I often get into initial confrontations with clients over protective of their brand babies.
But so long as I can convince them that I’ve got their long-term financial interests at heart, we get by.
But customer segmentation has evolved:
We now have brand evangelists and industry influencers to write to.
How do you write to brand evangelists?
Brand evangelists are the customers who love what you do more than anyone else alive and shout it from the social rooftops.
More than just satisfied customers who give you a rating on sites like Trustpilot or Amazon, they are people who don’t just buy what you’re selling, they buy into you.
Which is why it is crucial to ensure your dreary About Us or About Me section tells a compelling and engaging and where possible heroically inspiring story.
A personal brand story that tells brand evangelists not just what you do, but who you are and why you’re doing what you do instead of doing something remarkably average.
A passion that overspills into your blog and turns ordinary company updates into a stream of personal love letters to keep the evangelical fires burning.
How do you influence industry influencers?
A few years ago, I took a gig writing websites on an emerging management science called Human Capital Management (HCM).
I’d never heard of it before. Which for a copywriter isn’t new. Perhaps another trait all copywriters share is: The ability to find something of interest in any subject.
And human capital management isn’t as dull as it sounds. For starters, it draws on psychology to understand how people tick. And its aim is to create workplaces where people can do the best work of their lives.
Which everyone wants, right? But I was faced with a steep learning curve:
We were a start up with zero street cred and like all start ups we needed to start fast.
So before I did anything I asked around:
Who were the big beasts? The academics doing the ground-breaking research. Business leaders putting the new science to work. The journalists commanding the column inches.
I soon had a long list, but I whittled it down to a handful of movers and shakers who were busy shaping the future of the subject our start up was starting out in.
And I got to know these influencers. I read their books. Followed them on social media.And then I introduced myself and asked for an interview. For some exclusive content to put alongside our own.
And in exchange for some heavy lifting promotion, we got to stand if not on their shoulders but certainly share their shadow. Which was hugely beneficial to us as a brand.
The learning is that brand evangelists and industry influencers carry weight, especially with customers. So your brand has to speak to them.
But it is easier to do than you might think. To engage brand evangelizers, all it needs is a Hollywood blockbuster of an About Us section.
And if you’ve done your homework and can put together great original content, don’t shy away from having it influenced by industry influencers.
There is no better way than influencing them. Which leaves us with the last other person all copywriters write to. The elephant in the room that is Google.
How do you stop Google from trampling you into the dust?
When I started out, Google was a baby elephant.
And when I got a client brief, we never listed keywords. Then things changed.
I started to get keyword lists to squeeze elephant like into very small spaces.
The result: Modest success. For a while.
But I never got too deep in the SEO for SEOs sake game. I kept writing great content to the customer first, with a few relevant keywords thrown in.
To me, all that black hat SEO stuff felt dodgy. And sure enough, Google thinks so too.
That’s not to say that content should eschew keywords. But use them in the right way with the right content. Content that is much more than keywords and keeps people reading.
Do that consistently, Google will pick you up and carry you on its back. As Marcus Sheridan puts it:
If Google has a choice to show two articles for the same keyword, which one are they going to choose:
The one where readers average 45 seconds on the page or the one where readers average 4.5 minutes on the page?
You can only hit these heights by hitting on what the customer wants to read.
Which I guess has taken us around in a circle to what we’ve been saying all along, but we can give it a slight twist:
YOU DON’T WRITE FOR THE CLIENT: YOU WRITE TO THE CUSTOMER FIRST, THE GOOGLE SECOND.