Writer and marketer Jenni O'Connor shares her thoughts on why it's necessary to take extra care with copywriting.
With the amount of space to fill in ever-diversifying media, especially online with websites hungry for content and millions of people posting their experiences daily via social networking sites, it can be easy to assume that good copywriting has become an irrelevance.
But quantity does not win the contest against quality, and this is even more true for businesses. Indeed, in a survey of business leaders by Freshword, nearly all respondents believed that ‘poor writing poses serious risks to their reputation, and affects [their] financial and legal risk’.
Small business owners and managers tend to focus hard on their actual enterprise, taking great care to get the client offering or product mix right; ensuring both quality and service, and working to pitch prices at the right level for their customers. However many of them, especially cottage industries and start-ups, pay considerably less attention to how they market themselves – to the words and images they use to convey the vital message of who they are and what they have to offer. They often see it as an avoidable cost.
Does this matter? Yes it does. How do you react, when, for example, you see a menu in a restaurant with spelling or grammar mistakes, or (my personal bête noire) a missing or incorrectly placed apostrophe? Or an advert which looks as it’s been thrown together on a poorly-designed template?
Most of us, consciously or otherwise, will perceive that business as sloppy, low quality, and unwilling to pay the level of attention to detail that we hope they would extend to us, as their customers. In short, it makes us far less likely to spend our hard-earned cash with them, however good we may have heard them to be.
By contrast, if we are presented with a flyer or brochure, or for that matter an email or website, which is well-presented, clearly written, nicely designed and, all in all, a pleasure to look at while telling us what we need to know in an accessible way, the chances are we will automatically feel well-disposed towards the company concerned, and far more likely to trust them with our money.
Copy that means something
Beyond the grammar and presentation, though, a firm’s copy needs to mean something to its customers. To make sure the right message will get through, there are three elements which need to coincide. These are:
Reflection – a company needs a clear view of what it wants to say, what it doesn’t want to say, and what the reader needs to know, avoiding waffle and overstatement. The thinking part is a vital building block to good copy.
Precision – the message needs to be phrased clearly, succinctly and without jargon. Editing is crucial.
Connection – perhaps the trickiest part to get right, the tone needs to draw the reader in and then convince them with a compelling argument or call to action, without appearing arrogant or patronising. An assertive but accessible style, avoiding ‘mights and maybes’, accurately pitched for the known customer base, will help form a lasting bond.
If your copywriting in particular, and your marketing communications in general, don’t meet these criteria, it may be time to do your business a favour. By spending a little more time, care, love and attention on presentation, a company can dramatically improve both its reputation and its bottom line.
Large firms tend to budget for spending at least 15 per cent of turnover on marketing (which may also include market research, advertising and other more costly activities) – but small ones will find that just 3-5 per cent can make a real difference. It will not only help bring in new clients, but can encourage existing ones to upsell or upgrade. It will also help create the image you want to build a healthy future for your company