I don’t think it’s always necessary to get hung up on the correct terminology. Much more important to be clear in what you’re saying than worry about fancy words.
But a few people have asked me the same question recently. They want to know what ‘copy’ is. They know it’s about writing for business – but what is it? Is everything you write for business ‘copy’?
As with most things, there is some debate about this. But these are the definitions I use, which are broadly in tune with the big conversations:
Copy is writing that asks or encourages people to take an action: to buy something, join something, click through to something.
Content is writing that nurtures: it builds trust, provides insight, brings people into your world.
You can see how the two might overlap. Blog posts are generally ‘content’, but often have a call to action at the end – to comment on their post, take a look at their Facebook page, follow them on twitter. But let’s not get bogged down. Copy is about getting people to do something.
So what drives people to act? People are generally interested in themselves and their lives – of course they are. And in particular, they’re interested in their future. How their future could be better.
So the big question I urge you to ask yourself when writing copy for your business is this:
How am I being helpful to their future?
This involves three steps:
- Being clear on who you’re writing for.
- Tapping into what you can help with
- Being clear on how you can help
Let’s unpick them…
Who are you writing for?
You may have heard people talk about avatars, or buyer personas. Knowing who you want to connect with is absolutely critical to getting them interested. If you’re targeting busy, stressed out corporate high fliers in their 30s you’ll need to use different language and different examples to if you’re targeting busy, stressed out stay-at-home parents. It’s not to say these people don’t have plenty in common. But their day-to-day lives will feel very different. And your message to them will reflect that.
If you haven’t created an avatar for your business yet, this post from copyblogger shares a playful way to do it. For me, though, avatar-creation can still feel a little artificial. Another approach, one I use A LOT, is writing for a favourite client from the past six months or so. Bringing them to mind and writing just for them.
This tactic instantly makes your writing more conversational, because you’re writing for one real, flesh and blood person that you know and like. Someone you can picture because you’ve already had contact with them. And presumably, if you enjoyed working with that client, you want to connect with more people like them.
What can you help with?
Go back to that key question, ‘How can you be helpful about their future?’. Think about what aspect of their current reality is difficult for them. It might be something concrete and physical, like needing their boiler fixed. Or it might be that they’re not sleeping and want help switching off. It could be anything.
But according to mental health campaigner Natasha Devon, we all have five psychological needs, which underpin the whole banqueting table of niggles and problems in life:
- to belong
- to be understood
- to experience love
- to achieve
- to have purpose
And then there are three areas in life where people often feel they are lacking:
If you can dig deeper into which of these eight elements they’re struggling with, you can show you understand and form a deeper connection. Remember this isn’t about manipulating your reader, or creating problems for them. It’s about good, old-fashioned empathy.
For example, I help my clients feel understood – to know that someone gets what they stand for and how they want to help people. I help them to achieve, by helping them promote their business, and I help them fulfil their purpose, by supporting the work they care about. I also help them with time – not everyone has the time or enthusiasm for playing around with words.
So when I talk or write about what I do, I bear those deeper, driving needs in mind. I don’t talk about writing blogs and webpages, I talk about getting their message out there, how they can help more people, how they don’t have to agonise over a blank screen for hours!
How can you help?
This is where you paint a picture of the future. Without being sleazy or over-the-top. You just share – honestly – how their problem can be solved by you, and how that will help them. You demystify it, you let them know what they can expect – both from the process (how your product or service works) and the outcome (what they can expect as a result). There are a few things to bear in mind here:
- Be as specific as possible. Instead of saying ‘our amazing therapies will help you feel like a new woman’, say ‘research suggests that having a monthly massage can help you feel calmer and sleep better’.
- Use testimonials or case studies to show you’re for real. Your reader is more likely to trust you knowing other people have used and benefitted from your services
- Let them know how to buy or find out more! It is so frustrating when you have decided that you want to book someone or purchase a product and you have to chase around their website to do it. Invite people to take the action then make it super-easy for them.
Right – this has turned into an epic-length blogpost! Well done if you’ve made it this far! If you’d like a supportive place to talk about all things copy and content, I’d love to see you over in The Copy Kitchen. We are a friendly, curious bunch and there’s a chance every Friday to share your stuff. Hope to see you there!