Tag Archives: copywriting

Anyone can write good copy, right?

7 Feb
Statue of a woman in relief, in despair

I can’t bear to look… the typos!

I live in Brighton, one of the UK’s largest media hubs outside of London. As a resident here for five years, I can vouch for the fact that business is booming.

As an increasing number of media start-ups spread their wings to the tempestuous winds of digital media,  even the most reluctant  companies now realise that social media is a very powerful business tool.

Ok, so this isn’t news. But while social media in business may be at an all time high, a lot of organisations haven’t cottoned on to the one thing that actually makes a good social media strategy work. I’m talking about content. And not just any content; quality content.

Learning from past mistakes

As a content consumer, as well as a professional copywriter, I can safely say that organisations tend to have one of two problems. They either have no idea what decent content is, or they understand the importance of having it, but don’t know how to produce it. The result is a quagmire of spam content and poorly written copy. What many still fail to grasp is that good content is not something that floats on the surface of your social media strategy; it is an irrevocable part of it.

This week, Facebook turned 10 years old. Hark back for a moment to those days of silence, before we had pictures of puppies and babies shoved down in our faces at every turn. When social media was in its infancy, it was largely ignored by businesses, and understandably so; it exploded with the volatile speed of any five-minute fad, and it took a while to trust that it was here to stay.

However, the more savvy organisations out there soon got to work hiring a social media expert, while those with limited budget (or limited understanding) simply gave the responsibility of managing social media to an intern, with the general sentiment; ‘Well, they’re young. They get it.’

The side-effects of user generated content

While I hope most now realise that being under 25 and having a Facebook profile does not automatically equate to being a social media expert, the same can not be said for good copy. Just as businesses used to believe that youngsters were the best people to manage their social media, the boom in user-generated content has encouraged the belief that anybody can write effective copy.

And let’s face it, user generated content makes up a lot of the Internet. It is a crucial part of social media, because as the name suggests, it involves the user, which drives engagement and builds loyalty. However, though it serves this very important purpose, it has also increased the widely held misconception that quality copy is the same as any copy. This is a problem, and not just for copywriters.

The rise of copy-wronging

In my recent hunt for new business, I’ve come across of a number of ‘copywriting agencies’ that have almost had me fooled… after some research, I’ve realised many of them are simply well-dressed but low-paying content mills, cashing in on two things; the desperation of penniless writers and the desperation of businesses who know that they need copy, but don’t realise that good copy is worth paying for.

What I and my fellow copywriters do (when we do it well) is a valuable and specialised skill. Unfortunately, there is a growing culture of copy-wronging – people who assume that if they can type, and are able to litter a few arbitrary key words into whatever they’re writing, then they are a bona fide copywriter.

Re-evaluating your situation

My suggestion is this: if you’re looking at your social media strategy this year, give a little more thought to your copy. Anyone can write, yes. But to write something that is informative, promotional, considers your target audience, takes into account your social media and business strategy, is well researched and does all this while simultaneously reading easily and keeping your reader awake, requires skill. Your readers will think anything else is just spam.

So next time you’re looking for some good copy, don’t go for the cheap option; go for the quality one. Even if it means investing a little more up front, having faith in the expertise of your copywriter and most importantly – in good copy – will pay off in the long run.

Looking for help with your content?

Will Hillier is a professional freelance copywriter; not a freelance copy-wronger. You can contact him here  for help with you copy and your social media strategy.


None of us are innocent: the impact of copy on a company’s brand

31 Jan

As a writer, the importance of effective copy in helping to deliver a strong brand experience is essential. Alongside visual branding and organisational culture, I think it’s one of the top three elements for what makes a great brand. With Google now taking into account the editorial quality of content when indexing sites, it doesn’t matter whether companies are dealing with websites, social media, product brochures or customer service; they must embrace copy as never before. Getting to the top on Google is no longer just about getting the right keywords.

I recently discovered what appears to be the first survey of its kind to poll the copywriting market on the quality of content as opposed to quantitative measures (i.e. the amount of time and money companies are investing in copywriting… it’s increasing, if you’re interested).

While this is only the first survey of its kind and – apologies to my US readers – UK-centric (yet still with very useful insights), Sticky Content’s ‘State of Digital Copywriting’ report sets a great benchmark for future surveys and poses some interesting questions around people’s perception of good copy and what effect it has on a company’s brand.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Sticky’s top three

Sticky Content asked their participants to name a company or brand that produces best-in-class copy. Interestingly, even within the top three results, there’s a wide disparity in the type and quality of copy coming from the companies in question. These were: innocent drinks (the UK leader in the smoothie market), Apple and John Lewis (an upmarket UK department store chain).

But do these companies really produce best-in-class copy? Or have people just listed brands that they like? Let’s look more closely.

The Good – innocent drinks

Innocent Drinks Logoinnocent drinks has long been lauded for the strength of their brand. They are non-corporate (although recently acquired by Coca-Cola), fun, friendly, have an extremely distinct tone of voice and always stay on message.

As a personal subscriber to innocent’s newsletter and an avid follower of their social media, I agree hands down that innocent writes great, attention-grabbing copy.

Interestingly, most of their content is anecdotal rather than product-related, aligning more broadly with their vision to ‘leave things a little better than they found them’. By interacting with their followers, making people laugh and refraining from shoving smoothie-related promotions down our throats 24 hours a day, innocent wins brand loyalty and makes me want to buy their products. And that’s what makes best-in-class copy.

The Bad – Apple

Apple LogoApple are known for their innovation. So when’s the last time you can remember reading something written by Apple that was more than a catchy slogan? When I read Apple’s ads, I don’t hear Apple; I hear Steve Jobs. When I think of Apple; I think of Steve Jobs.

Check out this page on their website… What grabs your attention? Is it their content, or their branding? While having one man as the face of Apple worked when that one man was Steve Jobs, Apple now faces the challenge of steering themselves into the 21st century without their captain, and I think their copy is suffering for it.

Apple’s content isn’t terrible by any means. It tells the reader what they need to know, but you can hardly call it best-in-class. They have a strong brand identity, excellent advertising, and yet the majority of product pages on their website are a tone-free zone. Yes, they get to the point, and while they do lean towards the colloquial, they nonetheless reside in the realms of corp-speak. There’s not much which stands out here.

The Ugly – John Lewis

John Lewis LogoDepartment store chain John Lewis presents a different problem altogether. They have both a strong brand and strong copy, but like a builder in suspenders; the two don’t match. Ugly is perhaps a little harsh, but an inconsistent brand message is still a problem.

John Lewis has a great social media presence. Their tone is friendly and informative, they  use exclamation marks to assure us of their light hearted whimsy (!),  but while their online presence might be ‘fun’ and ‘happening’, this simply doesn’t match the perception of their brand on the High Street. They’re not ‘fun’ and ‘happening’ in the real world… they represent quality, but they’re also high-end and expensive. Essentially, they have an air of sophistication which doesn’t come across in their social media or on their website, good though these are.

If a company’s copy doesn’t match people’s existing perception of their brand, people will start to question: are they being sincere? In the case of John Lewis, who have been around since 1864, they are obviously trying to appeal to a new generation. Ok, so they’re hugely successful, but the essence of my point remains the true regardless of whether you agree with this example; any organisation with copy that doesn’t match their brand needs to revise their content strategy – alternatively, they may need to revise their overall brand strategy. Either way, these are expensive and time-consuming tasks and where possible, it’s always safer to plan up front.

Brand or copy… which comes first?

Put simply: brand must come first. Of course, you can’t have a great brand without great copy, but your content can’t lead your brand on its own. Best-in-class content is just one factor that effects people’s perception of a company’s brand. As with many marketing trends, the upsurge in the need for great copy is reactionary; many companies have come to understand that good content is important, but they don’t necessarily understand why. However, as people become exposed to quality, editorial standard copy, which has a clear message and distinct tone of voice, they will start to see through anybody who hasn’t got it nailed.

The copywriter’s task is to make sure that copy blends so seamlessly with brand that people don’t notice the joins. So drag your feet if you wish, but don’t do it for long… I predict Sticky’s next survey will show an increasing awareness of what really makes really good content, so you’d better get a strategy and a great copywriter in place before you get left behind. We can’t all be innocent, but we can have a damn good go at getting it right.

You can download the Sticky Content Report here (it has lots of cool graphs).

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