I have traveled and lived in several places in the U.S. over the last year. In talking to the various people I've met, they've invariably asked what kind of work I did for a living.

"I'm a copywriter," I told them. 

Their responses ranged from a furrowed-browed nod to a change of subject.

Many people have no idea what "copywriting" or "copy" is or what a copywriter does.

Here is a short, easy-to-remember definition: A copywriter writes with the intent of getting the reader to act. No, I don't mean getting them to do community theater or pack up and move to Hollywood. By "act" I mean to "take an action."

If you've ever been looking around online and decided to give your email address to some website in exchange for a free e-book, newsletter subscription  or similar item, you've experienced copywriting. If you've ever ordered something on TV after watching an infomercial or QVC, you've experienced it.

"Okay, but that doesn't explain what 'copy' is," you're saying right now.

Definition of "Copy"


"Copy" is another word for "text," particularly text that is used to sell something (or get a person to take an action which may lead to a sale). It is not something that the writer "copied" from somewhere else, but something he/she wrote which is to be copied--printed in a magazine or newspaper or used in a TV/radio commercial, which gets broadcasted over and over.

The terms "copy," "copywriter" and "copywriting," traditionally relate to advertising, marketing and promotion but these terms sometimes get applied to other kinds of writing and writers. For instance, news writers and editors deal with their own kind of "copy."

Copywriters (the capable ones, that is) are trained in a specific and somewhat complex technology that they use to produce writing that engages the reader. It holds and increases their interest because it appeals to some fundamental desire or need for a solution to a problem. Ultimately, if it's written well, it gets them to take action.

To some this may seem sneaky or unethical but there's this one fact: people's desires and needs for solutions to their problems existed long before there were copywriters or the field of marketing. The only thing that marketing does is channel that existing desire or need in the direction of a particular product or service.

A copywriter writes with the intent of getting the reader to take action.
Take for instance the "mid-life crisis." For some men who've reach their forties or fifties, an insecurity may have set in about their looks, physical condition or ability with the opposite sex. They may long to recapture some of their youthful vitality. This phenomenon exists. You've observed it. And it's this phenomenon--not the copy--that enables companies to sell convertible sports cars, hair replacement surgery and Viagra. If one company doesn't make the sale, another will. And truly, all other things being equal, the winner will be the company with the most effective copy. 

Who Uses Copywriters? 


You might be surprised by the number and variety of businesses that use copywriters:
  • companies that advertise by mail (banks, book publishers, credit card companies, insurance companies, etc.)
  • companies that advertise via infomercials (fitness equipment, greatest hits music collections, etc.)
  • companies that sell online (too many to list), by way of landing pages, sales pages, long-form video sales letters, pay-per-click ads, etc.
  • non-profit organizations, who use copywriters to help in their fundraising efforts

(Though regular TV or radio commercials may be written by copywriters, much of that kind of this kind of advertising, which is usually short and clever or cute [and sometimes, confusing], doesn't follow the tenets of actual copywriting.)

Copywriters can also use this writing technology to help companies and individuals define who they are, how they are unique or what they do best, so as to differentiate themselves from their competition. This action is a part of what is broadly known as "branding." 


The Copywriter and the Brand

Branding is not entirely a matter of copywriting but of building an image and emphasizing a particular and desirable value, skill or strength. You've seen and felt it with with many companies. Some that come to mind are Chevrolet (long-lasting, "Like a rock"), Apple Computers (innovation, "Think Different") and Netflix (selection and convenience). 

Once the brand "message" is established, copywriters may write copy that conforms to the brand, to be used on everything from business cards to websites to television. 

And that, friends, is what copywriting is.

If you have questions about your current copy, need a review, or have a future copy project you'd like help in planning, call me at 323-646-2469 or
email me.
 
 
In 1979, Robin Williams won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording for his album, Reality... What a Concept.

Robin Williams was an expert at bending and shaping reality on stage, changing his voice and mannerisms with remarkable speed. Though this short article isn't really about Robin Williams, I just have to give the man his due: he was a genius in his field.
Creating effective, winning direct marketing copy has everything to do with reality and concepts. 

What does that mean? It means knowing the product or service completely (i.e., the more you know about it, the more real it is to you, thus "reality").
It also means knowing the prospect as well as you can, through whatever sort of research necessary. What are their attitudes or emotions about the problem that your product or service solves?

With this product and prospect knowledge, you can you easily generate concepts to describe the benefits of the product/service in ways that get the reader engaged, interested ... wanting the product or service. If you don't have a firm reality on the product/service and the prospect, your concepts are likely to be off-target—not "real" to the reader.

If that still doesn't quite make sense, look at it this way: Think about a movie you have not seen, a book you have not read or a kind of food you've never eaten. How real are these things to you? Without that reality, how can you possibly succeed in getting someone else interested in the product or service?

You would have to rely on hype and empty promises. It wouldn't work.

The Most Reality Possible

I recently wrote a marketing video script for a company that makes a line of soft-sided coolers. They provided me some info about the product and their prospect base but they also wisely sent me one of the coolers to use. This made all the difference: to have the actual item, see how it's constructed, to use it and abuse it a bit. I found things about the actual product that I liked. I got interested and excited about it myself.


I went online to where I could find out more about people who use these kinds of products. What do they say about them? What do they use them for? What do they love about them? Hate about them? 

Though I was not initially a prospect for such a product, after a while researching it, I was thinking and writing just like a die-hard soft-sided cooler devotee. 

The company loved the script I wrote for them and hired me to write several more.

When I write a marketing piece about a book or information product, I read it through several times until I know the contents as well as the person who wrote it. I get excited about it. I collect information from my client or elsewhere about their customer avatar, so I know the right emotion to emphasize.

Then I apply time-tested direct response copywriting techniques to create copy that will connect with the reader and create want for the product.

But enough about me. What are your marketing challenges? And could you inject more reality into your campaign? Let me know if I can assist you: 323-646-2469 or email me.



(Originally published on LinkedIn 3/2/15)