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The Long and Short of Copywriting for Marketing

WRITTEN by: Mark Corcoran |
categories: Content Marketing

Apr 2014

ALL INSIGHTS

There’s a heinous rumor going around (spread mostly by graphic designers) that copywriters want to cram as much fancy prose as possible into every nook and cranny of each ad, brochure, and Web page that comes down the pike. I’m here to tell you that this is not the case. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Marketing exists to engage people in ways that increase brand awareness, loyalty, and revenues. And it doesn’t matter what kind of marketing it is, either. Business-to-business or business-to-consumer, it’s all person-to-person. This means you have to know the audiences you’re writing for and how to make the most of the time you get with them. It’s important to understand what you are trying to accomplish with every interaction because it directly impacts how you construct your copy and tell your story. To that end, here are some things to consider.

Long or Short?

Good copywriters know that the style and depth of content needs to suit the medium. Because audience engagement time is fleeting for most advertising copy, short and sweet usually does the trick. For websites, brochures, and ancillary collateral pieces, it may be necessary to venture deeper into the weeds. This is especially true when dealing with highly technical products and services or complicated subject matter. In any case, overly complex language and sentence structures should be avoided whenever possible. They can get in the way. Make smart word choices (simpler = better) and break monstrous sentences into separate thoughts that are easier for readers to digest.

Don’t Just Look, Read

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Finding the right balance of depth and brevity can be tricky. The only way to really know if you’re on the right track is to read content in context. Don’t just eyeball it and go from there. Short, densely written copy can actually “read longer” than lighter prose that creates a higher word count (rhythm and pace matter). While it’s obvious that a quarter-page newspaper ad or a banner ad on a website have tighter copy limitations than a brochure, gray areas abound. What a reader needs to know to accomplish the marketing goals at hand should guide your pen. If the format and design allow some flexibility on the word count, try some different approaches. Just as you don’t write SEO content strictly for robots, you should remember that word counts won’t be reading your copy either. It’s the reader’s experience that matters most. Your job is to inform, entertain, and compel!

A Word on Words

Another thing to remember: marketing copywriting is not a glorified spelling bee or vocabulary competition. As much as some copywriters may want it to be, marketing copy is not a platform for grandiloquent ramblings that are more ego-stroke than effective. Even though it can be fun to take the $5 words out for a spin every once in a while (see prior use of grandiloquent), generally speaking, it’s better to keep them parked in the garage. You can bust them out later, when you get around to chasing the writer’s white whale of drafting the great American novel. Clients pay marketing agencies to help them make more money, not to befuddle unsuspecting consumers with dazzling words they don’t understand. The moment you send someone to a thesaurus, you’ve lost them.

Keep in mind that you’re facilitating a conversation between a brand and the people it cares about. Leave the pretense at the door and just talk to them. Be real and don’t let words trip things up.

Beware the Bubble

For copywriters, developing marketing content is fraught with peril. One of the greatest dangers is succumbing to the dreaded bubble. I’ve seen the bubble claim many victims. Lots of good, creative individuals have been consumed by it. I’ve had my own brushes with the bubble and they’re not pretty. The bubble is sneaky and can be difficult to escape, especially when deadlines loom large.

The bubble forms when you become so immersed in a subject or industry that you lose sight of what’s good and what’s bad. (Overtaxed, fried brains and delirium caused by sleep deprivation are also known bubble contributors.) Inside the bubble, your creative wonder and integrity are compromised and you begin to churn out drivel that you never thought yourself capable of. Your writing becomes excruciatingly automatic and the quality of your work suffers. Sure, clients and readers might not notice, but you do. It’s like writing in a trance. The bubble is a torture chamber that breaks you down and makes tired industry jargon and empty clichés seem viable, or worse yet, good.

To burst the bubble, frequently step back and really think about what you’re writing. What would the bright-eyed, unjaded writer you started out as say about it? To shabbily rip off Mr. Forrest Gump: lame is lame as lame does. So, if you’re not a hack, don’t write like one. Steer clear of watering down your messages with junk and remember that marketing copywriters are awesomizers—brand champions on a mission to persuade. From the ultra-cool to the mundane, you have to treat every project with the same enthusiasm. Writing, all writing, is a creative endeavor! Never forget who you’re writing for and what they care about. The goal is to make brands soar, not to lull audiences to sleep.

Please note: The bubble does not discriminate. Graphic designers, PR folks, and account executives—all marketing professionals with creative input privileges—are susceptible to bubble trouble.

Write On!

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If copywriting has a universal truth, it’s that everything is a work in progress. The next time I read this, I will want to change it. That’s how it goes. It may make the job frustrating at times, but the opportunities for growth make it exciting and gratifying, too. There will always be new tricks to pick up and things you’ll wish you did differently. Just roll with it. As with any creative undertaking, you need thick skin to be a copywriter. Everyone has an opinion, a preference, and way they were taught to write. Don’t let them bring you down. Take it all in, always do your best, and write on!

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