Autumn 2013

& Articles

Don’t be a lazy copywriter


If there’s one thing that really sticks out in copywriting like a dog’s…tongue, it’s laziness. That is, it sticks out to copywriters, who can never read any kind of marketing materials without either rolling their eyes if it’s rubbish or quietly filing it away for future inspiration if it’s good.

But for potential customers who aren’t marketing professionals, lazy copywriting has another effect. They won’t think ‘I could have done that headline better’ – they’ll think ‘meh’ and hit the back button or toss the brochure to one side.

Some examples

Lazy copywriting is usually the product of the copywriter not really knowing what to say. That might be down to not really knowing the business, or not really understanding the target market.

The one I see most often is ‘Welcome to our website.’ To me, this says a few things. The writer may well be the business owner themselves (extremely common), and they’re pushed for time or just don’t know the ins and outs of writing copy that sells. They might not have a clear idea of what the website’s for, besides simply getting them online. And they just don’t know a lot about writing for websites (but how often do you see a brochure that starts ‘Welcome to our brochure’?). Trouble is, the headline is the first thing people see on your site. So to keep them there, you want to make it good.

Then there are the formulas. Now, formulas have a place in copywriting. There’s the AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) system of how to present your offering. And there are others, but they’re more about ordering your points so they flow to the call to action.

What I’m talking about here is sentence structure formulas. It goes something like: ‘(Insert problem here.) That’s where we come in.’ ‘(Insert problem as a question)? Let us help.’ For example:  ‘Getting your GST returns in on time can be hard. That’s where we come in.’ ‘Having trouble with your GST return? Let us help’.

As far as copywriting goes, it’s not the greatest sin. It can work fine. But it’s the easy way out. It lacks imagination. And there’s always a better way to get your message across.

Then there are your beliefs and goals. Train yourself to spot this one, and you’ll see it everywhere. ‘We believe that…’ ‘Our goal is to…’ Again, it’s very easy copywriting. But it also says that you’re not convinced. I might say I believe there are elves in my sock drawer, but just because I say so doesn’t mean you’ll believe it. And when you’re selling to people, you need to believe every word you’re saying. And not only that, it forgets the cardinal rule of copywriting: talk about your prospects, not yourself. Because they don’t care about you, they care about what you do for them.

Put down the chips, get off the couch, and get that copy moving

How would I whip these examples of lazy copywriting into shape?

Well, let’s start with ‘Welcome to our website.’ This one isn’t that hard, as long as you know your business and your customers. The cornerstone of persuasive copywriting is shouting about your benefits. So you need to know what problem your target market has, and how you’re the best one to solve it.

So why not lead with your key benefit? Say you run a chain of French bakeries, selling authentic French breads and pastries. You might make your website intro ‘One bite and you’re in Paris.’ Or you sell really good kitchen knives: ‘Chop faster. Slice faster. Eat faster.’

The formulas are tricker. How you deal with depends on your writing style and what the tone of the copywriting should be. But you might begin it with ‘Now there’s an easy way to get your GST returns in on time, every time.’ Or ‘Help with your GST return is just a phone call away.’ What you’re doing here is presenting a benefit, while generating some curiosity from your prospect.

But the easiest fix of all is the last one. Just take out ‘We believe’ and turn it into a statement. ‘We believe we’re easy to work with’ becomes ‘We’re easy to work with.’ Try it – next time you see a ‘we believe’, take it off and see how much more conviction the statement has.

How can you make your copy better?