Last month I ran a persuasive writing workshop for teenagers.
Yes, it was terrifying; thanks for asking.
I didn’t know how to get on with teenagers when I was one, so running a Zoom class to a bunch of 14 to 18-year-olds was not something I saw on my career horizon. Still, I was grateful of the opportunity and excuse to take a step back and map out my own principles and processes when it comes to copywriting. I guess you don’t realise how much you know until someone asks you to break it down.
One aspect I touched on in the workshop was the importance of believing in what you’re writing, and I mean really believing it. It’s a fairly obvious principle, but I wanted to share a bit more about it here, because if you're starting out as a copywriter you might need tips on building that passion, and if you're experienced, well, this might stop you getting jaded.
Of course, I’m not talking about losing your integrity and promoting things you find indefensible, but it does mean getting excited about subjects, products and services that might not personally interest you at first glance.
As a copywriter, you can’t just rely on your client to provide the magic or the passion. Remember, they’re in the thick of it and can’t always take a step back far enough to know what makes their business and offering great. That’s why you’re there. As a copywriter you’re perfectly positioned to ask the right questions (stupid ones are equally important) to get to the heart of what they’re trying to say.
Get the answers you need and then get excited about them.
To make this point in the workshop, I set the class this task:
‘Think of something you don’t like and list the reasons someone else might like it.’
It’s intended to help you not only build empathy, but to highlight the importance of getting into character when writing. You don’t have to like everything you write about, but if you can’t understand why other people might like it, then you’re going to struggle to connect with your readers.
Well, those clever bastards threw me a curve ball, didn’t they? There I was expecting something like ‘homework’ or ‘PE lessons’, but no, one smart cookie said, ‘people who eat noisily’.
I was not expecting that.
And yet, between us, we still managed to list reasons someone might actually like the sound of a noisy eater. The main ones we came up with were ‘it conveys enjoyment and appreciation’ and ‘ASMR listeners might like it’. Yup, we not only found that we could easily write a paragraph about why noisy eating is great, but we found a business use for it too.
When I started writing tech copy, I was similarly challenged; not because tech isn’t one of, if not THE most exciting fields to write about, but because quite often the marvellous people who know their devices and solutions inside out aren’t always well-placed to convey benefits to a mainstream audience. Similarly, their audiences are used to stiff, dull copy that repeats the same old things: save money, save time yada yada yada. Tech companies and their clients are sort of in a stalemate where they’re waiting for the other to break character and lose the clichés. Note to self: write blog about how tech writing needs to evolve.
Anyway, one proud moment where I challenged myself to really care about a tech device was about eight years ago – and it proved to me the power of getting on board and finding your passion.
I’d just started writing copy for an IoT company, and they wanted to enter an award. Honestly, I was still very new to their world and a bit lost. I’d researched similar devices on the market, and there were hundreds all offering the same thing – and not only that, they looked better too.
I was at the stage of my career where I was a copywriter simply because I was a good writer with a knack for translating tech terminology into accessible language. I hadn’t yet got a grip of the industry, nor did I understand just how powerful my words could be.
But, to get the job done, I had to find a way out of the negativity, so I asked myself:
“What would someone who thought this was the best device out there say about it?”
I brainstormed and set my internal mood dial to ‘smiley exciter at a conference who wants to be everyone’s best friend’. I got into character, and I wrote the hell out of that award submission. I promoted the benefits, the risks it mitigated, the worst-case scenarios it could prevent. I wrote about its basic design in the same way an estate agent might describe a single room with a bed up against a door as ‘cosy’.
I became that device’s best friend.
And… despite all the competition, despite my initial doubts and negativity… that MF won!
Not only did it win, but in the announcement, the judges actually acknowledged how similar it was to the other devices, but that it was the benefits and use cases described in the entry that set it apart.
At the time I didn’t celebrate just how big a deal winning that award was, but writing it taught me a huge lesson about getting into character and finding all the reasons someone might love something I don’t understand.
Once I’ve got those reasons, I become that person and the words come naturally.
Interested in a copywriting course? I'm taking expressions of interest for an online workshop in January to help you start your 2022 comms the right way. Be a keeno, and drop me a line.