Why hire me when you could write your own copy?
Updated: Oct 6, 2021
So, you need some marketing or advertising copy do you? Happens all the time.
Everyone can write, right? So why go to all the expense of hiring a copywriter when you could do it yourself?
It may sound counter intuitive, but why am I, a copywriter for more than 30 years, offering tips and advice on how you can
write your own marketing communications. I mean, writing copy for people like you is my bread and butter. It's how I pay my rent.
We'll get to that at some stage, but let's cut to the chase. (To use marketing gobbledygook.)
I assume you need advertising copy because you have something you want to sell, to people you think want to buy it. And let’s be blunt here, you want to save some money and think you could do it. How hard can it be?
So let’s start at the beginning. First question; who do you want to buy whatever it is you’re selling?
I’ve often asked exactly that question of some clients I’ve worked with in the past and I really have heard them say; “Everyone! I want everyone who reads my ad to buy my product.” Yeah right. As if that’s gonna happen. But let’s not get into a long drawn out discussion about the effectiveness of advertising. We’ll leave that for another day.
So, what was the question again? Who’s going to buy what you want to sell? I mean picture that person in your mind's eye. How old? How tall? How fat? How thin? Male? Female? Or both? What do they normally wear? Where do they live? What’s their name? How much do they earn? What do they do?
Come on, you can do this. Because if you can’t, who on earth are you selling to? The more you know about the person/people you want to buy your product, the easier it’s going to be to write copy that works.
Believe me, I really have had clients who want to sell say, lawn mowers to people who don’t have any lawns to mow. Or cars to people who can’t drive.
Now you need to ask yourself another vital question. The trick here is to answer it truthfully. And the question is this; why should anyone buy what you’re selling?
You need to be pretty realistic here, which in my experience is not always something clients can be accused of. Because it’s free is not a valid reason. That’s not buying is it? Neither is; because it’s cheap.
There’s plenty of cheap stuff around and people buy loads of it, but I’ll assume you want to make a profit from what it is you’re trying to sell. The more the merrier is where most clients are at which is a very valid point of view in my book.
Of course, you may be trying to sell something that’s not expensive to buy. But unless you have a monopoly on your product, there’s going to be loads of other sellers trying to do whatever you’re doing. Welcome to the bottom of the barrel.
However, let’s get back to the question, why should anyone buy what you’re selling? What makes your product different to the same product sold by that guy down the road, otherwise known as your competitor?
ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL
He’s cut production costs to the barest minimum just like you. He’s found the cheapest shipping costs the same as you have. He’s reduced the price to the lowest possible level and is prepared to minimise his margin to the point it’s virtually impossible to make a profit. And you’ve done exactly the same.
So effectively, you’re both selling the same, or very, very similar product, to the same people, for near as dammit the same price. Now tell me why anyone should buy your product and not his?
By the way, it’s kind of irrelevant what the product is. It could be toothpaste, or chocolate, or shirts, or catamarans, or computers (which, as a former copywriter on the Apple advertising account, is an interesting sector all by itself.) The point is, and there are of course, exceptions, you need to identify what the reason, or reasons are that people are going to choose your product instead of your competitors version of the same thing.
Just keep in mind, I’m not trying to teach a marketing course here, just explaining how you can avoid hiring (and paying) me to write your advertising and marketing copy.
That said, marketing is what you’re doing, albeit down at the most basic street level with the words that are going to persuade someone to buy your widget as opposed to that other widget.
Ooops! Missed your chance. They’ve just turned the page. They’ve scrolled, or even strolled on by. You’re going to have to do better than that.
I guess you could have said; “Hey, buy this, it’s a really good widget.” Or you could have said; “You need to buy this widget.” You could have cut the crap and simply said; “Buy this!”
Or maybe if you had shouted at that potential customer, you would at least have got their attention. Or the equivalent, increase the size of the words to the point they are effectively screaming off the page or screen.
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
Let’s rewind a little and ask another question. Would you have stopped and bought a widget if someone had said something like that to you? Or worse, shouted at you? Do you buy anything from people who shout at you? Be honest.
A long time ago someone said to me, there are only three types of advertising. A.) Advertising people hate. B.) Advertising people love. And C.) Advertising people don’t see. Obviously, if you don’t see it, there’s no chance it’s going to work. And when was the last time you bought something despite hating the advertising? I’m not saying it doesn’t ever work, but patently, the best advertising is the advertising people love. Or at least don’t find offensive.
Oh, and by the way, whenever someone says to you; “Advertising doesn’t work on me…” I can guarantee it does. They just don’t want to admit it.
Given the first thing you need to do is gain your customer’s attention, how about starting with the advertising equivalent of “Good morning.” Acknowledging them as a fellow human being is probably a good place to start. So a respectful tone of voice is going to be way better at getting a customer’s attention, than shouting at them don’t you think? Believe it or not, charm goes a long way when you’re talking to people either in your chosen media, or at a cocktail party.
I find it’s sometimes good to start with a question. But it needs to be a question relevant to the customer you’re talking to. And open ended questions are probably best avoided too.
Give me an example I hear you say. Okay, so how about this. It’s a hot day.
Bad question: “Are you thirsty?”
The answer may be; “Yes!” But it hasn’t brought you any closer to selling your can of ice cold cola has it? An open ended question like this is the equivalent of going into a shop and a sales assistant asking you; “Can I help you?” In this situation my instinct, and I suspect yours too, is to reply; “No thanks!”
Better question: “Would you like something ice cold to quench your thirst?”
This is better on two levels. A.) It’s offering a solution. And B.) It’s more personal.
Let’s continue the theme of a can of cola. There are loads of cola flavoured drinks out there and I’m not referring to any particular brand.
Now you could say; “Buy this cola it tastes jolly good.” But that’s not really your judgement to make is it? It’s up to the customer to decide whether it tastes good or not. And besides, no one makes a cola that tastes bad do they? A cola that tastes good is the very minimum every customer expects. Preference is a different matter.
If you’re going to write your own copy, I guarantee you’re going to be more successful if you start with some words that recognises, appreciates and respects the customer giving you their attention. The “Good morning” if you like.
“Hello” is way better than “Oi”. But I don’t want you to get too hung up on this. There are no rules, despite what David Ogilvy often espoused, before he concluded by saying; “I hate rules!”
GIVE IT A TRY
So you’ve made a can of cola that is in every way the same as another can of cola. (Let’s leave aside that you don’t have the same size brand or the same marketing budget that they have.) You have the same price, the same taste, the same size and the choice for your customer is the red can, called RED Cola or your, for the sake of argument, yellow can, called YELLOW cola. What was it that you decided made the difference?
(By the way, if you have produced a can of cola that is in every way the same as a can of RED cola, do yourself a favour and make sure it doesn’t come in a red can. Who here remembers Virgin cola?)
Okay, so now you have to admit there is effectively, and subjectively, no difference. Think of something. Remember question two? Why should anyone buy what you’re selling? Come on, you’re the copywriter. Think of something that’s going to persuade someone to buy your cola instead of the other cola.
Remember it’s not cheaper and taste is a subjective judgement.
Hard isn’t it?
If it was me, and off the top of my head, (partly because I’m not getting paid for this,) there are two quick ways I would look at. The yellow can and humour. Examples? You want examples? Okay, but let’s keep things simple.
Yellow can: “YELLOW is simply more tasteful.”
There’s a whole campaign in there. Not to mention the potential to build a brand. Red Bull anyone?
You’re not saying YELLOW cola tastes better although you might be implying that. And implication may be all you need to make a sale.
Humour: “Buy one YELLOW cola and get a second one full price.”
Of course, humour is also subjective. What’s funny to five random customers possibly isn’t to another five. So it’s important to have more than one humorous headline. Do it right and you’ve created another campaign idea and a brand personality.
BEWARE There are some pretty basic mistakes you should try to avoid.
I’ve already mentioned open ended questions. But there’s worse.
In the past, ANADIN (which is a big brand of pain relief in the UK) used the headline: “Nothing works faster than ANADIN” They used this slogan for many years until in the 80’s it appeared on a poster. It wasn’t very long before some graffiti appeared below the headline: “So take nothing then!”
Then there was the church that had a poster outside with the headline; “Try our faith cures, you won't get better”
You get the idea.
Unless you product is entirely devoid of benefits it’s best to focus on them rather than on its features.
For example, don’t tell me your fitness tracker has three programmable buttons. Tell me how it can help me lose weight and feel better about myself when I look in the mirror.
But, and it’s a big but, which clients through the ages have often been unable to resist. Keep your list of benefits short, or better still, limited to one. They may all be good benefits but a long list of them is boring to read, diminishes the importance of the key benefits, confuses the customer and makes you sound desperate.
Try to keep in mind that, what you should say, is a much better starting point than, how should I say it. An even better starting point is, what does my customer want to hear? Which brings us back to the first question. Who do you want to buy whatever it is you’re selling?
Easy isn’t it?
AND FINALLY, DON'T FORGET A CALL TO ACTION
You probably already know that a call to action is asking for the customer to do something. Buy now! Order today. Don’t miss this bargain. But I think they’re really important, although not necessarily quite as blunt as the examples above.
This is my call to action.
I know this has been a long drawn out explanation about how you could save some money and write your own copy. And I haven’t even started on legibility, typography, design and art direction and the perils of “eye skid.”
And yes, I know there are hundreds of different ways to skin a cat and no two advertising problems are the same, and all the other thousand and one opinions on how you could go about writing your own copy. But this has been my light hearted way of offering some (free) advice, so thank you for taking the time to read it.
If you’ve made it this far, firstly congratulations, I admire your tenacity. And secondly, if at this stage you’ve come to the conclusion that writing your own copy is way too complicated, you could always hire me. I would be happy to have a chat about the copywriting you need. Email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to hearing from you.