Monday, December 31, 2018

3 Copywriting "Improvements" That Can Actually Hurt Your Marketing Content

Professional copywriters and marketing experts have spilled countless ink (or pixels, or whatever) recommending tips, techniques, and best practices for creating more effective marketing content. I myself have shared plenty of advice on the subject in my years as a freelance copywriter, including a number of previous blog posts on smart strategies for choosing those words wisely and arranging them in the strongest possible way. But did you know that some of the techniques we writers constantly harp on can actually backfire on you if you overdo them? Here are three examples of how "too much of a good thing" can be a very bad thing indeed for your copywriting.

1. Too Much White Space

I've said over and over again that nobody wants to try and read a massive, undifferentiated wall of text -- especially online, where we tend to scan a page for a few seconds and the move on if we don't see what we're looking for. Breaking up your content into digestible paragraphs, lists, and sidebars gives the eyes a break and makes it much easier to read the text quickly. It also enhances the overall design of the web page or print piece by allowing plenty of room for images.

But I've seen examples of this smart practice taken to extremes. In fact, I've been asked to rewrite such examples because the page looked like nothing but one bullet point after another. Endless lists and one-sentence paragraphs may open up that coveted white space, but they also give the impression of random notes as opposed to a polished message. Bring those disconnected sentences together into short but worthwhile paragraphs. Beef out some of those bullet points with benefit statements that explain why you're making those points in the first place.

2. Too Much Enthusiasm

Selling is persuading; the more energy your copywriting contains, the more excitement you can generate in your audience. After all, if you're not enthusiastic about your product or service, why should anyone else be? But it's all too easy to take the "caffeinated approach" a little too far -- right over the edge of Hyperbole Cliff. Before you know it, you're coming across more as a breathless schoolgirl or crazed fanboy than as a professional representative of your profession or industry. You may also start to exhibit the oily sheen of the snake-oil salesman who will say anything to make a sale.

How do you reign yourself in just enough to express that energy without shooting down your credibility? First of all, be careful about using exclamation points. I had one web designer tell me that she never accepted exclamation points in her copywriting. While that viewpoint might sound extreme, I understood what she meant. If your content is compelling enough, it shouldn't need much of that kind of help. In particular, never use multiple exclamation points ("!!!!") or question marks ("?????"). We got the message the first time, thanks.

3. Too Soft a Sell

Nobody likes a pushy salesperson, either in person or on the page. There are certainly situations where you might need aggressive copywriting, such as a landing page where you have to make your entire pitch and then get that response right then and there. Generally, however, it's sound advice to back off a little and give your audience room to meet you halfway. Making intelligent points, backing them up, and wrapping them in the right emotions can result in many a "soft sell."

But there's such as thing as too soft a sell -- namely, the sell that doesn't sell. I've seen marketing content that was so passive as to be ineffectual, focusing so hard on not harassing the reader or appearing too forward that it failed to make its pitch. The biggest danger here is failing to state a clear call to action in an imperative voice. No matter how gently you choose to sell to your reader, at the end you must tell them exactly what they need to do right now, even if it's only signing up for your newsletter or emailing you with any questions.

You can make all three of these copywriting "improvements" work to your advantage, as long as you don't go overboard with them. Need help walking that fine line? Contact me and let a professional freelance copywriter walk it for you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

A Marketing Carol

"Bah, humbug!" If you're looking at your year-end figures and voicing that sentiment, you may have given up on the power of a cohesive, congruent marketing strategy and implementation for bringing about that happy holiday -- or you may have been stingy about feeding that marketing machine, starving your future in an obsessive effort to hang onto the here and now. Maybe what you need is a visitation from three spirits:

The Ghost of Marketing Past

This spirit forces you to take a long, perhaps painful look back at your previous marketing efforts from Day One of your company's launch. You made plenty of mistakes, didn't you? We all do. Of course you also had your share of successes. But for the most part, you probably stumbled from discovery to discovery, embracing what worked and paring away what didn't. Pay special attention to those things you should've done. Did you invest the right amount of time, effort and money into your marketing? Did you draw up an official marketing budget (as opposed to stealing from your grocery money)? Did you seek professional guidance from people who could smooth your way and help you produce better results more quickly?

The Ghost of Marketing Present

This figure stands before right now, saying, "Here you are." He compels you to view the current state of your website, social media presence, print marketing, networking partnerships and client relationships. As you stand on the cusp of a new year, what are your marketing resolutions? Are you enjoying the fruits of your current labor, or are you wishing that Christmas goose could have a little more meat on it? Well, you've learned from the past, but the past is gone -- it no longer exists, and you cannot act in it. You can only take action NOW. So take stock, make some decisions, and move on them. There's literally no time like the present.

The Ghost of Marketing Future

Finally, you take a stroll with this mysterious character down Maybe Lane. Where do your current business decisions and marketing campaigns leading you? Do you see yourself spinning your wheels year after frustrating year, or do you see yourself breaking through to the big time? The nifty thing about this vision is that it hasn't actually taken shape yet, which means you can still fashion it into whatever you want it to be. Try picturing your ideal business in terms of industry status, revenues, reputation and so on. Are you on track to make it happen? If not, you may want to start by reworking your brand messaging and marketing content to reflect the organization you want to become. Hiring a freelance copywriter to help you create this fresh content could turn out to be the best leap forward you could possibly make.

And that's no humbug!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Does Your Blog Need Freshening Up?

Do you hate blogging? Well, don't feel bad -- from time to time, we all do.

I hang on to favorite old blog posts from sites like ProBlogger, and I recently re-read a fascinating article by guest blogger Ryan Barton entitled "9 Steps to Take When You Loathe Your Own Blog." While I have to admit that I'm not at the loathing stage yet, I still found the information highly illuminating. Barton discusses issues that plague all bloggers from time -- a sense of stagnation, a lack of fresh content or new ideas, that nagging feel of obligation as opposed to inspiration. It's all too easy for a regular blog to become an annoying chore instead of an exciting opportunity. And yes, I've certainly had my moments where the thought suddenly hit me: "Oh crap, it's already time to blog AGAIN?" And I do this stuff for a living, so I can only imagine how intimidating that thought must be to a non-writer or occasional writer.

One theme that seems to permeate Barton's post is the need to change things up, from trying a new writing venue or posting schedule to varying your blog-reading habits to get a fresh perspective on things. In my (biased) opinion, this in one of the biggest advantages of hiring a ghost-blogger. Adding that extra brain to the think tank automatically helps generate new, unusual, mold-breaking ideas and topics. Hiring a generalist instead of a specialist in your industry is even better, because you're getting the outsider's point of view. 

Another suggestion of Bryan's is to re-focus on your target audience. Who is your ideal reader, and how specifically can you envision that person in your mind? We marketing folks use terms such as "target market" or "demographic," but target markets and demographics don't read articles -- people do. Not groups of people clustered around a monitor, either, but individuals. The more clearly you can aim your writing at a specific person, the easier it is to ask yourself, "What kind of article would really benefit John Doe right about now?" Talking to an individual is always easier than figuring out what kind of speech to give to a crowd, so try this technique to grease the wheels on your personal blogging engine.

Hey, you know what? I enjoyed writing this article. I bet Barton enjoyed writing his, too. (You can read it here.) Now go enjoy writing yours -- or just hire me to write it for you and go enjoy doing anything else!