What if I told you there was a simple way to instantly improve your copy? Any copy. That you could grab a set of copy triage tools and immediately transform limp text into more vital and persuasive marketing content?
What’s more, these tools work in just about any format: Blog posts and website content. Collateral and email. Direct mail and press releases.
This Copywriting First Aid works wonders when you need to doctor existing content. And it also makes from-scratch content easier and faster to draft.
Copywriting first aid: What it is—and what it ain’t
Before I share my seven Copywriting First Aid tools, let me make one thing perfectly clear: These tips are no substitute for carefully researched, tightly targeted and customized copy. The kind of content a skilled craftsman produces after years of practice, working with colleagues and copy managers—and studying top marcom books.
But—dare I say it?—sometimes you don’t need copy masterwork. Maybe you’re toiling under an obscene deadline and need to produce serviceable content pronto. Or you need to perform emergency surgery on some existing lifeless content. Now.
Or you need to communicate copy basics to less experienced writers: An intern tasked with online community management. Or a junior communications officer charged with organizational blogging.
Copywriting lessons from my passage to India
For the past two weeks I’ve been traveling in India, working with several non-profit organizations. As Ashoka’s live blogger and correspondent, I supported the Young Champions of Maternal Health, a group of social entrepreneurs. I wrote posts to position these dynamic leaders and share their stories with influencers in public health and development.
But I had an ulterior motive: I also wanted the young social entrepreneurs to start thinking about their own marketing communications. Because in addition to saving the world, tomorrow’s NGO leaders face a number of less altruistic challenges. Like how to communicate persuasively, motivate apathetic clients, move people to action and raise funds.
Later I visited Seva Mandir, an NGO in rural India. After touring Udaipur villages, I met with the organization’s marketing and communications department. I found it surprisingly tough to articulate marketing precepts. To me, they’re foundational, but to NGO communicators they seem counterintuitive: “Stop talking about your organization.” “Focus on your audience.” “Convey benefits to your readers.”
And that’s when it hit me: You don’t need to inculcate a market-focused worldview to help folks improve their marcom tools. By using a handful of practical, tactical aids anyone can improve her marketing materials. Immediately.
7 copywriting first aid tools
If you’re a seasoned copywriter, don’t expect the ground to shake. None of these ideas are new. But if you’re struggling with lackluster, agenda-heavy content, have confidence: You can turn it around in seven steps:
- Address your readers as “you.” Nothing improves dull, organization-centric copy faster than speaking directly to readers using the pronoun “you.” This little trick immediately makes content more personal and conversational. Yes, you will have to rewrite and reposition content as the spotlight moves from you to your readers. And yes, it takes practice. Start with your lede copy and cut the pronoun “we” along with references to your organization or company name. Instead substitute “you” and see how you need to rewrite content to make it relevant to readers. Your rewritten text will instantly become more audience-focused, lively and engaging.
- Put a benefit in your headline. Again, focus on your readers with a headline that promises them a benefit. It can be a direct benefit, “Ten Tips That Lower Your Electricity Bill” Or an implied benefit, “Stay on Top of the Latest News From Our Interns in the Field.”
- Use a graphical image to support your head. Select a photo or graphical image relevant to—and supportive of—your headline. Human beings are innately drawn to faces: Whenever possible, use a photo with people in it. Don’t have original photography? Check out these resources for fantastic, free photos.
- Reel in your readers with your lede. Your lede—the first sentence or two of your copy—exists for one purpose: to pull readers into your body copy. How? The sky’s the limit, but two tried and true attention grabbers are:
- Benefit-focused copy. Text that hooks by appealing to your readers’ self-interest.
- Storytelling. Human beings are hypnotically drawn into stories—especially those heightened by sensorial details: Narrative that describes sounds, smells, sights and sensations.
- Make text easy on the eye. A wall of text is off-putting. Just looking at it, your reader feels exhausted and obliged—rather than eager and curious—to read it. Lighten up. Make your copy more approachable by using:
- Subheads that synopsize, pique curiosity and promise benefits
- Bullet points weighted upfront with key words
- Numbered lists that attract readers with the promise of succinct, critical information
- “Don’t make me think.” Guess what? Your busy reader has more important things to do than read ponderous copy. To grab and keep her attention, you need to make your text copy appealing—and digestible: Cut jargon and industry catch phrases. Simplify. Use short words, sentences and paragraphs.
- Ask readers to take action. Make sure your copy includes a call to action. Keep in mind, “action” is not synonymous with “sale”: You don’t have to give readers the bum’s rush with a sale or donation request in every communication. But choose an action-oriented—rather than conceptual—goal. Ask readers to do something: Comment on your post. Contact you with questions. Sign up for your mailing list. Visit your website. Tell a friend. Or take any number of other actions.
Got tired content? The doctor is in.
The next time your copy needs a shot in the arm, try Copywriting First Aid—and let me know how the patient fares!
Red Cross photo courtesy of Daquella Manera