In our business copywriting courses, we give people tips, techniques, templates, and little tricks for writing blogs, thought pieces, reports, white papers, presentations, and emails. Participants tell us that they come away with a better idea of how to identify interesting, relevant subjects for blogs and how to write more quickly, efficiently and, most of all, effectively. They also report that what they write using our advice is more likely to catch their audience’s attention and elicit a response, be that to buy something, to sign up for something or to work in a different way.
Surprising facts and little-known truths are one way to grab your readers’ attention and help them remember what you’ve told them. As we explain in our business writing workshops, we tend not to remember big concepts, vague ideas and certainly not marketing messages. Little nuggets of information and quirky factoids will likely stick in our minds. When we recall them, often to tell others, we remember where and when we discovered them – and the writer’s message also comes back to us.
With that in mind, here are three surprising facts about copywriting.
1. No One Cares.
Sorry to start on such a negative note, but it’s true. According to the University of Southern California, we get around 100,000 words beamed at us every day from social media, advertising, emails and other sources. The fact is that unless you’re telling somebody that they’ve won the lottery or have got a horrible disease, they aren’t going to be that interested in hearing from you. But don’t be discouraged – regard this as a challenge. As we explain in our business writing courses, you need to think about how to grab the audience’s attention and make what you’re saying relevant to them. Ensure that you answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”.
2. Don’t start at the beginning.
It might sound counterintuitive, but there’s no need to do this. Let’s look at it from the point of you, as a writer, and how your reader comes to your writing. We don’t believe in writer’s block – we can’t afford it because we make a living writing. Very often, trying to start at the beginning of a piece of writing – finding the right word and phrase or even the overall concept you want to talk about- can be intimidating. Is there anything worse than staring at that blank screen, putting down three or four words, and then deleting them?
So, with our business writing training, we advise people to start with what interests them the most. What is it that first comes to your mind? Start writing, and do a brain dump. And keep going until you have nothing more to say. Then put your work away and return to it a few hours later. This is good advice for all writing, but especially in this situation, you can look and identify where you need to rewrite something, delete something, or rearrange the order in which you’ve put down your thoughts. Again, once you’ve done this, close the document and return to it later with fresh eyes.
It might be that what you started with – those initial thoughts and impressions are where you need to begin your piece of writing. Imagine you get home from work, and a family member or your flatmate asks how your day was.
You tell them that the train was packed this morning and you had to stand up. It was pouring rain when you got out of the station, so you treated yourself to a pain au chocolat on the way into the office. You had a couple of meetings, went out for lunch, and at the sandwich shop, the woman in front of you collapsed. You gave them CPR and brought them back to life, and waited with them until the ambulance arrived. All the rest of the customers applauded you, and somebody said they would put you forward for a special award. You continue the description of your day by mentioning that you then had an annoying meeting with your boss before getting the train back home.
This description is chronological and includes all the important points, but would you really describe your remarkable day in this way? No, of course, you wouldn’t. You would start with the most exciting and amazing part. It’s the same when you’re writing – don’t start at the beginning; instead, start with what is most exciting or important. Look at professional writing by journalists, especially with feature articles, and you’ll see this happen very often. This approach works for you as the writer and for your reader.
3. Your audience wants you to frighten them.
No, it’s true. During our Media Training courses, participants often ask us why the media is so obsessed with negative stories, and there’s such a focus on things going wrong. The fact is that this appeals to our animal brains. When we wandered around the plain or the forest, we constantly looked at threats and opportunities – just as we are now. Essentially, the opportunities were food and the chance to mate, while, on the other hand, the threat was usually related to being killed and perhaps eaten.
Yes, the former is appealing, but if you miss out, the situation isn’t too serious. There will always be more food or another potential mate available. However, if you’re slow to react to the risk of being eaten, that’s it – you’ve had your chips. That’s why even now, threats and risks fire up the amygdala, the “fight or flight” part of the brain. Presenting a threat or a risk to your audience will grab their attention. You can then go on to offer a solution. “Companies that don’t do XYZ miss out on….” is one way of putting it, for example, while another might be “, If we, as an organisation, keep doing XYZ, then we’ll fail to deliver or fall behind the competition. Therefore, what we need to start doing is….”
Think of it as problem > solution. We would then add a Call to Action here. Once you’ve explained that your audience needs to do something to avoid or at least mitigate the risk or even turn a threat into an opportunity, be very clear on the specific action they need to take. Do they have to adopt a new approach? Stop doing something? Sign up for something? Whatever the action – be clear and practical about it.
Problem > solution > call to action is a good way of structuring a piece of writing to ensure that your audience pays attention and responds in a practical way.
Essential to good writing is providing food for thought and engaging with your audiences. We hope that considering these three surprising facts might help your professional writing. We create our business writing courses from scratch to meet the exact needs of every client. Come and talk to us about how we can help with your business writing today.