Going simple: The 1 trick to great business copywriting
So you're a business copywriter. Well, your audience is only reading because they're looking for solutions. So give them the answers they want - as directly as you can. Emotional appeals only go so far, and descriptive fluff is out.
Say you're smitten by the power of words. You think they lead and beguile. They shape brand new worlds to explore at leisure. You want to talk about the chanting cicadas under the cypress trees. And so on.
Well, I’ve got good news and bad.
The bad news - business copywriting isn’t going to float your boat. Quit it, and do something creatively fulfilling. The good news – keep this up, and you’ll make a decent columnist, feature writer, and maybe even a best-selling author. I’m re-reading John Connolly's Charlie Parker thrillers - brutal examples of how clever turns of phrase sell amazingly in service of a brilliant plot.
Here’s the thing – as a rather put upon (and reasonably successful, he says modestly) business copywriter and content consultant in Dubai, I’ve realised what works in this market:
Truth 1: Clever sentences just get in the way – A good business copywriter is a pair of transparent curtains – where the brand’s voice is visible right through the words. Am I trying to impose my own personality on a brand? Great for me, not so great for the brand. Brands are selling themselves, not me. So I need to get with their programme, or get out.
Truth 2: Nobody reads business writing for a good time – Everyone reading my carefully written web copy is there for a reason. Reason 1 – it was a false Google result, which means they’ll bounce away. Reason 2 – they have a pain point they’re hoping the business I'm writing for can address. As a business copywriter, I'm being paid to convert audiences to leads and leads to sales. So what's in it for the audience? Am I making the sale?
Truth 3: Nobody cares about my ten-dollar words – In the corporate world, text is only one of a dozen ways messages are delivered. As a business copywriter, I'm competing with social media, infographics and video. So I tell myself to get my copy clear, simple and easy to read and digest. Like really, infographic-like easy. I really never want to use a long clever word where a short simple one will do. With social media shrinking our attention spans to goldfish level, no one is ever going to scroll to read my clever words. Not even me.
Everyone reading my carefully written website is there for a reason. I'm writing to convert audiences to leads and leads to sales.
Truth 4: Think small screen – No matter what, no matter where, someone is going to open my work on a small screen somewhere; a screen connected to a rather dinky smartphone. Will my sentences still work? Will my words make a powerful case for my client and then bow out [hopefully] with grace? If the answer is no, I go back to the original text and shrink. And then shrink some more.
Truth 5: An appeal to emotion doesn’t really work – Most corporate decisions are decidedly unemotional. Earlier this year, I’ve was lucky enough to write the Dubai Internet City’s website from scratch, and that of the in5 innovation hub. I worked closely with the teams there, and saw the sales data they had. And I realised that opening up an office in Dubai Internet City isn’t something done on a whim. People aren't doing it for the fountains and the prestige.
The customer has either done the maths, and just wants the final kick, or is investigating options. So my job as a business copywriter is to get them to pick up the phone. That doesn't mean I can't build ambience, but no one is going to rent office space on fluff alone. Fact: For many business decisions, emotional pull dissipates faster than people can call a sales rep and convert.