archive for January, 2016

What Apple’s website can teach us about marketing copy

Add copywriting to the long list of things Apple does well.apple pen

Click on Apple’s website and you’ll find page after page of great marketing copy. Pick any topic there, even a dry one like “Supplier Responsibility,” and you’ll find good writing.

What so good about it?

  1. It’s easy to read. (Effortless, in fact.) Sentences are kept as short as possible, and crafted to flow rhythmically.
  2. It has genuine, authentic personality. When you read anything from Apple, it sounds like someone is speaking to you in person.
  3. It’s humble. Even when promoting a new breakthrough, the copy is never about how great Apple is; it’s about how much you’re going to enjoy using all those new breakthroughs in your daily life.

Nor does their copy ever try to impress the reader with how smart it is. Apple’s writers don’t write for themselves; they write for their audience. And they avoid self-indulgent attempts at cleverness.

The result is that you actually…read it. And you come away with a good feeling about their brand and their products because they’ve explained everything to you in a simple, understandable way, much as a friend would.

That’s what great professional copywriting can do for a brand.

Why brand interactions are kind of like The Avengers

In the Avengers comics, several superheroes have to team up to beat a single, super-powerful bad guy.

It’s the same with brand interactions: It takes a lot of positives to overcome a negative.

Bad experiences are powerful. They stick with us. We won’t explore the complex reasons for this here, but the fact is, a single negative can wipe out all the positives that came before it. Any positives that might follow had better be pretty heroic – or the customer/brand relationship is doomed.

A quick story illustrates this:

For months I’d been receiving direct mail flyers from a digital services provider. Bit by bit, their beautifully designed and well-written mailers convinced me I should bundle my Internet, phone and TV service into one product they provide.

My wife and I drove to one of the brand’s retail stores to sign up. The store was new, well laid out, and fun to look around in. We started getting excited about how cool it was going to be to have the service.

But all the positivity building up was about to get knocked out cold by a single negative: The guy signing us up for the service wasn’t knowledgeable.

Maybe he was new, but that doesn’t matter. When we asked a question – whether it was about a promotional discount, options or installation – he either didn’t know or looked very uncertain as he flailed at an answer. (I’ve seen deer about to be flattened by semis that looked more relaxed.)

His lack of preparedness gradually unnerved us and made us question if we were doing the right thing. (At one point during the excruciating process we almost said forget it.)

In the end we ordered the service, but with the caveat that we could cancel the order prior to the installation date. We drove home agitated and confused, leaning towards canceling.

Fortunately for this brand, however, all was not lost. It was about to be rescued by the extraordinary technical support person I called when I got home. She was a marvel. She had answers. She had energy. She took ownership of my problems and solved them. In the end I was so impressed I had her get her supervisor on the phone so I could rave. I wouldn’t be surprised if she wears a cape and tights to work; she was that good.

But here’s the bottom line: Had she not used all her powers to overcome the damage done by the store experience, a customer would have been lost.

So let’s remember that every brand interaction counts. Your agency can produce award-winning work for you, but that’s only part of brand-building. The follow-through has to happen at every touchpoint.

 

Three Rules of English that good copy frequently breaks (and why it’s necessary to do so)

You’ve heard the saying, You have to know the rules before you can break them.

It’s absolutely true when it comes to advertising copy.

Writing a good ad (or any marketing message) requires you to understand sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, etc.

You, know…all the stuff crotchety Mrs. Schneider drilled into your head in high school English class. Or tried to.

But readable copy often breaks Mrs. Schneider’s beloved rules.

In fact, for copy to be “conversational” in tone, breaking them is practically a requirement.

Why? Because people break the rules all the time when they speak.

So you’ll need to break some rules too…if you want your message to be perceived as one human speaking to another.

This doesn’t, however, give us license to butcher the king’s English. The rules we can break are limited to a mere three.

Here they are, along with justification for breaking them:

1. Never begin a sentence with a conjunction (such as “and,” “but” or “or.”).

Copywriters break this rule all the time. And with good reason. Conjunctions provide a connection between two thoughts. But in speech people don’t always connect those two thoughts in a single sentence. They often split them up. And since copywriters strive to write in a way that mirrors the way people talk, it’s natural to do the same in copy.

But that’s not the only reason for putting an “and” or “but” at the beginning of a sentence. Doing so also lets us chop long sentences into two shorter ones that are easier to read.

Take this one, for example:

Going to the movies is a favorite pastime of many Americans, but the price of seeing a movie, combined with their poor quality of late, has many people opting to stay home.

It’s not exactly a run-on. Still it can be made a little less daunting for the reader if it’s divided in two.

Going to the movies is a favorite pastime of many Americans. But the price of seeing a movie, combined with their poor quality of late, has many people opting to stay home.

It’s a minor change, yes, but it makes the copy just a little easier for the reader. And every little bit helps.

2. Write in complete sentences, not fragments.

Complete sentences are great for annual reports and college term papers, but adhering to this rule in copywriting can lead to stiff, unnatural-sounding copy and dull, run-on sentences, such as this example:

Established in 1911 by brothers Bob and Frank Widget, Widget Investments is a respected global player with holdings around the world, a stake in numerous established business enterprises, and assets totaling $100 billion, all driven by a philosophy that always keeps us striving to reach higher, acquire more and do better.

Who’d want to wade through all that? Shorter sentences and liberal use of fragments make the message more palatable:

Widget Investments was established in 1911 by brothers Bob and Frank Widget. Today it’s a respected global player. One with holdings around the world. A stake in numerous established business enterprises. And assets totaling $100 billion. All driven by a philosophy that keeps us striving. To reach higher. Acquire more. Do better.

Ah, that’s better. The spaces between sentences give the copy – and the reader – a chance to breathe. So unless your readers positively adore lengthy Dickensian prose, opt for shorter sentences and fragments as necessary.

3. Don’t use slang.

Use discretion when breaking this one. It’s true that copy directed toward a particular audience has to speak their language. And sometimes that means adopting their lingo. But be warned: Don’t attempt this unless you’re sure you can pull it off. Nothing kills credibility faster than getting caught trying to fake authenticity.

So let’s say you want to announce to an audience of tech-savvy 20-somethings that your company has just developed a new application for the iPhone. You’ll have to judge whether it’s wiser to 1) describe the features and benefits of this outstanding iPhone application or to 2) give ’em the 411 on this killer iPhone app.

Likewise, you can decide whether it’s better to tell a hip youth audience that you’re going to 1) offer them some free merchandise or that you’ll 2) hook them up with some freebie swag.

You feel me?

As in all cases of rule-breaking, good judgment should be used. The goal isn’t to see how many rules you can break, it’s to make the communication as effortless as possible. So take some creative license, just don’t abuse it.

Free your mind…and ideas will follow.

Creativity flows more easily from an unstressed mind.

Creativity flows more easily from an unstressed mind.

Has this ever happened to you: You’re about to say something, but you get interrupted and seconds later you forget what you were going to say.

No matter how hard you try to remember, it’s gone.

So you quit trying…and a few seconds later you suddenly remember what you were going to say.

How does that happen?

Simple: The thought didn’t actually vanish; it was just hiding in your subconscious mind. Once you stopped straining to pry it out, it floated to the surface on its own. Funny how that works.

That same principle applies when you’re trying to come up with an idea for an ad, a product name, a visual, or the answer to a problem. Sometimes the best way to have an idea is to simply stop trying for a bit.

When you’ve been brainstorming for a while, the law of diminishing returns often kicks in. The mind turns to clay; the ideas dry up.

What then?

You stop consciously trying. Your mind has all the information it needs. It’s time to let it do its thing.

So you go do something else. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it doesn’t involve thinking about the project. Here are some suggestions:

Take a nap. Ideas will often emerge as you’re falling asleep or just waking up. Somehow that “twilight” region between sleeping and waking provides a natural conduit for ideas to flow from the subconscious into the conscious.

Take a walk. There’s nothing like getting outside and into the fresh air to give you a fresh perspective. The openness of the outdoors lifts that claustrophobic sense of feeling boxed-in by a project. Getting out and seeing some blue sky lets your imagination soar.

Exercise. It’s not just good for your body, it’s good for your brain. Rigorous exercise puts you in a different mental state and causes your brain to release chemicals that give you a sense of well-being.

Take a long, hot shower or bath. Don’t feel guilty about pampering yourself; it’s work-related. Standing in a steamy shower or letting Calgon take you away puts you in a mode of pure relaxation where your thoughts can freely drift. Those wanderings will often bring back useful solutions.

By no means are these the only methods for freeing your mind to do its best work. You can certainly try your own. Whatever you can do to stop consciously thinking about a project for a while enables your mind to work behind the scenes and to unlock all those ideas you have waiting to get out.

Try it for yourself and let us know how you do.

(Note: You can’t predict when an idea will emerge, so be prepared. Make sure you have a pen and notebook handy to jot down or sketch out the idea before it disappears into the ether. Don’t make the mistake of trying to recall it later on; write it down! Most ideas, particularly complex ones, quickly become cloudy unless captured immediately in written form. The mind is always active; ideas start undergoing alterations the moment you conceive them. Five minutes later, your original flash of insight may have morphed into something less useful. Write it down in its pure form the first moment you imagine it, and you’ll capture its essence.)