Top 5 copywriting tips from Max Vinall

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As a writer with nearly 30 years’ experience (currently creative director at Jellyfish, and Copywriting, Branding and Tone of Voice trainer), let me tell you one thing:

The words matter.

Whether you write for the web, social, TV, film, the arts, the press, even road signs or the sides of industrial containers, your copy does something amazing.

It connects and clarifies, it engages and educates, it changes minds and lives. It saves lives. It opens eyes, makes people love you and follow you and trust you and want more from you and even tell others about you.

Alright, maybe not quite all those if you do the container thing for a living, but you get the point.

And in the world of marketing - my world - I’ve seen that you can funnel all your budget into strategy and planning, but if you don’t understand your audience and don’t adjust your Tone of Voice accordingly, your marketing efforts will fall entirely flat.

‘70% of all campaign performance is driven by the creative’ - Google

Thanks, Google. Now, if you happen to be in Strategy or Planning, I apologise. But then again, if you are in Strategy or Planning you won’t be reading this. You’ll be on your own in a hotel room at 3am crying onto your room service menu because you use words like ‘customer orientated lead gen’ and ‘performance-based metrics’ in conversation with your children.

So, for those of us who appreciate the world-changing power of amazing copy, this is for you. Because when it comes to creating effective messaging, growing awareness, engaging your market, building loyalty, increasing advocacy and winning over ad-immune customers and prospects, the copy nails it every time.

‘Content is not king. It is a wildly eccentric, energetic, colourful, and gorgeous Mad Hatter of a dictator.’

And for those of you who’ve skipped all the stuff above because you just want to see the tips, here we go with jazz hands:

1. Copy is a conversation

Writing is essentially a one-to-one relationship with your reader. However big your audience - even if it runs into millions - your copy is really only ever being read by one person at a time. And that one person will decide whether they feel you’re talking to them and that you understand them completely. So write to just them, and no-one else. And be interesting. Be valuable. Be natural. (And of course, if you have the in-house technology to personalise your work with the recipient’s name, location, weather, traffic updates etc, do it.)

2. ‘What's in it for me?’

‘People aren’t interested in you. They’re interested in themselves.’ The rather wonderful Dale Carnegie said that, and he wrote ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People’ (which just about sums up what all copy is there to do). So make sure you focus on why your product/service matters and why it’s of value, and lead with that. Don’t waffle, don’t talk about how great you or your company are, just say why this matters to your audience. Otherwise they’ll go and read something else and never come back.

3. Don't be dull


However mundane or insignificant you think your project/task/job is, it isn’t your duty to communicate that to your readers. Your role is to take that awful brief with the grey product and add life and energy and interest - even humour - to make the damn thing zing off the page. And there’s always a way to do it. Think off the wall, be brave and breezy, do something unexpected and cheeky and take a different angle. If this is for an equally grey client, your loopiness may be accepted, it may not (probably not). But it’ll show them what you can do as a writer and what their brand could be if they grew a pair. Look at those meerkats selling insurance, a drumming Cadbury gorilla, models wetting themselves with excitement because of the upcoming sale at Harvey Nichols. Everyday stuff made joyous and memorable. So, get in there.

4. Know your audience

This goes waaaaaay beyond ‘18-35, male’. Knowing your market, understanding their moods, opinions, mindset, attitude, needs and budget, matters so much. Look at the face-slapping cock up that was Pepsi’s ad with Kendall Jenner. Following the marches and arrests and social upheaval of Black Lives Matter, Pepsi thought the world would relate to their take on it. So, they arranged for an outraged KJ to ‘storm’ out of her photo shoot in pouty protest to end this injustice once and for all by giving a grumpy policeman a can of bleuuurgh.



More recently, M&S decided to call their campaign for breast cancer awareness ‘Bosom Buddies’ and back it up with the tagline ‘Two Is Stronger Than One’. Featuring Holly Willoughby chatting about how important friends were, actual cancer sufferers in their thousands screamed this fluff down by pointing out that when you have one breast removed, that line isn’t the first phrase you’d want to hear. There are many more utterly baffling campaigns out there, but you get it. Gauge the mood, do the sentiment analysis, study the social media opinions, and don’t sit in a boardroom when you want to come up with a great idea.

5. Read it out loud

There are, of course, way more than five top copy tips out there as any Google search will show you. All are gold, probably, but one of my absolute proven favourites is to read your copy out loud when you’re done. And there’s a good reason to do this because you write in one way and speak in quite another, and you’ll hear the difference when you read your copy out to yourself. Do that, and now you’re actually hearing what your reader will hear when they read your copy. Chances are it could be smoother, shorter, simpler. So rewrite it until it is.

Of course, we could also look at proofreading, grammar, the power of the headline and the strapline, learn how to avoid using cliches, study the Oxford comma, the apostrophe, understand the value of creating your own Brand Essence, Brand Personality, Brand Values, learn how to write in the positive and create more effective emails... but you’d need a truly eye-poppingly splendid one-day course to do all that.

And it’s funny I mention that because every Creativepool reader will get an exclusive 10% discount when they attend my Copywriting, Branding and Tone of Voice Training Session in the Shard (or at your place of business if it’s nicer than the Shard).


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