As copywriters, should we simply be laying out the value of a particular product in the most concise, informative way possible?
Or, is it better to immerse our readers in a story that revolves around a specific brand?
This was the topic of discussion at Session #3 of the Direct Marketing Association Future Writers’ Labs, held in March 2016, entitled Storytelling vs Selling.
The Campaign for Great British Copywriting was launched by the DMA in order to strengthen what is, apparently, a rather lacklustre industry at present.
After all, if you believe multi-award-winning copywriter Tony Brignull, then “copywriting is dead”.
These five sessions represent just a small part of the overall campaign, aimed at teaching, encouraging and inspiring the next generation of copywriters.
But anyway, back to the original question…
Stories, Selling and Storyselling
Writing copy with the sole purpose of selling something obviously has many benefits.
But by sharing an engaging story with our reader, not only can we sell them a product, we can sell to them an entire brand.
Writing a good story isn’t easy. You need a strong beginning, middle and end. You need a narrative, and dialogue. A plot. Some form of tension, suspense or conflict. A backdrop. Intriguing characters.
And even once you have all of that, you still need to sell the brand.
There needs to be a moment which results in irreversible change. A moment that not only gets the reader to buy what you’re selling, but also gets them to sell your product for you – by telling all their family and friends about how great it is.
This is what I learned in Session #3. In Session #4, I put it into practice when tasked with writing a short story about any brand I could find inside Selfridges.
I chose Lego from the kid’s toy section. And managed to complete the story within the 90 minute timeframe.
It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had writing. And you can download it at the end of this post.
First, let me share what else this course can teach you …
How to Actually Start Writing
It’s a crazy concept. But the best way to become a better writer, is by writing.
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If putting pen to paper is something you struggle with, as I did, then give yourself a strict timeframe for the first draft.
Your first draft is never going to be great. Get it out of the way with as soon as possible, and you’ll have a boulder from which you can sculpt the second draft.
This is a key lesson taught at the Future Writers’ Labs, and it’s a great place to really put it into practice.
For example, the very first thing we did was write a short piece about a fellow copywriter. We had five minutes (then had to read our drafts out loud).
The pressure was on.
Throughout the course, we were issued with several similar challenges. Each time it got easier.
And each time we got better. All of us. I can only speak for myself, but these exercises were some of my best moments on the course.
Seriously, you’d be amazed at how much easier writing is when you just do it.
Write anything you want. Whatever comes to your head. Even if its rubbish, you’ll find that it almost always leads to a spark – and that’s all you need to get the ball rolling.
10 Real Copywriting Techniques That Work
At the end of our final session, Debi Bester, our course leader, asked us what advice we would give to somebody just starting out in copywriting.
Here are the ones I came up with – as well as some my fellow writers thought of.
(Sorry, I haven’t written in my notes who specifically came up with each one)
1. Think about whether you can sell something by telling us a story about it.
2. Make your copy clear and easy to understand. If you find it difficult to read out loud, it’s probably too complex.
3. When selling something, make it easy for the reader to understand what they have to do next.
4. Say something unique. Don’t resort to clichés.
5. Know your target audience. Imagine them as a single person, and speak directly to that one person.
6. Think about how your product will meet the reader’s needs.
7. Think about concerns your reader might have about the product, and try to reassure them.
8. Show empathy for your reader.
9. Have a core principle and/or value.
And finally, one that I am embarrassed to say I didn’t think of at the time …
Just start writing.
You can register for the DMA Future Writers’ Labs here. I’d highly recommend it.
Download my Lego Star Wars story here.