The following is a review of the 2nd session from Sift Media’s Digital Marketing 101 Workshop, looking at how to produce effective copywriting and strong calls to action.

Some of you may have seen the text from the image at the top of this page previously. Strangely, I first read that exact message on the back of a toilet door and, as someone who has a fascination with these things (copy that is, not toilet doors!) it caught my eye. Ok, so it may seem mildly interesting, but what does it actually have to do with writing ad copy?

Firstly, it suggests to me that the message you put together for a campaign is more important than the precise wording. That’s not to say that grammar and spelling isn’t important, just that it is possible to produce a strong message with less than brilliant wording and still get the response you want from your reader… on the other hand, a poor message with perfect wording will fail to generate that response.

Secondly, the fact that we can easily read the copy in the above message shows how well we skim-read text. Whether we are aware of it or not, the brain is very effective at scanning copy quickly to identify what is being put in front of it. This has a direct impact on producing copy, highlighing in particular the importance of keeping things clear and concise.

I should point out that for the purpose of this post, I’m really only taking into consideration copy for email, landing pages on websites, and social posts – after all, when it comes to your ad campaigns these are likely to be your first point of contact with the reader. A lot of the rules will still apply to longer form content such as blog posts, guides or whitepapers (although they're likely to go into a greater level of depth where you may start to take into consideration things such as SEO principles which is something for a whole other blog post).

So how do you compete in the age of information overload?

We're assuming here that you have already found the audience you wish to engage; Whether that’s one of the Sift Media communities, your social media followers or even delegates at a trade show or similar event. Now you need to put yourself in their place. Think about their challenges, their environment, how much time they have to read your communications and then think about what that individual really wants to hear. Your copy has to resonate with the reader and do so quickly, so don’t beat about the bush. Be relevant, get to the point, use benefits of your product rather than list the features and use a compelling call to action (we’ll come to that later). And the best way to do all this..?

Tell a good story

After all, when we are very young storytelling is the way we learn about so many things. Most childrens books have a beginning (scene setting/highlighting an issue or problem), a middle (presenting a solution) and an end (the result or conclusion). Educating or informing B2B professionals is no different!

When thinking about your brand’s message in your next campaign, as tempting as it is to go straight into selling the benefits of your service don’t do it. It may be suitable for a small minority that are aware of your service and perhaps in the right place of their buying cycle, but for the most part you’ll do better to show empathy by highlighting you understand their pain points and explain what can be done to make things better. At that point you can discuss how your product or service can directly help and suggest what the result is likely to be. If you can tell a story using an example of case study then so much the better.

The secret to amazing copywriting is ensuring that every sentence makes your reader want to read the next. If you tell a story well that will come naturally.

So far we’ve touched on some key principles in copywriting, but in rather generic terms. Using the same text, voice, tone and length will not get the best results across all marketing channels or platforms… What follows are some tried and tested tips for some of the more popular channels.

Email copy
Should be: Enticing, action oriented, clear, impactful, and concise
Should include: Call to action and compelling imagery
(the principles here apply whether running your own direct email campaigns or bespoke emails through third parties)

Email newsletter copy
Should be: Personable, informative, consistent, educational, non-salesy, and impactful
Should include: Divided sections, short sentences and strong calls to action
(Remember also to think about your subject line… Email marketers are familiar with words such as "free" which are generally to be avoided in emails since they tend to trigger spam filters. A recent Mailchimp study found three fairly innocuous words that didn't trigger spam filters, but did negatively affect open rates. They are: Help, Percent off, and Reminder. It's worth researching these negative terms from time-to-time.)

Website/landing page copy
Should be: Informative, action-oriented for leads, clear and consistent
Should include: Important information above the fold, features, benefits and experiences, keywords, links and calls to action
(Remember, if you really have to include a lot of text then use two calls to action – one above the fold and another below the text)

Social channels

Should be: less than 140 characters (although the average Twitter handle is around 10 characters so aim for less than 130 for easier retweeting…), friendly, and personable
Should include: Links, hashtags, @replies, retweets and questions (so instead of ‘Some words not to use in email subject lines…’ use ‘What words should you avoid in email subject lines?)

Should be: Personable, professional, and precise
Should include: Shareable information, questions, and links

Should be: Short, shareable, and action oriented
Should include: Questions, an ask for action, images, links and videos

Remember that for all social posts tone and length may vary, but you need to keep messaging consistent when supporting a campaign. Remember the principles of storytelling apply.

7 Golden rules to copywriting success

1. Remember who you’re talking to and keep it relevant – It only takes one irrelevent line of copy and you can lose you reader.

2. You’re only speaking to one individual – Your copy must reflect that (remember what we said earlier about putting yourself in their place).

3. Grab attention and hold it – Story telling will help you do this.

4. Focus on benefits over features – Discuss the reality of what your product/service can do for them, not a simply a list of what it can do.

5. Less is almost always more – Think about the time-availability of your prospect in relation to your content. If you’re running a text advert in an email bulletin or you have a landing page as part of your campaign, you’ll need to grab attention and get your point across quickly if you’re to generate a response. Conversely if you’re producing a thought-leadership document for download this is the time to prove your expertise and go into a little more detail.

6. Mind your tone – Think of your copy as a conversation, not a public service address. More often than not your tone should be friendly and informative, persuasive but not coercive, and above all things, not patronising.

7. Provoke a reaction – Reference real-life experiences, include illustrations, even use a metaphor built from the beginning to the conclusion… something that will make them want to find out more.

And a few things not to do…

X. Try not to use jargon – you’ll always alienate at least some of your audience.

X. Over use of capitals is not a good idea – NOBODY LIKES BEING SHOUTED AT!

X. Too many metaphors and similes can get confusing and a little silly.

X. Don’t use too many words when one will do.

X. Don’t forget your call to action – it happens!

Part 2 of this blog post, looking at calls to action along with some important do’s and don’ts will appear here soon. In the meantime you can read a summary of all sessions at Sift Media’s Digital Marketing 101 Workshop here. Alternatively why not download our free Campaign Optimisation Guide which is full of tips and advice on getting the most from your marketing investment.