A few weeks ago, I had a client send me a couple of sentences that would be used on the company’s website sharing updates about sudden travel restrictions due to COVID-19. It was important, serious information that needed to be communicated to their audience…but it also sounded like it had been written by a lawyer to read at a press conference. Stiff. Stilted. Standoffish. Especially considering the audience the information was going to college students.
The client wanted me to make the sentences sound…better.
I changed four words – maybe five – and sent them back.
Soon after, I got a response from the client: “Ah…write like you speak. Thanks, we forgot that.”
The changes had been minor and the information was the same but the overall voice of the sentences was significantly different. Between the stress of rushing to prepare new updates because travel restrictions were constantly changing and having it all be very. serious. stuff. they fell into the trap of writing something that did not sound like the brand at all but instead like a soulless robot for the sake of trying to sound professional.
This made me realize that even experienced marketers can forget the basics. (It is also another example of why brands should hire copywriters.)
Whether you’ve been writing for years, have just been handed the task of taking over your company’s email sequences due to cutbacks, or are trying to promote your own products/services online for the first time, keep these copy mistakes in mind so you don’t make them yourself.
01. Making your copy about you
When given the chance to explain who you are or what you/your company does, people often make the mistake of writing just about themselves. Perhaps they mention the potential client/customer at the end. The majority of information on your website, sales pages, product descriptions or sales emails should be focused on the potential customer’s needs, wants, problems and how buying what you’re selling will benefit them.
You know you’ve seen those website about sections where people are like, “I quit my corporate 9-to-5 to follow my passions and now work for myself full time. Outside of work, my family is everything and I could never get enough of The Office and…coffee!”
Everybody likes The Office. And coffee is just a given.
Not only have you not offered the reader any information about why they should care about you but the little “fun facts” about yourself, in an attempt to build rapport, come across trite. LAME.
No one really cares about you, the brand or your product/service. They may want to learn more about your backstory and values, but first they care about what difference it all makes to them.
Bottom line: Your copy and messaging shouldn’t be about you, it’s about your potential client/customer/reader. Writing directly to the reader, and speaking to their needs and emotions, is the key to unlocking sales.
Imagine you’re looking for a masseuse and come across a website that says:
I’m a massage therapist who helps people with office syndrome.
It’s clear and there’s nothing technically wrong about the statement…but it also falls flat. Instead, it could say:
Stiff neck and shoulders from too many hours spent at your desk? I can start releasing that tension in just 30 minutes.
The first sentence says who the writer is and what they do. Of course, the reader can infer that the massage therapist may be a good fit for them, but the sentence is about the therapist – not the potential client. The way the second sentence is written implicitly acknowledges the reader by asking a question and mentions specific issues that apply to the ideal client they’re trying to attract.
02. Highlighting benefits instead of features
Along with focusing on the company instead of the customer, poor copy often focuses on a brand/product/service’s features rather than its benefits to the potential customer or client.
You build e-commerce websites? Your new product has 25 different uses? Great. Why does the customer care? How does it benefit them?
Make it clear what they’ll gain from purchasing your product or service and why it will provide them more of a benefit than if they had gone with your competitor. When taking in information about a brand, a reader almost always has one question in the back of their mind: “What’s in it for me?”. Make sure you answer that question.
Continually check your copy to see if it clearly shares the benefits to the reader. If not, adjust the wording.
This sentence tells it like it is, highlighting the features:
Vitamins with 23 essential nutrients.
The 23 nutrients are the vitamins’ main feature but all vitamins contain nutrients so we need to clearly explain the benefits of taking these specific vitamins:
Vitamins with 23 essential nutrients in a form your body can actually absorb and use.
Just adding the second part of the sentence clarifies the key benefits and why these 23 nutrients make a beneficial difference to the buyer.
03. Writing like you're trying to impress an English teacher
Even if you’re writing copy for a highly professional or corporate setting, it’s still possible to not come across as dry and robotic. For some reason, when people write – especially for business or about something serious – many immediately try to sound ultra-professional.
You know, like when you were trying to sound smart (and meet the word count) when writing an English paper in school and used words like “therefore” and “notwithstanding” – words you have never said in real life. There’s a time and place for this type of writing but it’s not your marketing copy.
But what about if you work for a very professional business, you ask? Not every brand matches with a laidback, casual voice peppered with slang. This is completely true but you can still be professional without being overly formal. Formal often comes across incredibly stiff, which usually doesn’t lead to someone feeling naturally connected to your brand.
You can still share complicated ideas, serious messages and key information in a way that’s professional, but also more relatable if you try to write like you speak. (Want to learn how to actually write like you speak? Scroll down to see more about the Beginner Copy Kit below…)
Instead of responding like this when you get a customer complaint:
We apologize that you weren’t pleased with your order. Customer satisfaction is our highest priority. Please contact us and we will provide a refund.
You could just as easily say this:
We’re sorry to hear about your experience. We love our products and, of course, hope our customers do too. Please contact our support team so we can make it right.
“Customer satisfaction is our highest priority” is a given for any company…or at least a given for what they’d say publicly. The first option sounds like a canned response and that the company is just trying to say what’s expected in the corporate world. The second option sounds more like a real person wrote it and that they actually care.
Found these tips helpful? Want more?
They’re pulled from my “10 Commandments of Killer Copy” that’s available in the Beginner Copy Kit.
If you’re trying to DIY your copy, this bundle of downloadable worksheets and PDFs is for you.