We sometimes talk about web copy and content like they’re the same, but they aren’t — they complement each other, but they also serve two distinct purposes.
Copy, traditionally, is what we use to make the sale. To use Albert Lasker’s phrase, it’s salesmanship in print (or pixels). Its aim is to persuade.
Content does everything else. It attracts an audience, engages their sustained attention, demonstrates your ability to solve their problems, and paves the way for an eventual purchase.
Content marketing is the new cool kid in advertising– because the web lets us use content to accomplish so much with relatively limited resources.
But really smart content marketers know enough to steal from their more traditional copywriting brothers and sisters. Because those old school elements of persuasion will make everything in your content work better.
Here are 7 strategies you’ll want to swipe from the rich tradition of direct response copywriting:
#1: Headlines, headlines, headlines
Copywriters know that if the headline is weak, the ad will never get read.
The same is true of your content. Put a vague, waffly, or obscure headline on the best piece of content the world has ever seen, and it still won’t get read. Even if you have a decent-sized audience, you still need to persuade them, day in and day out, to continue giving you their attention. Great headlines help with that.
Now the best headlines can’t help content that’s consistently thin and weak. But it will do a lot to increase audience engagement for quality content, as well as shares and links.
Smart content marketers will go grab our free Ebook on writing headlines and start mining it right away for tips on creating terrific headlines.
#2: Quit being so clever
Look, I get it. You wouldn’t be a writer if you didn’t have a secret love of clever wordplay.
Puns and in-jokes and linguistic play are the writer’s delight. Just realize … they may not be your audience’s delight.
Writerly craft is a good thing. Thinking carefully about language will make it clearer and more powerful, and that’s what you want. But great copywriters know that cleverness too often leads directly to audience confusion.
A dash of cleverness here and there can add seasoning, so if you do use it, use it sparingly — and never in a headline.
#3: Develop your big idea
As a content marketer, you’re not (I hope) writing endless pages of dry, factual information that merely answers questions.
You’re publishing information that both entertains and educates your reader — and you’re doing it in the framework of a Big Idea.
Think “1000 Songs in Your Pocket.” You’re looking for the instant communication of a desirable benefit, compressed into a memorable statement. It’s not always easy to find, but if you keep looking, it’s there.
For those of you who are members of our premium marketing community, Authority, Brian Clark and I did a workshop recently on the Big Idea — go and grab the replay for that, and study it. We also did a tagline clinic last week that takes the Big Idea and shows how it works on your site.
Don’t just be another writing or design or fashion or parenting blogger. Frame your content with a compelling Big Idea.
#4: Do your research
The best copywriters are the most tenacious researchers. Like miners, they dig, drill, dynamite, and chip until they have carloads of valuable ore. John Caples advised me once to gather seven times more interesting information than I could possibly use. ~ legendary copywriter Gary Bencivenga
If you’re writing authoritative content, it only follows that you’re also an obsessive student of your topic.
Dig deeper. Scour sites like Abe for valued out-of-print books on your topic. Get beyond the “big blogs” everyone in your topic reads — go to the rare, obscure resources, especially if they’re chewy and difficult for the average reader.
Dig, drill, dynamite, and chip. Don’t just be an expert — be a dork about your topic. The depth and richness you’ll gain will show.
(Incidentally, the best Big Ideas usually come out of compulsive research — combined with some creativity and enough time to think carefully about the problem.)
#5: Find your starving crowd (then listen to them)
Notorious copywriting genius Gary Halbert liked to tell his students that the key to a successful restaurant was not location, great food, or low prices — it was the presence of a starving crowd that needed and wanted what your restaurant had to offer.
And of course, the same is true for any kind of business.
When it comes to direct marketing, the most profitable habit you can cultivate is the habit of constantly being on the lookout for groups of people (markets) who have demonstrated that they are starving (or, at least hungry) for some particular product or service. ~ Gary Halbert
Your “starving crowd” is your audience — the people who are hungry for what you have to say, in the way that you say it.
The terrific thing about building a hungry audience is you can then turn around and ask (or observe) them to find out what, specifically, they’re hungry for.
Traditional direct marketers used expensive response lists to find this out. In the online content world, we can gain a lot of that knowledge through listening to what our audiences have to say, both on our own sites and in forums or other social media.
When you know what your audience wants, you can create the perfect product or service to meet that desire. As famed ad man Bill Bernbach said:
Advertising doesn’t create a product advantage. It can only convey it…. No matter how skillful you are, you can’t invent a product advantage that doesn’t exist.
Getting the product or service right is great marketing — and when you pair it with solid persuasion skills, you’ll be unstoppable.
#6. Know where you’re going
Writing direct response copy always serves a specific purpose. You’re writing to stimulate a specific behavior. If you get that behavior, you win. If you fail to get it, you lose.
The economics of content marketing allow us to experiment more, but you still want to develop an idea of what, specifically, each piece of content you create is intended to accomplish.
You might be looking to widen your audience, get more email subscriptions, educate your market about an upcoming product … there are lots of goals you can accomplish with content.
But drifting around and publishing “to see what happens” should be kept to a minimum.
Our Content Marketing Strategy Ebook will give you a deeper look at the goals behind different types of content. (That and 14 other useful marketing books are part of your free membership in MyCopyblogger.)
#7: Don’t be boring
Tell the truth but make truth fascinating. You know, you can’t bore people into buying your product. You can only interest them in buying it. ~ David Ogilvy
We’re fans of David Ogilvy around here, as D.O. was a longtime champion of education-based marketing.
But he knew very well that in order to make it work, you have to make that education fascinating.
- Use personality
- Use great imagery
- Use your Big Idea
- Use reader-friendly formatting
- Use humor
- Use controversy
Not to clownishly grab attention, but to make your good advice and useful content more interesting and readable.
How about you?
Here at Copyblogger, we have literally hundreds of traditional copywriting tips that we like to apply to content marketing. It’s what the blog was founded on.
Do you have a favorite old-style copy tip that works brilliantly in the new world of content and social media? Let us know about it in the comments …