Archive | Writing Without Waffle

It’s all about the packaging.

CatWe live in a world where books are judged by their covers. People are judged by their appearance. And prices are judged by the packaging.

Of course, the quality of what you offer should be what matters. Your value should be based on what’s inside. What’s on the outside shouldn’t make a difference.

But it does.

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Checking primary sources

solar panelsYou can’t believe everything you read.

Some years ago, I was asked to write a leaflet about solar panels. About 50K copies were to be printed and distributed to households around Britain, so it was a high profile project.

The client gave me an article from the Guardian about some research that supported the benefits he wanted to claim.

Something in that article made me think, hmm, this is just a teeny tiny bit too convenient. Let me just double-check the facts.

The Guardian article revealed that the story had originally been published in the Daily Mail, so I tracked down their article.

It took a slightly different angle on the situation, and revealed the title of the actual study. After some more digging, I uncovered the original research paper that the Mail had quoted.

And…

I found that the journalists had misinterpreted the data. The actual results didn’t support my client’s claim at all.

I had to go back and tell him we couldn’t use inaccurate evidence, and we devised another marketing approach instead.

I’m so glad my journalism training kicked in at such an important time. He risked being ridiculed and losing brand value and reputation.

  • Get your facts right
  • Don’t believe everything you read in the press
  • Find a USP you can actually back up

Remember, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

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Where are recruiters going wrong?

WrongAs you may know, I spend a lot of time travelling up and down the country with Mitch Sullivan, training recruiters how to write better job ads. As I’m a generalist copywriter, you might be wondering what I can teach them, and whether the lessons are applicable to you too.

Quite naturally, recruiters often think the way to write ads is the way that every other recruiter writes them. However, if you want to stand out, you need to be different.

Innocent Drinks is often held up as a paragon of virtue when it comes to tone of voice in their copy. The copy is ‘on brand’ on their website, newsletter, blog, packaging and even their vans. Yet, surprisingly, their job ads read much the same as everyone else’s.

Like many companies, their careers page shows the first few lines as a teaser with a ‘read more’ link to the rest of the ad. The trouble is that most of the opening teasers are top-down – written from the company’s point of view, not the reader’s:

  • “We’re going through an exciting period of growth…”
  • “To help us achieve this we’re looking for…”
  • “We’re passionate about…”
  • “We’ve come a long way from selling smoothies in West London in 1999…”
  • “2017 was a great year for us, there was [sic] loads of great new products, we expanded into new regions and the business grew really well..”

The opening of any ad is the most important bit, as it determines whether or not people will read on. Not only does the Innocent approach fail to differentiate one job from another at a glance, but the copy fails the ‘who cares’ test, as it’s all about the company, not what’s in it for the reader.

Having assessed hundreds of ads, I notice that in-house and agency recruiters tend to repeat the same mistakes. And they don’t just apply to job ads.

Here are some of the most common copy mistakes so you can avoid them:

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Words a copywriter would never use

WordsThere are certain words a copywriter would never use.

‘Solutions’ is one of them.

One reason is because ‘solution’ returns 642,000,000 results when searched on Google. Wow. If there are that many solutions available, yours is highly unlikely to stand out.

I realise that people use the word to suggest they solve problems. But it doesn’t work. It’s clunky and pointless.

To demonstrate what nonsense it is, here’s what @DaveTrott tweeted yesterday:

Just had a nutrition solution, so I might go outside for some garden solution, or down the pub for some leisure solution, then the telly for some entertainment solution, and off to bed for some relaxation solution. Then tomorrow morning up and catch the travel solution to work.

A copywriter would never write: ‘An internet marketing firm specialising in e-commerce solutions’.

We’d write: ‘An internet marketing firm specialising in e-commerce’.

Or, even better, something that is more customer-focused: ‘We help improve the performance of your e-commerce website’.

The only time a copywriter would use ‘solution’ is when writing about chemistry e.g. ‘A solution of ammonia in water’.

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Why your website is like a restaurant

RestaurantWhen you click a link on a website and a dropdown or popup list appears, it’s called a menu.

That’s not the only reason why I say your website is like a restaurant.

I was recently asked to comment on a client’s leaflet, which listed all 11 services they offer.

Quite sensible, you might think.

Trouble is, the people that want service 1 are probably not interested in services 2 to 11, and vice versa.

With most people being too busy to think, there is no point in distracting and confusing them with irrelevant information.

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Copywriting has an image problem

TypewriterAs you may know, ‘copy’ is any text that is uploaded to the internet or printed on paper.

Copy: Middle English (denoting a transcript or copy of a document): from Old French copie (noun), copier (verb), from Latin copia ‘abundance’ (in medieval Latin ‘transcript’, from such phrases as copiam describendi facere ‘give permission to transcribe’).

The problem with the word ‘copywriting’ is that many people don’t know they need it.

Some people think they can do it themselves. But just because someone knows how to throw a sentence together doesn’t mean they can write copy.

Copywriting is not just about writing words that flow in a grammatically correct way. It’s the art of writing words that persuade the reader to take an action, change their attitude or spend their money. It’s a craft and a skill that overlaps with marketing, psychology and sometimes SEO.

Admittedly, it’s always been the case that people think they can write their own copy. But now there’s added confusion.

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Copy disasters of the month

Banana skinPeople often send me copy mistakes they find, and I can’t help proofreading as I go about my day. Here are some disasters I’ve seen in the past month, with added commentary.

Opening an online chat with Apple Support:

Hey there, Jackie! I am Senior Advisor, Brandon! First off, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to work with us on your issue. How are you doing?”

Brandon may be trying to be friendly but this is not helpful. All I want to do is find a solution to my problem. Not engage in inane chit-chat with too many exclamation marks.

But it got worse. Here’s how the chat ended:

“Since it worked prior to changing what was changed, then something may need to be changed again.”

Er, yes. Although that’s not exactly the answer I was hoping for.  

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How to make your copywriter smile

SmileIt will come as no surprise to learn that we copywriters are a tiny bit obsessed with words. Not only the ones we write, but also the ones we read.

This enquiry popped into my inbox recently recently, and it made me smile.

“This website is so secret I’m actually writing this blindfolded in a cave from an unknown location.”

I can’t wait to dig out my trusty old Secret Squirrel typewriter and get started on that project.

In a recent LinkedIn conversation, I enjoyed this exchange with a stranger who wanted to connect with me:

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