You have to start from the default position that nobody cares.
– Mike MacKinnon
If you agree with Steve Martin’s words in one of my favourite articles, you’re one of the lucky few for whom writing is an easy, joyful experience. But for many of us, a blank screen with a blinking cursor can be the stuff of nightmares.
When it comes to marketing, your copy should compel an audience to pay attention, educate, build trust and then take action. When you’re fighting to get noticed in a world with very short attention spans, what’s a writer to do?
There is a wealth of advice from authoritative sources like the Content Marketing Institute or HubSpot about what to do when writing as a marketer. But when I sat down with a local content expert, we discussed what not to do.
1. Don’t assume you have a captive audience.
Let’s say you’re writing an article announcing the appointment of a new executive, or an ad promoting a new product. It’s exciting news to the board or the executive, but don’t assume that if you put it out there, the excitement will just catch on. “You have to start from the default position that nobody cares,” says MacKinnon. “You have to give them a reason to care.”
One example of this error in action is repetitive email subject lines found in newsletters. If every email in your inbox starts with a subject like “X Company Newsletter this week,” how likely are you to open any one of them? The entire purpose of a subject line is to get a reader to the first paragraph.
There is no silver bullet to make a reader care. Don’t tell the story because you as the marketer care about it. Rather, concentrate on understanding what problem the business can solve for the target audience. To answer that question, you need to know a) your market niche and b) your competitive advantage. MacKinnon advises us to “do the research and discovery before you decide on the message. The more planning you do in advance, the better product you end up with.”
2. Trying to retrofit the strategy to the message.
We’ve all heard that content is king. However, if you don’t consider the platform the king is standing on, it might collapse. For example, you can’t transplant your favourite messaging from your webpage to a Twitter post without considering a) what the Twitter user expects to see in that channel and b) limitations of the channel itself.
For another example, consider the Google homepage. According to MacKinnon, “Too much content is the enemy of conversion. The Google homepage displays the best content strategy in the world.” Clever wordplay it is not, but the content that does appear on the page is all about removing obstacles.
“You have to make it as easy as possible for the user to accomplish what they want to accomplish,” says MacKinnon. Sometimes your content can work the hardest by staying out of the way.
3. Writing alone without any feedback.
Readers of my previous article shouldn’t be surprised by my position about the dangers of involving your creative team too late. It can be a content killer, and MacKinnon agrees.
“Client-supplied copy disempowers creative teams,” he says. “A designer can’t give me a photo and say, ‘give me some text’, any more than I can give copy to a designer and say ‘make something out of this.’ “
Writing in a silo can limit the potential of conceptual thinking that aids powerful campaigns, so trust and involve your creative resources – as MacKinnon says, “designers are often much better writers than they think they are.”
Writing compelling content for marketing isn’t an easy task, and is often equal parts art and science. Start by prioritizing the needs of the audience. Leverage creative partners early in the process and start shaping your content. The aim is to close the gap between what your audience wants and what your brand uniquely delivers. Build a content strategy around this and you’ll start to see better results with your marketing copy.
Resources recommended by Mike MacKinnon:
- Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Advertising by Luke Sullivan
- Muse by Clio
- Semrush Blog
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