This morning, I heard something so horrible, it made me cringe.
It was a radio spot for a LASIK surgery center. The ad was written as a conversation between a man and woman, with the man asking questions of the woman who just got her procedure done and loved it. Sounds good, right?
This might have worked if the script was written along the lines of actual human speech, but the writing was rigid and robotic. When spoken aloud, it sounded incredibly fake and disingenuous, which did not inspire confidence in the company’s service.
Perhaps you’ve noticed dry, lifeless sentences in your company’s marketing collateral or are having your first go at writing copy yourself. Whatever the situation, you may have come down with a bad case of “robo-text.” So, how do you fix boring, stiff copy and start writing better? Here are 3 simple steps.
1. Stop using buzzwords. Right. Now.
Go ahead and read that title again, at least 3 times. Even if you don’t work in advertising, you’ve probably heard most of the common buzzwords that get bandied around offices, such as “share-of-voice”, “streamline”, and my personal favorite, “leverage.” As often as these kinds of words are used, it would be easy to think they make you sound smart. The truth is they do the exact opposite.
When you notice these words pop up in your copy, take a moment and think “What am I actually saying here?” Then go ahead and write out the clearer meaning. In addition to improving your copy, I guarantee doing this will make you better at selling your ideas to bosses and coworkers.
2. Tell a (great) story
Telling a story about your product or service can be very powerful…unless you write in the style of that LASIK commercial mentioned above. There are good ways to write a story and there are bad ways. Look for good examples that you can reference when you need inspiration. Think about your favorite books, news articles, commercials, and movies. Don’t be afraid to take some notes and try to define what about these materials made you stop, take notice, and continue reading/clicking/watching.
This is obviously not the only way to write material that sells, but it is effective. Just consider a print advertisement aimed at selling a winter coat:
- Boring example: Introducing the new [blank brand] winter coat. Made from the latest insulation technology that protects you from the elements. Double-lined and hand-stitched, with 10 sturdy pockets, this is a coat you’ll have for many years to come.
- Much more exciting example: As the blizzard raged outside, I tried once again to get my car to start, hoping that on the tenth try the engine would finally turn over. All it did was cough and sputter, followed by a deathly silence. I sat back and pulled my [blank brand] coat closer and sighed in frustration, watching the pale cloud of my breath in the frozen air. . Rescue didn’t come for another 6 hours, but I wouldn’t have survived that long had I not been wearing the warmest coat I have ever owned. To this day, [blank brand] is the only winter wear I buy.
Now, after reading that, which coat would you want? The one that has a bunch of nice features or the one that has nice features and saved someone’s life?
3. Have a conversation
Sometimes we all get stuck in a funk that’s not conducive to good writing. It happens, so don’t worry about it. If you’re stuck in robo-voice, consider the conversations in your life. For example, let’s say you were going to write a script for the LASIK commercial mentioned above. How would you go about it?
Instead of trying to pull natural conversation out of the air, you could pretend you’re having a conversation with your best friend. You just got this awesome procedure and you’re so excited that you can finally see without your glasses. How would you tell them about it, and how can you use that tone in your writing? It may help to listen to an actual conversation as an example. Record it, say it out loud, and transcribe it if you need to; just remember to ground it with clear, concise language.
Make your life easier: write like a pro
A common objection raised about all of these techniques is that they sound “wacky” or “unprofessional.” In fact, using the above techniques to communicate is more professional as it demonstrates your expert ability to get your point across.
One of the easiest ways to alienate potential customers is by writing too formally and not communicating what you have to offer them. Remember, people are not automatons, and to catch their attention you have to interest them. You can be unique, quirky even, if you have a clearly defined message that communicates what you are selling. A boring message will not be heard or remembered.
So go write something interesting!
What are some of your tips for improving bad copy?