The copywriting opportunity

Ad by Hill Holiday/Boston

Ad by Hill Holiday/Boston

In the content avalanche of the past 10 years, an idea got lost. It was the once commonly held notion that language plays an indispensible role in the act of persuasion. While business leaders have spent the last decade focusing on design, copy has often been a last minute deliverable. And since anyone can write, everyone is.

One might make the mistake of concluding that we’ve become a visual society and, therefore, the copy doesn’t matter much. “Nobody reads,” I’m often told. If that perception is to be believed then we all walk around blind to language and somehow gaining all of our knowledge about the world around us through visual forms.

Okay, but we should ask ourselves this: If nobody reads, why do brands produce so much writing?

I’m no expert on cognitive dissonance, but I did write a paper on it in college. It’s when someone holds two beliefs that are inconsistent.

1)     “Nobody reads.”

2)     “We need copy for our homepage, brochure, email campaign, Facebook posts, blog, etc. etc.”

Nobody reads? Or nobody reads the company-centric, blasé, first-thought copy that most brands are generating? Hmmm.

Let’s bury that notion once and for all. Time starved though they are, people read what interests them. Brands have been treating copy like an object that goes into a hole in the design. As a result, it’s unworthy of people’s eyeballs. If instead brands were to seize the opportunity to trigger a genuine emotion, transmit their unique story, convey their personality, and establish a real connection with their visitors then, well, people will not just read what they wrote, people would buy what they sell. If brands treated their copy like the integral piece of the persuasion equation then they would stand out from their competitors and keep people coming back for more.  We are talking stock price upticks here.

There have been a few notable brands that have seized this opportunity (you know who you are). But it does take commitment and hard work. In order to get needle-moving writing, you must:

  1. Hire great writers skilled in the art of persuasion… and pay them fairly
  2. Bring the writers into the process at the beginning, not the end
  3. Brief the writers properly and let them have a voice in the content strategy
  4. Encourage the designers and writers to actively collaborate
  5. Give them enough time to explore the possibilities
  6. Foster a review process that protects good writing (and good design) from groupthink
  7. Give them results so that they can learn what worked and what didn’t

To be clear, I’m not saying that one can write as much as one wants as long as it’s brilliant. Yes, people are busy. Yes, there’s a reason why Twitter’s 140 character rule has caught on. Yes, bullet points, subheads, and brevity are a good idea. I’m just saying that perhaps, PERHAPS many (most?) brands out there have yet to unleash the power of great copy.