Let’s hear it for the Ugly Duckling of marketing

Today we welcome my good friend and fellow scribe Stephen Church – a brilliant, naturally talented copywriter whose refreshing approach has gained many fans in our neck of the woods here in England. In this article Steve laments the way words have become the poor relation of website creativity – something I used to lament, too, when I was working as a copywriter. Over to Steve…

ugly duckling of marketing

Goodbye, ugly duckling. Hello, elegant swan.

Website words really matter – but no-one seems to care

Words. Do you remember them? Those little squiggly things, line after line, neatly laid out across the page. I’ll tell you something. They matter. They really do.

And yet – it’s odd (and deeply, desperately disappointing to professional copywriters) how the value of words, and the skill required to craft them effectively, often goes unappreciated. Yes – we copywriters feel unloved.

Our product, is the forgotten, neglected, sibling of her glamorous, popular and successful sisters – design and functionality.

Words are indeed the Ugly Duckling of marketing.

Ask any web designer. More often than not, their clients are almost childlike with excitement about how their new website will look and what it will do for their business. They lie awake at night visualising the cool imagery and amazing functionality.

But what role in these dreams is there for the website’s words? The answer?  Zilch.

When the web designer raises the topic of content – those annoying little word-things, the client’s interest instantly wanes. He glances at his watch and starts muttering about setting off to avoid the rush-hour traffic. For this excitable client, and for so many of his fellow business owners, the thought that words would demand anything but the most cursory consideration, had never crossed his mind.

How my poor heart aches when I hear remarks like this –

I’ve never needed a copywriter. My husband always checks it over. He’s always been a great speller.
Oh, I do all the copy myself. I’m good at English. I got A* at A Level.

You have to travel a fair way back to reach the year I studied English A Level. Alright, I admit it, and keep this to yourself – it was 45 years ago. But, as far as I recall, not much of the syllabus was taken up with – ‘How to write commercially effective web copy.’

Nor did headline writing, calls to action, correct use of anchor text, keyword research or Search Engine Optimisation feature particularly strongly.

I’d love to know: do these self-made copywriters bask in the same confidence about other life skills? Do they carry out their own domestic re-wiring? Would they plumb in their own radiators and service their own combi-boiler? Would they merrily write the code for their own website? Possibly … but, more likely, the answer is ‘no’.  They’d call in the experts.

Why should content writing be any different?

Words do the heavy lifting

We all recognise the need for good web design. A visually engaging website is vital for both grabbing and keeping the attention of the visitor.

But, and it’s huge, whopping ‘but’, however attractive the graphics and layout might be, they are merely a beautiful canvas for the copy.

For more information about copywriting on HTWB, click on this link.

Finding the right words, written in the right ‘voice’, isn’t only critical for effective web copy. It’s just as important for:

  • Catalogues
  • Newsletters
  • Emails
  • Sales Letters
  • Letters of introduction
  • Press releases
  • Case studies
  • Whitepapers

Appealing design and graphics are, of course, vital to initially attract the casual browser and to make the browsing experience a pleasant one.  But – it’s words that do the heavy lifting.

So, what makes good copy? Is good copy lovingly-constructed long sentences worthy of Jane Austen or Charles Dickens? Is good copy long, ‘professional-sounding’ words? Does good copy slavishly follow the rules of grammar? Guess what … the answer’s ‘no’.

So, what then, is good content?

That’s easy.  Good content is … content that does the job!

And before we embark on a web copywriting project, we must ask what that job is.

What are these words for? What do we want them to achieve? Do we want them to inspire potential clients to get in touch? Do we want them to inform clients about the latest developments in our sector? Do we want them to prompt the reader to sign up for a newsletter?

Our next question is ‘Who?’

Who are our words for? Can we paint a picture of our target reader? Are we writing an email to a prospective client, a final demand to a late-paying customer, a valentine card to a loved-one, a note to the milkman (or, I suppose, a valentine card to the milkman, although these are somewhat less frequent).

No matter who our reader is, we need to picture them in your mind’s eye. We need to consider their character, their behaviour patterns. The more we can get into their shoes, the more effective our words will be at pushing the right buttons.

All we want … is clarity!

Good content needs to be clear, concise and compelling. Clear words avoid confusion. Concise words convey the message. Compelling words promote action. The greatest of these is clarity.

Goodbye, ugly duckling. Hello, elegant swan.

It’s time to give words the recognition they deserve – to elevate them from the status of ‘ugly duckling’ to that of much loved, elegant swan. After all, words make the offer, words seal the deal, words … make stuff happen.

Stephen holds regular workshops. He’s holding the next, ever-popular “Write Winning Words for Your Website“ just outside Northampton, England on Friday June 15th. Find out more here.

words ugly duckling of marketing

Stephen Church

Stephen Church is the owner and founder of Copywriter Pro. He specialises in writing clear, concise and compelling content. For over 30 years, Stephen has helped businesses to improve their customer engagement. Following an early career as an English Teacher, Stephen spent many years in the retail sector, producing content for Direct Mail, Catalogues and E-Commerce.

How important do you feel the words are in marketing?

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