When you’re being paid to write there’s one thing you don’t want to happen: running out of words.
It happened to me shortly after I began working as a freelance copywriter. The problem wasn’t that my vocabulary had somehow been depleted, but that I’d forgotten who my audience was.
As a copywriter, you might be peddling designer shirts in the morning and pest-control products in the afternoon. But unless you’re a natural-born salesperson (and few writers are), flitting from one job to another means you could end up writing something that is totally wrong for your audience. Or just plain bad.
Time is money to a freelancer so anything that can ease the transition between jobs is a welcome relief. That’s why I’m sharing my three sources of inspiration to hopefully help you focus on — and hook — your target reader.
1. Home-shopping channels
I once wrote landing-page content for several collections of a large online fashion retailer. Gradually, I noticed that I was beginning to repeat the same old words, most of them adjectives like chic, classic, timeless, beautiful. I got so exasperated by my lack of originality that I gave up and turned on the TV!
I just happened to land on a home-shopping channel. As I watched the presenters tirelessly sell a range of sandals for 60 straight minutes, I realized how much I had to learn about the art of the hard sell.
Whether you’re writing advert copy, a blog post or your own website’s “about” page, your goal is to sell. Even when you’re not selling a product, you’re selling your words, your voice, your credibility to the reader on the other side. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Good sales writing should lead with the biggest benefit to the reader. But I was so disengaged from the products that I was lazily relying on meaningless descriptors.
These home shopping presenters, on the other hand, reeled off uses and features that I’d never even thought of, often turning a product’s cons into pros in order to bolster its selling points. By focusing on features, an otherwise lackluster, flimsy-soled pump, for example, can become a “feather-light and flexible holiday shoe that won’t make a dent in your baggage allowance.”
While your writing will need to be better crafted than the home shopping channels’ rapid-fire hard sell, watching how they market items to their viewers can help refresh your vocabulary and prompt you to think about the ways customers interact with a product.
2. Vlog reviews
If you need more inspiration on selling a certain product to a specific demographic, watching a few vlog reviews on YouTube could be a quick and easy solution.
Nowadays there are vloggers from almost every corner of the market. Vloggers with a core audience are often sent products to test and review, mainly so brands know how that audience responds to new items.
If you watch a pro vlogger at work, you’ll get a sense of the words, phraseology, references and features that help connect a specific product to its target audience. Tutorials can also help you identify new uses for a product.
Above all, vlog reviews can provide a glimpse into the most important benefits and features for your target reader.
But remember, the aim is not to appropriate that vlogger’s style of address. Just because you’re pitching a younger market doesn’t mean your client wants you to go in there all LOLZ and hashtags blazing. Find a middle ground that maintains the integrity and voice of the brand and that of your target reader.
3. Personal essays
You may not care much for the content of personal essays, but a one-to-one approach is key to writing advertising copy and blog posts that connect with customers and followers.
Personal essays are so popular because their voice is direct, confident and trustworthy, engaging the reader on a strong emotional level. That’s why writing as if you are speaking to one person helps gain your reader’s attention and win them over.
Central to this is knowing who your reader is. Even having someone in mind that you know personally makes it easier to sell the features and benefits of your product, service or experience, so long as they fit the demographic.
But unlike a personal essay, the subject isn’t you; it’s your reader. While your aim is to channel the intimacy of the first-person voice, you need to ensure you address the reader throughout.
For that, you need to reverse the conversation.
Your copy can still have the flair of an easy lunchtime gossip over a hot cup of coffee so long as you don’t forget to prioritize the reader. That means addressing their wants, needs and concerns, right down to the day-to-day challenges they face.
In short, use your writing to show your reader that you’re listening — that you know them. You’re the friend who is deeply invested in their life, who cares about what they think and who values their time.
Even if your client does not want you to use the second-person voice to address the reader directly, your writing can still be authentic, warm and relatable.
Copywriters, what strategies do you use to keep your writing fresh?