13 Tips for Writing Authentic Copy
Authenticity is becoming the mantra for more consumer and B2B brands. As copywriters, we’re advised that customers are shying away from hard-sell hype, so it’s up to our advertising copy and online content to communicate about the brand in the form of authentic copy.
From what I gather, this means you and I are writing for people who want useful information that’s accessibly presented to help them get answers to questions, solve problems and make informed decisions. Here are 13 tips that apply to anything from web pages and emails to pop-up ads, Facebook posts and direct mail postcards.
1. Know Your Audience: Start by understanding who you’re talking to, then use words that connect with these folks. Remember, some are readers, others are scanners.
TIP: Talk to real-live customers and industry influencers, one-to-one. Use their words in your copy and content, not the words of the marketing department or engineering team.
2. Read Reviews: Dig into customer comments and reviews to learn what customers really think and the words they use to talk about their thoughts.
TIP: Reuse customer reviews and comments in homepage carousels, pop-ups, direct mail pieces and more. Doing so, you’re empowering objective voices to speak openly about your brand.
3. Speak With 1 Voice: Although you have different people writing for different channels, everyone needs to speak with the same voice. If they don’t, the lack of cross-channel authenticity runs the risk of confusing your audience.
4. Nix the Jargon: People who provide writers with product and marketing input are often the worst about using industry-speak or internal jargon. It’s not customer-friendly.
5. Deliver Details: Specificity builds credibility and trust. Details establish you as a trusted authority.
TIP: Don’t round off numbers — touting you’ve been in business 23 years is more credible than saying over 20.
6. Pay Attention to Punctuation: Although I’m a big (!) fan of the exclamation point, I recommend using it sparingly in your content. Why? It’s perceived as being too hard-sell, because it indicates strong feelings or shouting.
7. Only Make Promises You Can Keep: The guarantee is your brand’s promise to do the right thing. It establishes trust with first-time tryers and fence-sitters.
TIP: A customer-focused guarantee is short and to-the-point, without fine print or lengthy disclaimers. Don’t let an attorney write yours.
8. Avoid Keyword Cramming: Otherwise known as keyword stuffing, this act of jamming pages full of keywords indicates you’re more interested in SEO than providing an authentic user experience. It’s icky, old-school and even search engines no longer like it.
TIP: Use keywords where they fit naturally; don’t force or overuse them.
9. Provide Value: People read what you write for a reason. They want more information, a solution to a problem, or answers to questions. Thanks to digital data, you can quickly tell if readers find what you write valuable.
10. Add Adjectives and Adverbs With Care: Here’s a quick review for those of you who slept through Grammar 101. Adjectives describe nouns. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. Using too many of either with too much intensity (biggest, best, greatest, etc.) comes across as inauthentic.
11. Brand It Without Bragging: Support your brand’s value proposition without mentioning your brand name.
TIP: Provide objective content, then link benefit statements to your products as Dickies does in its website section, “Scrubs for Every Body Type.” Also reuse customer reviews to make a point without sounding braggadocios.
13. Admit It: When your brand has an oops, it’s important to be transparent. Promptly send cross-channel messages that are open and honest. Disclose 1) what happened and 2) what you’re doing about it.
TIP: Don’t be afraid to tell customers that you’re working on improving a defective product or fixing a problem. Informed customers can become confident brand ambassadors.
Last thought: Brand authenticity is built on more than just authentic copy. Also use charts, graphics, before and after photos, call-outs, links to studies and reviews, and videos to demonstrate openness and transparency.