Message & Media: Writing Identity Crisis Averted
Recently, I experienced an identity crisis. While I've built my career as a copywriter, I now had a client asking me if I also was a content developer.
Hmmm. I hadn't thought about it. And frankly, I didn't know.
What I did know was that on any given day, you'd find me writing emails, direct mail, space ads, whitepapers, e-newsletters, landing pages, website pages and ads, blog posts, package inserts, and a whole lot more.
So was I content developer? I thought I might be, but I also thought it was wise to confirm the definition before billing myself as one. Here's what I learned:
A (traditional) copywriter's job is to attract, persuade, promote and sell. That means the years I've spent using words to sell and generate leads for everything from hog sperm and burial insurance to bloodletting chairs and designer sweaters hand-knit in Peru qualify me as a copywriter.
A (digital) content developer is responsible for presenting information for which the reader has been searching. The business objective of content is to engage the reader and establish the provider of it as an expert or trusted resource.
Because content needs to be keyword-rich to attract search engines, a content developer also needs to understand search engine optimization (SEO) writing. As a blogger, e-newsletter contributor and writer for websites, it appears I am a content developer. Whew! Question answered.
Here's what's fascinating to me: While I've become a cross-channel writer, I use the skills I originally learned writing for traditional direct mail. And you can, too, if that's your background. But if you're not a direct mail writer, here's a tip: Traditional direct response techniques work for writing digital content, too. The goal of both is reader engagement that leads to action … a click, a call, a visit to your store or website. Here are 18 tips for cross-channel writing:
1. Know your audience so you can build rapport and create content that connects with your readers.
2. Don't talk to yourself. Use the word "you" twice as often as you do "I" or "we." The result is content that's customer-focused. It's a relationship-builder.
3. Write to an individual you know who fits the description of your audience, not to a group. It's easier to write conversationally when you're writing to one person.
4. What do you want people to think and do as a result of reading your text? Understand the business objective for whatever you're writing.
5. Make your messages attractive to scanners. Just because your reader found you through search doesn't mean he or she is a captive. Shorter words, sentences and paragraphs are easier to scan and encourage deeper reader involvement.
6. Use hot spots (where the eye lands first) to engage scanners. It doesn't matter if you're writing an email subject line, landing page or sales brochure. They all have hot spots. Work with your designer to maximize impact.
7. A strong lede is the best way to start. Don't bury the best benefit or strongest hook in your third sentence or third paragraph.
8. Let others establish your credibility for you. With digital messages, you can link to reviews, YouTube videos, customer stories and more.
9. Encourage readers to share their reactions, ideas and opinions on your blog, Facebook or Twitter. Engagement translates into transactions.
10. A picture or video is worth 1,000 words. Use visuals to reinforce and demonstrate what your words say.
11. Don't reveal too much. Digital content allows you to tease your reader, then link to more details.
12. Organize your content for easier reading. Use numerals, bold face and colored type, subheads and buttons to guide your reader.
13. "You" and "free" remain two of the most powerful words in the English language. Use them across channels.
14. Don't use mouse-type to deliver important information. Weight Watchers, one of my favorite marketers and health resources, just sent me an email about my new ActiveLink personal fitness monitor. The email links to a page that tells me how to get the most out of my first week of wearing this gizmo. The problem is, this important content is barely legible because the type is gray and teeny tiny.
15. Use your e-newsletter's table of contents as a teaser to encourage people to scroll and click.
16. Listen to whatever you write. Read your content aloud. Does it convey the right tone for your brand persona—informal, authoritative, fun, quirky, even irreverent? For an effective example of the latter, check out this blog post, "Dirty Detergents: Dirty Secrets Revealed" (indigowild.wordpress.com) from Indigo Wild. The company describes itself as the producer of all-natural products infused with good karma for the body and home. Their tagline: "Any more natural and you'd be naked."
17. 800 number access translates into customer engagement. Make your 800 number easy to find on your website, even though you may prefer people contact you via email or chat. Some people and situations require 800 number access to a real live person.
18. Content isn't just about words. As with persuasive copy, the appearance of your text affects its readership. Work with the content designer to encourage readability and usability of your text.
One last thing. Content and copy are equally important: Content drives traffic to your website; copy encourages them to do business with you. And both need to be engaging to be effective.