Written by Matthew Kane
A lot of the oft-cited characteristics of a quality a copywriter are so obvious that one can’t help but wonder if they were written by writers at all. How many must begin with some variant of “strong writing skills,” “a knowledge of the English language,” or the ever-ambiguous “creativity.”
Any professional copywriter, without expectation, possesses all of them.
And if the goal of these articles is to take the obvious route, I’d at least like to see one recount the other traits most professional writers seem to have in common — bouts of anxiety, an all-consuming drive for perfection, and a constant battle with imposter syndrome, in which each well-received piece is credited to a stroke of luck and that the next will ultimately expose you for the fraud you are. You know, the usual.
What I’m getting at here is that if we make the (correct) assumption that every copywriter already possesses the pre-requisites, what then separates the great from the so-so?
As far as we’re concerned, a good copywriter is:
1) A Top-Notch Researcher and Interviewer
In an ideal world, a copywriter would also be a subject matter expert, able to rely solely on his immense knowledge to write compelling copy. More often than not, though, copywriters will need to pivot from client to client and sometimes industry to industry. As such, they’ll need to get up to speed — quickly.
Effective research is not limited to a few Google searches or pouring through collateral that a client may have provided. Although an important and necessary step to a job well done, truly effective copywriters know that interviewing the appropriate stakeholders is just as imperative for two reasons.
One, a conversation with a vested party provides a different point of view, which can help frame the direction of the copy. And two, interviewing an expert is a more efficient way to get to the core of what’s important, as opposed to trying to discern it from a wealth information sans context.
To do so requires strong interview skills, so we suggest brushing up on those.
2) Knowledgeable About the Intended Audience
When it comes to why it’s important to understand your audience, legendary copywriter David Ogilvy said, “If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.”
Quality copy, be it ad copy, ebooks, blog posts, or headlines, is more effective when understanding what the intended audiences thinks, speaks, and searches for. Otherwise efforts can result in campaigns that totally miss the mark.
Of course, gaining an intimate knowledge of an audience is not possible without the necessary research and interview skills.
3) Thirsty to Learn, but Knows When She Is Quenched
A copywriter can conduct research and interviews, but without an innate thirst for knowledge, her efforts are unsustainable. Chances are, though, that by already working as a copywriter and reading articles about the qualities of an exceptional one, the desire to learn exists. It’s actually the inverse that persists.
Sometimes copywriters become so wrapped up in learning the minutiae of whatever it is they’re researching that they’ll delay writing, believing that there must be some component they overlooked that will strengthen their copy. In other words, they’re unable to see the forest through the trees.
Quality copywriters know their goal should be to learn as much information about the product and the audience as possible to write effective copy — and nothing more. On tight deadlines, becoming an expert is not viable.
Here’s a secret about copywriters. At some point or another most copywriters either a) wanted to be a writer, b) are currently writers on the side, or c) are trying to become a writer. Though both creative and involving the written word, copywriting, unlike journalistic or creative writing, is about selling a good or service. Yes, well-written work obviously does a better job at that, but at the end of the day, writing isn’t the product — it’s a tool used to sell one.
It’s an important distinction. Bad copywriters often stuff their work with purple prose or other literary devices in an attempt to make some sort of high-minded art out of an innocuous project. Or if they’re a little more sophisticated, they try to harken back to the golden age of advertising and long-form copy.
Good copywriters, on the other hand, understand the modern world. They’re knowledgeable about how consumers skim and read, understand the importance of an attention-grabbing headline, can articulate the sales and marketing objectives, and know a thing or two about SEO and keyword optimization. They save the other stuff for after work.