You’re a new copywriter. You’ve been hired, and you’re eager to get started.
You open a new document in your word processor, and stare at the computer screen, hoping for inspiration…
After a few moments, the cursor’s still blinking, and you’re wondering where you’ll go for lunch. Maybe the new cafe on the corner…
You pull yourself away from thoughts of sandwich fillings.
“Headline,”, you think. “I need a headline.”
You click your way through the folder listings on your computer, looking for your trusty swipe file. You’ll find some inspiration for your headline there, you’re sure of it.
You’re going the wrong way.
You may well find inspiration for a headline in your swipe file, but you don’t need that yet. You need to understand your product, and its audience, first. Then you need to get on your audience’s wavelength, and ensure that you’re speaking their language.
I became a writer because I love reading; a copywriter because I enjoy exploring human behavior and language.
Copywriters sell, using words. Even if you’re writing a script, it all comes down to words. To craft words which sell to an audience, you need to understand your audience: their hopes, challenges, and frustrations.
Research first, write later
Depending on the product, researching can be fun, or challenging. Start by asking your client to send you some representative marketing materials, as well as customer comments and questions. If you’re very lucky, and the product is popular, you can do some research on the Web.
Occasionally, research can be very challenging. For example, perhaps the product is completely new. No marketing materials, no customers, nothing at all.
If that’s the case, you’ll need to be creative. The product has competitors, and fits into a market niche. (If it doesn’t, the product has real problems, marketing collateral being the least of them.)
I’ve had a few copywriting jobs which needed lots of creative thinking. One job required me to write a brochure for a new pet food company; I couldn’t interview anyone from the company, and this was before the Web, so I had to be very creative indeed. I held my breath off and on for three days until the client signed off on the copy.
Depending on the job, you may spend a week or two researching, before you think about writing. Usually, you’ll come up with some wonderful ideas for copy while you’re researching. You’ll get what I call “the click” — everything will fall into place, and you’re inspired.
Sometimes inspiration won’t come, and you’ll find yourself where you started out, staring at your blank document, and the blinking cursor. You’re now primed with research however, and it won’t be more than a minute or two before your fingers start flying across the keyboard.
I love copywriting; it’s a wonderful career. Your success rests on your research, and speaking the language of your audience.