Along with many other creative roles, the craft of advertising copywriting fluctuates by the minute in its trends, tools, and practices. The standard four-year educational model has struggled to keep up.
Universities are notorious for producing graduates who hold high ideas about writing or graphic design but have trouble putting their skills to work for actual clients.
Here at Content Workshop, we tend to beat up on the traditional collegiate path—maybe unfairly. Plenty of majors challenge students to read, research, interrogate information, and form coherent thoughts and arguments about the material.
In addition to a voracious curiosity and an unabating sense of empathy, these are the ingredients of a good writer.
But we’re not here to wax poetic about the abilities you possess already. We’re here to give you the dirt on what college doesn’t teach you about advertising copywriting.
As you pursue a degree in a writing-heavy major, you’ll begin to find your voice, that magical quality that makes your writing unique and truly yours. Perhaps that voice will lead you into the realm of journalism or academic research, where the fruits of your labor will come with a sweet byline and accolades.
Not the case for a copywriter. Becoming a copywriter is kind of like that scene in Men in Black (1997), where Rip Torn and Tommy Lee Jones erase Will Smith’s identity. You don’t have to singe your fingerprints off, but your identity—your voice—takes a back seat.
You’ll work mostly in anonymity, imbuing your copy with the voice of your client’s brand, rather than your own. A shapeshifter, a chameleon, you’ll speak as your clients, and you’ll do it better than they can speak for themselves.
Honestly, sometimes this will bum you out. But usually, it’s fun, like wearing a good disguise. The holy grail is when a client feels heard and understood, maybe for the first time ever. They may say something like, “This is exactly what my company is, what I’ve always felt it to be, but I could never have put it into words on my own.”
Writing to an Audience
The writing you’ll complete in undergrad will require, at most, a mere surface-level consideration of your audience.
Advertising copywriting demands an intimate understanding of your audience, which will go hand in hand with your client’s business strategy.
Consider these scenarios:
A) Your client wants to sell more products to current customers.
B) Your client wants to reach completely new customers within the business’ current geographical area (aka, its “footprint”).
C) Your client wants to reach new customers by pushing the business into completely new territory.
In Scenario A, the audience already has personal experience with the company and its products or services. Therefore, you won’t introduce or explain the business from square 1. Instead, you’ll speak to what they might need next.
In Scenario B, the audience may have heard of the business and be somewhat aware of the business. But maybe not. That’s something you’ll need to find out.
In Scenario C, the business probably holds no name recognition in its new market. In this case, you’ll work to understand why your client has chosen to make the play. Is the competition there weak? Are the people there particularly in need of the business’ product or services?
Each scenario calls for a different message or tone. Many copywriters make the mistake of speaking to as wide an audience as possible, often at the behest of their client. But if you speak to everyone, you speak to no one.
Instead, imagine you’re writing to one, single, particular person with a specific need or set of needs. That way, your writing will feel personal and relevant to the recipient.
Sometimes, your client may be completely off base or out of touch about the business’ customers. Luckily, you don’t need your clients to explain their customers to you.
Reach out to your client’s customers and ask about their experience. Read reviews of your client’s company online. Use the product yourself. Guaranteed, your clients will find these insights incredibly valuable.
In college, you’ll explore your own ideas through writing. At the end of the day, your writing serves to show how much you know about the subject at hand. Your professor will enter your grade into a computer, then think about what to eat for lunch.
Advertising copywriting is far more active. Good copywriting provokes more than thought or introspection—it inspires action and decision. It inspires a potential customer to take an actionable next step toward paying for your client’s product or service. When this happens, we call it a “conversion.”
Just as you must understand the customer’s needs, you must understand the steps a customer takes to make a purchase, known as the “user journey” or “conversion path.”
A few things to consider:
Customers start at different points on the conversion path.
A customer who has never heard of the company or the product is farther away from converting than a customer who is aware of the product, but hasn’t used it yet.
Conversion comes from conversation.
Think about the customer touchpoints along the user journey. For instance, a Facebook ad leads to a landing page, which leads to a product page where the customer converts. Don’t repeat the same message at each stage. Instead, ask yourself, “What does a person who clicks on the Facebook ad want to know next?”
Emphasize the call to action.
At each stage, make it clear what an interested customer should do next. Amateur copywriters often take button copy for granted, but “Learn More” isn’t very inspiring, is it?
Make that copy count by alluding to the product or service’s key benefit.
Rarely will a potential customer go from being unaware of the business, all the way to a conversion in one fell swoop. You wouldn’t ask someone to marry you on a first date, would you?
Please say No, but if you have, and it worked, please come on our podcast to talk about your pitching and cold calling techniques.
Typically, you’ll lead with broader information, and as the potential customer proceeds toward converting, the information will become more granular—but that’s a topic for another blog.
Start Building the Life You Want
How’s that for a call to action?
No college, degree, course, or certificate can make you 100% ready for your first advertising copywriting job, whether it be as a freelancer or through an employer. The most important lessons you’ll learn will come from solving problems for your clients in real time.
At Content Workshop, our goal is to equip you with the tools you need to adapt to those challenges and forge the life you envision for yourself. Our Copywriting Course Bundle arms you with the secrets of compelling copy, SEO, tracking results, and more. You’ll complete exercises and receive real feedback from our team of professional creatives.
As you grow your business, we’ll keep you ahead of the curve with courses geared to help you find and land more clients, manage your finances, and beyond. Best of all, you’ll be growing alongside a valuable community of writers and designers finding their way in the creative industry.