What does a copywriter do?
Essays

Copywriters are only good for writing sales copy. Right?8 min read

Add-on selling, up-selling, cross-selling, focus-selling, match-selling, selling, selling, selling — that’s what copywriters do right?

They write copy with the purpose of selling since they talk about progressing through the funnel, catchy headlines, conversion points, call-to-actions and landing pages.

Like Seth Godin once said, “We, marketers, are selfish, lying, short-term thinking scum. We believe that our job is to manipulate people as we market to them.”

And as marketing is often seen as the snake oil salesman of business, so copywriters are seen as the snake oil salesemen of marketing.

We are, after all, the ones crafting the message that gets beamed into the mind of the customer.

Does saying that Heinz is the only ketchup magically make all the other brands vanish off the shelf? Of course not. If words alone could convince customers to buy, we’d be gods.

But in truth, being a copywriter is a much humbler job.

There’s’ a lot of confusion around what copywriters really do.

And sometimes, I find it damn near impossible to explain what my job really is to the uninitiated.

As a copywriter, I bridge the gap between what a business has for sale and what a customer is looking to buy.

And I’ll never be successful if I’m just trying to shove a pair of shoes down the throat of someone looking to buy a hot tub.

A good copywriter will deliver a good version of what you asked them to.

A great copywriter works magic using only words.

A great copywriter will pull a thread from the essence of the brand to the heart of a potential customer and give that baby a pulse, make a genuine connection, create a true fan.

If getting sales was as simple as randomly stitching together the right words, there wouldn’t be so much research being done into consumer behaviour and brand positioning.

It’s my job to show the customer what value a brand offers a potential customer.

And I ponder questions like:

  • How does this brand help solve that customer’s challenges?
  • How do they understand their customer’s problems?
  • And how are they the best solution for this customer?

Working in cahoots with the art department, it’s my job to make those potential customers look twice.

Entice them to come closer. Make them smile. Make them remember. Make them think, “Oh hey, this is what I need!”

In a market that exists in parallel – both online and offline – I think copywriters are especially under-utilised, typically used for writing sales copy that’s based on technical specs and about as interesting as watching paint dry.

As a copywriter, I’m part matchmaker, part problem-solver.

I need to know who the ideal customer for your brand is, understand how to speak to them and start the conversation between you and them.

By listening to the customer’s challenges, needs and wants, I craft a message that showcases how your product is aligned with what they need, and make the introductions like I’m the mutual friend setting you up for a blind date.

Take this old ad from Coke as an example. When the copy is done right it fades into the background as the customer only sees the promise of the product, not the copy itself.

The connection happens form customer to product and the copy becomes the invisible bridge that mad it happen:

Online copywriting needs to be measured.

Online copywriting is technical by necessity because search engines (read: Google) constantly evolve in order to deliver a better Search Results Page (SERP) to their users.

Copywriters have to constantly evolve when they want to meet the demands of the search engines.

To better serve the user is the mantra of any decent copywriter.

It isn’t enough to just make online copy that jumps on the bandwagon and repeats what’s already out there.

Google isn’t going to show two results that are alike in SERP, because they want to present their users with as many unique results as possible.

You have to answer the query without duplicating what others have already done:

Anyone who tells you that copy doesn’t have to produce measurable results is lying.

Converting copy is based on data, and seeing how users react to and engage with the copy is critical because it tells you what’s working and what isn’t.

Competition for the top spots in SERP and increased time on site is fierce, and you can’t afford to bring anything less than your A-game if you want real business results.

Good copy without SEO is no good because without being optimised it won’t be search-crawler friendly.

SEO without good copy is equally useless because it won’t interest any humans.

Copywriters need to know how to write content that is visible to both search engines AND users, or it’s all a whole lotta nuttin’.

A copywriter is, by nature, a creative soul.

If you’ve got someone pumping out content that is as dry as crackers on plain toast and cites sources at the end, you’ve got a reporter posing as a copywriter.

A copywriter’s job is to breathe life into your message with words, punctuation, space, colour and rhythm.

A copywriter bridges the gap between image and text in order to provide deeper meaning, punctuate the image with copy, and deliver the punchline:

I ❤️ (CHL)AMY(DIA)

Copywriters don’t think in straight lines.

We think in squiggly, erratic, all-over-the-place lines that end up connecting important dots.

It’s our job to think about how the message is going to be received and how we can make it memorable – like that Durex ad I just showed you. Love really IS blind.

Precisely because copywriting is a creative process, most of the work isn’t done sitting at your computer.

Oh sure, becoming a better writer is a big part of, so lots of writing IS required.

But your brain best connects the dots when it isn’t under pressure to do so.

Doing dishes, going for walks or colour coding legos are all excellent activities for getting that jolt of inspiration.

Sure, people will think you’re a bit odd, but that’s just part and parcel of having a creative job:

This example from Luke Trayser perfectly exemplifies what it’s like trying to explain what you do:

Human: …so I decided to launch my glitterbomb Kickstarter, and the rest is history! HAHAHAHAHAHA. So, what do you do? 

You: I’m a copywriter.

Human: Oh, cool! How does copyright law work anyway? I’ve always wondered.

You: No, I creatively construct words and phrases in an effort to get someone to take action.

Human: Like legal action! Got it.

You: [dying inside] Advertising. It’s a lot like Mad Men, except not at all.

My job is to make a connection.

While telling a story — engaging the reader, eliciting an emotional response — is HOW I do it.

Enabling the customer journey is WHY I do it.

No, not because I love technical jargon, but because it’s my job to guide the users through the funnel to a point of completion .

And it isn’t about selling you something you didn’t want.

Good copy isn’t sleazy or pushy.

A conversion point isn’t necessarily always a sale either: it can be subscribing to a newsletter, joining a social media group or downloading a free guide.

Good copy is about showing you how this product or service is exactly what you’ve been looking for and making it easy for you to seal the deal.

It’s the copywriter’s job to be the one who says, “Dude, you gotta try this. You’ll love it!”

But only when it’s true. Otherwise you’re just a sleazy bro marketer.

As humans, we’re hardwired to listen to stories.

They’re our most fundamental way of communication.

We have been telling each other stories since we invented language.

Before literacy and access to books was widespread, we told each other stories around the campfire to teach the history, morals and critical life lessons the tribe needed to learn.

The most powerful thing a brand can do is harness to power of storytelling when communicating with their (potential) customers.

Storytelling is what humans understand best, and it’s the fire that we copywriters have been charged by the divine scribes to tend.

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