Recently, somewhere between putting an extra coat of varnish on a presentation deck and following hashtags about cheese dip, a friend passed me a really interesting article. The author, a freelance copywriter in the UK, outlined “the essential skills you need to know to be an effective digital copywriter.” I started in digital and am fifteen years in now (give or take some time at big “traditional” agencies), so I thought I had better see if I’ve been doing it right.
What I found was an informative, if incomplete guide on how to write for digital. The focus mainly being the science that leads to sales and solid, functional web sites: optimization, metrics, content marketing, etc. We do all of those things at Organic, and do them very well. But, allow me to speak for all the writers in the company for a moment. We can’t know these disciplines like those dedicated to them. We can learn from the Analytics department and our beloved (yes, I said beloved) Experience Architects but I’m not convinced focusing on conversion always makes for good copy. More importantly, if you are looking to broaden your skill set, I’ve got another list of suggestions to consider.
Be a storyteller.
I agree that most brand and product sites are storefronts that never close whose homepages shouldn’t be interrupted by periodic promotional noise. Seriously, if you are currently typing “skip intro” right now, you might want to consider another line of work. Supermarket circulars come to mind: “Canned tomatoes. Select varieties. 14.5 oz.” (you can have that one for free) That being said, there’s always some level of narrative behind a product or a brand. It might still be tied to the campaign of the day, or an overriding value proposition that is more closely aligned with a company’s mission. Basically, the usefulness of a product can mean a lot more in a specific context and a brand can be a lot more than a store, without sacrificing sales leads.
Example: EAS Sports Nutrition’s Unstoppable Tour hooked me and I’m a one-sport guy at best.
There’s the exciting two-way conversation that’s happening between brands and consumers but I’m referring here to the good old-fashioned script. It’s an often overlooked step in the creative process and not as easy as it sounds. You may not be trying to perfect the fine art of selling beer on prime-time TV with prat falls and groin injuries but you know all those product demonstrations, walk-throughs and annotated 360º views on Web sites? They’re longer than 30 seconds, which means someone has to hold an audience’s attention for that much longer. Also, someone has to fit all the copy points in, get the tone right and control the pacing. That someone should be you.
Example: Apple has video demos for everything. I’ve also heard they are moderately successful.
Be about ideas.
I don’t believe the big idea is dead. At all. If anything, I’ve seen more and more of them come out of digital agencies or partnerships with traditional ones. Conversely, big shops are figuring out how to do digital and its knowledge is no longer arcane and unknowable. But don’t fret that too much, little webmaster. If ideation/concepting/brainstorming isn’t your cup of tea, at least be able to think about a brand or product’s digital ecosystem or how an advertising campaign just might actually help your site.
Example: Check out Organic’s work for U By Kotex: the digitally-led conversation is the lifeblood of the new product launch.
One lingering secret is that digital copywriters are often responsible for more of the messaging in integrated campaigns than their traditional counterparts. I once led an online advertising team on a Dodge Ram launch that wrote and trafficked 40-some headlines and close to 150 different pieces of creative. You can know everything there is to know about optimization, but unless you can provide the headline quantity and quality to cover all of a product’s salient points, demographic targets and contextual placements, the clicks aren’t going to come.
Example: I’m going to have to evoke Old Spice. (I know, I know …) But they’ve found a way to make funny copy, abdominals and an arched eyebrow work across dozens of executions.
After you write those couple hundred headlines, you’ll have a pretty good feel for this—and the fact that the days of long form copy in digital are behind us. You might also come to this realization if you’ve been charged with tweeting on behalf of a brand, or are one of the few specialists exclusively writing Twitter ads. Can you repeat your formula for success over and over again in 140 characters (or fewer with room for old-style retweets)?
Example: Woot has perfected serving up timely deals with tangy dippin’ sauce.
Yes, digital has become essential to every successful integrated marketing campaign. The flipside of this argument is that digital has become that much more ubiquitous. For many, digital content is just content. You need to know how things work and you had better know how to get a click to set them all in motion. However, it might just be a better bet to be witty, entertaining, committed and informative. There may not be metrics for those talents but I’m pretty sure they still count.
Dan Sicko, Creative Director at Organic