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Discover the secret to a killer headline

As a copywriter, I’m incredibly lucky that I rarely get writer’s block. But when I do, it always strikes when I’m preparing a headline. And in a world where readers have access to so much content, the headline is undoubtedly the most important sentence of any communication. It’s the calling card, the bit that should cry out ‘read me!’ to anyone who stumbles across it.

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“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” David Ogilvy (AKA ‘the father of advertising’)

Despite many fellow bloggers claims to the contrary, I don’t believe that there is a perfect formula for writing a headline. I’ve read various pieces of advice, ranging from the sensible (“It should be 65 characters or less“: makes sense, so that it doesn’t get cut off in search results) to the downright peculiar (“It should be 6 words. No more, no less“: err, why??). In fact, the most repeated tip to headline-writing success is to produce a numbered list (“7 tips to guarantee results” or “5 ways to make your money work“). Whilst I’m definitely a fan of a numbered list, they are becoming increasingly common, and isn’t it boring when everything is done in the same way? Are there any other tricks you can deploy to get your headline noticed? Continue reading

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Seven easy steps to setting the right tone

In both verbal and written communications, using the right words to convey your message is crucial. This is especially true in financial communications, when you might have limited space or time to communicate what can be quite a technical message. But language, both written and spoken, is about far more than the right words in the right order. The tone you use, I believe, is equally important. Get that wrong, and it’s like adding a full stop. in the middle of a sentence. It confuses your message and switches off your audience.

For example, using contractions in a formal document is widely discouraged. It just seems overly familiar. But using contractions in an educational guide for beginners, or a ‘blog’ style editorial piece makes much more sense – it helps the flow for the reader and feels more natural. I even encourage my clients to use contractions in marketing brochures as the text better replicates how they would speak to their audience if they were marketing a product to them face-to-face.

Given how important the tone of a communication is, it always amazes me how many firms don’t have ‘tone of voice’ guidelines. As a result, their communications are often quite garbled, moving between describing themselves in the 1st and 3rd person, and using a numerical digit here and spelling out a number there. Having clear guidelines to set your tone not only helps add some brand consistency to your communications, it also sets the standard for all your copywriters to stick to.

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The importance of a letter

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The way we communicate with each other has undergone a sea change in the past couple of decades. Whether it’s work or personal, emails are far and above most peoples preferred medium of communication. So much so, that it’s hard to believe that email didn’t really exist before the 1990s.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that emails are great. I love the way you can communicate one message efficiently to multiple recipients. I find it extremely helpful that I can review and correct what I communicate before actually committing to send it. I love the fact that my message will instantly ping into someone’s inbox without delay (when they get around to reading it and replying to it is another matter!). But are we losing something by replacing more traditional methods of communication with this ‘fast food’ version? Or are we underestimating the importance of a simple, traditional letter?

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Finding the right balance

We’ve all been marketeers at some point in our lives. Whether it’s marketing ourselves on our CVs, our second hand cars on Autotrader, or even trying to give something away on Freecycle, we’ve all had that moment staring at a blank page wondering where to start. We want to appeal to our audience, but we’re also very conscious (or at least we should be!) that we don’t want to mislead them either. And striking the right balance is no mean feat.

It appears that, despite years of marketing experience, I can sometimes get that balance wrong. Having eventually had enough of an old printer taking up valuable space in my shoe box of an office, I decided to turn to Freecycle and let one of the good people of Wandsworth take it off my hands. For free. With a brand new set of ink cartridges. You’d think they’d bite my hand off at the chance. However my overly honest description (a slightly wonky yet perfectly usable paper loading tray) must have sent alarm bells ringing, as two weeks later, it’s still sitting here smiling up at me like an old friend.

To me, marketing has always been about more than selling a product or service. It’s about providing information. Having worked in financial services for my entire career, I’m conscious of the regulator’s call to be ‘clear, fair and not misleading’ on a daily basis and this guides each and every piece of work I do. Sometimes investors will decide to buy an investment product based on my marketing brochure alone, so I feel it’s important that they understand how it works, warts and all.

However, it seems not everyone operates on the same guidelines. I recently came across a rather shocking video on my Facebook feed, highlighting some of the tricks employed by the food industry to get us to buy certain produce. Apparently ‘farm fresh’ doesn’t mean my chicken has been plucked straight from a sunny meadow in Dorset after a happy life of roaming free. At best, it means there was a window in his hen house in which he lived beak-to-beak with thousands upon thousands of other poor fated chickens.

But this does highlight a challenge that us marketers face on a daily basis: the need to appeal to our audience whilst not misleading them. Most marketers worth their salt will have the strong sales and communication skills to help the audience feel a product is something they want. But the best among us will also have that little cautious voice in our heads, asking if we’ve been clear enough for the audience to know for sure that a product is what they want. And it’s this ability to strike the right balance that distinguishes the best marketers from the rest.

 

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Entering the blogosphere

So whilst I’ve written umpteen blogs in the names of clients over the years, it suddenly struck me that I didn’t publish one myself. In an age where most technically-able people blog about everything from their work to what they ate for dinner, I decided that as a professional copywriter I should probably get publishing.

In fact, I got thinking more generally about why people blog, and, in particular, why companies blog. We all know that the internet is an incredibly powerful marketing tool and so many companies from small start ups to multi-national corporations are using blogs to create a very powerful online presence. If, like me, it’s a part of your marketing strategy that you’ve neglected to date, here are 3 compelling reasons why you might want to consider entering the blogosphere:

Reason 1: Knowledge is power. Whatever the product or service you specialise in, writing a blog can be a very useful and easy way to share your expertise with your clients. At first, it may seem counterintuitive to publish your intellectual capital for the whole world to see, but some carefully selected snippets of information can really help position you as a thought leader. For example, why did your research lead you to bring to market that product at that time? Do you have a real-life example of someone who bought your product or service and benefitted greatly? How has your industry changed over the past year and what have you done to keep pace? Writing honest and well-articulated blogs on specific topics will help your clients trust your brand and ultimately come to you when they need to. Continue reading

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