How to know what to write

WriterMost copywriter blogs, articles and how-to’s tell you how to write. I’m going to tell you what to write.

So, if you really want to know how to handle headlines, when to use bullet points and how to improve your punctuation, leave this page immediately and go type “copywriting tips” into your favorite search engine.

If you want to know what to write, read on.

First, who are you writing for? Since I’m a marketing copywriter, most of my clients have me writing for consumers (B2C) or businesspeople (B2B). So that’s who I’m going to talk about by way of example.

One of my current clients is an online bookkeeping agency. Their goal is to sell their software services, which allow you to do your business invoicing and billing online. We have one project going on right now that involves offering a free special report with tips for doing bookkeeping the way professional accountants do it. As we were brainstorming the direction, my first questions were about who we were writing for—not only the types of customers but who accounted for the most revenue. While it turns out that 20% of their customers are small businesses and 80% are individuals, that 20% accounts for the highest number of customers who upgrade to the client’s higher-value premium account. This insight led us to tailor our messaging and offer. Rather than offering generalized tips on bookkeeping, we’re making the whole campaign around bookkeeping tips for small businesses. So now I, the copywriter, know exactly what to write.

When you know who you’re writing for, you know what to write.

Even if you’ve got a product or service that could have a very wide audience, never assume that it’s “for everyone”. Clients who tell me that their product is for everyone simply need guidance on how to determine who their product is really for.

For example, I recently spoke with a client who is developing a biodegradable maxi pad. She said the product is for any female from age 14 to late 50s (puberty to menopause, obviously). Not true. Sure, any girl or woman who has a period could use the product, but that doesn’t mean she will. First, there are plenty of women who just don’t like pads. Doesn’t matter whether the pad is biodegradable, has wings, or comes with a jetpack. They’re not going to use it. Second, there are women who don’t care about biodegradability, the pad’s main feature. So that major selling point isn’t going to interest them. Third, there are women who are loyal to other brands, as there are competitive biodegradable pads out there.

I could go on. But the point is, a good copywriter never settles for the claim that the product is for everyone. Air is for everyone, and to date, you don’t need to buy it.

I’ll say it again. When you know who you’re writing for, you know what to write.

You also know immediately how to craft a better story, one with more meat on it. You don’t have to do as much song-and-dance to disguise the fact that what you’re writing is non-specific. You can have a real conversation with the person on the other end of your words. Which, incidentally, is very Web 2.0 and social networking-friendly.

So get to know your audience intimately first. Then you’ll know exactly what to write.