9 Ways in Which You Need a Good Online Copywriter: Revisiting Nick Usborne’s _Net Words: Creating High Impact Online Copy_ (Part One)

Business readers often dismiss books as being stale-dated within a year or two of their release. But lately, I’ve returned to Nick Usborne’s classic study, Net Words, to reconsider how you, as a prospective client, can use a good online copywriter for your organization or business. The nine tips to follow (in parts one and two) don’t comprise an exhaustive list, but should assist clients like you in identifying the value of the work I do.

You need to hire an online copywriter because . . .

(1)   . . . The language on your website is not personal:

In this hyper-technological age, there’s been an explosion of knowledge about and for customers, online.  But that explosion hasn’t amounted to a personal experience, when prospects use the web. Personalization software and technology knows prospects only by data, not as people. Usborne notes that technology itself cannot deliver a personal message—only a person can do that (e.g. such as in social media). So, as he writes, “personalization will never feel personal, unless there is some element . . . that touches you . . . [at] a human level” (152). And that element can be good copywriting.

But the trouble is that marketing and IT departments within companies or organizations tend to be disconnected, or to use the technology produced by others, where there are such divisions, within themselves. When marcom specialists like copywriters aren’t respected enough, technology will run rampant and deliver messages that do not connect with customers.

One example (adapted from Usborne) is a marketing email sent from a mail-order company, which reads as follows:

Dear Preferred Customer,

Welcome to XY’s exclusive email news!

Now that you’re signed up to receive our special fashion mailings, you’ll be the first to hear about exciting new media events, special online promotions and more. These updates will be sent to you (about twice a month).”

This copy fails on virtually every level. It fails even to address the prospect by name (the generic addressee fails badly), and the effort to create spontaneity is undermined by the reference to technology (“sent . . .  twice a month”) and since the claim to “exclusivity” (“first to hear,” etc.) is negated by the reality that the email is mass-disseminated to millions (which the reader knows full well). For a revised version, read on . . .

(2)   . . . Technology has overtaken marketing:

The previous example shows that the company has (in Usborne’s words) “invested in the technology of message delivery, but not in the messages that are being delivered” (155).

Once you have a prospect’s email address, you have an opportunity to become personal with them and to cater to the challenges, needs and interests that they have.  If the personalization technology is “used to deliver personalized messages, then it must accommodate the act of writing these messages in a personal, human way” (Usborne 162). So here’s a revision that does just that:

Dear [insert prospect’s first name],

Thank you for shopping with us at XY. Now that you have registered to receive our e-mail, you’ll have immediate access to our special events and online promotions. Discounts on new products that will keep you on fashion’s cutting edge, but without full-price costs. We will send you updates twice a month to invite you to visit our customer-centred blog, where you can plan your wardrobe months in advance. You’ll be a leader in fashion wherever you go, while also saving yourself serious money.”

That’s significantly better.

In offline copy (e.g. a brochure), there’s greater distance between the original writer and the prospective customer (reader). But online, communication is virtually immediate. (Usborne notes that the words may be typed online by a writer and read by a prospect within a matter of only days or even hours.) Such close proximity to the reader means that a good copywriter needs to write as s/he speaks, less formally than s/he would, offline.  Online copywriters know how to relax the tone.

(3)   . . . You need your communications to  “reek of honest humanity”:

Honesty is paramount. Usborne writes that e-commerce always occurs in a shared space created by millions of people who developed their own styles and cultures online and who simultaneously become sensitive to tone and underlying meaning online. So any dishonest efforts to gloss over the truth will be noticed very quickly.

Good copywriters will never weasel their way around the truth to make their stories sound more convincing. They won’t put extra gloss on selling a product or service. To “reek of honest humanity,” and as Usborne puts it, copywriters take responsibility for a company’s shortcomings, whatever they may be. Copywriters find that stating them honestly and being direct earns the respect and thanks of their clients: “Cynics never write great copy” (191).

(4)   . . . The cost of providing customer service or support is too great for your company or organization:

Online customer service is the site of conflict between customers and merchants, and internally, within a company or organization.  Closeness to consumers usually translates into a “nightmare for customer service.” Buying and selling online occur super-fast, but by nature, customer service cannot do so, even though clients want it to.  Usborne cites statistics that one live telephone service call can cost a company $40-60+ per interaction, while web self-help for the same inquiry could cost as low as $1-2. Yes, customer service staff want to keep consumers happy, but at the same time know that that costs their companies serious money. Good copywriting, not in the form of pre-prepared online/telephone scripts (e.g. “We are sorry that . . . “), but in any brief, consumer-centred copy (online, by text, or by phone) can soften the blow to any company’s (frustrated) clients.

These are four reasons why most organizations (or companies) need good online copywriters. In part two of this posting (in a fortnight), I’ll conclude with five more reasons good online copywriters are essential to meeting the marcom needs of a changing business world.  (To be continued . . . )

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