Copywriting Tip: You Do You

Spread from a recent Lands’ End catalog.

When you sit down to write copy for your business, write like yourself—in your own voice. Or, if you’re writing for someone else’s business, write like that business sounds.  In short: you do you. Don’t try to be someone (or something) else.

The rhyme! The exclamation points!

There are plenty of “rules” for copywriting out there: don’t use puns, don’t be precious, and so on. But the most important rule is to write like yourself—or if you’re a copywriter, write like the brand. Case in point, Lands’ End. The copy here could be considered corny. “Brassiere” and “disappear” rhyme, for goodness’ sake! (Obviously the reason the writer didn’t choose “bra.”) But, this is Lands’ End. I’ve seen this tone of voice in their catalog before. Lands’ End does Lands’ End, and while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it definitely will catch the eyes of the right audience. (And I, for one, like rhymes…and Lands’ End jeans!)

But, easier said than done, right? I wish with certainty I could say it was Brené Brown who I watched/read a story about how she took some colleagues/friends to a beach house for a few days in order to write one of her books. The process went something like this: she’d lecture her friends about a topic, they would take notes, and then afterwards, she would collect the notes, return to her room, and feverishly write about the topic for the book. The point of this was so that she would write more like she spoke—write truer to her own voice. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything in my notes about this being Brené Brown and a Google search is fruitless to confirm it. It’s a good anecdote, though. Write like you talk to your friends or colleagues. You surely aren’t carefully branding your interactions with your friends. You’re just you.

What if you’re a copywriter writing for a brand or company that doesn’t sound like you, though? You’re held to a tone of voice that sounds like that brand/company. You can’t go rogue and write in the way you want to and sometimes you really don’t sound like that brand/company. Here are a couple of things you can do to understand the tone of voice:

1.) Ask for brand guidelines. Study the internal documents that lay out what the brand should look and sound like. If it’s a thorough set of guidelines, there will be a section on the tone of voice. If there isn’t a tone of voice section, study the tone of the visuals and the copy used to explain them.

2.) Read any and all copy that the brand has produced—website, social media feeds, direct mailers, brochures, and so on. This works wonders. Have you ever read Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street? It’s hard to read it and NOT start thinking/writing in Cisneros’s distinctive tone of voice. But, check and make sure that the creative director wants the copy to sound like it—perhaps you’re being asked to write new copy because the old copy isn’t the right tone.

You do you. Or, for just a bit of time, become the brand, and then you do you.

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