Copywriting Tip: Getting Started

CopywritingTip_GettingStarted
Questions to ask when you’re staring at a blank page.

When you’re staring at a blank page, trying to write copy for your latest marketing piece, start by asking these questions:

  1. Who are you talking to?
  2. What they need to know?

Recently, I had someone reach out asking for help with writing a page for their website. They didn’t know what exactly they wanted or needed. This makes it tough for them (and for me!), but if you start with these basic questions, you can easily get on track.

The first question can be answered a lot of different ways. You may have data insights that tell you age, geographic location, and all kinds of good information. But, don’t worry if you do not have that level of information. Even if you are just making a really good guess at who your audience is, it will help.

The second question can be tricky. There’s a difference between what you want your customer to know and what they need to know. Here’s an anecdote from my personal experience to bring this to life.

Back when I finally decided to get a smartphone, I went into my provider’s shop to pick out a phone. I was leaning heavily towards the iPhone, but wasn’t 100% sure. So, when the salesperson approached me, I told him I was looking at an iPhone, but was open. And, I let him tell me about Android phones.

He started listing off a bunch of benefits and features (at the time) of Android phones: better for movies and games, larger screen, etc.. Every benefit was “meh” to me, because I didn’t want a smartphone to watch movies and play games on. He didn’t ask me what I was looking for in a smartphone, which (at the time) was to take pictures, access social media, and browse the internet. If he had asked that first, he would have been able to tell me how Android phones were able to do those tasks…or tell me that an iPhone was the better choice.

Sometimes, telling your customer what they need to know just means prioritizing the benefits of your product/service differently within your copy. Tell one group of customers about the convenience. Tell another group about the quality. Simply, tell them about the benefits that are most helpful to them.

Once you know the answers to those 2 questions, the information you need to include in your copy will become clear and the words will come easy.

T-Bud Co. Quilts Ohio: April Ohio Star

OhioStar_April_01WM
April’s Ohio Star Quilt Block

You sure as heck didn’t think I was going to leave Charley Harper out of my Ohio Star quilt, right? Of course, his art is my inspiration for April’s Ohio Star quilt block! As a Cincinnati icon, his work is delightfully everywhere.

Do you remember that huge book by Todd Oldham? It was published in June of 2007. I moved to Cincinnati in 2008. Todd Oldham was/is a design prophet. This 2007 The New York Times article reported his selection as creative director for Old Navy, just after creating hip products for brands like, ahem, Target. When you’re in your early 20s, like I was, you think Target is the epitome of hip design. Todd Oldham shining a “teeny flashlight” on Charley Harper’s work, was no small thing. Enter adoring fans, like me.

Here’s a video of Todd Oldham interviewing Harper for funsies.

AND! I recently spotted Todd Oldham’s book on Lisa Congdon’s studio bookshelf in a picture she posted to Instagram stories! And, c’mon, Lisa Congdon is a conduit of coolness: her art is amazing and her books are interesting. I could go on, but let’s get back to Charley.

Lisa_Congdon_InstagramStoryScreenshot
Do you see it? Smack dab in the middle!

You don’t need anyone (even Todd Oldham or Lisa Congdon!) to tell you to like Charley Harper’s work. Take one look and you’ll be mesmerized. I love the geometric shapes—the simplification. So, you can bet your buttons that during the beginning of my tenure in Ohio, I was excited to discover Charley Harper’s Cincinnati roots! When I first moved here, I noticed a distinct lack of hometown pride. Sure, Cincinnatians seemed proud to have been born and raised here, but they had a “it’s just Cincinnati” attitude. Look, Cincinnati is tucked into the corner of the state—commingling with Northern Kentucky and Indiana. The Tyler Davidson Fountain will never be as luminous as our western neighbor Chicago’s Cloud Gate, also known as “The Bean”. Cincinnati will never be NYC cool. (As if there was ever a chance, I’m sure some NYC-ers would snicker.) But, Charley Harper is pretty awesome—and on a national level. He’s not just locally known. And, that’s something to be proud of. Heck, who cares if anyone else knows about Charley Harper? His work is so widely appreciated in this town, you can find it in a lot of places. You’ll find a mural of Homecoming (Bluebirds) downtown. (Go downtown Cincinnati to see a lot of great murals.)

Head to Winton Woods and you’ll see his artwork in the park.

Swing by the John Weld Peck Federal building downtown to see an amazing tile mosaic.

See? Everywhere. And, I for one, am not mad about it.

Last year, Birch Fabrics came out with a new Charley Harper collection: Western Birds. I knew that I needed to incorporate this fabric into my Ohio Star quilt. But, I’m going to be honest, I was late to the game to purchase this fabric, so it was kind of hard to find. And, the patterns are pretty large scale. Not so ideal for a 12” 9-patch quilt block (so I have learned). Before stitching the 9 squares together, I was majorly hesitating. As in, I was going to scrap the entire block. I figured I would only stitch it together because I had all the squares cut out.

OhioStar_April_02WM
Detail of the needle-turn appliquéd bird.

Then, I figured I could needle-turn appliqué one of the birds onto the front. I’m still not 100% pleased with it. I wanted it to be leafier—to have the alternating trunks and leaves create the feeling of lush trees. Yup, that did NOT happen. BUT! I’m happy enough with it to keep in my Ohio Star quilt and to share it with you! Sometimes, it’s not a win-lose situation! Huzzah!

OhioStar_April_01WM
April’s Ohio Star Quilt Block

Copywriting Tip: Help Your Customer Choose the Right Product for Them

BedBathAndBeyond_01
Bed Bath & Beyond Mailer

This one comes from the latest mailer I received from Bed Bath & Beyond. In general, you need to tell your customer about the product benefit first (how it helps them) and then tell them about the features (how it does what it does, also known as the “reason to believe”).

In many cases like curtains, the benefit is generally understood: block out light, create privacy, and/or decoration. Now what? Of course, you can tell them about the features—quality fabrics, designer styles—but go above and beyond and walk them through selecting the perfect curtains for them, like this little “Windows 101” blurb does.

BedBathAndBeyond_02
Bed Bath & Beyond “Windows 101” Blurb

Bonus: your brand/company looks like an expert and we know from one of my previous copywriting tips, this starts to build customer trust.

When should you do this? Well, it’s all about knowing your customer. If you’re an insider, selecting window treatments may seem easy, duh. But, some people aren’t interior designers and haven’t thought about window treatments ever—maybe they’re furnishing their first home. Are you writing for one of those people? Then, help them through the decision-making process. A quick look at Bed Bath & Beyond’s website shows they have 1,858 window curtains and drapes. That’s a lot! Help the customer by writing simple instructions.

In short, know who your customer is and help them choose the right product.

Copywriting Tip: You Do You

LandsEndRhyme_01
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.

LandsEndRhyme_02
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.

Upcycled Baby Bodysuit: Reds T-Shirt

Upcycle_07
Reds t-shirt made with an upcycled baby bodysuit.

I recently endeavored to upcycle an old baby bodysuit. I have reinvented a dress into a skirt. And, I’ve ungendered kids clothes before. I love doing this because I’m conscious of the fast fashion versus slow fashion issue, but also kids grow fast, so I have a lot of good (okay, maybe slightly stained) baby and kids clothes. Not to mention, I enjoy a good sewing project!

Living in the Greater Cincinnati area, my kids are default Reds baseball fans. It’s a thing to wear Reds gear on opening day (March 29, 2018). I’ll never forget my first opening day. I was wearing red Converse sneakers (because I worked at a design/branding agency) and a guy in the elevator as I rode up in the morning commented, “I see you’re wearing your shoes for opening day.” I had no idea what he was talking about. I can’t remember if I just agreed to be agreeable or asked him to explain.

Because kids are always growing, they can’t necessarily wear the same Reds t-shirt year after year. Here’s where the upcycling comes in. I took a Reds baby bodysuit that had a few smudges and cutout the graphic and appliqued it onto a new t-shirt!

Here’s what I did.

Upcycle_01
The baby bodysuit. There are smudges on it that the camera didn’t quite pick up.

After choosing the bodysuit, I went to my nearby craft store and purchased a red t-shirt. This is probably a no-no if I want to truly upcycle old baby clothes. To be pure, I would have found a red t-shirt at a thrift shop. Oh well, I’m trying!

Upcycle_03
New red t-shirt. I washed it first, because I wash everything first.

Next, I ironed some fusible web to the backside of the image on the bodysuit and cut it out.

Upcycle_04
Fusible web being ironed onto the backside of the graphic.

 

I wasn’t completely sure how to center the Reds applique. My ruler was handy, so I placed it right at the armpits and then had a way to center the applique both horizontally and vertically.

Upcycle_05
Ruler placed from armpit to armpit to help find the “center.”

I then ironed on the applique. Now, while I was ironing, I forgot where I was for a moment and started going to town on the applique with the hot iron. Um, that graphic is a rubbery paint. So, yes, it got a little messy. Thank goodness I came back to earth and placed a cloth between the graphic and the iron. (Reminder for next time!)

Finally, I zigzag stitched around the perimeter of the applique to really secure it.

Upcycle_08
Quick zigzag stitch. Bonus! I already had the red thread!

Voila! A brand new Reds t-shirt ready to show some team spirit! My kid has already worn it once and it washed well. Huzzah! Go Redlegs!

 

Upcycle_07
The final product: Kids’ Reds t-shirt ready for opening day.