What Your Copywriter Wants To Know

Imagine you’re a designer and your client says, “I want a cool font and I want my site/business card/logo to stand out.” It’s not a lot to go on, right?

You’ll want to know all kinds of other things: what their competitors are doing so you can make it stand out from theirs, what the general expectation of the industry is like (no good having a super-friendly, chatty site when potential customers are looking for super-professional), and what’s going to hook in their potential clients.

Copywriting is similar. I can’t count the number of times someone’s said to me that they want a website/brochure and then made me guess what they want by reading my draft and saying something like, “it’s not bad but it still needs more zing.”

All that achieves is that I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job by them, they don’t get what they want (usually because they don’t know what they want “but I’ll know when I see it”), and if they’ve chosen an hourly rate, it costs them more.

I decided some time ago that there had to be a better way. So now I send a briefing form, which covers everything I want to know. It’s also great for forcing the potential client to have a think about what they’re trying to achieve, which makes the process go much more smoothly and vastly improves the end result.

These are some of the things I like to know:

– What’s your objective? What are you trying to achieve? Do you want to get sales, get business leads, provide information, or something else? What do you want them to do?
– Who’s your audience? You can’t just say ‘anyone’ – nobody is all things to all people. Is it men, women, business owners, mothers, health food fanatics, wealthy labradoodle owners in Michigan, who?
– What are your unique selling points? Why should they buy from you above all others?
– What’s your brand personality? Here’s where I like to see existing material, such as brochures and newsletters you’ve already used. That way I can get a handle on how you already present your business.
– Why might people not want to buy from you? Is your product in a new niche? Is it expensive? It’s important to know what people’s buying objections might be so you can allay their worries.

These are all things to think about before you call in a copywriter. The more your copywriter knows, the better response you’ll get from your market.

WRITING COPY FOR OTHER AUDIENCES

Like most people who work freelance, I get my share of work from clients in other countries.

Compared to a lot of languages, English is pretty standard among native speakers – sure, there are different accents, and some words are different, and the spelling varies – but the differences between, say, New Zealand English and American English aren’t as pronounced as some versions of languages such as German.

But it is important to get it right when you’re copywriting for audiences other than your own. The last thing you want is for the business you’re writing for to come across as being not quite up with the play among their own target market.

British English is easy for me. New Zealand English is often a bit of a hybrid between British and American (the spelling is the same as British, but American words have a tendency to creep in), but is closest to British in terms of spelling and most grammar. As well, I was brought up by British parents, with a British extended family, and have lived in England twice, so that makes it easy for me!

As for working for US-based clients, that’s a bit more challenging. I have to be careful with spelling words like colour/color, and choosing words like sidewalk/pavement and holiday/vacation. But it’s not that hard.

Set the spell checker to US English and that takes care of most of the spelling; as for the tone, I read it through (silently) in an American accent to check that nothing feels wrong.

An American copywriter once asked me what my internal American accent sounded like; I think he was imagining a cowboy-style drawl. It’s not as interesting as that, just the standard American accent that’s typically used in movies and the rest of the media.

That said, I’ve found that US-based clients are pretty understanding about the odd little mistake, given that they know full well they’re working with a Kiwi.

And if in doubt, I’ll pull up a competitor’s website from the same country to make sure it doesn’t sound just plain wrong.