Tips, techniques and inspiration for marketing communications from Richard Groom at Peterborough Copywriting Bureau.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Shaping a written 'tone of voice' - part three

n my previous post I discussed some of the things about your writing that can have an effect on the tone of voice. Now let’s take things a step further, with five more things that can be considered.

Choosing your words

As you write, you are constantly making choices about the words you use.

(Or: while you communicate, you are continually deciding upon vocabulary options.)

In many cases, the choice you make will determine the level of formality or informality of what you write. Will you use currently or now? Will you use collaborate or work together? Will you use positive feedback or great response?

An example often mentioned (so hey, I’ll do it too) is that MailChimp tells its staff to write ‘So sorry for the hassle’ rather than ‘We apologise for the delay’. Even in a small sentence, it’s clear that using sorry and hassle rather than apologise and delay changes the tone of voice and, as a result, gives the reader a very different perception of the company.

A tip for improving as a writer in general, and for fine-tuning your written tone of voice, is to use a thesaurus again and again as you write. Look at the alternative words available, try out different combinations and see which words best suit your message and your brand.


Hang on a minute, surely there are no options about spelling. There is just one correct way to spell, right?

Well, no. There isn’t a central authority for spelling in the English language. Dictionary publishers make their own decisions about spelling and that can lead to some interesting dilemmas.

Most professional writers will use all right and consider alright a very informal spelling. Indeed, the folks at Oxford Dictionaries say that ‘alright is still regarded as being unacceptable in formal writing’.

But they also say: ‘There is no logical reason for insisting that all right should be written as two words rather than as alright, when other single-word forms such as altogether have long been accepted.’

Sometimes this lack of clarity over spelling has an effect on tone of voice. Using u instead of you would horrify my lawyer clients. But it might be just right - in places - for a young B2C brand. And I predict that one day even the Oxford English Dictionary will accept it: in fact it already lists as an informal alternative to you.


One of the problems with slang is that it might be perfectly normal to some people and completely meaningless to others. The MTV website says that 'Geordie Shore features people getting mortal'. Do you know what that means?

You must keep sight of who the audience is when you are writing, and consider how that affects your use of slang. If you don’t know your audience very well, try to consult with someone who does if you want to use slang.

I often write content aimed at IT experts, but I’m not an IT specialist. So if I use some slang to add informality and colour to a piece I check with some techies that the slang has an authentic ring to it.

Grammar ‘rules’

I have put ‘rules’ in inverted commas because many of the things we are told are rules are in fact not rules at all. And yes, that does mean the ‘rule’ that you can’t start a sentence with and.

Sometimes sticking to ‘correct’ grammar adds an unwelcome level of formality to writing. You might know when to use whom rather than who but if using whom makes your writing sound stuffy, do you really want to use it?

(By the way, I cover grammar and grammar myths on my Copywriting Skills Development Programme.)

Objective vs subjective

The use of subjectivity can play a big role in giving your writing (and therefore your organisation) a personality. So if your chosen tone of voice is all about having a brand personality, it’s something to consider.

Here are two approaches to describing a sofa:

This two-seater sofa has an especially soft fabric that you will love.

We love the fabric on this sofa. In fact, we wish our clothes could be this soft!

The second version has a strong personal opinion and in doing so adds some personality to the communication. If you are struggling to get a personality across, have a go at using some subjectivity in your writing: it may be just what you need.

In summary…

I hope that across these posts on tone of voice you have a good list of some of the variables to consider. There are hundreds or thousands of other articles, blogs and guides out there on the subject too, so invest some time in further reading if this is a topic of particular interest.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Shaping a written 'tone of voice' - part two

In my last post, I started to look at the written ‘tone of voice’. Although I shared a process for getting agreement on a tone of voice, I didn’t get into what actually influences this: what is it about your writing that affects the tone of voice?

Let me start by being pretty blunt: much of the brand guidelines I have seen are very poor when it comes to tone of voice guidance. They often say things like ‘write in an engaging way’ and ‘write as you speak’ and leave it at that.

What we writers really need is a much clearer steer on an organisation’s tone of voice. So let’s look at some of the specific choices you can make that will change the tone of voice of your writing. I’ll look at five things in this edition, and there will be more next time.


Using don’t instead of do not may not sound like a big deal, but in a piece of writing of 500 words there could be several opportunities for contractions. If you use contractions every time you will generally have a softer, more personal tone than if you don’t.

Here is a before and after example:

Before (no contractions): Volunteers find that it is not difficult to get a lot from the experience and they are often involved in fun activities. Please do not worry about being left alone as we have made sure you will get lots of support.

After (with contractions): Volunteers find that it’s not difficult to get a lot from the experience and they’re often involved in fun activities. Please don’t worry about being left alone as we’ve made sure you’ll get lots of support.

I suppose sometimes a case could be made for not using contractions, but personally my default position is that contractions are fine – and they rarely, if ever, make writing look sloppy or unprofessional, which is a concern that some people have.

Cutting down on words

Turning a 150-word piece into a 100-word piece often softens a tone of voice because it often includes taking out phrases that sound stuffy and formal in favour of shorter equivalents. If you use due to the fact that instead of because, or at the present time instead of now you will end up with something that has a harder, more formal feel than the shorter alternatives.

Using ‘you’

Some organisations never want to use the word you, preferring instead to say our clients and the like. Generally, using you will soften the tone of voice. But watch out, because it can be overdone and writing often needs a blend of the two approaches.


Jargon has its place in peer-to-peer communication. If I am sending an email to colleagues involved in search engine optimisation I will write SEO. It would in fact look very odd to spell out the full phrase.

But too often, people write for customers or other stakeholders who won’t get the jargon. When we do this, we can make our writing (and our organisation) appear elitist and unfriendly.

Just look at this sentence intended for parents of 14-16 year-old children:
The activity delivers aspects of work related learning and helps to develop and evidence key skills and enterprise capability.

The word evidence is not normally used in that way. I suspect that enterprise capability is a term that the organisation writing the sentence uses a lot, but it’s not something that every reader will understand straight away, or even at all.

Passive vs active voice

Although there’s nothing wrong with using the passive voice, in general it seems that the passive voice makes our writing more approachable:

Passive voice: Innovative products and services are offered by our company.

Active voice: Our company offers innovative products and services.

More next time...

I’ve started with five fairly obvious influences on tone of voice. Next time, I’ll get deeper into the subject and draw on examples from organisations with varying approaches.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Shaping a written 'tone of voice' - part one

There is no shortage of discussion online about the importance of a brand’s tone of voice. Google will bring you some excellent articles and I won't go through all the issues here.

But what strikes me is that some of the branding gurus make it all sound much more complicated than it needs to be. Most of my clients have tackled the issue as they go along, fine-tuning the stuff they write (or I write) when needed to remain consistent and appropriate.

Sometimes however it is important to revisit the style of what’s being written. Lots of things could prompt this. One that springs to mind is that there might be inconsistent styles after a merger of two businesses. Another is a move to a different media (such as an app or new style of advertising), while a move to a new market could also be the driver.

Whatever the case, when a review is needed you can spend hours or even days in workshops talking about the brand’s values and personality. Creative techniques can be used to decide whether your brand is like a grumpy old cat or a funny little puppy. (You know the sort of workshop I mean, right?)

That approach might work really well, and I’m not dismissing it out of hand. But in my experience, and for B2B companies in particular, it doesn’t have to be such a big deal.

A quick and painless way to revisit tone of voice

Recently a client asked me to create content for the company's first app. This was a good time to revisit the tone of voice, both for the business as a whole and specifically for the app content.

I simply took a piece of writing already approved from a messaging and technical accuracy point of view and edited it into three versions. Version one was was the way the organisation usually writes. Version two tried to jazz things up a little. Version three took things a bit further.

This is a B2B company in a fairly straight laced industry, so even version three wasn’t particularly wild. But there were clear differences between each version.

We organised a 30-minute meeting with the marketing manager, marketing communications manager, sales director and managing director. That was all it took for everyone to have their say on which bits of the three versions they felt were suitable for representing the brand.

From there, it was a straightforward matter of creating a single version that now acts as a reference when we write new materials.

As for the specific techniques I used for changing the words and tone of voice…that’s what I’ll look at soon...

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Why you shouldn't sweat too much over draft #1

Writers know that it's important that everyone involved understands the process we use. The process may seem painful to some people, but it's how all writers eventually produce the right words.

We writers churn out (sorry, carefully craft) thousands of words each day. Most of what we write is intended to be draft copy for others to review. Ultimately, it is a client - either an actual external client, or a boss if we are working in-house - who has final say on what's published.

Experienced writers know that we can't hope to get every word right, every time. Or rather, we can't hope to write what our client wants, every time. There is a process going on where we write a draft, get feedback on the draft, write another draft and so on.

Anyone - writer or client - who thinks that a 'perfect' version should always be written on draft one, two or three is being unrealistic. Yes, it can happen, and it's great when it does. But more often than not, it's a process that takes a bit longer.

Let's look at why multiple drafts might be needed before we get to the final, approved and published version...

Writers don't care as much about words as clients do


What? Is Richard now saying that even though he has been writing for 20+ years he doesn't care about words? In a way, yes.

The issue is that we writers have lots of options about the words we use. There is never 'one correct way' to phrase something. Ultimately, it is the client who chooses what's right. That's why we don't labour endlessly over every word and every phrase in early drafts.

The client reading a draft usually has a very clear idea about how they want the message to be phrased. Or, more likely, they instantly know whether they like or dislike the writer's choice of words when they read a draft. So it would be daft for the writer to try to make a first draft 'perfect' because no matter what we write, the chances are the client will see things differently.

Here's an example. A writer working in the automotive sector writes this:

'Buy this product and you will instantly transform your motor maintenance costs'.

The client could like that and approve it immediately, or have any number of thoughts about that phrase, such as:
  • We shouldn't say 'buy' as that emphasises the fact they customers have to give us money, so we should say 'invest in' instead'.
  • I don't like the word 'product': I prefer 'solution'.
  • 'Instantly' is too big a promise so we should say 'soon' instead.
  • I think that 'vehicle' is better than 'motor'.
  • Using the word 'you' sounds too informal.
Now, none of these reactions are wrong. And none are right. They are all subjective feelings about words. True, they may be informed by knowledge of the target market and overall context, but they are subjective nonetheless.

The point is that the writer cannot possibly know whether the client would rather say 'motor' or 'vehicle', or 'buy' or 'invest in'. Even the best briefing process won't go into that amount of detail about every word or phrase.

Great writing is a process of draft, feedback and re-draft

At some point, the writer has to get something down on paper (so to speak) and get it out to the client. The client needs to know that the writer will very likely use some words or phrases that the client won't like. The writer may miss out important messages. The overall tone of voice, length of copy, amount of detail and so on may be wrong.

But here's the thing: it doesn't matter. Because when the boss/client gives detailed, specific feedback about the first couple of drafts, the writer will be in a much better position to craft words that are suitable. 

That feedback stage is a vital part of the briefing process. Writers and clients alike need to embrace the process. Yes, it can feel a bit painful at times. But it's an important part of the work both parties must do if the end result is suitable, effective content.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Ball park prices are often better than no prices

A while back, I was delivering an in-house copywriting workshop at a B2B software company and the discussion soon got onto pricing. In particular, the marketing team were unsure about whether to mention product prices across their marketing communications.

They were often telling readers that their products were competitively priced. But the concern was that this was just getting lost in the ‘noise’ of the communications, because specific prices weren't featured.

We talked for a while about the way that big retailers approach price. They wouldn’t say ‘we can typically save you 20 percent on your baked bean costs’. They show the actual price of their beans, often comparing with rival retailers. Without the real prices they would have much less credibility.

Things aren't so easy in some markets. In B2B in particular, the trend is NOT to list actual prices, because every client and every project is different. And yes, there are definitely situations when that might be the right approach, such as when sales teams have a lot of leeway on setting a price linked to a client’s needs, budget and so on.

But the trend is changing, partly driven by technology. Software providers, for example, are increasingly featuring ways that prospective customers can build their solution package online and get a price. And even when this isn't an option, it is often possible to give a pretty good indication of price.

The case for showing prices

In most cases, people will have a rough idea of a typical price anyway. That might be knowledge they have gained through experience, or it could be as a result of careful research. So giving people an indication of price shows that you are in the industry average ballpark (unless you are specialising at either extreme end of the price/value spectrum).

Showing the price has other benefits: 
  • If few of your competitors show prices, people might welcome your transparency, trust you more, and contact you as a result. 
  • They might buy from you because they are too busy to go through an enquiry/quotation process with other providers. 
  • You might ‘weed out’ people who can’t afford you: very important where fielding multiple ‘no go’ enquiries is costly. 

B2B buyers are increasingly looking for a price ASAP

Some research by Google back in 2014 confirmed that, increasingly, people doing the research during B2B buying processes are millennials (20-35 year-olds) who have been brought up in a culture of online purchasing. They are used to Googling something and finding what they want, including a price.

Compare that with 20 or more years ago. When I bought my first car 25 years ago I went to a car insurance broker, gave him my details, and waited for a few hours for him to get back to me with a price. Nowadays, we go online and expect to see a price within minutes – or even seconds. B2B buyers are often looking for a similar experience at work too.

This trend from the B2C world is massively influencing B2B. Price - in many sectors - is not the last thing that people expect to find out in the buying process. It's one of the first, and businesses often need to take this on board when developing marketing communications.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Five ways to bring your B2B copy to life

Last month my mini series on B2B copywriting continued with a promise of some tips for bringing potentially uninspiring subject matter to life, so here it is. I start with the foundation for writing more engaging B2B content, and then look at four approaches you can take.

1. Know the subject. (I mean, REALLY know the subject.)

This is where it all starts. You have to know your subject matter inside out. Usually, that involves talking to the experts. You need to be great at asking the right questions and at listening hard to the answers. You need to be able to get along with people who would rather be doing something else than talking to some idiot from the marketing department.

It’s only when you talk to the experts – the people who know the product well, for example – that you’ll get to the really good stuff. The details about the situation that will get readers to sit up and take notice. Being a good copywriter is at least 50% about being good at going out and finding the good stuff, even if people in the business don’t think it’s there.

And if at all possible, try to experience the subject matter yourself. If I am writing about a new type of exercise bike I want to ride it for a while and try all its settings and features. I need to experience it in a way that works for me, so I can write with authority and confidence about it. A few years ago I wrote about a new type of very expensive pillow, so the client gave me one and I slept on it for a week before starting on the copy.

2. Tell a story

You’ve heard this one a thousand times already, but that’s because it’s a good one. Usually there’s a story to be told. A beginning, middle and end that can guide the reader through what you want them to know.

For a new product, the beginning might be that someone spotted an opportunity to help businesses improve efficiency. The middle might be years of product development. The end might be the launch. That’s the basic framework, but within each element there will likely be plenty of meat to put on the bones: the detail that fleshes out the story.

3. Get personal

Most people like people. We like reading about them. We like their story. So if there’s a person who features in the subject matter, see if you can focus on them.

On a simple level, an interview with a qualified expert on a subject is generally going to be a more attractive proposition than a general guide to the subject.

Compare these teasers:

Option one: ‘Read our five-point guide to getting the best car insurance deal.’ 

Option two: ‘Veteran insurance claims assessor Tom Upton shares 30 years’ experience on the must-have features of car insurance.’

But see if you can go one step further and really bring out the personal story. Has Tom met people who lost a lot through choosing the wrong insurance? Is Tom part of an initiative to improve road safety standards?

4. Focus on one thing

Imagine for a moment that a journalist is faced with the task of writing a story about someone who has just renovated and sold a house for a big profit. The actual story will involve many different things. There’s the financial side, right down to what mortgage arrangement they had, their previous experience, the suppliers and tradespeople they used, how they juggled family and work commitments, the local market conditions, and so it goes on.

So guess what journalists do? They look into all the detail and pull out one especially unusual or interesting facet of the story, and focus on that. It could be that the project took just two weeks, or that the developer was 18 years old, or that builders found a rare fossil in the floor. This is bread and butter stuff for journalists. They are always looking for an angle to bring subject matter to life.

It’s an approach that you can take in your B2B writing to. What angle should you go for? Of course it should be one that will resonate with the people you are aiming the piece at. One question to ask is: what is the biggest problem that this product/service/project solves for people? If you can find an angle based around that problem, and its solution, you are on a winner.

5. Be reader-specific

One challenge with B2B copy is that it might be read by several types of person in an organisation. If I’m writing something about a new piece of sales software it might be read by the sale director, sales manager, sales people, head of IT, finance manager and so on.

Covering all the bases in a single piece can be tricky. But if I commit to writing pieces aimed squarely at a single type of person, I can make it much more interesting. So how about a suite of pieces, with each one clearly labelled as being for a specific audience? Or if it has to be one piece, let’s break it into chunks and use clear subheadings so everyone knows which bit is for them.

So the next time you write B2B copy, try some new techniques for bringing it to life. No matter how dull the subject matter might be at first, if you dig deep, get to understand the people behind the subject and look hard for an angle, you can liven up the message. 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

More tips for better B2B copywriting

A recent Marketing Booster looked at some of the differences between B2B and B2C copywriting. The main one was the way that – generally speaking – B2B readers are interested in features and detail. Their expertise means that they need to read the technical stuff, as well as the benefits.

Benefits do of course matter. However they need to be very relevant to the audience, which is why I looked at how thinking about ‘results’ rather than ‘benefits’ can help us focus in on what really matters to the B2B reader.

I promised more on things to consider when writing B2B copy, so in classic ‘people like lists’ fashion, here we go…

1. Shelve the spin

Whatever your political beliefs, you have to admit that much of the EU Referendum campaigning saw politicians take spin and the application of media training to a new level. Avoiding important issues may work for them, but savvy buyers will not like it if you do it in your marketing communications.

If something about your product or service is a bit ‘meh’, don’t try to pull the wool over your readers’ eyes. It is possible to be honest, without appearing too negative.

Let’s take a fictional example to see how you can do this. You are promoting a product that excels in one area, but is nothing better than standard in another. Here’s one way to address that: 

The central hub of the GH200X meets all the industry standards, but it isn’t what makes this product so special. Look past the hub and you’ll see a clever gearing system that means you can easily switch between six speeds – one more than most similar units. 

That extra gear is especially useful when you need to tackle extra-heavy loads and it’s why the capacity of the GH200X is 25 tonnes.

See how easy it is to quickly move on from the ‘standard’ feature and get to the more exciting bit? But at the same time, we have ticked off the standard bit too.

2. And avoid even more spin

It’s easy to get dragged into writing general, meaningless, trite phrases. So go easy on phrases like ‘class-leading performance’ and ‘unrivalled expertise’ UNLESS you can back them up with facts. Or just give people the facts and let them make up their own mind.

3. Be consistent

As organisations grow, so does the amount of information across their websites, catalogues, marketing campaign materials and so on. And that’s when things can get messy.

Some businesses have a real problem with this. Product descriptions on multiple media are written by the product, sales and marketing teams. So a customer could see the same product explained on the website and in sales presentations, product literature, advertisements, promotional videos and elsewhere. Different writers could have created each piece of content, with no process in place to ensure consistency.

Readers might see the same product being named in several different ways. To use a fictional example again, a single product might be listed as a 25kg Hub, a Central Hub Maxpower, Maximum Power Central Hub and so on. There are also often inconsistencies in product features, specifications and positioning messages.

Not all B2B customers will notice this or care about it. But some will, and arguably it’s the ones with the most money to spend who will pay most attention to detail. Remove the confusion and make sure everything is clear and consistent.

4. Involve the experts

Unless you are truly an expert in the subject matter, get the help of people who are. Delve deep into their knowledge and experience. And if you are a good writer but not so hot on talking to people, prioritise that as something to work on.

5. Don’t be dull

Finally, just because I am calling for the inclusion of information, detail and depth in B2B copy doesn’t mean it has to be dull or boring. In the next Marketing Booster, I’ll share some tips for getting some life, colour and even excitement into your writing, no matter what the subject matter.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

How does B2B copywriting differ from B2C copywriting?

I sat in on a great online interview with a B2B specialist copywriter some time ago and it was interesting stuff. (The half-hour interview is with Michael Fischler and you can hear it here.)

What struck me about the interview was a point Michael made about features and benefits. In short, he said that B2B copywriting should be heavier on the features than B2C. That's because B2B buyers are usually knowledgeable - experts in many cases - who need and expect to see certain 'nuts and bolts' information.

As a broad principle, I agree 100%. If you are working on a piece of B2C copy, in many (most?) cases the reader will have little knowledge about the finer details of the subject matter.

Someone choosing which shampoo to buy doesn't usually know the difference between ammonium chloride and sodium lauryl sulfate. And most TV buyers don't really know whether a 1600 Hx processing rate is a useful feature.

Marketers do of course often include this type of information in consumer campaigns. It sounds good, and that's OK I guess.

And yes, there are 'prosumers' who know their stuff. My nephew is one. He's a total video game geek who definitely knows whether his next PC should have a dual-core processor or a quad-core one.

But generally spaking, it's the B2B readers who know the technical issues and requirements. You're writing for a company that makes saw blades used in quarries? Well, you had better include information on applications, noise performance, yield, efficiency, precision, rim width, rim depth, arbor size, recommended RPM and so on.

That's not to say that you shouldn't also write about the benefits. But maybe the thing is not to concentrate on the benefits that are obvious, given the features and technical information. The reader will probably know that the more teeth per inch the blade has, the finer the cut. So listing the teeth-per-inch may be enough to get that message across. But if not...

What is a benefit, anyway?

One useful trick when writing is to think of 'results' instead of 'benefits'.

We may think that a benefit of more teeth per inch is a finer cut. But the result might be 'less waste', which could hit the spot with readers better than 'a finer cut'.

If the result is 5% less waste that's even better. If it's an average of $15,000 less waste per day in a typical granite quarry, even better still. Even the most technically-aware B2B reader will be interested in that, so long as we back it up with evidence.

(By the way, I know nothing about saw blades or quarries, so forgive me if you do and my examples are silly!)

For every benefit we might include in B2B copy, we should really push ourselves hard to question its value for the reader. Work hard on the research. Talk to the experts in your business. If you can identify some great results that the features achieve for customers, they could be worth including.

More next time  

What else should you bear in mind when writing B2B copy? Look out for some more tips and tricks in the next Marketing Booster.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Recording audio makes you a better writer

f you find yourself in a role where you have to write a lot of content every week (or even every day) it can soon start to get pretty exhausting.

No matter how well you use techniques for research and planning before you write, there will be many times when your fingers hover over the keyboard, but your brain can’t get them to move.

One technique that I have been using for years (and more so than ever lately) has proved to be wonderful for overcoming this problem: recording conversations.

So if I am writing a case study, I will record the conversations I have with the product/service users that are talking me through the case in question. Or if I am writing a blog post that will be attributed to someone else, I will have a chat with them about the subject matter and record that too.

On almost every occasion, when I listen back to the recording I can transcribe it and edit as I go. Pretty soon, I get very close to having a proper draft of the case study, blog post or whatever else it is I am working on.

Because I am working from the expert’s actual words, the piece I write will usually be better than if I worked from my notes.

In fact, recording is much more effective than taking notes. Unless you are a very fast writer or know shorthand, you’ll never be able to get every word down – but it’s the details that note-taking often misses that will make for good content.

Here are some tips for getting the most from this technique:

Audio quality really matters

If the recorder on your phone works well then so be it. But you may need to get a dedicated audio recorder instead to make it easy to listen back to the conversations.

You may also need to invest in a good separate microphone. Again, it depends on what results you can get from the built-in mic on whatever equipment you use.

Try it for recording phone calls 

I can record conversations with people I actually meet, but most of the conversations I have are by phone, so I have my tools for recording calls set up and ready to go with just a couple of buttons to press.

I put people on speaker phone and record via a mic into a digital recorder but you can get more sophisticated tools for this that link your phone straight to your PC.

Test, test and test 

Do some dummy runs to make sure the equipment works. For the first few real recordings, do a little test and check via playback before you start.

Always keep checking that you are still recording as you go along. Trust me, devices stop working, batteries run out and recording media gets full. Don’t get so engrossed in the conversation that you don’t notice that you are still on ‘pause’ or that you have run out of disc space.

Take notes too 

Just in case the recording fails and you notice too late, notes make a pretty good back-up.

Put your subject at ease 

Make sure that the other party knows that this is just for your purposes and that it won’t be listened to by anyone else.

If you haven’t already done so, get recording – I’m certain that your writing will improve and that you'll find the process a lot easier too.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Think like a cynical customer - it'll help you write better

When you start work on writing some new marketing materials you no doubt talk to colleagues about the product or service. One of the problems you might find is that everyone is very positive about the product. Why is that a problem? It’s because your readers are almost certainly not as keen on the product as your colleagues are.

In fact, it’s likely that readers (ie potential customers in most cases) are starting out from a cynical standpoint. And it’s your job when copywriting to anticipate that attitude. Being able to act as devil's advocate when researching subject matter is essential if you are to write truly outstanding marketing content.

Try to imagine the reader thinking: ‘Here we go again - someone else trying to flog me something I don’t need’. Once you can do that, you are in a much better position to write because you are now focused on trying to move the reader from that point of view to one where they will consider investigating or buying the product.

To get myself (and the other people involved in a project) in the right mindset I have a killer question I often ask during the briefing/research process:

‘Why wouldn’t someone buy this product?’ Or better still: ‘Why aren’t they buying it?’
You can imagine the sort of answers you’ll get to that question:
•    They’ve never heard of us.
•    They think it’s too expensive.
•    They think the competition is better.
•    They have no evidence to back up our claims.
•    They think they can manage without it.
•    They have been to our website and got lost in the terrible navigation.
•    They don't know anybody else that uses it.
•    They don't fully understand what it does.
•    And so on.

As you can see, this is a time for total honesty from you and your colleagues. You have to play devil’s advocate and you have to be tough when you do it.

Addressing readers' concerns head-on

Once you have identified 50-100 reasons why someone wouldn't buy the product, here are three further steps:

1. Identify which of the reasons can't be addressed. (There may be some that you really can't do anything about.)

2. Identify which of the reasons can be addressed BUT not with words. For example, if the product doesn't come in red you can't really overcome that objection in a brochure. This sort of thing needs addressing by someone else and may be for the long-term.

3. Identify which CAN be addressed by your new marketing content. For example, if something is seen as expensive maybe you can write about payment plans, whole of life costs, the reasons that it costs so much (eg better materials are used than anyone else’s product) and so on.

Now you are all set to get working on marketing messages that will probably be much better and compelling than if you didn't go through this type of process.