“Today’s marketplace is no longer responsive to the strategies that worked in the past. There are just too many products, too many companies, and too much marketing noise.”
Jack Trout and Al Reis, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (1980).
The 7 Quality Checkpoints of High-performance Copy
Does your content sound like corporate spin? Do your emails go straight to the spam box? Are your blogs nothing more than self-indulgent ramblings? Prospects are reading someone’s content – just not yours! Attracting their attention in today’s overcrowded marketplace is like shaving off a few seconds of lap time in a Formula One race.
You must create higher quality content to stand out. There’s no other way. Here are seven quality checkpoints for creating high-performance copy.
1. Project Information
Did you know the most important part of Formula One race strategy is the tires? An F1 car may cost 15 million and can go from zero to 60 mph in 2 seconds, but the tires are the only part touching the ground. Different tires are used based on weather conditions. They affect the number of pit-stops and the amount of grip a car has through corners. Overall lap time is what determines the winner.
Your copy is often the only part of your marketing touching the customer. The guidelines used for crafting the copy determine its success or failure. Your copywriter must have a Creative Brief to guide them. Otherwise, they’re left guessing.
This brief should describe who’ll be reading the copy and where it will be seen. The more it’s focused on a specific audience for a specific reason, the more leverage the writer has for getting results. Copy directed at everyone for any reason is like trying to boil the ocean.
2. Research plan
The greater part of winning a Formula One race happens in the engineering department. A crowd may cheer for the driver, but a 1st place finish is fundamentally an exercise in R&D.
A writer is making a big mistake if their first step is to start writing. Instead, they must collect research. It’s wise to create a plan, too. The primary focus is usually the target audience. What do they want? What will motivate them to read the piece?
As much as companies love their products, customers care only about solving their problems. What excites them? What keeps them awake at night? What do they already know about your topic? What argument or explanation will engage them?
3. Research gathering
The job of F1 engineers is to build a winning car with the best available materials. That’s why engines come from engine experts, like BMW. Tires come from tire experts like Michelin.
Copywriters are experts on writing copy. It’s wrong to assume they must be product experts, too. The copy should be focused on the audience not the product. Too much product knowledge could limit the writer’s ability to be customer-centric. In a hyper-connected digital environment, content is the new commodity. Research reports are continuously regurgitated. Proprietary research will give your marketing pieces a head start. For that you need to conduct interviews.
Interviewing lets a writer instantly plug into the expert knowledge of anyone who’s relevant to the content.Asking the right questions to during an interview is the master skill of the copywriter. And it’s the key to creating high-value content that attracts smart customers. A product manager, salesperson or a customer can all be useful sources of information for creating effective content that’s resistant to commoditization.
4. Content Outline
A modern Formula One car is designed to generate enough down force to overcome the force of gravity. So much so, it could easily race upside down on the ceiling of a tunnel.
Like the body of a car, every type of copy has an underlying structure. Email campaigns and video scripts are structured for persuasion. Informational content like eBooks or White Papers are designed to be rational and objective. Content that tells a story such as a case study or article is structured for that purpose, too.
The copywriter must determine the copy structure based on the Creative Brief. Once a basic outline has been determined, the writing can begin. However, this is just a starting point. The copy structure may change slightly depending how the project comes together.
An F1 team has hundreds of engineers and technicians assembling the engine, exhaust system, electronics and a multitude of other parts into the monocoque chassis.
Copywriting is more of an assembly job, too. In fact, it’s nothing like what most people think of as writing. The research is assembled rather than written into the outline. The purpose of the initial rough draft is to make an intangible idea more concrete. So, the rough draft is for the writer’s eyes only.
At this point the copy is little more than halfway finished. This initial draft is only a sketch of ideas. It’s at the next stage where the real magic happens.
Once a F1 car is assembled, it’s still not race-ready. It must be performance tested on a race simulator. Here, it will experience the same bumping and jarring as it would during a race. Then it’s adjusted for optimum performance.
Your copy must be road tested, too. Only the race simulator is inside the copywriter’s imagination. To run it, they imagine themselves walking in the shoes of the target audience as they read the copy. How will the reader will react? Will the copy persuade or educate them as directed by the Creative Brief? The goal here is to shape the copy until it aligns perfectly with the Creative Brief in the fewest possible words.
But the creative process takes time. An incubation period is needed for the best ideas to evolve and reach their full potential. This stage can take longer than all the previous steps combined. Try to speed up the process and the copy will suffer. Well-organized Marketing Directors use a marketing calendar to plan in advance rather than rush the copywriter.
F1 teams produce a single vehicle prototype that’s fine tuned to perfection. Any component adding unnecessary weight or that’s not cutting edge is instantly removed.
Proofreading the content is the final step. The proofreader doesn’t need to worry about the meaning of the copy or its impact on the target audience. So, they can focus on the written form it takes.
Their job is to eliminate distracting grammar issues, spelling mistakes or sentence structure. This job is best left to professional proofreaders with fresh eyes and advanced degrees in English.
Give Your Copy More Grip
Formula One race teams spend 15 million dollars building an F1 car. But the tires are the only part touching the track. Your company may spend 100K annually on marketing, but your results will be severely limited without effective copy.
A Creative Brief gives your copy its best chance for success. There’s more to copywriting than the writing. In fact, 80% of the work is something other than writing. Here again are the seven checkpoints to achieving results driven Trailblazer quality copy.