What is Copywriting? And What is it Not?

We’ve all heard the term copywriting. But what is it really?

In the most simple terms, I describe copywriting as “conversational sales writing.”

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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

THE THREE ASPECTS OF COPYWRITING

But truly, copywriting can be broken down even further. There are three key aspects that define effective copywriting:

Copywriting is not salesy; instead, it’s speaking to your ideal client through the computer screen in the same way you’d talk with them over coffee.

Effective copy centers the conversation about WHY and HOW the product, service, or program will make the consumer’s life better. It revolves around the product’s benefits, not the product’s features.

Although effective copy is NOT poetic, it IS inviting, interactive, and emotionally-engaging.

Now, let’s take a deeper look at these three aspects by looking at examples of effective and ineffective copy.

EXAMPLES OF GOOD AND BAD COPY

Let’s dive a layer deeper into these three aspects by comparing examples of powerful, emotionally-charged copy verses copy so drab it’ll put your readers to sleep faster than chamomile tea.

*For all the following examples, let’s pretend we’re promoting a new brand of an insulated thermos.

Although copywriting is conversational sales writing, the purpose is NOT to focus on the sale. This makes the brand appear solely sales-driven rather than caring about the customer and their needs.

Here are some samples of salesy and ineffective copy to steer clear from:

  • Time is running out! Buy this thermos before they fly off the shelves!
  • For today only, this thermos is $29.99!
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Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash

You wouldn’t say something like this to a potential customer between sips of your vanilla chai latte. So it doesn’t belong on your brand’s website or social media channels either.

Copywriting is a conversation. It’s interactive. It asks questions. It tells stories. Just because the copy is on a screen doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) engage with the consumer. Copywriting is a two-way street.

Here’s a sample of engaging, relationship-driven copy:

Summer is upon us! You know what this means. Long days at the lake. Exploring new hiking trails. Road trips for days!

Summer also means thinking of clever ways to keep your water cold so you can stay hydrated. You shouldn’t have to give up chilled drinks to have fun in the sun all day long.

This double-insulated thermos was made to hydrate the adventurer in you. And you know what that means. With an ice-cold beverage by your side, there’s no stopping how far you can explore or how long you can party.

Where will you take your thermos this summer?

See how this example is interactive? It asks questions. It gets the reader imagining what they’ll be doing this summer, and helps them envision their future self with the thermos in hand.

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Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

This is a much more entertaining conversation than simply telling the reader to buy a product without even explaining how it’ll benefit them.

Copywriting does not focus on the features of the product. Not only is this just plain dull, but it also fails to explain to the reader the benefit they’ll get from using the product.

Here are samples of majorly lackluster, feature-focused copy:

  • This thermos keeps your beverages cold for eight hours and hot for twelve!
  • The bottle has a handle to provide a firm grip and prevent accidents
  • It has a flap over the mouth so you can keep it closed when you’re not using it

Blah. Have your eyes glazed over yet?

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Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

Instead of focusing on the product’s features, center your copy around how the product benefits your readers. Now, keep in mind, benefits are born from the features, but benefits enhance the reader’s life while the features are simply the product’s specs.

Here are some samples of motivating and empowering copy:

  • This thermos keeps your beverages hot for eight hours. So go ahead, shred it all day on the slopes and return to your piping hot coffee that’s patiently waiting for you. No need to spend money in the lodge when this life-giving, hand-thawing drink is ready to warm both body and soul.
  • The bottle’s ribbed coating will prevent any slippage. Yes, even dripping sweat after your Zumba class, you’ll be able to grip the thermos with your tired hands and re-hydrate.
  • This thermos might just be the cheapest new furniture warranty yet. Just flip the tab over the mouth and enjoy your favorite drink from the comfort of your new ivory couch without the fear of infuriating and expensive-to-fix and spills and stains.
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Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

See how these samples center around the product’s benefits? They integrate into the story of how the consumer will be happier, healthier, and save money because of the thermos.

Wow. I know we’re not really marketing a thermos here, but now I kinda want one.

As humans, we love to read things that are intriguing and entertaining. But if we’re trying to market a product or service, pretty words and poetic sentences won’t turn prospects to clients.

Check out this sample with overly-embellished phrases:

He sits at his desk, shadows crossing his face as the sunlight dims. Like his lost love, he no longer finds comfort in the steam of coffee or his withering dreams. He surfs old pictures on his phone. Nostalgia takes over but his coffee turns cold. He holds the telephone to his ear like a conch shell, pretending the voice on the other end is the ocean.

Any idea what that copy is trying to market? No? Me either! I feel like I’m back in high school trying to analyze archaic poetry.

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Photo by Sheep . from Pexels

The point is, we can’t try to convert prospects into consumers with just pretty words. Effective copywriting can contain pretty words, but they have to mean something, and the message has to be clear.

Although effective copy cannot be pure poetry, it’s still crucial to engage the senses of the reader. Including words that resonate with touch, sound, sight, smell, taste, and movement will make the words leap off the screen and pull the reader into the world of the product you’re marketing.

You sit at the soccer field, sodden in sunlight and pungent grass stinging your nostrils. Your kid boots the ball into the net — swoosh! You nearly have to plug your ears from the blaring applause and ear-splitting whistles.

In the sweltering heat, you take a sip from your thermos, letting the arctic water somersault in your mouth. You close your eyes, and for a moment, you swear snowflakes raise goosebumps on your skin.

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Photo by Edoardo Busti on Unsplash

See how using words that engage the senses makes the scenario almost 3D? The more real the story feels to the reader, the more likely they are to purchase the product.

IN CONCLUSION

In simplest terms, copywriting is conversational sales writing.

In detail, copywriting an engaging conversation that focuses on improving the consumer’s life through sensory storytelling.

Written by

Chronic illness patient advocate & blogger at TheComicalColon.com. Poet & novelist-in-progress. ISFJ. Enneagram 9. Love social media, personality tests, & cats.

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