9 do's and don'ts we learned at the 2017 Copywriting Conference

January 2, 2018

This year's Copywriting Conference was crammed with useful insights around the customer disconnect, mobile UX and, of course, copywriting (despite the fact that there was a glaring grammatical error on one of the event banners‚ see if you can spot it in the picture below, comma fans‚).  

All the slides are available online, but here are some of our copywriter Molly Whitehead-Jones' and marketing assistant Cassie Keith's most memorable thoughts, ideas and insights from the day.  

Don't force your readers into a regressive reading spiral

Keynote speaker Sarah Richards has done some insanely impressive work around content strategy and design (she and her team won [the only-ever D&AD Black Pencil for Writing for Design back in 2013].

Her talk focused on 'The Science of Ordinary Words', and we were particularly interested in her insights into regressive reading (which is when you instinctively skip back to re-read something.) Apparently, it's normal for users to spend around 10-15% of their reading time regressive reading; if they spend more than that, though, it means your copy's not at clear as it should be‚ and that means they'll lose patience and go elsewhere. Using eye tracking software during user testing can help you identify when too much regressive reading is occurring and fix the problem before your copy's put live.  

Sarah Richards - Copywriting Conference 2017

Forget to take time for creativity

When you're building your reputation‚ and paying a mortgage‚ based on your ability to serve the needs of clients, creativity and your love for the written word can get a little lost along the way. Katherine Wildman's session on 'Creative Writing for a Distracted World' served as a welcome reminder that, as writers, we need to try and take some iPhone-free time for silence and contemplation, and to write for ourselves.  

Katherine Wildman - Copywriting Conference 2017

Rely on 'cheating copy'

How do you know if your copy's cheating on you?‚ asked Amy Harrison in her 'The Customer Disconnect'-themed talk. Because you see it hanging around other sites.

Amy warned us against relying on generic buzzwords and phrases like 'Unlock your potential', 'high quality'‚ and 'easy-to-use'‚ the kind of language that clients often think they should be using, but that ultimately becomes invisible because everyone else in your market (and even beyond) is talking exactly the same way.  

Ask yourself: if I lined this copy up alongside that of my client's competitors, would it stand out or just become part of the noise? (There's more advice from Amy on how to make sure your copy does stand out below.)  

Amy Harrison - Copywriting Conference 2017

Fear the pitch process

Standing up in front of a room of people who are looking to be impressed can feel incredibly intimidating, particularly when money is at stake. Sasha Damjanovski began his 'Pitch Perfect' session by asking us to explain the term 'pitching'; without exception, all of our definitions included the words 'sell' or 'selling'. Sasha urged us to reframe the idea of pitching as: Sharing your excitement to the point where it is contagious. Doesn't feel quite so scary now, does it?  

Sasha Damjanovski - Copywriting Conference 2017

Do keep generic cynical man' at the forefront of your mind

People want a transformation, not a transaction, Amy Harrison said. In other words: it's vital you focus on what your users want to do, rather than on what you want your users to do. Enter generic cynical man:  

Generic cynical man

He's heard it all before. He doesn't want sales patter; he wants to know what you're offering and why it's worth his time. The best way to breakthrough? Try dissecting your solution into the following categories:  

  • Symptoms
  • Problem
  • Risk
  • Cure
  • Contrast  

Make sure your copy primarily focuses on the symptoms your user is experiencing (rather than the underlying problem), and the proof that you can alleviate these symptoms. By addressing a challenge that's immediately relevant to them, you help them visualise and really understand how your solution can help. Here's Amy's example of how you can apply this to mouthwash:  

Mouthwash table

Speak to your clients yourself

We often find ourselves taking copy briefs from account managers, project managers or even designers. But how differently could the project go if we went straight to the source from the off?  

Important information can sometimes get lost in translation. That little nugget of insight that could help make your copy shine can easily become buried within briefing docs and email chains.  

Sarah Richards highlighted the importance of setting the problem, task and goal directly with the client from the offset so that everyone's clear on what you're trying to achieve with the copy. The more specific you can get at this stage, the better, because it ensures you're on the right track from the get-go (and that, if there's any shift in expectations from the client's end later on, you can refer back to your initial discussions to determine why things aren't aligning).  

Use data and testing to drive your decision-making

Sarah shared that throughout her career she's learnt to avoid saying 'I think', and to start saying 'the customers think' in order to drive change. Because while it's easy to push back against someone's opinion, data can't be argued with.  

Testing theories, gathering insight and making improvements to build the case for why copy should be written in a certain way should always be at the forefront of your mind.  

Amy's also a big advocate of this, and she told us she often uses Usability Hub‚ an online service where your copy's sent to a sample audience, who view it for five seconds only and are then asked to identify the message/subject ‚ to ensure clarity.  

Remember that work can't be good, fast and cheap

As part of his 'Call yourself a copywriter?' talk, Nick Parker showed this Jeannel King illustration, based on the infamous Project Management Triangle:  


Copy can be any two of these things at once, but it can never be all three.

If it's fast and cheap, it won't be good. This issue often rears its head when copy is somehow forgotten about until the end of a project when money and time are both running low and clients ask us to rush out copy in whatever time's left. And this time-constrained, budget-constrained space isn't exactly where we do our best work‚

If it's fast and good, it won't be cheap: When clients are faced with a spreadsheet filled with costs, sadly, copywriting's often the first thing that gets cut. But, just like any other service we provide here at Code Computerlove, we believe our expertise in this area is worth the investment.

If it's cheap and good, it won't be fast: Crafting effective copy‚ and all the necessary research that goes along with it‚ takes lots of time. As such, it should be built into the project plan and be seen as a long-term piece of work rather than a quick fix.  

Write on a banana every once in a while

Nick ended his talk by handing out bananas and Biros. And it turns out writing on a banana is a lovely sensation: smooth and satisfying.  

Banana - Copywriting Conference 2017

It was a fitting end to a day that encouraged us to change our perspective and try something new. (Plus it made an excellent snack on the train home ‚ ta Nick!)

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