My copywriting process explained
I write copy for a living.
I write a lot. Words, words, words. Each project is designed to fit into a particular desired outcome within a marketing strategy and tactical framework. I say that so you understand context.
Context in writing is both important and valuable – but more about that later.
How I write marketing copy
Getting a message across using printed words (as opposed to audio, images or video) is a giant challenge. Knowing how long humans have been writing, you’d think that everything that could have been written has been. And yet…. we know that’s not true. The imagination and skill of mankind to innovate is immense.
My writing is usually business to business copywriting for marketing purposes. That’s my area of expertise. And so the steps I take begin with the outcome. What do I want to happen as a result of a prospect or client reading what I’ve written?
- End goal is to click through to website
- End goal is to understand how to write B2B copy
- End goal is to reply with a question
These examples are all valid outcomes and each requires very different copy treatments.
The first version is always factual
What are the true, inalienable facts that support the end goal? I list these in a brain dump document. Frequently these are the result of conversations with the client, the internal team and existing customers.
Then I supplement this with some desk research. Reading ‘around the subject’ can come from many sources – newsletters, online magazines, blogs, books. Interestingly, I rarely search social media for this information. My choice – it may suit your needs. The amazing Knowledge Hunter, Geoff McDowell, taught me so much about this subject.
Adding more copy material
From the wider reading I copy/paste and add in more themes, concepts, nuance, examples, phrases and keywords. I also look out for no-nos. These are things I want to avoid.
Sometimes images, colours, layouts and other visual elements present themselves from this research too. That can be very helpful as my brain often leaps forward towards the end result WAY earlier than it’s supposed to. To avoid distraction, I save and note these ideas back in the research document. By noting them, I have preserved the idea; but I’m not focusing on them at this stage. It means I don’t lose the inspiration – I can revive that thought later just by re-reading my notes.
This all contributes to a second draft. This is when I decide the overall frame for the project and HOW does this translate into the copywriting. This could be storytelling, it could be demonstration, case study, questioning, educating. There is a lot more information added, there are more concepts and overall I just write freely incorporating the research information and framing arguments, emotions and logic into one long piece of writing.
This is the place where context comes to the fore. How will the message be delivered, what will the recipient be doing or not doing? Where in the customer journey will they be? What is the outcome or next step goal in this campaign?
Editing and refining copy
This is the part I love.
Precise and concise are watchwords which I hope any client applies to a testimonial about my business copywriting.
Taking what I wrote and simplifying, cutting, removing extraneous information and honing it down into a tight, precise and well-organised message is a repetitive task and it gives me so much pleasure. Sometimes I use a technique of adding in sub-headings (as in this blog) because it helps me to organise and find the big messages in the very long copy.
Often I leave the first opening paragraph until last because it’s so hard. Sometimes I switch the first and last paragraphs – try it!
Headlines and calls to action are a separate challenge and I may do a couple of different versions or give options and let the client choose. This is because they are mostly better-informed about their product or service than I am. Teamwork helps work out what will resonate and achieve the goal.
And then I sleep on it
Yes this is really the final step before showing it to the client, adding it to a mock-up or an EDM. This is important and is one reason why planning at the first step needs to include deadlines and allowances for sleep time.
7 things I’ve appreciated after sleeping on my work
- My brain is fresher in the morning
- I process ideas while resting
- Better re-writes are (nearly always) possible
- I can check that I haven’t missed anything out [done this MANY times – but rescued the situation before the client read it]
- Reflect on alternative approaches which I earlier discarded
- Opportunity to print it onto paper and read out loud
- Check grammar, punctuation, capitalisations and links all working and correctly placed
And that’s it. The whole creative writing process for B2B copy.
About the picture illustrating this article.
That’s really my pen and my notebook, photographed this morning as I got a tiny bit of inspiration for a client as a result of doing some research for a different client. It’s odd the way my brain works. And I have learned to respect my brain process and to always seize the moment and make the notes when they jump into my mind. I don’t have to use them – but I’m sure I will lose them if they aren’t captured.
I do not have the neatest handwriting, yet using blue-black ink in an old-fashioned fountain pen gives me both pleasure and the chance to read my words again without guessing what I meant to write. Someday I’ll photograph some of my notes which turn out to be illegible even to me. Generally when I rush to write, legibility suffers.
The unknown part of writing inspiration
The pen also lives in a leather case. My ritual of opening the case flap and flicking back the long cover, unsheathing the pen and unscrewing its lid before writing still gives me a frisson. I never know exactly what will come out of the inky nib onto that pristine sheet of paper, onto the next empty line, or inserted between the paragraphs of print.
And the pen – a birthday gift chosen with care while on holiday. I got the nib re-surfaced by this amazing pen expert who recommended not using ink cartridges. He also explained a lot about the issues of ink/paper and my unique hand/pressure and what a converter is, not a bladder. There is a distinction between them.
So now you know my B2B writing process. What will you do with this knowledge?
Very good … copy! 🙂 Telling a story, both personal and didactic – with plenty to learn (for those willing) and to empathize (for those capable). Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Vladimir! Appreciate your compliments and the advice too. Rebecca
Rebecca – thank you. A very good article and interesting to read about your writing journey. Useful points for people to take on board.
Very kind of you to comment, Helen.
This list is exactly what I was looking for. Very well researched.