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Rebecca Caroe copywriting, fountain pen copywrite

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.

Rebecca Caroe copywriting, fountain pen copywrite

My actual pen and notes for B2B copywriting

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

  1. My brain is fresher in the morning
  2. I process ideas while resting
  3. Better re-writes are (nearly always) possible
  4. I can check that I haven’t missed anything out [done this MANY times – but rescued the situation before the client read it]
  5. Reflect on alternative approaches which I earlier discarded
  6. Opportunity to print it onto paper and read out loud
  7. 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?

 

Brief Rebecca on your copywriting project

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writer, person writing, cop

Key parts in a professional email

I got a question about what the four elements that comprise a “professional email”.  I don’t know why the questioner thought that there were four parts.  My best practice has three parts:

  1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  2. Tell them
  3. Remind them what you already said

Easy!writer, person writing, cop

Good email message structure

Slightly less flippantly, the structure of a good message is based around short sentences, simple sentence structure, short words and a clear indication about what you want the reader to do next.

If you can achieve all those things, that’s a great start.

More sophisticated messaging can come through with brand tone of voice, longer messaging plans over months / weeks and a mix of brand, educational and product/service messages. [Ask me how to plan your email marketing.]

Drafting and editing email messages

My personal method when creating EDMs is to work through these steps

  • What is the key message?
  • What is one thing I want the reader to do?
  • Then I start writing…. beginning with the LAST paragraph
  • Add in any context that explains the message (in case they are new to my list)
  • Remind them of benefits
  • Ask for the money / action
  • Add a PS.

Then I sleep on it overnight.  Always.

Because most of my messages can be improved and that only happens after time passes.  I think my brain matures the message and having a bit of time after having written it means I can move into editing mode.  That is a very different brain space and a different skillset.

Now I’m not a visual specialist so I get someone who is good at images to contribute here when I can.

Practice, practice

And then you just need to do it many times to improve your skill.

For examples of best practice copywriting for B2B marketing read on.

Interest.co.nz, news website nz,

Copywriting to shorten marketing messages

Our team brings you the news about our economy that requires intensive investigation, providing an important resource for Kiwis who want to make well-informed financial decisions. Your contribution fuels our capacity to provide independent reporting & analysis, while also keeping our site open for comments & community engagement.

A case study – the client supplied the text at the top.

It was from a popup on their website.  But the display required the prospect to scroll to read it all.

I re-wrote the copy into two versions so they did not have the scroll bar appear and also to give a slightly different emphasis on the messaging.

Rewrite copy version 1

Our reputation is built on expert news reporting on the NZ economy.  We are an important resource for Kiwis making well-

copywriting, short copy,

The chosen version published.

informed financial decisions. By paying to support us, you’re ensuring we continue to be an independent, powerful media site where our analysis and your commentary builds a robust community of interest.  

Notes:

  • Shortening New Zealand to NZ is not my preferred way of writing, but suits this situation.
  • The focus on expert news is secondary to the informed financial decisions
  • Strong adjectives and a clear expectation of what the outcome will be

Rewrite copy version 2

We specialise in news about the NZ economy which takes intensive investigation and journalist resource.  Our reputation is built on helping Kiwis make well-informed financial decisions. Your support means we can continue independent reporting, expert analysis, and enables moderated commenting on the website.

Notes:

  • The focus is on the quality of journalism comes first
  • The reader’s desire for decision-making secondary (at this time of Covid19 – most are reading news pages)
  • Many like the ability to comment.  Many news sites have withdrawn this feature.

Do you need help with your finance literacy?

uoamoneyquizCase Study: University of Auckland Finance Quiz

One of the more exciting projects we have had the pleasure of working on recently, was for the University of Auckland. The goal was to help educate first-year students and encourage them to seek out and engage in smarter finance decisions. Now, unless you are an aspiring investment banker, learning about finance is probably as appealing as putting your hand in a bee’s nest.

So how could we help the University put the fun back in Finance?

We decided the best way to achieve this would be in the form of a ‘finance quiz’. Unlike something one might find on a credit card application or a tax return, this quiz would be worded and styled in a way that resonated with the student population and would hopefully encourage them to find out more information in the areas they were weakest.

As is often the best way to communicate with students, humour and relatability were key requirements. Picturing what might appeal to the broader student population was a fun challenge, forcing me to think back a few years to my undergraduate studies (I don’t think my mental maturity has changed). Although I am surely a poor representation for the collective student population, I feel we were still able to convey situations that most students can relate to. In case I found myself on a ridiculous tangent, we also had representatives from the university and focus groups of students to guide the direction.

What did we do?

The quiz was composed of 10 questions and 5 ‘finance’ personality types, originally provided as a guide by our Accounting/Finance clients, Love to Grow. Each question was adapted to accurately relate to current student issues. The character types were developed to be funny, but identify potential shortfalls in each student’s knowledge, which would encourage them to seek out more information. Although the final text was ultimately unrecognisable compared to the original, our aim was that the message would remain useful as an indicator of each student’s financial situation.

Check out some examples below:

finance quiz question CAS

finance quiz question CAS

And the results…

finance quiz result CAS

“Boom! You’re a go-getting super badass, with the wind in your hair and explosions in your rear view mirror. Life is sweet right now, and you totally know it. But it’s worth thinking about a safety net – just in case your luck runs out on the next roll of the dice! Start playing the long game using our money tips.

finance quiz result CAS

“Okay, you’re not frivolously wasting your money away, but you’re not doing anything useful with it either. There’s no sense in making sacrifices if you’re not getting anything out of it. Gone are the days of stuffing money under your mattress for safe-keeping. You need to put it to work! Be smart with your money. Check out some financial pointers.

 

Due to the nature of the project, we had to strike a balance between what was cheeky and fun, and what might be perceived to cause offense. This resulted in a generalised and somewhat ambiguous character break down.

Thankfully, through some crafty wordsmithing, we were able to combine the light-hearted and cheeky self-assessment, in a way that would not upset any students and still provide a valuable resource for those who needed help.

It was a fantastic opportunity to work together with a team made up of such diverse skills. We hope that the students who take the quiz will find it valuable and fun to play!

Thanks University of Auckland for the opportunity and Antoris & Luc Design for your help on this project!

The finance quiz itself has been published publicly on the UoA student financial resources page. Try it for yourself and let us know what you think!

A note on subject lines for cold email

I am subscribed to get emails from Nick Johnson from Incite.  His copywriting is exemplary and I regularly find myself wanting to take the actions he requests.

Look at this picture taken from my in box of recent messages I’ve received from Incite.

Cold email subject lines

Cold email subject lines

Did you notice that few of the subject lines actually say what’s in the message.   So if I want to know what it’s about I HAVE to open the email.

some of the message subjects aren’t written with capital letters – makes it look like Nick wrote it quickly and forgot – but it’s more a feature of personal email not mass email and so I think this is clever, if used occasionally.

They clearly experiment with subject lines – one of them is a ‘Newsletter’ and is titled as such, but the content of many of them could be classified as news.

I have highlighted two parts because they show best practice.

The Red box surrounds subject lines in which they’ve included my name.  It feels like it was written just for me – but I know it’s just a personalisation insert from their database – but nonetheless it’s effective.

The Orange box encloses a subject “a quick heads up” which they used twice.  The first one follows the pattern of not saying what’s in the body of the email.  The second is sent with the same subject but as a forwarded (FW) message from Nick’s colleague, Kate.  It is the same message inside, but it makes me think I’ve overlooked the earlier message and so I feel more inclined to open this one.

Very clever people – I recommend you subscribe to their newsletter – Insight and Debate on Marketing Innovation.