KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE TO WRITE MORE EFFECTIVELY
Know your audience — it’s one of the first rules of copywriting. (Not to be confused with picturing your audience naked. That’s reserved for the public speaking domain…).
Why is it so important? It comes down to making connections with your intended readers. You wouldn’t walk into a university library and start singing at the top of your lungs. (At least we hope not!) And you probably wouldn’t talk to a group of primary schoolkids using a bunch of scientific jargon. You’d find a way to make your topic accessible to them, putting it into words that they’d understand.
That’s the key with good copywriting too. It isn’t about your capabilities or stylistic preferences as a writer; it’s about using language that will connect with the people who you want to read the piece.
Defining your audience
When thinking about your audience, don’t make assumptions. And don’t generalise either.
Knowing your audience means going beyond demographics such as age or gender. Dive deeper and think about values and motivations. What does your audience care about? Why would they take the time to read your copy? What will drive them to take action? What, if any, knowledge do they already have about your topic?
Consider what type of language will be appealing to readers. (This is also a key consideration for organisations when refining their brand tone of voice.) Will pop culture references make people LOL, or go right over their heads? Do people like when you write with familiar, casual terms and slang or do they expect a level of formality?
Think in terms of real people
It also helps to not just think about your audience generally. Think about actual people, individuals who will – hopefully – read and be moved by your copy. Writing an appeal for a non-profit? Think about your Aunt Maggie who’s made monthly donations to a cause she cares about for decades. What kind of language would connect with her? Writing B2B copy for busy marketing professionals? Consider what a full day looks like for someone working in that industry. What content is already landing in their inbox? And what would it take to grab their attention?
Picturing a real person can help you write more naturally (which means more effectively, too).
Ways to get deeper audience insights
Truly understanding your audience is easier said than done, but it pays off to put some time and effort into creating a holistic picture of the people who you want to read your copy.
The above tips can help copywriters get a more comprehensive view of their audience when starting an assignment. From a broader perspective, there are many different ways businesses and organisations can better understand their target market (and then pass those insights on to their freelance writers, of course…). These include:
- Running focus groups to get a variety of perspectives
- Conducting an online survey
- Asking for direct feedback on social media
- Measuring content effectiveness online
- Creating personas for different audience segments.
Want to make sure people read your copy? Whatever the medium – print, web, social – start by thinking about your audience first.
People enjoy humour, it’s part of the human psyche. The desire to laugh and be happy are shown to improve productivity, success and lifespan. Also it is widely agreed that laughing is part of human bonding. With this information in mind wouldn’t it make sense to employ humour in your content to improve it and gain appeal, creating a bond with your audience.
The simplest way to do this is through puns. One of the best wordsmiths in the world so far, William Shakespeare, was incredible at this. Many people are capitalizing on this – I mean we all do don’t we? People consume humorous content all the time – this can be seen through the popularity of Buzzfeed and The Onion.
My personal favourite punny content is a webshow called ‘Whine About It’: a show in which Matt, the host, gets drunk drinking wine at his desk and whines about things. It’s a perfect mix for me – humour and complaining. Upwards and onwards, here are five steps for you to include satire, hilarity and cleverness in your writing to engage your readers and consumers.
Consider your choice of words carefully and think about how they sound and how they play together. For example, at The Copy Collective we are always trying to make our social media more engaging. “A gift from a grateful client, heads up Dominique greatly enjoys grapes of the red variety, Maureen’s muse is more of the Moët kind” was a post we put up recently with an image of wine from a client. Something as simple as alliteration can take an ordinary sentence and make it magical.
When talking about a story or explaining something, compare it to something that’s completely different i.e., an oxymoron. To quote Oscar Wilde, “I can resist everything but temptation” or Andy Warhol, “I am a deeply superficial person”. The simplicity of an oxymoron can really boost any content in both how clever it is and its humour.
In my experience some of the best jokes are my worst jokes, although my friends may not agree with this, obviously they’re wrong. Making people groan is just as satisfying as making people giggle. For example, every opportunity I have to say, “Hi hungry, I’m Rachel” I will. It’s just like with media; there’s no such thing as bad press, all press is good. The same goes for puns.
It’s all well and good to throw in an odd joke here and there but you will upset readers when every single thing they read is a joke. They’ll stop taking you seriously and the comedy will lose its value. Be strategic, hit them when they don’t know it’s coming and make it good.
Isn’t that the point of comedy, to have fun, enjoy yourself, and make people laugh? So be funny in your writing, be clever and most of all be creative.
I’ll leave you with this: A person walks into a bookstore, “Where’s the self-help section?” they ask the clerk. The clerk shrugs and replies, “If I tell you, won’t that defeat the purpose?” – Anonymous
“All things will be produced in superior quantity and quality, and with greater ease, when each man works at a single occupation, in accordance with his natural gifts, and at the right moment, without meddling with anything else.” – Plato
Sounds pretty good! But with the increasing demands of today’s job descriptions, people are multitasking more than ever before.
Technology, used smartly, can give us a flying head start on our to-do lists. It can help us work smarter and concentrate on what’s important. It may be the ability to quickly collaborate with colleagues or programs that allow us to do creative work in completely new ways. We’re spoilt for choice, with new apps and platforms being constantly developed. But that choice can be overwhelming – which platforms should we pick?
Here are three essential apps: Evernote, Dropbox and IFTTT.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Create a notebook or notebook ‘stack’ for a project and drop in everything (including images, PDFs and lists) to keep all your ideas in one place.
- Install Evernote’s powerful Web Clipper and instantly save articles you read online to the notebook of your choice.
- Consider upgrading to a Premium subscription and be able to access all your notes and notebooks offline, on any device – handy if you are a fan of working on the plane.
For most people working in the cloud, Dropbox is a lifesaver. Its file-sharing and storage facilities are powerful and easy-to-use and its free account may well provide all the features you need.
Apart from storing and sharing, one of its handiest uses for people on-the-go is the ability to preview files – whether on computer or mobile. Say you’re emailed a Photoshop file to preview, but you don’t have the right program to open it. No problems – preview it in Dropbox. The same goes if you’re on a mobile device and you need to open a PDF or Word file.
Check out some of Dropbox’s other hidden features here.
Automate, automate, automate: IFTTT
When discussing the future of how we work, automation is a hot topic. From robots to simple formulas, everyone from Fortune-500 companies right through to freelance writers are looking for ways to maximise efficiency and cut time spent on simple tasks. And the time saved can be significant. McKinsey estimates that 10 – 15 per cent of a marketing executive’s time could be automated by adapting current technology.
Robots aside, who doesn’t want to shift some of the more repetitive, manual tasks off their plate and leave time for the more important, creative tasks?
Introducing, IFTTT. Wondering about the acronym? It’s an abbreviation of ‘If This Then That’. The free platform connects to hundreds of services to let you create conditional statements, or ‘recipes’, to automate tasks for you. You can use it in your browser, or in one of their apps.
For example, you might employ the powerful Evernote/IFTTT combo to automate publishing some of your blog posts. IFTTT syncs with several online publishing platforms – here are some examples:
- Publish a Medium post when you add a tag to an Evernote note
- Create WordPress blog posts from an Evernote notebook
- Publish a Tumblr post when you add a tag to a note
Or maybe you want to keep track of your writing ideas? No problem – use IFTTT to automatically generate your very own content repository.
Dropbox also fares well with IFTTT. A favourite hack is being able to sync files between Dropbox and Evernote – handy if you prefer to work in your Evernote notebooks, but also need files in Dropbox to share with clients or an agency. Here are some other recipes worth checking out:
- Get a notification whenever someone adds a file to your public Dropbox
- Update your ToDo list when a file is added to Dropbox
- Uploading Dropbox content to blogging platforms like Medium
Evernote and Dropbox are powerful platforms. Using IFTTT to bring them together makes them even greater. And, used cleverly, they can help you escape from meddling with your to-do list when you need to focus on your occupation – taking a little inspiration from Plato.
For freelance copywriters, versatility is crucial. Like many freelancers, I’m often switching gears. On any given day, I may be writing pithy B2C web copy in the morning before drafting a long-form industry white paper or annual report in the afternoon.
Adaptability is essential in terms of writing for different formats and channels.
It’s also essential in terms of whom you write for.
Being versatile allows you to round out your freelance writing portfolio (and your job options). But if you’ve been working in the corporate or commercial space, how do you transition to writing for non-profit organisations? And vice versa?
You can write for both if you think about what corporate/commercial and non-profit communications have in common: It’s all about them (the target audience), not you (the organisation).
Focus on the benefit and impact, no matter who you’re writing for
We’ve all had a chat with that person — you know, the one who rambles entirely about themselves and never asks any questions. That self-centred focus is just as off-putting in communications as it is at a cocktail party.
Compelling writing for any client — corporate, consumer-facing, non-profit or otherwise — is audience focused.
For corporate and commercial writing, that means communicating the benefit. Instead of talking entirely about a new product or service offering, write about how it can help. What business problems will it help users solve? Or how will it make consumers’ lives easier?
Likewise, when writing for non-profit clients, emphasise the impact that your target audience can make (or already has). What fundamental issues does your target audience care about, and how can they make a difference? Go beyond talking about who the organisation is; focus on the outcomes and benefits through compelling storytelling.
Understand your target audience
Effective copywriting for any client reflects a deep understanding of the target audience (more on that to come in a later post).
If you’re looking to diversify your work as a freelance copywriter, realise that your experience in one sector can help you write for another. If you keep your audience in mind (and avoid that cocktail party sin of only talking about yourself), you can write anything.
Although spring has just arrived here in Australia, winter is coming for our friends in the northern hemisphere.
“I’d never get anything done if I worked from home”.
People say that to me a lot. And to be honest, it’s how I feel all too often. There are sooooo many other things I could be doing around here, instead of hitting my desk and tapping out a thousand words on the inner workings of superannuation.
And it’s never harder than in winter.
It’s comfy, warm and cosy in bed. It’s so chilly out there that I don’t want to move. Seriously, where’s the incentive to get up and write? Especially when I could get away with leaving the work for another day.
But as any freelancer knows, drag your heels today and suddenly you don’t have time for the lucrative, urgent job that comes in tomorrow…
So here (from one reformed procrastinator to another) are five pro tips for freelancers on winter productivity.
Work to your own rhythm
Possibly the best thing about freelancing is that it doesn’t matter when you do the work, as long as you get it done. Instead of forcing yourself to keep conventional hours, you’ll be most effective if you tap into your body’s tempo and work when you’re most alert – whenever that is.
So if you’re not a morning person – or you’re only a warm weather morning person – go ahead and have that lie-in. Work from midday until 8 pm. Work late into the night, when all your nine-to-five friends are tucked up in bed. Working with The Copy Collective lets you do whatever suits you best – but do make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
Do something first to get you going
The chillier it is, the longer it seems to take to get the brain firing. Some winter mornings, it can feel like you just don’t have a coherent word in you.
Doing something else vaguely productive (like house chores, paying bills or hacking at something in the garden) can help wake you up and give your brain – and your confidence – a boost before you sit down to work.
I’m very sorry, but I’m going to use the ‘e’ word. Every motivational post you ever read will tell you how much ‘exercise’ helps with body and brain function ‘blah blah blah’ – and that it’s especially important in winter (when you’re more inclined to hibernate).
But wake-up exercise doesn’t have to mean sweating. Getting outside for a half hour walk (even if you’re bundled under numerous layers of wool and a waterproof sheet) really can help to clear out the cobwebs. Honest.
Make yourself comfortable
Fact: cold fingers don’t type well. And it’s pretty hard to focus on work, when you are shivering. So before you start work each day, put the heater on, dig out the old-lady lap rug and make sure your office is a comfortable place to work.
Oh, and don’t forget to compensate for the shorter, grey days with some extra lighting so you don’t feel like you’re working in a cave.
If you’re really struggling with motivation, there are some great apps out there to help you form better habits and stick to them (I love Habit List for iOS).
Obviously an app can’t generate willpower out of thin air. However a good tool can help you track how you’re doing, build a more productive lifestyle and keep the inspiration flowing on those chilly, darker winter days when your bed looks so very inviting.
“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” – Dalai Lama
Maybe you love travelling so much that those words are already scribbled on a post-it note above your desk, and the reason you’re freelancing is to fit work into your nomadic lifestyle. Or maybe international trips are required of you, whether you like them or not.
Whatever your reasons, freelancing overseas is more than just cocktails on the beach. Just ask anyone who’s spent hours lugging around their laptop in desperate search of WiFi, while baffling kindly locals with botched attempts to ask for directions in the local language. Wander where you may, The Copy Collective lets you work wherever your fancy takes you.
Here are five tried and tested hacks to help you land on your feet – wherever that is.
Invest in some travel essentials
As a freelancer on the road, your office comes with you – which may mean being prepared for long stints away from a power point. Ever pulled out your laptop on the plane only to realise it’s out of power – for the next 22 hours? Not a great feeling. A portable, external battery charger can be a lifesaver. Look for one that can charge your laptop and phone or tablet at the same time.
You’ll also want a good pair of headphones, with a built-in microphone. Noise-cancelling, if you can afford it, will make plane travel and work in noisy spaces that little bit more bearable.
Build your local network
Before you head off, ask friends and colleagues if they have contacts where you’re going. At the very least, you’ll have some potential coffee break companions – which can be very welcome if you’re travelling solo.
And once you’re there, speak to as many locals as you can. Look up people who do the same kind of work as you and ask if they have time to meet. I know an Australian photographer who organised a coffee with a photographer working in a similar area when she travelled to New York – they met, and now work together all the time (and got married!)
Learn the language (or at least a few words)
There are some fantastic apps out there to help you, and many are free. Try and get one that you can download to your phone, so you can use it without chewing up data when you’re away from WiFi, and which speaks words out loud. Try Ultralingua and Wordreference.com. If all else fails – type something into Google Translate, cross your fingers and hope for the best (and get ready for some giggles from the locals).
Find a good place to work
Once you nail this one, half the battle is won. Sure, your hotel might work – but when you find a beautiful old library complete with an atrium (and free WiFi) in Paris where you can work undisturbed for the day, you’ll feel like you’ve won the freelancing overseas lottery – and positivity is great for productivity. Ask locals, or do a search for co-working spaces and check out forums on sites that cater for ‘digital nomads’ such as Nomad List.
Cultivate a micro-routine
Having a mini routine to get you into work mode while you’re on the road is even more important than when you’re at home. Why? Exotic procrastination temptations. Work or gelato from that little piazza I haven’t explored yet? Work or a surfing lesson on the sparkling beach I can see out my window? Work or… you get the drift.
Part of the thinking behind having a routine is reducing the amount of decisions you have to make before you actually start working. President Obama knows decision fatigue is a thing – that’s why he wears only a blue or grey suit every day.
So decide the hours you’re going to work in advance. You may need to be flexible – that’s fine. That’s why your travel routine is micro: it’s small enough to take with you. It might even just be opening your notebook and taking a few minutes to write a to-do list. A friend of mine listens to the same film soundtrack every day when she sits down at her desk. Pick something that helps your mind shift from ‘I’m travelling, I want to explore, maybe I can squeeze in a quick [insert whatever distraction that applies to you here]’ to ‘I am working now.’
And once you do get your work done, shut your laptop. Don’t get bogged down in emails that can wait til you’re back home – wander outside and immerse yourself in your new surroundings. You never know what you might find.
Top Tips For Quoting
Ingrid Bergman did not say: “Play it again, Sam.” Sherlock Holmes did not say: “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Nor did Marie-Antoinette say: “Let them eat cake.”
Bergman said: “Play it, Sam, for old times’ sake.” Holmes said: “Exactly, my dear Watson.” “Let them eat cake” first appears in Rousseau’s Confessions’, written when Marie-Antoinette was only nine-years-old and there is no record of her ever having said it.
Here are the three top tips for using quotations:
As a writer and/or editor, one has a duty to quote accurately and to credit and always verify the source.
Whatever quotations you use, they should be pertinent, not too long, correctly attributed and used in appropriate context.
Is the quote to show how clever you are or to illustrate your point? Clearly,it should be for the second reason. Do you look for a relevant quote on the spot or do you save interesting quotations in a notebook as you come across them so that you always have applicable quotes up your sleeve for most occasions?
The beauty of browsing is being able to collect elegant new references to be used in due course. It’s a joy to find an interesting quotation that sends you off to read more of the source.
But the internet is full of too easily circulated, misattributed and, worse, wrong quotes. One must be careful about pulling random citations from cyberspace. Many quotations are incorrectly attributed to the ‘Ancients’ and the very famous (especially Gandhi, Einstein and Oscar Wilde).
It may be safer to stick to the Oxford Book of Quotations or Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and to check anything even faintly doubtful with Snopes.com, Ralph Keyes’ book The Quote Verifier or http://theydidnotsay.tumblr.com/
Louis Menand wrote a wonderful article called: Notable Quotables in The New Yorker in 2007 that is still well worth reading.
As an Old Etonian friend of mine said: “Quotes should give people a nice warm feeling when they recognise them. The best way to ensure this with a British audience is to attribute them all to Churchill. I have great admiration for anyone who invents quotes — much more inventive than going to the Oxford Book of.”
An editor’s life
An editor’s life isn’t always romantic – even when you live in south-west France, as The Copy Collective’s editor, proof reader and dog lover Clare writes.
1700 Dry cleaner brings Issia for two weeks while they go to Benin.
1900 Penny brings Buster and Dude for three weeks while she goes to England.
2130 Dog fight.
2230 Dude disappears. He is now blind and deaf, so I spend a fruitless hour searching, no point calling.
2330 Dude reappears between the house and pigeonnier, moon-gazing.
2335 Everyone goes to bed. Chianti is next door. Omega doesn’t like the crowd so she leaves too. Dude and Sausage curl up on eiderdowns, Enzi is on her beanbag and Buster, Issia and Cooee are on my bed.
0500 Everyone thinks they would like to go out. Issia runs off. I spend a fruitless hour searching and whistling for her.
0600 I pull on jeans under my nightdress, an anorak over it, find the car key and go to the dry cleaner’s to see if Issia has found her way there. Cannot turn out the car’s interior light. Windscreen fogs up. No dog. On the way back I pass a woman power-walking in the dark, stop and ask if she has seen a black dog on her walk. She says very crossly that she’s not taking exercise, she’s on her way to work. I offer to give her a lift, which makes her even more cross, but she asks what todo if she sees the dog. I say I don’t happen to have a visiting card on me and suggest she calls the vet. She strides off, another car stops and she gets into it.
0615 I stop in the supermarket car park at the bottom of my drive and see the pretty Moroccan fishmonger-now-promoted-to-supervisor and ask if she has seen the dog. She hasn’t, but has Mohamed’s telephone number and promises to call if she finds her. I get home and Issia comes out of the bushes to meet the car.
0620 I go back to bed and see there is an email from Yuki asking me to double the length of a paragraph and add more bulletin points. I do the paragraph and email her asking if the client could possibly let us know how many points they would like.
0720 An email from The Copy Collective asking me to edit some CVs, which are in Dropbox. I openDropbox in Safari and can’t change to Word to edit. I try not to panic. I call their IT person who is endlessly patient with my incompetence, but she thinks it might have been sent wrongly. I query the sender who is not amused. Desperate I click everything I can find and, lo and behold, Safari turns to Word.
0820 I start the CVs.
0920 I think I had better get up. Enzi pukes.
Things can only get better…
Maureen Shelley continues with Part 3 of “10 Simple Steps to becoming a successful published author” series, on crafting a cover as good as your content.
Although we say “don’t judge a book by its cover” everyone does. That makes the selection of the design for the cover of your book the most important decision you will make – apart from choosing the title.
Front cover design
Graphic Designer: You should definitely budget for a graphic artist to specifically design the cover for your book. Although it will cost you between $250 and $500 it will be the best single investment you make in the creation of your work. Your designer should be able to offer you three choices of design. You will need to tell them what the book is about, who is the audience and what target market you are seeking. Your designer will know what are the current and upcoming trends in book design (yes, book covers have fads and fashions) and the colours that will appeal to your market segment.
Marketplace designs: If you really can’t afford a graphic designer, then consider running a competition on www.99designs.com.au and set a budget for what you can afford. Please don’t be too mean and please provide a reasonable budget for the competition. After all, if you are joining the creative community you need to respect your fellow creatives and provide fair compensation for their efforts.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY): If you really, really can’t afford a designer then you could publish your book through a self-publishing website that offers standard book templates for your cover. This is the least desirable option but still at least gives your book a professional look. Try www.lulu.com or www.blurb.com.au for examples of book packages that can deliver a good quality result and a range of publishing options.
Back cover elements
Testimonials or endorsements: Once you’ve got the front cover design sorted, the back cover is the next important project. It is important to have organised your endorsements from people who have read your manuscript.
The blurb: You also need a good blurb of about 150 words that really encapsulates your book and its aim. Take time and care when writing this and ask someone else to read it for you before submitting it to your designer.
ISBN and barcode: If you are going to print your book, you will need an ISBN and a barcode. In Australia, the site to go to is Thorpe and Bowker at www.thorpe.com.au and they can supply both ISBNs and bar codes. However, if you use a site like Lulu or Blurb your package may include a barcode and ISBN.
Some people will first see your book as the spine on a bookshelf, so it has to work for you too. Before commissioning your design, study the shelves of your local bookshop and library. See what appeals to you. Look at other books in the same genre as yours – what elements do they include? You will most likely only have room for the title, your name and your publishing imprint logo.
This is where the title of your book has to do the most work, so ensure that your title sums up your book or is engaging or intriguing or all three. The width of your spine will depend on how many pages are in the book. If yours is light on, consider asking your typesetter to increase the spacing or the type size or the margins. A book that might be 60 pages of A4 text can turn to 300 pages in a Trade B paperback if the correct font, spacing and margins are used.
The wider the spine, the brighter the cover colours, the greater the contrast of type to cover, the more eye-catching your book’s spine will be.
June is Author’s Month to celebrate the launch of Red Raven Books. Red Raven Books is the publishing and imprint arm of The Copy Collective. Find out how we can help you today.
Maureen Shelley continues with Part 2 of “10 Simple Steps to becoming a successful published author” series, putting the spotlight on masterful editing.
An editor will proof read and undertake more substantive edits to a work. Proof reading involves checking for semantics, typographical errors and grammar.
In searching for grammatical errors, an editor will consider a range of issues; and here are just some.
- Has the writer made the correct use of definitive articles?
- Has the writer avoided confusing modifiers?
- Are the subject and verb in agreement, in grammatical terms?
- Has the writer used appropriate punctuation within sentences?
- Does the sentence structure follow established principles? If not, is it appropriate for the work?
- Are there any spelling errors?
- What is the style for capitalisation and is it used consistently?
- Are thepro-noun (s) /noun (s) in agreement?
- Has the writer split their infinitives?
- Are there squinting or limiting modifiers used?
- Are there incomplete comparisons in the work?
- Has the writer solved the great gerund mystery?
- Are there redundant pairs?
- Has the writermisused or confused ‘like’ and ‘as’?
- Has the writer taken the long way round to say something? That is, are there circumlocutions?
- Has the correct punctuation been used, particularly in regard to question marks?
- Has the writer confused self and personal pronoun use?
- Is there pronoun and antecedent agreement?
- Has the writer used double negatives?
- Has the writer begun or ended sentences with a conjunctive?
- Is therecomparison of absolute adjectives?
- Has the writer used unbalanced quantifiers or dangling modifiers?
- In regard to semicolons; are they used correctly?
- Is the verb form use appropriate?
- Has the writer used prepositions at the beginning or end of sentences? If so, is that appropriate for the text?
- Has the writer indulged in noun strings?
- Do the verb tenses agree?
- Has there beenmisuse of subordinate or subjunctive clauses?
- Is there incorrect pronoun case agreement?
Apart from resolving these issues, an editor will also (if paid and directed to do so) check facts, gain permissions where appropriate, insert appropriate references (biblical, geographical and literary are just a few), index, mark citations, insert footnotes and endnotes and create a glossary.
In addition to all of this, a good editor will ensure that a work is readable and makes sense. That it has a consistent structure and sensible flow or a cohesive narrative.
A good editor is worth their weight in gold. (And they will check for clichés too!) Oh, and they will eliminate exclamation marks or ‘screamers’ as they are known.