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3 debates taking place around copywriting

Jun 20, 2017
3 debates taking place around copywriting

With so much of marketing focused on content-centric brand offerings, writing copy remains as important as ever. Though many might have suggested that the dawn of digital would increasingly mean copywriting could decline in relevance, in fact the opposite has proved to be true. 

The proliferation of digital has meant that copywriters have new rules to play by, whether that is the shift towards mobile and tablet-based reading, which requires short paragraphs and clear subheadings, or the limit of 160 characters and lightening turn over that requires punchy, attention grabbing copy that still conveys the necessary message.

Copywriting has emerged as a theme in many industry commentaries in recent weeks, and as such here are three of the most important debates taking place around the topic right now.

How should you judge copywriting?

Although most of us can read and write, does that automatically qualify us for writing and/or judging copy? A recent article by Andy Maslen for The Drum argued not, saying that a staggering ‘99% of people judge copy the wrong way.’ 

Maslen, himself a seasoned copywriter, tells of how when he first began working as a marketing assistant in 1986, he helped business directors open the post, collecting cheques and order forms for the products being sold. Back then, he argues, ‘the way they judged the copy that had produced the orders was simple - the best copy was the copy that had generated the highest stack of order forms.’ In our virtual world of today, brands may not count physical order forms but rather virtual ones, yet the moral of the story for Maslen remains the same - sales should still form the measure against which to judge copy. 

Arguing that too many fall into the trap of seeing copywriting as an art form, Maslen suggests that personal feelings of like or dislike really shouldn’t come into the equation, and yet all too often this is indeed the response by managers and copywriters alike. He claims ‘nobody should be judging copy on subjective, which amounts to aesthetic, grounds,’ but rather should be measuring and split testing copy examples to see which ultimately drives sales and consumer loyalty. 

How can you blend feedback into copy?

If copywriting should be judged on its capacity to drive sales rather than subjective tastes, then this has a knock on effect for the copywriters themselves, the briefs they work with and the content they create. 

Forbes contributor Bryn Dodson argues that ‘ultimately, your customer values the benefit they get from your service,’ and will decide whether to buy into the offer your brand puts forward based on key indicators. These include previous experience and how you’re regarded and reviewed by existing customers – information that is often garnered from testimonials, strong case studies, ratings and customer quotes which all demonstrate credibility.’

While much of this would fall into the earned content bracket as opposed to owned, it is how you weave this feedback into your own copy which ultimately impacts on how it is received by customers. By carefully integrating customer testimonies into direct mail, web copy and one off campaigns, marketers can seamlessly blend different sources of content and bring them into the house style, tone and call to action articulated by the brand. These tools are often under-utilised, but it is important to capitalise upon this free content that often speaks louder when fed into purpose-crafted copy.  

Will copywriting always be a human occupation?

Automation anxiety is a growing concern, as many industries begin to consider which jobs will remain as human occupations and which will increasingly be given over to our artificial friends. This concept was recently explored by innovation consultant Isobel McEwan at our sister company think, who argued that as yet creative professions remain the unique preserve of humans.

Yet if what Maslen says is true, that copywriting is mainly a question of driving sales rather than an art form, what is to stop the profession being automated? Digiday UK wrote an article back in May which suggested that ‘human copywriters are doomed,’ and that ‘the perfect machine-learning AI copywriter is coming. Very soon.’ With big names like Goldman Sachs already directing vast sums of money into exploring this development, and with key marketing components such as data and customer experience already being optimised, Digiday suggests ‘it’s way past time for copywriting to be fully optimized.’ 

While it is unlikely that copywriting will ever become fully automated, copywriters and marketers alike may soon have to face the reality that, if copy is made to sell and sales are best driven by insights, the shift may come sooner than most would like to admit. Machines have speed, accuracy and endless streams of data on their side, and could soon be hitting a campaign near you.


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