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The Copywriting Evolution

by Kelly Robbins

Are your copywriting skills keeping up with society?

Imagine getting on the Internet to find information on a car you're interested in purchasing and finding no Web site, no Google ads for competitors, no audio welcoming you to the Web site, and no pop-up boxes inviting you to subscribe to an electronic newsletter. Today's time-crunched consumer expects a map with exact directions to the dealership, access to specific, detailed information on all aspects of the car, posted hours and what the sales policy is within 10 seconds of arriving at the site. Failure to immediately meet these high expectations results in frustration and an instantaneous click to visit a competitor.

Writing copy in today's fast-paced, information laden society involves communicating key information in short blasts through mediums such as text-messaging and audio scripts involving video and podcasting - copywriting skills and techniques are evolving as fast as new ways to market are created. Today's copywriter must be able to communicate clearly in three punchy sentences as well as create 40 page sales letters for direct mailings.

The importance of the role copywriting plays in advertising has expanded exponentially in the last 150 years. In 1866 Claude Hopkins, one of the founding fathers of copywriting, was revolutionary in his idea to research consumers before writing copy and to do test marketing before launching a widespread campaign. Today, the Internet revolution has brought ever-changing business Web sites, inexpensive e-zines, search engine optimization (SEO), blogging and social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook - all of which are rapidly changing the way the world communicates.

Society itself is changing faster than at any time in history. As society has changed, so too has the field of advertising. Instantaneous global communication, instant messaging and new media, such as, are just a few of the ways copywriters have had to adjust their communication styles and messages to connect with buyers.

The future of copywriting
Robert Half International ranked copywriting as one of the top five careers in 2007. The number of skilled freelance copywriters as well as staff copywriters has never been higher. After 9/11, many people seeking to regain freedom and control of their lives pursued opportunities to make money from home, while caring for children or aging parents - or even while traveling the globe. At the same time, as senior corporate staff and entrepreneurs alike recognize the importance of good copy, demand for copywriting jobs is at an all-time high. While freelance writing is nothing new, both the supply and demand have reached epic proportions.

Training and continuing education are key to keeping up copywriting skills in our quickly changing, global society. In today's complex and segmented world, marketers search for copywriters based on specialties, such as what industry copywriters work in (e.g., healthcare, financial, legal) or what types of mediums they write (e.g., Web sites, white papers, catalogues). It's not often that today's copywriter can successfully jump in as a generalist, picking up a few gigs here and there, between permanent jobs.

Niche marketing
2006 saw the launch of 125 new magazines on crafts and hobbies, 83 on specific geographic regions, 59 on home design and services, 57 on sports, and 41 on different types of cars. The latest craze - eight new poker magazines in six months! What does all this mean? With information so easy to access, consumers expect to find the very specific data they are looking for - not general information on a close topic. For example, they don't look for information on buying fishing poles, but rather for information on the best fly-fishing poles above 5,000 feet. A copywriter who has a history with and specializes in fishing - or even outdoor activities generally - has an easier and faster time connecting with the unique wants and needs of this picky consumer. Companies hiring copywriters know this and search for writers familiar with their particular target market. Knowing consumers this intimately was not possible in Claude Hopkins' time, but it is today.

Copywriting: science or art?
Writing copy is evolving more and more into being a science, rather than an art. Capable of instantaneously testing and tweaking content, marketers can speed up the learning curve and immediately see results after making one small variation in a piece. Marketers sharing and learning from others is widespread, making the learning curve for newcomers higher than ever. Consumers have changed even more rapidly. Browsing on the Internet has trained consumers to quickly ignore meaningless or empty words - fluff doesn't cut it in today's sales environment, making relevance more important than repetition in catching consumers' attention (yes, repetition is still important).

Copywriting legend Bill Bernbach says it all: “Advertising doesn't create a product advantage. It can only convey it.” Discovering which advantage best connects with your reader is the art; conveying it with proven, tested methods and formatting is the science.

Five copywriting trends for the new-age marketer
This is where copywriting has taken us today. Let's take a look at where we're going in the next 10 years.

1. Less formal, more conversational tone. The rapid shift in advertising from traditional to “alternative” media means less formal writing. Connecting with readers, especially the growing number of younger buyers, has increased the demand for a more conversational tone in writing. Copywriters have long been taught not to write formally, but this guideline has taken on an entirely new meaning when they post on blogs or develop content for videos on Web sites. According to a study done by Forester Research, interactive marketing, such as e-mail, search engine optimization, online video ads and social marketing, will reach $61 billion by 2012. Right now, interactive spending is estimated at 8% of marketers' budgets; in five years, it's projected to be 18%. The trend of writing less formally is only going to continue in the decade to come.

2. Highlighting benefits vs. features. With less than two seconds to grab a reader's attention, demonstrating “what's in it for the reader” (WIIFM) is more important in today's advertising age than ever before. Immediately connecting with a pain the reader deeply feels, such as being sick of not having dates on Friday nights and being stuck at home, again, catches their attention and entices them to continue reading. Having their problem solved is what they are looking for - not how you can do it.

3. Relationship-building and permission-based marketing. Consumers are leery of being sold to at the turn of every corner (and with good reason - this is really happening), but if they are interested in your product, they will take the time to learn more about you and your offerings. And once consumers do learn to trust you and your brand, they are more likely to subscribe to e-zines, read free reports, download podcasts, and so on - thus, the term “permission-based marketing” was born. Because consumers are so bombarded with offers and overwhelmed with information, copywriters who have the ability to condense useful, needed information into a usable, easy-to-read format can be key to businesses interested in developing a relationship with target markets. Providing electronic newsletters, free reports, white papers and podcasts are just a few of the many ways businesses build relationships and get permission to market to consumers.

4. Proof and validation. Guarantees, testimonials, earned awards and company history are definite must-haves for every company. Fly-by-night businesses, the Enron and Arthur Anderson scandals, spam e-mails from Africa and the fall of even long-time giants, like Wards, leave consumers wary of newcomers and fearful of losing money. Marketers should create strong guarantees and include widespread use of testimonials to demonstrate happy buyers and powerful results. Including information about the company's long-standing history or its founders gives readers a sense of familiarity and confidence in their purchases. Staff photos, the story of how the company was founded and information on the company's awards or relationships with other proven companies validates a company's reputation and permanence.

5. Promise of action. Instant gratification is expected in today's Web 2.0 world. Will readers lose weight at once? Can they download the product right now? Will their back stop hurting or their headache disappear instantly? Is the information they need to finish their product available immediately? Consumers expect it. Companies provide it. All of this information should be included in your copy.

About the author
Kelly Robbins, Founder of The Copywriting Institute, is the author of Powerful Interviewing Techniques for Healthcare Marketers and the Learn the Ropes Copywriting Program. Kelly Robbins is an award-winning healthcare copywriter, author and marketing coach. Publisher of The Copywriting Connection, Kelly helps writers and marketers learn to write phenomenal copy with online and onsite workshops, training and coaching. Contact Kelly to receive her free report, "Six things every copywriter MUST know to make high profits in copywriting fast!" at or 303-460-0285.

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