Most people know what they can’t (or shouldn’t) attempt to do on their own: plumbing, electrical work, new brakes on the car. But graphic design, web development, and copywriting? In the agency setting, we see business owners try to “DIY” these things all the time—often with “I-cut-my-own-hair” results.
That said, while this post is intended to help you improve your own marketing copy, it comes with an important caveat: whenever possible, let copywriters write for you. We’ve gone to school for this. We devote our creative energy to writing for a wide range of industries on a daily basis. Hell, we’ve even won awards for it. We get that using a professional copywriter isn’t always possible, though.
When do you have to DIY it, be aware of these nine bad habits that are (almost definitely) killing your marketing copy:
1. You run with the first idea you have.
With very few exceptions, “first thought ideas” are not good ideas.
If a tagline comes to you within five seconds of brainstorming, it would likely come to others in the first five seconds, too. By default, that makes it uncreative. For example, your peanut butter tagline should not be, “You’ll go nutty for it.” Go ahead and write those first ideas down as a starting point, but learn to recognize their obviousness and be ready to stretch for something better.
2. You’re self-indulgent.
Your brand is your baby. You literally made it. While the instinct to write content that aligns with everything you originally envisioned (and what’s swirling through your head) is tempting, rarely does it make for good copy. Consider your target audience and whether your copy actually resonates with them. Whether you’re in the process of naming your product or a writing a blog post, be sure that you’re writing for your people, not for yourself.
3. You focus the sound of the writing, but not its meaning.
Please hear me out: don’t add descriptive words for no reason.
Don’t call your store “Peacefully Eclectic Interiors.” What does that even mean? It’s possible to write copy that makes otherwise boring products or industries sound important and poetic, but that doesn’t mean adding “pretty-sounding words” in front of other words. It doesn’t mean being hyperbolic, either. (Is your bottled water really “completely amazing?”)
4. You focus on the meaning of the writing, but not the way it sounds.
In addition to clearly and succinctly conveying messages, copywriting is an art form.
If you’re creating a brochure, your marketing copy should describe your services and everything your prospects need to know about them, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun and engaging to read. Within the boundaries of what would actually resonate with your audience, write content that’s both useful and unexpected—something people would actually want to pass along.
5. You’re okay with cliche—or don’t notice it.
Let’s circle back to number one for a second.
If your copy relies on words or phrases almost always associated with whatever you’re writing about (remember the nutty peanut butter above?), it probably means that what you wrote is cliche. Also recognize that just because certain names or words “haven’t been used before,” it doesn’t mean they’re original. Familiar sounding naming conventions carry a lot of mental competition even if they aren’t specifically trademarked.
6. You tell rather than show.
This is the stuff of high school writing classes, so you should know it already.
Don’t say “We’re the best in the business.” Don’t say, “You’ll love the results you get from our product.” The reader shouldn’t just “trust you” and take you for your word. You should give them concrete, evocative examples.
7. You rely on questions too much.
Don’t be “that guy.”
Sprinkling your copy with appropriate, impactful questions is okay, but too many will make you sound gimmicky, cheap, and insecure. Filling your writing with questions like, “And who wouldn’t want that?” leaves too much up to the reader and feels as if you’re avoiding making actual points. Sound confident. Rather than asking your reader, “What what could be better than that?” (and letting their imagination run with things that are indeed better than a soap-scum free sink), tell them with conviction, “Nothing is better than that.”
8. You make it all about you.
Your story is part of your brand’s story, and if you have a good one, you’re lucky.
But listen up: don’t let your personal connection dominate your content. Search for the reason why your purpose and passion should matter to your target audience. Draw parallels between your life and theirs. Did you start your grain-free dog food brand because your own little Oscar couldn’t stomach food on the shelves? That’s awesome, but broaden your content so it’s about the other Oscars of the world.
9. You play it safe.
Safe copy doesn’t stand out, it doesn’t get shared, and people don’t talk about it.
Experiment with extending beyond “normal” content for your industry. (There are exceptions, of course. Don’t be a quirky funeral home.) When brainstorming, let the weird, bold ideas flow first. It’s a lot easier to pull back.