Writing structure: five terms you need to know
Copywriting is a tricky artform which can really power up your marketing assets. If you're new to copywriting or even creative writing, there are some fundamentals that you need to learn before you embark on your content writing journey. Here are five fundamental elements of writing structure that you need to learn.
Read more about excellent writing structure here.
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One of the most make or break things about professional writing is the structure and it absolutely pays to get it right.
Structure is the order of ideas. More specifically, when it comes to professional communication and writing, it's about looking at the way your assets are structured. Learning the fundamentals of structure are incredibly important so that you can apply it to your own writing and achieve successful results.
Building block questions
In every piece of writing, you need to look at the basic storytelling building block questions that are to be answered in the research phase. These answers to these fundamental questions will form the basis of the information of your piece of writing.
In addition to these building block questions, it pays to be clear on the following aspects of structure:
Ten writing tips for structuring your work
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Millennials: mystery or marvellous?
Despite what you may think, millennials are actually astute readers and information consumers. Studies show that millennials are more likely to read more books than people in their thirties and forties. Not to mention the amount of online reading they consume.
They have a hunger for authenticity and a knack for being able to determine what is horse poo and what is real and comes from the heart.
They are constantly overwhelmed with information, blasting at them from all directions so they need to be able to determine what is worthy of their time immediately. Essentially, you have a micro second to grab their attention and let them know what you need to because you may not be able to keep it. There are a lot of things competing for their previous time and attention.
Given this time limit, it’s important that content specifically for millennials is designed to be read within seconds (not minutes!) and is entertaining and has a strong storytelling component. The same techniques that you would apply to writing a webisode or sitcom would apply for millennial content.
And if your first sentence and headline aren’t pure, unadulterated magic you’ve already lost them.
It goes without saying they are super tech savvy and completely voracious and have a world of information within clicking distance, so they are not going to take something at face value just because you tell them to. They can do their own research and find out other points of view within mere minutes.
'If your first sentence and headline aren’t pure, unadulterated magic you’ve already lost them.'
Additionally, millennials are highly socially conscious beings so seek out and align themselves with content and companies that share these values and their cultural interests.
48 per cent of people interviewed for a US Millennial Supplemental Consumer Sentiment Survey (2013) reported this age group prefers to invest their time, money and attention in companies that demonstrate social responsibility and environmental sustainability.
The best way to communicate with a millennial is to:
Speaking of authenticity, in a 2014 survey of twelve global industries, it was shown that ‘…91 per cent of consumers value honesty about products and services above any other authentic characteristics.’
Additionally, using heavy action verbs will connect with them emotionally and encourage action. For example: seize, stopped dead, stumbled, fall apart, excel… and so forth.
Lastly, millennials are not a generation to be feared when communicating with. In fact, quite the opposite. They are the generation that will have the biggest influence on your digital marketing as they are active participants in sharing, commenting, interacting and helping to shape your content and communications. Start valuing the millennial!
Although these Youtube videos aren't all directly related to copywriting, sometimes you need a little visual and audio inspo to get you motivated to achieve the marketing success in your business that you truly desire. This used to be a blog post of five inspiring videos but I have chosen to remove Tony Robbins due to his deplorable recent minimisation of the #MeToo movement and I don't want to support his work any longer.
SEO for beginners with Neil Patel
Neil Patel is one of the world’s leading experts on SEO and his friendly, unassuming vibe makes it easy to understand all things SEO. Here he explains some basic tips to keep up with algorithmic changes in 2018. I highly recommend giving over ten minutes to learn these SEO fundamentals. Don't forget that I have some SEO steps here too.
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
If you’re interested in increasing income (who isn’t, right?) and improving work performance, there is a little timeless classic call Think and Grow Rich written by Napoleon Hill, first published in 1937. Thankfully, it can be found as the complete audio book (all ten hours of it) on Youtube, so it makes for great listening. Warning: there’s some parts that you might want to tune out of that may not align with today’s social values.
How to Write Copy That Turns Website Visitors into Customers by Marie Forleo
This is a very simple video on copywriting that provides one very clear tip which I abide by in all copywriting pursuits. It’s a short video, has a bit of waffle and is broken down quite simply for those who are new to marketing but the tip and concept is priceless. And it reminds us of that age old copywriting technique of eliciting empathy.
How To Price Design Services and Make More Money with Chris Do
I really like this video and I find it particularly educational for those who work in creative services and are unsure (or more specifically, undervaluing) their skills, expertise and talent. Chris Do’s straight talking logic is quite inspiring and he is very transparent and generous with this knowledge about value, worth and pricing strategies.
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The interesting evolution of copywriting. It's older than you think!
There is a certain level of peculiarity that comes with being a copywriter that goes beyond simply being a writer or working in marketing. Of course, I’m completely biased but it feels like a strange set of skills that I’ve stolen from history and that I’m disguising under new tech. Do you ever get that feeling about your job? I can imagine visual artists, doctors and yoga teachers might feel similar or at least understand what I’m getting at.
Advertising copywriting has existed since Babylonian times and the first printed material is said to have come into the world in 1477, promoting the sale of a prayer book.
The history of copywriting dates back to when the first printed papers were distributed on the street. The actual word “copywriting” means the act of writing words to sell products. The copywriter is the person who does this, often found in ad agencies or at home as a freelancer.
The job of a copywriter began by creating ads on a large poster made of paper with a feather dipped ink (how deliciously antiquated and time consuming). These posters were fixed to walls and poles in the bigger cities of Europe. Centuries ago there were no printing processes to make duplicates, so each page was painstakingly handcrafted. Creating such ads was more of an art and it sounds incredibly meditative to me.
Eventually, they evolved to printed pamphlets and brochures and became much smaller in size as printing in its new evolution was a complicated and lengthy process, so the smaller the item, the faster it was.
Once mass printing processes were perfected, around 1605, newspapers could be mass produced and hawked on street corners. The first English paper was produced in 1664, called the Oxford Gazette (now known as the London Gazette). It was when the larger format newspapers were published that advertisements began to appear on one full page or several ads were dispersed throughout the pages. What a glorious time that must have been for copywriters as there wasn’t quite the saturated market, you could have more effect on people and their purchasing or social decisions.
The beginning of freelancing
It has been suggested that the first person to work as an official independent copywriter was John Emory Powers (thanks dude). He lived from 1837 to 1919 and was the first person to have this job fulltime and instead of working for a newspaper, he worked for the popular department stores of Lord & Taylor and Wanamaker’s. These stores recognised the importance of creating excellent ads that would stand out in newspapers and magazines. He created six ads a week. I’d like that kind of work load!
He is deemed the ‘father of modern creative advertising’ by creating one of the most controversial ads of the era, in his signature straight talking style, that ended up selling out stock in a number of hours. Truth telling was his gimmick and it seemed to work!
‘Suddenly, everything I'd seen in direct mail and all the ads I'd seen made sense. Give people a reason why they should buy a product,' Clayton Makepeace.
The value of copywriting
The value of copywriting was finally recognised around the 1800s. The copywriter would make advertisements that would capture the attention of consumers. For the Wanamaker's store, they quickly doubled their yearly revenues.
Where advertising used to be more of a gamble and a risk taking venture from the thirties to the sixties, today it is one that is unavoidable and if you don’t include it in your marketing plan you are already behind your competitors. In 2017, there was a global advertising spend of approximately $688 billion (in AUD). That is off the charts!
‘The man who stops advertising to save money is like the man who stops the clock to save time,’ Thomas Jefferson.
One of the most prominent and influential copywriters of the past century was Robert Collier, who started the direct mail phenomenon in the thirties, utilising emotional connecting and psychological techniques. He later became a bestselling and famous new age and self development author.
It wasn’t really until recently that training and education became formalised for copywriting, perhaps with exception of on the job training and mentoring.
Copywriting doesn’t last long
Copywriting is almost instantly obsolete, which is bizarre considering how much time, skill and sheer effort goes into it. It’s even more bizarre to think how influential that copywriting is. I could craft a content article or digital ad today that could affect hundreds of people enough to buy a product or a service that could change their life or, at the very, least change perspective on the way they had previously viewed something.
With real time feedback and digital analytics, copywriters and content marketers have instantaneous feedback and can tell whether the copy is working more than ever and campaign cycles are much quicker. So now we have to be faster and more accurate and create something that gets results within a 24-48 hour cycle. No pressure!
Today’s modern copywriter does more than simply write copy for newspaper or magazine ads. With ecommerce growing at a rate of at least seventeen per cent per year and content marketing becoming a universal marketing tactic employed by ninety per cent of businesses worldwide, a copywriter now has to be proficient in writing for the web with a sound knowledge of SEO best practices. Copywriters may also write copy for book jackets, food and product packaging, name floral bouquets (I actually did this once), write about technology trends in healthcare (done this too), write meta data descriptions for sunglasses (yes, tick this one off the list), write media releases about musicians and authors (uh huh…) and so it goes.
A worthy copywriter is also responsible for helping websites achieve good SEO rankings involving strategic placement of common keywords that consumers are likely to be searching for, in amongst web copy and content articles without making it seem awkward and unreadable and like it’s been written by a drunk robot.
Despite the medium and shelf life of copywriting changing, there are still some rock solid facets of copywriting that haven’t changed over its lifetime. They are:
The Australian copywriter’s focus has undeniably shifted considerably from print to the internet (it has had to!) over the past decade but one thing is unchanging in my self interested eyes… copywriting will continue to be one of the best ways to promote businesses, organisations, services and products and is truly an artform that every marketing strategy can reap benefits from.
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