Entries from September 2014 ↓

Copywriting the Kirstie Allsopp Way

Copywriting and Kirstie Allsop

If you’re looking for a new home, there’s no one better than Kirstie Allsopp to help you find it.

As a fan of Location, Location, Location I enjoy tuning in to watch Kirstie and Phil Spencer attempt to find the perfect homes for two couples.

The word ‘attempt’ is used because, week after week, the couples they help sorely tempt their patience.

Just in case you haven’t seen the programme (why on earth not?), Phil and Kirstie are each allocated a couple that, for various reasons, have been unsuccessful in their hunt for a new home.

At the outset each presenter is faced with the couple’s “wish list” – i.e. ideal location, size and type of property etc. Pretty much every week they run into the same issue – their budget is incompatible with what they’re looking for. But, undeterred, the couples are determined to get everything on their list.

Every now and then they’ll get people they just can’t help because they’re not prepared to look beyond their self-imposed blinkers, but those that are prepared to compromise usually come up trumps.

What does all of this have to do with copywriting?

Well, it’s a lot like the early stages of web copy (in fact all types of marketing content, but web copy is the biggest culprit).

Web copy beyond the blinkers

More often than not, when working with clients, they have a fairly set view on how they want their web copy.

It must be:

  • Professional
  • Written to make them sound impressive
  • Centred on the business

Nothing wrong with that?

Hmm, there’s plenty wrong with it.

This is where my inner Kirstie comes out.

When faced with a wish list like that one, it’s my job to explain how web copy should really work.

It should always be written for the person who’s going to read it – that means your customers.

Because it should be written for your customers, it must be relevant to them, outlining how your product or service is going to benefit them.

To do that it must be written in plain, simple language. It doesn’t matter if your target audience have doctorates or GCSEs, the language must be straightforward and instantly accessible. No big words, no complex sentences and no jargon.

The most important thing is that your website does what it’s supposed to do – drawn in visitors and convert them into customers.

If a client is willing to look beyond their preconceptions (which I would hope they would be willing to do otherwise what was the point in hiring a professional writer?) the results is a website that works like a dream.

If they adamant that, despite all the years’ experience I have, they are right and I am wrong, I simply can’t help them because it would be very unprofessional to write what they want knowing it won’t work.

Kirstie and Phil are property experts who understand their market and what it takes to find the ‘as near as humanly possible’ ideal home.

A copywriter understands marketing and, although not an expert in your business, knows how to write to draw people in and persuade them that yours is the company they should be dealing with.

So next time you engage a writer for a project, listen to what they have to say and try not to impose any of your preconceived ideas on them. By all means talk thinks through and say what you’re looking for and then trust in their judgement about what will work.


Author – Sally Ormond, Briar Copywriting Ltd

Re-branding – how not to alienate your customers

Branding your business is tricky. You have to make sure it comes across as appealing, a ‘must have’ brand that’s not too pretentious.

Over time, your company will change leading to a need to refine your brand image, but even the smallest of changes can affect your target market and their perception of your brand.

Clive Rohald has written an interesting article in The Drum about how to give your brand identity a makeover without alienating your customers. Here are some of his thoughts.

Every company, at one time or another, will feel the need for a brand refresh. The question is, how can that be achieved without it turning into a disaster.

1. Why is there a need for change?

Clive’s first point is to identify why there is a need for change.

What is it that needs updating? Where is your current brand failing? How can your brand better service its employees and customers? Do you need to define a new brand or is evolving your existing one enough?

Its imperative you make the difference between  your brand and operational issues. Clive uses the case of Malaysia Airlines as an example. In this case it’s issues were down to poor communication and its inability to act transparently, which are operational issues and can’t be solved by rebranding.

The key is to focus on ‘why’, not ‘how’ your brand needs to change and what the brand promises your customers.

2. Are you still relevant?

If your brand is to survive after rebranding you must ensure it remains relevant to your target market.

Research is everything; it helps you understand your brand perception, value and familiarity. If your research delivers strong results without an obvious threat to your brand, you may not need to review it.

3. 360 degree thinking

Your brand is more than just your logo, colours and stationery. It is also your tone of voice, customer service, stores and digital communications.

Trust comes from continuity; every time a customer comes into contact with your company the experience should be familiar, whatever form it takes. Your new visual identity should be a true representation of the new brand strategy.

4. Respect your heritage

Although your heritage shouldn’t hold you back, it should remain central to your brand. It is what makes you unique, offering customers a safe pair of hands. By introducing subtle updates your brand will move forward without losing the values it was built on and that attracted your customers in the first place.

5. Cultural perception and differences

Your rebrand must encompass and be accompanied by strong, relevant marketing messages that transcend cultural and language barriers. If you are a global player you must make sure your messaging and image translate into all markets. Clive cites KFC as an example when it launched a new campaign in China. It came unstuck when it discovered that its famous tagline “finger-lickin’ good” was understood locally as “eat your fingers off”. Ooops.

6. Acknowledge change

Even the best thought out plans can go wrong. When you roll out your rebrand – whether globally or locally – be sensitive to any issues it throws up and be prepared to be flexible in your response to any adverse publicity.

3 Things I’ve Learnt as a Freelance Copywriter

Sally Ormond, Briar Copywriting

I’ve been in the freelance copywriting business for 7 years.

I could tell you that after launching Briar Copywriting back in 2007 I have gone from strength to strength, never put a foot wrong and generally been totes-amaze-balls.

I could, but I won’t.

Anyone who tries to convince you they’ve built a business from local to global proportions without any hiccups is lying.

Business is ruthless and, when you’re not looking, will kick you in the balls every now and then just to make sure you remain grounded.

In the grand scheme of things I have been lucky; only suffered a handful of bad debts (very small fry), been lucky enough to have wonderful clients (in the main, with the odd exception) and seen my business grow into an internationally renowned copywriting company. But that’s not to say things have always gone my way.

I’ve made mistakes because I’m human. I’ve done stupid things. But I have learned from them and grown as a person.

The title of this blog says I’ve learned 3 things from my time as a freelance copywriter. In reality, it’s way more than that, but these 3 stick out because they affect everyone in business.

You can’t please everyone

Ain’t that the truth?

There are some people in the world who are just born miserable. It doesn’t matter how much you bend over backwards to help them, they’re never going to be happy.

Every time you ask them a question it’s like you’ve asked them to sever a limb.

You can take a detailed brief from them, especially in relation to the tone of voice they want, and it will be wrong every time.

Do you give up?

No. Not unless there is really no way of working with the client.

It doesn’t happen very often, but ‘sacking’ a client can often be the best solution to a bad situation – for both parties.

Most clients don’t know what they want

In a way, this one is related to the first one and comes in 2 varieties.

Variety 1: During your initial meeting with the client, they seem to know exactly what they want. They give you a detailed brief and even can show you examples of the tone and content they’re looking for. You leave the room smiling because finally, you have a client that knows exactly what they’re looking for. Full of confidence you present the first draft only to be shot down in flames because they’ve changed their minds and seen something else they really like.

Variety 2: During your initial meeting it comes abundantly clear your client has no idea whatsoever about what they want. Your heart sinks further when they utter those immortal worlds “I’ll know it when I see it”. You try your best to prise as much information from them as possible regarding tone, content etc. By the end of the very long meeting you have an idea of what they’re looking for. The initial draft is met with a lukewarm reception – it’s almost there, but not quite. It’s going to be a long night.

Clients that know exactly what they want

In light of the above, you would think these clients are just what you need. Up to a point I’d agree with you, but they do have the potential of turning into nightmare clients too.

These are the ones that give you all the information you need only to completely re-write your initial draft because they think they know best. They ignore all your carefully crafted messaging and turn the document into a ‘we are the best in the world’ ego-fest that won’t sell a bean.

When you try to explain why you wrote what you wrote, they toss your explanations aside because it’s their business and they know it better than you (even though you’re the professional writer and you know marketing better than them). In this situation you’re left with 3 choices:

  • Walk away
  • Do as they as to keep the peace knowing full well it won’t work
  • Stick to your guns and risk being sacked

Trust your instincts

It took me a while, but now I listen very carefully to the little voice in my head when I get a new enquiry.

Over the years I have developed an internal dodgy client detector that’s rarely wrong.

When you speak to someone, if something doesn’t seem quite right, or you don’t gel with them, the chances are it will turn into the project from hell.

My advice is listen to your little voice and learn from past mistakes. Over time you’ll get to sift out the good clients, although that doesn’t necessarily mean business will be plain sailing – that would just be boring.

Author – Sally Ormond, Briar Copywriting Ltd

How Not to Write Email Marketing Subject Lines

In my last post, I talked about how not to do email marketing.

This time round I want to look at the subject lines that you use when sending out your emails.

They are the first thing your recipients see, so it’s essential they have the right impact.

Rather than launching into a lengthy post I’ll get straight to the point by listing below a quick run down of 8 top things that should be avoided.

1. Getting personal

Addressing the recipient by name within the email is a great idea, but don’t also personalise the subject line, especially if you’re sending your emails to a ‘cold’ list.

Of course, in a an ideal world you wouldn’t be sending emails to a bunch of people who haven’t opted in to your mailing schedule.  But having their name in the subject line is often seen as a step too far and can look spammy.

2. Asking for money

This one is mainly aimed at charities.

Granted, you have fundraising targets to hit (not to mention a great cause to support), but research by MailChimp suggests that asking for money in your subject line (either using the words donate, helping or fundraising) will lower your click through rate. Obviously, words such as ‘help, ‘helping’ and ‘fundraising’ can be used in contexts other than those directly related to asking for cash, just be careful how you use them.

3. Limited offers

You already know that limiting your offers by number or time is a great way to encourage people to buy. But it would appear that by using a term such as ‘last chance’ in your subject line really cheeses people off. You’ll need to find a different way of getting that across such as ‘the clock’s ticking’ perhaps.

4. Capital idea

This is one of my pet hates.

Why do people think I’ll take more notice of their email if their subject line is in capital letters?

The same goes for exclamation marks. Both scream spam, so don’t use them.

5. Failing words

There are some words that just seem to switch people off emails: join, speaker, press, social, invite and assistance are just a few.

Why are they such a turn off? Perhaps because they don’t overtly offer the recipient anything obvious of value?

6. Be vague

If you want someone to open or act upon your email you have to be specific.

Using a vague subject line won’t inspire anyone to open your email, but if it’s concise and to the point, it will.

7. Length

More and more people are viewing their emails on smart phones, so it’s never been more important to keep your subject lines concise. Make sure they are no longer than 20 – 30 characters.

8. No tricks

You’ve probably already seen this type of email; they are the ones that use the prefix FW: or RE: in the subject line to try and create the illusion of familiarity.

It’s downright spammy and people won’t be fooled.


Author – Sally Ormond, Briar Copywriting Ltd