10 key takeaways from CopyCon 2020 that will help you become a better writer
Missed the ProCopywriters’ Copywriting Conference 2020 or looking to catch up on some of the talks? Grab a cuppa and some biscuits – here’s my write-up of what I learned.
1. Keep your value proposition simple
First to take the virtual stage was Francesca Catanuso, Washingtonian turned Amsterdammer and a senior copywriter at Booking.com.
Her talk was all about the value proposition and how to build it. The starting point? Become a master of minimalism.
Fran explained Miller’s Law (1956), a concept from cognitive psychologist George A. Miller who suggested that the number of ‘chunks’ an average human can hold in their working short term memory is seven, plus or minus two. Any more than this leads to cognitive overload and we start to forget things.
This is why a value proposition should be “a delicate balance between giving too much information and not enough.”
Lego has perfected this in its iconic ads that demonstrate the power of imagination. So too has Apple with its strapline for the iPhone SE: ‘Lots to love. Less to spend.’ A winning combination of emotion and price awareness in the brand’s simple style.
2. Make sure you close the feedback loop
Next up was Relly Annett-Baker, a content strategist and copywriter who knows a thing or two about microcopy. This term refers to the small snippets of copy that guide users through apps and sites, helping to make their journey to conversion as smooth as possible.
Using the analogy of donuts (and inevitably making us all hungry), Relly explained about closed feedback loops. Closing the loop is when you’re able to respond directly to customer feedback through good error messaging. It’s great way to resolve complaints and keep customers loyal, as well as follow up with neutral customers and turn them into prospects.
So what makes a good error message? Relly told us to clearly state the error, explain it (repeat back to the user what they have entered so they know what has triggered the error message) and show a path to resolution.
She also shared some handy resources for storing and sharing UX copy, including Evernote (lets you create a notebook for each client), Miro (can create mindmaps and notes) and Figma (ideal for wireframing).
3. Test, test, test – it’s how you’ll drive conversions
Next up was ‘Testing Copy Taught Us’ by Sandra Wu, a paid content marketing lead at Blinkist, the Berlin-based book-summarising subscription service with around seven million users.
Sandra explained the importance of engaging your customers by getting to the heart of your brand’s why. People sometimes mistake Blinkist for a reading app, when it’s actually more of a self-improvement tool. Ultimately, it’s for busy people who don’t have time to read and want to fit learning into their lives.
When this was included in Blinkist’s About section on the website, the conversion rate skyrocketed, with a 39% increase in signup rates.
Another key finding, and one of the more controversial points of the day, was about beautiful writing. Whether it’s more poetic, witty or engaging, the sad truth is that it doesn’t always convert. Blinkist tried making its copy more poetic, witty and engaging and found that of 12 tests, 9 failed.
Of course, beautiful copy is needed and always will be. It’s how you get people to feel something about your brand and take action. However, Sandra proved that writing for the sake of better language doesn’t always pay off.
My interpretation of this is that copy should be a fine balance between being salesy and beautifully written. And, when a client is pedantic about one word, one word that you know will make zero difference to the results of your copy, you're within your right to push back.
4. Use these five silos to make your storytelling more diverse
This year, the dialogue surrounding diversity, inclusion and allyship has rightly been brought to the forefront of everyone's minds. But how can you genuinely offer these in your writing? Social content creative at Ogilvy UK, Natalie Narh gave a detailed talk on where we can start.
Natalie explained that words shape the way that society understands itself and when we don’t understand something, our first instinct is to reject it. If society is broken, what is circulated in the media will be broken.
She said: “As writers, we have a responsibility to ensure that the subsequent stories and perceptions we’re putting out into the world are deconstructing the beliefs and systems that already exist.”
These beliefs and systems are age-old and haven’t been set up in Black people’s favour.
She explained that through informing, educating and entertaining, we have the opportunity to accommodate everyone.
Natalie then presented us with these five silos of diverse storytelling, encouraging us to apply them to everything we write:
Content – What are you trying to say?
Cultural opportunities – Is there more chance for cultural representation here?
Relatability – Are you the right person to be telling this story? Is this your story to tell?
Research – Are your insights actually informed?
Red flags – Is there someone you can ask to sense-check this?
5. Use empathy to evaluate your own copy
I know I shouldn’t pick favourites, but I really loved Gill Andrews’ witty and insightful talk about evaluating copy quickly.
Gill is a conversion copywriter and web consultant who believes that writing good copy doesn’t have to be complicated. She pointed out that prospective customers evaluate copy based on their feelings – and so do we.
It turns out that we are already experts in evaluating copy. We just forget it when we need to do it consciously. That’s why Gill applies a three-step formula, with the final step focusing on empathising with your audience. She explained that building empathy isn’t as hard as it sounds. You just need to make sure your copy tackles these three elements:
1. Huh? – Ask yourself, 'what’s this about?' to build clarity and understanding.
2. Prove it! – Consider how to back up your claims to build specificity and trust.
3. Why should I care? – In other words, so what? Get people to care and you'll build relevancy and value.
These are great ways to pinpoint specific drawbacks of your copy. Ultimately, they’ll help you establish relevance quickly, keep customers’ interest and persuade them to take action.
6. Know your audience and you’ll nail your tone of voice
WeTransfer is the site that makes file sharing ridiculously easy. At this year’s CopyCon, the company’s copywriter Robyn Collinge gave a fantastic talk on how speaking simply has helped the brand serve a huge audience.
With the insight that 75% of WeTransfer’s users identify as creatives, it’s important that the brand speaks in a way that resonates with them.
That’s why its downloading error message reads like this:
Having trouble downloading your files? We know it’s frustrating, but hang in there and we’ll get things back up and running as soon as we can.
Straightforward, helpful and understanding, this has clearly been written by someone who knows the struggles creatives face. Here’s another one I love:
Hate your job?
So does everyone else!
Hate a better job.
WeTransfer is hiring.
Just as writers know you can start a sentence with ‘and’ or ‘because’, Robyn advised we play with the rules of writing and grammar. She did this with the line:
WeTransfer Pro just got Pro-er.
Finally, my favourite example, be unexpected. In the footer of an email from WeTransfer, Robyn wrote ‘(Send snacks)’ next to the company’s Amsterdam and California addresses. Believe it or not – people actually sent snacks into their offices! #winning
7. Use writing fascinations to create intense curiosity
Fascinations are short sentences that drive curiosity and engagement. They essentially suggest that if you follow ABC, you’ll get XYZ benefit. Here’s Eddie’s example of a headline:
The one question you must ask when you buy a car to get the lowest price humanly possible.
While this may initially come across as Buzzfeed-style and clickbaity, there’s a very clear strategy behind it. The headline teases the value being offered (the one question) and embellishes the benefit (the lowest price) through exaggeration.
The key to creating your fascination is finding what Eddie described as the ‘value nuggets’ in your content. These are the useful pieces of information that demonstrate value to your customers.
The best way to get good at writing fascinations is by copyworking (again, a new concept to me), where you learn to adopt someone else’s writing style and write by hand. Scroll up and you’ll see I’ve given it a go in the headline of this piece.
8. Consider rest and recreation part of the creative process
Shoutout to Ticker’s brand manager, Honor Clement-Hayes, for dropping some major truth bombs about perfectionism and how to become a resilient creative.
Perfectionism and imposter syndrome are things that I’m pretty sure most creatives experience (last week I messaged my copywriting friends in an ‘I’m not good enough’ panic, which they quickly helped dissolve). It tends to feel like everyone else has got things all figured out while we’re on the third existential crisis of the week … and that’s only by Tuesday.
That’s why it was so reassuring to hear from someone who just gets it. I was frantically writing down everything Honor said and three things that stuck with me were:
Consider rest and relaxation part of the creative process
Get a hobby, dude
Personally, the latter is the one I need to focus on the most. Sure, I have hobbies – but they’re mainly reading and writing related. I could definitely do with more activities outside of this bubble and outside of my comfort zone. Granted, 2020 isn’t the best year to have this realisation, but I’m keen to do more things for F.U.N. Maybe I’ll learn to roller-skate or bake cookies like I did at the beginning of lockdown (I think we know which one’s more likely).
9. Stop ignoring midlife women – they belong in advertising
If there’s anyone who knows how to deliver a speech and silence a whole (socially-distanced) conference room, it’s Jane Evans.
After becoming shocked by the disappearance of women over 50 in the world of advertising, Jane created the Uninvisibility Project. In her CopyCon talk, Jane explained that the ad industry is youth-obsessed and sees midlife women as irrelevant. She was even told back in 2015 that if she rejoined the advertising world, she’d be ‘put with the old women at the back of the creative department and doing the shit that nobody else wants.’
Jane explained that Ad Land looks at midlife women through a lens and sees Dame Helen Mirren, Dame Judie Dench and Dame Maggie Smith – even though they’re all over 75. In actual fact, midlife women are Gwen Stefani, Neneh Cherry and all of the Spice Girls.
She told us that part of the problem is how the industry is only just waking up to ageism and lack of diversity. As creatives, we have a responsibility to share our genius and start telling stories.
After all, why can't we help create a stage for midlife women?
As Jane told us, “We’re trained in the art of persuasion but only use our superpowers for our own gain or when we have a brief. If we’re going to continue to sell a vision of a better world, we need to clean up our own act.”
10. Build your brand living room to create personality-driven copy
To close a fantastic day of talks, conversion copywriter Kira Hug spoke about how to stand out and boost your bottom line through personality.
Whether you’re a bubbly lifestyle brand or more reserved B2B tech firm, personality is integral. It’s what leverages your likability factor and helps people identify with you.
Forget the same-old method of listing adjectives to describe your brand’s personality. Kira is all about creating a brand living room.
This fun discovery exercise will help you visualise the way you want your brand to look and feel. You’ll then have a bank of ideas and concepts that you can later use in your creative.
Kira explained that all you need is a pen, paper and your imagination. Ask yourself, what does your brand’s living room look like? From your furniture and windows to colours and other design elements, try to be as specific as you can. Off the top of my head, mine would probably have squishy sofas (I'm all about that comfortable life), big windows letting in lots of serotonin-boosting natural light and of course, accents of my beloved rose gold.
Don’t forget to consider where you fit in. Again, go big on the details. What are you wearing? How are you interacting with other people? What music is playing? What are you celebrating? What are you eating?
Yes, some brands might not immediately take to this weird and wonderful exercise. However, I believe it's a fun and original way to get to the heart of what you stand for. At the end, you can look at your moodboard or paper and think – this is how we show up for our customers.
It's been a mad old year and I can't imagine how challenging it would have been to move what's normally an in-person conference to completely online. Having said that, CopyCon 2020 was a huge success! I've got to say a huge thank you to Pro Copywriters, the brilliant Leif Kendall, MC David McGuire, resident poet Rishi Dastidar any everyone involved. It's really been a highlight of my year and I can't wait for CopyCon 2021 (whatever format that may take)!