Why online copywriting is more important than ever

Posted by on Feb 18, 2010 in Content Strategy | No Comments

You know those brands that you really dig — that you feel you know so much about and relate to so viscerally that you’ll love them forever, like an old college roommate?

Like people, there probably aren’t many of those brands in your life. But the ones you’ve found you’re holding on to, and they continue to delight you with their ability to be there when you need them, to really get where you’re coming from.

Smart copywriting (combined with a great product presented in the right environment) is largely responsible for that fuzzy fondness you feel for a brand, especially when you interact with it online. That was the premise of Denise Wilton’s talk on “Writing for Relationships” at IxDA’s Interaction ’10 in Savannah earlier this month. Wilton is the creative director of MOO.com, the wildly successful online printing company that has exploded among creatives and entrepreneurs for their fun design options and easy-to-use system.

But a large part of MOO.com’s success, Wilton asserts, is its ability to create a tangible brand online, where customers don’t have the luxury of interacting with a face-to-face salesperson but still crave the same kind of friendly service they’d get at bricks-and-mortar store. (And, in a world where live employees are MIA most of the time at physical retail stores anyway, there’s a real opportunity to deliver superior experiences even when your salespeople are chatty bots following well-crafted scripts.)

In fact, Wilton talks about Little MOO — the friendly bot who sends automated updates about the status of a customer’s business card order — and how people react to it: replying to it, sending email asking how Little MOO is feeling, treating Little MOO like a real relationship. The way Little MOO and all of the copy on MOO.com is crafted fosters relationships with consumers who feel like they know the brand intimately.

Wilton argues against all the people who say users don’t read online. “People read online all the time,” she says. But copy has to be targeted, useful and authentic, or users will indeed skip over it. “We know people only read what’s necessary online,” she says. “We have to make every single word count.”

Relationship-building through smart writing

  • Lead customers from the monologue to the conversation. Web pages start out as monologues — you’re telling customers what they need to know. But once you make a sale, or two or three or ten sales, you can begin engaging customers in real conversations, through blogs, Twitter feeds and email newsletters. The tone of voice can be a little different in these communications — more casual, more intimate, maybe even more brand-focused or inward-looking — because you’ve formed a relationship and people start to care, to want to join the tribe. Until then, keep the information useful and strictly audience-focused.
  • Figure out what your business is all about. “Are you selling online banking, or are you selling more time to spend with your kids?” Wilton says. “Before you work out your tone of voice, you have to work out what you’re really doing with your business.” A writer who is able to create a tangible, lovable brand voice through copy knows what the brand’s all about, inside and out — and it’s a hard thing to teach that to others, Wilton says.
  • Write for context. In the spirit of making every word count, provide copy that truly supports the sales process — avoiding gratuitous prose. “Context is everything! Otherwise you’re just the annoying shop assistant,” Wilton says.

See Wilton’s entire presentation here.

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