From website landing pages to email campaigns and investor pitches to social media channels, good copywriting is an essential part of building a business. And yet, startups often overlook this crucial element.
You might have an amazing startup idea and product but if a first-time visitor arrives on your company’s homepage and the copy isn’t easy-to-understand and engaging, there’s going to be a disconnect. That’s where good copywriting can make a difference. It’s about stringing together words in a way that not only deliver key pieces of information but also keep customers curious and reading.
“Airbnb is beautiful because the design is great, but also because of the words – they call you to action and you don’t miss a step with their copy. They work hand-in-hand,” said Alexa Shoen, a digital copywriter who has worked with companies like Zalando and GetYourGuide.
Identify your copywriting objective(s)
Whether you’re bootstrapping and crafting your own copy or hiring a seasoned copywriter to take care of that part of the business, it’s crucial to first establish the objective(s) of your copywriting strategy before anything else. Consider things like: Are you trying to create a more consistent style/tone across the company’s copy? Do you want the reader to take a particular action? What space do you want to occupy in the customer’s mind?
If you’re hiring someone, Matthew Bostock—a creative and conceptual copywriter who’s worked with startups and big brands alike—suggests making this part very clear as soon as your first meeting (or email) with the copywriter. “From high-level stuff like discussing inspirations to low-level things like creating a style guide, provide copywriters with the basics about your company, what makes it different from others as well as a list of deliverables to set down the foundations of the working relationship.”
Think about your audience
If you’re writing a weekly newsletter, or a post for the company blog, or an ‘About Us’ page, it’s critical to think about your audience throughout the process.
Imagine the average person who might stumble upon these words. Think about the questions the users or readers might be asking, said Shoen. “Try to shake yourself out of your bubble and predict the concerns that might come up in regards to your product,” she added, “I always make a joke about this: If I have to make an educated guess about what your product does, you’re giving me more problems.”
“Instead of listing countless features and functions, try emphasizing how customers will benefit from using your product.”
When in doubt, ask your users
As a digital copywriter who focuses on the UX, social and conceptual realms, Shoen explained that asking users about their experiences will teach you to speak in their language. A startup might have a decent amount of customers but if the messages being communicated aren’t easy to understand or don’t appeal to users, that can become an issue down the line.
“Ask 10 people, ‘Can you explain to me what my company does?’ and listen to the words they use,” she recommended, “Or take them through your app or website and listen to the questions they’re asking. Then try to reflect that in the next iteration.”
Good copywriting emphasizes benefits, not features
One thing that Shoen is adamant that every entrepreneur should educate themselves about is the difference between benefit communication and feature communication. “As technical people, it’s our desire to show how many fancy things a gadget can do instead of explaining what the gadget can do for you,” she explained, “Ultimately, that’s where great copy can make a difference.”
So instead of listing countless features and functions, try emphasizing how customers will benefit from using your product… Will it save their time on a certain task? Reduce complexity when making a decision? Create more headspace? Make them more productive? Focus on points that will affect them the most.
“Whether it’s print or digital, the objective of copywriting is the same: To create words that capture imaginations and inspire people to do things.”
Be clear and concise
So you’re at the stage where you have a first draft of all your copy. What now? Edit, edit, edit.
“Being simple and concise is one of the most important factors in copywriting,” said Bostock emphatically, “Every single word and punctuation is there to achieve an outcome. Don’t create copy for the sake of it.”
As a copywriter working with startups and brands, a big part of Bostock’s job involves creating a narrative around a product launch or marketing campaign and then telling this story in the best way possible. Even though storytelling has become somewhat of a buzzword, he says that what’s really crucial about this aspect of copywriting is being consistent.
“Whether it’s a social media update or blog post or press release, every micro story you produce has to be linked back to the central story,” he explained, “All of these separate stories that make up your marketing plan need to be coherent.” Part of ensuring this coherence means involving the whole company in the process by helping them understand the role of copywriting in the company’s strategy as well as the particular style/tone/voice that makes it stand out when compared to rivals.
“Whether it’s big businesses or startups, print or digital, the objective of copywriting is the same: To create words that capture imaginations and inspire people to do things,” said Bostock.