We copywriters are sensitive souls. If you’re like me, your heart sinks when you’ve put a huge effort into writing something, only to have your client come back with seemingly-unhelpful feedback like “It’s OK, but could you just make it a bit more sparkly?”
For “sparkly” you could also substitute “punchy”, “snappy”, “dynamic”, “energetic”, “vibrant”, “compelling” – or any of a huge number of adjectives that clients tend to use when they feel the existing copy isn’t up to scratch – but don’t quite know (or don’t have time) to articulate what needs to be changed.
(And before you get started, be sure to find out whether the client wants copyediting or a complete rewrite.)
So what does a client actually *mean* when they say they want your copy to be “more sparkly”? In my experience, it usually means you need to do one or more of these things:
1) Use shorter words and sentences
In B2B we’re usually promoting complex technologies and services that solve knotty business problems. That means we often end up writing very long sentences, using long, multi-syllabic words, to frame the business issue or to explain what the product or service does.
And while those sentences may be technically accurate, they’re not much fun to read. When you only have a microsecond to get your reader’s attention, an opening gambit like: “In today’s difficult economic times, logistics managers are under increasing pressure to minimise transportation costs while ensuring faster order fulfilment times” isn’t really going to set pulses racing or leave your audience hungering for more.
It may be true, but it’s the kind of jargon-heavy, clichéd opening that a) has been written a thousand times before, and b) tries to say a lot of things in a short space, and consequently ends up saying nothing exciting or inspiring.
How to make it sparkle: Don’t try to say everything at once. Use shorter words and sentences. Pick a hot issue and lead with it. Talk to your audience directly (see tip 2 below). Appeal to their emotions. Make a bold statement. Lead with a question. Write in normal, conversational language. Lighten up a little bit!
Here’s a great example of sparkly copy from Xero, the cloud accounting system for small businesses:
Xero’s copywriters don’t waste time here telling business owners what they already know (“In today’s difficult economic times…”). They hit on a single issue (you need to see your cashflow in real time), use everyday conversational language to show how they help you do it, and add a bit of sparkle with three short, emotive adjectives, one of which is a little bit cheeky and unusual: “simple, smart and occasionally magical”.
BONUS TIP: Most of us have been tempted at some point to start a sentence with “In today’s difficult economic times…” or a variant of it. My tip for overcoming this is: write it, then write what you were going to write after it, then go back and delete “In today’s difficult economic times”. I can guarantee your sentence will be shorter, less clichéd and will have exactly the same impact.
2) Write as though you’re talking to a real person
One of the big problems with B2B copy is that we often don’t have a clear idea of who we’re writing for. The brief may say that this ebook is for HR directors in midsize enterprises, but if you’ve never met an HR director from a midsize enterprise, it’s difficult to imagine what that person might be like. And if you can’t readily imagine them, it’s hard to know what makes them tick, or what tone to take with them. So more often than not, we’ll play it safe and use a formal, generic, “businessy” style, which doesn’t exactly fire wild enthusiasm in the heart of Debra Perkins, head of HR at Anyco.
How to make it sparkle: Get to know some real-life HR directors. If not in actual real life, then at least check out some LinkedIn Groups and see how they talk and what they talk about, read interviews in trade magazines or revisit some case study interviews.
If you have the time and the opportunity, get to know some HR directors in person, maybe by attending an industry event, chatting to a few people and paying attention to how people talk about their jobs, their aspirations and their frustrations. Then bring the tone, flavour and vocabulary of those real conversations back into your copy. Rather than sounding like a corporate copy-bot, you’ll sound like a real human being, talking to other human beings about things that matter to them.
3) Use real-life examples
A lot of B2B copy is dull because it tells rather than shows. “Our end-to-end automation solution will significantly reduce your procure-to-pay cycle” is one way of talking about how good your software is, but it’s unlikely to have your audience springing from their swivel chairs in excitement.
How to make it sparkle: Cut the jargon and show what this means in the real world. “You can get new widgets on to your production line while your competitor is still looking around for a supplier”. Better still, use a real-life anecdote: “One company we worked with managed to claim £270,674 in early-payment discounts in the space of five months – more than covering the cost of the software.”
Showing, rather than telling – and using little stories to do so – is a great way to bring your copy to life and make it relevant and interesting to your audience.
4) Use metaphors and visual imagery
Lots of us on the B2B side of copywriting – myself included – think of ourselves as “explainers”, skilled in translating complex technical ideas into plain, understandable language.
(For more on the different types of B2B copywriter, see our previous post).
The problem is that plain, down-to-earth language can lack sparkle because its aim is to clarify, not to entertain. But in a world stuffed with B2B content, drier, more academic-style copy will no longer stand out – especially not at the top of the funnel where you’re looking to capture attention for the first time.
How to make it sparkle: A great skill for “explainer”-style copywriters to learn is using metaphor, simile, analogy, cultural references and visual imagery to add sparkle to copy. If you can show what you’re talking about through the use of an original metaphor, your copy will make a more immediate impact and stand out far more – especially if you can work hand in hand with a designer to reinforce the idea.
In truth there are many ways to make your copy sparkle, and it always pays to look around and learn from the best. But hopefully these four tips will set you on the right path to producing sparkly copy your clients will love.
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