At Rethink Compliance, we’re focused on making content compelling so that employees pay attention to key compliance messages.
Lately, we’ve spotted some good writing online about how to create content that people respond to.
So we’ve invited a few of these writers—typically people who work in marketing, advertising, or content marketing—to write blog posts on how they do what they do.
The first installment comes from Stefan Hanley, a copywriter with Fingerpaint, a full-service marketing agency with offices in Arizona, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Take it away, Stefan!
Let me tell you about what I do.
I leverage brand essence by utilizing key differentiators in the market to drive engagement at various touch points through the buyer cycle via multichannel written communications.
What a tortured sentence.
How about this instead? I write marketing copy.
It’s true, it’s simple, and it’s clear—and ultimately, that’s really all there is to great marketing writing. The smartest companies in the world know it—take a look at Apple, Google, Facebook, or Amazon.
Every company on earth is speaking to an audience made up of people. And whichever space, vertical, or industry you play in, people don’t like to be spoken at via jargon-filled walls of words.
The team staffed a busy coffee shop with baristas who spoke to people in the language and sentence structure that health care brands tend to use.
The goal was to show how people respond when someone talks that way in real life The results were… about as alienating as you’d expect.
Puts a fine point on the problem, right? But for a lot of companies, injecting clarity into their writing is easier said than done. Here are a few actionable tips to keep the ship steady:
Fewer Words, Not More
What’s the point of marketing writing? Hint: It’s never “for its own sake.” It serves a single purpose: to communicate a point.
Maybe it’s ‘we have a new product”. Maybe it’s “we’re more fun than our competitor.” It really doesn’t matter. The faster you can communicate that idea, the better. It’s a universal truth—people would rather read 100 words than 1000, especially in regulated or complicated spaces like healthcare, insurance, or finance.
In 1962, Avis was in the shadow of the car rental industry’s giant—Hertz. To move the needle, they needed to do something different. “We try harder” was born. Coined by DDB, it hinged on a simple truth—Avis couldn’t possibly pretend to be bigger or better than Hertz. But they could own being number 2, and translate that into a benefit—better customer service. A year later, Avis moved from bleeding money to a $3m+ profit, and by 1966, wrestled 7% of the market away from Hertz. The lesson? Own who you are—customers really appreciate honesty.
Talk to People, Not at Them
There’s a misconception in our business—that conversational is the opposite of professional. In the past, a lot of companies I’ve partnered with have balked when I say ‘you’re’ instead of ‘you are,’ or ended product benefits with ‘pretty neat, right?’ I get it, but I always ask them to undergo a simple task with me—I’ll read their own copy back to them out loud. It doesn’t take long before they realize they’ve been talking at their customers.
Cut up the Steak
How do people eat food? They cut it up into bite-sized pieces then chew. It aids digestion. For marketing writing, same rules apply. If you have 1500 words on your product or service, think about a story flow, then break it up accordingly. Imagine it as a conversation. You wouldn’t drone on and on without interruption.
OK, folks. Almost there. I have one last piece of advice, and it’s the most important:
Just be interesting.
Truly. All day, every day, you’re assaulted with marketing writing in magazines, in subway stations, on TV. How much of it do you remember?
Here’s something a lot of people don’t realize—customers don’t hate marketing. They hate boring marketing. If you stop someone on the street, I guarantee they’ll have a favorite ad. Here's one of mine:
What does it have to do with chocolate? Not a damn thing. And yet, in the 6 months that followed its release, it was shared millions of times, boosted brand affinity by 20% with the British public, cleaned up at the ad industry’s biggest award shows, and most importantly, reversed a downward trend to increase sales by 9% year over year. If you can just be interesting, you’ll have a captive audience, and that means you’ll be doing better than 99% of marketers on earth.
Good luck, and always have the confidence to say less and talk more.