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Back in the day, 20 odd years ago, I was a junior freelance copywriter. This consisted of getting faxed a brief for corporate brochures, annual reports and the like, faxing back drafts for feedback, and finally – delivering my copy on a floppy. In person.

Why am I telling you this?
Because I’m old enough to have seen a major evolution in the way marketing copy is written. I believe this is due to two major developments.

  1. The internet
  2. The move from push marketing to pull marketing

Let’s look at these a little closer.

 BEFORE NOW
Most copy was in print and had (somewhat) undivided attention from the reader  Online! Email! Social! Readers are  bombarded with distractions and have the  attention spans to prove it
Written style was corporate, formal, and boastful Written style is comparatively catchier and casual. We let customers do most of the boasting via testimonials and the like (and online tests show that promotional copy doesn’t work well as being direct and factual)
Copywriters sweated over correct style, with a style manual at the ready We still stick to most rules. But we’re not afarid to break them if it makes text easier to read (like starting sentences with ‘but’)
We pushed messages out whether the audience wanted them or not. And they were sales-y from the corporate narcissists we used to be We use great messaging to pull readers in. We capture attention with stories and other devices. its’s not about us, it’s about the readers

The internet
It’s completely changed how we read. How much information we absorb each day. And therefore, how to write for this medium.

Here are some sobering facts from research firm Nielson Norman Group:

  • Web users typically spend only 10-20 seconds on a web page
  • 70% of web users scan the text, rather than reading it word for word
  • Users won’t read web content unless the text is clear, the words and sentences are simple, and the information is easy to understand
  • Reading from a computer screen is about 25% slower than paper, and slower again for mobile devices where the text is complex (Nielson Norman recommend writing 50% less for web than for print)

Push vs pull

The internet has been an enormous levelling field for consumers vs brands, and big brands vs small ones.

It’s a major power shift, with the buyer holding the cards.

Rather than the old times, where they’d attend a trade show, read an industry magazine, or talk with a sales rep to understand buying options and industry developments, now it’s all available online.

It’s changed how the sales cycle works, but I also think it’s changed marketing copy. Here’s how:

But do you know what’s the most important? We can actually test what copy works today, using A/B testing to pitch one piece of copy against a rival.

There are copywriters who specialise in this – they’re called conversion copywriters. And they know what works. And what doesn’t. One of their kind is Joanna Wiebe. And she has advocated a whole new school of researching how to write online copy.

Instead of writing your message, steal it. Steal it directly from your prospects.”

She’s found that mirroring the language of customers does wonders for conversions. She cites the first time she tried it, conversions rocketed by 400%.

The upshot? Write online how people actually talk, not like a brochure. Your customers will feel like you understand them. And they’ll buy more.

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