Would the Sun sell 3 million newspapers each day without its catchy headlines? No, it probably wouldn’t. Headlines like “Up Yours Delors” and “Gotcha” will go down in history. A catchy headline can be very powerful, but a reader will still give up after a few lines if the story doesn’t interest them. The Sun’s success is a result of some great writingyes, seriouslybut its real genius is understanding what its market wants.

The internet is full of “top X” lists on copywriting. They can be fun and useful, at least when the subject matter is clear. But top-X articles are dangerous. They can fool the unwary into thinking that they can produce great copy (and improve business results) by following a set of bite-sized rules about things like headlines and calls to action. But whether it’s ten, or 26 rules, when it comes to creating effective content, quick fixes alone simply don’t work. Take case studies, for example. A good copywriter will produce an interesting story from an interview, but business results come from:

  • Having anticipated customers’ needs and developed the right products and services.
  • Getting the right customers interested in participating, by reducing friction in the approval process and incentivising salespeople to ask the question.
  • Making it easy for salespeople and customers to find the case study.
  • …and a thousand other factors (we’ve written more on the topic if you’re interested).

Actually, copywriting (and everything else that falls under the banner of “content creation”) is dependent on stuff that happens further up the chain of marketing and business: media, distribution, quality of product, brand, customer relationships, pricing, internal processes and staff training and motivation.

Bad writing can muddy and obscure even the best proposition, but good writing alone can’t rescue a stinkereven Don Draper or Ogilvy would admit that.

So, while we offer copywriting services, and from time to time write on the topic, we feel it’s important to set the record straight. Professional writers have a vested interest in making you believe that what they sell is of strategic importance, but copywriting is just a “hygiene factor”. Every time we sit down with a client, we’re just as interested in what their strategy is. Without understanding that, the choice of message and vehicles used to deliver it are compromised.

People say content is king. But maybe context is queen.

Posted by John on 20 May 2011