Are You Writing for You or Writing for Them?

25 May 2010


Garden Orb Spider macro against blue sky
Image by Vanessa Pike-Russell via Flickr

A Tip on How to Balance Good Writing with Good Customer Service

I had spiders in my garage. Lots of them. Probably hundreds, to be honest. But they were just in my garage – they hadn’t infiltrated my home. Yet. In fact, I hadn’t seen a single spider in the living room, the bedroom, or the bathrooms, and I kept trying to tell that to the lady on the other end of the phone. The problem was, she wasn’t listening.

Pest-lady continued to insist they didn’t sell pest treatments just for the garage. I needed the whole house done. And not only that. I needed a quarterly pest treatment plan. Yeah, ok. So I called the local guy, who did it my way. And, you know what? It’s half a year later. And still no spider re-infestation.

So, what does that have to do with writing? Well, listening to your clients – I mean truly listening is hard. And just like the pest-control lady, copywriters often try to force clients into their own mold. But ultimately, trying to convince a client to take on a copy style that they don’t like is not going to work. It certainly won’t work for the client-copywriter relationship, but in many cases, the end copy doesn’t convert well to sales, either.

Why? Well, the thing is, your client just may be right.

Copywriters have taken all these marketing classes and read all these marketing books and written all this great marketing copy. So after they’ve gotten a few happy clients under their belt, they have a tendency to assume they know more about their client’s clients than the client does. So, for example, if the copywriter is used to getting response with short, pithy copy and using a lot of chunking on a website, sometimes they get in the habit of trying to write every client’s copy that way. Then, if the client wants longer, more technical copy, the copywriter’s first response is to think, “Well, I’ll do it their way, but the client is obviously an idiot and this will never work.”

The thing is, surprisingly, your client may know more about marketing than you give him credit for. Clients who have been in business for a long time tend to know their customers — and they have often attracted customers that are very similar to them. So, if, for example, your client is fascinated by the mechanics of shot peening — their clients may actually be interested in that too.

The trick is to balance what you know about best practices in writing with what your clients know about their business. Maybe you don’t put the mechanics of shot peening on the home page, or front-and-center in the brochure. But there probably is a good place for it, if your client thinks their clients want to know.

So, tip of the day: avoid copywriter hubris. Find out what marketing approaches have been successful for your client in the past and leverage them. Don’t reinvent the wheel, and don’t exterminate the copy angles that are already pest-free.

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