direct marketing

What is a copywriter?

April 8, 2013 by Leave a comment

After attending a recent networking and business development workshop, it became pretty apparent that small business owners, especially new ones, have either never even hear of the term copywriter, or have heard  the term but don’t have a clear idea what they do.

At the most basic level, and this is a very broad generalization, a copywriter is a person who writes copy, a fancy word for text, that tries to persuade someone to take some sort of action. For example, signing up for a newsletter.

This is different from what a journalist or technical writer does. These two types of writers write to be informative. They’re not trying to get you to do anything about what’s being written, just to pass along specific knowledge about something, like a recent event or how to use a certain feature in a piece of software.

A copywriter, on the other hand, writes with the intention of getting the reader to take some sort of action or feel a specific way about a product or service. That action could be anything: continuing to read the copy, clicking on a button on a web page, filling out a form and mailing it, or voting for a particular candidate.

It could also be to feel emotionally charged about a product or service, like mentally experiencing the feel of wind in your hair while driving a convertible, or fear that you won’t be able to get a shiny widget because they might run out.

Copywriters can be generalists, or they can specialize in a particular niche. A generalist, as the name implies, only specialize in the craft of copywriting. They are the Swiss army knife of the persuasive writing field. Whether it’s creating a direct mail package or a postcard, web page to email message, they have the ability to write effective marketing pieces. They tend to have a very broad area of knowledge on numerous topics.

The downside is that they usually, but not always, need more lead-time to do a good job on any project they do. A lot of this lead-time is so they can do the required research to sound intelligent about the product or service. They also need to determine the correct “voice” needed for the audience they’re writing for. They don’t want to talk down or talk up to a prospect; instead, they want to sound like a peer that they can trust. Getting this right takes time.

A specialist, on the other hand, usually has deep knowledge about a much more specific area of expertise. This could be knowledge of a specific industry, like high tech or the self help field, or a specific type of project, like only writing direct mail packages, landing pages, or email advertising.

Because of their focus in a specific area, they usually have a strong grasp on who they’re writing to along with having a good working knowledge of the topic in question. This means it's quicker for them to be able to get the project they specialize in completed for the client. Another benefit that comes with specialization is that, since they’re more familiar with the prospect and how they think, they’re usually able to write more persuasively than a generalist might be able to do.

The downside of hiring a specialist is that they tend to be more expensive than a generalist, similar to how a specialist doctor tends to charge more than a general practitioner. Another possible downside has more to do with how they fit into your overall marketing effort. In other words, if you hire a landing page specialist, you may also need to hire someone who can write the postcard to direct prospects to the landing page.

Going back to the general practitioner versus the specialist physician, the general practitioner might do a good job for most of your medical needs. If you’re having an unusual issue with your foot however, the podiatrist might be a better option to go to than letting the general practitioner try and research the issue and make an educated guess as to the problem.

At the end of the day, a generalist copywriter might not be any better or worse than using a niche copywriter. It all comes down to what you hope to accomplish with your marketing efforts. In a future article, I’ll cover the differences between direct response type copywriters and ad agency type copywriters.

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