16 Copywriting Tips to Improve Your Marketing

Affinity Express specializes in high volumes of quality marketing designs in fast turn times. That’s why we write often about how to create effective visuals for a wide range of industries, occasions and media. But design is only half the equation and we realize that strong copy is essential to successful marketing materials. But it is never as easy as the best copywriters make it look. Take it from the person at our company who spends hours pulling out her hair  while trying to writing everything from press releases and ads, to trade show brochures and sales presentations.

To help SMB marketers keep the hair on their heads, we compiled some general copywriting tips that will improve your advertising and other digital and print marketing materials.

Tequila Ad

1. Evoke feelings

According to research, mirror neurons in the brain activate when people observe something happening and then transfer some of the feeling to you or your products. This works best when you speak to a feeling that is already there versus forcing one on your viewers.

For example, when advertisers are selling beer, they often try to call up our memories of good times with friends over beer. This is the basis for the Miller Time concept that began in the 1970s and was recently re-launched to target millennial drinkers.

2. Set the bar high

Put the time and energy into developing a compelling argument or hire someone who can. The success of your marketing depends on it. As David Ogilvy, the founder of Ogilvy & Mather, said: “Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ball park. Aim for the company of immortals.” This Nike “find your greatness” ad from 2012 delivers.

3. Do the research

You can’t write effective copy unless you know who you are writing for (the demographics), how the consumers think and what these people need. What are their web surfing behaviors, purchasing habits and informational needs? Which features are most important to them? The audience should determine the type of content produced. Answers to these kinds of questions requires research so you can best serve the audience.

ModCloth appeals directly to a specific buyer persona. All of their products are plays on words. The product descriptions are fun and clever while telling the story of what people will do while wearing their clothes.

Modcloth Description

4. Explain why customers should buy

You have to address the concerns that will come to people’s minds if you want them to get interested and to act. This means the copy has to be informative about why the product is important, why prospects should be interested and why they should buy from you.

This De Beers ad uses very few words to tap into an unexpected rationale for investing in a gift of diamonds.

De Beers Ad

5. Save time versus money

Research from Stanford University has shown that asking customers to compare prices is a bad idea but that selling time savings is far more effective for most companies. This approach typically leads to more favorable attitudes and more purchases. Showing you value what customers hope to achieve is far more genuine and effective than trying to sell them on bottom-dollar prices.

6. Focus on the details

Take the time to measure, improve and track the success of copy. The difference between “a $5 fee” and “a small $5 fee” was a 20% increase in sign-up rates (Carnegie Mellon University). Test small details and keep tabs on how they work to continually improve.

7. Use verbs rather than adjectives

Verbs are harder to ignore than adjectives because they tend to be rarer in marketing copy. They get in the face of readers because most companies tend to fluff up copy with adjectives. As a result, you differentiate when you describe what you actually do.

This action-oriented ad for ABC Daytime cuts through the clutter with active verbs!


8. Use power words

The top 5 persuasive words are:

  1. You (actually using someone’s name). Names are intrinsically tied to our self-perception and make us more engaged and trusting.
  2. Free. Getting something free makes it more desirable than something that is just less expensive.
  3. Because. Research shows that even nonsensical arguments work better than none at all.
  4. Instantly. If you can convince viewers you can solve their problems quickly, they are more prone to buy.
  5. New. Novelty is critical for products to make people happy about what they bought. Ironically, it is detrimental to brand perception because newness undermines trust in companies that is built over time.

9. Get the headline right

According to David Ogilvy, five times as many people read the headline as the body copy. That means the headline should get 80% of your creative effort. Build on what has worked before, lead with a strong benefit and split test to improve the impact of what your write.

This Play-Doh ad is an extreme example. After the initial shock of seeing this image associated with a children’s toy, the copy turns out to be very clever: “Safe no matter what you make.”

Play-Doh Ad

10. Play devil’s advocate

Create strong copy that addresses customer objections head-on. Researchers have concluded that arguments that are framed in the “devil’s advocate” style are more likely to persuade listeners to support the original argument rather than disagree. Potential flaws and concerns are raised and addressed directly by the copy and subliminally by the reader. Try pointing out common concerns that customers may have and then provide facts and evidence to prove they have nothing to worry about.

You don’t exactly think “practical” when you see a Porsche race by. The ad capitalizes on this common perception by saying: “The more kids you have, the more practical it becomes.” Most families with small children would think mini-van, but it suddenly makes sense to have alternative, fun transportation for the parents.

Porsche Ad

11. Incorporate calls to action

Excellent headlines and body copy may not be enough inspire the audience to do something. Make sure you have clear, visible instructions on how to take the next step. Calls to action are the way prospective consumers engage in positive interaction with your company while also enabling you to assist them.

12. Create a sense of urgency

By emotionally appealing to your consumers, whether through excitement, fear or motivation, you are more likely to increase your immediate conversation rate. But your sense of urgency must be authentic and not a confusing offer leading to an unclear outcome. You can use words like “act now,” “limited time only” or add other elements of urgency.

13. Transport people with stories

People can block out sales pitches but everybody loves hearing stories. Be sure to incorporate in your stories detailed imagery, suspense, metaphors, irony and modeling (in which we imagine ourselves as the main characters, making the action easier to understand).

The headline of this ad asks a really good question and the payoff at the end of the story is the ultra-reliable Volkswagen.

Volkswagen Ad

14. Be real 

Don’t use cliche language that sounds old-fashioned or cheesy. It’s better to be truthful. If you are not the lowest price option, then explain the very good reasons why, whether that has to do with materials, quality standards, customer service or some other attributes that differentiate your company.

15. Remember to sell

Your marketing copy does not exist to amuse you. It is there to do the job of selling your company and products. The copy should help customers see your products in their hands and envision how their lives will improve in some way. Anything that does not contribute to this objective is secondary.

16. Inspire sharing and conversation

If you can create copy that stays in the mind of readers minutes, hours or days after they have read it, then you’ve reached the pinnacle. The more valuable the content you provide your audience, the more likely they are to view and comment on your marketing. Even better is when people share and discuss your copy.

You might be tempted to share one of these ads from Scrabble because they catch you by surprise.

Scrabble 2Scrabble Ad

When writing copy, you function as a connector between the products and the checkout, as well as between corporations and consumers. Your ultimate goal is to explain and promote the benefits of products and services to build relationships and increase sales. It’s a vital contribution to marketing, especially when paired with amazing design (Hmm, where can you find some of that?).

What are some of your favorite examples of great marketing copy? Do you have any of your own copywriting success stories? We’d love to hear what you have to say!

About Kelly Glass
Kelly has been vice president of Marketing at Affinity Express for nine years now. She drives company strategy and all marketing activities.

3 Responses to 16 Copywriting Tips to Improve Your Marketing

  1. jfrench says:

    Under #8’s New, you wrote, “Novelty is critical for products to make people happy about what they.” What they…bought? thought? chose? want? did?

    Good post and points. Is it just me or is the De Beers ad spectacularly insulting (as well as effective)?

    • Kelly Glass says:

      Thanks for the compliment and the heads-up on the typo–it’s been fixed. I’m with you on the De Beers ad. It works, but relies on stereotypes. So much advertising still does, even today. De Beers is on the same level as the Century 21 wedding ad for the Super Bowl, but a little better than the Fiat Super Bowl ad.

  2. Pingback: 16 Ways to Improve Your Marketing Copy « Printing Hub Printing Hub

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