Viewing all posts by Raubi Perilli.

How to Explain Conversational Writing to a Clueless Client

Is this your client while reading the conversational copy they requested from you? Read this post!

Is this your client while reading the conversational copy they requested from you? Read this post!

Figuring out what a client wants their content to sound like isn’t always easy. This is especially true when clients don’t know what they want or worse, don’t know how to explain their vision and rely on buzzwords or terms that they’ve heard, but don’t fully understand.

One of the most commonly used and misunderstood directions that clients rely on is, “make it sound conversational.”

Because clients know the phrase but don’t always know what it means, it can lead to a first draft that falls short of client expectations. So, to save yourself from a failed first draft, here are a few ways to explain how you’re going to create “conversational” content. By explaining these clear elements to your client up front, you give them the opportunity to object to any tactics that don’t match their vision.

I’m going to speak directly to the reader.

A conversation is an exchange between two parties, so conversational copy should speak directly to the reader.

This type of language is called the second person, but it’s better to speak to clients in terms they know. Simply advise them that you are going to use words like “you” and “yours.

Sometimes clients will tell you that they want content that is “written in the third person” and “conversational.” Requesting content that is written in the third person is another default request that clients rely on. So make sure that you explain to the client that third person perspective is not always best for conversational tones.

I’m going to ask the reader questions.

Speaking directly to the reader includes asking questions – both rhetorical (such as “Are you tired of clients asking for revision after revision?”) and actionable leads (“Do you have any tips for writing in a conversational tone? Add them in the comments below.”).

Once you explain this to your client, you can take it a step further and ask them if they have any preference for the questions in the content. Are there specific calls-to-action that you can highlight with a question? Do they want to spark a conversation with the reader in the comments or in another forum?

My sentences may start with the words “and” and “but.”

Conversational writing is informal. That means that the rope around the rules is loose, and writers have more freedom with the way they construct sentences.

Explain to your client that conversational writing is written in the same way we speak. And since we often don’t follow all of the rules of traditional grammar when speak, we don’t do it when we write conversationally either. Starting sentences with “and” and “but” might seem like a writing faux pas, but it’s perfectly acceptable in conversational content.

My sentences may end with prepositions.

Another place where formal rules can fall to the wayside is at the end of a sentence. While many high school English teachers would frown upon ending a sentence with a preposition, it is perfectly acceptable in conversational writing.

Let your client know that this habit isn’t a sign of low-quality writing, it is a sign of conversational writing. Remind them, “You are my favorite client to work with,” and they will understand. If they still don’t get it, remind them “You were my favorite client of which I received work.” That will help them see the difference.

I’m going to use contractions.

“Quality” is another word that clients might throw around without fully understanding its meaning. They tend to base their standard of quality on writing rules that were hammered into their minds during their education – such as the use of contractions.

Many clients confuse “high-quality” with “formal” and assume contractions shouldn’t be allowed in any type of high-level content. But this is not the case for conversational writing. Let your client know up front that contractions are an element of conversational writing, and they shouldn’t see every apostrophe as a red mark against the content’s quality.

I’m going to use simple language.

Most people use simple language when they talk. There is no time to stop and search for a synonym when you are in the middle of a conversation, so conversational content is written under the same restrictions.

The words in conversational content will be the same words used when speaking. It includes few complex and obscure words, jargon and buzzwords (unless they relate directly to the target audience). It may include slang, and it will be heavy on simple, short words and sentences.

I’m going to sound like me, unless you give me clear directions on how to sound like you.

Conversational writing shows personality. So, if your client asks you to write this way without giving you any other direction, they should realize that your personality is going to be the force driving the conversation.

If they want the content to sound like them, they need to provide information to help define their voice. A few follow-up questions you can ask to define the client’s voice include:

  • What tone best fits your content? Knowing a general tone will help guide your natural voice in the direction of the client’s expectations. Give them a list of tones to choose from:
    • Formal
    • Newsy
    • Educational
    • Serious
    • Humorous
    • Friendly
    • Laid-back
    • Promotional
  • What emotion do you want the audience to feel after reading? Knowing which direction to push your audience will help shape the way you speak to them. Give them options for this one, too:
    • Joyful
    • Sad
    • Motivated
    • Amazed
    • Angry
    • Excited
    • Scared
    • Satisfied
  • What celebrity would you choose to represent your brand? This is the perfect question for clients who can’t articulate what they want their tone to sound like. By asking them to make a snap judgment about who would represent their brand, you get a good mental picture of the person controlling the voice of their brand.
  • Who am I talking to? Identifying who you are talking to is as important as identifying who is talking. So make sure the client gives you a clear image of the target audience. It is best to ask the client to come up with a single persona for their target audience.

It’s best to set expectations with clients (especially clients who don’t know what they want) early on. So be sure to have your client fill out a full content questionnaire before you start the project and then go over any areas that may be unclear. This will save time, energy and money, and untimely lead to a better client/writer relationship.

What other client directions have caused confusion in your first draft?

About the Author

Raubi Marie Perilli writes guides about blogging, copy writing, and freelancing for CopyPress Community – an online network of writers, designers, and marketers. Follow her on Twitter to hear more about what she eats, where she goes, and what she knows.

Need more help wrangling freelance writing clients? Take the Copywriting Business Boot Camp class! Sign up today.

Photo thanks to maartmeester (Gerard Ekdom looking confused)

How Changing Your Mindset Can Dramatically Improve Your Product Descriptions

While the eCommerce industry continues to evolve and expand, one of its elements remains stuck in the past – product descriptions. As advances in online shopping continue to connect consumers and products in more meaningful ways, very little is changing in the way copy is presented around those products.

That isn’t to say all brands are missing the mark. Some sites, like Firebox, are taking risks with their product descriptions (and products!) and using their copy as a chance to connect with their target audience by talking to them the way they want to be talked to.

Firebox product copy

But it is safe to say that too many brands and writers aren’t on the same page as the reader when it comes to web copy. There needs to be a shift toward more consumer-focused product copy, and that starts with one thing – a shift in mindset.

Writers need to stop thinking about product descriptions as web copy and start thinking about it as catalog copy.

What’s the difference?

Web copy is written for the web, search engines and optimization.

Catalog copy is written for the reader, the consumer and the potential buyer.

When writers create product descriptions as web copy, they think about writing copy for search engines, and not readers.

When writers create product descriptions for catalogs, they think about writing for the reader only, because there is no place for search engines or optimization.

This little shift in mindset can pull writers back to what really matters in great sales copy – connecting with the reader and informing them about the benefits of a product’s features to generate a sale.

Here are a few tips to help shift your mindset from web copy to catalog copy.

Focus on the Right Tone

Speak to the audience. Before you can speak to the audience, you must identify the audience. Create a potential buyer in your mind. Identify the persona’s age, sex and interests; then write to them.

Cabella’s is an outfitter store with a target demographic of rugged men who like to spend time hunting, fishing and camping. So that’s how they talk to them. “No frills, here – just comfort, traction and legendary Danner reliability.”

Cabellas product copy

Sound like the brand. Before you can sound like the brand, you need to identify who the brand is. To find the brand voice, ask the client, “If you could have any spokesperson for your brand, who would it be?”

The answer to that question will help you get an idea of the tone and personality of the brand. You should also ask the client for an example of copy that represents the brand voice, but the mental image of the spokesperson will help you create a persona for the brand similar to the way you created a persona for the audience. This will make it easier to sound like them.

For example, if you were writing product descriptions for Dior’s perfume lines, imagine the sultry, beautiful Charlize Theron describing the product. Use her voice as the brand voice.

Dior product copy

It would appropriately sound something like this description found on their product page, “Luxuriant and sophisticated, J’adore L’absolu sublimely enhances the intensity and sensuality of its floral notes in a perfume in which floral absolutes are harmoniously combined: sweet and vibrant Damask rose, seductive and luminous Sambac jasmine, and powerful, voluptuous Indian tuberose.”

Focus on the Features and Benefits

Once you have a potential buyer in your mind, look at the product and consider why the buyer would want it. Identify the features and benefits by asking yourself questions about the product.

  • What problem does the item solve?
  • How is it different from competitors’ items?
  • What is the number one reason the buyer needs this product?
  • When would this product benefit the buyer?
  • What is unique about this product?

Make sure that you tie the product’s features (its unique attributes) to its benefits (why those unique attributes are beneficial). Connect the dots between the potential buyer and the features, by explaining how they benefit them.

See how SkyMall (which is more well-known for their print catalogs) connects the features of an Over the Washer Shelf to benefits while speaking to person responsible for caring for the household.

SkyMall product copy

“A raised edge surrounds the Over-the-Washer Shelf, to keep detergent, dryer sheet boxes, sponges and other supplies from slipping off. Made of steel, the Over-the-Washer Shelf has a white vinyl-coated finish so it won’t scratch appliances.”

Focus on Writing Well

Be positive but not personal. Always cast the product in a positive light without interjecting personal opinions or assumptions about the product.

Don’t sound like a robot. Avoid generic phrases. Incorporate varied sentence structure, and don’t repeatedly start sentences with the same word.

Use a thesaurus. Adding variety also means using a large vocabulary. Don’t be embarrassed to crack open a dictionary and find new ways to say the same thing.

But don’t overly adjective. Shopify says “Adjectives help us to explain what our products look like (appearance), what they do (features), and how they make our buyers feel (benefits). In moderation adjectives are useful, but an overdose gives your reader a headache, because it makes your content hard to read.” To avoid adjective overload they suggest to:

  • only use one adjective per noun
  • don’t use adjectives to state the obvious
  • play with sensory/emotion words over bland, overused words

Use the second person. Speak directly to the reader. Tell them why the product is awesome and why they need it. Then use a call to action to tell them how to get it.

Focus on the Reader First, Then Keywords Last

Keywords are still important but consider them after the reader.

Always use the main keyword (that the audience would use to search for the item) once in the description. A main keyword is usually the brand and type of product. Then if it fits naturally, use a secondary keyword (a term that is synonymous with the main keyword) once.

Remember the reader comes first. Use your words to engage the reader, not the search engines.

The J. Peterman Company is most well-known for using eccentric stories and anecdotes to describe their products. This concept was created long before online copy – back when catalogs dominated the product sales industry. Take a tip from their book and find ways to uniquely connect your audience with your products.

J Peterman product copy

Shift your mindset from web copy to catalog copy and start finding new ways to engage your audience, connect with potential buyers and generate sales.

About the Author

Raubi Marie Perilli writes guides about blogging, copy writing, and freelancing for CopyPress Community – an online network of writers, designers, and marketers. Follow her on Twitter to hear more about what she eats, where she goes, and what she knows.

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