Writing lessons I learned from my Dad

Recently, I spent about 10 days staying with my parents. Although I may have missed Father’s Day by a couple of days, in the spirit of the holiday, I wanted to share some lessons that I picked up from my dad and how they relate to copywriting.

Know your audience and speak appropriately

Growing up, I never heard my father swear or curse. Instead, if the situation called for a good cuss word, my dad would say, “Sugar” (with an elongated “sh” sound at the beginning). He may have wanted to say “shit,” but he was aware of the little ears around him (he had four kids so there were always under-aged ears in his vicinity), so he tailored his words based on his audience.

In marketing, you are not writing for everyone. Focus on your target market. Get to know the individuals you are trying to reach and write in a language that is appropriate for them.

Research is vital

When I grew up there were no search engines. In fact, the internet of today was nowhere to be seen. However, I believe my dad created my reliance on Google and Bing when I need information.

I was an inquisitive kid. Being the youngest of four, I think my incessant question asking got to be too much for both of my parents. Whereas my mom sometimes just made stuff up to get me to stop asking questions (it took me until adulthood to realize that using too much deodorant wouldn’t make you explode), when my dad had too much, he would simply say, “Look it up.” Back then, that meant sifting through our massive dictionary or volumes of encyclopedias. When search engines came into their own, I found an easier way to look things up.

Today, from keywords to fact checking, I still rely on research. It makes me a better writer. The tools may be different, but when I’m not sure of something, I hear my dad’s voice saying, “Look it up,” so I do. You should too.

Focus on your uniqueness

My dad grew up the youngest of eight in a Catholic family in a small town in Pennsylvania. In the 60s he was not a hippy or a flower child – he probably came across more like “the man” since he was a teacher with a crew cut.

Today, this 70-year-old grandfather with white hair is a retired guidance counselor and is very active in his church. Do you have a visual image of him in your head? Good.

In his small New Jersey town of about 5,000 residents, my dad is well known from his involvement in church, school, and community associations. He is also a soft-spoken gay advocate (of which I am so proud). Last week, I realized that he likes rap music. I discovered this when he told me not to change the radio station as he tapped his fingers to I Need a Doctor by Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Skylar Grey.

This is probably not the picture you had of my dad in my head – trust me, he is constantly surprising me too. However, this just reminds me that none of us fit into perfect little boxes. You (and the business about which you are writing) are unique. Don’t promote yourself just like everyone else. Find your unique selling proposition (USP) and focus on that.

Important information warrants repeating

While I was home this last trip, my mom was (finally) given a prescription for a CPAP machine to treat her sleep apnea. My dad and I joined her at the appointment where she learned how to use it and how to set it up.

That night my dad was setting up the machine and asked me for help. Although we sat through the same session, I am more mechanically inclined, and (honestly) I had a better angle when viewing the demonstration. I helped my dad through the process of setting up the machine and asked him questions along the way to make sure he understood what we were doing.

This experience was a great reminder that:

1)    All people do not process information the same way.

2)    You need to make sure vital information is clearly conveyed.

3)    Sometimes you need to repeat a message – restating it in different ways – to make sure your audience gets the right information.

Love what you do

While I am most likely biased, I think my dad was an awesome guidance counselor. He didn’t work at my high school, but we would run into former students (who were older than I am) and they would still remember him. That says a lot. Why do they remember him? Because he was a smart guy (again, possible bias here) and he cared about each of his students. He loved what he did and it showed.

Love what you do and it will show in your writing. Don’t believe me? Look at something you wrote because you “had to” and something that you enjoyed writing. I bet you’ll see the difference.

Thanks dad for the lessons – you probably had no idea you were teaching them to me. Happy belated Father’s Day to all dads!

Amy C. Teeple is a proud graduate of Heather’s SEO Copywriting Certification program. As the owner and lead copywriter of ACT Web Consulting, she offers copywriting and social media services. A Jersey girl living in Southern California, Amy is also a dedicated 3-Day for the Cure walker, a sports lover, and a video columnist for ThatsSoGayLive.com.