As a lifelong “copywriter” I feel something of an endangered species. Sure, there are actually countless more “content creators” inside marketing departments than there ever were copywriters inside advertising agencies, but there is an important distinction between the two that has more to do with style than substance. Whether you call them copywriters or content marketers, we’re all brand storytellers. But the actual approach to writing is fundamentally different.
Today, marketing writers are more journalists than copywriters. Many organizations rely on “curated content” that further dilutes the brand in a generic content stream that morphs organizations in one sector together, instead of differentiating them.
That’s not to say there’s nothing wrong with a little more objectivity in our approach to communications – pointing more toward informing versus selling. That’s been an inevitable shift due to increased cynicism and the power of social media to serve as a conscience of public opinion. But that doesn’t mean that copywriting or sloganeering – whatever you want to call it – lacks a place in marketing today. There is no other format as ruthlessly economical as the headline or no task as complex as writing a tagline that will serve as the central purpose of an enterprise for many years. The ability to be succinct and memorable in less than 10 words is a discipline that I believe is the single most important workplace skill, whether you are in marketing or management. Why? Because the ability to pitch an idea using phraseology that sticks in your mind is a gift for any individual or organization. I see the light go on both in my role as a marketing writer and as a writing coach and facilitator. When you work collaboratively to come up with a tight definition of an organization’s reason for being, it can’t help but lead to an A-ha moment. “Finally I can put it in simple terms”.
That provides a level of focus that’s impossible without having gone through a rigorous exploration and a process of stripping away everything that’s not essential. What remains is a pearl of wisdom.
That’s the essence of the role of “copywriter”. It’s the strategic element that I believe is invaluable. And it isn’t duplicated by a content creator, with a role that’s more responsible for relaying a message than creating one. When you are the first to hit a keystroke on behalf of a new product or brand, it’s a weighty responsibility. It’s the beginning of a new lexicon – a new way of relating. It’s like designing a human being, down to the pattern on the person’s socks. That’s powerful. It forms the backbone of all brands, large and small alike. While content talks, “copy” should sing. Forgoing the precepts of copywriting removes the potential of a thoughtful halo emerging around your brand. It’s something of an intangible, but the results are anything but. Again and again, I’ve seen how a defining piece of writing – a tagline, a statement, a headline – can be transformative in the success of an organization or business.
Joel Sears has been a “copywriter” for more than 30 years. He’s a longtime educator/coach and facilitator for the Canadian Marketing Association and a series of Canadian companies and organizations.