June 8, 2021

What is copywriting? Part 1

What is copywriting? Part 1

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Copywriting is an unavoidable aspect of doing business — to successfully build and grow your brand, you will need to ensure your digital content (i.e., things like your website, blog posts, social media content, ads) has captivating, professional written content. 

This article explains what copywriting is, what its primary functions are, and why it’s important that your written content always highlight the features and benefits of your product or service. 

We’ll cover the following topics:

  1. The basic definition. 
  2. Examples of copywriting.
  3. Understanding features and benefits.
  4. The summary.

So, let’s get to it and start explaining what copywriting is.

Illustration of a computer screen with a blank document open.

1. The basic definition.

A. It's the process of creating written content for a business.

Copywriting. What is it? We’ve all heard the term, but many people still struggle to define exactly what it is. 

It’s writing, yes. But, more specifically, it’s writing for a business. 

But just what are you writing for that business? 

Put simply, you’re writing information about that business. But, unfortunately, it isn’t quite that simple. 

B. It’s the process of writing content for a business that highlights useful information and is intended to sell a product or service.

“Copy” is writing that is not used to merely share an opinion about a business. Instead, it is used to (a) communicate helpful information about a business and its products or services — information that a company’s target demographic would find to be useful or valuable; and (b) prompt the audience to take some sort of action — to sign up for a newsletter, get in touch for a quote, buy a product or service on the spot, etc.

2. Examples of copywriting.

So, in short, a copywriter writes words that sell a product or service. And that selling can come in many different forms: for example, if you look at a billboard’s words, you’re reading copy. Equally, if you read an automated email from a company, you’re reading copy. 

Some obvious examples:

Sometimes, copy that is intended to sell a product or service is really obvious, like when you see a promotion or ad for a local  business that says, “Order now and receive $20 off of your 2nd order!” That’s copy. Or when you come across an ad on Google or Facebook that opens with North America’s leading provider of automobile insurance. Get 10% off when you request a quote today!” That’s copy, too.

Some less obvious examples:

Sometimes, however, you may come across written content that isn’t so obviously intended to sell a company’s product or service.

For example, you may receive a letter or email from a business that seems to be simply informative or that seems to be offering you something of value (e.g., DIY guides, tips, resources) for free.

But ask yourself this: why is this business or  organization taking the time to share this information with me?  What’s in it for them? 

It's all intended to sell.

The answer is that these companies want you to take notice of them, share their content with your friends and colleagues, sign up, buy, shop, and everything in between. They want you to make a purchase from them and hope that their seemingly innocuous email or ‘free gift’ will ultimately lead to that purchase — they’re trying to sell you something.

Copywriting is marketing.

A softer way of saying you’re being ‘sold’ to is to say you’re being ‘marketed’ at. So, if  you’re on a mailing list for a company, you will receive apparently innocuous emails and newsletters — that is, you will receive their copy. You have already subscribed, you will potentially click on links provided in these emails and newsletters, and you’re being profiled while the company finds its demographic if it hasn’t already.

For example, no clicks on a business’s email will let the business know that this person may not be a member of their target demographic.

On the other hand, clicks will let them know you’re interested. And you will continue to receive information as they draw you in closer and closer to the “moment of truth,” the moment where you hand over your credit card information and make the purchase. This has been the plan all along, and the copywriter has skillfully tailored their copy to make things seem more and more immediate as you’re pulled closer to that final click. In fact, the more clicks you provide, the more streamlined the messaging to you will become. You will ultimately want the company to want to help you with whatever it is that they offer — you will make the purchase.

This may sound a bit nefarious, but it’s really just a matter of (a) letting you know about the product or service, (b) showing you that this product or service is a good fit for you and your needs, then, if you’re not already sold, (c) persuading (or reassuring) you to go ahead and commit to the purchase. 

So, you, the reader of the copy, have still made up your own mind all along. Clearly, something is appealing to you about the product or service you’re reading about or you wouldn’t remain subscribed to the seller’s email communication — and it is indeed you who has chosen to remain subscribed and continue to learn about the product or service being marketed to you.

So, what we’ve tried to illustrate is that, even when it doesn’t seem like it and even though written content can take many different forms, all copy is working towards selling you somethingand

3. Understanding "features" and "benefits."

A skilled copywriter knows how to talk about or tell you about the product or service they’re trying to sell; it isn’t enough to just put your product or service in front of your target audience and hope they buy it, nor is it enough to just tell people to buy something from you. 

To be effective, a skilled copywriter will need to understand the difference between features and benefits and will need to know how to incorporate both aspects into their writing.

A. Understanding features.

To demonstrate the difference between a “feature” and a “benefit”, I’ll use a pen as my  example. 

Imagine a pen. Actually, I’ll imagine it for you. You’re holding a pen that is of average  length, made of some kind of metal which makes it a tad hefty, it has no cap but, rather,  twists to get it working, and it writes in black ink. 

Got all that? 

Those are the features of the pen. So, imagine just reading about that — imagine you stumbled across a picture of this pen online, along with the description of the pen’s features (i.e., it’s of average length, made of metal, a bit hefty, has no cap, has black ink). Are you interested in purchasing this pen? 

We could go further, we could share more details about the pen’s features. For example, we could tell you the pen is sterling silver and was handcrafted in 1958. 

Okay, you now know a bit more about the pen, but are you compelled to buy or use it? Or are you  simply more informed about the pen’s details? Being informed about a product is important, but is that enough to push you into wanting it? 

B. Understanding benefits.

Sticking with the pen example, what if I told you this pen holds the key to your future? 

What if I reminded you that you’ve got a lot on your mind and a lot to say? 

What if I hoped that you wouldn’t keep your knowledge a secret but would, instead,  write it down, share it, and open people’s minds to your ideas? 

What if you finally decided to write out your plans and your idea of happiness, and what if doing so could bring you actual happiness? 

What if you realized that being happy is more likely to cause you success than being stifled? 

What if I reminded you that, to begin on that path to success, wealth, and happiness, you had to take the tape off of your mouth, stop censoring yourself, let yourself be the well-expressed person you were always meant to be? 

What if you knew — just knew — you had to start writing out your plans and ideas, your  deepest truths, so that you can set yourself free and be all you can be? Wouldn’t you want that for yourself? 

What if I said all that began with this pen you hold in your hand? 

Now, perhaps, you’re a bit more compelled to not let go of this pen. Perhaps now you’d consider purchasing this pen. If so, then what finally pushed you to buy the pen were its benefits. And, if you were indeed compelled to buy the pen, then you can confidently say you made up your own mind — at no point did we flat-out tell you to buy the pen. Rather, we showed you, through highlighting the pen’s features and benefits, that this is a product that will add value to your life and that is well-suited to your needs.

Benefits vs. features. This is key. 

C. The importance of highlighting features and benefits in copywriting.

Professional copy will make reference to both the features and benefits of the product or service.

However, while highlighting the features of a product or service is necessary (because people like to know about the material design or makeup of the product or service), strong copy will typically focus more so on the benefits of a product or service; in general, it is considered wise to focus primarily on establishing and outlining the benefits of your product or service.

This is considered a basic principle of sales and marketing and is something professional copywriters are trained to do. After all, it can often take a bit more time to identify and outline exactly what the benefits of your product or service are and how to frame them in a way that your audience will find appealing (while the features of your product or service will usually be more obvious and easy to understand). 

4. The summary.

So, in conclusion, copywriting is indeed a form of writing, but it’s a very particular type of writing. Novels, screenplays, and the technical and instructional manuals you received with your latest Ikea purchase are all forms of writing, but each with a specific focus and style. 

Copywriting is writing with the intention of getting a particular audience’s attention in order to inform them about a product or service, with the ultimate goal of selling that product or service to them.

And so, a business will hire a copywriter to create written materials (for example, website content, blog posts, social media posts, marketing emails) for them. That writer  will either be ‘in-house’, working constantly for that one company or they will be  freelance, moving from business to business.  

Whatever the case, a copywriter writes marketing and advertising materials in many  different forms for many different businesses. 

Copy can be something more details, like the description we provided about a very life-changing pen or it can simply be a, “save now” sign in a  store window. It’s all copy.

Steve Chambers

Steve Chambers

Steve is a copywriter and content developer with a passion for creating effective, engaging written content.

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