Estimated reading time: 18 minute(s)
You don’t need to be a professional marketer to know good copywriting when you see it: A Diamond is Forever. Think Small. Just Do It. Does She or Doesn’t She?
These phrases are just two, three, five words long and yet, what they evoke in a consumer’s mind, even decades later, still speaks volumes (In order: De Beers, Volkswagen, Nike, Clairol).
To me, that’s what great copywriting is all about: conveying all that a company stands for, in a tight little nugget of what we hope feels like truth.
At MarketSmiths, we help our clients’ customers see and understand a problem they’re struggling with—or maybe didn’t even realize they have. But even more importantly, we help them see the solution–as vividly, efficiently, and with as much impact as possible.
In fact, if we’ve done our job, the solution sticks in the consumer’s mind like a splinter; they won’t be able to stop thinking about what their life would be like if only they could get their hands on one of those, those whatever it is we’ve just sold them with our powerful, single sentence brand message.
So, how’s it done?
By setting up a problem, and then solving it. And doing so with as few carefully selected, surgically placed words as possible, in a basic conflict/resolution dichotomy.
Or, to go one step further into psychology, I prefer to liken it to the archetypal Hero’s Journey, an ancient narrative formula that runs through virtually entire history of human storytelling.
In sum, the Hero’s Journey can be broken into three distilled parts: the Departure (conflict), the Initiation (resolution), and the Return (redemption). If you’d prefer a touch more narrative in your explanation: some dang ol’ Problem has sent our Hero (consumer) off seeking a Solution; this Problem must be wrangled and defeated (with our product); and this Problem’s resolution is the answer you (and in fact we all) are in dire need of.
Let’s break it down with a simple example: copy and brand messaging from our very own MarketSmiths website.
“Most words are filler. In our hands, they’re crisp little engines of strategy.”
Not to toot our own horn or anything, but these two short sentences, 13 words in total, pretty much sum up not only what we’re selling (Words, if we really get to the heart of it) but also, how the right Words (ours) have the power to ignite your company’s marketing efforts like never before. Not bad for a single line of copy.
Written by our brilliant topSmith Jean, I seriously doubt she was consulting Joseph Campbell’s A Hero with A Thousand Faces at the time (a seminal work on the Hero’s Journey) but I do suspect that deep in her writerly bosom, Jean knows these lessons well. Because no matter what kind of storytelling we we do as marketers, it should be in the service of Brand, evoke a call to action, and convey how we plan to solve the Conflict that’s inherent in our brand’s story. Here’s how I see the Hero’s archetype playing out in MarketSmith’s brand messaging:
- Departure / Conflict / Problem
“Most words are filler…”
In just four words, we’ve set up the problem. That Words, or lack of them, could be in the way of your (brand’s) success.
- Initiation / Solution / Resolution
“In our hands…”
To resolve your conflict – i.e., to get Words to work for you instead of against you – the only path forward is to put your Words into our (MarketSmith’s) expert hands.
- Return / Peace / Redemption
“…they’re crisp little engines of strategy.”
When you do – plot twist! – your Words will be transformed into something that’s even better than good copywriting: powerful business strategy.
If you want to want to give your brand a Hero’s Journey test, here’s a few more examples and pointers to consider:
Tip 1: It doesn’t have to be literal.
There’s no need to entirely describe a problem to instinctively know it’s there. In Nike’s adage to “Just Do it,” the call to action is pretty clear – but what it doesn’t overtly say is that “just doing it” is actually super HARD (whatever the “it” is: getting up early to work out, training for a marathon, buying expensive sneakers). People don’t like training in the cold, or parting with their hard-earned money. So the solution to ‘Just Do It’ solves the problem already set up: that humans are inherently lazy, and Nike’s redemption is something we all know deep down to be true (that when we do ‘Just Do It’, we’re almost always better off for it).
Tip 2: Simple is better.
Don’t get me wrong: conflict, resolution, and redemption is a lot to fit into a short, pithy line of copy. It’s not foolproof. Sometimes the easiest thing is the simplest thing. Airbnb greets you on their main landing page with the line, “Book unique homes and experiences all over the world.”
I wouldn’t call this tagline particularly clever or complex, in fact it’s a pretty basic description of Airbnb’s services. But it’s effective. What’s the inherent conflict, here? At quick glance you might say the “problem” is that people need places to stay. But I’d argue the copy itself does so much more: it shows us the lack of distinctive and special experiences available in the world today, and by sharing in the Airbnb community, accommodations and interactions open up that you wouldn’t have booking travel anywhere else.
I’ve now imagined what life would be like if, instead of a boring hotel room, I stayed in a home that comes not just with a bed, but experiences, too. In one sentence, Airbnb’s just said a whole lot about their brand.
Tip 3: Work backwards.
Just to be clear, I don’t approach copywriting with Cliff notes in my pocket or assume that the Hero’s Journey is going to solve all my writing problems. In fact, more often than not, I think about these elements after the copy is written. I pull it in as a tool when it’s time to spotcheck my work, making a little checklist:
1) Does the copy tell the whole story?
2) Does it feel True?
3) Is the Answer to the Problem clear? I don’t strong-arm anything while I write, but instead, aim to fix or reverse engineer the copy later so that, in the end, it contains all the storytelling components I know to be effective.
More than just describing what your clients are selling, try to imbue their story with drama. In the above website copy, we at MarketSmiths aim for just that: saying something that’s both true and inspirational, about a world where Words can be your allies, and not your foes. That’s a journey we want to take you and your business on — replete with conflict, resolution, new insights, and hopefully, a compelling call to action.
Did it work? Let us know. Contact us at info@MarketSmiths.com, where our marketers and copywriters are ready to take you, and your organization, on a journey of a lifetime, too.