“Learn something new” is the fourth most common new year’s resolution (behind exercise more, lose weight and get organized). And it’s one of the hardest to keep because it involves serious effort and dedication. But for a copywriter, it’s an easy one to stick to because copywriting is all about learning.
The right approach to copywriting
Copywriting is about digging for information. It’s about learning absolutely everything you can about a product or service. It’ about understanding category, customers and providers. It’s about finding the unique things that make the product or service different. And it’s articulating these differences succinctly in a way that resonates.
Any other approach isn’t copywriting. It’s creative writing at best and verbal spewing at worst.
What we’ve learned so far in 2020
Knock on wood, we’ve been busy so far in the new decade. For us, that means clients across the spectrum, all with unique points of difference. And through our work, we’ve picked up more than a few interesting tidbits. Here are some that come to mind from jobs we’ve done:
“Crotch” has more than one meaning
It’s also what glove makers call the dip between your thumb and index finger. And quality industrial glove manufacturers pay close attention to the crotch of the hand. It’s the part of the glove that has the most contact with the tools of any trade. It’s the most sensitive area of the hand. And it’s the most painful part of the hand to insure because of how integral it is to manual dexterity (it’s where the thumb’s opposability is manifested).
The difference between whisky and whiskey
Irish and American varieties have the “e;” the rest don’t. This happened because of the translations of the word from the Scottish and Irish Gaelic forms. This ‘e’ was taken to the United States by the Irish immigrants in the 1700s and has been used ever since.
Covenant living is more desirable than you’d think
Covenant living is the inclusion of religious values into a living situation, and more specifically a seniors’ living centre. While adherence to religious values may have fallen out of favour among younger people, older people are much more observant. Many who are moving into senior living arrangements are seeking out communities where religious values are baked into the program.
More funding needs to be directed to people living with AIDS
While the fight against AIDS is commendable, not enough attention or resources have been put towards the psychological ramifications of surviving. Besides survivor guilt (which is very real), people living with AIDS live with the traumatic stress of burying far too many of their friends. They also have to deal with a stigma in society that prevents them from getting or keeping jobs. And, of course, there’s their forever-altered sex life. These are some of the reasons why the suicide rate among people living with HIV is about three times higher than in the general population.
Canada’s Indigenous community has some pretty impressive members
Every year, select Indigenous people are honoured for their contribution to native and non-native society. This year’s inductees feature a number of educators, professionals, entertainers and community leaders. And while their stories are all different, what united most of them was a demonstrated commitment to sharing the Indigenous experience with non-Indigenous communities.
The number of older farmers with thought-out succession plans is woefully low
This is a huge problem in Canada because many of our farms aren’t set up to endure into the future. But more than that, it’s leading to family fractions that aren’t being remedied. Farmers’ non-farming offspring feel rejected and left out. They’re challenging the decision of their parents to value fairness or equality, and these rejections are forcing many farmers to defend their decisions in court, This is taking them away from the business of farming, leading to lost opportunities, devalued businesses and broken family units.
We’re expecting more of the same illumination as the copywriting continues in 2020
And that’s a good thing — it’s one less resolution we have to make come 2021.
If you’re into learning new things every day, perhaps copywriting is your calling. Drop us a line and let’s chat.
We had a tech client come to us this week with a specific problem: his home page’s bounce rate is too high. This means too many people are landing on it and leaving without getting past it. This tells Google to lower his site’s rankings because it clearly isn’t what people are looking for. It tells us he doesn’t know how to write a home page.
The purpose of a home page
A home page should cover the broad strokes in a pointed way. It should clearly convey what’s in it for the reader if they make a time investment in you and your website, and what they’re going to get if they buy from you.
The tone of a home page
It should be confident, like a firm but welcoming handshake. And it should be easy to read. No big words. And the copy should have space to breathe and sink in.
The length of a home page
This is where we differ from other people in our space. They’ll say your homepage should be no more than 1,000 words for SEO purposes. We say keep your homepage as short as possible while still conveying the message, and use the other pages on your site (specifically your service pages) to drive traffic via SEO because the person looking for you is probably looking for something specific.
Here’s a template for how to write a home page:
Your value in a sentence: what the reader will get from you.
A second sentence that describes how you make a specific life or work situation better.
“Why you?” in one sentence.
A second sentence that demonstrates the intentional attention you’re paying to your reader’s time/money/safety/ego.
Proof point #1
The most compelling reason to believe everything you’ve said so far.
Ideally, it’s a patented process, an undeniable talent or an indisputable fact in your favour.
Proof point #2
The second most compelling reason, although it’d be nice if this was a 1A.
This could be your experience, or your accolades, or your size, or your taste, or, or, or.
Proof point #3
It’s good to have three. Three forms a pattern. People respond to patterns.
If you’re struggling, talk about your approach. Something about it is unique
Your work product, in one sentence.
A second sentence that describes your motivation for making these products or offering these services.
Your best seller
A sentence clearly describing what this will do for the person who buys it. And a second sen-tence establishing why it’s your best seller and, if relevant, how many you’ve sold.
Your newest offering
A sentence describing what it is, why you invested in it and how it’s helping. Be proud of it. Beam a bit if you want to.
Your second-best seller
A sentence describing the second-best seller as if it was trying to supplant the current best seller, without knocking #1 down.
Who you are, in one sentence.
A second sentence that establishes why you are. People want products and services, but they buy people and missions.
What to do next, in one sentence (click, call, follow, join).
A second sentence that describes what a reader should expect if they do what you asked.
That’s how to write a home page in the simplest way possible.
And the word count in the template is the word count we recommend.
If you need more than that, you’re probably not worth buying.
Here’s how our template might play out in the financial industry:
Investment planning for cautious millennials.
Move smartly into the future. Know you’ll be good when you get there.
We’ve been working with young families for 40 years.
We’ll balance the needs of today with the wants of tomorrow and protect both.
We were profiled in Toronto Life as a disruptor in the industry.
They wrote that “while the banks are all fighting for boomer estates and AI/Blockchain/Cannabis millionaires, these women stay focused on the people who actually need help.”
We’re also licensed real estate agents.
We can help you find, buy and rent your first investment property.
We can recommend a top professional for anything.
And it’s not just other professional services. The pro tradespeople in our network are fantas-tic, and partial to our clients.
Conservative financial consultation for young, middle-income families
We believe in slow and steady. Our parents raised us that way. We watched it work. And we know how to make it work for you.
Hire us to manage your portfolio. We average an 8.3% yearly return.
NEW: Financial planning courses for teenagers
Kids finally making money? Teach them how to make their money make money.
One-time financial planning
You can manage your own family’s finances, but a basic if/then playbook would be beneficial. We can custom create one for your specific situation.
We’re three sisters, all certified financial planners.
We all worked at the same bank and had ideas the bank wouldn’t implement. So we got together and implemented them for ourselves.
Check out our list of Top 10 ways to start saving for your kids’ university now.
Yes, the cost of education is going up. But if you’re ready, it’s totally manageable.
Now here’s how to do it for a product.
This one’s a bit different because the product is the hero, unlike the previous example when it was a service that took centre stage. For this reason, the product is frequently mentioned by name; a good practice to improve recall and better associate the product with its benefits.
Never wash commercial cookware by hand again.
No pot is too big or too dirty for the Resto-4000.
We put the Resto-4000 to the test. It passed every time.
Every pot and pan was ready to use again in less than four minutes.
Save 6.5 man-hours per shift.
That’s standard for one human dishwasher. At that rate, you’ll realize the ROI on the Resto-4000 in less than six months.
Spend less on cookware.
Cleaning your pots and pans with the Resto-4000 preserves cookware life spans by up to 35%.
The Resto-4000 can wash up to 15 large pieces at a time.
With three full sets of pots and pans, you could make every dish on fresh-as-new surfaces.
A 6’x6’ cookware washer for busy restaurants.
Piles of dirty cookware lead to slowdowns in kitchens that no reputable restaurateur can or should stomach. The Resto-4000 eliminates that problem and saves a ton of money.
The Original Resto-4000
Speed up service by at least 20%. Currently operating in over 41,000 commercial kitchens and counting.
The Kosher/Halal Resto-4000
Two separate compartments for meat and non-meat sets of cookware. Perfect for observant banquet halls.
The Resto-4000 lite
A 3’x3’ model for smaller kitchens.
I’m a restaurant owner who lived with the same problem for too long.
One day, I did something about it. And business has never been better.
Arrange for a demo.
We’ll come to you in our Mexican food truck, make you lunch and show you the Resto-4000 in action afterwards.
And here’s how to do it for a personal service.
This one’s written even simpler than the previous two so it can be adapted into different languages. But it still follows the template.
Speak better French, starting today.
Welcome to Brussels! Thrive in your new home and make new friends faster with command of the local language.
Learn to speak French in the real world.
When the city is your classroom, you learn faster and better.
Our classes are held in cafés.
We’ll have discussions in public so you get comfortable, and you’ll order food every time so you get really comfortable.
Our instructors are all trained teachers.
And they’ve developed the key traits of good teachers: patience, conciseness, fairness and flexibility.
Our method is recognized by the World Trade Organization.
In fact, they’re one of our biggest clients.
French language training in Brussels for English-speaking expats.
It’s much easier to build a full life in a new city if you speak the language. We’ll help you feel com-fortable, empowered and confident.
By the end, you’ll be having full conversations in French. Over 6,000 expats have taken this course.
If your workforce is made up of primarily Anglo expats and you need them to learn basic French, we can custom-create a program.
A more intensive program for people and companies in a hurry.
We’ve lived and worked abroad. We know what it’s like to struggle with communicating.
We want to make sure no one feels that way in Brussels.
Take a simple French test.
If you score lower than 50%, you’ll get an email with a password to sign up.
If you score higher, you’ll have the option of requesting a password.
The same template, three times for three completely different businesses. And the result is the same — a clear understanding of:
– what they do
– why they do it
– who they do it for
– how what they do adds value
These are the traits of an effective home page, which is the first step towards having an effective website . How would yours read?
The US Department of Labour statistics paint a less-than-rosy picture about the future of high-quality copyediting. They say the number of available jobs in the industry is going to shrink by over three percent between now and 2028. This will represent roughly 3,400 jobs lost.
But a look into the real numbers tells a somewhat different story, which starts with fascinating findings from the American Press Institute. They funded a study into the value of copyediting. Surprise, surprise: content vetted by a copyeditor was found to be more professional, more organized, a better read and more valuable across the board
So, in a time when valuable content is more valuable than ever, the contraction in the industry isn’t leading to less copyediting being done. It’s leading to high-quality copyeditors taking on more work.
The Five Characteristics of High-Quality Copyediting
High-quality copyediting is thorough
It’s more than catching boo-boos. It’s identifying and cutting superfluous language, questioning arguments that don’t hold up as well as they could and ensuring a brand’s voice doesn’t deviate from what makes it unique. Also, it considers the reader, which too many companies can’t do because they’re too close to their messages.
High-quality copyediting is timely but never rushed
Ever seen an art restorer in action, and how meticulous he or she is? They could spend an entire day on an eyebrow or a ray of sun or tree in the background. They have a responsibility to maintain the original’s vision, feeling and brilliance. And they know that speeding through it leads to mistakes made or imperfections missed. Copyeditors have the same responsibility, and it’s an impossible responsibility to meet if you’re watching the clock. A copyeditor who promises speed is not to be trusted. Do it right or do it (and pay for it) twice.
High-quality copyediting is collaborative
Don’t think of your copyeditor as a service provider. Think of them as your second set of eyes when you need them most, and a message dissemination expert you can and should leverage. Your copyeditor should be taking the time to understand your business, your goals, your competitors and your motivations. You should be hearing from them often and you should feel just as comfortable challenging them as they are challenging you.
High-quality copyediting is consistent
Within a piece and across the entire content library, a reader should always feel like what they’re consuming is coming from the same place. This is a challenge for a large corporation or department pumping out a ton of content initially written by different people. A high-quality copyeditor can mold a piece to fit comfortably and naturally within a greater content offering so nothing ever seems out of place.
High-quality copyediting is creative
From grade school to graduate school, we’re all taught to follow a message delivery formula. We’re told to respect the way information is consciously consumed and to understand what gets a brain to move in a certain direction. The problem with this approach is that it discounts the subconscious, which is 30,000 times more powerful. The only way to get past the head and straight to the heart is with creativity that encourages thinking AND feeling. A high-quality copyeditor looks for opportunities in your copy to push through to readers’ subconscious and increase your content’s effectiveness and ROI.
As Demand for High-Quality Copyediting Increases, Patience for Poor Quality is Decreasing
Four million blog posts are published on the Internet every day. If you want to stand out in that crowd, hoping you’re putting your best foot forward isn’t going to cut it. High-quality copyediting removes the guessing. If that’s something you can get behind, add it to your process.
Unless you’ve successfully mastered mind control, effective writing is all you have to drive the behaviour you want. Whether they’re heard or read, they have to be convincing, true and interesting enough to maintain attention. It seems easy enough, but if you think about how many times you say no as a consumer versus how many times you say yes, it’s actually not that easy at all.
Effective writing starts with a reason
It can be anything, as long as it’s single-minded and clear. “The human mind finds it challenging to make sense of more than one concept at a time,” says Ben Dermer, Senior Vice President of Development at Spin Master Toys. He says the idea of developing toys isn’t that different from developing copy. “If it’s super obvious what I want the kid and the parent to get from the toy, it has a much better chance of selling. The toys that try to be everything to everyone are the ones you find in the discount bin.” The same’s true for copy, he says: “Unfocused copy is worse than an unfocused toy because someone’s always going to buy the toy. No one’s ever going to buy from copy that confuses them.”
Effective writing answers this question:
“If you give me what I want, what am I going to give you?” If any part of your writing veers away from this question, it probably doesn’t belong in your piece.
This isn’t limited to selling stuff. The question holds just as true in an email to colleagues, an invitation to your birthday party or a resume. Marla Baum is the Head of People at Freckle IoT, and when she considers candidates, she’s always looking for what they are going to give her beyond their work experience. “I’ll usually skim their work timeline,” she says, “but I pay close attention to the profile or ‘about me’ section. That’s where I find out what and who I’m really getting and what I can really expect.”
And she says she doesn’t have time to sift through lines of jargon to get to the essence of a candidate. “If a candidate (proverbially) sends me around the world to understand who they are and how they can help the company, I’m not the kind of person to go along for the ride. I’ll throw out the resume and move on to the next one.
This leads us to the next characteristic of effective writing, and quite possibly the most important one.
Effective writing is economical
That’s not to say it necessarily has to be short. If your piece is 15,000 words, so be it. But make sure each word is adding value. A few ways to ensure this include:
- Cut out any information your audience already knows. You’re wasting your time and theirs.
- Avoid repeating yourself. It’s not easy when you’re trying to be persuasive, but it usually has the opposite effect because it’s patronizing.
- Use five-cent words over five-dollar words. Big words don’t make you look smart. They just take up space.
- The extra space gives your reader a chance to breathe. And big blocks of text are off-putting.
Effective writing is honest
In 1912, ad agency McCann Erickson opened their doors with the tagline “Truth Well Told.” A few of us have worked there at one point and they live by that mantra. It’s why they’re still in business 108 years later
Notice how “Truth Well Told” starts with truth. No one likes lies, and people don’t forget them. This is important to consider as you answer the question, “If you give me what I want, what am I going to give you?” Make sure you can deliver what you say you can.
Effective writing is proofed
The fastest way to turn off a reader is to demonstrate that their time is more valuable than yours. If you’re not willing to take the time to review your message before putting it out there, why should they take the time to consume it?
Effective writing ends on a high note
Be funny or hopeful or caring or aspirational. Because last impressions are just as important as first ones, and if you can leave people smiling, they’re much more likely to come back.
Tech copywriting is a funny tightrope because you have two audiences with vastly different knowledge bases: the techies and the strategists.
The techies want the specs. They want them quickly. And they don’t need explanations. They know what they need and why they need it. And they need to know you have it.
Specs mean very little to strategists and buyers. They want to know benefits. How will your technology make their lives better or their days smoother? How easy is it to adopt? What should they expect in terms of a return and when can they expect it?
The natural answer would be to include both information sets, and herein lies the tightrope.
Because techies and strategists are also people. And like everyone else, they put their pants on one leg at a time, pay their taxes and stop reading when something’s not interesting.
So the key to tech copywriting is to talk to both markets simultaneously without boring either. Here’s how:
Dig three levels deep into every feature
Your solution delivers 1.21 jigawatts of power. That extra power translates into 10 percent less downtime (level one). Ten percent less downtime means 10 percent more productivity during the day (level two). Ten percent more productivity during the day translates into a 4 percent jump in revenue YoY (level three).
So in this case, your message might be:
With 1.21 jigawatts of extra power, you’ll see a 4 percent jump in revenue thanks to less downtime and more day-to-day productivity.
Bullet point where you can
If you’re lucky enough to have a lot to say about your product or solution, getting it all across clearly is key — especially if your features benefit different people in different ways. Bullets make sure nothing gets buried.
- They make key points easier to see
- They let you get more emphasis from bolded concepts
- They highlight specifics like a low price of $8.50 per seat per month
- They appear less intimidating to your audience
In a technology piece where numbers can get mangled together in a sentence that would confuse the most savvy engineer, splitting up the information makes it all easier to digest.
Use reputable sources to back up your claims
You know who the key opinion leaders and influencers are in your field, and so do your prospects. A stat or support point from anyone else looks desperate and damages your credibility. And at the pre-buying stage, credibility is all you have.
If you can’t find credible support for a claim or position, change your position or rephrase your assertion. With the average MSP contract ranging between $125 and $250 per user per month, you have too much at stake to be making statements that can damage a relationship before it starts.
Use strong CTAs
Many tech companies will go on endlessly about the superiority of their products and hope the reader will think, well, I have to have this now. Yet so few actually give their readers an easy and legit way to make that choice.
Your Call to Action (CTA) should be crystal clear and easy to understand. And if you can make it more unique than “Learn More” or “Buy Now,” all the better. The former is vague, the latter is pushy.
We recommend sticking to benefits in the CTA with something like “Start earning 4 percent more every year.”
A pro will talk to your two audiences seamlessly and simultaneously.
Designers at design agencies have a unique ability to stare at copy for days at a time and never know what it says. To them, it’s another graphic element, as it should be.
But what if design agencies could evaluate the copy as well as lay it out? What if they could truncate to it make it pithier and easier to fit? What if they could augment it to better complement a visual idea they had? What if they could go back to the client and say “we know what you were going for but here’s a better way of getting there?”
What’s that worth to a client? And what’s that worth to you?
Design agencies should offer copyediting
Juli A. Herren wrote a great piece about the value of good writing to designers for InVision. All 1,466 words of it are bang on. But far too often, designers aren’t given good copy to work with. They get copy written by marketing managers or junior SEO strategists who, to be fair, did their best. But what if their best isn’t good enough to compete in an oversaturated world? And what if no one on the client side has the bandwidth to get it where it needs to be?
You can, though. And it’s an easy sell when you consider what better copy can do for your client:
- Further the brand
- Drive more awareness
- Improve resonance
- Increase conversion rate
- Promote shares
- Make designing so much easier
The disciplines are too divergent. And any senior client worth their salary will know that a design firm offering original copy is compromising both. It’d be like the salt factory making pepper.
But copyediting is different. It’s about improving what’s already there. It’s about a messaging perspective. It’s about truncating and reordering, punching up and toning down. It’s about turning 70 percent into 98 percent. And it’s about coming back to the client with “this is what your piece looks like when everything’s working well.”
So how should design agencies offer copyediting?
First and foremost, it shouldn’t be a full-time position. Even if you have a large need and could keep a copyeditor busy 40 hours a week, you’ll want your copyeditor(s) to be as removed from your process as much as possible. It’s the only way to get a truly unbiased perspective, which is what you want.
Secondly, you want a copyeditor with cross-industry experience. You’ll want them to have been exposed to different message presentation styles they can draw from when reviewing your work. Like with design, the possibilities for copy are endless when you know what needs to be conveyed.
Thirdly, you’ll want affordability. That’s why you won’t want to bring on a copywriter to do your copyediting. A copywriter will charge on average 40 percent more than a copyeditor because starting with a blank page is a different skill that commands a higher price. If you position the value prop of copyediting properly, you could profit upwards of 25–35 percent on all jobs that include copyediting ¾which really should be every file with words, even if it’s a proofread.
Now think about how many files you send out in a typical month and do the math.
What can copyediting do for a design agency?
- Increase revenue
- Improve the work
- Protect against misprints and other costly embarrassments
- Demonstrate care for clients
- Make designers’ jobs easier
If you’re a design agency looking to boost revenue in a helpful way and you don’t yet have a reliable go-to copyeditor, let’s talk. We’ll make your client feel better about you and the work you give them.
Marcus Gee wrote a great piece in the Globe and Mail about dangling modifiers. This line jumped off the page for us:
The smallest hint of confusion can give the reader “a breach in time to check mail, get up and make a sandwich, shoot a cat video.” English, he says, is a subject-verb-object language. “If you’re unclear in your own mind about the relationship between these components, or if you muddy it for the reader, you’ve fried the motherboard.”
The person Gee is quoting is Paul Knox, another Globe and Mail staffer and Professor Emeritus at Ryerson University. We’re big fans of this #Paulism, and if you’re in communications or marketing, you should be too.
Avoiding confusion is your number one priority.
Selling might be (and probably is) your number one goal, but priorities and goals are different. You won’t sell if you’re confusing. Or worse, you’ll sell for the competition. We’ve seen this happen a few times. One company clearly identified a legit problem no one had addressed previously, but then did a poor job articulating their solution. Prospects left to find more digestible explanations (drop-off data demonstrated this), which a few of their competitors had. It’s that easy to earn then lose an opportunity.
If you care about customer growth, use a copyeditor.
Customer growth starts with customer satisfaction. That begins with valuing customers and, more specifically, valuing their time.
That breach in time referenced in the #Paulism above cuts more than one way. Your prospect has lost interest, but have they forgotten? If you’re lucky, they have. If you confused them and wasted their time, they might not.
Think about it: they chose to devote a sliver of time (their most previous resource) to let you convince them to do/feel/say/buy something. And you couldn’t even take the time to scan it for sloppiness.
Imagine a dirty bathroom in a nice restaurant. It doesn’t matter how much they spent on European toilets, or what the food was like for that matter. You’ll always remember the dirty bathroom. It will be part of what you tell people. And what if you’re the kind of person who takes pictures of this kind of stuff for BuzzFeed listicles? Not so good for the restaurant.
Now think about how many BuzzFeed-style typo listicles there are.
Do you really want your name associated with that? Do you really want someone describing you as sloppy? Here’s some sloppy copy (ha!) we saw yesterday. We know we’ll see it make the rounds. And these guys definitely don’t want their name associated with carelessness.
Not exactly awesome for a tweet about education.
If you care about customer perception, use a copyeditor.
The last reason to use a copyeditor has nothing to do with customers unless the people who write your materials are also customers. Another person Gee quoted in the piece was Mary Norris, a copyeditor at The New Yorker, who said:
“Even the best writers often turn in sentences with danglers, insisting that they know what they mean and that readers will know, too.”
So even if you believe the people writing your materials are among the best writers in the world (and we sincerely hope you do believe that), you should still use a copyeditor. Your writers worked hard on whatever you’re bringing to market. So did your designers, publishers, account executives and strategists. And so did your client. Do you really want to be the person who flushed all that effort down the toilet? These people have your back every day. Using a copyeditor demonstrates to them that you have theirs.
If you care about your people, use a copyeditor.
Last point about using copyediting: It’s not expensive. But don’t look at it in terms of ROI. Look at it in terms of DOI (depletion of investment). Copyediting a 12-word transit ad is a negligible cost, over and above the thousands it already cost to produce the ad. Not using a copyeditor, letting a mistake go through and having to reprint will cost a lot more.
Social media is the great equalizer of our time. It gives everyone the same opportunity to share their views, thoughts, wisdoms and gripes — and people take full advantage of that on a regular basis. But the power to say what you want when you want about whatever you want comes with consequences, ranging from public shaming to getting fired.
On the more benign end of the spectrum, consider the story of Alex Johnston, a political candidate for office in 2015’s Canadian federal election. She was called out for a ridiculous Facebook post she made seven years prior about Auschwitz. These posts came to light weeks before voters went to the polls. And while she was a long shot to win anyway, this revelation all but guaranteed a loss. While members of her party won surrounding ridings, she only captured 16% of the vote in hers.
On the other side of the spectrum is a group of bank executives from HSBC in London who were fired for creating and posting a fake ISIS-style execution video they thought was just a funny joke. Clearly, the higher-ups at the publicly traded company they work for didn’t quite see it that way.
These are obviously extreme examples, but the lesson is clear: think before you post. Think about who might see it, how they might see it and what they might do with it.
Five ways to avoid social media-related problems
1. Never post on social media when you’re angry
Ranting and raving when you’re upset is human nature. And when that happens, you say things you regret (everyone does). But these utterances belong in the ether, not on the internet. So, if you feel the need to get negative thoughts off your chest, do it in a Word document. Write pages and pages of vitriol, save it if you want to and go back the next day to read through it. You’ll be surprised how differently you’ll feel after 24 hours, and you’ll be thankful you didn’t put your temporary ugliness into the universe.
2. Steer clear of sharing your political opinions on social media
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t share them. If you’re with friends at a pub and the topic comes up, let it all out. But delivering your political manifesto on social media is kind of like an unsolicited diatribe people don’t want. Also, one day your views might change, but that won’t matter because what you put out there today is there forever.
3. Leave work out of your social media
Having issues with your boss or your colleagues or your industry? Social media is NOT the place to air those grievances. The first thing a potential new employer will do is check out your social media channels. If they see you going off on your current colleagues, they’ll be far less inclined to hire you.
4. Don’t overshare your personal life on social media
If you’re struggling, seek help from professionals. That’s why they’re there. Getting opinions from the social media mob on how to deal with personal crises won’t do you very good because (a) you’ll get too many opinions and (b) you’ll forever be known as the person with that issue. And you’ll always be judged for it. Is it fair? No. Is it reality? Yes.
5. For the love of god, proofread your social media posts
Putting typos out into the world paints you as careless — like showing up to a dinner party in a stained shirt. And again, if a potential employer checks out your feeds and sees that, they’ll think “well, if they’re like this in their personal life, are they really that different in business?”
Social media isn’t going anywhere. On the contrary, it’s become a fact of our lives, and one you need to respect lest you wind up on the wrong side of a story.
A few years ago, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (they run Toronto Pearson) had a problem with noise complaints. They needed a copywriting team to give them messaging they could point people to and say “this is why we make so much noise, these are the factors that are fully out of our control, and these are the things we’re doing about what we can control.”
Sounds easy enough. Except that we had to essentially learn about airplanes, airplane noise, acoustics and how sound travels. Then we had to learn about how Toronto Pearson works. We learned how they mitigate noise through runways positioning, and the shared responsibility of everyone involved in getting a plane off the ground to noise abatement; from the air traffic controllers to the pilots to the airlines.
When copywriting gets really fun
Obviously none of this can happen without thorough research. And what better way to do it than to get a private tour of the runways and the towers? Yep, we got to go into the air traffic control tower and watch the magic happen. A few observations from there:
- It was a lot quieter than we imagined it to be. Although, to be fair, our frame of reference was the control tower from Airplane!
- The folks in there are seriously dialled in to what they’re doing. That made us feel a bit better about air travel.
- Watching planes take off and land from the tower is pretty spectacular. It’s like a well-choreographed ballet.
As part of our copywriting research, we also sat down with a real-life audiologist who broke down the science of airplane noise. One of the more eye-opening takeaways was how much louder a plane is when its flaps are down. And, of course, the flaps are down when it’s closest to the ground so the noise is that much more pronounced.
But the most interesting thing we learned copywriting for this project was the flight routes in and out of the airport.
See, when a plane is coming to Toronto from the eastern United States (this makes up the majority of landings at Pearson), it comes in over Lake Ontario, then travels east away from the airport, makes a 270˚ turn and then takes a straight line in. The act of turning a plane does two things to increase noise.
First, because the plane isn’t straight, the noise from the wind friction is much more pronounced.
Second, because it takes more power to turn the plane, the engine is louder. But here’s the unfortunate part: the area of town underneath where the turn occurs happens to be one of Toronto’s poshest neighbourhoods. And when you put down $2 million on a house, you don’t expect to be bombarded with engine noise 19 hours a day. So, ironically, most of the noise complaints come from there, about 20 kilometres from the airport. Very few come from the area surrounding the airport, presumably because if you live near the airport, you kind of expect the noise.
And then, we wrote.
The project took about two months to complete, with a lot of back and forth from the team at the GTAA, the scientists, the airlines and, of course, our internal team. It had to be on point and accurate, but also accessible for the average person to understand so when the GTAA team directed them to the site, they would be satisfied with the answers they found.
The final product is fantastic
The website launched last month, we couldn’t be prouder of the work, and everyone knows more about where noise comes from.
Like great copywriting, great lyrics will make you pay attention.
Come mothers and fathers throughout the land,
And don’t criticize what you can’t understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.
Your old road is rapidly aging.
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’
That’s from The Times They Are a Changin’ by Bob Dylan — whose lyrics were and are so powerful that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Interesting conversation starter about that lyric:
He placed mothers ahead of fathers. Keep in mind that this song came out in 1965 when society was still patriarchal. So to put mothers before fathers was a big deal, especially for a generation that had spent the past 20 years protecting an American ideal that was being questioned by a guy with a guitar who couldn’t sing.
But then in the next line he refers to sons and daughters, reversing the gender order. Why do this? We’d argue that “your daughters and sons are beyond your command” would have been phonetically better because it has fewer syllables to trip up on.
So was Dylan saying that there was to be a temporary redefining of roles in society and then it was going to go back to normal? Or was he saying that social roles won’t change but need to be reconsidered by the elder generation?
These are the types of conversations good lyrics can evoke. And unfortunately, we’re getting fewer and fewer great lyrics.
We’ve felt this way anecdotally for some time, Something feels different about modern music — it’s lacking depth. But is it really? Musical historian Shane Snow looked into it empirically.
Snow analyzed a cross-section of North American songs from 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995, 2005 and 2015 to see what words were most used in lyrics. Then, he plotted those words into six word bubbles:
Lyrical word cloud from 1975
Lyrical word cloud from 1985
Lyrical word cloud from 1995
Lyrical word cloud from 2005
Lyrical word cloud from 2015
You’ll notice that “love” appears prominently across the board (no surprise there). But what we found interesting were the words that stood out as unique to the era.
In 1965, it was “nowhere,” which made sense given the uncertainty of the times and what was the beginning of the counter culture movement.
1975’s was “supernatural,” which, given the drug-induced haze society was in, and the post-1960’s answers everyone was looking for, made sense.
“Obsession” stood out in 1985, and that seems to be in lock-step with the over-indulgence of the 1980s.
Then, something interesting happened in 1995. Lyrics moved away from “concepts” and towards “utterances”: banal words that didn’t reflect anything except the vapidness of a mass-produced, over-exposed industry that was pumping out music for money instead of art. “Candy” and “raindrops.” Seriously?
2005 was more of the same, except we started to see the rise of words like “ain’t” and “yeah.” And by 2015 lyrics were completely devoid of concept. Not one word in that bubble is even close to statement-worthy.
We wonder if, by 2025, the pendulum will have swung back a bit. It should, given the state of the world today. If there was ever a time for artists to speak their minds, this is it. But with far too many places to consume music and way too much access for vapid lyricists to get their music produced, would we even be able to find it?
Only time will tell.