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How to Successfully Write Both Content and Copy

We’ve talked about the differences between content and copy. Let’s take a quick look at the similarities.

Here’s a high-quality Venn diagram:

WHOWHATHOW

 

Both content and copy depend on three simple concepts. To write successful content or copy, you need to immerse yourself in these concepts:

1. You’re a person talking to another person.
2. That other person has a problem.
3. You want to help that person solve the problem.

Don’t Write Without Them

These concepts are so simple. But they’re in everything. They’re foundational. If they’re not in your content and copy, you’re missing essential ingredients.

If you can’t see how these three concepts matter, stop creating content until you do.

If you can’t see how your content or copy could help a real person solve a real problem, stop talking, stop writing, hold everything.

Meditate for a while.

If you don’t know who you’re helping, or how you’re helping, or what you’re helping with,
you’re probably not helping.

You’re confused and you’re confusing. You’re flailing around and muddying the water. You’re adding to the noise. You’re throwing more manure on the pile.

YOU’RE RUINING THE INTERNET. STOP IT.

And think about what you’re trying to do.

Back to Basics

Ask simple questions. Quit trying to be complicated. Quit trying to impress people.

People don’t want to be impressed; they want to be impressive. Help people be impressive by solving the problems that hold them back.

These may be little problems. They may be surface, shallow, first-world problems.

But if you’re helping a real person solve a real problem, you’re getting it.

Figure out who, what, and how, then write about it.

  • Who are you helping?
  • What are you helping them with?
  • How are you helping?

Answer those three questions first. Then, from that information,decide what to write about, how to write it, and with whom you will share it.

You can spend time on social media trends, on SEO, on understanding the latest algorithm change from Google or Facebook, the best content marketing tactics, or most popular platforms.

My advice, which you can take or leave, is to worry not at all about that stuff.

Focus entirely on the three basic questions: who, what, how.

Talk to your Who about the What and the How as thoroughly, respectfully, and clearly as you can.

That’s it.
For content and for copy.

They are different types of writing, yes. They serve different purposes. But to be successful, they both depend, entirely, on Who, What, and How.

Photo Credit: dok1 via Compfight cc

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Mediocrity in Writing (And How to Fight It)

There’s a little issue I’d like to address.

Mediocrity is the standard for both content and copy.

Not to be depressing or cranky, but most of what you read on the Internet sucks. Just like most of what you pick up from the newsstand or bookstore Amazon or the library also sucks.

I’m a fan of the written word in any form: digital, hardbound, magazine, newsprint, napkin scratches. I’ll take it however it comes, and I’d rather have mediocre writing than no writing.

But there’s no need to choose mediocre or none. There is excellent writing out there, many of us are capable of excellent writing, and we can avoid the mediocre and choose the excellent.

Excellence, however, takes work. It takes more work to produce it, and it takes more work to find it. Much more work than it takes to produce or find mediocre.

There are millions of words written and published, and most of them aren’t worth your time. (Including many of mine, because more than I’d like to admit, I’ve settled for mediocre.)

There’s nothing personally satisfying or culturally uplifting about mediocre writing. Mediocre writing results in poor communication, misunderstandings, confused customers, alienated audiences, aggravated and bored readers.

When mediocre is the accepted standard, it’s time to ignore the standard.

Set a new standard.

Mediocre writing depends on generic anecdotes, half-assed research, fear and intimidation tactics, and silly psychological tricks.

A good way to start improving your own writing is to go through it, before you hit publish, and replace things.

  • Replace every generic explanation or anecdote with a specific example.
  • Replace every piece of half-assed research with an accurately quoted, relevant bit of data from a reputable source. Include citation information, of course.
  • Replace every fear-based emotional pull with a tug at the positive emotions: hope, encouragement, joy. Or put in something funny.
  • Replace every silly psychological trick (including the ones in your headlines) with some clear, simple, sound writing that says, as clearly as possible, what you’re trying to say.

The Overuse of Certain Formats

Lists, for example. Why are there so many?

I love a good list, and apparently so does the whole Internet. However, using a list format to carry forth a piece with zero substance is bad form.

Zero substance is zero substance, even in a list.

If you have something to share, and a list format works best for sharing it, excellent. Use the list.

If you have nothing worthwhile to share, don’t slap it into a popular mold and spit it out at us. Wait until you do have something to share.

But, but, but I have deadlines. I have to produce content. I can’t just not. 

Well, here: come up with good ideas. You can! You’ve got them in you. You can find them. Pull them out. Don’t be afraid to spend some time working on ideas, collecting them, sorting through them, developing them.

More Meat, Less Packaging

We spend too much time worrying about formats and headlines, about images and packaging, about social media shares and click-worthiness, and too little time in deep thinking, in good conversation, in worthwhile reading, in study, analysis, questioning, and idea development.

If we spent more time on the latter – the meat of it all – then we would have some writing worth all that shiny packaging.

Photo Credit: twm1340 via Compfight cc

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How to Keep Coming Up with (Content) Ideas

I’m specifically talking about ideas for content: posts, videos, other things you’re going to create and share digitally. But these idea-making principles work for any type of idea creation. Try them out and let me know how they work for you.

Content is essential for doing any sort of digital marketing. And digital marketing is all marketing, now.

[Keep on putting that ad in the phonebook if you want. When they deliver my phone book, I walk it straight to the recycling bin by the curb. Then I google the name of that business I need, and read the reviews, and wish they’d updated their website within the last 12 months so I would know I could trust it.]

The problem is the terrifying, overwhelming, continual need to come up with ideas for content. (Actually that’s only the first problem; the second problem is developing those ideas into actual, usable content. But we’ll get to that in another post.)

Ideas are everywhere until you need a good one.

Ideas! So easy! You’ve got ‘em, by the hundreds.

Here’s a neat magic trick. Try it. Continue reading →

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The Difference Between Content and Copy

In the broadest sense, content is what something contains: the subject. the matter, essence, the things that are held or included in something.

And copy, in that same broad sense, could be a duplicate, a similar or identical thing, or a single specimen of some thing, or as the dictionary so eloquently puts it, “matter to be printed.”

But we don’t really care about content and copy in the broadest sense, do we? Continue reading →