Businesses connect directly with their customers through websites, apps, social media, and anywhere else that will hold some well-crafted content. The common thread among all these channels is words — words which can wield a lot of power! In this podcast, you’ll get a masterclass in the art of copywriting and a content strategy to put them all to good use.
Georgina Laidlaw is a copywriting specialist with the experience (and pedantry!) of an English teacher. Georgina works with brands like REA, Aconex and CyRise to help them express themselves clearly. She warns that the written word has no tone of voice which leaves it open to misunderstanding.
Hannah Kallady is a Digital Strategist with Ntegrity where she works with brands to get their words in the right place through communication strategies. Hannah believes strongly in the power of the story to connect and even stimulate our minds in ways we don’t quite understand.
Disclaimer: Transcripts may contain a few typos. Similar sounding words that can lead to them being deciphered wrongly and hence transcribed likewise.
Serpil Senelmis: For WeTeachMe this is the Masters Series where industry professionals share their secrets to business success. I’m Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded. Words written well are the backbone of modern marketing, whether it’s on a website, an app, a blog, an EDM or a social media post, all of these methods of communication are at the fingertips of every brand, even if the words don’t come easy.
Hannah Kallady: So we talked about copywriting and sometimes it can just look like what words you’re using, how to approach it, but it’s about thinking about copywriting as storytelling, and that might sound a bit lame, because you’re like, I’m just selling a product. But it is really a story that you communicating with somebody, whether you’re telling a long story or short story, and it’s also very easy, especially in a new business to just want to create lots of stuff. Like, oh, I could create 20 posts and they’re just gonna be about all of these random things, but that’s actually not strategic and it’s not helpful. So that’s why it’s really important to have a strategy behind all the content you create. It actually takes a lot of weight off your shoulders too.
Serpil Senelmis: That’s Hannah Kallady digital strategist at Ntegrity. We’ll hear from Hannah shortly. First up, copywriting specialist Georgina Laidlaw. She’s been writing for web print and voice for over two decades, and works with businesses to develop style guides, train teams in writing, and to write customized text as a subject matter expert, Georgina says to connect better with your customers and users, right? Like you’re talking.
Georgina Laidlaw: So my presentation is called strange animals. I’m a copywriter. I don’t think we should really take it that seriously. But when I was preparing for this presentation, I was thinking for a copywriter this is a really big topic because as well as paying a copywriter, I’m an English teacher. I teach English as a second language. And so the power of words to me is much greater than copywriting. Words aren’t just there what we say. And we kind of have to walk the talk as well. So they impact on what we do. So first, I’ll be looking at the power of words, because I feel that’s a big issue. And then we’ll be looking at copywriting further down the track. So those are very different ends of the spectrum pair of words big deal out of copywriting, tiny, tiny micro deal in between this big space. And that will be filled in a moment by Hannah, who will be talking about content strategy and that kind of stuff. So let’s begin with the power of words. I was at a linguistics lecture not that long ago by a guy called Alex Costa Grits who is a professor of linguistics at Monash University, and he’s in the middle of this big deal linguistics presentation and then he suddenly says, We are just animals are After all, but we are strange animals and we are, strange animals. What makes humans different than the other animals? When you ask yourself that question, you might come up with a lot of different answers. Well, we talk on phones and they don’t we send people into space and they don’t. We write copy, and they don’t. That last point is probably a bit of a key. One of the things that humans have, that animals don’t have is language. I know what you’re thinking, I can talk to my dog, my cat now we communicate. Yes, animals have communication systems, but they’re called communication systems. And they’re different from what humans have, which is language. Originally, people thought there were 13 different ways that language and animal communication systems for different now we’ve narrowed it down with research to four. So four things that language has the ACS don’t have a displacement, productivity, cultural transmission and duality. I’m not going to go into all those great needs. But the first one there, displacement is important. One of my favorite linguists is Derek Keaton, who died this year at the age of like 92. He wrote this book more than he needs, maybe about five years ago. So this was a combination of a lifetime of linguistics research. He wrote this book because he was trying to understand and formulate a theory for why humans have language in the first place. Because as we can see, we’re sitting in a room that we have constructed this is crazy lots this paper with video cameras. This is going to be a podcast, it will be broadcast to people all over the world. We don’t need this to survive. This is not a biological imperative. And natural selection if we believe Darwin’s theory, if not Natural Selection. We don’t need all of these. So why do we have something this facility which is so much greater, then survival requires of us? This is what he was trying to answer. And he believes the key reason, the spark for developing language, which is so much brighter than we actually made for survival is displacement. Displacement is our ability to communicate about things that aren’t here now. And if we think about human creativity, it really depends on displacement, imagination depends on displacement. So we can be talking about things that are not here. Your cat is talking to you about wanting food, it wants food, it wants to sit on your lap, it wants to go outside, these things are in the present, but humans are the only animals that vocalize about displacement. Writing is recent speaking is in our bones speaking, is from a long time ago and we are much more adept at imperson spoken vocal communication than we are at writing. We’re much better at this all of us. Even the best copywriters in the world are, on average better at speaking. And if we think about how much richer a spoken conversation is that a written conversation that really comes home to us, my students often asked me, How do I use formal English and how can I be informal? And one of the things with formal English is that we use more words, but a critical key is tone of voice, particularly with English language. So we can use the same words and through inflection communicate a very different meaning. Let me give you an example. The question is did you invite her? Simple? If I write it it says, Did you invite her and you read it as did you invite her? If I say it, I can make that three different things. Did you invite her? Did you invite her? Did you invite her? Three different things. You know what I mean? The three different inferences. And it’s all through tone of voice. We cannot communicate this through writing. So that means we need to be really careful with our copywriting. What are we going to say? How are we going to create any kind of authentic communication, any kind of rapport, if we can’t use the techniques that we use to speak to people? It’s a good question. And one of the answers is conversational text. So if he years ago, there were a lot of buzzwords going around about content. When content became a thing people would talk about authenticity and storytelling and narrative people still talk about narrative narrative is now in the common lexicon. Like you watch a TV show. They’re talking about someone’s narrative. So how do we normally start a conversation? We asked questions. This is why search boxes are so often filled with questions. Like, if you get in a taxi, the taxi driver might say, where to? And this is probably the most informal way we can ask a question. We can also ask, Where are you going? So this is a critical technique we can use to start a conversation through copy. We can do it in a video script, we can do it through text on a page, we can do it in a product interface. So asking questions is pretty important. Shortening words and sentences, adding words is a great way to make English more formal. We don’t really have a lot of register in English, but the way we usually try and make things more formal is by adding words. If I’m sitting next to my sister on a bus and it’s hot, I’m going to say to her can you open the window? If I’m sitting next to any of you on a bus? I’m going to say, Excuse me, I’m so sorry to interrupt. But would you mind opening the window? So suddenly, this question, which is like four or five words long becomes four times as long. And we see this really commonly in copy, particularly with digital products, or new products that are coming out. Because often, the attention that is involved in that product launch can come through in the copy the person who’s developing the product or the team developing the product, I’m working with a number of teams that are in this situation at the moment, bring that tension into the copy if they’re running the copy.
Georgina Laidlaw: And so you get these really long sentences because they’re like, we really, really want you to like the product, and we really hope you like it, and we’re a little bit worried about maybe you won’t like it. So let’s add a few more words in here. If shortening your sentences draws your attention to the fact that actually this benefit is pretty generic. That’s probably a good thing. You need to look further for more unique benefits, or a different way to position the value that you’re presenting. But you cannot get around that by adding words, because it just puts people off. So definitely shorten sentences and shorten your words. The advantage of shortening words is that you will reduce the reading level of your text. People who are using your production line or reading your text online using your promotional materials, and not necessarily native English speakers. And even if they are, a lot of native English speakers have really low literacy. We sneak by, we get through it doesn’t really matter. But we have low literacy, and then we also have to cater for the kind of person who’s like me. doesn’t really like focusing too much on what I’m doing. Maybe I was stuck on the train. Trying to do my banking while I’m squashed up against the window. Maybe I’m sick, maybe I’m tired, baby, I’m just not interested. I describe it as limited cognition. So we want to reduce the reading level of what we’re writing as well if we’re trying to be conversational. And shortening the words you use is part of that. Fewer characters, fewer syllables, it goes in much faster and we can understand a lot more quickly. So it’s a good way to get your message across faster. Contractions are a hallmark of spoken conversation. The contraction is a really conversational way to engage with users. Think about the last report you wrote for a board or for a stakeholder, you probably weren’t using a whole lot of contractions. To that point, if you want to emphasize something by not contracting it, you can draw attention to it. So you can use these two things together, to either make people feel comfortable or draw attention to something that That’s important. This is an example of contraction. So I just wanted to give you because I think it’s really nice. With more than 850,000 members and 46 billion in assets, we’ve learned a thing or two about looking after our members. So this is a really nice way to give your credentials and then using conversational text to make it feel a bit more intimate or like we’re having a conversation since users want to have a conversation, and since super is a big, scary, ugly thing that no one wants to deal with. This is a nice way to get people starting to feel comfortable about what the product is and what it offers. And the last one is a bit of a catch all using natural language. I don’t know what’s going on in the cinema industry. If anyone works for a cinema company, we probably need to have a bit of a talk but cinema websites for some reason use really formal English and I can’t understand why it is. What do you think going to the cinema. I live in the country when I go to the cinema, I’m not getting dressed up like I’m wearing my armpits. And I’m going with someone who’s comfortable with me wearing my armpits. It’s dark in there, no one’s gonna see me with my chalk chalk dribbling on my top and my popcorn on my lap. No one’s gonna say that. So we want to feel I want to feel kind of cozy and intimate and friendly in the cinema. So I’m thinking rather than this lengthy, very formal language for how to use the interface, which is a problem in itself, you don’t want to use words to make up for design flaws or design issues or interaction design issues. But even still, we could probably just say choose a cinema say what’s on like, it’s not that hard. And when we listen to that, choose a cinema to say what’s on that’s the kind of thing we would say to each other. Do you want to say maybe, yeah, what’s wrong? So to be a good copywriter, and to come up with good conversational text? You meed to be able to listen, you need to be a really good listener. So listen to what people say. And I would say read novels as well, to understand how dialogue is written to communicate in a really conversational vocal kind of way. Don’t let it fall apart your calls to action. Calls to action are a really great place to use some conversational language, because it makes people feel like they want to respond, they want to interact. So that’s it in a nutshell. Thanks so much for your time. I hope it’s been valuable.
Serpil Senelmis: So the key takeaway from Georgina, don’t let your copywriting fall apart when it comes to your call to action. In just a moment, we’ll meet Hannah Kallady Digital strategist with Ntegrity.
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Serpil Senelmis: Thanks, Ad Guy, Hannah Kallady is a digital strategist with Ntegrity. Working with the not for profit and for purpose sectors, Ntegrity are passionate about empowering all staff to spot and contribute to marketing opportunities. Hannah says our brains are wired for stories. You might just be selling a product, but painting a picture and telling a story can make a real emotional connection.
Hannah Kallady: I love storytelling stories since I was very, very small. I remember some of the first books my dad read me that went picture books were Lord of the Rings and Sherlock Holmes and The Hobbit, which are very unusual choices for a child, but I loved them. And I also loved writing. I actually found a book that I wrote when I was maybe 10, the other day. So this full page watercolor illustrations, it’s about brumbies and a horse that gets lost. It’s terrible. Honest to God, awful. But luckily, I’ve improved since then. But anyway, the point of that is I really loved stories and storytelling for a long time. So it was natural that I got into communications and journalism. Unfortunately, the job market was not so great when I graduated. So a lot of internships and I ended up at an online magazine called my French Life, where I accidentally started doing this thing called Digital Marketing. I didn’t know what it was called. I was just trying to grow a magazine, reach people online and that’s kind of what I ended up doing, and that’s also where I met Crescendo, who is the founder of Ntegrity, we’re both working at the Yaak Butter Factory. And that’s how I ended up with Ntegrity. And I think even though it felt like some of my education, my master journalism and my comms degree were a little bit useless. At the end of the day, I’ve actually come to realize that storytelling has never been more important, and it’s actually incredibly relevant and important skill. And I’m going to share a little bit of why as Georgina mentioned, it’s that space in between what the words are that we’re using, and what should we be saying? it’s that big question of what’s the story, we’re actually telling? How do we talk about our brand in a way that’s relevant? And even though we’re talking about a highly digital space, word of mouth is still one of the most important drivers for marketing. So you got to think about how can I get my customers to tell other people about their experiences with me? A lot of the power is in the user’s hands. And so it’s not just enough for you to say what do I want to say to them that you’ve got to think about what are they thinking, feeling, doing? What do they want from me? What do they hope to achieve whether that’s addressing a pain point they might have or helping them to reach an aspiration. So it’s all about tailoring that story to what the user is really thinking and how they’re making decisions. So often what we’ll do is we’ll go through with clients and map out that process. And that’s you will have heard of customer journey mapping probably is a really great process to go through. And it’s one way of arriving at the biggest story that you should be telling. Another way to understand this. This is actually wired into our brains, which is really fascinating. But essentially, what happens when we hear information is that a couple of parts of our brain light up so our frontal cortex, which is all about judgment, decision making, the parts of our brains that are all about decoding language and understanding things light up so right now, they’re the parts of your brain that are working while I’m telling you this information. But if I was to start telling you a story, or you were to read a story about someone running through a pine forest, it just rained and you could smell the pine needles around to other parts of your brain actually start to light up too, so the parts of your brain responsible for sense, your sensory cortex and your motor cortex. So the parts that are actually light up when you’re actually smelling something, or when you’re actually running a lighting up as if you’re doing those things, but you’re not, you’re just reading about them or hearing about them. And the deepest part of your brain, your limbic system. So you remember that from Inside Out, if you’ve seen that bit there will in the limbic system where long term memory is stored, it’s where memories of close connection to emotions are stored. So we actually are engaging whole different parts of our brains that make us feel things that make us experience sensations, we didn’t know we could I always cry at Quantas ads and Telstra ads for this reason, because it’s all about that light connection and the families coming home and the beautiful Australian landscapes, so they totally get me in the right places. So it’s thinking about yes, so you might just be selling a product, but how do you enhance that and lift that up to become more than just a product but a story or an experience that you want somebody to be part of? What do they feel when they’re engaging with you? What frustrations do they have about you know, their accounting software? How much time do they lose every day trying to use that paint that picture of what life could be like if it wasn’t the case and get them to imagine themselves there. Lots of different ways you can use these stories to tell it might not be the right example for you. But it’s just thinking about what’s that bigger narrative that I’m putting people into. And sometimes it can just look like what words you’re using, how to approach it, but it’s about thinking about copywriting as storytelling. And that might sound a bit lame, because you like I’m just selling a product. But it is really a story that you’re communicating with somebody, whether you’re telling a long story or a short story. And it’s also very easy, especially in a new business to just want to create lots of stuff. Like I could create 20 posts, and they’re just going to be about all of these random things. But that’s actually not strategic, and it’s not helpful.
Hannah Kallady: So that’s why it’s really important to have a strategy behind all the content you create. It actually takes a lot of weight off your shoulders too. Because you can say actually, I’m free to not focus on all this stuff over here that’s not useful. And hone where I actually knows it’s going to add the most value for my business. So that’s a really helpful thing to think about. I was going to give a couple of examples of a couple of organizations we’ve worked with who have really interesting or challenging stories to tell. The first one is an organization called Australians Together and they have the very challenging task of getting non indigenous people to engage to their whole history, understand indigenous culture, understand where we came from, and where we’re going. And they do that a lot through education. They’re trying to work with schools and get things into the curriculum, work with workplaces and think about how we can do this better, in case with really scary topics like Australia Day, which is terrifying. And so we’ve been working with him for a few years. And the challenge was, how do we get people to engage with this topic that we all actually feel a bit guilty about that’s really scary, and we don’t know how to engage with. And so we’ve been through this process with them of looking at what are the elements that that story that we want to tell? What’s that journey that people are going on? To learn more about this topic and how do we get them to care? And so we started testing as well on Facebook. We put lots of posts out there just to see what would work. And what we learned was that when we got too complex or too complicated, it did not work out for us. It just confused everyone, we actually arrived at the best mix for their content on Facebook, which was all about positive stories, because you really don’t often see positive stories in that space about how we’re actually achieving things of how indigenous people are achieving great things. Some kind of shocking or emotional parts of our history that we might not know about, like the history of Rottnest Island, which I didn’t know about Google it after, if you don’t either. We found that there was a bit of a mix of just introducing people to the fact that there was something bigger going on and that was what we use this social channels for. And then they draw people into another space where they can have a deeper conversation. And they do a lot of their learning and education through sharing other people’s stories. So by getting indigenous people to share about their experiences as members of the stolen generation, or just as people trying to figure out how to live life, and they’ve realized that that is the biggest and best way to build connection with an audience. So, even though they’re in one of the most complex and challenging spaces, they’ve actually managed to find a way to tell that story. So it doesn’t matter if what you’re selling is hard, might not be as tricky as that. But there’s always a way to find that strategy that’s actually going to cut through. Actually, I was in an award ceremony a few weeks ago, a marketing one and a girl got up and she was like, marketing manager of a shopping precinct in a city that I won’t name. And she said, I have the hardest job in the world. And I was there with Australians Together. And I was like, oh, man, reconciliation. That’s a bit of a tricky space. So it’s a hard story, but you can tell it. The second example I wanted to speak to is a business based in Melbourne. You might have heard of them. They’re called YourGrocer. They’re fantastic and Morgan, their founder is awesome. If you ever have a chance to speak to him definitely do. He’s got a really big vision. So essentially, they deliver food from 65 plus local shops around Melbourne so you can get deliveries from the Queen Vic market from the Perenne market from a bunch of other places to kitchen bench. The idea is you can skip the supermarkets, but still do it in a way that’s convenient. He wants to create a fairer food system, which is a really big vision. It’s about making sure that the supermarkets don’t control prices that we can be a bit fair to our farmers that we can support small businesses, all of these kinds of things wrapped up. But it’s tricky because there’s lots of grocery delivery options out there. And people really mainly just care about saving time about doing something that’s easy for them. And if there’s an added bonus of feeling good about it, that’s awesome. That’s probably not the main reason that they might choose something. So we’ve been working with him over the last few months to shape that story and think about how do we take this big topic and this big mission and turn it into something that’s actually really meaningful. So I think the process here might be helpful for some of you guys, and that we started with really trying to capture his vision and his thinking, and turn it into that baseline narrative. And that’s what we did. First, we didn’t start by doing lots of posts or emails or trying to figure it out as we went. Now that we have that baseline pacing, we’re then able to cut it up and say, what does this look like for a welcome journey on email? What does this look like on a landing page? What does this look like for content strategy on social media? The important thing is you got to start with a strategy. Because otherwise you’re just doing a lot of stuff. And it’s not necessarily going to provide that holistic experience for your users and your customers. So that’s been really exciting. And we’re still in the midst of it, we’re still figuring it out. So what’s this space, but I’m really excited to be telling that story and to see what works there. And that’s the other thing. It’s a live process. You will know if you’re founding a business, it’s all about testing and learning about iterating about pivoting. And that’s exactly what you need to do with these stories in your marketing as well. So we talked about words and how they matter before, but there’s a couple of instances where we’ve seen that words can actually make a world of difference. So just two really small examples, and we’ve done some work with the Victorian Responsible Gambling foundation. After some research that we did with them, we found that there was one big thing getting in the way of them talking to people who really needed to hear this stuff. And that was the use of the word gambling versus betting. We don’t talk about gambling, we talk about betting, if you think about betting apps and things like that, they don’t ever use that word and they really need it to change the lexicon to actually speak, how they use as in customers or people who needed help with speaking, the other one was more recent, we’ve done some work with Department of Jobs and Small Business in Canberra, they found out that people don’t care about careers, especially older Australians, they just want a job. So we were talking about how you could get a start on your new career. They were like, oh, that sounds like a lot of effort. And I’ve already been through 20 or 30 years of work, I just want a job. And so just changing that a little bit a it helps them to understand that you get them and that you’re on the same page as them. But they it resonates with them, they’re more likely to stop and take notice. So think about what are those words that might be relevant in your context that people are using that you actually need to tap in to? You need to speak their language because otherwise it won’t resonate. But I guess the big takeaways are really just thinking about this as what’s that overarching story or strategy that I want to be telling my users and making sure that it’s really grounded in what matters to them, what they’re thinking about the stuff that keeps them up at night, stuff that makes a day’s hard and frustrating, all the dreams that they might have all the things that they want to achieve. Stop there, figure out what that story is, and then break it up and figure out how it sort of plays out across a range of channels. That’s all for me. Thank you.
Serpil Senelmis: Some useful advice there from Hannah, it’s really important to have a content strategy, and it’s all about testing and learning. Thanks, Hannah. And thanks, Georgina too. Next time on master series, my most challenging business years. Surviving your first year in business is a triumph. But what happens at two years, and then five years, we’ll hear from some successful founders about the most challenging years and if it’s possible to put them behind you. Until then, I’m set to Serpil Senelmis from Written and Recorded. And for WeTeachMe, this is the Masters Series.
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