Guest Post by Sharon Ernst – Copy writer and content consultant at We Know Words.  Sharon is one of our go-to pro’s when we need a little extra copy writing muscle.

Writing copy is my full-time job. Chances are, it’s not yours. But does that mean you can’t improve your marketing writing skills? Not at all! There is always room to improve when it comes to words. Just like I can be a little better at my taxes without becoming a CPA, you can put a few tips to use to write like a copywriter without becoming one.

Below are three of my favorite tips for non-copywriters. None are rocket science. Instead, all are easy to put into practice and will become habitual over time.

cookie cutter facesTip 1: Be a real person
This first tip might seem like commonsense, but you’d be surprised how many people slip into another way of writing once faced with something other than a personal communication. Always remember that you are a person writing to another person, not a marketer writing to a generic audience.

When we’re sitting at a computer with the anonymity that gives us, it’s easy to forget that the message you’re crafting is going to real, live people. But don’t forget. Write in a way that shows you remember this isn’t some kind of cookie cutter content, but a real message from a real person. Be warm, friendly, descriptive…write like you care, because really, you do, right?

Obviously your business and your brand will influence just how warm and friendly you can be. If you’re a B2B marketer, find that balance between being professionally cordial and being the real deal. That balance exists. And if you’re in the B2C world, you’ll know just how friendly is appropriate for your audience, so don’t under- or overdo it.

Bonus tip: One way to make sure you’re being real is to check your pronouns. If you use “we” and “our” more times than you do “you” and “your,” chances are you’re not being real because you’re focusing on what you want and not on what your recipient might want or need. Rewrite your message to focus on the recipient and see how different it sounds.

Tip 2: Focus on the results
And speaking of focus, one sure way to improve your writing is by focusing on results—not the results that you’ll get by writing great copy, but the results the customer will get with your product or service.

If you’ve been in marketing or sales for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with features vs. benefits. I haven’t ever found that distinction to work to improve copy because we get so close to what we are selling that the features become the benefits for us. I have been in client meetings during which I have felt like I was pulling teeth trying to get a client to tell me a benefit when they just…could…not…think…beyond…features.

I finally gave up on the features vs. benefits approach. Instead, I came up with what I call the “so you can…” technique. Here’s how it works: When writing, think of it as so you can“our product is…” (the features) and “so you can…” (the benefits). Being forced to say what the customer can actually do as a result of buying your product or service will free your mind from its focus on features. Try this technique, and you’ll have a much easier time focusing on the results the customer will enjoy.

For an example of the difference it makes when you focus on results, compare these two approaches to writing content about patio furniture. Both say that the furniture is durable, but in very different ways:

  1. Our patio furniture is durable and built to last, made by trained craftsman using only the finest materials that are guaranteed to withstand weather.
  1. Transform your patio into an enjoyable outdoor room with furniture built to endure the elements. Enjoy pleasant summer evenings and family BBQs for years to come, confident your patio furniture will last.

These two snippets both say the same thing (this furniture is built to last) in two very different ways. Can you see the difference? One focuses on the furniture’s features. The other focuses on the result—what the customer will get if they buy the furniture (the “so you can…). What appeals to you more, durable furniture or the idea of an outdoor room for entertaining?

Also, notice the pronouns. The first example uses “our” and the second uses “your.” Do you see the difference that makes?

crystal clearTip 3: Be clear
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Hmmmm… I get what she’s saying, but that second example is much wordier and I thought we were supposed to write less.” Yes, it’s wordier but the message is still clear: The furniture is durable. And clarity is key—yet not as easy to achieve as you might think.

As much as people clamor for short-form copy in this age of mobile marketing, it’s surprising how often even the most concise marketing message is still unclear. Perhaps this is because we want to say as much as we can in one communication? Avoid that tendency if you want more effective content. Try to stick to only one message. Focusing on results will help.

For example, if you’re writing about an upcoming webinar, resist the urge to also include information about a new whitepaper or product line, or to espouse the virtues of your company. Instead, write about the knowledge the attendee will walk away with, the things he or she will be able to do with this newfound knowledge. Be clear that the webinar is the focus of the message.

In the case of the patio furniture example, there might be a tendency to describe the durability of the furniture, and then also the stylish look, the many colors available, the low pricing, the free shipping—including all of this information might be acceptable in certain kinds of communications such as on a website. But for the many different types of content you’re writing, probably not. Be clear.

Make sure your “ask” is clear too. Have one goal in mind for the content you are writing, meaning one action you want people to take. Do you want people to go to a landing page? Make a phone call? Read a blog post? Follow you on Twitter or LinkedIn? Or simply to watch for another communication from you? The action you want matters less than the focus and clarity your message must have so the recipient knows without a doubt what he or she is being asked to do.

With a clear message and call to action, your recipient can scan your content and get the point in an instant.

There are plenty of ways to improve your copywriting, but chances are that’s not your full-time job and investing time in learning more makes little sense (plus the true professional has spent years honing their copywriting craft). If you put just these three tips into action, however, you’ll notice an immediate improvement in your writing. And don’t limit these tips to marketing-oriented writing only! These tips work for other kinds of writing too, from emails to your boss to that touchy subject you need to broach with a family member.