You would think that after spending 25 years of my life working as a freelance copywriter, I’d be immune to the persuasive powers of good writing. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m the first to swoon under the spell of a clear brand voice and well-crafted words that beckon me to buy or believe. There’s a subtle enchantment in great copywriting that grabs me every time. After a career of reading great copy and striving to create it for clients, I’ve come to believe exceptional copywriting results from an odd combination of craft, skill, talent, and a splash of magic:
A fierce devotion to perfecting the writing craft
Great copywriters can (and will) clear a room debating grammar and punctuation. They know that a slip impedes the message and dings the brand. Though they’re often accused of breaking the rules, good copywriters know exactly which rules they’re breaking and can bore you to tears explaining why.
The willingness and ability to channel a brand
Copywriters don’t write with their own voices. They’re like actors, ghostwriters, or spiritual mediums who wholly disappear into the brand they’re channeling. They let go of their personal identities, assuming the brand’s speech patterns and phrasing to give it an authentic voice.
As an aside, most of the great copywriters I know have tender egos, perhaps because they set aside their identities every time they write.
A passionate belief in the product and brand
Even when copywriters know that brands or products are flawed, they fall in love with aspects they can wholeheartedly champion. (That means they must turn away work for products or companies they can’t champion for ethical reasons.)
The ability to occupy multiple viewpoints simultaneously
Good copywriters learn their audiences’ demographics, pain points, goals, and ideals. They shift quickly between writing and listening to capture and convey a message that will penetrate and compel the audience to buy.
An unwavering eye on the sale
I’ve seen an awful lot of clever, even award-winning, work that failed to sell the product. That circles back to ego. Copywriters must be okay with taking their egos out of the equation and quietly playing a junior role to product sales.
An ear for writing
Most copywriters can tell stories of clients who told them to “make it sing.” And good writing does sing, or at least moves to a cadence that makes it easy to read or hear.
The ability to shapeshift at will
Copywriters who write for a single brand and target audience don’t need this skill, but agency and freelance copywriters often move between brands, products, and industries. They have to shake off one identity to assume another—sometimes several times a day.
And, finally, there’s natural talent. There’s no getting around this one. Some people have a gift for on-demand creativity they can turn on to develop concepts, name products and companies, craft taglines, write headlines, and turn phrases. But talent isn’t a hall pass to success. Even the most gifted copywriters work hard at honing the skills above.