Persuasive copy is bigger than the words you use. Find out what our senior copywriter, Sarah Long, has to say about the art of persuasive copywriting.
Nothing says “we care about our customers” like hard-sell ad copy. But at least when you’re watching or reading an advert, you know it. In the B2B space, more businesses than ever are switching on to the commercial benefits of content strategies geared around improving their prospects’ lives. The problem is, they’re still writing that content like adverts.
“I felt it the most back home in the US,” Sarah tells me. “A lot of the articles I saw produced over there felt very pushy. I’m generalising, of course, but even their editorial gave you the sense that you were being sold to. You could tell that the companies producing this content wanted to take an educational approach, but there’s more to it than a change in format.”
Prior to joining us at BabelQuest, Sarah spent the last 10 years writing for both sides of the pond. It’s a viewpoint that’s opened her eyes to how to write persuasively — and how to not.
I sat down with her to find out more about the art of persuasive copywriting and the pivotal role it plays today in helping brands become the go-to company within their niche.
Do your readers trust you?
“When you think about creating persuasive copy, it’s tempting to jump straight to the writing itself,” Sarah explains. “Tips, tricks, and techniques for creating copy that converts are everywhere you look, but persuasive copy is bigger than the words you use or how action-orientated your CTA is. Persuasion is an act of trust. Do your readers trust you?”
In Sarah’s experience, there are three things you should consider when trying to earn your readers’ trust and create marketing copy that persuades them to engage with your business.
1. Striking the right tone
When Sarah chatted with me about the differences she’d noted between US and UK content, it wasn’t necessarily what the articles were saying that set them apart but how they said it.
“People don’t just read your copy. They hear it,” Sarah explains. “It hits a certain way. You can tell when you’re reading something if it’s been written to push a product or service or if it genuinely exists to help you in some way. You can tell if it, and the company behind it, has your best interests at heart. The copywriters in the room would say it has a different tone.”
What I took away from Sarah’s thoughts on this is that one of those articles is going to be more persuasive than the other because you don’t feel like it was written with an ulterior motive in mind. When you’re searching out educational content, you don’t want to read a sales pitch. As a reader, you’ll feel happier or at least more willing to download the guide it’s recommending because it’s clear that the content is just there to help answer your questions.
2. Telling stories
“A lot of it is also story,” Sarah adds. “We don’t make decisions because they’re logical. Decision-making is emotional, first and foremost. We rationalise our decisions with logic – or at least, we try to — afterwards. In this way, stories are inherently persuasive.”
Stories exist to make us feel a certain way. They’re how we express ourselves. How we form and strengthen relationships. How we pass down advice. We’re hardwired to respond to them, and if more people talked about content in terms of stories, we’d all be richer for it. Correspondingly, a piece of content with a narrative to it — whatever shape or form that takes — is going to pull you in and win you over much more convincingly than one without.
“Stories move us,” Sarah says. “So making sure that everyone who comes across your company knows your story, and making sure that story is emotionally driven, is key.”
3. Testing, testing, testing
With tone and storytelling working for you, you can start to shift your focus towards more traditional conversion-orientated elements of your writing such as compelling calls to action (CTAs) and eye-catching subheadings. Key here, Sarah reveals, is not some magic formula for either but an environment in which you can test and iterate these parts of your copy.
“My introduction to copywriting was through a marketing agency not unlike BabelQuest,” Sarah reveals. “I was employed as a content marketer, and I learned my craft working side-by-side with the marketing team. My colleagues taught me a huge amount about marketing in general, but mostly, they gave me an environment in which I felt safe to test how my content was performing and how I could convert people in different ways.”
It’s not enough for a copywriter to write well, because so much of what makes a piece of writing convert is circumstantial. Your audience, your form, the channels you use; these all impact how your copy is communicated, how it’s perceived, and how it performs. As Sarah explains it, there’s no right answer. The only way to win is to test, and test, and test again.
“I think that’s when I really fell in love with copywriting specifically,” she admits. “Creating content that helps the reader while drawing from psychology to lead them to convert. It still fascinates me today. I had lots of fun A/B testing alongside our marketers, working through that process together to see how metrics changed and results shifted based on my writing.”
How to lose trust (and alienate people)
If persuasive copy is lifted up by tone and storytelling and the psychology behind decision-making, where are businesses and their copywriters going wrong with it today?
“Persuasive copywriting comes back to people,” Sarah says. “It takes a person to find the right tone. To tell the right stories in the right way. To analyse how their copy is performing and make decisions of their own about what’s influencing the reader and what isn’t. ChatGPT has its applications but persuasive copywriting isn’t one of them.”
In a conversation that repeatedly came back to trust, I had to wonder at the implications of businesses openly using AI writing tools to generate their content for them, not to speak of the ones using this technology covertly in place of real people.
“Can you trust a machine? At this point in time, at least, I believe we still need to hear a voice and feel that we're being spoken to by an actual person to trust what’s being said.”
How persuasive is your copy?
A lot of businesses know so much. They have all this information about their niche, but they struggle to translate it into words, specifically marketing copy, which is a whole other beast in itself. In Sarah’s eyes, the challenge runs deeper than the words on the page.
“I think it’s really about establishing yourself as the go-to company, whichever niche you're in,” she reveals. “You’re aiming to become that trusted source of knowledge, a business that comes across as really wanting to help others. A company with genuine passion for its industry and customers. Because that’s how you’ll establish trust with potential new clients.
“Whoever’s writing for you, that’s how they’ll turn your content from a series of words strung one after the other into a click in the reader’s head, the tap of a CTA at their fingertip.”