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Copywriting has always been about communicating with people. But online, your customers get to choose who they listen to.
“A copywriter should have an understanding of people, an insight into them, a sympathy toward them.”- George Gribbin
According to HubSpot, people give your website around 15 seconds to make a good first impression. A study at Carleton University says it’s closer to 500 milliseconds. Or, a blink. If you want to break through the noise and grab their attention you need to make a human connection.
Many of your customers are avid searchers who know exactly what they're looking for. If your website doesn't speak to them at a glance, they’ll up sticks and leave. But you can run this little test to see how you're doing.
Here at Articulate, our copywriters write a lot of copy for and about tech. We’ve written about speaking to your customer before which means, ahem, not talking about specs and features all the time (it’s okay, we’re nerds too). This week, we've been digging deep to find you the best examples of human-to-human copywriting in tech.
1. Hi, hello and howdy
Many tech companies are now adopting the tone of a trusted advisor. Tech is there to assist us. It’s our partner. Mozilla’s use of the word ‘code’ signals a friendly, approachable culture - but it’s a nod to the nerds too.
2. Keep it short and simple
Mailchimp produces consistently engaging and easy-to-read copy – they’ve even open sourced their style guide. Here, they are setting out their promise in the simplest, plainest terms possible.
3. Understand their problems
Honeywell – helping this poor sod since 1977. We’ve said it before on our blog: the man in the mirror is not your customer. Talk to your readers about their issues in their language, not your products in your language.
4. Put them in a story
SlideShares are a great marketing format - they're easy to digest and work well to educate your customers. This is from one by Sprint. We know that telling stories in business works, but putting the reader in the story works better.
5. Help them on their journey
The secret to selling tech is to help people be 'a bit better than human.’ This ad from Kano is actually aimed at young adults, but you wouldn’t have guessed it. Good marketing makes people feel at ease with your life-changing (and perhaps intimidating) technology.
6. Talk about your feelings
Messaging app Slack is all about user experience. At Articulate, we use it every day and, yes, we are riding unicorns and hugging cats in a world of rainbows and ice cream. Slack’s copy is clever because it combines hard data statistics with emotions. Left brain meet right brain.
7. Tell it like it is
Trello uses hyphens and casual words to create a conversational tone. By focusing on the annoying stuff, it really taps into people’s everyday issues with manual data.
8. Or just get real with copy
Spotify are the luckiest SOBs in tech – they have the whole world’s music collection to play with in their marketing. Here, they don’t convey emotion through words. They say it. Political copy is not always a good idea, but in this case, it works.
9. Be a comfort blanket
Like Panorama9 and Basecamp, many tech companies are going back to basics with nostalgic computer text. Salesforce have used this to good effect in their SlideShares too. Perhaps it’s to calm our overloaded minds in an age of constant tech development?
10. Hide wit in unexpected places
Error pages are a great opportunity to show how you deal with a crisis (and, you know, distract your customers while you figure stuff out). Surprise and charm them by referencing things they love. In this case, GitHub’s audience probably knows the Star Wars script by heart.
11. Say I’m sorry properly
Microsoft went to the trouble of completely rebranding their Blue Screen of Death when they launched Windows 8. The old messages with complicated hexadecimal codes were totally freaking people out.
Write like you mean it
When it comes to writing copy, the human touch is still vital. Here are some more tips for making copy that reads like a human being wrote it. This is a useful trick if you're writing a speech, ghostwriting an introduction that is going to be by-lined to someone else or just trying to fetch some slippers and a pipe for your copy.
Write as you speak. Use occasional colloquialisms. Use everyday abbreviations, such as 'don't'.
Interview someone. In half an hour, you should get something that only they would say and that sums up the situation perfectly. Some of my best lines came from my clients during interviews.
Short sentences. Conversation is rarely made up of paragraphs. It's more like a David Mamet dialogue. Short and snappy. Well, dog my cats.
Short words. As I've mentioned before, unnecessarily long words make you look dumb. They also sound concocted.
Marketing speak. Words you would not use with your family or friends have no place in people-centred writing. Solution, market-leading, cutting edge, award-winning, optional etc. etc.
Don't be afraid of humour. In Gore Vidal's autobiography, Point to Point Navigation, there's a funny story that shows Vidal at his epithetical best. At a wedding, someone said to him "I'm always a bridesmaid but never a bride." He replied, "Always a godfather, but never a god." Humour and politics separate us from the animals. Use it. Just be funny. See also: how Churchill used humour as a management tool.
Replicate speech patterns. You don't need to write up every 'umm' and 'ah' but it's okay to throw in the odd 'yes', 'no', 'but' etc.
Embrace the exclamation mark. Yes, I know the grammar Nazis will come and take away my keyboard. But if you want to sound like a real person, you could give it a try. Go for it!
Use everyday metaphors. Ground your writing in the familiar.
A sense of person, place or time. Include something biographical or descriptive that shows that the author is a real person. "I'm writing this at the kitchen table..." or "When I was at university..." The master of this kind of writing was Alistair Cooke. Somehow he managed to make the serious sound informal. It's worth looking at (and listening to) some of his Letters from America.
Know of any other great examples of copywriting in tech? Let us know in the comments below!