Copywriters – where do they start?

Copywriters – where do they start?

Now more than ever before, in our new world of conversation culture, brands must have a distinct tone of voice to help project a unique point of view. So when it comes to freelance copywriting where do the poor blighters start?

Robert Hoberry author of the book I’m still reading – Brilliant Copywriting dismisses the usefulness of big brand development projects as they often produce long winded vision and values statements and lengthy descriptions of the target audience and segmentation.

“Radical simplicity and a healthy dose of honesty are the answer. In fact to write for a brand, a copy writer usually needs to understand just two components the big idea and the brand personality. Everything else is a distraction. A brand’s big idea can steer your general direction: a brand’s personality can help steer the tone”.

So now I’m reaching for another book on my shelf   The big Idea by Robert  Jones. It’s an oldie but goodie. I remember the  pennies dropping when I read his summary of the 50 biggest ideas around at the time.  He scored them each up to a maximum of five stars based on how big the idea, how radical, how social and how tangible they were. Below are some of the top scorers.  It’s interesting that 10 years on these ideas are still firmly positioning these companies as ‘different’.

Ikea – Democratizing design
John Lewis – A better form of capitalism
Apple  –   Usability
Virgin  – Iconoclasm  (I looked that one up – breaks established conventions)
Tesco  – We like our customers
Orange – Optimism
Gap  – Democratic fashion
The Guardian – Outsider
Channel 4 – Curious
National Trust  – places for people for ever

If a copywriter understands the big idea and can formulate a clear picture of the personality traits associated to the big idea then they’re ready to write, but not before answering another bunch of question related to expression,  content and audience.

How would that person speak? What words and phrases would they use? (expression). What would they chose to say? (content). Who would they choose to say it to? (audience).

Whilst I agree that brand development projects often end up on the shelf –  too wordy and descriptive to be useful. My experience is that the really useful output of any brand development work is the production of a simple set of guidelines. Hats off to the brand team at Visit Wales. Check out for a brilliant example of articulating an organisations’ ‘tone of voice’ and ‘point of view’ simply and more importantly usefully. I love inclusion of what not to say.

I suppose my point is that freelance copywriters as well as designers, directors, editors etc need help getting started. Marketing departments must answer two killer questions before looking to the creative industries to describe the solution. What is your big idea and what is your brand personality?

I’m a firm  believer in ‘The tighter the brief the more creative the solution’.