Transcript of our podcast episode on should technical writers become copywriters?

Welcome to the Cherryleaf Podcast. In this episode, we’re going to look at: should technical writers become copywriters? And this is an outside broadcast. It’s being done on the road. So if you hear birdsong and a bit of breeze, apologies for that.

We’re going to look at the blurring of the boundaries between technical marketing communications, or technical copywriting, and technical writing, technical communications, and the opportunities this offers for technical writers. We will also talk a little bit about a training course that we’re looking to put together on this topic.

So let’s start by defining what we mean by copywriting. And in its simplest terms, copywriting is delivering words that get people to take some form of action. And that could be buying something, getting somebody to inquire about a service, to download a free item, to trial or test a product in exchange for an email address or for some monetary compensation. So that sounds similar to what technical writers do.

So let’s expand it a little bit more. Copywriting has an element of presentation and persuasion the purpose of copywriting content is to provide relevant and valuable information. And it’s also designed to pull the readers in. It’s promotional content. And the content itself can be web pages, it can be blogs, it can be articles, it can be infographics, it can be adverts, and so on. So we’re talking about pull marketing – getting customers to come to you. To build a brand, to establish a loyal following, to draw customers to your products.

So if copywriting has existed, technical writing has existed, as two separate discreet professions and roles. Why should it change? Why should there be emerging the blurring of the boundaries between the two?

So let’s look at that. And the main reason is that there has been a change in the way in which people buy. A change in the customer journey. So the traditional approach has been that somebody has gone to your shop, or gone to your website. You’ve had copy that’s persuaded them to take a series of steps. There has been a call to action which is led to a sale and an ongoing relationship.

But that has changed. This is something that we have talked about in one of the early podcast episodes that we did. Now days, people will go on the web and they’ll research a product before they decide to buy.

The research from Google suggests that people will look at around ten different pieces of information before they make the decision to purchase. Often, they will not see physically a product, a hardware piece of equipment, before they actually order it. And this has led to a number of companies changing the way in which they market. For example, Citrix. The approach that they take is a series of steps which is: learn, try, buy, use, and advocate. So you learn about Citrix products, you try them, you then become a paying customer, you use them, and you promote those products to prospects, to other people that might be interested in that product.

And so in that model, you have marketing content to help people learn, try, and buy. And you have user assistance for when they’re using it. But also that role of user assistance can come in when they’re learning about the product or trying that product. Because they may try it without paying any money. And if they get stuck, you haven’t had any revenue from that particular person. And often on the web, what people do is they search for answers to their problems. And when they search, where they might land, could be on a Help topic for how to use a particular product, hat solves that problem, rather than the marketing page saying how wonderful that product is.

So user assistance, technical content, is also performing a marketing role, a promotional role. It’s helping people who aren’t yet customers as well as those that are customers.

The way the IBM markets itself is doing something called outside-in marketing. And here are the steps and the type of content that IBM provides:
First thing they offer is discovery information. So for example within the world of big data it can be primer, introductory information explaining what is Big Data, which could be a webpage for example.
So from discovery, they then offer learning content, which could be a video on Big Data. For example: four ways big data and analytics can transform marketing
From discovery and learning, they then offer solving type of content. So they’ll then look at potential solutions that are based on big data. So it can be a product information page. For example, top 10 big data analytics platforms.
Discovery, learn, solve.
Then on to try then they’ll have information which provides an offer. Try Watson Analytics for 30 days free of charge.
And for large technical complex products, they’ll have a fifth stage to help people make the decision to buy or not Watson Analytics. they’ll provide white papers to help people understand the ins and outs, all the detail of Watson Analytics and how robust and strong, secure, scalable and so on, that particular product is.

This means we’re seeing the development of a unified content strategy. It’s technical writing and copywriting as part of a single customer journey. And therefore there’s an interconnection and an interrelationship between technical writing and copywriting. And also where people are going through that trying stage, the user interface text as well.

So how does copywriting differ from technical writing? The classic description is that one’s about selling and one’s about telling. With technical writing you as the writer, the provider of the information, your authority, your expertise isn’t generally questioned. It’s not up for debate and you don’t need to provide any proof to justify that the steps that you’re telling people to take are credible or not.

You are seen as a writer as an authority, an expert. And you have a reader who’s motivated. They typically have gone to your content because they have a problem. They’ve got stuck. There’s a need and they have an idea of the solution or the goal that they want to achieve. They’ve got a problem. They want to solve it. They want to do something, and you write clearly and succinctly to help them achieve that.

With copywriting, it’s different. Often there’s a need to prove the authority, to prove the credibility of the information of the claims that you’re making.

Graham Jones is an internet psychologist. He sends out a newsletter every week that comes out on every Saturday. And last Saturday, so that would have been the 16th of June, interestingly, he talked about this. And he said your customers want detail. They want lots and lots of information.

Having short and snappy web pages merely makes people think buying from you is too risky. Sure they’re not going to read thousands of words but if your web pages have a large number of words. Those visitors are much more likely to want to buy from you if you don’t provide lots of detail on your website and product pages. You’re reducing your chances of selling whether your business to consumer or business to business, because short copy suggests higher purchase risk.

Another difference can be that the reader might not be motivated. They might not have an explicit pain. They might have a problem but they don’t see what the solution is. They might not be stuck . They might be disinterested.

So often copywriting is also about generating interest and getting people’s attention.

We can look in more detail at the differences and similarities by also looking at the content that’s written. So there are many striking similarities. It’s often about writing clear English. It’s also often about helping people solving a problem. It should be about the writer using the audience’s language , and before any words are written, understanding the reader and acting in some ways as a translator for what a solution or system can do and translating that to what it means and what it offers to the reader themselves. And in technical writing, there’s generally a structure and order in which you write. A method or framework.

And in copywriting there’s also a structure. From Graham Jones:

there is a benefit from having detail. Having a lot of information helps people be reassured that a decision to buy a product is a low risk or a lower risk solution.

There’s this need to prove the need that the user has and the goal that they they might want. And also a need to prove or provide proof that your solution meets that need can deliver what was required.

In technical writing, there generally is one tone and one voice, and you’re succinct. You have the opportunity to use different tones. You have the opportunity, in some situations, to have different voices as well. You can have information communicated as if it were from the chief executive, as if it were from a support person, as if it were from a technology person.

There’s a need for persuasion that you don’t have in technical writing. And the content that’s delivered can be different as well. In copywriting, your content can be delivered through direct mail and email. And there can be a different way in which images are used to support and communicate your message.

Another big difference is headlines. You want to grab people’s attention. You want to get people’s interest in the content. And so headlines tend to be less descriptive and more attention grabbing with copywriting compared to the type of headings, topic titles, that you would provide in technical writing.

And technical writing essentially is about accuracy, completeness, concreteness, in terms of giving people examples that they can understand, and objectivity.

Copywriting isn’t so much about those aspects. In the UK there’s a legal requirement for marketing content, copywriting, to be legal, honest and truthful. But you don’t have to be as accurate, you don’t have to be as complete, and often you are subjective. You’re giving an opinion. You’re trying to persuade somebody.

And there can be a distinction between truth and fact there can be the application of myth. What do I mean by this? Let me quote from P L Travers:

“You only have to read the New York Times to see the myths crowding into it with their splendid and terrible deeds take as an instance the story of Galileo. Galileo is not a myth. He is in all the history books where you will read the undoubted fact that at a time when it was believed that the Sun moved around the earth.

Galileo dared to assert that the very opposite was true that the earth moved around the Sun under pressure however and on pain of death he was forced to deny his truth thus he was able to save his life but as he turned away from recanting he muttered firmly into his beard eppur si muove. Nevertheless it moves. The story is known to everyone.

Galileo is famous for the eppur si muove, but the recantation of his recantation has nowhere been recorded how could it have been the only people near enough to hear it were his inquisitors and had they heard it his fat would have been in the fire he never said a pause see more of a except of course in his accurate heart but in its unconscious shaping of the hero the story required that it be said the truth had somehow to be told that Galileo was not a liar so mythologically Galileo was required to say it it’s a truth but it’s not a fact so there’s a difference between truth and facts.”

Let’s move on what makes a good copywriter?

Let’s quote from David Ogilvy from his book Ogilvy on advertising

“The hallmarks of a potentially successful copywriter include obsessive curiosity about products, people and advertising.”

So that, in many ways, is similar to the attributes you would like to see in a technical writer. Somebody who’s the curious child, that is interested in a product, wants to take it apart, understand how it works and explain it to other people. And interest in the audience, what they want, how they understand.

I’d like to talk a little bit about how Cherryleaf is responding to this change. We’ve added to our website saying that we now offer technical copywriting services. In fact, we’ve been doing technical copywriting on the quiet for many years. Writing papers for clients, improving website copy, and writing articles. It’s not something that we’ve promoted in the past, primarily because often technical writing and copywriting have been seen as two separate things. And for the purposes of us having a clear brand message, as to who we are what we do in the marketplace, we’ve done it but not explicitly offered it as a service. But now as it’s being seen more clearly that the roles are overlapping, and we’re starting to see organisations get their technical authors involved in writing copy for their content for their websites and so on. We think now it’s the right time to be more explicit that that’s something that we do.

The other way in which we’ve decided to react to this is to introduce a technical copywriting training course. In fact, reintroduce a copywriting course. In the early days of Cherryleaf, we used to resell a online e-learning course by Dr. Alan Rae on copywriting. This course is slightly different, because it will be focused on technical copywriting. And it will be aimed at technical people such as developers and technical writers those people that are getting involved with writing marketing content who might need to acquire the skills in copywriting. So we looked around to see if anything was out there. We couldn’t find anything. So we saw that this was an opportunity to put together a course on this topic.

And this began about two weeks ago and we started by putting together a course outline looking at the type of topics that might interest developers, Technical Authors, other people unfamiliar with copywriting. And we put it up on to Google Docs and we posted to a number of forums asking people for their feedback: These are topics that people would like to know. Are there any other topics that they’d like us to cover, that should be covered?

And we had feedback from around 30 people adding comments, making suggestions. One question was, will it cover how to write UI text? It won’t. We don’t think copywriting and the writing of UI text fits well within the same course. We do have a course on embedded help already that covers some aspects of writing UI and dialog texts, so we may develop that a little bit further. If you are interested in that sort of information, that sort of learning, that course may be worth you considering.

So in the course, there is information. It teaches you how to write clear and compelling and persuasive marketing content and how to do that in a consistent way.

To do that, we felt it was important to understand the context in which copy is written today. So the course also covers a little bit on marketing.

  • Some detail on how people do make buying decisions today. The purpose of copy in the context of modern marketing activities. So that’s going to be in the course.
  • In addition to an overview of modern marketing, we’ve put together a 7 point framework for technical copywriting. A series of information types or topics that you can include in your pages for you to make sure that your content is complete. It addresses the type of questions that the reader will have.
  • It includes some copy examples, and something called a swipe file, which is a list of examples that you can use when you have to write stuff – then you can base your content on.
  • We look at something called long letters, which has morphed turned into, in the modern marketing environment, to something called sideways selling. And this relates to free items of value, free training courses, free ebooks, free guides, tips and tricks, that you might be involved in being asked to write.
  • About using surveys, so you can personalise and tailor the content to specific readers.
  • The different types of white papers that are produced and how to write them.
  • Something called squeeze pages.
  • The nine emotional factors that get people to decide to act.
  • We talked about proof earlier, and we look at in the course the seven types of proof that you might need to provide to justify your claims.
  • The different types of needs that people have.
  • How you can discover users’ vocabulary, so you can include that in your content.
  • The grammar of storytelling. And storytelling is one of the ways in which you can provide proof. Case studies, for example, to back up your claims.a
  • And then when it comes to writing, the elements of rhetoric, eloquence, grabbing people’s attention.
  • Using power words – words called up words action words.
  • And then ways in which you can measure your performance.
  • How you can plan and troubleshoot and relate it to that.
  • Checklists

So at the moment, at the time of this podcast, the slides are written.

We’ve done a scratch recording of the course which is out for review. the next step will be to test and develop further exercises and then run a pilot course.

So if you’re interested in taking part in the pilot course, which will as a pilot be a little bit cheaper than the main course, do let us know. We’ve got some people already interested in the course, so contact us if you’d like to be one of the first people to get this information.

One other thing that we cover, and again we’re still hoping if we can find time to cover on the podcast, and that’s GDPR because GDPR is having an effect on how companies market themselves.

So that’s it for this episode. If you’re interested in the course email us if you’ve got comments about this podcast there’s a number of places you can leave your comments. You can leave it on our blog, because we’ll embed this recording into one of our blog posts.

There’s also the place where this podcast is hosted where the show notes are kept . Well in fact for us,

You can leave comments there as well. We’re always interested in feedback on specific episodes and the types of future episodes you’d like us to do.

So until next time, thank you for listening.

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