Good copy has a storytelling quality to it. The writing engages readers and won't let them go. The well-told tale can consist of nothing more than a paragraph or two, or it can spill across a spread.
The best copywriting holds its audience with the tools of a great conversationalist, someone who manages to make you the center of attention. Frequent use of personal pronouns like "you," or "your" or "we" brings the story home; active voice keeps it lively. And there's a crisp cadence to the writing.
Because copywriting is done in the name of commerce and not entertainment, it ultimately must pitch a product, or build a brand or ask for an order—perhaps all three. But you can do none of that if the copywriting fails to draw the reader into and through the message. Too much b-to-b copywriting fails to connect with readers because of an overly clinical tone or because it lacks a certain warmth and authenticity that people come to expect in a conversation.
Allow us to share several examples of copywriting that finds the mark.
Here's the copy in a CDW ad that accompanies the photo of an IT manager somewhere in the bowels of a server room: "As you sit there among the humming and buzzing of servers, the miles of cables and the flashing of tiny little lights, know this—you are not alone. At CDW, we provide you with a personal account manager who knows your business and the IT challenges you face. We make sure your most difficult questions get answered by highly trained technology specialists who, quite frankly, are ridiculously smart. And we offer a full range of custom configuration services that can save you valuable time and money. …"
The copy concludes by reminding readers: "And as always, we're only a phone call away." The writing sparkled from the lead-in to the call to action.
Microsoft spreads a message about its Forefront anti-spyware product across a spread. We read every word of it because the product story was so brightly told. The smart art direction also played an important role. The tale of how to repel a giant spider is tongue-in-cheek until the final paragraph when Microsoft pitches the product, but in the same personal-sounding language that accented the left-hand side of the spread. Here's an example:
"3. Use your superior human intellect: Spiders are crafty hunters and one of nature's most efficient predators. A giant Spider can be even more intimidating. Remember though, you are a human, and while you may lack razor-sharp pincer jaws, you have the superior intellect. Use a firm hand and some cunning, and the Spider has no chance."
Copy in a Xerox ad plays it more straightforward but strikes the same kind of conversational tone that keeps readers focused on the text—usually the most important part of the ad.
The headline describes how Xerox Global Services can help companies reach customers through "personalized targeted messages." Here's how the copy gets under way:
"To build business you need to reach customers on a one-to-one basis. Xerox Global Services offers professional and document outsourcing services to help you customize your customer communications.
Our Document Advisors will show you how to create high-impact, personalized messages from conception through production. Because we have years of experience creating digital documents, our methods are proven to drive greater customer response, help build your brand and be more cost effective."
Succinctly written, customer-focused copy, as seen in these three examples, is as sure to find a receptive audience as a superbly written screenplay.