Many copywriters, including myself, are brand strategists. Typically, we analyze market data and trends to come up with recommendations for brand positioning and messaging.
But these push definitions of branding are being replaced by the user-centric concept of "brand experience." Modern copywriters need a holistic understanding of how people interact with a brand.
Writers not only produce website content, we also create the site's information architecture and wireframes. We need to understand how web design impacts user experience because user experience affects conversions.
Copywriters put a lot of effort into using words to drive action on a website. We may want visitors to buy products or to complete a lead form. Either way, we hope to convert a visit into a behavior.
But design can derail desired behavior. If buttons do not appear clickable or if a menu is difficult to navigate, even the best copywriter will not produce results.
Since 2012, flat UI design has been a common design trend. It is also likely to hinder conversions because users do not receive the visual cues needed to take action. Usability researchers Nielsen Norman Group say flat design has created "an epidemic of click uncertainty."
Flat design is part of a larger movement toward minimalism and authentic digital design. It opposes the conventions of dimensional, skeuomorphic, and realistic design.
Early web design used the illusion of depth to help users identify clickable buttons and fillable fields. Heavy shadows and aggressive highlights made this design approach unattractive. The Windows 95 interface is an example.
Skeuomorphic design emerged in 2014. It uses realistic elements to help users know how to interact with an interface. For example, Bagigia's website uses a zipper as a navigation tool.
Realistic web design uses realism for aesthetic purposes. Unlike skeuomorphism, realism does not reference the physical world to provide clues about how to interact with the site or app. It is purely decorative.
In flat design, icons, buttons, and other elements do not have highlights, shadows, gradients, or other textures that give UI elements depth and realism.
A flat design interface is clean, modern, easy to read, and fast to load. Often, color palettes are saturated and include three or more colors. It works well in responsive layouts because flat elements can scale easily.
Released in 2013, Apple's iOS 7 moved away from skeuomorphic design to flat icons. Google released a flat logo two years later. The majority of websites today use flat design.
On the downside, flat design discards many of the traditional indicators of clickability. These include:
Nielsen Norman Group ran a test of flat UI elements. The study shows flat design does not provide the visual cues, or signifiers, that intuitively identify clickable elements such as links and buttons.
Users must work ~22% harder and longer to reach a goal on pages with flat design. In the real world, when people become frustrated with a site, they bounce away from it.
Flat design can be used without a problem under the following conditions:
Flat design 2.0 retains the benefits of flat design while overcoming its pitfalls. It improves usability by eliminating visual clutter. But it restores signifiers that help users prioritize and mentally organize the elements on a page. This includes buttons with rounded corners, drop shadows, and high-contrast colors.
UX matters a lot when the stakes are high:
Copywriters are not web designers but writers need to know when bad design will hurt the client. This is a sticky wicket for sure. On large projects, there may be a UX team with a UX writer in addition to a copywriter. But most clients have only a web designer and writer.
Great writing cannot overcome bad usability. In this situation, the writer needs to work diplomatically with the designer to achieve greater usability. It comes down to how much responsibility you, as the writer, are willing to take for the client's success.
Writers can improve their value by becoming educated in usability design through the Interaction Design Foundation. Other usability design courses include:
UX writing is a new field that focuses on how words and the presence or absence of information shapes a user's digital experience. UX writers help create the site or app from the outset.
A UX writer will make sure you get a human, even quirky statement instead of a cold, Microsoft-style error message. That human element is not just frosting on the cake. It contributes to conversions. As a result, UX writers are in demand by companies like Amazon, Spotify, Dropbox, Slack, and LinkedIn.
Writers need to know search engine optimization (SEO) in order to bring traffic to a site. Without SEO, a site will not be ranked highly by Google for its subject matter. You may as well have no website.
Beyond that, copywriters need to think of themselves as masterminds who direct content strategy, brand tone of voice, and the on-page user experience. Storytelling has become a buzzword for a reason. People relate to and remember narratives more easily than listicles, how-to articles, case studies, infographics or other content types. The writer shapes an experience that is reinforced and supported by the website design. The relationship between words and design is synergistic.
There are all types of freelance writers just like there are all types of businesses. Some businesses absolutely need to invest heavily in top notch writing talent, but often this is not the case. Some companies can get by just fine with a low-priced writer from a content mill. So how can you hire the right freelance writer without spending too much?
If you have a small trades-oriented business in a low-population area, you won't need much more than simple blogging by a native English speaker to power up your SEO. Your business could be an auto repair shop, handyman service, lawn care company, pool cleaner, dog groomer, or anything else that a) is easy to understand b) is not competitive.
One blog post per week should keep you ahead of your competition. You can easily find affordable writers on content mill sites, including Upwork, Guru, and Fivvr. I would avoid Freelancer because by and large the providers do not seem to be native English speakers.
Textbroker has been around since 2005 and is one of the older content mills. It pays between 0.7 and 5 cents per word. Writers can also set their own rates but most of the clients are in search of cheap content.
I'm thinking of small businesses that have commercial space and employees. This could include something like a plumbing or electrical firm, building contractor, wellness spa, clothing or baby store, or small restaurant. This category would also include professionals such as smaller medical groups, local accounting and legal firms, and a small architectural or engineering practice.
All of these businesses must project a credible image and face intense online competition. They require frequent posts of authority content by industry writers. Authority content is high quality, researched writing that that establishes the website's owner(s) as a knowledgeable resource. Authority content is more difficult to produce and requires a writer with native knowledge of the English language.
WriterAccess accepts writers who reside in English-speaking countries. The platform pays 3 cents to $2 per word, depending on the project's complexity and the writer's experience, and keeps 30% of the total fee. WriterAccess's point of difference is it uses AI to match talent with projects.
ClearVoice is another platform that matches you with vetted writers. They have a useful article on what freelance writers get paid per word and per hour. ClearVoice has been used by some big brands, including Intuit and Esurance, but the website is unclear about how the process works and pricing for non-enterprise brands.
Contently has 100,000 content creators including writers plus illustrators, designers, videographers, and photographers. It matches content creators to brands. Payment is generally low but enterprise brands use the platform on a regular basis.
Really good content is expensive. And, generally, there is no direct measure of content ROI. Yes, website owners can look at KPIs like click thru rates, time-on-page, pages per session, and general engagement like comments – but these do not explicitly justify the cost of great content over less sophisticated creative work.
Nonetheless, great content will attract online users to your funnel and will pull them through to a desired action.
Scripted provides writers for an average of 10 cents per word. A high quality 2000-word article takes around six hours to write, provided the writer knows the subject matter and the style is straightforward. The writer would earn between $150 and $200. Clients only pay for work they love, so if the client provides poor direction the writer would waste a day or more on an unpaid gig.
Zerys is similar to Scripted and pays about the same. A 2,000-word, highly researched white paper would pay just $180-$220. A writer could easily spend 12 hours or more on a difficult white paper. A low rate of payment rewards the writer for speediness rather than quality.
If you need very high quality content, you should hire a freelance writer. An independent writer is more expensive than a content mill writer. Most will estimate the project as a flat fee and produce the best possible work, rather than worry about the word count. Per word payment encourages writers to be verbose rather than succinct and to meander in their writing rather than get to the point quickly.
A freelance writer is running a business and has a reputation to build and maintain. You will have plenty of writing on their sites to judge them by. If you read a site (like this one) and enjoy the writing, then hire the writer for your own project. If you want complete certainty. hire the writer to work on a modest job such as a short bio for your website's About page.
Enterprise companies generate value from branding because they usually have more sophistication, discipline, and resources than small firms.
So, what are the elements of a strong brand? This cheatsheet summarizes them. With effort, small companies can build brand value if they stick to their brand promise in their marketing and customer interactions.
Neurobiology shows that people's brains light up when they encounter strong brands. They do not respond to brands that are fragmented and inconsistent. Coherence (the quality of being a unified whole) means that branding is consistent both conceptually and in execution.
✔︎ Keep brand style compatible with core message
✔︎ Create a consistent customer experience
✔︎ Be consistent in marketing communications
✔︎ Nurture a company culture that supports the brand
Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman studied how people buy. He found people are unaware of their true purchase motives because they occur on a subconscious, emotional level. The more complex the product, the more people rely on intuition rather than logic to process choices. Branding operates on a subconscious level – and that is why it is so powerful.
✔︎ Know your customer inside and out
✔︎ Tap into subconscious motivations and needs
✔︎ Provide rational reasons to support emotion-based buying decisions
Engagement is more than customer satisfaction. It means customers are emotionally attached to your brand. Highly engaged consumers are more profitable because they spend more, refer more, and are more loyal. Engagement occurs holistically, not in a marketing silo. Authenticity allows consumers to have a positive experience at every touchpoint.
✔︎ Have a blog (and get 67% more leads)
✔︎ Encourage employees to post on social media
✔︎ Respond to reviews promptly
Strong brands have something unique to set themselves apart from competitors. In can be fast delivery (Dominos, FedEx), consistency (McDonald's), charitable actions (Tom's, Newman's Own), a lifetime guarantee (Craftsman, Eddie Bauer). A distinctive promise crystallizes the brand's identity.
✔︎ Have a unique promise that is relevant to your purpose
✔︎ Your promise should benefit the customer
✔︎ Your promise should be different from the competition's
Research supports the idea that recall is a main determinant of consumer purchase behavior. To achieve recall, a brand must tie itself to associations that are personally meaningful to its consumers. Personal relevance is the mechanism by which emotions govern memory. Irrelevant, meaningless brands fail to achieve mindshare and recall.
✔︎ Base brand on the buyer's mindset
✔︎ Tie brand to meaningful associations
✔︎ Keep associations clear and direct
Brands must have awareness in the marketplace. Even the most passionate brand will fail without market exposure. This means that a brand must engage in marketing, even if that means relying on grassroots word-of-mouth campaigns like Lululemon or a legacy reputation like Rolls-Royce.
✔︎ Set aside a marketing budget standard for your industry
✔︎ Identify where potential customers can be found
✔︎ Create a marketing plan to reach those customers
✔︎ Do not cut marketing during economic downturns
If consumers mistrust your brand, they will not give you their personal information on a landing page. They may browse your store but they will abandon their carts. And ultimately, they will choose a competitor over you.
So, how can companies become more trusted?
When speaking about creating a trusted brand, most consultants recommend changing your company culture. Some call it "living your purpose."
Most often, it requires dramatic shifts in how you manage employees, customer service, and even operations.
There are many consultants who can advise you on creating a more authentic company. I focus on perceptions, namely (a) measuring how likely your website is to inspire trust, and (b) fixing it if it fails to inspire trust.
Fixing perceptions involves, first a foremost, having a good brand.
If you are in a low-trust industry, branding can make you stand out as different. Even if your industry is trusted, good branding will help you seem more authentic and believable To have a strong brand, you need several elements.
Your brand is built around the benefits or experience you promise to your customers. Customers need to understand what they are buying and how they will feel when they use it. A strong brand is never about buying a widget; it is always about buying the best solution to a problem or a desirable experience.
This relates to your brand promise. USP is your "unique selling proposition." It defines who I am selling to, the benefit I am selling, and how this benefit is different from and better than competitors'.
Your company mission, values, and history should reflect your promise. You may need be creative when telling this part of your story, particularly your company history.
Your brand's voice, or style, should suit both your company and your audience. The right personality of your brand will help engage the right customers.
Visual identity includes your logo, color palette, and graphic design style. Your visual identity should complement your brand voice. It should be consistent across channels.
It is important to reframe costs for tightwad consumer. Instead of asking for $1200, ask for $100 a month.
However, neuroscience shows most people prefer to make one bundled transaction rather than buy separate upgrades. Bundling products or services can help you achieve higher conversions; this is commonly done in the car industry with upgrade packages.
Now more than ever, people will access your website on a mobile device. Your site needs to be responsive and it needs to load in under three seconds. To achieve a fast load time, you may need to simplify your design and remove unnecessary images and icons, as they create additional calls and thus require additional time.
Fifty-eight percent of consumers trust branded websites. But far more – 70% – trust online reviews. This means you should incorporate online reviews into your web content whenever possible. Friends and family are (no surprise) the source of the most trusted reviews.
Videos can improve search engine rankings, attract new leads, and improve conversions. They are great for explaining complex projects. They improve trust in your brand because seeing is believing.
It's important to establish your credibility and expertise. Credibility can take many forms, including academic credentials and length of experience.
When you ask consumers to take an action, provide a reason for them to take that action. Even though decisions are processed emotionally, people need to have reasons for doing things. This is why urgency has an impact on conversions; it provides a reason to act now.
Don't say product X doubled revenue. Say it increased revenue by 158% for 1,000 customers. People are more likely to believe specific claims, even if you offer no proof for them.
Copywriting that includes and addresses negative arguments is more persuasive. Researchers have found that when flaws are brought up and dealt with, readers find the copy to be more convincing. The way you do this is important. Write from the viewpoint of the customer: "You may be wondering about...." not "This product may seem..."
In line with social proof, testimonials are an important piece of your website content. Testimonials can draw attention to noteworthy clients. They can highlight areas of your company worth bragging about. They can highlight key aspects of your sales message. Testimonials can even be called out by using them as headlines.
Displaying client logos are a form of testimonials.
People make buying decisions based on emotion, not logic.
University of Southern California professor of neuroscience Antonio Damasio has shown that people with a damaged pre-frontal cortex (the brain area responsible for emotion) have cannot make decisions, even if they know the pros and cons.
People have to need what you are selling, but more importantly, they have to want it. This is where emotional selling comes in.
One way to connect with readers is to make them feel like they belong to an exclusive group. This does not work equally well all customer audiences or products.
Company-centric copy uses "we," "us," and "our." It talks about things from the company's point of view. The problem is, most consumers don't care about the company's viewpoint. They care about solving their own problems.
Customer-centric copy allows you to write about yourself as long as it is within the framework of helping your customers. There will be a bigger emphasis on "you," "your," and "yourself.
Your specific style (voice) will depend on your brand and your audience. Readers complain about the overuse of jargon more than anything else. Jargon can be useful as a shortcut, but often terms are meaningless to readers.
Direct, human copywriting converts better than formal writing. Be aware you can go too far with this. Don't pretend to be the customer's friend and cross boundaries; it can backfire.
The average person has a 7-8th grade reading level. So it's important to write simply. Shorter paragraphs are easier to read, especially online.
Use active sentences with verbs. Strings of adjectives wind up reading like fluff. They do very little do increase your believability. Sometimes, adjectives are used to good effect. This is mainly in romance-style copy – copy used to sell experiences like travel and food. Adjectives can also be useful when selling fashion brands. But, nine times out of 10, verbs trump adjectives.
Using "a small $5 fee" instead of "a $5 fee" in a signup increased conversions more than 20%. Links that say "click me" get clicked more often because there is no hesitating; the link spells out the desired action.
"You," "free," "because," "instantly," "new," "miss out" are classic power words used to boost conversions.
For tightwads (approximately 25% of consumers) bargain words like "bonus," "price break," and "last chance" help grease conversions.
Prospects are driven by curiosity to read past email subject lines and post titles. Choose words like "insider," "top secret." and "unexplained."
People want convenient, no-stress solutions, so appeal to their slothful natures with words like "ridiculously simple," "fail-proof," "uncomplicated, and of course "easy."
Then there are desire words like "mouthwatering," "tantalizing," "crave," and "exotic" that make a product or product seem more appealing.
You can also use ego-gratification words like "successful," "savvy," "sophisticated." and "awe-inspiring."
Rant words stir up anger and mobilize consumers on your side against an entity or situation. Rants words include "abuse," "greedy," "ruthless," and many other descriptors.
Fear is one of the strongest human emotions. People are more afraid to lose something they have than to miss out on getting something twice as good. Fear words include "risky," "scary," and many more.
Finally, there are trust words. Trust is really what you want to build in any sort of marketing. Trust words include:
No questions asked
No strings attached
Try before you buy
Rule of thumb: someone besides the writer needs to proof and edit the copy. It's impossible to find every mistake in your own copy. And mistakes do have an impact on trust and credibility.
Most business execs believe their customers trust them. In reality, only 48% of the U.S. public trusts businesses. (2018 Edelman Trust Barometer).
Trust operates on two sides of the customer equation. On the one hand, it is tied to greater loyalty, higher purchase and retention rates, and more referrals. On the other hand, trust means lower customer acquisition and marketing costs.
Likewise, a mistrusted brand will lose more customers and spend more to replace them.
That being said, can we place a dollar value on customer trust?
Yes and no.
Accenture Strategy has done a good job of quantifying trust for enterprise companies (see below). But it really is looking at the impact of trust on brand strength. The correlation between trust and brand strength and, ultimately, revenue is supported by the results of the 2018 Temkin Trust Ratings. No surprise, low-trust brands like Sears underperformed high-trust brands like Amazon.
It is more difficult to assign a value to brand trust when talking about small- to midsize businesses. Partly, this is because smaller companies often have less clearly defined brand identities. On the other hand, smaller businesses are more hands-on and personal. Studies have determined that consumers trust family-owned businesses more than corporations.
Accenture Strategy conducted a landmark study of 7,000 companies across 20 industries. It found that 54% had experienced a drop in trust, resulting in an aggregate $180 billion loss of revenue. Accenture Strategy combines growth rate, profitability, and trust in a "Competitive Agility Index." The impact of a drop in trust is mitigated by the two other factors, growth rate and profitability. A company with a low growth rate and profitability will suffer more severe losses from a trust incident than a healthier company. For example: A B2C company with a healthy Competitive Agility Index score saw a 8% drop in trust due to a publicity stunt that backfired. Revenue declined by 2.4% ($400 million) and EBITDA dropped 4.1% ($200 million). A B2B with a lower Competitive Agility Index score was harder hit by a 9% drop in trust surrounding a financial scandal. Revenue plunged 33.6% ($1 billion) and EBITDA slid 60.7% ($700 million). Of the three factors, trust is most important Although growth rate, profitability, and trust each account for one-third of Accenture's Competitive Agility Index, trust has a disproportionate influence on revenue and EBITDA. The impact of negative trust events varies by industry, but the global average across all industries is a 5.8% drop in revenue for every 2-point drop in the Competitive Agility Index. Accenture defines the threshold for a meaningful trust event as a 5% loss of trust. So, for the sake of argument (and because I don't have access to Accenture's proprietary formulas), let's just say that on average a 5% loss of trust will decrease revenue by 5%. In banking and retail, this will be closer to 20% but consumer goods, insurance, and manufacturing will be closer to 2%.
Trust is typically measured by conducting surveys and focus groups. At one extreme, you have trade groups and research companies who conduct massive consumer studies. At the other, you have small businesses who request feedback from their customers.
You can and should look for broad consumer studies in your own industry. This will give you a framework for evaluating your company's performance.
For example, a 2019 FoodThink study found that nearly half of all consumers don't trust the food industry and one-fourth actively distrust it.
Likewise, a YouGov NY survey found that only 10% of consumers trust insurance companies "a lot." A whopping 46% actively distrust them.
Sometimes, the results of one study will contradict those of another. For example, a trade group, the American Bankers Association, found that consumers trust and are happy with their bank. A survey by the FDIC found many Americans don't trust banks. A lot depends on who you ask, what you ask, and how you ask it.
In other words, read between the lines.
You may want to conduct your own study. There is a science to doing this and getting valid results. National Business Research Institute is one of many vendors that designs and deploys custom surveys for large organizations.
If you are a small organization, you can use a cloud-based service like Outgrow, which deploys your survey to an audience based on your criteria. Centiment can do both B2C and B2B research. Of course, take the results with a grain of salt. Are you really going to get an audience with $125K in household income that has signed up to do paid surveys for $1?
There are many tools you can use to survey your own current and past customers. Survey Monkey and Typeform are two DIY survey platforms for small businesses. Because many customers have survey fatigue, response rates may suffer or be weighted toward angry customers who want to vent.
Companies such as Customer Thermometer provide fast, one-click surveys to get accurate customer feedback for their clients. Qualtrics does the same thing for enterprise clients.
Customer retention is an indirect measure of customer trust. Presumably, if you retain a customer, that customer trusts you.
Customer retention is not an easy metric, though. A retail customer may make purchases just a few times a year, yet be loyal over the long term. It can be difficult to know when a customer has left the fold in some industries.
Customer retention may be low in some subscription-based businesses, yet the profitability of new customers in those businesses is very high.
In general, though, customer retention is important because it is much less costly to maintain a customer than to acquire one.
Research by Bain & Company shows that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.
The leading reason customer churn, or leave a company, is poor customer service, including a failure to respond to online reviews. Customers also leave if they feel a company is indifferent to them. Surprisingly, price is very rarely a reason for attrition.
The loss of a customer has direct and indirect costs. The loss of a customer translates into forfeited purchases (revenue). The average global value of a lost customer is $243, according to NG Data.
Indirect costs include lost new business. Half of unhappy customers share their experiences on social media. A single negative review can cost a company an average of 30 new customers.
Customer lifetime value (CLV) is the value of a customer over the length of their relationship with your business. When you lose customers, you are losing the total revenue these customers represent.
Not all customers are created equal. In service industries, 20% of customers produce 80% of revenue. In tech, the loss of an early adopter has more profound consequences than the loss of a late adopter.
A Harvard Business Review article pointed out that the cause of high attrition rates is often faulty acquisition. Groupon is a classic example of an acquisition method that brought in high-churning customers; they were motivated solely by a good deal. So, your retention efforts begin with targeting the right customers and setting the right expectations in your marketing.