Following the advent of blogging and social media, the word ‘content’ has been getting thrown around more liberally than ever. As a result, it’s become clear than anyone can write, but not everyone knows what they’re doing behind a keyboard.
Writing is an evolving art and forms the basis of most other communication channels. Most great videos, presentations, and ideas begin with a written plan – so it’s critical to understand what goes into creating something impactful and engaging in this era of constant information and amateur writing.
- Jump to Writing Fundamentals
- Jump to Writing Annual Reports
- Jump to Writing Presentations / Scripts
- Jump to Writing Tenders
- Jump to Copywriting
- Jump to Writing Emails
- Jump to Writing Blogs
- Jump to Writing for Social Media (Twitter)
We will always encourage people to begin any project with writing something down, anything that helps materialise an idea or see a concept on paper (or onscreen).
Marketing has always been built on words, since the term ‘copywriter’ was first used in the early 20th century to distinguish advertisement writers from journalists. Today, we’ve shifted from ‘copy’ to ‘content’ and moved from billboards to blogs to tweets.
People often romanticise the life of a writer and their ability to create. Albert Camus said, “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilisation from destroying itself.” And while this may appear self-aggrandising, it also shows the severity with which some writers view their vocation.
Charles Bukowski often wrote to discourage others from pursuing the same career path. His poem, ‘So You Want To Be A Writer?’ warns readers not to become one if they’re in it for money, or fame, or trying to write like others they’ve read. “If you have to sit for hours staring your computer screen or hunched over your typewriter searching for words, don’t do it”.
While every writer struggles to find the correct words from time to time, it is a skill that can be taught and crafted over time. It all starts with planning…
That point cannot be stressed enough: outline before you write!
Mapping out your core points, the conclusion you want to reach, and the research you wish to reference will go a long way towards making you a better writer. The true skill of writers isn’t their way with words, but their ability to understand. Content writers and editors should know how to condense complex ideas and massive blocks of text into something easily understood.
This is essentially reverse-engineering planning. If a writer is given an overly detailed brief or mountain of academic research, their talent in simplifying and conveying that information is what makes them a real writer.
If you’ve got a lot of ideas you wish to convey through your writing, boil them down to some brief and simple dot points. This will be a recurring motif throughout the guide – Keep It Short and Simple (this KISS principle). We cannot overstate the importance of brevity.
You’ve now begun your outline and are ready to understand what it takes to write for any platform or audience. Through this guide you’ll learn how to sequence those simple dot points, elaborate on and edit them, and then get your audience to the same conclusion your writing convincingly led them.
Writing Annual Reports
Since annual reports are yearly biographies for businesses, they can often come across dry and uninteresting. Statistics and figures don’t create a compelling story, so the design and the narrative of an annual report need to be easily understood and compelling as internal and external stakeholders will be referencing the document throughout the year.
Print media has numerous benefits over digital, which are explored further in our Ultimate Guide to Print Design in PowerPoint e-book, however both channels still require wordsmithing in order to connect with audiences. Creating an effective annual report – regardless of whether it gets printed or not – takes some knowledge and understanding.
In 2014, Forbes published an article looking at exemplary annual reports from that year. While the examples cited are mostly unavailable due to their age, they all shared some common features:
- Emphasis on unique, creative presentation and beautiful design
- Interactivity and animation make reports more engaging
- A little personality goes a long way with audiences
- Simplicity and minimalism help make figures easier to read
- Reinforce company messaging through branding and content
Just like any decent presentation or printed document, annual reports need a strong and cohesive narrative. Since facts and figures will only carry a reader so far, a compelling story will ensure they remain engaged. Therefore, all the same rules of presentation design apply here – keep it simple, don’t use too much text or data, and only use images that further your message.
Beyond annual reports being a regulatory requirement for publicly listed companies, they’re also the most comprehensive communication between businesses and stakeholders (both current and potential). Investing in good design and well-written content helps ensure an annual report’s resonance and year-long shelf life.
As always, start with a list or plan. This should have your company’s most important benchmarks, case studies, initiatives, partnerships, acquisitions, and other defining moments from the year previous.
The key here is to focus on your accomplishments rather than your everyday activities, so explain your motivation rather than your methods and help readers understand how these accomplishments link to your company values and mission statement.
Your business and your readers are all people, so its important your company is seen as more than just a faceless entity. Include real stories from customers, partners, and staff. Personal profiles of the key staff members also help to humanise your leadership team and connect with stakeholders.
Annual reports will inevitably contain financial statements, which can be difficult to read even for the most mathematically minded. Explain the important figures and use infographics – they help make data more legible and memorable.
Writing Presentations / Scripts
We put together presentations for our clients and they tend to give us either very scarce design briefs or outlines that are far too long and detailed. As a design agency, we’re constantly scaling down the number of elements onscreen or begging clients to simplify their ideas to a few basic dot points. People tend to struggle when asked to condense their ideas, but it’s vital to all forms of writing.
It’s human nature for presenters to overexplain because they assume audiences are clueless and fear the sound of silence. But as we’ve mentioned before, keeping it short and simple is critical, so prior to writing your presentation, ask yourself the following questions:
- How do long do you have for the presentation? (This is will dictate just how much detail you can give and how attentive your audience will be)
- Who is your audience? (There’s a distinct difference in tone and delivery when presenting to an investor, a subordinate, a superior, or a potential client)
- What is the purpose of your presentation? (Forget messaging – what action do you want to evoke from your audience?)
- What are the key things you want your audience to take away from your presentation?
While the last two points may seem similar, the first is about action and the second is about thought.
Begin your presentation preparation with a brief outline of no more than three key points. The answers to those initial questions above will form your basic presentation outline, which means you’re now ready to get into the specifics such as how long to spend on each point and how to convey them.
It’s also important to rehearse your presentation out loud and preferably with someone who is unfamiliar with the topic and industry. The reason for this is because things look and sound different on page compared to out loud. Also, if someone who knows nothing about the content still understands what you’re saying and retains that information then you’ve written and presented well.
Finally, remember the KISS principle (keep it short and simple). Since the rule of threes applies to people’s ability to retain memory, try to compact your ideas into a maximum of three bullet points and never try to overload your audience with information when they’ll only walk away with three takeaways at most.
Many people mistakenly view tenders as an extended resume. They do share a similar purpose of convincing someone to employ you, your product, or your services. However, resumes focus on the individual while tenders focus on a company or contract. Let’s explore tender writing further and break down the key elements that create a winning bid.
Writing a tender isn’t necessarily about showing skills and experience; it’s about demonstrating benefits. Whoever’s reading your tender will undoubtedly be reading a few of them, so highlight outcomes they can expect rather than your company’s abilities. It’s one thing to say you can do (or have previously done) something, but your reader wants to know what’s in it for them. That’s human nature, and tenders are about being the obvious choice – so appeal to potential clients personally and directly.
If you’re writing for a tender for a client or business with which you are unfamiliar, read up on their company content such as mission statements, financial reports, and marketing material. Familiarise yourself with the tone that business uses in its communications and cater to that voice. If the business uses very formal and factual language, then emulate that; if the company prefers a more casual and relaxed tone, then ease up on the formalities. Matching your tender’s tone with the potential client’s own will show alignment and understanding.
Most request for proposals [RFPs] have evaluation metrics, such as key issues requiring solutions, desired outcomes, and questions regarding your company’s approach/capabilities. It’s vital your tender addresses the selection criteria directly. While it may be tempting to use old content from previous tenders, you should be tailoring your responses according to the potential client’s RFP.
A key principle of writing that applies, particularly in tenders, is quality over quantity.
Tender evaluations can be tedious, so don’t you go giving your potential client a brick of paper outlining every little detail about your company. Keep it short and simple – they’ll appreciate the brevity if the content and writing is premium quality. Furthermore, you don’t want them going with a cheaper option and then stealing your service providers or suppliers.
The trick to keeping it brief is structuring the bid with everything you wish to say and then cutting away the unnecessary bits as you go. The process of subtracting is quite therapeutic as you realise how often you repeat yourself and discover opportunities to use images over text.
Writing a distinguished tender also means throwing a little design into your finished product. A bland, text-heavy document will be disregarded immediately, so make it look appealing. Diagrams, photographs, infographics, and illustrations go a long way to break up text blocks and put a little personality into your tender.
As previously mentioned, good writers are excellent at understanding things and conveying them to others in a compelling way. Copywriting takes that basic idea and applies it to a product or service. A copywriter is your most convincing salesperson – while sales teams contact customers individually, a copywriter can reach a wide net of customers through the content they write.
When trying to copywrite for a product/service, the first step is understanding what makes it unique; what are the features or benefits that will entice customers? Ask yourself the following questions:
Now that you’ve examined the product/service, next step is to understand your customers by creating a marketing persona. A buyer/marketing persona is a profile of your ideal or most common customer. You should highlight key demographic information such as age, profession/salary, pain points, and motivations. These details will be critical in determining the tone and messaging of your copywriting.
Customer research should address the following questions:
- Who currently buys your product/service?
- Who is the ideal customer for your product/service?
- What does a typical customer look like (marketing persona)?
- What do customers enjoy about your product/service?
To properly understand your audience, you should know the common problems they face and how your product/service solves them. This should be particularly easy if you’ve faced the same issues yourself. However, if your product or service isn’t something you’d use personally, you may need to connect directly with your customers through surveys and research.
With an understanding of your product and your customers – you’re ready to copywrite.
It starts with the headline, which should be unique, specific, and convey urgency. Copywriting is about being persuasive, so start with a compelling yet short and simple value proposition – something that touches on a commonly held customer problem and how your product/service solves that issue.
What’s critical is ensuring your audience continues reading your copy. Telling audiences mini-stories can keep them hooked. The key is to structure copy like a narrative arc – with a beginning, middle, and end – and structure your copywriting so one line of text leads to the other in a way that pulls audiences. For example, asking questions can entice audiences to keep reading.
There is a classic marketing formula for structing a copywriting: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action (AIDA). Essentially, the headline should grab their attention. The next line should then pique their interest through a promise or interesting fact. After that, tap into the intended audience’s desire and how your product or service address it. The last line should be simple and effective, compelling the audience into action.
Benefits fall into two categories: Tangible and Intangible.
Tangible means physical, provable, or measurable benefits, so make them clear and vivid to audiences. For example: price, quality, value, speed, convenience, etc. Tangible benefits also apply to commercial customers as products can help businesses save time, reduce costs, save money, beat competitors, or gain customers.
Intangible means emotional or psychological benefits that can’t be measured, so link them to audiences’ concerns. For example: sensory pleasures, self-esteem, personal attractiveness, coolness, novelty, etc. Think Apple’s advertising from the early 2000s – it was about selling a certain aesthetic and lifestyle that was fresh, playful, and aspirational.
Remember, customers value benefits over features. Also, benefits don’t have to be unique, but they need to be compelling. Once the benefits you’re offering have been explained, you can then break down the features – just do so succinctly to ensure the information is digestible.
The final step is a common feature in content writing – a call to action (CTA). This is the tipping point for copywriting to convert audiences in customers. As always, keep it simple. It’s helpful to A/B test different CTA options, just ensure your clearly show what your audience is expected to do next and help them understand what the next steps are in terms of your company in terms of communication or purchase. CTAs don’t have to be long or complex, but should be clear and instructional.
Social proof can also lend credibility to your copywriting. Positive testimonials and customer reviews are especially valuable in this era of the experience economy, where every customer review has the potential to make or break your brand. Social proof is challenging to get initially, but customer reviews are powerful supplements to copywriting or any marketing material you produce.
The wonderful thing about email is because its personal and direct. It can offer you metrics such as open, click-through, and unsubscribe rates. Furthermore, you can automate email campaigns to save time and set a communication cadence that keep your company at the front of customers’ minds.
First, understand the purpose of your email. Every email should cover a specific item, task, or request. Are you seeking to inform, sell to, or simply connect with customers? The reason for your email should dictate the tone and messaging.
Writing emails begins with the subject line, which must be relevant, interesting, and contain actionable language. Readers need to understand what’s expected of them prior to opening the email (e.g. ‘Tired of slow internet speeds?’) and what could result from reading it (e.g. ‘Reach a larger audience today’). Using terms like ‘Act now’ and ‘Don’t miss out’ helps create a sense of urgency.
Also, keep your subject line short and simple – shorter subject lines tend to have better open rates. Try to keep it between six and eight words to ensure the subject line can be viewed on mobile devices.
Personal names in subject lines are much more likely to be opened and read compared to a generic and impersonal subject line. Personal pronouns help your email connect with readers and a conversational tone is better suited to the private and personal nature of email. It also helps to have an actual person’s name as the sender rather than a company name.
Keep in mind the preview text of your email, especially since many people will be reading it on a smartphone. Those opening lines need to ensure your email content piques customer interest within the limited preview space, enticing them to open it or keep reading.
If you’ve made a promise in the subject line (e.g. ‘Save money and time’), then follow through in the preview text (e.g. ‘Streamline your backend processes with our service’).
From here, all the previously mentioned principles apply – keep it short and simple; quality over quality; focus on customer benefits rather than product/service features; create a compelling narrative that personalises the content; and end with a CTA.
Blog writing should begin with a plan, but consistency helps maintain online traction, so planning a content schedule is a far more effective way of blogging with purpose. With a proper content schedule, you can structure when blogs are posted to coincide with calendared events to help increase engagement.
In terms of the blog itself, think high school essay-writing rules – plan it out; get down your key dot points; elaborate of them; finish with your introduction and conclusion to ensure they align.
At its most basic, your blog should be educational – answering or addressing a problem your readership faces. The key is writing about your industry rather than yourself. While blogs should have a personalised tone, the content itself should be more focused on helping people rather than selling a product or service.
To get a real sense of your potential customers’ needs, speak with your sales or customer services teams to see what common issues clients face. Blog content should answer commonly asked industry questions, so it helps to speak with others in your industry, explore things that your competitors and industry bloggers are discussing.
Start with a general topic (e.g. ‘presentation design’) and then narrow it down to a long-tail keyword (e.g. ‘best fonts for engaging presentation design’). It’s useful doing some keyword research to see what your audience is looking for and associated industries are producing.
Generally, the first thing search engines look at in blog posts is the title, so for every piece of content you create, you should produce 5-10 different titles to see which has the best relevance and keyword strength. Create a list of titles and share it with colleagues for feedback to see which will provide the best value for your audience.
Blogs should demonstrate its value to readers within the title, setting a clear expectation so readers know immediately what they’ll take away from reading the post. According to Hubspot, ideal titles are 60 characters – titles of 8-12 words are shared most often on Twitter while those 12-14 words long are liked most often on Facebook. Also, headlines with bracketed clarification perform 38% better than those without one.
If you’re going to use a long title (of 60+ characters), it will improve your SEO putting keywords at the beginning of your title. For example, ‘Blogging Fundamentals (How to Optimise Your Content’s SEO)’.
Blog posts should follow a format that makes it easy to read and be understood by both people and search engines alike. It’s critical you match the tone and attitude of your readers and the subject matter.
Two very popular formulas for blogging are ‘lists’ and ‘how-to’ blogs. Since both are usually formatted as numbered lists, they’re very easy to read for audiences and search engines. Furthermore, titles with numbers (e.g. ‘5 PowerPoint Tips’) help optimise content better.
Your blog should also utilise other forms of visuals and multimedia elements like featured images, video, audio recordings, and social media posts. IT also helps to optimise your blog page for mobile users since there are significantly more people browsing on their smartdevices than their desktop computers.
CTAs in blogs should be included within the first few paragraphs. According to Hubspot, text CTAs near the top of blogs produce the highest clickthrough rates. Include CTAs near the most relevant content of your blog’s body – optimally, educating someone should be followed by a CTA that supports conversion, such as an image CTA to a relevant e-book.
The point is to keep your readers on your page and learning more and more as they weigh up a purchase/contact decision. You should be offering your readers that finish the blog a helpful next step, preferably a landing page with a form. Also, consider pop-up CTAs for readers to see as they scroll down to ensure the CTA is highly visible even if the reader doesn’t finish reading the post – particularly live chats or chat bots.
Finally, creating a list of topics that support specific conversions helps keep audiences engaged and on your page. Consider building supplementary content for a recently published e-book or video content and then cross promote these things through your blog post, linking content to CTAs.
Writing for Social Media (Twitter)
While writing for social media varies from platform to platform, Twitter is the most conducive for writing, especially since they bumped the character limit up from 140 to 280. Twitter can be viewed as a microblogging site, only users can engage with content and each other immediately and directly. The power of Twitter lies in its immediacy and brevity, which is why it has become such a critical platform for news.
To create an engaging Twitter profile as a corporation, the first step is listening. This doesn’t just mean engaging with your brand’s mentions on social media; this is about collecting data of all social media mentions and broader customer conversations to improve the business.
However, Twitter is the most comprehensive way to see how consumers and brands connect because of its speed and reach. If you’re trying to listen in on how your customers, competitors, and wider market views your brand, a couple minutes on Twitter will help you develop a bigger picture.
When searching for your social media mentions, don’t forget to check for misspellings as people may be mentioning your brand but mistyping your name. Also, it doesn’t hurt to look at your competitors’ mentions and Tweets. Furthermore, look out for users who are having a particular issue that your product/service could solve.
Search for audiences, hashtags, and influencers that are relevant to your industry. This will help you understand what your consumers look for on Twitter. Just don’t go posting things because you’ve seen others do the same – trends fade too quickly on social media to attempt bandwagon jumping.
Like all social media platforms, a good Twitter account begins with great content. Understand what’s valuable to your audience – what is likely to be enjoyed and shared by people you want as customers. It may not always be entirely relevant and should never be too salesy (2-4 hastags), but your writing and content has to reflect your company’s personality.
Remember, it’s all about quality and consistency. Find and create content that speaks to your audience while aligning with your brand. Also, ensure you post regularly and reply rapidly, because news on Twitter moves much faster than other platforms and audiences are hyperaware of this speed of information.
To ensure you’re posting regularly, it’s good to have a content strategy that outlines what you’ll be posting and when – this doesn’t have to be set in stone, but does help you organise your Twitter persona a little better. Furthermore, there are services that let you schedule social posts, so you can write them ahead of time, measure engagement, and monitor mentions.
However, not all mentions warrant response and sometimes it’s best moving customer conversations offline or into private channels. Respond only to questions rather than all mentions and don’t be afraid to ignore (or block) trolls and bullies.
Since Twitter was built on the ideas of immediacy and brevity, many businesses have opted to use the platform as a customer service channel. According to Twitter, there has been a 250% increase in customer service conversations on the platform, while companies that use Twitter for customer service see a 19% lift in customer satisfaction.
Using Twitter for customer services shows a willingness to engage with customer directly and an awareness of their expectations. Its good practice addressing customer mentions and queries in a timely fashion, regardless of whether the news is good or bad.
Twitter claims that 60% of consumers expect brands to respond to inquiries within an hour, yet brand response times average 84 minutes. And while it is unreasonable to demand such rapid responses from small-to-medium businesses, the speed of social media communication is reshaping customer-service expectations.
If you cannot be available to your customers 24/7, it’s important you set expectations for them. This could be as simple as adding a timeframe to your bio informing them of your service team’s availability. What you’ve essentially created is an online service-level agreement that lets consumers know the average amount of time inquiry response takes.
Remember, while immediacy is paramount on social media, it should never come at the expense of accuracy, so ensure you customer service responses aren’t just timely but valuable. Prior to setting up a customer service channel on Twitter, set up an FAQ section to minimise direct inquiries and spare your service team from repeating themselves too often.