Where Your Copy Fails You


I was sitting in my office looking intently at the cobblestones, those in the poster of my hometown piazza hanging on the wall.

I had been asked to work on a piece of content that would need to build awareness and get leads, work for customers, and attract prospects. All at the same time. In the same piece. In other words, as my colleague put it – a boy and a girl.

Have you ever faced a situation like this one?

Wanting to be all things to all people is a sure recipe for confusion. In the desire to please, it may turn off the very people who are the most desirable – and profitable – for the business. That should have stopped me from accepting the assignment.

Experience, and lost cycles, both teach you to recognize the signs of a superior or a customer not fully understanding the implications of a request. How trying to save a dollar on production or in one place would results in headaches and lost opportunity in a more important area.

Sometimes you want to go along and get along. You are tempted to be the one to "make the logo bigger" and be done with it. Especially when you know your job includes counseling your client or boss well. And that means saying no in a way that helps them get a better answer from you.

Because going along is a cop out. You know that it's not just about that one request. The request is a symptom of a larger problem.

A warning sign that a misunderstanding on the onset, if not dealt with right away, will snowball and potentially hijack the project. That will produce poor work all around, and make everyone miserable in the process.

When this happens stop yourself from going crazy (and try to explain lack of results) down the road. You made me do it is not a good answer – not to your boss, nor to your client.

Nobody really makes you do anything you don't want to do.

(this applies beyond copy, of course)

See the problem

The first place where your copy fails you is underestimating the question:

Who is your audience?

You know who your audience is in the scenario I outlined above? Your boss or your client. And they are not the ones who will do the buying. The best way to get buy in and help the business trade is to learn to identify this disconnect early on.

You're not going to win every time. Seeing the problem will get you well on your way. If there is one area you want to become really good at it is this. Bring the right evidence and proposed course of action to the discussion.

Definition of evidence

When I talked about evidence on G+ the other day, someone asked me what I intended by evidence.

I like those kinds of questions because they show me something I take for granted, and shouldn't. Many of my readers are business owners, general managers, and heads of business units in organizations who are lookig to improve the way they present their value in the marketplace.

Marketing that makes business sense starts with knowing which asset you trade on, your promise. Evidence is information and data. You collect it for a number of reasons, for example:

  • they are an asset in their own right
  • without feedback, you don't know whether you need to do something or not

Then there is the issue of how you collect good data. Some strong attractors are communication, dynamic communication (conversation) with a wide audience (advocates), etc. However you get the data, evidence is the result of analysis, which depends on the query set.

This is why conversations are markets.

The query set determines what to look for, what to add, how this is connected with the analytics of listening and observing, which are linked to feedback on what you should start doing and what you should stop (this is also very important).


Learn to know both your audiences really well: By listening to the warning signs with your client and boss, and by talking with your customers and prospects regularly.


[image by Martin Fisch]

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0 responses to “Where Your Copy Fails You”

  1. Thanks for the post Valeria, I think you’ve hit on a problem that many folks on the agency side deal with all too often. Relevant and authentic marketing requires a level of internal discipline that many organizations (including agencies) don’t posses: singular focus. To be successful today marketing must be customer-centric. Anything else is just passing your challenges down the line and eventually you end up asking your customers/prospects to solve YOUR problem. No-one is going to read your copy (or buy your product) to help you meet a sales goal, to help you keep your boss happy, to help you maximize your budget etc. Your post is a good reminder to all of us that it takes incredible focus and discipline to not allow those influences to distract from a true customer focus.

  2. In my view the primary focus is on the trade and not the customer/nor the boss.
    Sure you’ve got to consider the audience – but neither is really fighting for the endurance, strength and resilience of the corporation. They’re fighting for lower prices and higher pay cheques ( OK not all – but enough).
    The big question is what does the corporation have that is of value that it bought low and now can sell high ( and I’m not just talking about $ – what did I get back in the trade that I can trade again).
    In this age the customer is focused on you. The questions are what do you have to trade that they don’t know they really want and what will you get in return that is worth more ( that’s the essence of strength).
    In some respects the technology is now sweeping the market listening for evidence of surprise and value. Corporations listening to consumers listening to corporations is an odd conversation indeed.
    To my mind, too many marketers have swallowed the “markets are conversations” and then focus everything on the tools and technology of the customer conversation.
    Many seem to have forgotten ( or were never taught) why they are in the conversation in the first place – to trade > 20% turning consumers into buyers (boy stuff) and 80% turning buyers into customers (girl stuff). And these are very different technologies and approaches- digital is more of a boy and social is more of a girl.
    It seems some marketing departments are 100% “can do” and 0 % “why do”. It’s all incredibly smart and talented people doing improv and wondering why know ones clapping.
    Always a pleasure.

  3. it also requires true knowledge of the business. I worked on the client side for 20+ years, and I must say the agencies that were willing to learn or at least get to know their client’s business were few and very far between… one even threw me under the bus because of it, their champion and main contact. How stupid.
    I think marketing is business so it must be first and foremost business-centric. Great copy will not save a company that is not trading on its promises. Then yes, when that is in place, it must endeavor to constantly remind customers what the business is about.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this “Sure you’ve got to consider the audience – but neither is really fighting for the endurance, strength and resilience of the corporation. They’re fighting for lower prices and higher pay cheques.”
    Did it start that way? I posed a question on Twitter today and got a response from someone at a PR agency (that was implicated in some shady defamation publicity with big players recently – goes to context) that businesses need to build incentives for everyday risk taking. Why? Why isn’t the culture about keeping promises? Who sets the pace? Is it the employees? Customers? Is it not the business itself?
    “In this age the customer is focused on you.” Or are they focused on themselves? Not a yes/no answer. Just additional information.

  5. “that businesses need to build incentives for everyday risk taking.”
    I do hope this person works for my client’s competitors.
    When did it start? Not sure. When does it stop? When the conversation changes.
    You’re right on focus. Not a yes/no. But which is the more useful insight?
    Happy first post day.

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