Plenty more Copywriter Stories to come, but let’s take a break this week for some original thinking. Here’s a guest post on originality in corporate copywriting from Chas Walton, a successful freelance copywriter in Bristol.
We copywriters crave originality. Our job is to see the world through a fresh pair of eyes, and to describe it in ways that encourage others to see things differently. But it takes effort. Which is often wasted when inventiveness and originality are so easily borrowed. Just like the quote above.
I could have started this blog with ‘Originality is the Holy Grail for copywriters’ (it did cross my mind … sorry). But that would have been an unforgivable error – using a cliché to talk about originality.
Trouble is, only the writers among you would have spotted it. And that’s our problem: the work that we want to produce is not necessarily the work that clients want to pay for.
An inability to see beyond the well-worn language of conformity is why so much corporate writing is bland and predictable. It makes you wonder: if the language is all the same, where are the unique points of difference?
What separates you from your closest competitor if the best the pair of you can do is to promise to ‘exceed customer expectations’?
If everyone’s writing about their ability to ‘leverage supply-chain partners to enhance the bottom line’, who’s making the revolutionary business changes that will turn them into leaders in their sector?
I may be underestimating you. Right now you could be nurturing that great disruptive business idea that’ll turn your industry on its head. But no one can tell that you’re the one to watch if you sound the same as your competitors. You’re guilty of non-original sin.
A general theory of relative originality
Originality in business and in writing are a powerful pairing. If you look and sound different, potential customers are much more likely to think that you really are different.
The good news is that innovative writing is just like an innovative approach to business: it doesn’t have to be completely new, just different enough to stand out.
Here’s a simple example from some copy I recently wrote for a restaurant chain. To capture the idea of a leisurely breakfast I came up with the headline ‘Breakfast without the scramble’. But was it original? No. A Google search turned up two instances of the exact same phrase. Not bad. But not words that no one else had ever thought of.
Since waffles were on the brunch menu, my brunch-time headline was ‘All waffle, no kerfuffle’. Good news: Google has never come across that phrase before. Bad news: some clever-dick author has written a book with ‘awful waffle kerfuffle’ in the title.
My point is that copywriting originality is relative. Once in a while we might write something that’s truly original; mostly we’re reinventing ideas that others have already played around with. No problem, so long as these almost-new phrases still have that vital element of freshness.
If they’re not in common use, they haven’t yet become business or copywriting clichés. Their rarity guarantees they’ll be new to most readers – even to most copywriters.
Innovation in every aspect of your business
Luckily not everything in copywriting or in business has to be new. But a good chunk of it should be. If business success comes through innovation, business writing needs to be just as inventive.
Dull, me-too predictability is for the competitor that’s never going to reinvent the world. But not for you. Find yourself a freelance copywriter who’s as keen to break new ground as you are. Help them understand what drives you. And then take a step back.
Let them use their imagination to sell your business with as much originality as you run it. Be the business that stands out in every way – through performance, operations, marketing, and writing.
Check out some of Chas’s original thinking in his copywriting portfolio.