There’s a difference between copywriting and copyrighting. Corey Zimmerman, founder and owner of Wanderweb, a web design and search engine optimization agency in Maine, explained what sets them apart.

“Copywriting is sales writing,” she said. (In the marketing world, it’s also called copy.) “The ability to write good copy is probably one of the most powerful tools of persuasion out there. Good storytelling and good writing are more important than the products that you sell. It’s more important than your website or any of your digital assets because persuasive copy can move people to action.”

Understanding the customer – what appeals to them, what matters most to them, what words resonate with them – is the first part of writing successful copy. If a maple syrup producer is trying to appeal to urban Millennials through their website’s copy, they must get in the head of those customers and write in the correct brand voice.

Brand voice is how a business makes their customers feel when people encounter the brand. “We want to pop them right in the ‘feels’ when we’re using our words and our images and the way we present ourselves. That’s how you set yourself apart from the pack,” Zimmerman said.

According to Zimmerman, some businesses want their customers to feel inspired or empowered. Some want customers to feel cozy and warm. The brand voice needs to be built around creating those specific feelings. For example, the maple syrup producer might want to use their brand voice to market the health benefits of syrup over other types of sugar. They would want to write copy that makes their customers feel like they’re making a healthier choice.

And, no matter who the audience is or what the brand voice is, it’s essential that the copy is not boring. In Zimmerman’s opinion, copy should be conversational, whether it’s an email, a website, a social media post or a flier.

“And how do you know you’ve achieved conversational style?” she asked. “It’s to read your content out loud. If it doesn’t sound like something you would say, you probably need to revise that content.”

Copy should also be visually appealing and coax people to continue reading. In the digital world, most people are simply scrolling through content, skimming off small pieces of text. Headlines should be intriguing and compel the customer to keep reading. Consider using bulleted lists. Paragraphs should be short – no more than three sentences. Bold and italicized words can help draw the attention of the reader, as do ellipses and parenthetical expressions.

“If you would mutter something under your breath, put it in parentheses. Don’t hesitate to add in a little joke or a reference to your customer,” she said. The maple syrup producer, for example, might want to think of some puns on the word “sap” to appeal to their customers’ senses of humor.

Zimmerman also suggested “throwing grammar rules out of the browser window.” While spelling remains a necessity in copy, many other “rules” of writing do not apply. “You can stop mid-sentence and finish the sentence on the next line, kind of like poetry. Poetry is meant to be read visually as well as read aloud, by reading down, not across. There’s nothing wrong with breaking things up or putting one word in your content as its own line bigger than the rest, emphasizing that one word that really would pull your customer in and grab them,” she said.

These skills – knowing the customer, creating brand voice, writing exciting and visually stimulating copy – can now be applied to writing copy using PASTOR: problem, amplify, solution, transformation, offer and response.

First, start with the problem the customer is experiencing, being specific about the pain it is causing. The better the description of the problem, the more the customer will believe the proposed solution. It’s important at this moment to use the customers’ language and phrases. Zimmerman recommended keeping a notepad when speaking with customers and writing down things they say.

“Those are nuggets of gold to be used in your copy, and you can use them over and over,” she said.

The next step of PASTOR is to amplify their issue. Before the customer decides on a solution, they really have to believe they have a problem. For the Millennial maple syrup consumer, this might mean doubling down on the health benefits of syrup over sugar.

Then, comes the next two pieces of the acronym – solution and transformation. “Now it’s time to share how you can solve this problem. People are not buying your product; they are buying the results of your product. They’re buying the transformation. Be clear about the results and not about how to get those results,” Zimmerman said.

For the copy on the maple website, customer testimonials about how baking with maple syrup helped reduce their sugar consumption would be powerful examples for potential customers.

The final steps are offer and response. Now it’s the time to explain what is being asked for and to provide an easy way for the customer to respond. There should be an easy way for the maple syrup buyer to see what products are for sale and how to purchase them.

“This is an opportunity that is often overlooked,” Zimmerman said. “We go through all of this work creating great content, talking about the product and don’t ask them to buy. This is the point that you say ‘buy now.’ Do not be afraid to do a hard ask. People need to know what you want them to do. Please do not expect them to guess.”

According to Zimmerman, the PASTOR approach is a proven marketing tool. She does warn, however, that occasional failure is inevitable. “You’re going to put some copy out there that’s going to die on the vine. It’s a lesson learned,” she said. These failures are simply part of owning a business; the owner can scrap the content or try to tweak it to better meet the needs of the customer.

Lastly, Zimmerman said not to reinvent the wheel. She suggested keeping an inspirational swipe file of content that was overwhelmingly clickable or laugh-inducing. “That swipe file is so, so important, and it makes your life easier, and I am all about easy. As entrepreneurs, who has the time to go write something from scratch every single time?” she said.

by Sonja Heyck-Merlin