I have been riding a bike since I was old enough to actually able reach the pedals. The beauty of it is that not only gets you from place to place, it also provides you will a lot of time to do nothing but pedal and think.
Most of the insights that I develop for my paid work, my blogging and my posting occur to me when I am riding. There’s something about being in motion that kind of frees up your mind and lets it wander.
Virtually every day for the vast majority of my adult life I have written something.
In the beginning most of it didn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. I was experimenting with allegory and my writing was, let’s call it, highly decorative.
This is a necessary stage every writer needs to go through in order to understand the outer limits of his imagination.
Over the years, you start to reel it in and develop a pretty distinct impression of the kind of writing you want to do. Because not every writer does every kind of writing.
Last week, the wife friend of mine on Facebook asked me to give her some advice about becoming a writer, the kind who actually gets paid. This is what I said back to her.
“Before I give you any advice you need to think about 3 things.
1. What kind of writing would you be happy doing?
2. What kind of writing do you think you’d be good at?
3. Where do 1 and 2. intersect?
Once you have the answers to those questions you will know what kind of writing you would like to do, and I will know whether or not I have any advice to give you.”
It’s Complicated. But It’s Simple
At my core I am a copywriter, because that’s primarily what I get paid to do. Everything else either supports that in terms of marketing (like this blogging) or is a hobby (like my lyric writing and my screenwriting)
So this is the first thing that I figured out today.
1. Everything About Content Writing Starts With Copywriting
This includes ads, brochures, business letters, direct mailers, emailers, broadcast commercials, web site content, blogging and longer format video etc.
If you haven’t mastered this stuff and haven’t put in at least several years figuring out how it all works, then you are missing a critical part of the learning process.
I can see the eyes rolling back and the smirky grin. I can. You don’t believe it because you are so immersed in the digital world of web sites and blogs and all the bullshit about them generated by the conventional digital marketing industry, that you don’t realize this stuff basically doesn’t work unless it adheres to the basic rules of copywriting.
This is a big part of the reason why digital marketing is, for the most part, a 1% ROI game. The people who achieve more than that are not concerned with the soft approach to anything. They are aiming right between the eyes and firing 50 caliber bullets.
More often than not, the triggers are being pulled by copywriters who have becomes great content creators, or marketers who actually understand how this all works, like my friend John White.
Copywriters are not called that anymore They are more like hybrids. They didn’t start off writing web content and blogs and landing pages. They started off writing ads and brochures and direct mailers and commercials, back in the day.
They are mostly the third distinct generation removed from the pioneers of modern advertising. As the world changed and digital marketing came into being, they changed with it.
But they have two distinct advantages. 1. They know how to meld selling messages into the context of the digital marketing process, and 2. They don’t buy a lot of the BS that most digital marketers are selling. Because they know that it’s all advertising. It always has been. It always will be.
2. Your Content Can Easily Drown In A Sea Of Irrelevance
Here’s the second thing I figured out.
The world is drowning in useless content. The 90/10 Differential clearly states that 90% of digital content is crap and useless, mainly because it doesn’t get read and if it does it gets forgotten immediately. Some would argue that the percentage is even higher.
Crappy web sites that don’t say anything. Pointless blogs that are more self-indulgent than informative. Social media ads that don’t attract flies. Etc.
And why do you suppose that is?
Well, my theory is that there is a fundamental lack of creativity out there. Not a lack of creative people but a lack of people with the requisite skills to be able to build selling messages and real persuasiveness into the so-called creative work they do.
It’s not their fault. They have had it beaten into their heads by digital marketers who tell them that the ‘people’ out there don’t want to be sold, but want instead to be ‘engaged’.
But I believe that they want both.
3. The Thing Nobody Can Predict Is The Next Big Thing
The last thing I figured out has to do with the future.
And while I will be the first to admit that I can’t predict it, my best advice is to keep your eyes peeled for and your mind open to new ideas. Even if they somehow feel like they could be old ideas.
Like a web site that actually tells people what the site owners do and what you can do for them.
Like a business card that has a little story on the back about what you can do for your customers or clients instead of being some graphic designer’s wet dream.
Like a series of blogs or videos where the story actually has something to do with your business and the people you do business with and how you can help them do better.
Will it rock your world and make you or your clients a superstar? Probably not. At least not right away, because the digital world moves like a three-toed sloth.
But what it will do is tell the people on the other end of your communication that you’ve got some serious chops and that they should definitely keep their eye on you.
So there you go. One big bike ride. Three critical insights into content creation from a copywriter who has been to the mountain in ad agencies and with demanding direct clients and has learned everything he’s learned through mistakes, experimentation and the wisdom of his elders.