When you’re paid to write there’s one thing you don’t want to happen: running out of words.
It happened to me shortly after I began as a freelance copywriter. The problem wasn’t my depleted vocabulary, but that I’d forgotten who my audience was.
As a copywriter, you might peddle designer shirts in the morning and pest-control in the afternoon. But unless you’re a natural-born salesperson (few writers are), flitting from one job to another means you could write something totally wrong for your audience. Or just plain bad.
That’s why I’m sharing three sources of inspiration for you to home in on—and hook—your target reader.
1. Home-shopping channels
I once wrote landing pages for several collections of a large online fashion retailer. I noticed I was repeating the same old words, most of them adjectives like chic, classic, timeless, beautiful. I got so exasperated by my lack of originality that I gave up and turned on the TV!
I just happened to land on a home-shopping channel. As I watched the presenters sell sandals for 60 straight minutes, I realized how much I had to learn about the art of the hard sell.
Whether you write ad copy, a blog post or your own website’s “about” page, your goal is to sell. Even when you’re not selling a product, you’re selling your words, your voice, your credibility to the reader on the other side. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Good sales writing should lead with the biggest benefit to the reader. But I was so disengaged from the products that I was lazily relying on meaningless descriptors.
These home shopping presenters, on the other hand, reeled off uses and features that I’d never even thought of, often turning a product’s cons into pros to bolster its selling points. By zeroing in on features, an otherwise lackluster, flimsy-soled pump, for example, became a “feather-light and flexible holiday shoe that won’t make a dent in your baggage allowance.”
While your writing will need to be better crafted than the home shopping channels’ rapid-fire hard sell, watching how they market items can refresh your vocabulary and make you think about the ways customers interact with a product.
2. Vlog reviews
If you need inspiration on selling a product to a niche demographic, watch a few vlog reviews on YouTube. It could be a quick, easy solution.
There are vloggers on almost every corner of the market. Vloggers with a core audience are often sent products to test and review, mainly so brands know how that audience responds to new items.
If you watch a pro vlogger at work, you’ll get a sense of the words, phraseology, references and features that connect a product to its target audience. Tutorials can also help you identify new uses for a product.
Above all, vlog reviews give a glimpse into the most important benefits and features for your target reader.
But remember, your aim is not to appropriate that vlogger’s style of address. Just because you’re pitching a younger market doesn’t mean your client wants you to go in there all LOLZ and hashtags blazing. Find a middle ground that maintains the integrity and voice of the brand and that of your target reader.
3. Personal essays
You may not care much for the content of personal essays, but a one-to-one tone is the essence of writing advertising copy and blogs that connect with customers and followers.
Personal essays are so popular because their voice is direct, confident and trustworthy, engaging the reader with strong emotions. That’s why writing as if you speak to one person gains your readers’ attention and wins them over.
Knowing your reader is crucial. Having someone in mind that you know makes it easier to sell the features and benefits of your product, service or experience, so long as that someone fits the demographic.
But unlike a personal essay, the subject isn’t you; it’s your reader. While you aim to channel the intimacy of the first-person voice, you must address the reader throughout.
For that, you need to reverse the conversation.
Your copy can still have the flair of lunchtime gossip over a cup of coffee so long as you don’t forget to put the reader first. That means addressing their wants, needs and concerns, the day-to-day challenges they face.
Use your writing to show your reader that you’re listening – that you know them. You’re the friend deeply invested in their life, who cares about what they think and who values their time.
Even if your client forbids you to use the second-person voice to address the reader directly, your writing can still be authentic, warm and relatable.
Copywriters, what strategies keep your writing fresh?
A version of this article originally appeared on The Write Life.