• Hayley Cherrett

What's the best kind of copywriting?

Updated: Mar 11


Before the rise of digital, copywriting was simpler. It was clever headlines. It was direct mail. It was integral to the world of advertising. But things have changed and evolved. The platforms we have to communicate with audiences are more diverse than ever.


Today, there are so many shades of copywriting to choose from. Which one is best for the task in hand? Do you need someone that specialises in content? Or an SEO ninja who promises to get your website to no.1 on Google? Maybe you’re looking for a storyteller? Which is the best kind of copywriting?


A Thousand Monkeys' copywriting scoring system

To help you navigate the terms you might see on the internet, we’ve scored a selection of different copywriting specialisms. After you’ve read the post, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about what shade of copywriting you need. Think of it as Top Trumps so you can quickly see their strengths and weaknesses.


For each category, there is a maximum of ten points for:

  • Persuasive power – is there a likelihood of behaviour change or action?

  • Longevity – good headlines from days gone by are still discussed today. Will this type of writing stick?

  • Skill – how easy is it to write and does it require expert ability?

Direct mail

Is direct mail still relevant in today’s world? Definitely. People still like to hold something physical in their hands. It can be extremely persuasive too. Even Boris Johnson tried writing a persuasive letter about lockdown…


Direct mail relies on old-school copywriting techniques – attention-catching headlines, snappy, short copy and a strong conceptual idea. If it isn’t up to scratch, then it will be heading for the recycling pile before you’ve even had a chance to make your point.


A good direct mail writer knows their print formats from their postage rates, how to tease an envelope, and 101 ways to use a Maltese Cross (not a medal, an origami-like folding pattern favoured by old school DM writers).


  • Persuasive power – 8

  • Longevity – 6

  • Skill – 8

Conceptual copywriting

Sometimes before putting words on a page, you need a brilliant idea. Conceptual copywriting focuses on creating memorable headlines and slogans that stick. It's not about the quantity of words, but rather their quality.


Marmite's "love it or hate it" is just one example. At first it was a slogan, but now it influences their entire strategy. It's become part of their identity.


Conceptual copywriting is arguably one of the most important shades of copywriting, but it requires extraordinary skill and expertise.

  • Persuasive power – 8

  • Longevity – 10

  • Skill – 10


Email

Email changed the game. Unlike direct mail, you can instantly tell whether people have opened it, clicked on the link, and even bought the product or service as a result.


Success depends on using the window of opportunity - your preview text, subject line and opening sentence. Your audience’s inbox is constantly flooded with messages, so you need to experiment with different techniques, whether that’s adding emojis or asking a question. Testing means you can see what works and what doesn’t too.


With email, we also have the opportunity to make the most of personalisation. We can add our readers' names and adapt the message to what we already know about them.


Whoever wrote this email from Curable, packed a lot in: personalisation, a founder story, an offer, a lead benefit and a money back guarantee.

  • Persuasive power – 7

  • Longevity – 4

  • Skill – 9

Read more: How to make sure your emails are opened even when your business isn't


Direct response

Our copywriting pals across the pond love ‘direct response’. For them, it’s all about writing stuff that gets the reader to take immediate action. Think powerful CTAs, snappy headlines and relentless testing to measure results.


Hubspot say, “Direct response copywriting is all about right now. It's about inspiring consumers to action the moment they're done reading your copy."


Good direct response writing addresses the reader directly. A model often used by old hands is AIDA - Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. It's kind of writing by numbers, but done well it can bring in millions. And not just for the client, the top direct response writers in the US earn a fortune.


You can see this type of writing in some of the world's greatest direct response ads:


  • Persuasive power - 9

  • Longevity – 3

  • Skill – 9

Content

“Content is king”, said Bill Gates. And he wasn’t wrong. When we talk about content, we mean online (obviously). Who picks up a brochure or looks at an ad outside when there are smartphones?


But surely content is more than words? Isn’t it all information directed to an audience? It could be images, videos, or perhaps an infographic.


Some argue the aims of content marketing are different from copywriting. Content marketing steadily grows businesses, whereas copywriting pushes people towards immediate action.


When writing a new website for Sacla, we wrote a page dedicated to each "maker". The content didn't push sales but added authenticity and helped the reader learn more about the brand.

  • Persuasive power – 7

  • Longevity – 7

  • Skill – 8

Blogging

Content is likely to stick around. Copy for the web especially is written to be fit for purpose until the site needs refreshing. Blogs, on the other hand, are reactive to current affairs and are soon replaced by the next story.


Blogs need to be easy to digest and relevant to the readers' challenges right now. They're often used as a tool to attract customers or clients, but again not intended to sell, sell, sell.

A good blog on your website keeps your brand on your readers' radar. They might not need your services or product now, but they might later on and hopefully will remember you first.


You might even write blog posts to highlight your values like Ben and Jerry's:



Bloggers are often ex-journalists (maybe not so ex) who can write reams of blog posts at the drop of a hat. They know how to develop a story and address all the topical questions of the moment.

  • Persuasive power – 4

  • Longevity – 3

  • Skill – 6

SEO

At the start of the last decade, it was all about Search Engine Optimisation. According to the experts, every web page needed to be stuffed with keywords if anyone was ever going to read it. Your writing was your ticket to getting on as high up in a search as possible.

Many people created blog posts brimming with keywords. It wasn't about adding value, but increasing visiblity.


But times have changed. In 2021, search engines are more intelligent than ever. Bad copy full of keywords won't cut it anymore. A good copywriter will automatically highlight the key information your reader is looking for, as well as providing the high-quality content Google is looking for.

  • Persuasive power – 2

  • Longevity – 5

  • Skill – 6

Read more: Search Engine Observations


UX writing

According to Career Foundry, UX writing differs from copywriting because “it aims to guide the user through the interface in an intuitive manner”. It focuses on the way we interact with technology as this is a shift we have seen since the early days of copywriting.

There’s also a big thing that makes UX different – the focus on microcopy. Microcopy describes bits your average copywriters apparently forget about. Elements like buttons, forms and newsletter sign-up forms.

  • Persuasive power – 7

  • Longevity – 8

  • Skill – 7

Read more: 7 opportunties to turn boring into brilliant


Radio scriptwriting

A great radio script is still an effective tool for raising awareness and encouraging listeners to find out more. The skill here is in the timing – you might only have 30 seconds to get your message across. Perhaps you might opt for humour, a question that stops them in their tracks or directly address the listener to create an emotional response.


In the last year, we’ve seen how useful they’ve been for spreading public health messages too. “Hands. Face. Space” is punchy and our ears prick up when we hear it.

  • Persuasive power – 8

  • Longevity – 7

  • Skill – 9

B2B copywriting

B2B copywriting requires business insight. From the key benefits to the technical detail, you need to know the ins and outs of the product or service. Of course, you also need to understand the sector the organisation is pitching to and the challenges facing potential clients or customers.


So how is it different? Let's look at whitepapers as an example.


Writing a whitepaper is a completely different ball game to crafting a bunch of headlines. It needs to be informative, innovative and interesting. Ultimately, whitepapers need substance if you want to secure sales and stand out from competitors.

  • Persuasive power – 8

  • Longevity – 7

  • Skill – 8

Read more: How do you fix B2B marketing that misses the mark?


Social media content

When it comes to social media, you need to be able to handle tight character counts. There’s no room for waffle and you often need a strong call to action allowing the reader to find out more information.


Social media posts are the new headlines. A post needs to capture attention and stop readers from scrolling. And you’ve got to be on top of your millennial speak too, which adds to the challenge.

  • Persuasive power – 7

  • Longevity – 2

  • Skill – 7

Read more: The 3Cs of social


Branding and tone of voice

Branding is more than font and a colour palette. It’s all about positioning, strategy and manifestos. Carefully chosen language makes the service or product recognisable and creates familiarity. Of course, we refer to this as tone of voice. You don't need anyone to tell you who wrote the example above - you already know.


Branding is a type of writing you're going to want to invest time in. Do it right and you won't have to do it again for a while. Do it right and you'll create a voice for your brand which makes you distinctive.


  • Persuasive power – 6

  • Longevity – 8

  • Skill – 9

Read more: How to make your f*cking awful brand not make me want to gouge my eyes out


Storytelling

Storytelling is an art. It’s about people overcoming their challenges and sharing their experiences. The goal is to evoke an emotional response in the reader, bypassing the logical thought process.


Our brains are wired for stories, so this approach makes sense. But it can take on lots of forms – testimonials, case studies, about us pages. And that’s only the beginning. Storytelling can be weaved into everything we write.


Here Jack Daniels explain one of their processes using storytelling:

  • Persuasive power – 9

  • Longevity – 9

  • Skill – 8

Would it shock you Apple was named one of the nation’s favourite storytelling brands?


Read more: Why storytelling is in pieces


It's all copywriting to us.

Now you've read about all the different specialist areas of copywriting, it's pretty clear which one is best: the one that's going to get you the results you're looking for. The best blog isn't going to help if you're looking for sales. The cleverest concept is no good if nobody gets it.


A good copywriter has the techniques, tools and skill to be persuasive in any context. Whether it’s UX writing or content creation, the same principles apply: understand the reader and answer their questions. Then you just have to fit the character count to the format - whether that's a social post or a 48-sheet poster. That's copywriting.


Oh, and a way with words will probably help.



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