Why read this? : We share ideas on when and how to give better copywriting feedback. Learn how better copywriting supports your business objectives. Learn where it fits into the advertising process. And learn how to get more out of working with copywriters. Read this to improve the way you give copywriting feedback.
The words you use influence how well your marketing activities work.
They need to grab a customer’s attention. Educate and entertain them. Stir their curiosity to find out more about you. And of course, persuade them to buy your brand.
Copywriting’s the skill which creates the words which do these jobs.
You might write your own copy on social media, product pages, and website articles. (see our quick and easy copywriting article for more on this).
But usually, it’s a job you outsource. You use your marketing agency, or you hire an expert freelancer.
They write words to meet your brief. You then review and give feedback on their copywriting. That feedback shapes the quality of the final copy. That’s why it’s important to be clear on why, when and how you give copywriting feedback.
Why do you give copywriting feedback?
The purpose of copywriting is to influence customers to think, feel or do something different. Changes in customer attitude or behaviour are how you achieve your marketing objectives.
The copy can appear in many places such as your packaging, website and social media. But the most obvious area it’s used is in advertising. That’ll be our focus in this article.
Copywriting drives customers along the brand choice funnel
Your advertising copy should move customers along the brand choice funnel.
It can grab attention and drive awareness. It can create interest and desire to drive consideration. And of course, it can help drive trial and that’s what drives sales.
You need to be clear on what job the copy needs to do. Its objectives have to be clear in your brief.
The brief gives the copywriter the context of what they need to do. It tells them who the copywriting is for, and the change in attitude or behaviour the words need to drive.
Copywriting understands customers
You need to understand how people make decisions, if you want to influence them to do something.
Your brief should describe your target audience. That tells the copywriter who it’s for.
You can do this with a customer segment profile. This summary tool helps bring the customer to life.
The copywriter will use this to come up with words which “fit” with that customer.
They’ll try to get into the customer’s head and work out what makes them tick.
Good copywriters use this understanding to create relevant and persuasive words. Words which mean something to those customers, and which have an impact on them. (see our writing about marketing article for more on this).
They use lessons from areas like behavioural science. They look for biases and deeper insights they can turn into words and sentences to influence customers.
Good copywriters adapt their style to fit the target audience. That might be casual and conversational. They’ll use slang and be provocative. Or it might be serious and professional. They’ll sound more formal and measured. The art of copywriting is in matching the writing to the customer.
The customer should read the copy and think, wow, this sounds like it was written for me.
Copywriting delivers clear and impactful writing
Good copywriting also requires solid technical writing skills. Copywriters should have a clear process to :-
- generate ideas.
- turn ideas into draft copy.
- edit the copy to a publishable quality.
As you’ll be giving feedback on the outcomes of this copywriting process, you should have some understanding of what makes copy more readable.
Using shorter words, for example. Short sentences. Using the active voice and dialogue where relevant. No unnecessary words. Good copywriting should sound clear, confident and convincing.
Their copy should have a rhythm which makes it pleasing to read and hear in your head. This is the “voice” of your brand. It’s how it sounds to customers. So when you read it, you also need to hear it. Say it out loud, or just say it in your head. Does it sound like something your brand would and should say?
Your brand’s tone of voice
This brand tone of voice is part of your brand identity. It helps bring your brand to life.
As part of your copywriting feedback, you need to cover whether the copy sounds right. That it sounds like something your brand would say.
It needs to fit the brand’s personality, and demonstrate the brand’s purpose and values. Your copy helps customers work out who you are, and what you stand for.
So, check your brand identity guidelines and see if the copy matches your brand’s voice.
When do you give copywriting feedback?
So, it’s clear why copywriting feedback matters. Let’s now look at when and how it happens.
As the advertising development process shows, there’s a clear set of steps to go though when creating an advert.
But when and how those steps happen depends on what you’re trying to do. For example, a basic social media post will be faster and easier than a big TV advertising campaign.
You can give copywriting feedback at different stages. For example :-
- the proposal – you can give feedback on the copywriting in the high level advertising idea.
- production – you can give feedback as the agency creates different parts of the advert. This will include the copywriting.
- editing – as the agency refines the final advert, there’s usually a more formal creative approval process. This will include more feedback on the copywriting.
Proposal - advertising idea
The advertising idea starts the “Create” phase of the copywriting process. (see our advertising copy guide for more on this).
It’s a broad outline of what the advert will look, sound and feel like.
The initial copy ideas could include headlines, taglines, calls to action and an outline script if it needs to tell a story.
You review these copy elements to check they meet the brief. You check the words work for what your brand needs to do, and that they feel right for the target audience.
Specific copywriting feedback session
Sometimes you give copywriting feedback at the same time as feeding back on other creative elements (for example, the designs, the visuals and the story).
But sometimes, if there’s lots of copy, you have a specific copywriting feedback session. You meet directly with the copywriter. They talk through their ideas. They present and read out the copy.
In this session, you share your first impressions and give immediate feedback. You’d then normally ask for a couple of days to “live” with the copy. This gives you time to organise your thoughts, and see if your initial impressions change.
This extra time also helps you structure your copywriting feedback more clearly. But you should also give the copywriter time to review this feedback, ask questions and discuss what happens next.
What happens next?
You have an ongoing conversation with the copywriter, until the copy’s in a state you’re both happy with.
If you’ve got enough time and budget, you might do some quick market research. A focus group, for example. This can help with the editing process, as it gives you direct feedback from customers about the ideas and words.
Approved copy is then integrated with the other creative elements.
It’s put into the right typography. Laid out with the designs and imagery. Added to video storyboards.
These are all then edited together, and you agree on the final version to go live. This final approved version is then sent to be published, printed or aired depending on your media plan.
How do you give the copywriting feedback?
Now it’s clear when things happen with copywriting feedback, let’s now look at how a typical session with the copywriter works. (see also our agency review article, as this works in a similar way).
Most copywriters will start with a quick recap of the brief. They’ll then talk through their ideas and how they got there from the brief.
Try not to interrupt until they’ve finished telling their story. Ask questions for clarity if you need to, but try not to rush to immediate opinions.
Take time to think about what you see and hear. You can ask the copywriter to step out if you want to discuss it with your team and get to a collated view.
Try to organise your thoughts so you give constructive and considered feedback. The copywriter will be expecting some feedback – it’s part of the writing process. No-one expects perfect copy on the first go.
Work with the copywriter
The aim of giving copywriting feedback is to make the copy as good as it can be. That means you work with, not against the copywriter.
Copywriting has many challenges. Copywriters develop a thick skin, and learn how to use feedback in a positive way.
Think about their process.
Most brainstorm a lot of initial ideas, then filter these down. They only show you what they think are their best ideas.
Focus on the quality, not the quantity of the words. It takes time to craft strong headlines and calls to action, for example.
Try to be constructive. Don’t dismiss anything right away.
If it doesn’t sound right, tell the copywriter. But ask them to share why they chose those words. They’re the ones with the copywriting experience and expertise. You may be missing something that’s obvious to them.
When you give the copywriting feedback, try to structure it along these lines :-
- start with an overall impression.
- check for obvious issues.
- review key elements separately.
Start with an overall impression
Before the copywriter reveals the words, take a deep breath. Clear your mind.
The first time you hear the words is the closest you’ll get to the customer’s experience of hearing the words for the first time.
So listen to and read the words as they’re spoken. Write down how they make you feel.
What’s your initial gut reaction to them? Can you feel any emotional reactions? Do the words make you smile? Do they make your heart beat faster?
These types of reactions show the words connect with people.
Then let the logical part of your brain kick in. Does it make sense? Is it in your brand’s tone of voice, and is the call to action clear?
These types of reactions show the clarity and relevance of the message.
Note these thoughts down in a few bullet points. These are your overall impressions. They’re an important part of your copywriting feedback, because it’s the closest you can get to simulating a customer reaction at this point.
Check for obvious issues
Sometimes, mistakes jump out at you right away. Mistakes are part of the creative process, and happen more often than you’d think. The important thing is that someone spots them before you go live.
You should check for things like :-
- spelling and grammar – the copywriter should have a process to check for these. But they can still sometimes slip in. If it happens occasionally, learn to live with it. If it’s a regular thing, ask the copywriter to review their process.
- brand fit – does the writing reflect the brand’s positioning? The benefit’s clear, for example. If needed, there’s clear Reasons Why and Reasons to Believe such as reviews, endorsements or scientific references.
- regulatory issues – check claims or assertions meet standards dictated by relevant regulatory and advertising codes (for example using swear words in advertising).
Review key elements separately
Next, review each of the key elements separately :-
- body copy.
- call to action.
The headline’s the first thing customers see. It needs to grab attention. Its key job is to make the customer want to read more.
Writing good headlines is a key copywriting skill. It takes time to learn.
They’re usually (but not always) short. They need to be easily understood. But they need to be interesting enough to stand out.
A good headline makes the customer curious. It suggests this is something worth reading.
An emotional appeal helps it stand out. The emotional part of our brain reacts before the analytic part does. Emotions in the headline help it say this is something worth paying attention to.
Example headlines - Pizza Shop
Let’s now look at an example of how headlines might change depending on the overall objective.
Imagine we need to write a headline for a pizza shop. (we’ll use the same one we talk about in our Six Hats creative thinking article). What we write would differ depending on whether the objective is awareness, consideration or trial.
If the objective is to build awareness, you need to make clear who the brand is and what it does. And you need to capture attention.
So here, we use the P-P-P alliteration of Perfect Pineapple Pizza to do that. It states what the brand does. And it’s unusual enough to capture attention.
And we follow it up with a mildly humorous pun on pizza / piece of the action to make it more distinctive.
If the objective is to drive consideration, you assume customers already know the brand.
In the pizza shop example, that means we can leave the brand name out of the headline.
The aim is to explain why customers should consider this pizza shop more than any other pizza shop. This headline example uses social proof to do that.
It’s a concept explored in Robert Cialdini’s book Influence as a way to help persuade people to choose your brand. (we also talk about it in our behavioural science in marketing article).
It suggests most people don’t like to be the first to try new things. But they’re more open to try new things when they see other people have tried it before them. This “proves” it’s safe. That it’s popular.
It’s why so many brands push to get reviews and positive customer comments. Customers see it as a stronger endorsement of the brand because it comes from a less biased source – other customers. In this case, we made the #1 pizza vote the focus of the headline, because it gives it social proof.
Finally, if the objective is to encourage trial, you make the headline more direct. It acts like the call to action. You highlight a sales promotion for example.
Here, we make the offer (buy one, get one free) but make it clear it only applies for a limited time.
This uses another influencing technique – scarcity – that’s also covered in Cialdini’s book.
People are more like to want something they believe is less available, or only available for a certain amount of time.
They don’t want to miss out. Making something scarce makes it more desirable.
Check out our sales copy guide, and our advanced e-Commerce techniques article for more on scarcity.
Body Copy / Script
After the headline grabs the customer’s attention, the body copy (for print adverts) or script (for video ads) tells the story and lands the key message.
It’s usually best to focus on one key message in an advert. That makes it easier for customers to remember. If you have more space or time, you can use more words to reinforce the message. For example, a story structure approach for longer TV ads, or longer copy print ads.
In most cases, you aim to keep the body copy simple. It needs to clear and relevant to the target audience. You want the customer to believe the message enough to do something with it.
Close and Call to Action
The final area of copywriting feedback is the close. It’s the last thing the customer sees or hears.
This is usually a Call to Action where you tell the customer what to do next.
Buy Now. Call us. Book an appointment. It’s usually short, and uses verbs to drive the action.
It should relate to your objectives. The customer’s last interaction with you is what’s most likely to stick in their heads. The call to action has to make them think, feel or do something. If it doesn’t then your advertising has no impact.
Thinking deeper about copywriting feedback
After giving this initial feedback, tell the copywriter you’ll follow up with more organised and thought-out feedback in a few days.
Set a deadline and tell them, so they know when to expect it.
Use this time to reflect and organise your thoughts. The types of areas to think about are :-
- clarity and meaning.
- relevance and impact.
Clarity and meaning
Look at your customer segment profile again. Imagine that customer’s response to the words.
Remember, they won’t have the business context you do. They don’t know why you’re showing the advert. What it’s meant to say. All they’ve got are the words in front of them.
Plus, they’ll be experiencing them at different times and different places with lots of other distractions around. In-between TV shows and tunes on the radio for example. In magazines, on the side of a bus, or randomly on their social media field.
Are the words clear enough on their own? Will customers “get it” right away?
The copy also has to mean something to them. Customers don’t see your brief. They can’t ask the copywriter what it’s supposed to mean. They need to read it (or hear it), and get right away what it’s saying.
Relevance and impact
That meaning also has to feel like it’s talking to them specifically. Like it’s relevant to their needs and how they see the world.
Customers get bombarded with advertising messages. They filter out anything which doesn’t seem relevant.
Ask yourself if you were the customer, why would you care enough to read these words? Why would you give it your attention? Is it new news? Or a compelling solution to a relevant problem?
If it’s a story driven advert, does the story structure make them feel connected to the hero of this story? And that the brand can help guide them towards a solution to their problem. That type of copywriting drives high levels of engagement.
It’s factors like this which drive the impact of your advertising. You give the customer a clear reason to engage with the words, and act on them.
As we said, customers are exposed to many adverts. Your’s has to stand out.
The customer also needs to make the connection between the words and your brand.
They need to get that it’s your brand talking to them, and your brand they need to do something about.
So read the copy again. Ask yourself if any other brand could say those words. Good copy sounds like only your brand could have said it. That helps customers remember it came from you.
Conclusion - how to give good copywriting feedback
Copywriting gives your brand a voice. You use it in advertising to grab attention, engage customers and persuade them to do something.
Professional copywriters help you by knowing how to write words which influence people, and having strong technical writing skills.
Your feedback on their copywriting is a key part of the advertising development process. It helps you make sure your brand says the right things to the right people in the right way.
You need to check it meets your brief. That it works for customers, and will help you achieve your objectives.
There’s normally 2 stages to the copywriting feedback. First, your initial impressions. This also gives you an idea of how customers might experience the advertising. Then, more organised feedback a few days later when you’ve had more time to think about it.
Work with the copywriter’s skills and expertise. They should be able to use your feedback, so you get copywriting that’s clear and drives customers to act. That’s clearly the result you want.
Check out our articles on creative feedback and advertising evaluation for more on this topic. Or contact us if you need help to get better at giving copywriting feedback.
Woman writing in a journal (adapted) : Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash
Night time billboards : Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
Conversation : Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash
Lens : Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash
Glasses : Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash
Billboard (adapted) : Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash
Woman holding credit card near Macbook : Photo by Pickawood on Unsplash
Hypnosis Pocket Watch (adapted) : Photo by MK Hamilton on Unsplash
Man looking at ceiling (adapted) : Photo by Anton Danilov on Unsplash
Person holding light bulb : Photo by Fachy Marín on Unsplash
Girl reading magazine : Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash
Shout : Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash