Monday, March 25, 2013

The Five Lessons of Copywriting Like Dr. Seuss


  1. Good writing not only speaks to the reader, it involves the reader. When Geisel first signed with Houghton Mifflin, the director of the publisher’s education division said that the children’s book market was current lacking. The publisher wanted Geisel to write a book that “first graders couldn’t put down.” Up until that time children had largely been subjected to the Dick and Jane books, which were not a bunch of fun. So what was the product of Houghton Mifflin’s challenge? The Cat in the Hat. The lesson here? That the voice used in writing is everything. And that if you try something different—something engaging and entertaining— people are likely to take notice. This applies to B2B and B2C copy as much as it does to the message delivered in a children’s book.
  2. Good writing gets to the point. When you think of Dr. Seuss you might automatically think that the writing is a bunch of fluff. This couldn’t be further from the truth. For instance, the entirety of The Cat in the Hat only comprises 225 words (that’s a lot less than this blog post, I’ll tell you that. As of this word, I am at 367). Moreover, Green Eggs and Ham only has a total of 50 different words. Now think about how this compares to your copywriting. If you are operating under the idea that “we need to make sure we hit the 500 word mark because that is what the gods at Google want to see,” you might be adding words that are pointless, distract a reader or dilute your message.
  3. Good writing is captivating. Each of us has been sold to at some point in our lives via persuasive and thought provoking copy. Dr. Seuss was a true master in the art of getting an important point across in a powerful way that spoke directly to a reader. For example, think about the Grinch. Here was a character hell bent on destroying Christmas by stealing presents. This book first appealed to and identified with the reader’s mass consumerism and then provided that same reader with an alternate solution: that Christmas is about the feeling it inspires, not the size of the haul under the tree. “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” This message spoke directly to the audience and it approached the topic of mass consumerism in a different way. The same holds true for The Lorax and that book’s take on environmentalism. The writing is compelling, it is memorable and it inspires action. In today’s Internet-driven world, this would be the type of copy that would be shared, liked and turned into a YouTube video. Employ this copywriting tactic and separate yourself from the herd.
  4. Good writing sticks with you. How many of us can recite Green Eggs and Ham from memory? What about Oh, the Places You’ll Go? “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!” It might not be something that we think about, but these words are burned on our brain and we can summon them on demand. Just think about your favourite book. Why is it your favourite? Yes, the story hooked you, but if the writing wasn’t fantastic you would have forgotten it after you finished it. I know I have been there, considering a book on my shelf and knowing that I had read it but cannot remember what it was about. It might have had a storyline that entertained me while I was reading, but there was nothing special about the writing to make it live in my head. This also applies to copywriting and, if you can bring it home when writing about your product or service, it will stick with your clients and they will remember to come back to your website or hang on to your brochure.
  5. Good writing puts the written word on a pedestal. I think that this is probably the most important lesson Dr. Seuss taught me: that the written word should be celebrated. I know many people might consider this point and be confused about how they can turn their corporate-speak copy into entertaining prose, but it can be done. This is where you have to think outside-of-the-box. Throw away the boardroom buzzwords and think about what you would say to a client to get them excited about your brand. Don’t just tell a prospective customer what you think they need to hear about your company; tickle their fancy, inspire them, involve their imagination and paint a picture with words. Celebrate the written word, don’t treat it like an employee; it’s your partner, your salesperson, your muse.

*Written by Amanda C

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