Pop quiz: What do the following phrases have in common:

  • “Think outside the bun.”
  • “I’m lovin’ it.”
  • “Eat fresh.”

If you guessed that they’re all popular fast food brand slogans, you’d be correct.

But that’s just the easy answer. These three quotes are similar in a few additional ways.

They’re all easily recalled and recognized. They all convey a unique aspect of their respective brands. And they’ve all most likely convinced you to order your favorite combo meal.

In short, they were all written by good copywriters.

Fast food isn’t the only industry that has utilized the power of the pen to sell their products. Every brand needs to have captivating copy that hooks curious prospects and reels in new customers. That’s where the importance of copywriters comes into play; these creative professionals are the ones behind the catchy taglines and informative articles you’ll find describing a product or company.

What is “copy”?

No, “copy” doesn’t mean duplicates. In the world of marketing, copy refers to the product of writers, the text that fills your landing pages and advertising scripts. All companies need copy to explain their businesses to prospective customers, persuade people to follow them on Twitter, sign up for their newsletters or make purchases. Without copy, customers may have no idea that the perfect solution to their problem is out there, waiting for them to find it.

What are copywriters and what do they do?

If you’re going by the Merriam-Webster definition, a copywriter is simply a person who writes advertising or promotional material.

In reality, a copywriter does much more than simply write ad copy. This person is a dedicated researcher, a quick learner, a detailed editor and a nimble re-writer.

A copywriter is a chameleon, able to blend into one client’s branding for a short period of time, then change colors to match the voice of another’s.

What skills do copywriters need?

Copywriter job descriptions might be filled with qualifications like “creative,” “motivated” or “collaborative.” While these are all advisable skills to acquire, they’re not exactly descriptive specifically of copywriting.

If you want to truly excel at copywriting, begin by developing these four skills:

1. Researching and interviewing

Excellent research skills are essential to effective copywriting.

Copywriters need to fully understand the product they’re writing about, who uses it and why. Being a copywriter means learning new things for each industry, vertical or item they write about. It also means learning about common pain points customers might have and how to address them.

To get a firm grasp on what they write about, copywriters need to research. Insatiable, fearless curiosity propels the research process. A copywriter doesn’t back away from a market they know nothing about; they make it their goal to get to know it.

2. Ability to accept feedback

Not every piece of content will hit the mark. Copywriters will get feedback from peers, editors and clients. They’ll need to edit, adjust, delete and re-write. Good copywriters don’t get discouraged during this process. They make changes to their content and learn from the experience.

Good copywriters also understand the importance of this procedure. Certain industries are hard to understand, and there may be some growing pains as they figure out how to speak to the right audience or describe a certain product or service. The learning process may be extensive and difficult, but in the end, it’ll help them create content that’s actually meaningful and useful.

3. Know when enough is enough

Writers are driven people, and the destination they’re driving toward is perfection. But the road to perfection is an endless one. A good copywriter could go on researching all day, but unless you stop Googling and start writing, you’ll never produce a since piece of copy.

The same goes for the actual writing process. At the end of a piece, you could go back and find countless things to tweak, twist and fine-tune. But at some point, you need to decide that your work is effective enough and send it off to your client, boss or website. An almost-perfect published article is more effective than a continual work in progress that never reaches a single reader.

4. Sentence structure, grammar and vocabulary

To say a good copywriter needs to be a good writer might sound like a lazy addition to this list, but it’s worth pointing out the obvious.

Bad writing comes across like shrill, screechy speech. If your voice-over actor shows up to record a commercial with a cold, would you let his raspy, sniffly intonations pollute your message? No; you would give him a lozenge, reschedule the recording or find a stand-in.

Strong writing is readable and approachable. There aren’t distractions like misplaced punctuation marks or misused buzzwords cluttering it up. A good copywriter has the vocabulary to connect with an audience and the knowledge of good sentence structure to lead a reader through an article.

Sound writing skills need to be apparent throughout each piece, beginning with a headline that makes people want to explore the article, a strong lead that pulls the viewer in and skimmable subheadings that give rushed readers a good idea of what your main points are.

Is ‘copywriting’ the same as ‘content marketing’?

Good copywriting is essential to building out your website and creating valuable landing pages that inform current or prospective customers. But it’s not content marketing.

Content marketing aims to inform consumers. Content marketing is comprised of the blog posts, white papers, case studies and informative video scripts (but not infomercials, which are persuasive in nature) that live on your website. Assets created for this purpose can be compelling, but that’s not because the writer is using fancy literary techniques or appeals to emotion.

If, after a prospective customer reads a blog post or watches a how-to video, he decides to invest in a company’s product or services, that’s all the better. But that’s not the point of content marketing. While content marketing is created as a means to make sales, that’s just a secondary goal to the leading intention, which is to educate and inform. Consumers may be convinced to make a purchase because the writer is able to make an honest case for a company’s products or services.

Copywriting, on the other hand, has one primary goal, and usually that is to sell something. Sometimes, the goal is to convince someone to sign up for a newsletter or register for an event. Invariably, though, copywriting has a predetermined end goal.

Where copywriting is persuasive or instructive, content marketing is helpful and friendly.

How does copywriting fit into an overall marketing program?

So, if copywriting and content marketing are so different, how do they fit into the same marketing puzzle?

The two concepts rely upon each other to be truly effective. Copywriting can be convincing, yes, but no one wants to be sold to constantly. People need a break from the constant urging to “Sign Up Today!” or “Make a Purchase Now!”

Today’s customers are smarter and more informed than they have been in the past. They want to be able to make up their minds on their own to subscribe, purchase or take another action.

In short, customers want to be confident that they’re making the right purchase for themselves.

Content marketing helps customers come to their own conclusions. Informative, truthful articles and blog posts help them develop their knowledge base about whatever product or service they’re shopping for. It also helps to position your company as an expert in that market and build trust between your brand and your customer.

But businesses can’t survive on trust and goodwill alone. In the end, you need to make a sale, and good copywriting helps to nudge customers in that direction.

How does it do this?

Through well-written, compelling content.

How do you modify your writing for an audience?

A singular piece of content won’t appeal to everyone. Brands need to tailor their content to the audience they want to capture. This is done through intentional writing that addresses a unique customer’s needs.

Step 1: Get to know your audience

The first step in modifying your writing for a particular audience is to use research to determine what those people want to know. This can be done in many ways, for example:

  • Email feedback surveys to new customers.
  • Ask sales teams about the most common questions prospects have.
  • Invite social media followers to fill out a short questionnaire.

As you gather information, you can begin to visualize who your average reader or customer is. With this insight, you can move onto the second step: building out audience personas.

Step 2: Create personas

Say you’re a lightbulb company that’s trying to figure out who’s really interested in your product. Through research, you may find that your target customer is a 50-something CEO who’s seeking out ways to reduce the amount of money his company spends on lighting. Or maybe she’s a 30-something who’s caring for her aging parents and wants to know how to improve visibility in their home.

These two audience personas have very different questions, concerns and reasons for making a lightbulb purchase. Whoever your customer is, and whatever their major dilemmas are, speak to them. Answer their questions through your content.

When that CEO reads your article about why a certain type of lightbulb can lower corporate costs, he’ll remember that you not only had a solution for his problem, but also had the knowledge and expertise to back it up. He’ll be more likely to trust your advice.

Every brand requires good copywriting to draw customers in and convince them to engage with the company in some way.

But pouring all that effort into research, developing personas and writing would be lost if not for content marketing; brands need to demonstrate that they truly care about their customers’ problems.

By marrying the two concepts of copywriting and content marketing, companies can create a strong online presence that not only fosters good will and trust, but also generates leads.

Molly Ploe is a senior writer at Brafton in Chicago. When she's not writing, she spends her time reading, going on walks and drizzling honey onto ice cream.