Giant Strawberries – And a Few Tips for Good Copywriting

Strawberries are one of my all-time favorite foods.

As a kid, every year my siblings and I would go with our father to pick strawberries at a farm in Ohio. We’d take our baskets out into the field and work our way down a row, picking only the perfectly ripe berries. The smell of berries wafting through the car on the way home made us oh so hungry. And I’m lucky enough to now live close to the ‘winter strawberry capital of the world‘  so I can get delicious fresh berries at a time when many people are still shoveling snow off their sidewalks.

But, even here… After strawberry season comes to an end, the supermarkets continue to sell them, shipping them in from California or elsewhere to fill their shelves. Those berries are like ‘normal’ ones on steroids. They’re enormous. They look great. They taste like, well… air. Not bad, just more or less completely devoid of flavor.

So much writing – particularly website copy – is exactly like those Fragaria × ananassa. It looks good. It might even sound pretty good, unless you’re actually hoping to glean something meaningful from it. But, alas, it has no taste, no real substance. (Side note: Did you know that a strawberry is “not actually a berry, but an aggregate accessory fruit”?)

Here are a few things you should think about to make your writing more compelling:

Understand your market. There’s a market for off-season strawberries. Consumers (for some reason) want them and restaurants need them. Online writing is like that, too. In these days of ‘content is king’ everyone is scrambling to produce more content, so there’s a market for massive quantities of quickly produced content. The problem: That content often doesn’t add much value for the intended audience. Not to mention, it’s leading to a web full of uninspired and downright uninteresting copy that serves little purpose other than giving Google’s web crawlers more to do. I’m certainly not suggesting you shouldn’t be aware of what search engine algorithms consider important, but write copy for your audience, not for search engines. (Yes, I am aware that suggestion is not particularly original, but it’s amazing how often you still see obviously ‘optimized’ content that readers would get no value from.)

There is a market for juicy content. More selective consumers – and restaurants – don’t want those flavorless berries, and they’d be willing to pay a premium for strawberries that taste like strawberries in the dead of winter. Your readers, likewise, might be willing to pay a premium for real content that added value to their lives – that solved a problem or made their day better. Now, I don’t necessarily mean ‘pay’ literally here, but they might be willing to give you their contact information or share your content if it’s good enough. If you can build a tribe of people with whom you have credibility, over time the relationships with them can grow into something that’s mutually beneficial. Consider Copyblogger, and how Brian Clark and company provide solid, useable information for free, and build a relationship with readers that can then be leveraged to help sell products. (The key here, of course, is that the products are top-notch and in line with the underlying mission.)

Reading your content should be like eating strawberries. Writing it may be more like picking them. For the reader, your copy should be juicy and delicious, and virtually effortless to consume. For you, it may be a different story. Even as a kid, crouching down and stooping over to pick low-growing berries for even just a few hours is hard on your body. (I have deep empathy for farm workers who do this kind of back-breaking labor every day.) Writing good content can likewise be hard work. You may need to do research, interview experts, find the right images, and revise, revise, revise. (You WILL need to spellcheck and proofread; don’t make me come over there.)

Last year’s season is irrelevant. Please, please, please don’t make how long you’ve been in business one of the first things you say about your company. You may have struggled through hard times and emerged triumphant, but as a potential customer I couldn’t really care less. I care about me – not you. (Sorry, I’m actually much nicer than that sounds, but, even so, I want what I want; your longevity matters relatively little to me.) Besides, history is about the past, and, as a customer, I care about TODAY and the future. For all I know, you may have been the perfect strawberry farm until you forgot to irrigate this spring or you sprayed your fields with toxic pesticides. Tell me what’s in it for me – now – so I don’t have to speculate.

Before I overuse the strawberry metaphor, here are a few more, non-berry related tips:

  • Write about the benefits. TO ME. And please be specific. “Our phones are answered 24 hours a day, so you will always be able to reach us if you need help” is much better than “Industry-leading customer service ensures your satisfaction.”
  • Don’t blather on. Get to the point upfront. It’s fine to make details available to me, but don’t bombard me with them before I even know if I’m interested.
  • In the realm of completely obvious but apparently not to everyone: Make sure it’s clear to me as a consumer what it is you’re really offering. This seems to be especially true of service businesses where good copy explains clearly what you can do for me – and how (more or less). And where bad copy leaves me wondering what on earth you’re actually selling.

Good writing is important, as I wrote about in previous posts on helping my students get to the underlying reason customers buy from you and writing for skimmers. In a world that’s increasingly driven by online activities, being able to communicate in writing can be the difference between success and failure.

(I picked up some strawberries at the supermarket today. Normal-sized and grown in Florida. Hoping they’re like good copy.)

Leave a Reply