As Lemonlight’s Copywriter, most of my workday is spent writing. I write blog posts, eBooks, newsletters, campaign taglines—you name it, I’ve written it.
Despite the fact that my days are spent putting pen to paper (putting cursor to Google doc?), I can sympathize with the non-writers of the world. Writing can be hard! But, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be the next great novelist to be able to write effective marketing content.
Marketing content is its own unique category of writing, and fortunately, it bears almost no resemblance to the term papers or literary essays you may have learned to dread. It’s all about anticipating questions that your audience will have and delivering valuable answers. That’s it! As long as you have something to say about the topic in question, you have the potential to write great marketing material—whether you’ve ever considered yourself a writer or not.
To cover this topic most effectively, I reached out to my teammates to source some questions that non-writers have about how to approach this process. I’ll answer each one with my experience and any tips and tricks I can share to make your life easier. Let’s dive in!
What should I write about?
This is often the first question I get about writing because it’s the first place people get stuck.
With marketing content, the topic decision process is a little more involved than with other forms of writing. Your primary goal should always be to engage your audience. What needs are they experiencing? What questions do they have about your brand? Any content you produce should be written with your target audience in mind.
Next, you also have to consider SEO. Marketing content typically has an implied goal of increasing SEO performance, so you’ll want to be aware of the keyword(s) you’re trying to rank highly for. If you don’t know how your company tracks keywords, check with the person who handles your SEO efforts.
Finally, it’s easiest at first to stick with what you know. When you’re writing from personal experience, the process typically feels more effortless because you already know what you want to say.
How do these considerations work together? My strategy goes like this: Begin by thinking about what you know from personal experience. Whether that’s expertise you have from your role, thoughts you have about a marketing concept, or insights you have to share with your customers, start with content that will feel familiar to you.
If you’re stuck, think about what your job entails on a daily basis. No matter what your role is, you have experience in figuring out what it takes to do that role well. Can you share some of that wisdom in writing? If you want to go this route, think about the questions that people commonly ask you about your work—or even think back to what you had a hard time grasping when you were first starting out. Then, write something that covers the answers to those questions—kind of like I’m doing now.
Another option is to go the opinion/thought piece route and share your reflection on something you’ve seen or experienced. One way to kickstart this process is to start keeping notes (your phone is a great place for this) about interesting thoughts you have.
As an example, a few months ago, I watched a Delta plane fly overhead. As it passed above me, I noticed that the company has its logo printed on the underside of the plane, which you can only see when the plane is in the air.
I thought it was interesting that Delta had taken advantage of that touchpoint with consumers on the ground—especially since the underside of the plane has no purpose otherwise. When I noticed that I was thinking through this concept, I took a note in my phone to potentially write a reflection on Delta’s marketing win in the future.
Part of the challenge here is to notice when you’re having those kinds of reflective thoughts in the first place, but you’ll notice them more often if you start documenting them as often as you can. Then, when it’s time to write, you’ll have a list of ideas at the ready.
Once you have a broad concept or two in mind, think about your audience. How can you use the topics you’re familiar with to provide value? If you can’t find an intersection between your topic and your audience, you may want to brainstorm with a different topic concept. If you write a beautiful piece but your audience has no reason to read it, it’s not effective marketing content.
Finally, as we touched on earlier, adjust for SEO. If there’s someone who is responsible for SEO in your organization, check with them. Otherwise, conduct keyword research to identify the specific keywords that your piece will revolve around. This stage of the process will typically refine your topic further to cover the specific keywords that will boost your brand’s search results.
How do I get started?
The “getting started” stage typically consists of two steps: research and preliminary writing. When it comes to research, if you’re writing about a topic you’re super familiar with, you may not need to do much fact-finding. But, you might benefit from searching for similar content and noting what you like and what you don’t like. This is also a great time to search for statistics that back up your claims or find relevant anecdotes to include as examples.
Then, you have to actually start the writing process. Most people had to write in some capacity in school, so my tip here is to think back to whatever worked for you then. Did you start with a comprehensive outline and fill in the details from there? Did you write a stream-of-consciousness draft and then clean it up later? Whatever your methodology was at the time, try that again. You probably happened upon that approach because it worked for you to some degree, so it’s a good starting point if you’re lost.
Once you’ve tried your old-school approach (pun intended), you’ll have a better idea of how your writing process has evolved over time and what you might want to do differently next time. If you still don’t feel like you understand how you work best, try the complete opposite of your typical strategy. For example, if you used to use an outline, try writing without a framework instead and capture whatever comes to mind. After this second try, you’ll almost certainly have a natural preference between the two and you can tweak the specifics from there.
How long should my writing be?
The short answer is that it doesn’t really matter, but the form of content you’re writing can provide loose direction. If you’ve been given a specific word count or page limit, operate within those parameters. If not, look to the content itself for guidance. For example, you wouldn’t want to publish a blog post that takes two hours to read, and an eBook should probably be longer than three paragraphs.
Note that unless you’ve been given exact specifications, you typically have some freedom even within content forms. A blog post, for example, will often fall somewhere within the span of 300-2000 words. If you feel like that’s a wide range, you’re absolutely right. The variety is partly due to the fact that blog posts are often written to boost SEO efforts, and search engine algorithms don’t supply one concrete answer about the best content length.
What’s more, the length should typically reflect the topic you’re covering. A 300-word piece might make sense if you’re reflecting on a marketing trend or sharing a quick tip, but it wouldn’t make sense if you were trying to cover a broad topic in its entirety.
Ultimately, focus on writing a complete piece. If your final product covers your topic in a comprehensive way, you’re probably on the right track with the length.
Should I sound more professional or more conversational?
Your writing tone should depend on two things: your brand’s existing tone and the tone of the distribution channel you plan to use. In the vast majority of cases, your brand’s tone will be well-established. Most companies have formal brand guidelines that will clue you in on which tone to use, language to use to refer to your company, and more (what “more” is will depend on how extensively your brand has outlined these parameters).
The tone insights you find here should be your first priority when writing marketing content. It’s important that all content that’s written for or about the brand, whether by you or anyone else, has the same look and feel. Why? Because it creates a consistent experience for your audience, which helps to strengthen their association to your brand.
Next, think about your intended distribution channel. Your brand’s predetermined tone should be your primary guideline, but distribution channels sometimes take on their own tones. For example, informal blog pages sound very different from publications in academic journals. Your brand’s standard tone could shift to be slightly more casual or slightly more formal depending on the publication channel.
To assess this component, before you start writing, look through other content published via the same distribution channel. This might include past blog posts, last quarter’s eBook, or old op-ed pieces. Use the tones you find there as inspiration for your own, keeping in mind that your brand guidelines should take precedence.
If you’re writing for a channel that doesn’t have an established tone (like if you’re starting your own blog or writing your first LinkedIn post), you get to decide! You’ll want to keep a consistent tone over time, so try to start with the option that feels the most comfortable. For many people, writing conversationally is much easier than writing professionally, but choose whatever you think will work best for you.
What resources should I use?
If your spelling and grammar could use a refresher, Grammarly is a great tool. It’s like spell check 2.0, and it makes more detailed corrections than most other options out there. Its basic features are free, and then there’s a paid tier that offers more advanced functionality. I would recommend sticking with the free version unless you know you’re going to be writing pretty regularly. If you do plan to start writing on a regular basis, I personally believe the paid version is worth it.
If you could use a productivity boost, Coffitivity is a white-noise generator that mimics the sounds of a cafe, and many writers swear by it. The company even has research backing up its approach, citing a study that found that ambient noise actually helps with writing because the tiny bit of distraction amplifies creativity.
There are tons of other resources out there depending on the specific element of your writing that could use improvement. If time management is your problem, look for website-blocking applications that shut you out of the sites that distract you. If you need help with citations, there are lots of online resources that walk you through how to execute the different citation styles. Chances are, whatever you’re facing, there’s an online tool that can help.
What do I do if I have writer’s block?
Ah, writer’s block. It happens to the best of us, so first of all, don’t take your lack of inspiration as a sign that you shouldn’t be writing. Instead, decide how to move forward. I find that often, the best way to combat writer’s block is to deliberately let your mind wander. Sometimes, when you’re not thinking about the thing you’re trying to write about, you’ll come up with something to say by accident.
This is the same concept behind the common advice to “go for a walk” if you’re experiencing writer’s block. The idea is that by getting away from the pressure to write, you might think of something new.
If you’d prefer a more active brainstorming process, I really like word webs. I’ll put the topic I’m trying to write about in the center, and then work off of that with whatever thoughts come to mind. Then, my writing is based on those thoughts. For the Delta plane example I used earlier, my word web might look something like this.
I find that this brainstorming process helps because when I go to write, my word web already contains most of my thoughts, so I just have to expand on them and string them together.
Finally, sometimes writer’s block is an indication that you should pick a new topic. Maybe you’re just not excited about the concept you chose or you don’t have enough to say about it. If the above strategies don’t help, try picking a different topic and see if inspiration strikes.
What if I hate writing?
Let’s face it: Some people just hate writing, but they have useful information to contribute. If that sounds like you, my trick is to record yourself explaining your thoughts out loud, and then transcribe what you said.
Once you have a full “written” piece (the typed version of what you said verbally), you can read it over and make edits to make the writing flow better. [Fun fact: This is actually how beloved author Brene Brown wrote one of her recent books, so you’re in good company!] This website can do the transcription for you if you like this idea, and the first 30 minutes of speaking/transcribing every day are free.
For anyone whose default writing tone is especially formal, this is also a great approach to take if you need to sound more conversational and casual. By taking the extra step to say your thoughts aloud, you capture the language that you naturally use in everyday life, which tends to be more casual than the formal writing you might be defaulting to.
As a bonus, this is also a great hack if you tend to freeze up when you’re faced with a blank piece of paper. The process shows you that you do, in fact, have thoughts that are worth writing about, which can be a mental barrier for some people. If that’s the case, using this approach might provide all the convincing you need to skip the recording step and go straight to writing next time.
Hopefully, these answers have convinced you that anyone can be an effective writer—yes, including you! Getting started is half the battle, so now is the time to use what you’ve learned and start writing. I believe in you!