Good content is rare


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Jacques de Villiers is interviewed by Coup Magazine on copywriting

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Good content is rare

  1. 1.  rare”,   nt   is d  c o nte “ Goo the art of copywriting with Jacques de VilliersBy Nikita Gomes AchadinhaWriting. When I hear that word I automatically think of De Villiers started out in sales but soon realised thatink, pens, paper, the good ol’ days. In reality, that’s all generating leads was a huge part of good sales practicevery much a thing of the past; nowadays we are all so and was brought on by marketing, promoting him toattached to our BlackBerrys, iPads and computer screens enter the marketing arena. “People say, ‘I want a marketerthat physically picking up a pen and writing something or a copywriter’, no you don’t. You want someone whodown feels unnatural. However, some traditions need can generate leads and can help you convert them;to be kept alive, certain old practices still work today and, that is all you want and that is what this business isin some cases, the methods and theories developed in about.” Funny how I have always thought of marketingthe dinosaur years are still the most effective ones today. and sales as separate entities, but as de Villiers pointedThis is certainly true for copywriting in the marketing out, while the sad reality is that they are disconnected,and sales industry, or so believes Jacques de Villiers, they should be working together. “They don’t have awho says it’s still copy that really drives your sales. I sat common vision; they don’t understand that they aredown to get a closer look at his reasoning following his actually working towards the same thing.” Humorously,address at the Marketing Indaba – if you are starting a he explains how sales people tend to see marketers asbusiness or have a brand that perhaps needs to refresh “prima donnas”, while marketers see sales types as beingits marketing strategies, now would be a good time to quite “boorish” as they are the ones that attack the sale.start paying attention. “Marketing is Sandton and Sales is Roodepoort.” COUP JANUARY 2012 04
  2. 2. De Villiers says, “By default, I became a copywriter because most of my clients required that service.” Realising he had a skill and talent for copywriting and also realising how effective good copy can be, it has now become a big part of his career and he writes for up to four hours a day. He studied public relations at Wits Technikon but wouldn’t say that’s where he learned his skills – in fact, he explained the experience of writing his first press release at his first job, and it didn’t sound pretty. His boss threw it back to him five times and then sent him to journalism school for a month. But de Villiers is not ashamed to admit this and thinks that young people starting out today in copywriting or the marketing industry, need to be humble and learn from the ‘masters’, “That is what I tell the youngsters, up until [the age of] 30 you are just sucking eggs. You are a skivvy, you suck it up and you learn. I’m old school. But [this is how] you have got to learn your craft.” “By default, I became a copywriter because most of my clients required that service.” When he says ‘masters’, he is referring to the likes of John Caples and his famous ‘piano’ advert; or Joe Sugarman and his marketing techniques; or Martin Conroy who wrote the letter that made over 2-billion dollars for The Wall Street Journal – true examples of how effective copywriting can, in fact, be solely responsible for bringing in money. De Villiers explains that it is important to invest in copywriting because while branding your product effectively is important, there is no real way to measure the impact of that branding. However, with a call to action there is measurability. He laments billboards with beautiful visuals but no call to action or even a website address as pointless. While he concedes that people are more motivated by visuals, he stands firm that while pictures attract, it’s copy that changes that into something more. “I think half of this is all a bit of a waste of money. The best communicators are these agencies that con [brands] into taking all of this stuff. Visual is vital [but] good copy converts”, says de Villiers. I have written a lot about return on investment this year, from how effective TV adverts are to whether investing in social media is really worth it. With most of the world in economic crisis, brands and companies are not interested in advertising that looks good but, rather, advertising that sells. “Ad agencies make a lot of stuff that wins Loeries but doesn’t convert and that is what people [brands] want”, states de Villiers. The word ‘convert’ popped up a lot in our conversation: copy or a campaign that effectively leads to a sale or a potential client is clearly de Villiers’ focus.35 JANUARY 2012 COUP
  3. 3. Another ‘hype’ or trend that has come up a lot this year Face-to-face, now isn’t that something that seems asis, you guessed it, social media and de Villiers weighs outdated as writing? We live in a society where, all tooin with a refreshing take. All we have heard this year, or often, the closest you get to face-to-face is Facebook. This issince brands realised they too could be on social media, where good copy comes in, as de Villiers points out, “All ofare the words ‘engage’ and ‘listen’ and, right now, I feel as this stuff is great but people still want to connect face-to-faceif hearing those words again may result in me pulling my and if they can’t get face-to-face then at least the copy musthair out. This advice has resulted in brands opening Twitter have an emotional appeal.” And even though de Villiersand Facebook accounts, some successfully and others quite believes that not all brands need to be on social media, hedisastrously. De Villiers believes some brands really have no does believe that the networking sites have a tremendousneed to be in the social media space. “Social media is just effect on reputation. “Word spreads a lot quicker now, sothere to build a brand and to build trust. That’s it. So that is instead of telling 10 people, you can tell 10 000 you get people in the conversation and get them to Crisis managers and PR people need to be very aware oftrust you. Social media, personally, I think works better for what is going on. They need to tap into the social mediabusiness-to-consumer and not for business-to-business.” He sites that give you insight into stats and trends. People needexplains that business-to-consumer brands should definitely to take their reputation more seriously than they did in thebe in the social media space, but some brands would just past.”be clogging the already bursting social media networks. “Iam not talking about a pair of jeans or lollipops that [will] sell When it comes to the actual writing, de Villiers’ first word[on social media]. I am talking about business-to-business, a of warning is that it matters hugely who you are writingmillion rand solution. That you are not going to sell over an for. “Writing for a 60-year-old is totally different to writingemail, a phone; that has to be face-to-face.” for a 20-year-old,” he offers as a perhaps obvious, but often forgotten example. “You need to adapt your writing. So females are different to males, and a 20-year-old female is different to a 40-year-old female. This is the challenge many companies face because it is too much hard work. It really is.” What is hard work? Well, doing the relevant and thorough research that it takes to truly understand your“Social media is just there to build a brand target audience to know who they are and then be able to and to build trust. That’s it. ” develop copy that will relate directly to them. Your first tip: know your target audience. COUP JANUARY 2012 36
  4. 4. “Drop a story into the heart and not in the head,” continues If this all sounds overwhelming, de Villiers reassures mede Villiers. He speaks of how companies are not really that writing is really just about being human. “I suppose,speaking to real people and that the copy they develop for good content writing is being a student of human nature.their websites is made for search engine optimisation (SEO). I mean, if you look at yourself and your own feelings, how“They write an article with a lot of key words to push the do you respond to certain things? Ask your own staff tosearch engine ranking but the problem is that they forget look at your ads, how do they resonate [with them]?” Hethat real people read it as well. Content is an extension of emphasises that marketers think that if they use jargon theirthe brand.” So not just anyone can develop this copy then? audience will take them more seriously but that is not the“They need to either use professionals or hire a professional case, something de Villiers says is simple neuroscience: “Thewriter; they should not try and write it themselves. Most brain uses a lot of energy so it always looks for simplicity.companies think the secretary can write it.” He also Don’t make me think. I want to click here and I want to getemphasises that storytelling is powerful yet people are not the answer. Your writing has got be zen-like.”using it enough to make good content – in fact, in the arrayof content out there, storytelling is rare. As a writer myself, who churns out articles and copy on a daily basis, speaking to de Villiers made me feel like I still have a lot of work to do. On the other hand, I am human and so is the audience I write for, so perhaps instead of distancing myself from them when writing for them, I should try become more in tune with who they are. How about all you marketers out there? If you are unsure whether your copy is effective or not, take this into consideration: “You will know“ they should not try and write it you are writing good copy when the telephone is ringing,themselves. Most companies think the when you are generating leads. If you are not generating leads off your copy then you are doing something wrong.”secretary can write it.” Are you still reading, or have you gone to get the phone?37 JANUARY 2012 COUP