2012. A year that does not particularly mean anything significant to most of our lives.
Digital marketing was just about picking up and everyone was trying to score the top spot on Google Search. The really good marketers thought of social media ads as "revolutionary" and spent most of their time figuring out the "smart allocation" of ad budgets on Facebook. Most of it was fishing in shallow waters and hoping you'd catch lobsters if only you were to cast a wide enough net.
The groundbreaking marketing innovation on everyone's mind was a South Korean import that started a global revolution. Gangnam Style was cruising the waves, and virality took on a whole new definition in our world.
Step aside flash mobs, hello solo-dance moves! Marketers would punctuate the next few years executing semi-successful attempts at creating the "next viral video" (oh, the dread!) Each year got progressively worse and today we are proud inheritors of the duck face and the bottle flip challenge.
But something far more significant happened in 2012 that changed the fate of marketing forever. Researchers at Google's X Labs developed an artificial neural network that was able to successfully identify cat videos on YouTube. Image recognition, voice recognition, and convolutional neural networks were born. Not many commoners realised it at that point, but the world had quietly ushered in the age of the machines.
Henlo and welcome!
Hello, my name is Lava, and I’m the resident recovering technophobe here at WHS. Back in 2012, I had just made an early career switch to copywriting, and typical of someone new to the social media scene, I thought I was irreplaceable! I had my kissmetrics, my Adsense account, and a graphic designer who made bomb gifs. General AI was not something people spoke about, and Google's X Lab innovations were a world away - I was golden!
Well, here's something not many people (including myself) expected back in 2012. GPT-3.
GPT-3 is a natural language processing AI developed by OpenAI that can design, write, code, and potentially do everything I ever wanted to in my career as a writer. Now for those who think that AI can never replace a real writer, and that art is a truly unique product of the human mind, I would ask you to take a look at this demo and tell me you're still confident that AI cannot match, and in most cases, do those things better and faster:
(Don't worry if you're a little shook; I was too!)
The end of copywriting?
I personally wouldn’t be surprised if there were a Canva equivalent for writing three years from now. The role of a copywriter might become greatly enhanced and a lot easier if they can just feed an AI with a reference and ask for an article about any subject they can think of. The average copywriter may no longer take 3 days to research and come up with a decently formulated 2000-word essay, but may rather get the task done in under one day.
Does this mean writing as a profession is dead? Far from it. Canva didn't kill the designer, it just removed repetitive and mindless tasks out of their hands and onto the content creators'. And I think there lies the answer to the question of what will happen to writers: A future where every single one of us would be outfitted with an AI capable of making our jobs easier while simultaneously forcing us into niches. Maybe last to the race, but here nevertheless.
For those who refuse to get with the times, there's a good chance that younger and more technologically adept minds will find a way to take over at some point, which is often the case with any industry. But what's far more fascinating is the transition between now and this future marketing utopia.
Good writers are hard to come by
Writing is truly an art form that is grievously underrated. Even if you were to use it for the purpose of a "Conart" such as marketing (that's what copywriting and advertising is fondly referred to as in the fine arts world. Conart!)
When I transitioned from being a writer to a strategist, I realised something incredibly critical to the functioning of an agency - the value of a great writer.
Copywriters, content writers, and technical writers are some of the most critical job roles at an agency, and hiring for these roles can be a nightmare for even the best of recruiters. Don't get me wrong, you will find enough freelancers offering up 1500 word articles at $50 dollars-a-pop on sites like Fiverr, but expecting them to produce a well furnished piece of content is reaching quite a bit.
Being a writer who is capable of handling the day to day responsibilities of an agency involves doing a lot more than typing succinctly formed words that sell.
A good writer is also an expert researcher (obviously!), has a firm grasp of behavioural economic principles, knows the client's sales funnel top-to-bottom, and also understands trends, platforms, psychology, demographics, and the basic frameworks of graphic design. Hiring anyone lesser is just bound to result in shoddy, underperforming assets.
The master craftsman and manipulator of toolkits
Ensuring that you stay on top of the food chain as a writer means you bring something truly irreplaceable to the table. Whether that means top chops as a linguistic craftsman, industry connections, or your ability to project manage like a boss, you've got to find a way to be MORE than just a writer.
My weapon of choice quickly boiled down to a couple of interesting parameters - my ability to bring people together, and a competitive streak that drives me to put my copy through the grinder at every opportunity.
85% of copywriters focus on measuring return on investment - Content Marketing Institute
Being a writer these days means pursuing the profession as though it were a craft. And like any good craftsman the most important elements that contribute to your success are your technique and your tools.
Let me break down what I mean by that.
Copywriters are some of the hardest working but laziest people out there. ←- you can quote me on that.
But what differentiates a good writer from a mediocre one is how they go about perfecting their technique. Over the past seven years, I went from thinking of writing as "easy" to turning completely obsessed with linguistics. While the former was way off and naive, the latter truly resulted in a four year long search for identity.
A middle ground is much needed.
I had finally plonked myself on the study of personas, behavioural targeting and a liberal dose of positivity which involved fine tuning the narrative to suit the mood. Sounds fancy? It really isn't much.
Going through the motions of analytical analysis of copywriting has definitely made me a more confident writer. After all my searching, I've broken down the main premise of powerful writing to five main ingredients:
- Messaging: What are you trying to convey? It is best if one can boil down this point to fewer than ten words. Do this in order to very clearly understand and reiterate the point of writing the ad/post/blog/article.
- Tonality: Who is the intended audience and what is their grasp of the topic at hand? For example, when writing this article, I knew I was writing for a knowledgeable audience, so I knew I could conquer more complicated topics without having to worry about explaining myself at every step. Semi-formal, straightforward, conversational - keep this in mind when writing for a knowledgeable audience.
- Readability: Keep things simple. Readability does not mean you do not address complexity, just that you make complexity easy to understand.
- Effectiveness: Always presume that if there is something that can go wrong, it in all probability will go wrong. Testing mechanisms for writing are incredibly underrated. Effectiveness is a measure of how likely it is that your reader will come to the same conclusions you did when you were planning out the messaging.
- Delivery Mechanism: Where is your content being distributed? This question ultimately helps figure out the contents length. Keep it brief for social media, and delve into much greater detail on the company blog (such as this) or when writing articles that are meant for SEO.
Knowing your content distribution channels is critical for ensuring that any additional pieces of collateral are prepared before publication. Here's an example of what I mean - while writing this article I ensured that I not only had the article ready, but I selected the captions for social media, meta tags, descriptions, and titles, social media posts for promotions and outreach messages to groups.
Now if you're anything like me, then there's a great chance you will now take a moment to go and read up a little more about each of these segments. Here's where I would start! Meanwhile, here's some more about the tools that helped me become a triple threat writer!
The emergence of new technology and tools
It's no big secret to my team that I am a marketer who is heavily reliant on technology to help me get through the day. And in all honesty, I was not so pro-tech last year. In fact, technophobe wouldn’t be too extreme of a term for me.
What changed the game for me though was the realisation that using tech didn't make me a "bad" writer. It just made me incredibly effective at handling large workloads without having a meltdown by the end of the work week! And so I embarked on an extensive learning and experimentation phase.
Here are some of the best marketing and copywriting tools out there that I use on the daily (mind you some of these tools might seem like a strange choice for this article, but I've done my best to showcase how I find them valuable at work.)
- Adobe Creative Cloud: Straight up one of the most powerful tool sets to pick up as a copywriter. Learning to make your own graphics, mockups, and videos results in you becoming a complete creative team all to yourself.
In our case, the design team is now able to focus on more important tasks, and I no longer have to wait on the team to help me with daily social media, blogging, and infographic collateral anymore. We still rely on the design lead to give me the final go-ahead, but things that used to take two days to complete now get done in an evening!
(Canva is also a great place to start in case you just want to quickly create a social graphic that requires a minimum of extra effort.)
- SEMRush: Where do I even start?! From topic research to trend exploration to tracking effectiveness of outreach strategies. SEMRush is absolutely one of the most powerful marketing tools out there. And honestly, every single member of my team uses the platform in one way or another.
I use it to research competitors, write effectively, finetune ad campaigns and keywords, and find valuable connections with whom I can collaborate for backlinking/PR. Kristopher, my co-founder, uses it to manage our sales funnels, track our content performance across channels, and generate valuable leads for our firm. Neha, our account manager, is currently using the platform to generate reports, schedule posts across social media channels, and keep track of trends.
I LOVE this tool!
- Isitwp Headline Analyser Tool: Coming up with titles can be nerve wracking.
In a study spanning over 400 research articles and papers, it was found that articles that had shorter titles would be cited and shared more often than articles with longer titles.
If it takes me 4 hours to write an article, there's a good chance I probably spent half an hour trying to come up with a suitable title. That’s why Isitwp's headline tool analyser and their email subject line tester might just be my favourite writing tool out there!
I saved the best for last!! Here's my all time favourite copywriting accessory:
- Grammarly: This must come as no surprise to a lot of you. Grammarly has been around for a while and has been a plugin attached to my browser for the past six years. But this year I finally took the leap and invested in the full features of the application.
Grammarly is a writing assistant that lets you detect and correct grammatical (duh!) and syntax errors in your content. I particularly enjoy how the application lets me predefine tonality, audience type, purpose of the article/blog, and the domain I intend to target.
I then just do my thing - I write without worry and Grammarly makes sure to give me timely feedback with suggestions for improvement!
It isn't always perfect. I would not completely discard my editor as of yet, but the app has DEFINITELY removed chances of typos and almost reduced my feedback and editing hours to close to negligent.
Bonus Tool: CoSchedule is another great option for an headline analyser tool, and they have a cool browser extension if you prefer to go that route.
And there you have it! A list of reasons why I would recommend shifting to a collaborative dependence on tech for all the copywriters out there.
If you are like the old me and feel reluctant or lost and confused as a writer - pick up a new tool! You never know what you will discover about yourself and what new feathers you can add to your cap over the course of a single year's worth of adventures!
Meanwhile, I shall wait with bated breath all fingers crossed and rubbing on 100,000 rabbit feet that I get a shot at taking GPT-3 for a spin.