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Why writing great web content is like selling gloves to rich ladies

A week after finishing my last exam at university I packed my bags and left for London. I wasn’t interested in working in my chosen career (which at that stage was PR)—I just wanted to have fun and travel.

I ended living in a big share house in Camden, and working at the very upmarket department store Simpsons of Piccadilly. Have you ever seen the show Are you being served? Well it was based on that very same department store.

It was awfully proper, and I was in charge of selling gloves.

Posh, expensive gloves.

It was the type of place where ladies from the country (actually I should say Ladies, as often it was Lady so-and-so) would come and purchase a whole wardrobe of clothes while their husbands were measured up for new suits. Such a different world.

How does this relate to web writing?

Well, the key to a sale with these rich ladies was quite often asking them the right questions before we’d even started looking at the gloves. The same can be said for copywriting—if you ask clients the right questions before the project starts you are much more likely to get a positive writing outcome.

Where will you wear the gloves?

Yes, on your hands. But in what situation? A special occasion? Wedding? Driving? Long walks in the freezing countryside? Understanding what conditions the gloves would get exposed to was an important part of fitting the right type of glove.

From a content point of view, I ask:

  • What’s the purpose of the content? Is it help content? Is it sales content? Is it news?
  • How does the content help the visitor complete a task on the website?
  • Will the content be used for anything else? A fact sheet, brochure or the like?

What other gloves do you already own?

Most customers wanted gloves which were different to pairs they already owned. So even though they were after some warm, lined gloves—they wanted brown rather than black.

From a content point of view, I ask:

  • What other content is already on your site?
  • How will this new content fit in with that?
  • What other online (or offline) marketing are you doing which will impact this new content?
  • Do you have a brand guide?

How much do you want to spend?

Some of my glove customers never looked at the price tag (or their credit card bills probably), but other ‘normal’ people off the street did have a budget to stick to and our beautiful soft leather cashmere-lined gloves were probably beyond what they could afford.

From a content point of view, I ask:

  • What’s your initial copywriting budget?
  • How do you plan to maintain your new content? Will this be resourced internally or externally? Do you need a style guide to help maintain the content consistently?
  • Do you have existing content to go from, or does all this new content need to be written from scratch?
  • What other material will need to be updated because of this new content? Will that be done now or later?
  • Do you need an editorial calendar to plan your content?

Over to you—do you normally think about these things when developing new content? What have I missed?

I’m happy to ask you all of these questions for your next copywriting project. Simply get in touch and I’ll give you a quote.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Desolie April 11, 2011, 2:13 pm

    Hi Sally

    Love the way you’ve used your experience as an analogy. (That would have been an amazing experience – hopefully not as hilarious as ‘Are you being served?’)

    The other question I ask is ‘Who will read this?’ Always helps to know the target audience so the copy uses appropriate language.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    Desolie

    • Snappy Sentences April 11, 2011, 2:18 pm

      Thanks Desolie

      It was an amazing experience. And customers loved my ‘quaint’ Australian accent too. Lots of fun 🙂

      That’s a very good point about knowing your audience. Especially why they are coming to your site in the first place!

  • Darryl April 12, 2011, 7:31 pm

    Hey Sally, I think the points you raise work for all marketing projects, including website dev, social campaigns etc. Ask the questions up front and help discover the real intent, then build from there.

    Another great post

    • Snappy Sentences April 12, 2011, 7:36 pm

      Thanks Darryl

      That’s true, the right questions can help most types of projects. Do you find clients often change the focus of a project after you’ve interviewed them?

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