Making your copy memorable and standing out from the crowd

Words or design

Speak to anybody who knows anything about music, and they’ll tell you that there are certain tricks of the trade that composers use. 

Chord progression creates a sense of movement in music, often building up the tension. That’s relieved by something called resolution, when the chord drops to nicely round off the musical phrase. 

Major keys are ‘happy’ and minor keys are ‘sad’. Syncopation gives music a ragged feeling (which is where the term ragtime comes from) and tempo can wind up the music or slow it right down. Melodies can rise and fall, and our emotions can follow. 

To see what happens when you don’t follow the conventions, you only have to listen to an iconoclast like Stravinsky.

Just a couple of months ago, I went to see The Rite of Spring with my sister.

Easy listening it was not. The music was discordant and unpredictable. Just when you thought you knew where it was going, it altered direction and surprised you. It changed chords, tempo and loudness with reckless abandon, keeping you on the edge of your seat throughout.

I looked around and wasn’t surprised to see that nobody had nodded off during the concert. It simply wasn’t the sort of music that you could relax into. Yet when the orchestra finished its virtuoso performance, they got a standing ovation.

It was a tour de force I won’t soon forget.

The right way to write

Just as music has its conventions that you can use or lose, so too does writing. It’s just that most of us don’t realise what they are. We know that a piece of writing appeals to us, but aren’t sure why it works – or how we can reproduce it.

And while most of us aren’t musicians, we’re all writers of one sort of another, whether it’s an email or a tweet, a blog post or an update on social media. So what are the tricks of the trade that make some writing soar, and other writing disappear without a trace?

Here are eight you can try when you next put pen to paper:

  1. Alliteration. What is it about the sweet smell of success that makes it memorable? The same thing that makes back to basics work. Alliteration (starting words with the same letter) is a powerful weapon in your writing arsenal. But a word of caution: use it sparingly, otherwise it loses its effect. 
  2. Brevity. If you can say something in fewer words, do it. Most pop songs are about three minutes long, and that’s no coincidence. Any longer and they risk losing the listener (there’s that alliteration again) and upsetting the playlists. 
  3. Simplicity. Never use a long word where a short one will do is one of George Orwell’s famous six rules of writing. If you’re a language geek like me, then that means using a good old Anglo-Saxon word, not a Latin one. But since most people aren’t, ‘short not long’ is as good a way as any to remember.
  4. Sensory perception. Remember the sweet smell of success? As you read that, you may have had an involuntary twitch of the nose. Appealing to our sense of smell, touch, taste, sight and sound is a great way to make copy come alive. 
  5. Balance. More often than I’d care to admit I’ve used the stock phrase We do the hard work so you don’t have to in copy. Why does it work? Because it’s perfectly balanced: we/you, do/don’t. Balance in copy is like beats in music – and I’ve just done it again (A-B, A-B). It works every time. 
  6. Triadic form. This is also about beats – but in this case, they come in threes. Look at some of the best and most memorable speeches and you’ll see that those triplets just keep on coming. The sample applies to copy, whether you’re looking for prospects, talking to customers or building your brand (1-2-3, with a touch of alliteration). 
  7. Positivity. The best songs are upbeat, and I’m not just talking about the melody and tempo. They create a feeling of wellbeing, put a smile on your face and make you want to dance. Think Kylie, who (unbelievably) is turning 50 later this month, and whose enduring success is in large part due to her feelgood songs. 
  8. Involve the reader. This is such an old trick that you would have thought we’d all got the memo by now. But look around and you’ll see copy everywhere that still insists on taking a writer-centric view (we, we, we) instead of focusing on the reader (you, you, you). 

The secret of good writing, just like the secret of good music, comes down to a few simple strategies. Use them well and your copy will create a lasting impression and stick in people’s minds. Just  like that tune you can’t get out of your head and keep on humming. 

So when it it comes to marketing, make sure you’re a Kylie – not a Stravinsky.