The Big Challenge of Short Form Copy

A prospective client once asked me how long it would take to write a blog post. My answer was, with research, writing, and any necessary rework, it would take about a day. The client then asked how long it would take to write a couple short social posts to promote the blog. My reply was: the same amount of time as it takes to write the post… maybe more.

It may seem counterintuitive, but the shorter the content, the harder it is to get right. Social posts (with a marketing focus), log lines, elevator pitches, value propositions, tag lines… they’re all small in size and massive on potential impact. Every single word needs to be just right.


Understand who you’re trying to hook

All content marketing comes down to feeding the minds of a specific target audience with the goal of changing their behavior. Longer-form content, such as blog posts, white papers or eBooks, are like complete meals meant to satisfy, whereas short-form copy is just a sample of what’s to come. It’s meant to pique interest, and encourage a closer look. In order to write effective short form copy, you have to start with a firm understanding of who you’re trying to attract.

If you don’t already have defined personas for your audience, that’s a fantastic place to start. Get inside the minds and hearts of your target audience to understand who they are and what makes them tick. Write out their demographics, interests, fears, hopes and drivers. Ask yourself what keeps them up at night, and how you can help them sleep a little easier. Use that information as your basis for inspiration.

Keep it simple; make it actionable

If you find yourself trying to convey everything to everyone in a single sentence, stop. With short form copy, you want to get across one single point. Just one. No more. Ever. I’m serious… put those other points down and walk away.

Your best bet for hooking your audience is to deliver a short, clear and concise message that piques the interest. They should be able to easily identify the idea that you’re trying to convey, but they don’t need to be able to write a dissertation on the topic. In fact, they should be looking to you to fill in the gaps.

And therein lies the biggest difference between short and long form copy… short-form copy is meant to entice, whereas the purpose of long-form is to inform. Your short copy should make your reader want to click, call or connect.

Use power words

Who remembers this scene?

Now, chances are your brand isn’t intending to “woo women,” but you are trying to attract your target audience, which is kind of the same thing. Your short form copy should kick off an emotional response in your reader, and to accomplish that, you need to use powerful words.

To drive power into your statements, avoid words like “very”, for the love of all that is holy, please everyone stop using the word “better”, and most definitely stray far from phrases like “out of the box”, “best in class” and “bottom line.” You’ll also want to steer clear of condescending words, including “actually” and “obviously.”

There are lots of resources online that define powerful words to use in your short copy. However, my favorite, go-to resources is a simple thesaurus.

Come up with options and conduct testing

If you’re writing short form – especially tag lines, headlines, or email titles – you’ll want to find a good resource for testing effectiveness. CoSchedule and the Advanced Marketing Institute both offer online headline analyzers. Similar tools exist for social post effectiveness, tag line testing, etc. However, your real test is your target audience

If you’re using a marketing automation tool for social posting or email sends, create a couple options and conduct A/B testing. Keep track of how your audience reacts. Do they prefer joy over fear? Do they click through more often when you ask them questions, or do they prefer assertions? With time, patience and diligence, your audience will tell you exactly what they prefer. Just don’t let your guard down once you think you know all their tells – customers love to change their minds, and their habits!


Brainstorm with others

If you find that your short form copy is missing the mark with your audience, don’t be afraid to enlist help. Writers write best when surrounded by other creatives.

Invite other writers, designers, videographers, and even project stakeholders. Lay out everything you’ve tried, along with your success and failure metrics, and start white boarding concepts. Don’t leave anything out, no matter how ridiculous. The best copy ideas come from a room full of creatives who are crying with laughter.

Getting your short form copy just right can definitely be a challenge, but don’t let that stop you from plugging forward. If you need help with social copy, tag lines, email headlines, blog or article titles, or any other short-form copy, feel free to contact us. We’d love to help you get your words just right!

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