October 25th, 2021

Copywriting for Brands: How to Nail a Brand's Message

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Written by Margaret Kaplan

August, 2011. Ames, Iowa. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney sets aside his pork chop on a stick and peers out across the fairgrounds.  

“Corporations are people, my friend.” 

The line hangs in the air like the scent of the fryer at the funnel cake stand. A butter sculpture winces in the distance. Corporations, you see, are not humans. And claiming that they are might just lose you an election. 

But brands? Brands walk among us. They’re in our kitchens, on our screens, in the fantasies we cast of our future, happy selves. And unlike the butter sculpture of Miss Iowa 1979 that will always just look like (really pretty) butter, brands can sometimes feel like us—neighbors, mentors, friends. 

If you’re a copywriter that’s trying to bring a brand to life or writing on behalf of a lively brand, you might be wondering about the strange alchemy that can make a brand feel human. Why is that peanut butter so trustworthy? Why is that life insurance kind of hot? 

The secret? It all comes down to voice and messaging. Here’s how you can master them.

What’s in a Brand?

We can’t touch brands. We can’t taste them. We can’t hold them in our hands, hang them in our closets, or put them on our sandwiches. 

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t sense them. Branding helps consumers distinguish products, services, and companies from another and allows them to assert values, and even take on new ones.

Branding can look different depending on what type of company or individual is deploying it. Some of the most common types of brands are:

  • Corporate – Corporations brand their companies to stand out in crowded markets, curry favor with investors, and draw in talent.

  • Product – This type of branding involves products and merchandising. Think of specific tangible goods like hot sauce, shoes, or sunscreen. 

  • Service – For services that aren’t physically tangible, like email management or accounting, companies need to get creative in their branding to convey significance and meaning to the consumer. 

  • Personal – “That’s so on brand,” the homesteading influencer said as she posted a softly lit stack of sourdough waffles to her main grid. 

No matter the sector or type of good or service being marketed, branding is always essential. It clues consumers in on the very kernel of what the product, service, or person means—and what buying in will mean about them. What does it say about their tastes? Their desires? Their social status? 

Building Brand: Assets

The term “branding” might conjure images of a cattle rancher prodding his livestock. Effective, yes. But also, ow. 

For most companies and individuals, branding doesn’t have to be quite so painful. Marketers can build brand identity with visual, emotional, and verbal assets, including:

  • Logos – A Nike Swoosh, a Twitter bird, an Apple... apple. Just like wax seals for important families in the middle ages, logos are a synecdoche for brands, capturing their entire essence in the space of a small insignia. 

  • Endorsements – The success of brand ambassadorship boils down to influence, peer pressure, monkey-see, monkey-do. 

Let me paint the picture. I'm at a rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike and I could use a cup of coffee. To my left? Coffee Chain A. To my right? Coffee Chain B. Short lines at both.

A pumpkin scone, glazed with cream cheese frosting, beckons from behind the counter at Coffee Chain A. I begin to walk, a little spring in my step (this girl loves pumpkin). But then I remember: Ben Affleck.

Ben Affleck is always photographed with large iced coffees from Coffee Chain B. And he seems to be doing well these days. He's in a relationship with J.Lo. They're in St. Barts. And I want to be in St. Barts, not at the Edison House on the Jersey Turnpike. I want to be in a relationship with J.Lo. I want to be like Ben Affleck.

I order a large iced coffee from Coffee Chain B.

  • Language – Written and verbal messaging plays an enormous role in branding. So much can be conveyed in the tiny confines of a slogan—and not just about the product or service you’re marketing. About the brand, about the audience. Warm and approachable? Cool and concise? Acerbic and ironic?

Story Selling: Tips for Copywriting for Brands

Brands can be identified by logos and associated with celebrities to great success, but it’s through language—through copy—that they establish brand values, encourage engagement, and build loyalty. 

There are myriad chances to finesse a brand’s copy and bolster its messaging. But you shouldn’t let them pass you by. You can, and should, treat every written communication as a singular opportunity to tell the brand’s story and connect with the audience, whether that’s through:

  • Email copy
  • Ad copy
  • Social media
  • Blogs
  • Websites
  • Newsletters

Every missive you send out for a brand should answer the following two prompts:

  1. Why do we matter to you?
  2. Why do you matter to us? 

The answers to these prompts lie at the heart of the brand you’re writing for—and you need to nail them down before you can, well, nail a brand’s messaging in your copy.

#1 Identify the Brand’s Values

The first step to clarifying a brand’s messaging? Figure out their values. Do a quick scan online and then dive deep, interrogating any existing written materials you can find, including:

  • The “About Us” page on their website
  • Ad copy and email sequences
  • Interviews with the founders or executives
  • Social media posts and comments
  • Brand guidelines or notes (if available)

Keep your eyes peeled for any mention of mission, purpose, vision, or strategic goals and take pen to paper—or fingers to notes app (no judgment)—to jot down key phrases and points.

Look out for memos, press releases, or social posts that show engagement on social justice or community issues. Does the brand wade in political waters or are they careful to keep out of the fray? How have they responded to, or levied, criticism?  

#2 Outline the Brand’s Voice

You’ve read through the website, the interviews, the press releases, and the Twitter feed. You’ve even lost half of your day to the company TikTok, and no, you can’t bill those hours. 

But good news: not only has your doctorate-level research helped you master the brand’s values, but it’s also introduced you to their voice—the style quirks, punctuation preferences, and rare, but essential, emoji moments that form a sense of identity, of personality. 

Brand voice allows for messaging that is cohesive at the same time that it is compelling, consistent without being repetitive.  

Here’s what you might have picked up on, somewhere between an Insta post from 2018 and the lead-generation landing page:

  • Tone – Think of tone as the brand’s personality. What characteristics jump out at you from the materials you’ve seen? Is it cheerful, extroverted, zany? Or relaxed, straight-shooting, wry? Perhaps it might help to imagine the brand as a person. Where does she drink? Who is his friend? Your voice might shift in mood or volume, depending on what content needs to be delivered, but the tone should remain consistent throughout the brand’s written messaging. 
  • Style – Tone informs style and vice versa. To figure out a brand's style, look at word choice, syntax, and punctuation. Do they always address the second person “you,” or do they take on the royal “we”? Do they have a controversial take on the Oxford comma?  When it comes to language, are they effusive? Restrained? 

         Take stock of instances of the following:

         Emoji usage
         Puns or wordplay
         Figurative language
         Breaks with formal grammar 

You must become well acquainted with a brand’s voice before you begin to write in it. So spend all night together. And then go out for brunch. Soon enough you’ll be completing each other’s sentences. 

#3 Identify the Audience

To connect with the brand’s audience, you’ll need to be able to write confidently and competently in the brand’s voice. There’s a reason that the brand’s audience engages with them in the first place—and you want to be aware of that so you can craft content that rises to the occasion of their expectations.

It might seem like NBD, but one stray contraction in an investor report can set off a chain of events that, honestly, none of us are prepared for. What’s this? Bob wonders, lost to the world, wiping muffin crumbs onto the floor, no regard for Sandra, never any regard for Sandra. 

She’s done. This time she’s really had it. He just doesn’t care, or think, or both. She’ll stay with her cousins for the weekend. Pack the car once Bob heads out. Then it’s Minnetonka, her childhood home. She’ll call Jimmy. She will, Bob, she will. She’s had it, this time she’s really had it. 

#4 Become a Copycat 

Your whole life you heard it, over and over again. Be yourself, everyone else is taken.

Reader, they lied to you. 

They did not know what was in store for you. That one day, destiny would call and say “Please draft an email sequence to win back subscribers,” and that you would be the one to answer that call. Following the brand’s style sheet and voice guidelines, of course.

Don’t let ego inhibit your ability to capture and convey a brand’s message.

It’s natural to cling to your voice, to your style—after all, you’ve been honing it your whole life. But here’s the thing: it’s not going anywhere.

Why not embrace the joy—the freedom!—that comes with trying someone else’s voice on for size and leaving your own at the door? 

It will make you a more versatile writer, a more empathetic communicator, and a more comprehensive storyteller. 

And those niggling worries about disappointing the first-grade teacher who told you to be original above all else? Let’s put those to bed. 

Copywriting for brands breeds creativity in its confines and requires originality in spades—how else are you going to stand out from the chorus of other companies and influencers vying for your audience? 

Copycat: Letting the Cat out of the Bag

At their best, brands can feel superhuman: anticipating needs, broaching difficult conversations, and making bold first moves that feel inevitable, personal, and universal wrapped in one. 

At Copycat, we know what powers successful branding and we’re ready to let the cat out of the bag. 

The key to mastering messaging? Compelling copywriting that’s driven by passion, informed by expertise, and motivated by quality. 

That’s what you’ll find at Copycat. Get your paws on a piece of free content today. 

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