Forget About Words. THIS Is What Copywriting Is All About

filed under: Copywriting

“Is this the new burger place?”
We all nodded our heads.
“When are you guys opening?” she asked grabbing a menu from the table without even asking, drawn to it as if by an unseen power.
“On Thursday,” the owner replied. “You should stop by. We’ll treat you to a beer.”
“Definitely…” she said almost distractedly without taking her eyes off the menu.

She owned the store next to Route Burgers & Beer and had been seeing us rush in and out getting the place ready for a couple of weeks now. Of course, she knew the answers to all her questions. Yet something had compelled her to come and make small talk. There was a different question she wanted to ask:

“So… is this a franchise, then?”
We all broke out in laughter and the owner shook his head.
“My own little enterprise.”

We could, of course, feel offended by her comment.
Not just the owner, but everyone on the small creative team that worked to put the place together from the designer and the photographer down to me (Julia) the copywriter.

Far from a franchise, what we had created was a top-quality burger and barbeque bar that stood as a tasty tribute to authentic American cuisine. And far from some large, expensive team that handles the branding of a franchise, the origins of the entire concept resided in our collective brainstorming.

But we laughed because we understood whence the woman’s dilemma stemmed and considered the subtext of her question a compliment.

What she saw before her wasn’t any ol’ burger joint that someone threw together on a whim one Monday morning. What she saw was a themed restaurant with a strong character running throughout everything.

What had so mesmerised and distracted her was the experience of being on the iconic Route 66 she perceived all around her: from the Cadillac on the wall with its functioning headlights and the graffiti on the panels and flower pots, to the old license plates that lined the walls travelling from state to state across the U.S. and the words in the menu that spoke of the open road and the smells that greeted travellers through their open windows.

In short, we had created a brand.

Why Copywriting Isn’t What You Think It Is

I know you’ve read tips about copywriting before. You probably read them on this very blog, too. And correct as those tips are, they often fail to capture what copywriting is at its essence.

Copywriting isn’t just creative writing.
Copywriting isn’t just writing like a human, not a robot.
Copywriting isn’t just about writing intriguing stories.
Copywriting isn’t just writing compelling copy that moves to action and converts to sales.

Copywriting is all those things. Together. At once. Which result to a product far greater than the sum of its parts.

Copywriting is all the tips and techniques you randomly read online but deployed on purpose to execute a strategy. And that’s the part you don’t often hear discussed online:

Strategy in Copywriting.

The point of copywriting isn’t just to convert. Because your readers aren’t robots that need to be turned on by some secret sales recipe. And despite what the listicles want you to think, there are no secret words, must-use words, and certainly no buzz-words that can magically turn a bad product into a bestseller.

The point of copywriting is to connect. To connect your product to your ideal audience. To connect your purpose to the heart of your customers. To connect your high-quality output to satisfied customers who spread the word like wildfire.

The language, style, and voice you use to describe those products or services depend entirely on the purpose you’re trying to accomplish.

Case in point:

Route Burgers & Beer

That’s what the owner, a man enamored of good American burgers, slow-cooked barbecue, and tender steaks, decided to call his new place. When he called me, he wasn’t sure how I could help him. “I’ll need to write some stuff, I guess… for the press and things,” he said.

“Who’s doing your menu?” I asked and he just stayed put staring at me.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, what are you going to write in your menu?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, burger, cheeseburger, barbecue ribs… you know, the food.”
I shook my head. The decorator was already at work in the shop painting the iconic Cadillac on the wall.
“Why are you painting a car on the wall of a burger bar?” I asked.
“That’s not a car,” the owner objected. “That’s a Cadillac.”
“Sure, it’s a car. Just like that huge picture of those crashed cars you stuck in your front window.”
“Those aren’t crashed cars!” he protested. “That’s the Cadillac park on Route 66. That’s iconic!”
I started laughing. “So if you understand the importance of the Cadillacs in ‘selling’ the atmosphere of the Route, why do you want to call your food ‘plain old burgers’?”

He still wasn’t sure what I was on about, but I could tell the Cadillac example had struck a nerve. He promised to let me play with his menu and present him with ideas.

After a full day of tasting (note: this is the best perk of the copywriting job), sucking on slow-cooked woodfired ribs, cutting into tender steaks with a spoon, and devouring 100% Black-Angus burgers so light and delicious I couldn’t tell I had three (!), I was ready to get to work.

And then the real dilemma came. With all the words I could use, with the all the currently “hip” words used in foodie culture, what did I want to call things?

I could’ve called the burgers “gourmet.” And in a way they were.
But not these burgers.
I could’ve called the ribs succulent. And they really were.
But not these ribs.
And I could have called the steaks divine. Or gone overboard and used “angelic” for emphasis.
But not for these steaks.

Because none of these words says Route 66, reminds of the open road, or calls to mind that authentic American feeling. It just says fine-dining. And simple fine-dining wasn’t our strategy.

So instead, I used words like hand-crafted for the burgers, showing their authentic roots and personal care.
I used words like “slow-cooked,” “lip-smacking,” and “lick-your-fingers good” for the BBQ and sausages. Because nothing says eating on the open road like the smell of wood smoke and sticky fingers in your mouth.
And for the steak? It needed not much dressing. A simple description of pure taste and just a touch of salt. “Needs no more.”

And nothing on the menu is burgers or cheeseburgers or plain barbecue.

From page one the menu takes you down a journey that’s just as iconic of Route 66 as the picture of the Cadillac park that greets you at the entrance.

We begin with a nice long stroll through the “Burger Stretch” where you find iconic landmarks like “Ace in a Hole” (simple burger for the purists), the “Golden Spread” (cheeses-loaded, dripping cheeseburger), the “Blue Plate” (you guessed it! blue-cheese burger), the “Twin Arrows” (double trouble burger!), and “Top o’ the World” (the mega burger stuffed with everything and wrapped in bacon).

After the initial adventure, comes the “BBQ Pit Stop” where you enter deep into the heart of all that is America and the open road for a break over the slow-cooked ribs.

And then it’s on to “Grill Hill” where you pass from “Neck o’ the Woods” (Neck pork chops) and “Long Branch” (who said sausage?), just before you turn at “Feast Circle” for the “Dog Iron Ranch” and the “Cadillac Ranch” (platters for sharing).

Depending on your mood and you company, all can be visited of course with an accompanying “Side Car” for those extra “‘tatoes” and coleslaw.

Finally, you reach the “Sweet Spot” with American Classic Cheesecake and Mississippi Mud Pie that ends the perfect meal.

The strategy behind the names and descriptions run far deeper than simply being cute.

Not only do they match the character and style of the place, giving visitors a true experience of the Route, the also make conversation pieces. Browsing the menu, clients begin animated discussion about the meaning of the orders! They hunt down pictures and explanations of their order looking to find their burger down the iconic route 66 and read to one another where the name comes from.

The words chosen in the names and descriptions aren’t just “selling” words, “converting” words, and certainly not “buzzwords.” They’re the words that give voice to the spirit of the place. The words that allow the owner to share his passion for good food and the open road with his clients and that allow the clients to experience the place as an adventure of their own.

People don’t go to Route Burgers & Beer neither just for burgers nor for beer.

They go for an experience.

And they take their friends with them.
Because as even the staff t-shirts say, riffing off of the country song playing over the loudspeakers as they serve their customers with a wide American smile:

Good food and great friendship happen somewhere
Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace.

What’s the strategy behind the words you use for your company?
What’s the experience those words create for your customers?