Reality Blog Challenge: What I Learned About Copywriting from Acting Lessons

Opening The Curtain

“Anything creative requires a bit of acting and filling in blanks with imagination.” – Christina Westover

I was a Nervous Nellie…

I scheduled my first formal client debrief last week… and boldly asked for feedback.

What went well? What could have been better? May I use you as a reference?

I thought I had done a good job. But things were moving fast — I created 28 emails and three landing pages in 45 days.

“Val, we’ve been doing this for years. You are the first copywriter to sound just like us! You were consistent and we were able to focus on other things. If you do this for all your clients, you’ll never run out of work.”

Pleased. Pleasantly surprised. Grateful for validation… that was me.

What is brand voice?

I was happy, but I left the Zoom room scratching my head…

I expected to hear them rave about the integrated schedule I created, or the way I anticipated their needs. I’m used to those kinds of compliments.

My background in engineering and project management helps me coordinate moving parts with ease.

But this time was different. They said, my ability to make their brand voice clear and evident made me stand out from the crowd.

Ann Handley says the company voice used to communicate with customers is defined by three adjectives that best match brand personality with the characteristics of their customers… and should be a differentiator.

She states brand voice signals three things about a company… who they are… why they do what they do… and what are they like to deal with…

In other words,, I should be able to recognize your brand voice in the content even if I don’t have your company name or logo in front of me.

I want to be known as a copywriter who —

  • adopts my client’s persona
  • learns their brand voice
  • speaks to their customers… just like they would

Acting lessons for copywriters

How does a licensed professional engineer learn how to adopt her client’s brand voice?

She takes acting lessons from her daughter…

You remember Shannon — right? Yep — she’s the aspiring actor still on our payroll…

She taught me a five-step process she uses in her character-building process. I’ve adapted her five-step process to my copywriting approach.

I’d love to confirm this is a failsafe method… or some magic bullet. It’s not.

However, it’s a helpful tool that reminds me how one brand voice can have multiple tones, inflections, or cadences — that change with context.

Think Sirius XM… one streaming subscription — providing more than 150 music and talk radio stations. Depending on what’s going on, how you feel, or who’s in the car with you… one subscription meets you where you are.

Step 1 — Review

When Shannon gets a new script, she reads it out loud several times. She reads the stage directions, set description, costuming, and all the dialogue.

When I get a new client, I look at their existing content and ask them to record themselves — responding to these prompts:

  1. Describe your prospective customer.
  2. Highlight the customer’s pain points.
  3. Have a conversation with a customer — as if they were sitting with you. Explain why you are uniquely qualified to help them… why you are the best one to help them.
  4. Tell your customer how you’ll proceed — what they can expect from you as a customer.
  5. Explain why you are passionate about your product or service.
  6. List the feature-benefit relationships of what you offer to your customers.
  7. Describe how you want your customer to feel during — and after they work with you.
  8. Explain the reasons your customer will choose to refer you to others.
  9. Share stories about customers you’ve already helped — highlighting the difference it made in their lives.

This recording gets me closer to writing content that sounds like them.

Step 2 — Circumstances and Obstacles

On the back of the script, Shannon writes the circumstances of the scene — what’s going on between the characters and what’s their situation. She adds depth to her performance by factoring in problems — such as trauma, illness, debt, crime, or addictions.

In this step, I’ll frame the big picture for the client. I want to know if they have a new product or service… I ask how what I’m doing fits in their content strategy.

In a nutshell, I’m asking “What’s going on?”

From a customer perspective, I look for context — where they are coming from and where they want to go.

Then I consider the customer pain points (described in the second prompt of the client recording) to refine the tone of voice and inflection.

Step 3 — Objective

Here, Shannon verifies what her character is trying to achieve in the scene. She’ll write a summary statement — something like, “I’m trying to get Leah, my former best friend, to understand she no longer has a place of priority in my life.”

This is where I’ll answer a series of questions, such as…

  • What does my client want to achieve?
  • Where are we on the customer journey?
  • What is the call-to-action for each piece of content being written?

Step 4 — Relationships

Shannon defines the relationships between characters in this step. She adjusts her approach based on the roles. Is she interacting with siblings or a lover? A mentor-type figure? Or does she work with a lawyer because she’s been arrested?

In this step, I start with the first prompt on the client recording and add as many specific characteristics as possible (e.g., age, gender, profession, ethnicity, culture…).

This is the hardest step for me. I get distracted by second-guessing the client-customer interaction.

Client-customer relationships appear to shift as the customer journey unfolds. Subtle changes happen if the client objectives or customer needs are modified.

So, staying in the moment is important.

Step 5 — Feelings

Shannon and I agree Step 5 is the most important one.

She closes her eyes and imagines the strongest feeling her character is experiencing in the scene. Then she envisions how her feeling affects other characters.

My focus in on the customer’s feelings and emotional state.

First, I combine what I hear on the client recording for the seventh prompt — with an empathy map.

HubSpot describes empathy maps as tools to visualize customer needs and condense customer data… so we can consider what customers want — not what we think they want.

New businesses may not have much customer data to offer. When that happens, snooping around social media and customer forums may be required.

I’ll circle back later — to confirm the pairing of circumstances and emotional state makes sense. For example, if my client is a life insurance provider, a customer dealing with the death of a spouse feels different from the customer with a new baby.

Practice, practice, and a bit of luck

After her script analysis, Shannon memorizes the lines and practices — until they flow easily from her mouth.

I start my practice early — by copying the transcript of the client recording… and reading it out loud several times.

Then I practice writing their content and reading it out loud… over and over.

Let’s face it — I won’t always nail the client’s brand voice on the first try. The universe likely knew I needed a mental boost and gave me a break with my 28-email clients (…thank you universe!). But by using this process, I set myself up to succeed.

I invite you to join me — make it your mission to practice the sound of your client’s brand voice… over and over.

I’ve had a blast chatting with you these past three weeks…

Wishing 2021 is your best year ever!

Valeria Collier Vick

Valeria Collier Vick

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