Vikki Ross on copywriting, working with brands, and building a community
I recently sat down with Vikki Ross—an experienced copywriter and a branding and Tone Of Voice (TOV) consultant of 24-years.
She has been working with Sky for almost ten years now and is their Lead TOV Consultant. Some other brands she has worked with include Sony Music, Spotify, Body Shop, and Euronews, among others.
Two years ago, Vikki was invited to Kensington Palace to meet with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for a project—the greatest, yet weirdest, thing to happen in her career.
We discussed some great copywriting tips for writers and brands and her journey of building a copywriter's community on Twitter, which eventually transitioned into live events across London and other parts of the world. She also recommended a famous artist and a book she looks up to for copywriting inspiration.
What is copywriting, and how is it different from other forms of writing?
Vikki is a specialist in the advertising area. For her, copy leads a reader to act—previously, this only meant making a sale, but now you can expect different actions through copy like clicking, downloading, sharing, or experiencing.
Vikki looks at copywriting as a one-on-one conversation between the brand and the consumer.
"As brands, we're talking to people in their homes, cars, mobiles, or street. So we need to be welcome in all of those places, which won't happen if we're shouting or broadcasting information that we want to say. Instead, if we tell people things they want to know in a comfortable and exciting way, it will begin a natural conversation."
Other forms of writing like fiction, news, and press features have different requirements for their reader. But, with copy, brands certainly want their audience to take action.
Vikki’s 3 key elements of good writing
1. Get real
Since copywriting is a conversation with the audience, you need to use real words—like you would in a conversation with someone. Doing this will make the copy's flow natural and breezy.
2. Get personal
With copywriting, you need to talk directly to someone, not about them. Use first-person and say "you" and "your" when talking about yourself, and as a brand say "we," "us," and "our," rather than stating your brand name a million times—especially if you're writing something through the brand's handle like a website or an email.
If you keep referring to yourself in the third person, you will sound cold and formal—like you're making an announcement rather than engaging in a good conversation.
3. Get active
This refers to using active voice and speaking in the "here and now" so people can understand what you're saying in real-time. If the copy is written in the passive voice, it will look longer. Also, it will make the audience feel like what you're saying has already happened, making it irrelevant in the present scenario.
How can brands make words work, count, and dance for them?
In one of her articles, Vikki talked about making words work, count, and dance for the brand. This can significantly power up the copy and make it more relatable to your audience. Here's what she said:
- Making words work for you
To make them work, you need to fill your words with meaning and emotion so they mean something to someone.
“If you find a reality for people to relate with that makes them feel something—they will react to what you're saying in the way you want.”
- Make words count
You can do this by avoiding adjectives and using facts instead.
For example, instead of calling a movie an "amazing drama," you can say "award-winning drama."
Amazing is irrelevant, and an opinion that you should leave upto the people. But award-winning is a fact—it has meaning and power.
Another way to make words count is to get rid of them. You can even swap longer phrases for shorter ones like "in order to" can be "to." This will make your copy crisp and clear so your message doesn't get lost.
- Make words dance
This refers to having fun with your writing, so it's enjoyable and memorable for the audience.You can add rhythm to your copy so your words are impactful to read or hear by using repetition, alliteration, or the power of three.
Ed Sheeran’s songs as a good example of writing
Vikki talked about Ed Sheeran, and how he writes in a relatable way, especially referring to his song, “Castle on the hill.”. He writes as his audience speaks by capturing relatable thoughts, feelings, and experiences. He shares them using words that real people say, not like a highly romantic poet.
“He writes in a way that's real. And, I think writers can only get people on their side if they speak directly to, and specifically about them. If someone can see themselves in your writing, you've won the move, and they feel comfortable with you. They feel like you know them, and you get them. So they trust you.”
Copywriters are investigators: here’s why
To write copy that people find incredibly interesting, copywriters need to have information about what they’re writing and for whom. So, they need to investigate a brand, product, or audience to find out all there is to know.
No one would believe or trust anything you write or say if it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from a place of knowledge.
“It's a great way to work. You're just Googling stuff or going to places you might not have done in normal life. Some copywriters find it time-consuming and a bit boring, but I find it important, but also fascinating. I like to know lots about lots, which is probably why I find it fun.”
Vikki believes anyone can write anything if they’ve researched it enough to do an excellent job. And there’s always Google because you can find anything on any topic if you look for it hard enough.
For example, Vikki writes for a big sports brand in the UK but doesn’t know much about sports. So, she searches for typical words and phrases used in football and comes across websites with glossary lists of these terms. Through this, she ensures the correct use of language familiar to the audience.
Copywriting techniques and best practices
- Power of three
The power of three is a common and effective copywriting trick. Humans remember things better when they’re presented in a rhythm like using repetition and alliteration.
For example, KFC’s brand tagline- Finger-Lickin’ Good.
Apart from copywriting, speechwriters also use this technique in political statements and even country mottos.
It’s an impactful way of making a point memorably, but it doesn’t have to be one sentence of three words—it can be three, one-word sentences or several sentences repeated three times.
If you repeat a word or phrase with a rhythmic effect, it’s enjoyable to read, but more importantly, it’s memorable. However, it’s only effective when it’s done right.
Copywriters often write copy and repeat stuff because of a lack of control. It’s usually more common in long-form copy like sales landing pages with too much information to remember and control.
Intentional repetition is effective. But, otherwise, it can be sloppy.
- The overnight test
Vikki says the overnight test is a luxury. It requires you to write copy and then leave it for 24 hours, to come back, re-evaluate and make edits.
“So often we’re caught up in an idea or execution phase that we can’t decide how to improve it. It gets difficult to see what’s missing, needs revising, or taking out. So, looking at a copy with fresh eyes means better results.”
However, Vikki agrees that not every time you can take out 24 hours for keeping a piece of copy aside. But she recommends doing it for some time, be it an hour before you return, read and edit it. This way, you can notice and improve things you missed before.
Vikki’s Twitter copywriting communities
She started with #copywritersunite first because she felt copywriters are often left out in the cold, alone. Be it working in a team, studio, office, or alone at home—usually, there’s no head of copy or anyone else to represent, defend, support, or teach them.
They look for someone to talk to that speaks their language. And so Vikki started #copywritersunite on Twitter so copywriters could connect.
“After a year of using the hashtag all day, every day—somebody mentioned that we should all meet in real life. This freaked me out because with social media, you can hide behind everything. I didn’t imagine it evolving into a real-life event. My friend Andy Maslin helped organize a bar and reserved a table where five or six of us turned up, and I thought—okay, maybe it wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Vikki has been hosting these quarterly nights in London for nearly seven years now. She’s had 80 people at maximum, and sometimes even creative directors come because they’re looking to hire a copywriter.
Through this event, people have found jobs, partners, collaboration opportunities, and friends. Now, people around the world want to do it. Vikki has hosts in different countries, cities, and they tell her what they’ve arranged, and then she shares it to make sure that people attend.
She started #CopySafari because, as a consultant, she does a lot of work by herself and misses that studio environment of being around other creatives and talking about the work. But most importantly, she misses thinking about the work from the consumer context, not the creative one.
“I take industry leaders, and we walk around the streets of London and look inside shop windows, passing buses, bus stops, and taxicabs. We review the copy, and then we tweet it live. I didn’t realize it would be so popular, but I think people wished that they were doing it too. Some people do this, and then they end up tweeting their own little copy safari’s.”
As parting advice, Vikki recommends the book “How to: Write better copy” by Steve Harrison.