Translating client feedback

Tangled woolWhen you write something for a client, you’re going to get feedback on that writing. Hopefully, most of the time it’ll be good news. Minor changes, move this bit, take out a sentence. Fine.

But sometimes, it isn’t all that clear. You can only make changes if you can figure out what they’re asking you to change.

I’ve gone through and listed some useful interpretations of the most common client feedback that writers get.

When I say ‘useful’… my tongue’s so far in cheek here that I could never have read this list out. You’ve probably encountered these responses already and know what to do. Maybe the interpretations are ones you’re all too familiar with. But, just on the off chance someone’s thoroughly confounded you with feedback this week, here they are.

If you’re a client (one of mine or not) and you remember having sent any of this advice back to your copywriter, please take note. It’s fine, really, I’ll fix it, but you’re not fooling anyone.

“It’s too wordy.”

Take out all of the adjectives and send it back.

Have you ever heard of the phenomenon in design where the client will love an idea they previously hated if you just add a drop shadow? Same principle.

Clients: you may be giving me the side-eye right now, but this has done the trick every single time. You are a reassuringly predictable bunch and I love you for it.

Boxers“Can you make this more punchy?”

Your sentences are too long. Cut them down or reword them. My ‘punchy’ benchmark is six words. Seven at a push.

Copy that packs a punch isn’t as cliché as you may think. From your client’s perspective, each sentence needs to genuinely hit the reader in the face.

That’s what ‘punchy’ is going for. Short. Sharp. Shocks. Oh, and they probably LOVE alliteration as well. Whack some of that in.

“It sounds a bit informal.”

Get rid of the contractions, for starters. You will have to write ‘it is’ and ‘do not’ in full each time, as if you are imitating Eliza Doolittle on her quest for social acceptance. Oh, would not it be lovely. Pull out the stopper, let us have a whopper. And so on.

Another tactic that works quite well on the formal-leaning client is to lay on the description with a spade. This is your ‘everything is awesome’ moment. Describe the ever-loving crap out of their product or service until your thesaurus needs a cigarette.

“It sounds a bit formal.”

Swap out any word that’s more than seven letters long for a shorter one. While you’re at it, remove words that aren’t strictly necessary. An example: ‘when you’re x-ing’ becomes ‘when x-ing’. Put the contractions back in (unless you’ve just taken them out, as per that example).

If you’re the type of copywriter who writes exactly as you speak, chances are you’ll never get feedback like this. Unless you went to boarding school, maybe, or you’re trying too hard. So, like I say, never.

“We don’t want to assume that the reader already knows or understands what we do.”

Dumb it down. Way down. The Sun can be read by anyone with a reading age of eight. With this feedback, you’re similarly being encouraged to treat the client’s target audience like a class of primary schoolers.

Talk simple. Be as blunt and obvious as you can. Use basic words, and stick to one idea per sentence. Hold their hand through each paragraph. That should do the trick.

Tandem skydive“The copy could do with more energy and vibrancy.”

This means ‘what we’re trying to sell is really boring, and you’ve found that out’.

Alright. You’ve tried to make this thing sound at least vaguely interesting, and you’ve failed because you’re not sold on what you’re writing about.

So how can you make other people want it? There’s no quick fix. A complete rewrite is on the cards here. Preceded by diving back into the pile of info and research in search of inspiration.

This may not be something you can do, though. Feedback along these lines is a red flag that you and the client could be fundamentally incompatible. They want enthusiasm you don’t have – if you did, it’d be in the first draft. It’s likely easier to ‘fess up and suggest the rewrites are done by someone else.

“We’d like it to sound edgy/mysterious/deep.”

Take as long as you possibly can to get to the point. Take your reader on a tangential adventure they’ll instantly forget. Sod the maximum word count and ramble like your life depends on it.

What the client’s looking for here is for the reader to have absolutely no clue what they just read. Ideally, by the time they reach the end they won’t remember what the beginning was. It’s mysterious because it means nothing. It’s deep because it’s 15 paragraphs long. It’s edgy because no other client would dare risk alienating people in this way.

“Please give this copy a softer tone.”

The operative bit in ‘softer’ here is the ‘so’. Put it everywhere. It’s not just cute, it’s ‘so cute’. Why call the product ‘useful’ when it could be ‘so useful’? Repeat as needed. ‘So’ has a magical, fluffy effect on copy.

To a lesser extent, ‘very’ and ‘quite’ do a similar job. Ultimately, what you’re doing is softening the impact of the following word by delaying it a syllable or two.

“I won’t really know what I want until I see it, but this isn’t it.”

Run. There is nothing you can do. Just run.

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