Rhetoric is the art of selling your thoughts with words

Copywriting, like journalism or content marketing, is about persuasion. You have to use certain tools to get ideas across successfully, whether it’s a website or a brand marketing campaign you’re writing.

So, a quick post for today. If you want to know anything about how words work, read up on the ancient and esteeemed art of rhetoric. Once you get over the fancy names for techniques and get to grips with examples, you’ll realise how persuasive it can be. You’ll also realise how you’ve been hearing these techniques all your life. You’ll then wonder: did the people using them realise they were doing it?

You can get lost in these so easily. so sit back and enjoy a comprehensive guide for free at The Forest of Rhetoric.

Making brand stories benefit the reader


Whether you’re writing lovely long-form advertising copy or a website page that explains your brand story, you should always make sure the story doesn’t overshadow the purpose: to make the user benefit in some way. It’s fantastic to hear that your bank is ancient, esteemed and rolling in dough, but so what? You’re still like the rest of them.

TSB, the unpacked and de-risked bank which was split from Lloyds and relaunched recently, have got it right.

They keep underlining the importance of history to their brand, and the values that the story is made from. But crucially, they make sure it connects to you. There’s a benefit here – your local economy is going to thrive thanks to TSB. Whether it actually does or not isn’t the point – the point is that TSB has detoxified itself and set itself apart from the villains we’ve come to know on the high street.

Check the adverts and the web copy and see how nicely it flows together, using very slightly different ways to say the same thing, but always keeping the narrative flow and tone gentle. When you next write copy, can your story turn into a benefit for everyone like this?



Three rules of good writing

Rules of good writing should help you with anything, from reports, presentations and website creation all the way through to naming and strategy. Finding the set of rules that work for you is essential.

An item came on the news today as I drove to work. British director Christopher Nolan took just 15 minutes to sell his Batman franchise idea to Warner Bros executives. Even though he’s an established figure, and a safe pair of hands, to take a profitable movie series like Batman and twist it to your own plans – it’s a lot to ask in just a quarter of an hour.

The Radio 4 segment quizzed Christopher Hauge, author of Sell your Story in 60 Seconds, and he underlined two ideas that are worth remembering when you’re writing anything.

1. Keep it simple

2. Use a narrative

It seems like it’s so easy, but is it really? How do you strip out what you don’t need and still keep a narrative fresh and interesting? That’s the skill, and it’s easier with practise. When you’re writing presentations, brand strategies, and especially web copy, you need to tell simple stories that can come alive. I’d add one last piece of advice to the list:

3. Be straight

That means honesty, being unpatronising – and being direct. People sniff out weakness when you break this rule – and that means they don’t trust what you’re saying.

Why copywriting is manhunting

Whether you’re writing for the web, desiging content strategy or trying to write presentations, it’s important to go on a manhunt. I’ll tell you why.

Ben Saunders is a British explorer, and he’s just about to set out for the Antarctic to complete the journey that Robert Scott failed to finish. It’s going to be the first time the full return route has been done completely unsupported. Quite a feat, through hundreds of miles of unforgiving, bleak and beautiful country.

On Ben’s blog is an entry by Henry Worsley, a fellow Antarctican who has written a brief guide to the route. What’s fascinating about this is what really captures your attention: not the way he describes the texture of the ice, or the majesty of Mount Erebus, but the tantalising details of massed human presence on the continent.

Worsley mentions four-storey buildings, a bustling airport, container ports, scientists buzzing each other on skidoos – a miniature city on the ice. McMurdo. Against this backdrop, the details of the frozen wastes beyond pale and dim. We want to hear more about the city on the ice, thanks – the snow can wait, as it always has done.

It’s the chase for the human element that causes such fascination, even in the presence of nature’s might. We want to know what the humans are doing there, how they live, how they behave to each other and what they love and hate.

Next time you read something that feels flat or cold, do the manhunt: look for the human in it. Chances are, the writer has been on the frozen wastes rather than toasting his toes in a bowl of warm water back at base.