While writing the advertising campaigns that helped launch Earthlink in 1995, I faced a unique challenge. Aside from branding and positioning the company in an emerging marketplace, I first had to figure out how to explain to the world what in the hell the Internet was.
Back then, people would stare at you blankly when talking about “the information superhighway,” “the net,” “the web,” “online” and “surfing.” The concept of computers linked throughout the planet, which then linked to the computer on your desk was not exactly familiar territory to anyone outside the technocrati.
Of course, I nearly flunked every math and science course I ever took. I couldn’t write code if my life depended on it. Cookies? Bots? Viruses? I fell asleep just thinking about it. However, during the process of writing the Earthlink ads, I had the fortune of working with Sky Dayton, EarthLink’s founder. His inspiring vision to make the Internet easy and accessible filtered down into my work – and consciousness. I found at least one of my copywriting callings: discovering simple ways to talk about complex things.
Now I enjoy working on technology accounts better than almost any other. I have embraced my inner geek and have to say, it’s fun taking unintelligible techno-talk and turning it into consumer-friendly copy.
Since the Earthlink days, I have worked as a copywriter on a myriad of Internet, telephony, software and hardware accounts for clients including Apple, Box, Boingo, DirecTV and Raylink, among many others.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned though the years.
1. It’s not necessary to have a degree from MIT to work with guys who do. They admire your skills as much as you are in awe of theirs. Equally, many techies are insanely young, richer than you’ll ever be and genius. Relax. It doesn’t mean they understand marketing. Don’t get lost in jargon. Only R&D guys care about jargon. Ask questions. Technology guys love to talk about what they do. Find out what the product does for the person at the desk, staring at the screen. How does it help their life? Work? Say that.
2. Technology copywriters tend to use one of two horrifying approaches. Boring or confusing. Be simple. Straightforward. Funny. Whatever is right for the brand. I just want someone I can talk to.
3. You are writing for consumers, not the R&D department. Unless you actually are writing for the R&D department, in which case, I cannot help you.
Lissa Walker, the technology-friendly copywriter lives and works in Los Angeles. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.