My 19-year romance with conversational copywriting explained.

sunset message in bottle

I’m going to be writing quite a bit about conversational copywriting over the next few weeks.

So I thought it might be a good idea to first define what I mean, and give the term a little history and context.

I first began writing and talking about conversational copywriting way back in the late 1990s. In 1998 to be exact. Hence the 19-year romance.

I made the simple point that as the web is a two-way communications medium, shouldn’t we adjust our marketing and promotional language accordingly?

Traditional media, like TV, are one way. The advertiser gets to speak at you, but you can’t talk back to the advertiser through your TV.

The language of advertising developed accordingly. Advertising spoke at you, through TV, radio, magazine ads, bill boards and so on.

Then along came the web… a two-way communications medium. Huge change.

The web is the first mass medium that gives equal access to the users – the recipients of advertising.

My argument, back in the late 90s, was that this deep and profound difference in the nature of the web as a communications medium should impact the kind of language companies used on their websites and in their ads and promotions.

They should no longer be broadcasting at their audience but should, instead, use language that invites two-way communications.

In other words, they should get into conversation with their prospects and customers.

They should use conversational language.

The need for this kind of shift seemed self-evident to me. A few of my clients agreed, and we adjusted the way they conversed with their audiences accordingly.

But for the most part, nothing much happened.

Advertisers simply used the web as a new and relatively inexpensive broadcast medium.

2001 saw the publication of The Cluetrain Manifesto. A wonderful book, way ahead of its time in many ways. And the core of their message was this: Markets are conversations.

The authors were beating the same drum as me. Except they dug deeper, had a lot more to say, and reached a lot more people.

Did that book have a transformative effect on the language advertisers used online? I don’t think so. Some, but not much.

In 2007 Joseph Jaffe’s book, Join the Conversation, was published. Beating the same drum again. Joseph wrote a series of books, all well received and influential.

Did his books change the world of online advertising? Did companies move in droves from broadcast mode to conversational mode? Not really.

Conversations Happen Here!

At about the same time, social media became a big thing.

If there is anything online that has a huge neon sign with a flashing arrow pointing to the message, ”Conversations Happen Here”, it’s social media.

Surely social media would finally force companies into the realm of conversational marketing and copywriting.

Apparently not.

Most companies use social media as one more broadcast medium, promoting their stuff in the same, tired, one-way promotional language.

So what’s going on here?

For mainstream advertisers, I think there are two things at play here, both of which are holding back the rise of conversational copywriting.

First, being conversational is seen as more time-consuming. It’s easier, faster and less expensive for companies to stick with “business as usual” and keep pumping out their one-way promotions.

What they don’t factor in is the massive upside of going conversational. The benefits include a big increase in engagement, way higher levels of trust, better conversions to sales and increased customer loyalty.

Sounds good, right? But for some reasons, most companies can’t be bothered to put in the time to make it work.

Second, it’s easier to measure outcomes with traditional advertising. It’s much easier to vacuum up huge amounts of data drawn from ad impressions, clickthroughs, conversions and so on.

Much harder to do the same for conversational copywriting and marketing.

Should you ignore something good just because it’s harder to measure? Of course not!

After all this time, I still have a thing for conversational copywriting.

I’m still a fan. The romance continues.

And when I see companies ignoring the true, conversational nature of the web as a medium, and soldiering on with their old-school, one-way writing and copywriting styles, I just smile.

I smile because I know they’re missing something big.

I know that as the social web expands its influence, conversational copywriting will become more and more important.

And I know that smaller, smarter and nimbler companies will achieve new levels of success by taking the conversational approach.

There is a ton to say about all this…

Over the weeks to come I’ll be digging deeper into the craft of writing conversational copy.

I’ll be showing you what is, how to use and it and why it works.

And I’ll be demonstrating how this kind of writing can become a true superpower for small business owners, entrepreneurs and even freelancers, whatever the industry they work in.


NOTE: I have an entire course devoted to the craft of Conversational Copywriting.


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