Copywriting is an important part of a company’s image, as it helps to define the consumer perception of the brand personality.

For example, Innocent Smoothies uses quirky, light-hearted copy to portray a caring, friendly brand image.

But to what extent can copywriting really impact the consumer perception of a brand when they are already familiar with the business?

Brand language consultancy The Writer investigated this topic by testing people’s reaction to a series of customer scenarios.

2,000 consumers blind-tested writing samples from three airlines and three retailers, as well as an invented sample for each scenario.

Airlines

One scenario tested how customers react when an airline cancels a flight based purely on the email copy.

Respondents were asked whether the refund instructions would put them off flying with each of the airlines again. Here are the results:

  • More than two-thirds were put off flying with Virgin again.
  • More than half were put off flying with British Airways again.
  • Just fewer than 50% were put off flying with Ryanair again.

The Writer’s sample email achieved the best results, which is suggests was due to the fact that it cut out jargon such as ‘monies paid’ and ‘causes within the carrier’s control’.

It was also the only example to offer an apology and made the copy personal by writing ‘we’ and ‘you’ rather than ‘the passenger’
and ‘the carrier’.

The report says that airlines could therefore retain 12% more customers following flight cancellations if they altered the tone of their emails, however this is massively oversimplifying the situation.

Consumers consider a huge number of factors when buying a flight, with the most important probably being the price. So to suggest that the language used in a single email will have such a drastic impact is foolish.

In reality, this test just proves that brand image is far more important than the content of a cancellation email, as if respondents knew which airline had sent each email then the results would likely have been very different.

Retailers

The second scenario tested the impact of language on whether people apply for loyalty cards online. Respondents were asked which card they would opt for based on the writing alone:

  • 11% would choose House of Fraser’s loyalty card.
  • 21% would choose Costa’s.
  • 28% would choose Tesco’s.
  • 40% would choose the imaginary card from The Writer.

For The Writer’s fake sample it sacrificed clarity for personality and even owned up to the fact that there’s something in it for the company if people keep coming back.

Respondents actually felt that Tesco’s writing was clearer (25% vs. 20%), but claimed they would be more likely to apply for the fake card as they warmed to the brand’s personality.

This is an interesting test as it shows the value of speaking to customers in everyday language rather than boring them with a generic sales pitch, though it again ignores the impact of a customer’s existing perception of the brand.

Also the use of warm, personal copy probably wouldn’t work if used on a one-off basis. 

It would need to be part of the brand’s overall image, otherwise it risks coming across as a cynical attempt to flog a loyalty scheme.