Superb verbs: what “doing” words do for your copywriting

Some days I’d surrender my first-born for a superb verb.

Clever verbs trump nouns or adjectives any day. They overshadow pronouns and decimate adverbs (absolutely).

A verb can tell your audience so much more than a string of wimpy, overused adjectives. Used well, they paint masterful word-pictures and require minimal punctuation so are less likely to slow down your reader.

Creative writers know well the value of verbs. Copywriters know the principle is just as relevant to business communications.

Headlines and taglines

In short copy, especially in headlines, where every word must heave its weight, verbs are champion power-lifters.

Some examples from today’s newspaper:

“Serena wobbles her way to 500th win”

“Racism still shadows our history”

“Rescuers race against the odds”

In each case, the verb narrates a big part of the action … before the reader has even reached the story.

Check out the superb verbs in these taglines:

Obey your thirst – Sprite

Lifts and separates – Playtex Cross-your-heart Bra

Connecting people – Nokia

Catch our smile – Southwest Airlines

Relax, it’s FedEx – FedEx

Play. Laugh. Grow. – Fisher Price

Look sharp. Feel sharp. – Gillette

Invent – Hewlett Packard

Or one I developed for Ladybird Organics – crawling with natural goodness.

Descriptive copy

Even in longer descriptive copywriting, a strong verb fizzes up the action and elevates your business content from blah to brilliant.

Let’s look at home page content I recently developed for Steampocket, a diminutive café within a couple of blocks of my home office:

“Steampocket is a tiny pocket of culinary heaven dovetailed into Pakington Street’s Paris end, right in the heart of Newtown’s famous foodie-come-retail precinct.”

I chose “dovetailed” here for a couple of reasons. It gives a sense of purpose, that this venue fits perfectly into the surrounding streetscape – that it’s not there by accident. There’s also that pleasing word-link between heaven and dove, which helps engender atmosphere.

“We’re all about artisan food – fresh, wholesome, house-made fare. All created with love. Think: brilliant breakfasts, lip-smacking lunches and pizzas worth dying for.”

I could have used prepared, cooked, baked or made but I chose “created” for its connection to “artisan” and it’s capacity to build a sense that something special is going on in this kitchen.

“Dining takes on a new meaning in our laid-back courtyard. Friends mingle. Conversation flows (as does the barista coffee). Find a cosy corner or get amongst the action – either way you’ll love our no-fuss service.”

“Mingle” is emotional and connective and a natural with conversation that “flows”. Together they create an aspirational experience, a notion that the reader would enjoy being here.

“We punch well above our size, with divine catering and sublime take-home meal options that spread our foodie love far beyond Steampocket into special occasions and family homes.”

“Punch” is unexpected in this setting so demands attention for the information that follows. It’s a short word that conveys strength and capacity.

Calls to action

Verbs are natural motivators because they generate emotion and drama. They galvanise thought into action. Think: discover, learn, save, indulge, explore, experience, create.

With calls to action, you want things to happen fast so active verbs are the key. Passive verbs just don’t cut it. They’re weak, insipid and totally non-persuasive.

Compare passive:

More can be discovered at www…

with active:

Discover more at www…

Again, passive:

Your renovation project could be rescued with our …

with active:

Rescue your renovation project with our …

Active verbs energise these calls to action, amplifying their effectiveness.

Next time you’re reaching for an adjective (or worse, an adverb), consider a superb verb and what it can do to vitalise your message. Hopefully, you won’t have to surrender your first-born in return.


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