Today I want to talk about one of the most undervalued - yet most important - skills business owners can learn. And that is copywriting.
So, first, what is “copywriting” exactly? Copywriting is simply the message you create for your market. Copywriting can mean the words on a page, it can mean a script for a video or audio broadcast…it can mean the words on your website or in your mail piece. It is the words in your ads…basically any time you are writing in order to promote your product or service....one of the most undervalued - yet most important - skills business owners can learn...is copywriting.
Al Lasker called it “salesmanship in print”. I think this is an apt description. What you are doing is trying to persuade or sell people through your written word. What appeals to me most about good copy is its ability to take a one-to-one message and turn it into a one-to-many message. In other words, if you are giving a sales presentation to a potential customer then you are severely limiting your reach because there is only so much of you to go around…there are only so many hours in a day for you to work.
But if you can take that same message and create a compelling sales letter or landing page with it then you have the potential to reach (and sell) thousands or even millions more people. This is the power of good copywriting.
So, today I want to give you some guidelines on how you can create compelling copy for yourself. These are not comprehensive suggestions by any means because this subject is vast and ever-evolving. And in the show notes I will link out to some resources I recommend if you want to dig a little deeper into this subject. For our purposes here though, these seven principles should give you a good starting point.
Headlines are the Most Important Element
This may seem obvious but it continues to amaze me how little time some copywriters spend on the headline. If you were to break it down, I would say that 80% of the time you spend on writing your copy should be spent on the headline and the other 20% on the rest of the message.
Ideally you are going to want to create anywhere from 20 to 100 different headlines and begin whittling them down from there, until you have 3-5 of your strongest. If at all possible, these will be used to test your offer against one another. So you may run 3 to 5 different variations of your ad, all with a different headline to see which one wins. The winner is called a control, and you’ll then start trying to beat that control with another headline…but that’s a different topic for a different day.
Anyway, so, the question becomes, how do you write a good headline? Here are a few tips…
Flagging Headlines: these are headlines that call out to a certain segment of the market. “Attention Moms…” or “Hey Attorneys…” These work because they speak directly to the market you wish to engage. If you are really into football for example, a headline might be “Attention all football fans…” An even better headline might be “Calling all Chicago Bears fans…” Remember, the more specific you can be here the better.
Number Headlines: Headlines that start with a number tend to do well. Like this one. “7 Tips for Writing Copy…” Leading with statistics works well too. “1 in 4 People Blank” or whatever. Statistics and numbers help create curiosity.
Question Headlines: “Do you suffer from diabetes?” or “Are you a business owner struggling to get leads?” Questions act a lot like the flagging headline in the sense that they call out a segment of the market that you are trying to reach. They are also important because they create a “yes” answer right away. If you do suffer from diabetes you either consciously or subconsciously answer yes to that question…and all good sales people know that if you can get your prospect to start saying yes then it gets progressively easier to get them to say yes to the sale.
How-To Headlines: “How to kiss a woman” or “How to save 30% on your next vacation”…how-to headlines satisfy that need we all have to learn new things and understand things we don’t currently understand.
Power Word Headlines: Words like free, amazing, new, incredible, eye-opening, and on and on are tried and true copy points to use in headlines. Everyone on the planet insists that their customers are too sophisticated to respond to such copy, but that’s nonsense. I bet your customers still grab the free sausage on a toothpick at Costco. It’s in our nature to want free things, to want amazing or incredible things. These words work. Use them.
I literally could talk about headlines for hours and hours. These should get you started, but if you want to really become a great copywriter, study headlines every chance you get. Look at magazines, popular websites, and watch infomercials. The headlines from the National Enquirer are worthy of study. I’m not kidding. Grab a copy of one the next time you’re at the grocery store. Don’t worry about what the cashier thinks of you…she probably reads it too. The headlines in that magazine are something to behold. Trust me.
Design Around Copy
The graphic designers in my office give me pushback on this all the time, but copy should not be written around the design of the piece, design should follow copy. In other words, you need to get your message across the best way you can and then let the designer work around that.
Now, sometimes you are constrained by certain limitations, like how big your ad is or whatever, but generally speaking, your copy should be as long as it needs to be to get your message through to your readers. That doesn’t mean that design isn’t important, it is. But not at the expense of your copy.
I have seen too many instances where compelling copy with horrible design out pulls beautifully designed work with crappy copy. Don’t leave it to chance. Write kick ass copy and then let your designers work around it to make it look pretty.
Solutions Trump Benefits
In the earliest days of copy, when the competitive landscape wasn’t as fierce, advertising would simply list the features of the product or service and that was enough to get the sale because they would simply differentiate themselves based on the features they did or didn’t have.
Pretty soon competitors started creating similar enough products that selling the features didn’t work anymore. Advertisers had to start selling the benefits of their product over the features of their competitors.
To give an example, the features of a bicycle might have been: handbrakes, 10 speeds, rubber tires, and a flexible seat. Or whatever. I don’t ride bicycles so I don’t know much about them. I guess I could have picked a different product, but here we are.
Anyway, the benefits of the bicycle might be braking from full speed to complete stop in less than 2 seconds. A flexible seat that allows you to comfortably ride for miles and miles without fatigue. Smooth transitions between speeds lets you effortlessly climb hills. And on and on.
Fast forward to today, and even the benefits are starting to be worn thin. All the sudden, every bicycle company out there is saying the same thing as you. So, where are we now? We’re selling solutions.
With the new 10-Speed Eagle One you will win your next cross country race. Flying around turns, creating space between you and other cyclists, your new bike will leave them in the dust as you cross the finish line, arms held aloft in triumph.
Now all the sudden we are selling a solution. Winning the race. Of course you have to be careful here that your mouth doesn’t write checks that your butt can’t cash, but if you can sell solutions then you have an inside track to your customers’ innermost desires.
For weight loss this might be, “With our diet plan you can finally fit into that dress you bought.”
For a CPA it might be, “Our Audit-Free Guarantee means you know that you won’t be audited by the IRS or we’ll pay the costs.”
Think about ways you can offer a solution over just features or benefits.
Tell a Story
Piggy-backing off the last point, you’ll notice that selling a solution involved a bit of storytelling. This is a crucial copy point in today’s competitive landscape. If you can tell great stories through your copy then you are going to win. It’s that simple.
Stories can be used to sell virtually anything. I recently saw an ad for chewing gum that featured a guy going on a first date with a girl and it ended with the two of them watching the sunset, sharing a pack of gum. It was a great ad that had an even better story…all this for gum.
You can use analogies or metaphors to explain complex ideas. Like when my friend Russell Brunson was trying to sell a weight loss product that used ketones and he described being in ketosis as a “million little motivational speakers running through your body”…that was a great metaphor that told a crystal clear story.
There are dozens and dozens of ways to structure your stories, but at their core they really only need three elements: a character, a conflict, and a resolution. That’s really it.
In the chewing gum ad, the character was the kid going on a first date, the conflict was that he was self-conscious about himself, his breath in particular, and the resolution was the product; the gum.
Simple stuff, but powerful. Think about what kinds of stories you can create using that structure of character, conflict, and resolution. I am betting that you already have some stories just like that with some of your customers. Can you highlight how they were facing a conflict and used your product to resolve it? Bam, instant ad copy right there.
I learned this trick from a guy named Bill Glazer. Some of you may know who Bill is, but Bill ran a company called GKIC for several years. GKIC stood for Glazer-Kennedy Insider’s Circle and he had purchased Kennedy’s Insider Circle from Dan Kennedy.
Anyway, Bill talked about this concept called the “double-readership path” and when I heard it I understood why long form copy generally out pulls short copy. Everyone on the planet will insist that they don’t read long copy and that their customers won’t either and every year some study comes out showing that long copy still performs better than short copy and the reason why is this idea of a double readership path.
Essentially what this means is using sub-headings, lists, or bullets to convey bits of information that can stand alone and then including more in-depth content for each one. What this does is it lets you scan a long form copy advertisement and get the basic idea of what it is about and then digging deeper into the copy if something catches your eye.
For example, if I am looking for a way to troubleshoot my computer and I come across an article that lists things to look for when experiencing my particular problem and it’s just this long rambling article about troubleshooting my problem then it is unlikely that I am going to read very far into it.
On the other hand, if it lists 5 things to look for and breaks those 5 things up into manageable chunks with clear sub-headings then I can quickly scan the article until maybe I land on say, number 3, and then read that point more in-depth to see if it is what I am looking for. This keeps me engaged with the content and makes it easy for me to digest it.
This could work with anything really. If I am reading an ad about a weight loss regimen and it employs this double-readership technique then I can skim it until I see something that speaks to me and then go deeper from there. This is a great tool that you should always use where possible.
I won’t spend a lot of time on this one because it is pretty self-explanatory, but you should keep in mind that specifics are always going to be better than vague generalities.
“How to Save Money on Your Taxes” is always going to perform worse than “How to Save 50% on Your Taxes This Year.”
“Lose Weight Fast” will do worse than “Lose 3 Inches This Weekend Without Cutting Carbs.”
When in doubt, be as specific as possible in your copy. And this applies to your body copy or bullets too, not just your headlines. This can even apply to your testimonials. You have probably seen testimonials that just use initials for example. These are infinitely worse than testimonials that use full names. What would be more likely to believe? A testimonial from J.S. or a testimonial from Jason Sanders, Buffalo, NY?
Match the Message to Your Medium and/or Your Audience
This is one of those subtleties that makes copywriting so challenging, but it is important to the success of your ads. What this means is to write for the medium you are using. This should go without saying, but I see it over and over where a client will use the same script for a television ad as they are for the radio or the copy for a social post is the same as a banner ad. Or this might be writing a social post for Instagram for example and then just copying that post over to LinkedIn.
You have to match the message to your medium. This means different copy for different platforms. Don’t be lazy here. It is worth tweaking your copy according to the best practices of the platform. Sure it takes more time and might cost more, but the lost sales from not doing it are going to far outweigh any costs associated with doing it.
The second way this is screwed up is not matching the message to the audience. If you are an insurance agent selling life policies to executives at Fortune 500 companies and local business owners and you try talking to them the same you are going to fail.
I remember a client of mine back in the call center days who wanted us to target residents of New York City and residents of Alabama. They were using the same script for both and I told them they were making a mistake. Folks in Alabama aren’t going to respond to a script written for New Yorkers…that’s just a fact of life. So, they ignored me and ran it any way. Results from Alabama were dismal and they blamed it on the state instead of their script.
I also heard a story from a guy I know who was selling backyard sheds to older folks. He pulled a mailing list on known infomercial buyers and sent them a fancy mailer. The results were awful. They then realized that maybe it was because these people bought stuff through infomercials and not through direct mail.
So, they created this infomercial style DVD that they included in the next batch of mailers and their results went through the roof. They had successfully matched their message to their audience.
I hope you can use these copy points to help you craft your next winning message...it can make all the difference in the world.