Are you ready for this?
I’m coming out swinging. To tear down some of the biggest myths of the copywriting and direct response world.
- The world’s best copywriters swipe…
- Retire this year and still make as much money as most doctors…
- One great sales letter will change your life…
Today, I reveal the unequivocal TRUTH behind the lies. I reveal what THEY don’t want you to know, when they perpetuate these falsehoods.
And what if you’re not a copywriter? What if you you’re not selling copywriting services to clients?
Well, there’s a ton of universal direct response wisdom packed in the debunking I’m doing below. So read anyway!
Half-Truth #1: The world’s best copywriters swipe…
Let me tell you a dirty little secret. My entire inspiration for this article came from the cover of the latest issue of NonProfit PRO magazine. One of the cover headlines: “Half-Truths About Talent Management.”
So “3 Half-Truths About Copywriting” is a pretty blatant swipe.
And here I’m telling you it’s only half-true that the world’s best copywriters swipe?!
It’s rare that my swipes are so blatant. It’s rare that I use headline formulas this overt, directly transposed onto my work. While this kind of swiping is often taught by copywriters who don’t compete in the upper echelons of direct response, it’s a quick way to get killed in the most competitive of markets.
At the very best, you’re telegraphing to the client and their customers, “Who else wants a me-too message, without the kind of unique appeal to really move the markets?”
You see, one of the first filters that fires off in a reader’s brain, when they’re reading a sales message or anything else, is “Have I seen this before?” Their novelty-seeking mechanism doesn’t want to read, hear, or see the same message over and over (and over) again.
And so if it has even a scent of “been there, done that,” you’ve given them an excuse to ignore you.
Does this mean you can’t build on what’s come before? Does this mean you can’t turn to best practices and swipe files for inspiration?
No way! In fact, most of the best copywriters I know today (and I know most of them) have put serious study into the craft, and could probably tell you a few dozen proven headline formulas off the top of their heads.
When I got started in copywriting, I copied over 100 headline formulas onto 3X5 note cards, and would use them as idea generators when working on headlines.
You shortcut your copywriting by knowing what’s worked before.
BUT, you have to avoid sounding like what the prospect has already heard. You have to look, feel, and sound NEW in your message and your presentation.
Here’s how to connect the dots: Swipe ideas and the occasional words, but DO NOT SWIPE ENTIRE PHRASES, or worse, entire templates.
John Caples’s famous “They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play…” was the exact same narrative, psychology, and beneath-the-surface template as his, “They grinned when the waiter spoke to me in French, but their laughter change to amazement at my reply.”
The idea behind it — “I was ridiculed for stepping into an embarrassing situation, but then I proved my doubters wrong…” — is pretty dang universal.
Rookie copywriters with weak swiping skills will write another “they laughed” me-too headline. Great copywriters discover something in their product’s story that matches the idea behind the headline, and use their own unique language and the story’s unique details to say the same thing.
I once had a copywriter applying for a job I was hiring for who stole entire blocks of copy. It was horrible. It didn’t even speak to the market’s current awareness, because it’d been written for another time, and other market conditions. That doesn’t work. But I’ve looked at the same copy he swiped, been inspired, and written my own original copy from that place of inspiration.
Half-Truth #2: Retire this year and still make as much money as most doctors…
Ah, the great promise of “The Writer’s Life.”
For as much as I like AWAI and consider them to be an instrumental part of my success, I cringe every time I think of this headline.
Not because it’s not a good headline. Rather, because it’s a great headline. Great for selling copywriting as a home-based business opportunity, that is.
It, with its accompanying masterful letter by Paul Hollingshead, does a wonderful job of making copywriting sound easy, effortless, and incredibly lucrative.
And AWAI has built a very successful business on the back of this promise.
Not only that, the promise and Paul’s story are fundamentally true. But they’re also not.
The best, highest-earning copywriters I know work their butts off. They’re not retired.
They quit their jobs — like I did in 2010. They work from home, or wherever. They control their schedule, and often work less hours in the day than the average cubicle dweller.
But “retired” we are not!
The best way to write your own paycheck in this business is to work hard, and always stay a step ahead of the competition. That means you’re writing a lot of copy, putting a lot of tests into the market, and developing a lot of campaigns.
Not only that, you’re constantly testing, tweaking, and learning.
You write fast, and then spend a LOT of time editing, and really putting the polish on something, if you know you’re going up against tough competition.
Plus, even though you’re not working in an office, you still have to deal with work politics.
For one, you’ve got the worst boss and worst employee in the world (both yourself). Plus clients can be great, but they come with their own challenges, problems, and headaches, too.
Plus, as a freelancer, you’re running your own business in addition to doing your work. So you’re doing all the things like bookkeeping, marketing, admin tasks, etc., that most employees never have to think of.
Is it possible to work just a few hours a week and live like a king? Yeah. But if you come into this business expecting the lifestyle of your dreams for basically nothing, you’re likely to be quite disappointed.
Half-Truth #3: One great sales letter will change your life…
This famous Halbertism — from “The Prince of Print,” Gary Halbert — is considered direct response gospel.
And like everything above, it’s both true and false.
Gary famously struggled and struggled and struggled to get multiple direct response businesses off the ground. Then, he conceived of a one-page sales letter to sell family crests, that I understand mailed into the hundreds-of-millions or even over a billion times.
He started, built, and sold a successful family crest business, on the back of that one letter.
And Gary went on to become one of the biggest legends in the history of copywriting and direct response, with a long, storied, illustrious career in the business after that.
But here’s the thing.
One sales letter or promotion is not a business. It can create a surge of cash flow that can last months or even years. But if you don’t have anything behind it, that money will go as fast as it came, and you’ll be back where you started before long. (Think of the lottery winner who loses their windfall within 5 years.)
One good sales letter is an OPPORTUNITY to change your life. It creates incredible momentum, for a moment. But that momentum must be maintained. With more sales letters, more strategy, more application of the proven principles of direct response and business building.
Have a successful sales letter? That’s your control. Your control is your enemy. You must beat it, as soon as it takes that throne. And once you have a new control, you have a new enemy.
The same goes for products — even your flagship products. The market is constantly evolving. Today, faster than ever. You must be constantly reinventing yourself, finding new ways to serve your market and past customers, to keep them coming back.
One good sales letter, one big direct response win is the BEGINNING, not the end.
Did I nail it? Miss the mark?
Are there any other “truths” about copywriting that you suspect are only half-true, that you’d like me to address?
Comment on the site here.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,