“Even most really great copywriters don’t have more than one or two really big ideas per year, if that many.”
I paraphrase, but that’s about what I heard someone I really respect say recently. I don’t want to contradict him, but I don’t want it to seem all that magic, either.
Gene Schwartz was famous for saying he didn’t write copy, he assembled it. He’d dig and dig and dig — often going through a book he was writing about 3 or more times — until he found that one breakthrough idea. I’ve spent hours lost in despair, trying to find something, only to have it jump out and the copy practically writes itself.
If you know what you’re looking for, you can find a lot of big ideas. Today and tomorrow, you’ll get a couple essays diving deep to help you know what to look for.
Continuing with our “Best of Breakthrough Marketing Secrets” series…
Copywriters: How to uncover big ideas for your promotions (Part I)
Hola! Welcome to another Mailbox Monday!
I know I have a lot of business owners and marketers on my list who do NOT necessarily rank copywriting as the #1 thing you have questions about.
But here’s the thing. It’s the copywriters who keep asking all the good questions! As is the case today, and for the next couple Mondays.
If you’re one of the business owners or marketers who says, “Roy, I thought this was a MARKETING newsletter… Why is every issue about copywriting?” Well… Here’s your chance…
Shoot me an email at [email protected] with your most pressing marketing question. I’d LOVE to answer it in a coming Mailbox Monday issue.
Okay, on to today’s question…
Reader Jarvis Sok writes…
Hi Roy, what I need the most is how to generate the big idea. I sometimes, also find it difficult execute that big idea. Can you give me a clue on that?
Jarvis, great question. In fact…
I think it’s one of the most important questions in direct response copywriting today.
In most direct response markets, it’s been a LONG time since you could simply put out an ad or sales letter with a bold, benefit-driven promise, make an offer, and collect the money.
Today, there’s too much competition. Things don’t work that way anymore.
You need something to stand out. But not just a bigger, bolder promise.
And that’s the reason so many marketers and copywriters recently — myself included — have gotten so hot on “big idea” promotions.
You can call it the hook… You can call it the selling story…
Whatever you call it…
Your “big idea” is both the starting point and the narrative skeleton that you hang the rest of your sales letter or promotion on…
“The End of America” is a well-known example. The whole promo is about the one financial event — the end of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency — that will signal the end of America as we know it, according to the author. It’s not the top-grossing financial newsletter promotion of the last few years (as far as I understand it, Newsmax’s Aftershock Survival Summit has brought in more dineros), however it’s certainly the best-known.
And it’s a great example. I think it was something like a 74-minute sales video, which I estimate would put it somewhere around 12,000 to 14,000 words, built around that single narrative.
It’s an advertising idea that even seeped into pop culture. It went from a customer-getting device for an obscure financial newsletter publisher from Baltimore, to a hotly-debated financial news item. It surely wasn’t all because of the promo itself, however the language used was certainly influenced by the Stansberry piece. And the more that language was thrown around in pop culture, and radio and TV conversations, and on internet forums and the like, the more customers it kept generating for Stansberry.
That’s the power of an incredibly compelling big idea.
Bill Bonner, founder of Agora Inc., is one of the best-known big idea copywriters…
And I had a chance to sit down with Bill a couple years back, and pick his brain on this very subject. So, as I dig into this concept, his is a great bird’s-eye-view perspective to share with you.
Bill told me that the #1 thing you have to do is get into your prospect’s head as much as possible. Read what he reads. Listen to the shows he listens to. Watch what he watches. Go where he goes. Etc. (And I’m just using “he” because gender-specific language is more interesting to the brain than neutered language — if your prospect is “she” all the same applies.) And find whatever story jumps out at you as the most interesting. Then dive into that story, and understand it better than anyone else. Then finally, turn around and tell it in as interesting, compelling, and easy-to-read way as possible.
If you get the story right, this simple process is likely to give you a winner. We all miss on the stories (even Bill said he does a lot). And that’s why we test. But if we find the story someone will be interested in, and tell it in an interesting way, and tie it to our product, that’s how you find the big idea that creates the winner.
Now before I give you more specific advice, the challenge in teaching this…
This is both an easy and a hard question to answer.
I equate it to teachings of enlightenment in Buddhism and other meditative traditions that hold enlightenment as an ideal.
“Enlightenment” isn’t necessarily something that can be taught or passed on. It must be found or recognized. And yet, there are entire schools and traditions and lineages dedicated to “teaching” enlightenment.
Sometimes, this involves teaching meditation. Because meditation can lead to the epiphany and experience of enlightenment.
And sometimes it’s done through what are called “pointing out instructions.” These are simple stories, parables, or narratives designed to point out what enlightenment is. For someone who is already enlightened, it’s easy to see what is being pointed out. For a beginner, not so much. And so if the pointing out instruction is “The enlightened mind is no different than the unenlightened mind,” the beginner may feel completely lost. However, a practitioner who has experienced this state of awareness will recognize what is being pointed to.
I fear that Bill’s story already was too obscure. I fear that anything I’ll say next will be too obscure. That it will make sense to me, and other copywriters who do this every day. And yet…
Let me still do my best in “pointing out” where I seek to find the big idea, so that you may recognize it when it smacks you in the face!
For starters, just this weekend I was re-listening to an interview Ken McCarthy conducted with the great Gary Bencivenga, “America’s Best Copywriter.” (Both will be speaking at September’s Titans of Direct Response event — a RARE and never-to-be-repeated occasion — and time is running out to register.)
Gary made two important points regarding some of his most important lessons to writing consistent winners…
First, is the idea that you always want to put something of value in the advertising itself. A gem of wisdom. Something of value the reader walks away with whether they buy your product or not. This achieves a lot of things, and Gary certainly covered a lot more in that interview than I can cover here. But the core thing related to the big idea is this: if you have an incredibly compelling piece of information to share with your reader, make that the centerpiece of your promotion. That can be your big idea. 10 big economic predictions. A breakthrough new cure for a common ailment. A new solution to one of your prospect’s biggest problems. All of these have the potential to be a strong big idea.
Second, is proof and credibility items. Gary gave an old John Caples headline as an example. Caples split tested two headlines, “Tension Headaches” versus “When Doctors Have Headaches, What Do They Do?” Which one won? It was the doctors one. Why? Because it put the proof of a trusted authority up front in the ad. There are dozens of ways to build proof, credibility, and believability in your advertising. If you can find a piece of proof surrounding your product, its ingredients, its creator, or any other item that supports the sale, it can function as a solid centerpiece for the sale, and great “big idea” for your ad.
I’m starting to run long for today though, and rather than skimp on you, I want to continue to deliver a ton of value around this…
And so I’m actually going to cut off for now, and officially call this email “Part I.” And I’ll go ahead and pick up on Part II tomorrow. With a TON more advice and ideas. Including some gems from Clayton Makepeace, and others.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,