The real secret to success as a copywriter is not what you think…
Read the books and study the classic gurus, and you’re going to get all sorts of advice.
— Study old ads.
— Copy famous ads and sales letters by hand.
— Buy my course!
… And so on, and so on.
All of that can be helpful — to a degree.
But it’s not the most important thing new copywriters should do.
I’ll tell you what to do instead.
It’s Mailbox Monday…
Which means today’s article is a response to YOUR questions.
If you have a question — about marketing, copywriting, selling, internet business-building, your career, personal development, or related topics — submit it here. If yer a lucky sucker you’ll get it answered in an upcoming issue of Breakthrough Marketing Secrets.
As a freelancer who is getting into the financial copywriting world and reading up everything she sees as it relates to her niche, what is the first thing you can advise me to focus on, in getting it right with financial copywriting?
Really look forward to hearing your blunt and truth-filled response.
I did this all wrong…
I still have the 3X5 note cards where I copied all the headline formulas.
I hand-wrote copy.
I tried to write like all those famous copywriters we all put up on a pedestal.
But much of my early copy was junk.
I still remember trying to write for a market I didn’t know at all — erection supplements.
Yeah, that’s right.
I wrote for a penis pills marketer.
I tried to copy every tactical trick in the book. I wrote a headline that (I thought) John Carlton would’ve written.
I wrote stories like (I thought) Dan Kennedy would’ve written.
I wrote an offer like (I thought) Gary Halbert would’ve written.
And the client HATED it.
“You don’t even understand these people,” he chewed me out…
And he was… RIGHT.
Now I’d love to tell you that all turned around magically and I wrote a huge winner for him.
But he didn’t have the patience and I didn’t have the chops or dedication at that time.
This was when copywriting was still my side gig, and I was doing these edits during the evenings and weekends.
He ended up editing my copy to something mostly unrecognizable. And I don’t even know if it tested. But it definitely wasn’t a big winner.
And it wasn’t because I should’ve copied more copywriters.
SIDE NOTE: One of my friends, a top A-list copywriter who can kick most copywriters’ butts in both financial and health, wrote this to me jokingly the other day: “How many copywriters would a copywriter copy if a copywriter could copy writers?”
In that project — and in any other — if the answer is more than ZERO, you probably won’t create much of a winner.
Because while you should absolutely learn from others — and stand on the shoulders of giants — you need to be your own writer.
And that goes way deeper than anything tactical, like copying writing style.
You become your own writer by understanding and speaking to your market…
Which brings me back around to the point of this article…
The 1st thing you should do when starting as a copywriter is to GET TO KNOW YOUR MARKET.
This is — by far — more important than any other aspect of learning to be a copywriter.
The more intimately you know your market — their dreams, desires, and destiny, their fears, frustrations, and failures — the easier you will find it to respond.
The book Method Marketing by Denny Hatch is becoming a cult classic of direct response copywriting for a reason (and it’s not just due to my promotion).
It tells 20 stories — both of those marketers who knew their markets well, and those who didn’t.
And the fascinating thing is the HUGE gap in skill and experience among these marketers. Some are featured for their very first sales letter hitting homerun status. Others were professional copywriters eking out a living for years before any noteworthy hit.
All the success stories though were featured for one reason — they resonated with their readers on a level far deeper than any copy techniques will every reach.
My favorite is a simple letter, written by a volunteer named Carol Farkas at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital. It was a remarkably simple request for a donation, written using the mechanism of a chain letter (please send in your donation, and then send this letter to 10 friends).
Farkas had no copywriting or fundraising experience, but she knew her market. She knew how to present her offer (supporting the hospital) in simple language that would resonate.
She wrote from the heart, to that market, and it resonated. The hospital hated that it was a chain letter. But according to one tally it generated over $400,000 in donations from 24,000 new donors, at ZERO cost to the hospital.
Knowing your market is the cornerstone of response…
If I write to you about something you care about, you’ll forgive 1,000 small missteps in my message.
My grammar’s not perfect.
My offer’s askew.
My headline barely hooked you in.
But as long as you start reading and I keep writing about something you care about, you keep reading.
That requires me to know you and what you care about.
You know what a sales pitch has to contain.
It has to contain the pitch part — why you should care about my offer. And it has to contain the offer — what you get, in exchange for what investment.
Breaking it down, it really is that simple.
If you can write in a way that really connects with my desires and you have a pitch and an offer, it doesn’t matter if you know the perfect headline formula.
It just matters that you show me something I want, and offer a way for me to get it.
How to get to know your market…
Here I’ll talk specifically about financial. But try to also generalize the advice to other markets.
FIRST: Become one of them.
For investments, this means you need to invest. You need to follow hot stock tips. Make a bunch of money. Lose it all. Make some back. Lose some. Sweat the down days in the market. Ride the high days on a wave of dopamine. Do it with money you can afford to lose. Consider it your investment in your education.
I started doing this in early 2007. If you know anything about the markets, you know what happened after that. I lost a lot of my initial investments. I’ve made a bunch, and lost it. But along the way, I became a member of my audience. And every day I watch the markets, it becomes easier to connect with my audience.
Perhaps that was the problem with me selling penis pills. In my mid-20s, it was hard to empathize with a 58-year-old middle-class guy going gray, in a marriage he wished still felt more like the honeymoon, unsure of himself and unsure of everything, and unable to “perform” for his partner.
Yes, there are ways around it. Get good at interviewing and listening. Study what your market says and writes (forums, social media, product reviews, customer mail, and more are good sources for this). But ultimately, the more you can walk in your customer’s shoes, the better copywriter you’ll become.
SECOND: Study them.
I started to veer into this territory, but go deeper.
Learning their demographics (age, income, location, etc.) is only marginally important. Instead, study psychographics — how they think and behave.
Who are they? What are they interested in? What do they read? Who did they vote for in the last election, and what do they think about that choice now? What other interests do they share, completely unrelated to your market? How do they feel about your market, and companies like yours/your client’s? Who are their heroes? Their enemies?
The more rounded picture you can paint of a real person who is at the core of your market, the better you’ll be able to write to that person individually. And the better you’re able to write to that person individually, the easier it will be to move masses of buyers in your market.
The more you know your market, the more powerful all your marketing will be…
Everything else you study or learn as a copywriter or marketer is a lower priority than learning your market and what makes them tick.
And put all learning in that context.
It’s not “What copy techniques made this promotion a success?”
It’s “What beliefs in the market was this promo speaking to that made it resonate to the point where prospects couldn’t help but pay attention then respond?”
The better your answers for questions like that, the bigger breakthroughs you’ll create.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,