Hello and welcome to another Mailbox Monday here at Breakthrough Marketing Secrets!
If you’re newer, you should know Mondays are the days where I answer YOUR questions. Shoot me an email with your question on marketing, business, selling, life, or whatever to [email protected].
This week’s question is a good one from Ryan Johnson, who I met at The Titans of Direct Response.
Ryan works with Ramit Sethi at I Will Teach You To Be Rich. As part of his job, Ryan spends some time helping greener copywriters up to speed quickly.
It’s a great question — and one that I think will yield insights for ANYONE involved with marketing copy, not just copy chiefs and supervisors.
First, two points of business.
One, regarding your midnight deadline…
I shot you a separate email regarding the midnight deadline to get a spot on the hotel’s room block during my workshop next month. It’s significant savings — at least $100 bucks — so you want to reserve your room tonight.
Also, I’m using the hotel’s deadline as an excuse to cut off my registrations. YOU WILL BE LOCKED OUT AFTER TONIGHT!
I know a lot of copywriters struggle to figure out how to make it in this biz. Even if you write decent copy, you can feel like you’re always battling uphill to get clients to hire you, and impress them once they do.
In fact, I see HUGE mistakes being made by otherwise competent copywriters that just turn off clients.
Correcting these mistakes is almost like stepping into a brand new business. Where clients want to hire you, where they give you a ton more respect, and where you’re able to get the results that earn you much bigger fees and royalties.
If that’s what you want from your copywriting business, you’re going to want to join me next month…
Two, regarding Friday’s “Ego” post…
If you’re a regular reader, you probably know how excited that Doberman Dan is a regular reader. This dude trained directly with Gary Halbert, and got the Halbert seal of approval. He built a 7-figure supplement business with direct response, and sold it off for a nice payday.
And he could probably write these things as well as I could.
Well, Dan was one of the folks who emailed me after Friday’s post, and I got his permission to share with you…
You’re starting to reveal the REAL secrets to success in copywriting. (Actually success in anything.)
Sadly, it took me about 30 years to REALLY understand this. Prior to that I was always looking for a “technique” or BSO.
I hope your readers understand the value of this… but experience shows probably only 1% do. But we’re listening and we appreciate it.
Keep ’em comin’
If you missed Friday’s post about why a big ego is a good thing, you should go back and read it.
See what Dan is talking about.
I’m not making this stuff up. It’s way more important than the latest headline formula that’s working for banner ads.
Now for Ryan’s question…
I’ve been enjoying your emails.
Here’s a question for you: How do you teach someone green, someone just starting out, how to emotionally connect with the reader of your copy? Beyond “picture them sitting in front of you” advice. How do you build up the psychological intuition and deep empathy which is so important for great writers to have?
Looking forward to more,
Ryan, first off, I think you’re asking me to accomplish a bit of an impossible task. But that never stopped me from trying — so I’ve got a few insights that might work…
I’m going to start with some of the more common mechanical suggestions. Because they work. And because if I left them out, I’d be doing you a disservice.
First, I do believe in the power of copying out great copy by hand — or at least typing it in.
This forces you to go deeper with the copy than you would with a read-through. It forces you to pay attention to every word.
But I also think you (or these writers) need to go beyond that.
Start to ask yourself questions about the copy…
What was going on in this market and the broader culture when this ad was written? Recent ads are more obvious. But let’s take the investment field as an example. Investors 10 years ago were in a completely different place mentally than they are today. So if you’re studying an ad about an investment from 10 years ago, you have to think about this. Try to really understand the market at the time, and how this ad may have resonated with them.
What was the copywriter doing with each piece of copy? Why did they write the headline and intro the way they did? Why was the offer structured the way it was? What reaction are the different passages meant to evoke?
What is the underlying psychology or narrative structure in the ad? There’s what they were saying, and then what it meant. The “They Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano… Then I Started To Play!” is my favorite example here. That has a superficial formula: “They Laughed…” And lazy copywriters will swipe that. But underneath is an emotional story: “I was doubted, and I proved those suckers wrong!” Peeling back the superficial details and looking one layer deeper is a great way to understand the emotion and psychology that drives response.
Tell them to stop writing copy…
I think this is HUGE and I don’t see it taught nearly anywhere. I think that a lot of copywriters spend all their time learning all the little tactics of copywriting. And they end up writing obvious, boring, and formulaic copy that has little appeal to the reader.
It feels “me too” and it doesn’t get read.
The best copy is simply a compelling narrative told from one person to another. So for the first draft (and I’ve done this recently with one of my coaching clients), tell them to just write the story. Forbid them from giving it a title or a headline. Forbid them from putting all the “copy” elements in it. Just tell the story that needs to be told.
Spend all your time digging into that. Make sure that’s right. Then go back and layer the copy elements on top of it.
Most people fundamentally know what gets them excited about something — and what would get others fairly excited about it, too. But somewhere there’s a huge disconnect between that and turning it into copy. And it comes because they’re trying to “write good copy.” They’re trying to write to formulas.
So rather than try to get these greener copywriters to write compelling copy, try getting them to write compellingly.
It seems like a little distinction, but it’s really not.
Reading and understanding fiction helps, along with other non-copy items…
Gary Halbert was famous for recommending the John D. MacDonald Travis McGee novels. Those are good. But so is Lost, or Breaking Bad, or a dozen other great modern TV shows. Anything that really hooks you in, take a little bit to sit back and figure out WHY. What did they do?
The same can be done with Reader’s Digest articles. Human interest stories on dozens of sites on the internet.
Even while you’re browsing the news, recognize when an article gets the click, and then moves you. Study it to find out why.
Also, it’s worth studying storytelling and fiction writing. Understand tropes. What they are, and why they work. (Think about when they might work in copy, too.) Learn from fiction writers who’ve written about the process of writing fiction.
Notice I’m making a lot of suggestions to take you away from copywriting books. While I think most copywriters will benefit tremendously from understanding the mechanics of good copywriting, I know great copywriters who’ve never cracked a book on copywriting, and prefer materials like these instead.
(In line with my “big ego” post linked above, I also think it’s helpful to learn about human development and spiritual traditions — and in general just to expand yourself and understanding of the world. This can be HUGE.)
You can also get them to listen to their market…
Notice I said “listen,” not “talk.”
They can have conversations with buyers and other members of the market, but make them focus on asking questions then shutting up. They want to let folks go on, and really reveal themselves.
Also, lurking on internet forums where your market talks is a great way to get some of their inner thoughts.
And, believe it or not, Amazon book reviews are an awesome place to start to understand your market. I learned this from Jay Abraham. Look at all the top-selling books on your subject, and read the reviews. Look for the emotionally-charged ones. Try to understand what the person was saying, and why. Internalize that person’s story.
The more they know about the market’s emotional story, the less they have to fabricate one for copy.
Work on outlining and editing…
Rather than work on writing copy, I recommend working on outlining and editing. If the thinking isn’t right, the writing won’t be either. Spend time before you start the project figuring out what a compelling narrative will be. With that thinking in place, it’s far easier for the writer to create a compelling first draft.
And then, don’t be afraid to edit. Something might have sounded great when you found it or thought of it. It may have sounded great when you stuck it in your outline. But it may suck the wind out of your copy’s sails when the reader hits it.
Drop it. Cut it. Don’t be afraid of that.
These things come before and after — but are just as important to the writing as what’s actually going on when the writer sits down at their keyboard.
And then, two scary truths…
Ultimately Ryan, you should also ask yourself two questions…
- What can happen quickly, and what will only come about as a result of real experience over years and maybe decades?
While I think there are ways to shortcut all of this, I’m also realistic. Some of this expertise will only come from writing. And so they need to write — a lot — and get feedback on what they wrote. And they’ll keep getting better and better. But it may not be overnight.
- What if this person just isn’t that good — what should I expect of them?
I risk scaring off a bunch of folks by even admitting this. But it’s possible you could run into copywriters who just don’t “get it.” And they might be good for different kinds of writing. But not the writing you need from them. And so you have to be willing to recognize that and move on. I wouldn’t shut the door completely. Things may change. But right now they’re not a fit, and you accept that and both of you go looking for a better fit.
I hope this is helpful!
Unfortunately I can’t promise overnight results, but this is all a solid foundation…
Getting good at copy is definitely a process. I’ve written before about the results that occur from getting 1% better every week. This is something I learned from the great Gary Bencivenga.
1% a week may not seem like a lot, but it starts to add up fast. And because many will only get 1% better a month, or 1% better a year, you’re very quickly lapping your competition.
The same expectations should apply to the copywriters you’re working with. Aim to make them better as fast as possible, but invest in them for the long haul. If you can keep ‘em, it will start to pay substantial dividends before long.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets
PS — Like this? You’ll love the content at my workshop. Another spot is gone as I write this. Click here to register by 11:59 Central Time tonight.