I’ve been incredibly fortunate to, in my first decade as a direct response copywriter, have some “behind closed doors” conversations with many of the top copywriters in the business.
Some, freelance copywriters who’ve enjoyed long, successful, storied careers.
Others, business owners and partners that have mostly written copy for their own companies for years or decades.
ALL, immensely talented at this skill called copywriting — sales multiplied through media.
And what I’ve found is that when they talk about copywriting, the conversation they have is the 180-degree opposite of what most workaday copywriters want to talk about.
Most rookies, novices, and even most pros (everything but the cream of the crop) tend to talk about a lot of tactical things about writing copy.
They’ll talk about really banal topics that have little impact on persuasion, like grammar. Sure, having passable grammar is good — though for selling to anybody but grammarians, passable grammar is all you need.
They’ll talk about things like copy length, or formatting, or a whole host of other things that matter, a bit, but don’t matter nearly as much as they think.
In short, the bottom, let’s say, 95%+ of copywriters talk about skills.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with skills. At one time, even the world’s best copywriters spent a lot of time honing their skills.
But the fundamental “copywriting skills” will only get you so far.
You can make a decent living with copywriting skills. But it’s hard to create a runaway success with just skills.
Here’s what the world’s best copywriters like to talk about when they talk shop…
What will really move an audience is not the SKILLS you have as a writer. In fact, in the best copywriting, the writing is almost invisible.
What moves an audience is the MESSAGE.
If you have an incredible knack for message, you don’t have to have the greatest copywriting skills.
In fact, there are many cases of incredibly persuasive pieces of copy written by folks who were NOT trained copywriters outselling and outperforming competing copy written by A-list copywriters. Why? Because they knew the message inside and out, and told it in an incredibly compelling way.
So… What makes a great message?
First and foremost, it answers the reader’s question of “What’s in it for me?” with every breath. Not overtly — that’s amateurish. But the writer knows in every sentence why they’re presenting that to the reader — and when necessary, showing the reader that carrot to keep them engaged.
Aside from that, a great message hits all the standard points of great journalism…
WHO… Who is the writer? What is their character? Their voice? Their credibility and believability? Who is the reader? Why should they pay attention to the writer? Are their other subjects in the story? Who are they? What is their importance? Who is the enemy of the story? The victim? The hero?
WHAT… What’s going on? What was happening before this, to set up the situation? What’s happening now? What’s the transformation that will happen to the reader? What do they need to know before the message is complete? What’s new and unique and interesting about this that they’ve never heard before?
WHEN… When did this become relevant? When will they get results? When do they need to respond by?
WHERE… How does place fit into the message? How is place irrelevant? What are the details of the where that matter to the story? To the reader?
WHY… Why is this message being shared today? Why did the writer want to share it in the first place? Why should the reader care? Why should they believe you? Why should they take action on it?
HOW… How does this impact the reader? The writer? How did everything come to this? How do they take action? How will their life change as a result?
Getting clear on this message, up front, is far more important than all the tactics and skills you can apply to writing.
That’s why, if you talk to a great copywriter, they don’t want to hear your headline. They don’t even really want to read your lead (except to examine your message).
They simply want you to show them that you have a message that you know, believe in, and can present in a coherent, compelling way.
Get that down on paper (or in whatever media) and it doesn’t even really matter what copywriting skills you do or don’t have.
As long as you tie that message to an offer or action your reader should take — and put it in front of a targeted set of readers — and you may have a breakthrough on your hands…
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets