There are a lot of HARD ways to start writing copy…
But if you’d like an easy way to start writing copy…
— Copy that works perfectly for at least 95% of “workhorse” marketing and selling projects…
— Copy that hooks your ideal reader and has them instantly wanting to learn more…
— Copy that needs to generate response from your target audience — and will! …
Then this could be one of the most important FREE lessons on copywriting you’ll ever get.
First, one of the most common mistakes I see even pro copywriters make, all the time…
It has to do with the opening lines of copy. Right under the headline. The first few sentences the reader will read, that will decide whether or not they’re going to read, scan, or get rid of your copy.
If you don’t get readership here, you’re not going to get readership at all, and you’re definitely not going to get response!
What’s the job of the headline? To get the reader to read the subhead.
What’s the job of the subhead? To get the reader to read the greeting.
What’s the job of the greeting? To get the reader to read the first sentence.
What’s the job of the first sentence? To get the reader to read the second sentence.
What’s the job of the second sentence? … You get the point.
If you’re not keeping them hooked all the way through, you’re going to lose them before you get the sale.
And here’s a little secret.
Every copywriter works on headlines… Nobody works on first sentences…
And yet, your first few sentences are just as important to the success of your sales letter or ad as the headline!
Your prospect has just glanced at your copy. (Trying to use words here that are media-agnostic — that work for any media.)
They’ve scanned the headline. They’ve scanned the subhead. Now they’re going to scan the first few words.
What are they looking for?
Well, they’re looking for two things.
FIRST: They’re asking, “Is this for me?” Is this relevant to me, my wants, needs, and desires? Does this speak to the conversation going on in my head right now?
SECOND: They’re asking, “Is this worth my time?” Does it promise something new or unique, useful, are they being ultra-specific about what I get, and is it urgent for me to read right now? (Borrowing the 4Us from AWAI.)
Here’s a little hint… If you don’t answer these two questions — “Is this for me?” and “Is this worth my time?” — you’re NOT going to get the reader (or viewer, I’ll add for video marketing)… And you’re NOT going to get the sale.
Where so many copywriters go wrong here…
The other day copywriter Steve Roller reminded me of an article of his that I shared here on Breakthrough Marketing Secrets.
It was called “Copywriters Aren’t Wordsmiths.”
Steve explained, in his article, all the OTHER things a copywriter should be focused on, rather than “wordsmithing.” (I’d NEVER hire a copywriter who made it a big point in their personal marketing or selling materials that they were a wordsmith. Most important, in my book, is “knows how to sell.”)
Anyway, where copywriters most often go wrong with their first few sentences, is they start wordsmithing.
They set the stage, they set the scene, they start a journey with their reader.
The problem is, most copywriters aren’t good enough to do this in a way that fosters a sale. Maybe the same technique and writing skill could start a novel, and it would work okay, because your reader is giving you the benefit of the doubt and is sitting down with the plan to read the whole thing. But not with copywriting — your reader is looking for an excuse to ditch you.
And so you can’t afford to do any of that when it comes to writing your first few sentences of copy.
You have to get to the point. And the point is answering the questions “Is this for me?” and “Is this worth my time?”
(And yes, I know I promised you to teach you how to do this — and I’m getting there. All this setup though will teach it to you at a deeper level, and make it easier for you to recall in the future.)
The common “copy chief” fix to wordsmithed introductions…
Here’s a quote from Ernest Hemingway — the master of clear, concise prose — that a lot of copy chiefs use when helping novice copywriters find their opening sentence…
“If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”
This is where the idea of a “buried lead” (or, “buried lede”) comes from. Somewhere under all your “scrollwork” and “ornament” is the actual important message. A good copy chief will help see past all the elaborate introducing, find the message, and cut away the fluff.
And that works well enough. IF you have a good copy chief who is able to do this.
But what works even better is if you have a method for consistently churning out interesting first sentences and first paragraphs that hook your reader and get right to the point in the first place, no copy chief required.
Here’s what you need to know BEFORE you use my “first sentence formula” …
Let’s go back to our two magic questions that we have to answer to get readership in the first place… “Is this for me?” and “Is this worth my time?”
Let me ask YOU, the copywriter, a couple variations on these questions, that will help you make sure you always get a yes to both questions from your target prospect.
FIRST, “Who is the core market and best prospect for your offer — and by extension, your message?”
SECOND, “What can you promise or give away in your ad that will make reading it worth their time?”
Let me repeat those in a different way, to illuminate what we’re getting at.
You need to know who you want to be speaking with. And you need to know what they want most, that you can offer them.
Now here’s the really EASY part — the “first sentence formula” …
Fill in the blanks…
“If you’re [describe the ideal reader] and you want [present the promise or benefit], then you need to read this message from beginning to end.”
This is like 7th grade writing. But it works. (Don’t worry — if you’re turned off by the simplicity of language, I’ll show you how to spice that up in a minute.)
Let’s apply it to investors who are retiring, and want income from their portfolio…
“If you’re about to retire and you want safe, 5-8% income from your stock market portfolio, then you need to read this message from beginning to end.”
Or, let’s say we’re selling a dietary supplement for knowledge workers…
“If you’re a knowledge worker like me who makes money with your brain, and you want a way to stay alert, focused, and full of energy all day — even when everyone else hits their ‘afternoon slump’ — then you need to read this message from beginning to end.”
Or, let’s say you’re writing to copywriters who want tactical ways to write better-performing copy…
“But if you’d like an easy way to start writing copy… Copy that works perfectly for at least 95% of “workhorse” marketing and selling projects… Copy that hooks your ideal reader and has them instantly wanting to learn more… Copy that needs to generate response from your target audience — and will! … Then this could be one of the most important FREE lessons on copywriting you’ll ever get.”
Oh… I guess that one is a little off-formula…
But it’s basically the same “if-then” structure that calls out the audience (people who want tactical ways to write better-performing copy) with the promise (writing copy that hooks your ideal reader). And it completes the formula with a request for readership…
If you’re a long-time student of copy, you may actually recognize this formula in one of the all-time best-known sales letter opener formulas…
Gary Halbert’s “dollar bill letter.” (Which he actually got from The Robert Collier Letter Book.)
Here’s Gary’s opener, from The Gary Halbert Letter archives (here):
“Dear Mr. Everett,
As you can see, I have attached a nice, crisp $1.00 bill to the top of this letter. Why have I done this?
Actually, there are two reasons:
1) This letter is very important and I needed some way to make sure it would catch your attention.
2) And secondly, if you are over 45… and… you have any problems with your eyes…
This Is Going To Be The Most Important Message You Will Ever Read!”
Gary himself taught that the grabber was a headline-replacement tool. It buys readership like a headline does. But then you have to get right into answering the two most important questions — “Is this for me?” and “Is this worth my time?”
Here, it’s for you if you’re over 45. And it’s worth your time if you have any problems with your eyes.
Once Gary established that, he buys readership with the subhead, “This Is Going To Be The Most Important Message You Will Ever Read!”
Notice Gary has the “if-then” formula here. He uses the word “if,” but omits “then.” This actually works because “if-then” is so embedded into human thinking and language that we understand it to be there, even if it’s not.
These are just a couple examples, but here’s what you need to understand…
This applies to 95% of the IMPORTANT copy you will ever write…
That is, copy that’s meant to spur the reader to action.
Why is it so universal? Because it calls out to the RIGHT reader, and lets them know that it’s worth their time and attention. You need to make this readership sale, before you make the real sale.
You don’t have to use the exact formula. In fact, you should probably internalize it, then write it from memory and in your own words each time.
If you have the book Great Leads by Michael Masterson and John Forde (and you should, it’s one of the top 10 books of all time for copywriters) then you’ll understand that this works best on “direct” end of the lead type spectrum.
That is, the more aware the reader is of the problem that your offer solves, the more they’re able to be grouped into a definite descriptive statement, the better this works. Which is okay, because as much as 95% of direct response copy in a successful direct response business can be this type of “workhorse” copy.
Offer Leads, Promise Leads, Problem-Solution Leads, even Secret Leads can work with a variation on this super-easy “first sentence formula.” It’s only when you get to the more indirect Proclamation Leads and Story Leads that you might deviate — but not always so.
No matter what kind of lead you need to write, you still need to answer those questions up front — either overtly or covertly — “Is this for me?” and “Is this worth my time?”
And unless you’re a master salesperson AND a master wordsmith (as many top copywriters are) it is far more reliable, trustworthy, and lucrative to simply answer it overtly, directly, and with the “if-then” formula I laid out for you above.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets