This is how you beat controls and create breakthrough ads, sales letters, and marketing promotions….
Rainmaker, there’s one thing the very best marketers I know swear by. There’s one thing they’ll spend a ridiculous amount of time on, long before ever writing a word of copy.
Because the best of the best marketers who measure their results know how powerful this one thing is.
First, I’m NOT talking about these other important elements…
I’ve written repeatedly about the 40-40-20 rule. This is the old direct response rule that say 40% of your success is driven by the list or market you’re going to… 40% is driven by the offer you make… And 20% of your success is driven by the creative.
I’m NOT talking list or offer here. I’m assuming you’ve got those two things right. And you, like many advertisers, are concerned about what creative you’re going to put out next that’s going to smash your latest control and give you a big winner.
This is what the big-leagues marketers are so focused on — because they’re on a relatively level playing field on lists and offers. Most freelance copywriters and marketing consultants only have so much sway over that. (Although most exercise less influence than they could have if they exerted it.)
This is all about creating breakthrough copy — and the most important element for doing so…
I know I’m being a tease, but stick with me for one more minute. We’re getting close.
Novice copywriters totally screw this up. Pick up 95% of the books, programs, and courses on copywriting, and they’ll send you down the wrong path — even if they have the best intentions.
You see, most copywriters focus way too much on the actual tactical craft of writing a headline. David Ogilvy said something like 10 times as many people read the headline as read the rest of the copy. Others have claimed a 16X increase in response by changing just the headline of an ad. It’s big and bold and easy to focus on, and so it takes up a huge amount of time and focus in teaching copywriting.
Dig into 10 classic books on copywriting, and you’ll find at least half of them devote one or more chapters at the front of the book to getting your headline right.
Ask top copywriters today, and many will tell you they spend as much as 50% of their writing time really nailing down the headline of their copy.
This is an okay approach to writing copy, but it leads you astray — and misses the even-more-important thing you should be focused on…
Before I reveal what’s even more important than your headline, I want to talk about how this whole mis-focus leads many novice copywriters astray.
Take the headline “swipe file.” Gary Halbert — an incredible copywriter — famously used one. He had an idea file full of 3X5 note cards, on which he’d written headlines he liked — one per card.
Gary would be working on a new ad, and he’d sit down with that deck of 3X5 cards, a yellow legal pad, and a pen. Gary would flip through the cards, looking for inspiration. When it hit, he’d scribble down a headline idea, and keep flipping. Gary claimed to frequently write 50, 100, or more headlines in a sitting. Then he’d go through, scribbling some out, combining others, editing, tweaking, sifting and sorting, until he finally had what he thought was the perfect headline.
And this was a really good process for Gary!
In fact, it’s a process I’ve copied at various points of developing my copywriting abilities. I have my own collection of proven and inspiring headlines. I occasionally pull them out of the bottom of the file drawer. I flip through them. And I contemplate how I can adapt them to what I’m writing.
This — above all — is a great exercise in writing better headlines. And in your copywriting education — as you seek to internalize the subtleties of great copy and great headline — it’s worth doing.
In attempting to copy this method, too many novice copywriters totally screw up!
The problem is that they put way too much power in the words of the headline, and far too little in the IDEA!
That’s when you get hackneyed fill-in-the-blanks crap that completely misses the mark with your target market.
“Who else wants to write crap headlines that show off what a lame rookie copywriter they are… Without having to put any thought into their work?”
Some folks — like Dan Kennedy, for example — are able to pull off obvious hat-tips to old headlines. And, in fact, Dan has taught this method as a copywriting shortcut for years. And honestly, in the hands of a copywriter with Dan’s skill (or even half), the language of proven headlines can be adapted to a current ad.
But here’s what has to be in place FIRST before you do any of that.
This is the secret I’ve been teasing…
This is the single-most important element of any marketing creative, sales letter, ad, web page, or piece of copy that you want to generate action on behalf of the reader.
You need a BIG IDEA!
Whether or not you’re swiping… Whether or not you’re using an inspiration file…
You need to START with the idea behind the copy.
If you just sit down with the product in one hand, those 3X5 cards in another, and start churning out headlines, they won’t have any depth or relevance to the offer or the market.
On the other hand, great marketers (including Gary and Dan) regularly go through a process of going deep with source material and additional research.
We’re diving into the market, as well as the offer and the product.
We’re looking for what it is about this offer or product that the market has never heard before. What’s going to get them to sit up and pay attention? What’s going to catch their interest and not let them walk or click away without first figuring out what it is we’re talking about?
What is the compelling story that they haven’t heard before, that we can tell and hook back into our product?
When the best copywriters I know talk about spending 50% of their project working on their headline, this is where most of the time goes. It goes into digging through reams of info around the product and market. News updates. Research studies. Talking to the people involved. Using the product themselves. For an information product, going through every page or minute of audio or video.
Until suddenly you land on that one thing that makes YOU sit up and get excited. That YOU need to run out and tell your friends about. That you mention to others, and see THEIR eyes light up.
What is the thing that will wake your reader out of the trance or stupor in which they go through most of their day… And literally force them to give you laser-focused attention while you reveal the secret you’ve teased?
Once you have this, THEN you turn it into words. Once you have this, you can do the 3X5 note card thing that Halbert did. You can flip through your swipe file and look for inspiration. You can run it through all the headline formulas you know best. You can write it from the gut, and then edit, and edit some more.
While the words you use are important — it’s the idea that makes the ad!
It starts in the headline, and continues through to the very end. What is the big idea you’re going to hang your hat on? What’s the narrative that will attract the interest of the right prospect, hook them into your message, and not let them go until they’ve bought your product?
When you’ve got the right target market… And an offer that you know that market is interested in… It’s the right big idea that will make all the difference between a moderate success and a runaway winner.
Have a great weekend.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets