Most copywriters start their projects in the wrong place…
It goes back, I think, to the most common “spec” challenge that clients in the 21st century have used to test prospective copywriters before hiring them…
The spec challenge goes a little like this:
— You (the copywriter) look at our (the client) product samples.
— You write a headline and lead for the product.
— If we like what you’ve written, we’ll hire you to write the rest.
Of course, this is an offshoot of the headline-obsessed culture of copywriting newbies…
Fledgling copywriters who heard the David Ogilvy quote that your headline gets 10X the readership of the rest of your ad…
And so they put ALL their emphasis into the headline itself, neglecting the rest of the ad.
“If my headline is good enough,” they think, “people will buy, no matter what.”
By the time that thought is crossing your mind, though, you’re completely off-course.
(Come to think of it, it’s probably not fair to just blame this on modern marketers. I’m sure this folly and fallacy goes back much longer than I have perspective to see. Point still stands…)
Let me propose another way…
Rather than starting with your headline, you start with your MARKET.
You try to understand your prospect, and where they’re at right now.
What are they thinking about already? What are they paying attention to? What are they feeling about the current state of affairs?
The idea is to get to know them like you know your best friend. You want to know what they want from life. What are their dreams? Their desires? Where do they see their destiny? And what are their fears? Where have they failed before? What frustrates them?
Importantly: what is it that’s keeping them up at night, that might have a connection with your product or service?
Then, you dive into your OFFER.
What is it? Is it a product? A service? Some combination?
Who is behind it? Why does it exist? Why should your prospect even care about it?
And what’s the exchange of value that will happen? Not just the product or service, but the price and any other relevant offer elements.
You also have to understand where your copy exists in the context of a CAMPAIGN.
That is, your prospect won’t get your selling message in a vacuum. The prospect will see things before it, and there may be a path you want them to follow after.
How the copy is being delivered is critical. As are so many other elements.
And it’s only in the context of all of this that you really can start to identify your NARRATIVE.
This includes the hook, to get them into your message up front (which will suggest a headline approach or two) as well as the connected big idea that will drive response to your entire promotion.
And beyond the headline, how does that play out through your copy, and connect to the product and offer you’re going to make?
What’s the logical structure and outline of the promotion, that will walk them down that garden path to the sale?
You have to do all this thinking BEFORE you write a great headline…
The headline should be an extension of the awareness that comes through this thinking.
The headline should set up and telegraph the narrative that will carry the prospect to the sale.
The headline DOES NOT stand on its own, but rather is a reflection of and integral part of all the rest of the copy.
If you don’t do this level of thinking, your copy risks not being cohesive. It risks not drawing the reader in and through. Rather, it risks taking all the excitement you get out of a good headline and replacing it with disgust that the rest of your ad doesn’t live up to the hype.
A great advertisement comes at you like an old friend who’s excited about something they KNOW you’ll love. It starts with the most exciting and personally-relevant hook — why you’ll be interested. And it builds on that to fan the flames of desire, hitting every point your friend knows you’ll care about. Then, it tells you how to get your grubby little paws on what’s just been promised.
Yes, it’s a monologue. It’s one-sided. But great advertising registers in your mind as a conversation because it speaks to you in a way that addresses every thought, question, and expectation as it comes into your awareness.
It’s not disjointed. It’s not disconnected. It makes sense. And — importantly — it makes sense as a natural continuation of the relevant conversation you’ve been having in your head already.
This is some extreme Jedi mind trickery…
But really, it’s not.
It takes some experience, some work, and some direction to know how to do it well.
You need to know what you’re looking for.
You need to know what to pay attention to.
But if you have the right questions to base your research and understanding on, it’s surprisingly repeatable — even by newer, less-experienced copywriters.
Most great copywriters I know have internalized this process. They don’t use cheat sheets or lists to go do this research. Experience plus muscle memory leads them to cover theses bases without a lot of conscious thought.
And, in fact, a decade-plus into my copywriting career, I’d gone down that same path.
But then I started a different kind of project. One with a junior writer. A project where I had to convey all this thinking to someone else, so THEY could write the copy.
So I dug out some old notes. Not just the questions above. But ALL The critical thinking. Including many more specifics. And I updated those notes with my latest thinking.
I turned the notes into worksheets (in both mindmap and Word formats) to capture all the thinking quickly, easily, and in a way that can be shared.
And we’re using these on this new project.
It only made sense at that point to share these resources with BTMSinsiders members. So I recorded a walk-through on how to get full use from these tools. And posted all of it to the BTMSinsiders training site, as of last week.
This is the kind of thinking that is REQUIRED if you want to beat controls of A-list writers. And it’s dang helpful if you want to create profitable sales messages in just about any market.
And it all happens before you write a single word of copy.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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