Research, Research, Research
The secret to writing great copy is research.
Research is everything!
Once you have your research down, a large part of your work is done – you understand your product, you understand your prospect… and you can figure out how to present them an offer that speaks to their needs.
In fact, doing the research can be up to 80% of the work.
There are three areas of research we need to master:
Let’s look at each more closely…
Use it, subscribe to it, wear it, listen to it, eat it… go through the experience as if you own it.
You want to know it inside out.
Step One: List The Features
Take a pad and pen and list every single feature you can think of.
These will transform into vital parts of your copy.
Let’s do an example:
[table id=2 /]
This is a short list.
If we were doing this for real, we might find another 50+ features (the more the better). Don’t stop until you have racked your brain for every last feature.
Now, a list of features isn’t very persuasive. In fact, it’s pretty much meaningless.
To make these features grab your prospect’s attention, you have to communicate how they will benefit them.
So you need to…
Turn the features into benefits.
There are three types of benefits, and you want to express the features in terms of each:
Start with the functional benefits.
Describe what the feature does for the user…
[table id=3 /]
Turning these into copy:
But you can take it to the next level, by showing your prospect how it will impact their life.
Describe what the features will look like in their life…
[table id=4 /]
Now we’re talking a language your prospects understand.
Hopefully your copy is bringing the product to life.
Turning these into copy:
Dimensionalised benefits paint vivid mental pictures that you reader will identify with. It shows them how the product will impact their lives.
But there’s one more level that can really pump up the purchase intention. Emotions.
Emotions are the most valuable tool a copywriter has to persuade. All decisions are made emotionally.
Decisions are made with emotions (benefits)… then are rationalized with reason (features).
Now let’s describe how the features will make them feel…
[table id=5 /]
Now we’re putting into words how the features will make them feel.
Turning these into copy:
So have you done this for every product feature? You have? Good.
Depending on the complexity of your product, you could have 20 to 200+ features listed out.
Give yourself a pat on the back, because you’ve completed a very important step…
Now you have the building blocks of your copy.
Take this list and put it on the wall – you should see inspiration for all parts of your copy – from your headlines… to your bullets… to your calls to action… and more.
You can now need to weave each benefit into your copy, starting first with the most important one.
But which benefit is the most important?
To know that…
You will need to know:
Your job now is to develop an intimate understanding of the person you are selling to.
Step Two: Figure out which benefits are most desirable to your prospect, so you know which points to be stressing.
Here are the important categories to focus on:
There’s 4 steps to help you understand your prospect:
2. Become an Insider.
3. Meeting Prospects.
4. Special Ninja Research.
Let’s have a look at each…
In this approach we rely on two skills that everyone has – imagination and intuition.
Step into your prospect’s shoes.
Imagine you were in their situation:
Spend 20 minutes in your imaginary world.
Jot down everything you can think of.
This exercise works surprisingly well.
2. Become an Insider
Get inside the mind of your prospect.
Dan Kennedy shares 6 powerful steps used by successful direct marketer Jerry Jones, on how to stay in the frame of mind of the prospect:
3. Meeting Prospects
Engage with prospects on many levels to get a deeper understanding of them:
4. Special Ninja Research – Existing Ads
Some of the best info can come from ads running in your industry.
Your prospect will be reading these ads so why aren’t you?
There’s a trick though…
Only pay attention to ads and funnels that have been running for a while – because these are making money!
Why waste time and money testing when you can take a short cut and model something successful?
Pay special attention to these element of the ad:
Another incredible tool of prospect insight is Amazon.
Let’s imagine that you’re selling a sleep aid.
You would search Amazon for ‘sleep aid’ and review the products on the market.
Look for the products with the most reviews.
Now, you want to pay close attention to the reviews – both positive and negative.
Positive reviews will give you a ton of ammunition for sales copy.
Here’s an example:
Let’s count the ways we can pull copy from just 1 review:
And we can use the negative reviews too:
Negative reviews serve up your market’s top objections on a silver platter.
In this case, you’ll need to overcome the objection that the product will provoke ‘horrible nightmares’.
Now with these four steps you should have gotten to know your prospect.
Finally, to help you pull it all together you’ll need to look at…
Buying decisions don’t happen in a vacuum… and things that affect your market, also affect your prospect.
So pay attention to what’s going on in your market.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
These will give you a good grounding to what’s going on in the industry.
Again, this is all about stepping into the mind of the prospect. If you were your prospect – consider everything they are considering, look at the offers they are looking at.
Try to figure out, as your prospect would… which product / service / company / offer you would go with that would bring you the greatest satisfaction / value / benefit.
If you do this step regularly you’ll keep your finger on the pulse of your industry.
You’ll be 10 steps ahead in identifying trends in the market… so you can be well positioned to deal with them, or take advantage of them.
I want to close out this lesson with a quote from the great Gary Bencivenga.
Here’s something you should keep in mind with every piece of marketing material you write:
“The vast majority of products/services are sold because of the need for love, the fear of shame, the pride of achievement, the drive for recognition, the yearning to feel important, the urge to look attractive, the lust for power, the longing for romance, the need to feel secure, the terror of facing the unknown, the lifelong hunger for self-esteem and so on.”
To close out this lesson, grab a coffee and run through these questions when thinking about one of your Ideal Clients:
Complete these questions and you’ll have come a very long way in putting together the building blocks for great copy.
As you consider how to market your business, you may be asking yourself:
These are all valuable strategic questions to ask, however to answer them there are two fundamental questions that need to be answered first:
Answer these two questions, and everything else becomes clear.
In this lesson you’ll learn:
Let’s dive in…
You might look at your services list and think, for example:
“Yeah, I sell financial advice strategies, financing, and retirement planning services”.
And while there’s truth to that…
There’s a deeper layer to consider.
Because people don’t often wake up and exclaim, “I need a retirement plan!”.
Rather, they feel it.
A better way of digging into the value that you provide, is to think of yourself as a change maker:
People are looking to transform:
Be the one to clearly articulate:
A sidebar on belief: For someone to make a buying decision, they need several levels of believe. They need to believe in your brand / team. They need to believe in the product / service. And they need to believe in themselves.
Back to the customer’s journey:
The gap between where they are now and where they want to be…
(The amount of pain they’re in now, vs how they will feel to overcome that pain).
…Dictates how emotionally compelling it is…
Which has a direct effect on how much they’re willing to pay to solve that problem or achieve that goal!
In the first lesson we talked about the different types of benefits a product / service offers.
This helps you connect with them on an emotional level.
In other words, speak right to their heart.
Here are the different types of benefits again:
Notice that each layer gets deeper and deeper into the psyche of a person.
Here’s another financial example:
Now if you compare the following ad headlines, which do you think will get more attention?
My bet would be on the second one.
To complete this lesson, clear on the change you offer to your clients’ lives, with a copy of my Change Grid.
Download a free copy of ‘The Change Grid’ today and get clarity on what you’re really selling:
Click here to get your hands on the Change Grid (free instant access).
Prove or Die
Here’s a secret that will transform your copy:
People don’t trust you.
Let me clarify.
People who don’t know you, don’t trust you.
It’s basic human nature.
And it’s easy to see why when you look at your prospect’s lives.
We’re all continually bombarded with ads and sales messages.
The New York Times reported back in 2007 that we encounter around 5,000 sales messages daily.
Who knows what that number is up to today.
With the sheer amount of messages fighting for our attention… on the radio… in the paper… in your inbox… on the other end of the phone… we’ve had to learn an important new skill:
Think about it as a consumer – how are you going to decide which of those 5,000+ daily messages to give your attention to?
Obviously you can’t pay attention to all (or even a fraction) of the messages which come your way.
Doing so would take up ALL of your time.
So which of those messages should you pay attention to (and believe enough), to act on?
While there are many factors involved in making a purchase decision, and the complete set of buying criteria will differ from person to person…
One psychological phenomenon that we all go through is the evaluation of risk.
When it comes to making a purchase decision, one of the strongest barriers is:
Perceived risk is one of the most prevalent, dominant fears.
It’s often an unconscious fear, something we attribute to common sense or instinct.
So as consumers, to combat this psychological risk we feel, we’ve learnt to be savvier about our decision making.
We’ve learnt to seek out…
From the moment your prospects come into contact with you, they intuitively look for signs of proof.
They want to be sure that your product or service will live up to its promise.
(After all anyone can make a bold promise).
Just look at all the crazy promises you see splashed across the internet.
Of course, not everyone can deliver on those promises.
So as consumers, we’ve learnt to look for proof signals.
These help us weed out the good guys from the bad.
Which is great news for marketers.
Because there’s a reliable set of proof elements that we can use in our marketing (revealed in the Exercise below).
So just remember this mantra:
“Every promise needs to be proven.”
In the first 2 lessons, you mapped out the benefits of your product or service, and how it transforms your clients’ lives.
These are your promises.
Now these promises need to be backed up with proof.
Aside from proof elements, there’s another important way you can reduce your customers’ perceived risk…
Move the risk from them, onto you.
Take away their risk by guaranteeing your performance.
In essence, put your money where you mouth is.
By being willing to risk real, tangible money to prove your promise is believable…
You build credibility.
And you boost trust.
How powerful is it?
Domino’s built an empire – from a single shop catering to college students… to the $1.98+ billion company it is today – on the back of a simple guarantee:
Guarantees have been proven split-test, after split-test, to lift the response of advertising.
Here’s the thing:
If your product is subpar or the service is lacking… how long will you really be in business?
(Think about the devastating power of Google reviews for local businesses).
There’s no good argument to not guaranteeing your work.
So use it as a key element in your sales messages.
Let’s look at 25 of the strongest forms of proof you can display in your marketing.
Because we live in a cynical world, we must back up every promise we make with proof…
…So that it’s believable for our prospects.
Think where, and how, you might be able to use these forms of proof in your copy:
What do the world’s top performing companies all have in common?
They have well-honed customer journeys.
If your customer journey strategy is on point, you’re able to:
Best of all:
With today’s low-cost marketing automation tech, all of these stages can be highly automated.
In this lesson, you’ll learn exactly what an optimized customer journey looks like, and how to implement it.
This framework “greases the slide”…
…Making it easy for a new prospect to go from “not even knowing who you are (Unaware)”…
…To becoming a “delighted client (Retain)”.
A pathway that removes friction using content, technology and processes…
To convert visitors into customers as fast as possible!
As a plus:
This framework helps reduce missed opportunities or ‘leaks in the bucket’ at any stage of the journey…
Because each stage is measurable.
Let’s review each stage:
Now you can probably tell from reading through these stages, that the context of your relationship changes at each stage.
That means that the content, the messaging, topics, the types and formats of content all need to align with where the prospect is in stage of the journey.
The Ideal Client Journey maps perfectly onto the 3 Pillars of your Sales Funnel:
Which is helpful because:
It gives us 3 clear KPIs to measure at each stage of the funnel:
Goal: attract more visits to your content.
The Unaware and the Engage stages are about getting prospects (who are likely to be your Ideal Clients) to discover you and start engaging with your brand.
Since we started talking about retirement plans and financial advice in an earlier lesson, let’s continue with this theme.
If you’re a financial advisor, remember:
People aren’t necessarily waking up in the morning and thinking, “Damn, I need a better risk index on my portfolio”, or “I wonder who’s the best financial adviser in my city?”.
They can definitely have these thoughts, but they probably happen more often in a different stage (for example, when they’re actively evaluating your company in the Evaluate stage).
So to capture attention in these earlier stages, its best to focus on topics, problems and goals that are already in the minds of your Ideal Clients.
Having a deep understanding of your Ideal Clients is critical to do this (which is why we spent lesson 1 exploring it).
But for the sake of this example, you could use content based on any common financial goal that your Ideal Client has:
Or you could focus on a pain point:
Writing copy with this type of focus effectively ‘meets the prospect where they are in their mind’ – a technique proven to attract more attention.
Think about it:
When most financial advisers are going to market with:
“Here’s my awards”, or “This is why my team is so great”…
And your prospects are thinking – “So… what?”…
You’ll be focusing on topics that are near and dear to their heart and actually important to them.
“7 signs you won’t retire with as much money as you want – and what you can do about it NOW”.
In the top of the funnel activity, the following content types work well:
And if don’t have a huge following already?
Don’t worry, I’ve ran many successful ad campaigns promoting great content to a cold audience (using Facebook or LinkedIn advertising).
It’s a fantastic way to increase your reach and attract new prospects.
Goal: convert more leads.
At this point, prospects are visiting your website or social platforms.
Now it’s about converting them into subscribers.
This is crucial because research shows it takes 7-15 exposures to a brand for most people to build enough trust to buy.
And still, the most cost-effective marketing channel is email.
(Email is more valuable than ever with an ROI of $42 for every dollar spent. Up from $38 in 2018 – Litmus).
This is why you’ll hear the words ‘conversion design’, ‘lead magnets’, ’conversion rate optimisation’ said often by savvy marketers –
Because if you can’t convert a visitor into a subscriber, you can’t move them down your funnel.
In the Engage and Subscribe stages…
Prospect may not have an interest in doing business with you – yet.
They may just be exploring their problem, and starting to think about potential solutions and strategies…
…Not about how well YOU can deliver the solution.
That’s why it’s not great to go to market to a cold audience with copy that’s very ‘YOU-focused’ (about your business).
Instead focus on the Ideal Client’s life, and how you can help them get what they want.
For the Subscribe stage, the following content types are most important:
And once a prospect has subscribed:
What is a lead magnet?
A lead magnet is a premium piece of content that you offer in exchange for your reader’s name and email address.
Think of it as an “ethical bribe” to win the permission to begin marketing to them in a more personal way (email or social).
For example, this is a lead magnet that’s highly targeted to their Ideal Clients:
Btw, did you notice a lead magnet at the end of lesson #2? 😉
Once you have someone subscribed onto your email list, the goal is to move them into the ‘Evaluate’ stage.
You do that by providing value over time to build a trusted relationship.
The lead nurturing strategy is executed via a marketing automation platform or CRM. For example, Active Campaign, Mail Chimp, Salesforce, etc.
Since email is (by far) the most cost-effective marketing channel, and the ROI is so high ($42 to every $1 spent)…
It makes sense to allocate significant marketing budget to this stage.
The majority of the clients I’ve worked who are doing over 6-figures in revenue each month all send daily emails to their list.
2 strategies to consider:
An Introductory Series is a series of carefully planned sales emails designed to:
Goal: convert more clients.
So how do you know when someone on your list is ready for a sales conversation?
By sharing the right content and making the right Call to Actions (CTAs) to ask prospects to move ahead.
Here are some effective content offers to move clients through the ‘Evaluate’ stage and into ‘Purchase’:
Notice how these are more ‘YOU-focused’ at this stage?
In these pieces of content, you want to be making the right Calls to Action to move prospects to purchase.
For service based businesses:
For product based businesses:
Finally, once you have a paying client, you’ll want to leverage the relationship with automated campaigns:
Ok I hope this lesson has given you clarity into your Ideal Client’s Journey.
Let’s map it out step-by-step in this lesson’s exercise:
Complete an audit of your own Ideal Client Journey. Take a look at each stage of the journey, noting:
The result of building out the Ideal Client Journey is an automated and scalable ‘sales engine’ that does the hard selling for you.
If you need help planning the messaging or writing your copy, be sure to reach out.
So far we’ve covered a lot strategic ground.
It doesn’t matter how good your copy is, if the strategy sucks…
So now we’re ready to turn our attention to the act of writing copy.
Step one, is what I think of as the basis for effective writing:
You’ve probably heard of the K.I.S.S. principle.
Keep It Super Simple.
Nothing benefits from K.I.S.S. more than copy.
Let’s bring it back to square one.
What is the goal of written communication?
What is the goal of communication, in general?
I’ll let you in on a definition that I love, from the legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz.
(Note: many people talk about Schwartz’s famous book, “Breakthrough Advertising”. And rightly so, it’s exceptional. But there’s another of Eugene’s books which I think is even better. It’s called “The Brilliance Breakthrough: How to Talk and Write So That People Will Never Forget You”. Currently selling on Amazon for $497.)
Here’s the definition of communication from his book:
‘To convey a thought from one person’s mind to another’.
It’s all about clarity.
The clearer your message is, the easier readers understand.
You can think about it in the opposite:
Have you ever read a PhD dissertation?
In an attempt to sound intelligent, they’ll string together a sentence that’s a paragraph long.
You have to read it 3 times to understand the point.
This is the exact opposite of what we need to do in advertising copy.
In marketing, if you confuse people, or you make it hard to read, you lose people.
When you lose people, you lose money.
Simple as that.
So continuing with the K.I.S.S. principle, it’s going to be a short and sweet lesson!
Move on to the exercise below to see how to put this into practice.
Aim to write at a 6th grade level or below.
Break up any sentence with more than one thought, into two separate sentences.
It will be easier to comprehend.
Use simple words.
Don’t use complicated words that some of your audience won’t understand.
Break up long paragraphs that look intimidating to read.
Use plenty of bullets, lists, images and sub-headlines throughout.
Make your copy scannable.
Aim to make it as easy as humanly possible to understand your message.
Use Hemmingway App to grade your writing difficulty.
Here’s how the app graded this lesson ;)
Now we’re diving into the crux of conversion.
The ‘Big Idea’ or ‘Value Proposition’ or ‘Unique Mechanism’ or ‘USP’ (unique selling proposition)…
Can be applied to all of the following:
In fact, you can use the ‘Big Idea’ to hone the performance of any promotional copy you write.
In this lesson we’ll dive into developing your Big Idea in a way that logically (and emotionally) sets you apart from the competition.
Your Big Idea is the ‘single thought’ or ‘hook’ that gives the reader a Unique Reason Why they’ll believe in your offer.
Think of it as a ‘thought virus’.
Like a meme that once heard or read, can’t get out of your mind.
It’s the sort of thing that people might pepper into conversation at cocktail parties…
“You know, I’m doing this new workout regime called ‘German Body Composition’. By doing these lower body exercises combined with a specific upper body exercise right after… increases lactate, which spikes growth hormone. Together these ramp up fat burning like nothing else I’ve tried!”
(Someone who reads a sales letter explaining this type of training could be a chance to be telling people about it years later).
The kind of ideas that trends are built on.
Now, the more unique you make your Big Idea, the better it’ll do. Let’s say that you’re selling a dieting book, you can’t just say:
‘You’ve got to burn more calories than you consume’ – Yawwwn.
People have heard that one before (it’s not unique).
Ok, so how do you craft your Big Idea?
Introducing my 3C’s formula…
Now you want your Big Idea to be something ‘eyebrow raising’. So it should be presented in a way that’s never been heard before. Unique!
The 3C’s will help you do it:
It’s got to be easy to understand and share. The idea should have clarity.. Ideally it can be explained in 1-2 sentences. Remember last lesson, K.I.S.S.?
It needs to have that ‘Wow – I didn’t know that!’ factor. You want people to think they’ve just learnt something really interesting. The kinda of thing they’re dying to tell their best friend.
Remember lesson #3? Every promise needs to be proven. You can’t just make up a Big Idea out of thin air, you need to be able to backup the claim. You want the idea to make sense to the reader’s heart AND mind.
Now here’s an (almost evil) way to supercharge your Big Idea…
Let’s say you’re selling a sleep supplement.
Your Big Problem could be new research that proves how a certain ‘sleep hormone’ controls your wakefulness (when this is out of balance, it literally forces you to be wide awake).
So your Big Idea is how your product naturally balances this ‘bad sleep hormone’ allowing the user to enter deep sleep faster, and stay there longer throughout the night.
See how they work hand in hand?
I’ve found that the #1 way to develop my skills in coming up with Big Ideas is by reviewing winning promotions.
Attempt to review these promotions that’ve made millions and reverse engineer their Big Idea.
Now, I’m not going to make it easy for you and tell you what the Big Ideas are… they’re for you to figure out! ;)
Here’s a few promos that have slayed the competition:
Call To Action
In lesson #4 we discussed the Client Journey (how to systematically move prospects closer to becoming customers).
In order to do that, every piece of copy in each stage of the Client Journey must include a Call To Action (CTA).
Strong CTAs are what separate brand advertisers from direct response.
(Or in other words, millions of dollars of ad spend with no trackable results, versus seeing the exact ROI from a media spend).
In every piece of copy (be it a Facebook Ad, article, email or webpage) you need to be directing the reader to take the next step.
Let’s look at an example to explain why.
These are two real websites selling accounting software.
First up, LedgerSMB:
Now let me ask you:
Which of these do you think produces more leads?
The answer should be obvious.
A site with a clear Call To Action will always generate more leads than a site that makes it difficult for a visitor to know the next step to take.
Starting out by deciding on the action you want the user to take will help you…
Take the time to define the user-behaviour goal of each page on your website.
Some possible goals include:
Once you’ve set the goal for each page…
Everything on the page (copy and design) needs to be geared towards persuading the user to take that action.
You have to look at each element on the page, and ask yourself:
‘Is this making visitors more likely to take my goal action?’
If not, it needs to go.
If your goal is to generate leads for your business, then it’s best practice to dedicate a single page to the job.
That’s where a Conversion Landing Page comes in.
The reason Conversion Landing Pages are so effective at generating leads is that they strip away all the unessential elements.
There are no links that click off the page, there’s no cluttered information to confuse the user, there’s no-where else for the user to go.
The user faces only two choices:
Complete your desired action, or leave.
Here’s an example of a simple but effective Conversion Landing Page offering a free report in exchange for visitor’s contact details:
Notice how there’s nothing on this page to distract the user from filling out the form.
All navigation and links are removed – leaving just compelling copy featuring an offer that resonates with the prospect.
Once the form is filled out, the backend systems take care of the notification and delivery.
Can you see how this system, coupled with a compelling premium content offer, could help you generate more leads?
If you don’t have clear and prominent CTAs on every page of your site, you’re missing out on moving more prospects down your Client Journey.
Since CTAs are heavily context driven, they will depend on your type of business, and where your prospect is in the Client Journey.
Here’s how your CTAs might change depending on the industry:
Since CTAs are heavily context driven, they will depend on your type of business, and where your prospect is in the Client Journey.
Here’s how your CTAs might change depending on the industry:
Then when you consider the contextual stages of the Client Journey:
Generally speaking, the best CTAs are benefit driven.
It expresses what the reader will gain from taking that action.
Remember the acronym, WIIFM.
‘What’s In It For Me?’.
That’s the sub-conscious check we’re all performing, all the time.
We want to make sure that what we’re paying attention to (or reading, or subscribing to, or purchasing) is going to enrich our life.
So knowing this, which of these links to a new blog post do you think would perform better?
‘Read my article’.
‘Discover a (surprising legal) way to slash your tax to 10%’.
The ‘So What?’ test.
I’ll wrap up this lesson with this useful practice.
It can be applied to all copy, and works well with CTAs too.
Read your CTA and if it makes you roll your eyes a little, and think ‘So what?’… then it needs work!
If you aren’t using Call To Actions in your marketing materials, it’s likely that you’re letting opportunities fall through the cracks.
Your exercise in this lesson is to review your Ideal Client Journey and ensure that each marketing asset has clear and compelling CTAs that move prospects logically to the next stage of the journey:
No one like those blank page blues.
So to close out this fast-start copy course, I wanted to share my fav ‘go-to’ copy formulas.
Use these proven frameworks to speed up your writing process.
Let’s dive in…
This is the all-time classic.
First, you’ve got to grab their Attention.
A question that speaks to the conversation going on in their mind can work really well:
Then hold their Interest.
Vividly describing their current challenges helps prospects believe that you understand their pain.
(If you understand their pain, it’s more believable that you’ve got a solution that works).
Describe, in dripping detail, what their life will be like after.
That’s how you’ll get them roused up and ready to go!
Maybe this is why case studies, reviews and testimonials work so well.
(Because they combine Proof with visualising the change they want, thus stoking Desire).
Finally, it’s time to close the deal with Action.
I don’t have a lot to say on this, except to checkout the previous lesson ;)
I love this story telling structure.
It’s an archetypal story framework that’s been true since the stone age… and will still be true 2,000 years time from now.
Here’s the structure (I’ve slightly shortened to be relevant for marketing purposes):
Now let’s think about it in the context of Star Wars:
Ok, so how can you use The Hero’s Journey in your copy?
Finally, another classic ‘go-to’ formula.
By now I hope that you’re getting the flow.
To illustrate this formula I’ll breakdown a sales page which uses these elements to great effect.
Start out by presenting the Problem:
Ready to close out the course with your final exam?
Test what you’ve learned by re-writing one piece of sales copy for your business.
It could be a sales page, e-commerce product page, email, Facebook Ad or even a blog post.
(If you don’t actually own a business or have a client to work on, just pick a product online).
Pick one of the above formulas to structure the sales piece.
And don’t forget to use everything you’ve learned in all 8 lessons.
Good luck and let me know how you go! :)