September 27, 2012Think Like a Copywriter, condensed.

The world is divided into three types of people. There are people who think they can write copy, people who think they can’t write copy, and that rare third category — people who actually can.

Most copywriters fall into the third category, although I’ve met one or two who don’t. You will probably fall into one of the first two. This is good news and bad.

If you don’t believe you can write copy, I have some good news for you. If you can read and write, you can. However, if you’re already convinced you can write copy, I have bad news for you. You can’t write copy at all.

The reason for this paradox is simple. Practically all non-copywriters believe there is some kind of special “trick” to writing copy. People who can’t write think it’s because they don’t know the tricks yet, while people who are convinced they can write copy think they know all the tricks already. But tricks do not a copywriter make.

Being a good copywriter does not require knowledge of any special tricks. Much like the design process, it is about learning a framework that provides a simple, structured approach to content creation.

How do you learn a musical instrument? By learning how to play notes, then chords, then putting it all together. Thinking that copywriting is about learning tricks is like thinking learning to playing the guitar is about setting fire to it and playing it with your teeth. Impressive, but hardly necessary when learning how to play. Simply learn the basics — then start putting it all together.

A simple framework for learning to write copy

In my book, Think Like a Copywriter, I have created a short training manual that I hope will teach anyone and everyone who wants it the basic framework of how create content for most commercial purposes.

The framework is easy to understand and the book can be read in less than a day. It’s no substitute for experience, but each of the nine chapters will challenge you to think about common communication problems the way a copywriter would. In other words, it’s a start.

By thinking like a copywriter, you will learn to approach the task from a problem solving perspective — instead of following someone else’s method, you will develop an approach and style of your own.

There are five important steps to thinking like a copywriter.

1. Forget what you think you know, concentrate on what you actually know.

If you can read and write, you can write copy. You’ve been reading copy since you were old enough to read Dr Seuss, so you’re in a position to judge what does and doesn’t work. Forget the tricks and ask yourself how you’d like to be sold a product. Think critically about all the copy you’ve ever seen on the subject. Then proceed to step two.

2. Evaluate the problem from your customer’s perspective

People sell products based on what their customers want. But incredibly most people prefer to write copy that _they_ like. But it has to reflect what we’re like as people, they say. Bullshit! Sell to your customers the way they want to be sold to. That usually means being honest and letting the customer make up their own mind. What do they want? What value do they see in your product? Communicate your value to them.

3. Find a tone of voice that appeals to your customers

Copy has one purpose and one purpose only. To make your product stand out from the crowd. Most people believe that they should sell their product in exactly the same way as their competitors. The purpose of copywriting is to stand out and be distinct from the crowd — this requires the creation of a tone of voice and a concept-driven campaign that’s appropriate and draws attention to the value of your product. What makes you stand out from the crowd?

4. Write copy that appeals to head and heart

While an emotional appeal is de rigeur in advertising circles, It’s often said there’s no way to appeal to hearts in B2B copy. Again, bullshit! All good copy makes a rational and emotive appeal. Apple are able to sell the same hardware as everyone else for twice the price by making an emotive appeal. And if you don’t think B2B copy can be emotive, ask yourself what a person within an organisation might feel if they read your copy and thought bringing your product to the attention of their superiors earned them a promotion.

5. Edit your copy and test rigorously

Ernest Hemingway once said “I write 1 page of masterpiece to every 99 pages of crap”. You will, too. This isn’t about experience — although you may get better in time, everyone needs to develop an understanding of when to edit down (delete copy) and when to edit up (add more copy after the fact). Without meaning to be glib, the editing process can usually be summed up in six words: when in doubt, throw it out. It’s easier to create too much copy, to throw ideas onto the page, then edit it down than it is to obsessively work over individual sentences. It’s also essential to get an outside opinion. You’re writing for your customers, not yourself.

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive framework — that’s why I felt the need to write a whole book about it. But it is, you will be pleased to hear, a relatively short book. Better yet, it’s also free.

It won’t turn you into a brilliant copywriter overnight, but it will give you all the tools you need to start writing your own copy, develop your own style, and become better and better as your experience grows.

To download your copy, click here.

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