Category Archives for "Copywriting"
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Broadly speaking there are two things you can write about when emailing your list:
1. Things that immediately help your reader
2. Things that challenge them, or jolt them awake
You need both types, but they belong in slightly different places. The things that immediately help a reader are what entices them onto your list in the first place. Successfully challenging their thinking is what keeps them subscribed over the long term.
As time passes, I’ve become less interested in the former, and more interested in the latter. Things that immediately help someone are usually tactical, and quickly expire. It’s hard to get to the truth of a situation when you’re outlining a seven step process.
How then, do you jolt someone awake?
You point out the thing they’re not seeing. The thing that’s lurking in their blind spot.
Because as much as we like to believe otherwise, we all DO have a blind spot. Assumptions we’ve made, or things we think we know that actually we don’t.
What’s in your reader’s blind spot? That’s the thing to focus on.
An important rule of thumb when writing to your list is to never apologise. Ever.
If you say you’re going to email every week and disappear for a while, because you’re busy or whatever, then don’t apologise for it. Just get the next email prepared and carry on.
If you make a mistake in an email or get something wrong, don’t apologise for it.
If you word something badly and offend a bunch of people, don’t apologise for it.
Just yesterday a writer in my writer’s circle was talking about adding a page to his website called “my mistakes.” He intended this as a point of diligence and transparency.
“No no NO!” I replied. “My SUCCESSES,” maybe. “My TESTIMONIALS,” maybe.
Magnetic people do not go around apologising for stuff. It just isn’t attractive to potential customers. We all know that Frank Kern has a lot to apologise for, but funnily enough he never does.
You don’t have to be arrogant or offensive about this. But you need to be assured in your own knowledge and materials. Every time you apologise you undermine that assurance.
So stop doing it.
I attended a networking and problem solving day last week. The group was a small intimate one; a safe space to open up.
One lady had a start-up venture in commercial property. She wasn’t a big talker, at least initially. We talked a bit about the Easter weekend, the weather and such like. I’m not great at small talk, and neither was she.
As soon as she started talking about commercial property, everything changed. Suddenly she lit up, and the floodgates opened.
Listening to people get really excited about a topic causes a small bell to go off in my head. From a copywriting perspective it’s like striking a vein of silver. The challenge is to capture both the content and the enthusiasm before it evaporates into the atmosphere.
The only way to do this is to record conversations. If you try to write up the conversation later on, you miss too many of the details, and too many small turns of phrase.
I record conversations in a few different ways. I have a recording app on my phone, called ‘Voice Recorder’. You just tap ‘record’ and leave your phone on the table. The file size of the audio is small, but it does drain your phone battery if you’re recording for a long time. (Take a charger).
I also have a call recorder called ACR for recording telephone conversations. Very reliable, good quality recordings and small file sizes.
For online meetings I use Zoom to record calls, which is reliable.
Once you have the recording, you need to get good at listening through at 2X – 3X speed. Once you have a good volume of material, you need to pick it apart quickly. You don’t have time to listen again at regular speed.
It can help to transcribe important calls (I use rev.com), but you’ll want to listen through again first before you pay for a transcript. I use the free audio editing software Audacity to chop out only the sections I want transcribing.
There’s an assumption in marketing that people won’t read very much, and won’t think about things very deeply.
That’s probably true for 90% of the population…
…but it isn’t always true.
One of the lists I subscribe to is Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings letter. The letter goes out once a week, and contains a cross-disciplinary investigation of art, science, design, history, philosophy, and more. Maria’s emails are well researched, illustrated and detailed. I don’t even like to read them on screen – I’ll often print it out.
For me the cross-disciplinary aspect is critically important – without insights from a range of disciplines I would quickly become bored. It’s the same reason I don’t just write about Google Ads, copywriting, or some other tactic in this letter. It would be dull for you, and for me.
You have to decide who you want to attract with the content you put out. Do you want to attract people looking for tactical soundbites about a specific topic?
Or do you want to attract people like me, who disappear down four intellectual rabbit holes at once?
The former outnumber the latter, by a long way. But the latter do still exist, in large enough numbers to build a sizeable business.
The most important thing is to choose.
A side effect of having a 1-year old is you read a LOT of children’s books…
I like some more than others. I’m a fan of The Gruffalo. I like the story of Oliver Donnington Rimington Sneep (who of course, couldn’t and didn’t and would not sleep).
Oh, and I especially like Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. Those are worth a read, even without the child.
When you look a little closer, ALL of these books are poetry with pictures.
Why exactly is that?
The use of rhyme, alliteration, assonance, and other poetic techniques all convert a complex message into something that easily gets stuck in your head at a lower reading age.
Less brain power is required to read or understand, while exponentially MORE brainpower is needed to write it! It’s like the difference between making music, and making noise.
Good ad writing also makes use of these poetic techniques. You don’t have to be the next John Donne or Emily Dickinson, but you can try adding an element of rhyme to your ads. (Especially your Google Ads, where space is limited and competition fierce).
This is arguably advanced level ad writing, but it’s something that can make a difference when you’re looking for a breakthrough.
As you put more voice into your work, you invariably run into topics like politics and religion. Hot potato topics that can blow up in your face.
So, should you write about them? Or are you best ignoring them, and sticking to more ‘safe’ topics?
It’s actually impossible to write engagingly over a long period of time without expressing political opinion. I also think it’s a mistake to completely ignore these things.
If you’re a deeply religious person, then it’s fine to work elements of that into your writing too. You can do it in a sensible way, without hammering anyone over the head. Perry Marshall does that very well.
I try to place my political and religious opinions out in the open. They’re there if you want to go looking for them. And if you don’t, they just blend in with the background. I think.
If you’re trying to build trust over a long period of time, you have to let people know the real you through small insights into your life. Having said that, nobody initially signs up to hear about these things. So it’s a balance. Make your emails entertaining and useful first. Then communicate the real you second.
There are also media considerations. There are some topics that I’ll happily riff on in my print newsletter, but won’t touch so often in email. Print is a more personal medium with my inner sanctum of subscribers, so I’m more likely to address sensitive topics there.
On balance though most people err too much on the side of caution. If you never offend anyone in your writing, you’re probably not appealing to anyone either.
I have a growing conviction that copy assembling has become more important than copy writing…
The perceived role of a copywriter is to come up with magic words that sell.
A copy assembler on the other hand has all of the necessary writing skills, but spends much more time assembling, sifting and sorting raw material. A copy assembler is a master at distinguishing signal from noise.
While copy assembling is front loaded in terms of work, it never stops. I’m always assembling things that might be useful, even when it looks like I’m not. Anything you ever say to me can and possibly will end up in a marketing email.
I have a recording app on my phone, which I’ll routinely place on the table in face to face conversations (with permission, of course). I have a call recording app. I use Zoom for web meetings, and routinely record conversations with clients.
I then crop the recording to just the section I want, and send it to rev.com to be transcribed. It then gets added to the ‘sifting and sorting’ pile.
Whatever you’re planning to write, it’s always better to write from a hefty bank of organised raw material. Always. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
It’s easier and more enjoyable to do things this way round. With practice and feedback, the writing takes care of itself.
I live on Sheffield’s Supertram route, right outside a tram stop. The first tram usually passes at 5.30AM, unnoticed like a ship in the night.
Until the last few weeks, that is…
When just once or twice, you might have noticed a huddled figure at the tram stop. Me.
A coffee shop ten minutes up the line opens at 5.30AM. So by 5.50AM I can be writing and nursing an espresso. The staff think I’m mad. I think I’m mad. But stuff does get done. Books get done. Podcasts get launched. I can write all my emails for the week, or a full edition of my print newsletter.
I’m not a fan of the ‘get up at 5AM like a winner’ nonsense, but once or twice a week it’s the only way I get stuff done.
The downside is that 1PM I look like I’ve been taking crack, and have to take an enforced 90 minute nap. Or else I throw ALL THE TOYS out of the pram (my toys, not Hugo’s toys), and wander round the house clutching a jar of Nutella.
The bottom line is this: the only way to communicate regularly with your list is to make time for it.
Are you making enough time?
It’s really a question of priorities. If you don’t deliberately block off time, other things usually take over.
A ‘soap opera sequence’ is where you start a story in one email, create an ‘open loop, and leave it unresolved over one or more emails. This creates anticipation between emails.
A lot has been written about soap opera sequences as the ‘ultimate’ email strategy. My opinion is they need to be used judiciously.
However entertaining and interesting your emails are, only a small portion of subscribers will religiously read every email you send. If your emails nearly always form part of a serial, you run the risk of alienating readers who join part way through.
You can still create threads and open loops between your emails, but each email you send should stand on its own two feet. Meaning if somebody opens part 2 at random, it should completely make sense without going back to part 1.
The one exception I’ll make to this is immediately after a contact opts in. The safest place to use a ‘soap opera’ format is in the first emails a contact receives from you. Because soap opera sequences are naturally engaging, this has the added benefit of pouring cement around the relationship with a new subscriber.
In the first email you send to people, open a dramatic loop and leave the reader on a cliff-hanger. Then complete (or continue) the story in email two.
If you can get some to read the first two emails, it exponentially increases the chance of them reading more emails after that. It also begins to encourage a regular reading habit.
I’m making some updates to my copywriting book Simple Story Selling at the moment. A key idea in the book is the plot archetype structure, which you can read about here. The plot structure looks like this:
A key idea to understand is that the plot archetype is fractal, meaning it operates at multiple levels as you zoom in and out.
You can use this five phase pattern across an individual email, Facebook post or blog post. You can even use it within a paragraph, or a sentence even. But in my experience, it works in a deeper and more profound way over a full series rather than an individual communication.
The point of the plot archetype structure is to illustrate character change (sometimes called the ‘character arc’). To illustrate true character change, a character has to feel a call towards a goal or objective. They have to make some initial progress towards that goal, only to realise the true scale of the task at hand. There has to be some monumental struggle, which only can be resolved through a core realisation or character change.
It is the struggle and character change that is endlessly fascinating to us. In watching that process, we are drawn out of our own world, and into another. We learn something about the world or about ourselves, even if the story itself is fictional.
You can fit all five phases into a single email (I’ve included various examples in the appendix of the book), but generally it’s best to stretch the five phases across an entire email series. A full email series simply gives you a greater canvas to work with. An epic story will contain a simple plot, but detailed episodes.
If you want to keep things simple, you could make each email in the series a single plot phase. So email 1 is the call, where you were down on your luck, bored at work, or whatever the call was.
Email 2 could be initial progress. I made initial progress in my business as a Google Ads consultant, before realising that wasn’t the business I wanted to build.
Email 3 could be the struggle. A time when the wheels fell off the bus. A time when your spouse gave you that long sideways glance, which screams “when are you going to get a real job?”
Email 4 could be the realisation. The moment of clarity. The time you went hiking in the Andes (or wherever), and found inspiration from a completely unexpected source.
Email 5 could be the resolution. The happy ending, leading into your offer. The offer at this point is fairly obvious: you invite the reader to join you on the journey. If the reader is at the ‘call’ phase, then your offer will speak to them directly. Chances are they’ll say yes.
I find that unless you want to write very long emails, five emails still doesn’t give you all that much space. As each email should only contain one key thought or idea, I find it easier and more effective to split the five phases across 15 or 20 emails (my own core story series has 18 emails).
A series of that length allows you to include multiple ups and downs… multiple low points you overcame. In an archetypal story the struggle phase (phase 3) is often the longest phase. In Lord of the Rings it goes on forever.
Write about your struggles. Bleed a little. Show people your scars. That is what gets their attention the most, because they recognise their own struggles in yours.
I like the 15-part format because:
– It feels doable. If the groundwork has already been done I can write five emails in half a day. So writing 15 emails means three sessions of 5.
– You have implementation options. You can send an email a day for two weeks. You can send an email every weekday for three weeks. You can send an email every other day for a month. You can split test all of these options.
15 or 20 emails could easily be 10,000 words; long enough for a lead generation book by the time you’ve added in content.
Think also of the reader. I don’t think it is generally sensible to have an email series run for over a month, because at that point a book would be the preferred format. Readers will also become lost, or forget where you started. 30 days should be the maximum window for your email series.
In writing 15 emails, you’ll often find that some emails in your plan actually need to be two emails. Which is why my 15-part series ended up as 18 emails. By splitting a story over two emails you end up with a mini ‘soap opera sequence’.
More on which tomorrow…