When you think of the word “copywriter”, you might picture advertising executives like those from the show Mad Men. Copy generally refers to the text in an advertisement: those words that persuade the customer to buy a product or service.
But in today’s Internet age we’re all writing copy even if we’re not selling a product for a company. We might be trying to persuade someone to click a link to read an article or leave a comment on a social media post or sign up to our email list or buy our book and write a review.
No matter whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you can learn invaluable marketing and writing strategies from copywriting books. These strategies will help you write more persuasively and market more effectively so you get your message out to the world.
One of the copywriting classics is a book called My Life in Advertising (Amazon affiliate link) by legendary copywriter Claude C. Hopkins. It was published way back in 1927 but still contains many copywriting lessons that we can learn from in 2021.
In today’s post, I’ve written up my top five takeaways. Let’s dive in.
(Please note that links to books are affiliate links which means I’ll earn a small commission if you buy through the link with no extra cost to you. Thank you!)
1. Tap Into the Power of the Crowd
When you’re searching for a product to buy on Amazon, you’re probably more likely to buy the product that has over a hundred four and five star reviews rather than the one that only has a handful.
That’s the power of the crowd. Those glowing reviews make the copy in the product description far more persuasive. They tell you that you can trust the company and the quality of its product.
“We judge things largely by others’ impressions, by popular favor. We go with the crowd. So the most effective thing I have ever found in advertising is the trend of the crowd.
That is a factor not to be overlooked. People follow styles and preferences. We rarely decide for ourselves, because we don’t know the facts. But when we see the crowds taking any certain direction, we are much inclined to go with them.”
Of course, it’s rather obvious that it’s important to include reviews and testimonials for products you’re selling. But the “power of the crowd” can be used in many other situations too.
For example, if you have a free email newsletter, you could include a testimonial on the sign-up page from a happy subscriber. Or you could list how many people subscribe (“Join 4,000 happy subscribers”). Even though you’re not selling a product, people still have to trust you to let you into their inboxes. Testimonials and numbers show that you can be trusted.
Beyond that, we can take this principle to the next level if we reframe the term “crowd” as “community”. After all, when you’re first starting out as a creator or if you have a small business, you probably don’t have a huge, dedicated fanbase yet.
But you can still consider how to form a community around what you’re creating. Maybe you can do this by hosting an event, in-person or online. For example, if you’re an artist, you could run a free, 5-day “drawing 101” online bootcamp with a Facebook group where your followers can learn from you and interact.
Or you could think about how to incorporate community on your social media accounts. For example, on Instagram (using the example of an artist again!), you might run a drawing challenge where you post a photo and challenge others to draw it in their style and publish those drawings with a specific hashtag. Then you could feature those drawings on your account.
By looking for ways to build community and create a dialogue with your followers (rather than just monologuing through blog posts), you’ll know how you can best serve them, and they’ll become dedicated fans. And that will mean more people will want to join your community as well.
2. Inspire Action
If you’re writing copy for a sales page or other type of advertisement, your main objective is to get people to buy. (I’m assuming that you’ve created a high-quality product that is truly going to help them.)
However, if you just describe your product’s features and then slap a “buy now” button on the page, that’s usually not enough to get people to take out their credit cards.
“Aim to get action. Your reader is perusing a magazine or newspaper. She has paused because your subject or your headline attracts her. But in a moment she will be interested in her reading and will usually forget you. In some way in your climax, inspire immediate action in those interested. A coupon is the usual way.”
Back in Hopkins’ day, his buyers would come across his advertisements in a newspaper. While your potential customers will probably be reading your copy on a computer, the same principle applies. People’s attention spans are shorter than they’ve ever been before, and their lives are busy. While they might be interested in your product, if you don’t give them a reason to buy now, most will probably put the purchase off for a later date.
So make sure to inspire them to action. Maybe you use the same strategy as Hopkins did and give them a coupon code that’s only valid for, say, ten days. Maybe you include “bonuses”. For example, if you’ve just written a new book, you could tell people that if they pre-order a copy, they’ll get access to a bonus workbook or an online webinar.
Additionally, you can use the principle of “inspiring immediate action” even if you’re not selling a product.
Let’s say you’re trying to grow a social media account or your email list. In order to inspire people to take action and follow your account or subscribe, you could run a giveaway. Choose a prize that you’re going to give away (for example, a signed book). In order to enter to win the prize, a person must follow your social media account or sign up to your email list. Then, you randomly choose a winner out of everyone who enters the giveaway.
Or, if you’re writing a blog post, consider what’s the one action you want readers to take after they read your post (maybe it’s just changing their perspective on a topic). Make sure to spell that out in your blog post’s conclusion. Emphasize the negative consequences if they don’t take action and the positive consequences if they do.
3. Test, Test, Test
Testing is an essential part of copywriting. Even the most experienced copywriters aren’t mind readers. They test their copy to make sure it resonates with their target audience. And they beta test their products to make sure there aren’t any flaws that will upset future customers. Testing ensures that they create a product that will truly help their customers.
“Our success depends on pleasing people. By an inexpensive test we can learn if we please them or not. We can guide our endeavors accordingly…That is about the only way to advertising success. Perhaps one time in fifty a guess may be right. But fifty times in fifty an actual test tells you what to do and avoid.”
How can you run tests on your own products and copy?
If you have an email list, you can run a survey to find out what kind of product your subscribers would be most interested in you creating. This will prevent you from creating something that nobody wants to buy.
Once you’ve landed on a product idea, you can then ask subscribers if they’d like to be part of a beta testing group of your upcoming product to give you feedback. This is also a fantastic way to get reviews and testimonials to display on your sales page. Authors will often have beta readers (they could be friends and family) who will read an unpublished manuscript to give feedback from a reader’s point of view.
Some website builders and email forms will let you run A/B tests on your copy. That means they’ll show version A of your copy to 50% of your website visitors and version B to the other 50%.
For example, in version A, you might write, “Subscribe to my email list” on an email sign up form. In version B, you write, “Get my free eBook.” The test reveals that more people sign up to your email list when they read version B. Since version B is the clear winner, you can scrap version A.
You can also run a type of A/B test when you reach out to your customers or blog readers for feedback. Give them two different versions of your copy and ask which one resonates with them more.
I recently saw a popular YouTuber polling his audience about which title they liked best for an upcoming video he was making. This is a fantastic way to take the stress off yourself when trying to craft an attention-grabbing title.
4. Be Sincere
Formal writing hides your personality and can make your audience doubt your sincerity. It sometimes comes across as pretentious and is also plain difficult to read.
When you’re writing copy, imagine you are talking to a good friend. Write conversationally. Think really hard about your target audience. What are their hopes and fears? What do they struggle with?
Brilliant writing has no place in advertising…Never try to show off. You are selling your product, not yourself. Do nothing to cloud your objective. Use the shortest words possible. Let every phrase ring with sincerity. From start to finish offer service. That is what you are selling, that is all your prospect wants. Weigh every sentence on that basis…Forget yourself entirely. Have in your mind a typical prospect, interested enough to read about your product. Keep that prospect before you. Seek in every word to increase your good impression. Say only what you think a good salesman should say if that prospect stood before him. Then, if you could sell in person, you could sell in print.
In this article, I share an eight-step checklist that will help you write conversationally.
Here’s a tip: if you struggle to write conversationally, try composing your text as a caption for Facebook or Instagram. When I write in the Facebook status box, for instance, I find that my entire tone changes. I don’t have to go back and edit my copy to make it sound more conversational like I do when I write in a Google doc.
5. Make Them An Offer They Can’t Refuse
This is an essential copywriting principle if you’re selling a product. And, nope, we’re not talking about Godfather-style offers here. 😉
Instead, Hopkins stresses the importance of eliminating any perceived risk in your customers’ minds when they’re about to buy your product. Give them a free 7-day trial so they can test out your product or maybe a 30-day money back guarantee so they can buy your product without worries.
Depending on what type of product you’re selling, you might be afraid that customers will take advantage of this, and you’ll get tons of returns (or maybe they’ll even keep your product while asking for their money back). For example, if you sell a digital product, you might be afraid that someone will buy your product, download it, and then ask for a refund.
This might happen once or twice, but the reality is that by including the most generous money-back guarantee that you can, you will probably increase the sales of your product since it will give customers peace of mind.
When we make an offer one cannot reasonably refuse, it is pretty sure to gain acceptance. And however generous the offer, however open to imposition, experience proves that very few will cheat those who offer a square deal. Try to hedge or protect yourself, and human nature likes to circumvent you. But remove all restrictions and say, “We trust you,” and human nature likes to justify that trust. All my experience in advertising has shown that people in general are honest…Serve better than others, offer more than others, and you are pretty sure to win.”
I love that last line of the quote. That really is the key to growing an audience online. Be sincere, deliver lots of value (especially something only you can deliver that sets you apart from others online), and focus on solving your audience’s problems.
These five tips are just a small taste of the marketing insight you’ll find in Hopkin’s My Life in Advertising. You can buy it on Amazon (affiliate link) in the same volume as his other classic Scientific Advertising.
If you’re looking to strengthen your copywriting and marketing skills, I definitely recommend getting a copy. It’s an in-depth read with lots of fantastic actionable advice.
When you sharpen your copywriting skills, you’ll be able to effectively market what you’re creating so you can help more people.
Thanks for reading! I hope this blog post inspires you. Which is your favorite exercise? Let me know in the comments.
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