The Copywriter’s Handbook Summary16 min read

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A copywriter is a salesperson behind a keyboard.

Copy should be urgent, unique, ultra-specific and useful.

Your performance as a copywriter is based on sales generated, not originality.

The Five Big Ideas

For copy to convince the customer to buy a product or service it must get attention, communicate and persuade

“The word free is the most powerful word in the copywriter’s vocabulary.”

Four out of five readers will read the headline and skip the rest of the ad.

“When writing testimonial copy, use the customer’s own words as much as possible. Don’t polish his statements; a natural, conversational tone adds believability to the testimonial.”

Ask yourself, “Who is my customer? What are the important features of the product? Why will the customer want to buy the product? (What product feature is most important to him?)”

The Copywriter’s Handbook Summary

“A copywriter is a salesperson behind a typewriter.” – Judith Charles

For copy to convince the consumer to buy the product, it must do three things:

Get attention

Communicate

Persuade

Your headline can perform four different tasks:

Get attention

Select the audience

Deliver a complete message

Draw the reader into the body copy

“The word free is the most powerful word in the copywriter’s vocabulary.”

Powerful attention-getting words:

How to

Why

Sale

Quick

Easy

Bargain

Last chance

Guarantee

Results

Proven

Save

“Grade your performance as a copywriter on sales generated by your copy, not on originality.”

“When you write a headline, get attention by picking out an important customer benefit and presenting it in a clear, bold, dramatic fashion. Avoid headlines and concepts that are cute, clever, and titillating but irrelevant. They may generate some hoopla, but they do not sell.”

“According to David Ogilvy, four out of five readers will read the headline and skip the rest of the ad.”

“Ogilvy recommends that you include the selling promise and the brand name in the headline.”

“Remember, as a copywriter, you are not a creative artist; you are a salesperson. Your job is not to create literature; your job is to persuade people to buy the product.”

“When writing testimonial copy, use the customer’s own words as much as possible. Don’t polish his statements; a natural, conversational tone adds believability to the testimonial.”

The “4 U’s” Copywriting Formula

Urgent. “Urgency gives the reader a reason to act now instead of later. You can create a sense of urgency in your headline by incorporating a time element. A sense of urgency can also be created with a time-limited special offer, such as a discount or premium if you order by a certain date.”

Unique. “The powerful headline either says something new, or if it says something the reader has heard before, says it in a new and fresh way.”

Ultra-specific. “Boardroom, a newsletter publisher, is the absolute master of ultra-specific bullets, known as ‘fascinations,’ that tease the reader into reading further and ordering the product.”

Useful. “The strong subject line appeals to the reader’s self-interest by offering a benefit.”

“When you have written your headline, ask yourself how strong it is in each of the 4 U’s. Use a scale of 1 to 4 (1 = weak, 4 = strong) to rank it in each category.”

Questions to Ask Yourself

Who is my customer?

What are the important features of the product?

Why will the customer want to buy the product? (What product feature is most important to him?)

11 Tips for Writing Clear Copy

1. Put the Reader First

“Think of the reader. Ask yourself: Will the reader understand what I have written? Does he know the special terminology I have used? Does my copy tell her something important or new or useful? If I were the reader, would this copy persuade me to buy the product?”

“One technique to help you write for the reader is to address the reader directly as ‘you’ in the copy, just as I am writing to you in this book. Copywriters call this the ‘you-orientation’”.

2. Carefully Organize Your Selling Points

“When you write your copy, you must carefully organize the points you want to make.”

“The headline states the main selling proposition, and the first few paragraphs expand on it. Secondary points are covered later in the body copy. If this copy is lengthy, each secondary point may get a separate heading or number.”

“The organization of your selling points depends on their relative importance, the amount of information you give the reader, and the type of copy you are writing (letter, ad, commercial, or news story).”

“Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. And then, tell them what you told them.” – Terry C. Smith

“Before you create an ad or mailer, write down your sales points. Organize them in a logical, persuasive, clear fashion. And present them in this order when you write your copy.”

3. Break the Writing into Short Sections

“If the content of your ad can be organized as a series of sales points, you can cover each point in a separate section of copy.”

“If there is no particular order of importance or logical sequence between the sales points, use graphic devices such as bullets, asterisks, or dashes to set off each new section. If you have a lot of copy under each section, use subheads (as I’ve done in this book).”

“Paragraphs should also be kept short. Long, unbroken chunks of type intimidate readers.”

“When you edit your copy, use subheads to separate major sections. Leave space between paragraphs. And break long paragraphs into short paragraphs. A paragraph of five sentences can usually be broken into two or three shorter paragraphs by finding places where a new thought or idea is introduced and beginning the new paragraph with that thought.”

4. Use Short Sentences

“(D. H. Menzel) found that sentences became difficult to understand beyond a length of about 34 words.”

“To make your writing flow, vary sentence length. By writing an occasional short sentence or sentence fragment, you can reduce the average sentence length of your copy to an acceptable length even if you frequently use lengthy sentences.”

“Train yourself to write in crisp, short sentences. When you have finished a thought, stop. Start the next sentence with a new thought. When you edit, your pencil should automatically seek out places where a long string of words can be broken in two.”

5. Use Simple Words

“In advertising copy, you are trying to communicate with people, not impress them or boost your own ego. Avoid pompous words and fancy phrases.”

“Small words are better than big words whether you’re writing to farmers or physicists, fishermen or financiers.”

6. Avoid Technical Jargon

“Don’t use jargon when writing to an audience that doesn’t speak your special language.”

“Don’t use a technical term unless 95 percent or more of your readers will understand it.”

“Don’t use a technical term unless it precisely communicates your meaning.”

7. Be Concise

“Unnecessary words waste the reader’s time, dilute the sales message, and take up space that could be put to better use.”

“Rewriting is the key to producing concise copy.”

“Avoid redundancies, run-on sentences, wordy phrases, the passive voice, unnecessary adjectives, and other poor stylistic habits that take up space but add little to meaning or clarity.”

8. Be Specific

9. Go Straight to the Point

“If the headline is the most important part of an ad, then the lead paragraph is surely the second most important part.”

“Start selling with the very first line of copy.”

“The finished copy should sell from the first word to the last.”

10. Write in a Friendly, Conversational Style

“People enjoy reading clear, simple, easy-to-understand writing. And the simplest, clearest style is to write the way you talk.”

“John Louis DiGaetani recommends this simple test for conversational tone: ‘As you revise, ask yourself if you would ever say to your reader what you are writing. Or imagine yourself speaking to the person instead of writing.’”

11. Avoid Sexist Language

“Copywriters must avoid sexist language. Like it or not, sexist language offends a large portion of the population, and you don’t sell things to people by getting them angry at you.”

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“Ending a sentence with a preposition adds to the conversational tone of the copy.”

“Sentence fragments help keep your average sentence length to a respectable number of words. And sentence fragments can add drama and rhythm to your copy.”

“Beginning a sentence with and, or, but, or for makes for a smooth, easy transition between thoughts.”

“An occasional one-sentence paragraph provides a change of pace that can liven up a piece of copy.”

“Highlighting and underlining can make words and phrases stand out in print advertising and promotion as well as in schoolbooks. Many readers skim copy without reading it carefully, so an underline or highlight can be useful in calling out key words, phrases, paragraphs, and selling points.”

“One of the most effective techniques for writing subscription copy is to present the publication’s content as a list of bulleted items, e.g., ‘7 ways to reduce your heating bill this winter.’”

“Be specific about the problem; be vague and mysterious about the solution. Plus, do it with a twist, hook, or unusual angle.”

Before you release copy to the client or the art department, ask yourself these questions:

Does the copy fulfill the promise of the headline?

Is the copy interesting?

Is it easy to read?

Is it believable?

Is it persuasive?

Is it specific?

Is it concise?

Is it relevant?

Does it flow smoothly?

Does it call for action?

“The first step in writing copy that sells is to write about benefits and not about features.”

“A feature is a descriptive fact about a product or service; it’s what the product is or has. A benefit is what the product does; it’s what the user of the product or service gains as a result of the feature.”

“According to AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action), the copy must first get the reader’s attention, then create an interest in the product, then turn that interest into a strong desire to own the product, and finally ask the reader to buy the product or take some other action that will eventually lead to a sale.”

“In ACCA (Awareness, Comprehension, Conviction, Action), consumers are first made aware that the product exists. Then they must comprehend what the product is and what it will do for them. After comprehension, the readers must be convinced to buy the product. And finally, they must take action and actually make the purchase.”

“The copywriter creates a picture of what the product can do for the reader, promises the picture will come true if the reader buys the product, proves what the product has done for others, and pushes for immediate action.”

“The Motivating Sequence”

1. Get Attention

“This is the job of the headline and the visual. The headline should focus on the single strongest benefit you can offer the reader.”

2. Show a Need

“The second step of writing copy that sells, then, is to show the reader why she needs the product.”

3. Satisfy the Need and Position Your Product as a Solution to the Problem

“Once you’ve convinced the reader that he has a need, you must quickly show him that your product can satisfy his need, answer his questions, or solve his problems.”

4. Prove Your Product Can Do What You Say It Can Do

“It isn’t enough to say you can satisfy the reader’s needs—you’ve got to prove you can.”

5. Ask for Action

“The last step in any piece of copy should always be a call for action.”

“False logic, a term coined by my friend, master copywriter Michael Masterson, is copy that, through skillful writing, manipulates (but does not lie about or misrepresent) existing facts. The objective: to help readers come to conclusions that these facts, presented without the twists of the copywriter’s pen, might not otherwise support.”

“According to Reeves, there are three requirements for a USP (and I am quoting, in the italics, from Reality in Advertising):

Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Each must say, ‘Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.’

The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer.

The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions, i.e., pull over new customers to your product.

“One popular method is to differentiate your product or service from the competition based on a feature that your product or service has and they don’t.”

“Malcolm D. MacDougall, former president and creative director of SSC&B, says there are four ways to advertise seemingly similar products:

Stress an underpublicized or little-known benefit.

Dramatize a known benefit in a compelling fashion.

Dramatize the product name or package.

Build long-term brand personalities.

“Study your list of product features and benefits. Then look at the competition’s ads. Is there an important benefit that they have ignored, one you can embrace as the Unique Selling Proposition that sets your product apart from all others?”

“The secondary promise is a lesser benefit that the product also delivers.”

“Your copy should reach prospects on three levels: intellectual, emotional, and personal.”

To reach your prospects on all three levels—intellectual, emotional, and personal—you must understand what copywriter Michael Masterson calls the buyer’s “Core Complex.” These are the emotions, attitudes, and aspirations that drive them, as represented by the BFD formula, which stands for beliefs, feelings, and desires.

Beliefs. What does your audience believe? What is their attitude toward your product and the problems or issues it addresses?

Feelings. How do they feel? Are they confident and brash? Nervous and fearful? What do they feel about the major issues in their lives, businesses, or industries?

Desires. What do they want? What are their goals? What change do they want in their lives that your product can help them achieve?

“Before you write your copy, it’s a good idea to review the reasons why people might want to buy your product.”

22 Reasons Why People Might Buy Your Product

To be liked

To be appreciated

To be right

To feel important

To make money

To save money

To save time

To make work easier

To be secure

To be attractive

To be sexy

To be comfortable

To be distinctive

To be happy

To have fun

To gain knowledge

To be healthy

To gratify curiosity

For convenience

Out of fear

Out of greed

Out of guilt

“The more expensive a product is, the more copy you generally need to sell it.”

“Copy that sells the product directly off the printed page or screen (known as “one-step” or “mail-order” copy) usually has to be long, because it must present all product information and overcome all objections.”

“People who are pressed for time, such as busy executives and professionals, often respond better to short copy.”

“Products that people need (a refrigerator, a fax machine) can be sold with short copy because . . . well, the prospect has to buy them. Products that people want but don’t have to buy (exercise videos, self-help audio programs, financial newsletters) must be “sold,” and require long copy to do so.”

“Short copy works well with products the prospect is already familiar with and understands.”

How to Write Persuasive, Fact-Filled Copy for Your Clients

Step 1: Get All Previously Published Material on the Product

“You should spend a lot of time printing out and reading the client’s Web site, or at least the pages pertaining to the product you are promoting.”

“By studying this background material, the copywriter should have 90 percent of the information he or she needs to write the copy.”

Step 2: Ask Questions About the Product

What are its features and benefits? (Make a complete list.)

Which benefit is the most important?

How is the product different from the competition’s? (Which features are exclusive? Which are better than the competition’s?)

If the product isn’t different, what attributes can be stressed that haven’t been stressed by the competition?

What technologies does the product compete against?

What are the applications of the product?

What problems does the product solve in the marketplace?

How is the product positioned against competing products?

How does the product work?

How reliable is the product? How long will it last?

How efficient is the product?

How economical?

How much does it cost?

Is it easy to use? Easy to maintain?

Who has bought the product and what do they say about it?

What materials, sizes, and models is it available in?

How quickly does the manufacturer deliver the product?

If they don’t deliver, how and where can you buy it?

What service and support does the manufacturer offer?

Is the product guaranteed?

Step 3: Ask Questions About Your Audience

Who will buy the product? (What markets is it sold to?)

What exactly does the product do for them?

Why do they need the product? And why do they need it now?

What is the customer’s main concern when buying this type of product (price, delivery, performance, reliability, service, maintenance, quality, efficiency, availability)?

What is the character of the buyer? What type of person is the product being sold to?

What motivates the buyer?

How many different buying influences must the copy appeal to? (A toy ad, for example, must appeal to both the parent and the child.)

“If you are writing an ad, read issues of the magazines in which the ad will appear.”

“If you are writing direct mail, find out what mailing lists will be used and study the list descriptions.”

Step 4: Determine the Objective of Your Copy

This objective may be one or more of the following:

To generate inquiries

To generate sales

To answer inquiries

To qualify prospects

To generate store traffic

To introduce a new product or an improvement of an old product

To keep in touch with prospects and customers

To transmit news or product information

To build brand recognition and preference

To build company image

To provide marketing tools for salespeople

Here are 10 criteria that an ad must satisfy if it is to be successful as a selling tool:

The headline contains an important consumer benefit, or news, or arouses curiosity, or promises a reward for reading the copy

The visual (if you use a visual) illustrates the main benefit stated in the headline

The lead paragraph expands on the theme of the headline

The layout draws readers into the ad and invites them to read the body copy

The body copy covers all important sales points in logical sequence

The copy provides the information needed to convince the greatest number of qualified prospects to take the next step in the buying process

When you sit down to write your ad, ask yourself: “What do I want the reader to do? And what can I tell him that will get him to do it?”

The copy is interesting to read

The copy is believable

The ad asks for action

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