“There is little sales value in fine writing. It is what you say that counts, not how you say it. A valid argument presented in blunt language will sway the reader more than a less valid argument beautifully presented.” — John Caples, Tested Advertising Methods, (p. 27)
Let’s get one thing clear before we get started: the purpose of copywriting is to produce results. If you agree, then continue reading. But if you think copywriting is about being creative, clever or expressing yourself then stop right now. Because you will only get frustrated at what I’m about to share.
If you’re still here I’m assuming you want to discover how to harness the power of the written word in order to grow your business. And one way to learn how to do this is to first learn what not to do.
One sure way to sabotage your marketing message is believing “good writing” will lead to more sales. This is not true. In fact, good writing will do more harm than good. This is why many good writers fail to get results with copywriting. They don’t understand why their beautiful ads fail while other, “poorly written” ads succeed. They’re confused. But after reading this you won’t be.
After you read this you’ll know why good writing gets in the way of your marketing message.
The reason good writing fails to produce results is because the focus — the emphasis — is on the writing and not the reader or the product. Since the purpose of the copy is to get results nothing else matters. Style, grammar, punctuation, and creativity are all secondary. The desired action — the result — is primary.
When the reader picks up the phone and calls you, that’s a win. When your sales letter beats the control by 15% you know your copy is accomplishing the purpose for which it was designed. You cannot measure success in any other way. To do so would be to deceive yourself.
Good Copy Is Like a Window
A glass case serves it’s purpose by not drawing attention to itself. If it’s dirty or has stickers on it then you notice the glass. But when it’s clean you see what’s inside. And it’s the same with good copy.
But when your copy draws attention to itself (through good writing) it makes it hard for the reader to see the product. A well-written article may cause a reader to laugh, cry or think. But those responses are not your goal. Your only objective is to get the reader to take a specific action.
If you want to be recognized for your literary skills then write a novel. But don’t use novel writing when you should be writing copy.
So when you have someone read your copy pay close attention to their response. If they say, “Wow, that’s some great writing. I like how you said blah, blah, blah,” then you know you need to rewrite it.
But if they say, “Wow, this sounds like a great product. I feel like I want to buy it right now. What’s the phone number?” then you know you’re on the right track.
Write To The Subconscious Mind
It’s no secret people buy based on emotion and justify their decisions with logic. Apple has sold 84.1 million iPads as of March 31, 2012. Ask someone why they bought the iPad and they’ll say it’s because of the usefulness, the touch screen or the memory.
But according to Dr. A.K. Pradeep, author of The Buying Brain, the real reason people love their iPads is rooted in their subconscious. “When you move an icon on the iPad and it does what you thought it would do, you’re surprised and delighted it actually happened,” he says. “That surprise and delight turns into a dopamine squirt, and you don’t even know why you liked it.”
Good copy speaks to the subconscious mind. The reader may not even know why they like it but they do. But good writing has the opposite effect. It speaks to the intellectual, logical mind… which unfortunately doesn’t drive human behavior like the subconscious does.
This is why clear, concise and simple writing is better than clever writing.
Cleverness requires the reader to think which engages the conscious part of their mind. And to connect with the subconscious mind you need to use short words. Simple phrases. And brief sentences. Which brings us to our next point.
What’s The Reading Level of Your Writing?
The average reading comprehension of American adults is at a ninth-grade level. So if you’re writing at a college-level then most people will have to work to read your copy. And most people won’t work to read your copy.
If people struggle to comprehend what you’re saying they’ll simply delete the email. Leave the website. Or throw away the letter. You’re writing to one of the most busy and distracted readers of all time. And the overworked mind is looking for a reason to ignore something and move on. Don’t give it a reason by attempting to sound sophisticated in your writing.
Master copywriter Lee Euler practiced this principle as he assembled the Plague of the Black Debt, one of the most successful book-a-logs in direct-marketing history. Euler mailed more than 14 million pieces, generating over $7 million in revenue. And he covered a complex subject using just a 6.8-grade reading level.
Review Your Copy
So now that you can see the reasons why good writing is not good copywriting you’re ready to improve your copy. After you’re finished here go read through your email messages, landing pages, sales letters and your other marketing pieces with fresh eyes. As you read ask yourself:
- Is my writing fogging up the glass?
- Am I speaking to the unconscious mind or to the logical mind?
- What’s the reading level of my writing (to find out use this free tool)
Remember, the purpose of your copy is to get results. Do whatever it takes to accomplish this. And remember, as John Caples said, “It is what you say that counts, not how you say it.”