Where does great marketing copy come from?
It’s kind of a weird question, right? It comes from writers, who have ideas, which come from…somewhere. Most people don’t really know where, but it doesn’t really matter because that’s why copywriters exist in the first place.
But it’s actually important to understand marketing copy, even if you aren’t a copywriter.
You might not be the kind of person who pulls out their word-hammer and word-anvil to start wordsmithing words in the word-fire, but there are two very good reasons to understand copywriting at a fundamental level:
- You need some copy, even if it’s only a paragraph of company description, and there’s a point where you’re too small to hire someone else to write it.
- When you are able to hire a copywriter, you need to be able to tell if they’re the right person for the job.
If your copy isn’t performing, you could be losing sales without even realizing it.
If you hire a bad copywriter, you’ll keep losing sales—and pay for the privilege.
To stop that from happening, this article covers three of the most dangerous copy misconceptions—and the most fundamental of all copy fundamentals.
Three critical copy misconceptions that kill conversions
Let’s start with a big one that you might have heard: copywriting isn’t about creativity.
Can creativity help you be a better copywriter? Of course! But the goal of copy isn’t to “be creative.” The goal of copy is to sell products.
As famous ad-man David Ogilvy once said:
“When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.”
What constitutes good marketing copy? High conversion rates. Sales. Revenue. Money.
But even if you’ve adopted the “copy as a salesman” mindset, there are three critical misconceptions that pop up—and could be killing your chance to make a killing.
Misconception 1: Copy creates demand
If you spend some time Googling “copywriting,” you’re sure to come across a few things. A less-than-helpful Wikipedia article. A list of “power words.” A recommendation to read the book Influence.
In general, a lot of the recommendations you’ll find suffer from this first critical misconception: copywriting makes people want things.
People don’t want things just because you offer them. Copy can’t create demand.
But wait, didn’t I just say that the job of copy is to sell products? And isn’t part of selling products making people, well, want those products?
Yes. Well, sort of. And in truth, a lot of the copy tips you’ll find in Google aren’t actually bad. They’re just taken out of context. A book like Influence is actually really helpful, if you use it right.
I can’t say it any better than Eugene Schwartz, a legendary copywriter and the author of Breakthrough Advertising.
Marketing copy only makes people want products to the extent that it answers their problems and helps them get the things that they want. As Joanna Wiebe, the original conversion copywriter, says “you’re selling your prospects a better version of themselves.”
If you want to have strong marketing copy, you first need to ask other questions. What problems do people have? Are they willing to pay to solve them? What demand is out there for a solution like your product?
Misconception 2: Content and copy are the same (“it’s all words”)
Content marketing has its roots all the way back in the 19th century, but its recent popularity can be partially attributed to Seth Godin’s book Permission Marketing.
Back in 1999, Godin realized that most marketing was “interruption” marketing. That is, it bothered people while they were trying to do other stuff and go about their lives.
Think about your standard television commercial. Do you really want to sit there watching the commercial, or do you want to go back to watching a rerun of How I Met Your Mother? I came for the silly jokes and the phrase “suit up,” not 18 billion car commercials.
If you love car commercials, that’s cool too. The point is that Godin proposed a shift—from marketing that annoys people to marketing that solves problems. Marketing that people actively seek out and want to consume.
Almost 20 years later, here we are. Content marketing is exploding. And as content marketing blows up, the demand for people who can write also rises.
So I’m a fan of content marketing. How could I not be? The more popular the field gets, the more my professional stock goes up.
The problem is that the rise in demand for writers has led to some confusion.
With so much demand for writers, the distinction between content and copy has become blurred. Broadly, there’s this idea that “words are words,” and that if you can write well, you can do anything that involves words.
But there’s a difference between content and copy. Even though copywriters are often good content marketers and content marketers have many skills that will translate well to copy, there are critical differences.
In most cases:
- Copywriters are trying to drive sales. They use a deep understanding of psychology, stages of awareness, and specific audiences to write words that get people to take action.
- Content marketers are trying to create leads. They use educational content to attract readers and collect contact information to qualify and nurture leads.
Is this a perfect distinction? Of course not. And there are certainly people with both skill sets.
But there are situations that demand one skill set more than another. Again, there can be overlap, but here are a few quick examples.
- Copywriters are usually better suited for writing web pages, landing pages, and email sequences. Many copywriters will also have knowledge of conversion optimization and testing.
- Content marketers are usually better suited to come up with, write, and promote blog posts. They are more likely to have knowledge of SEO and social media promotion.
When the skills get confused, you wind up with a beautifully written blog post that nobody reads. Or an informative landing page that doesn’t get you any customers.
To sum up…
What is a copywriter?
- Copywriting is creating words that are intended to persuade. Copywriters are the people who create the words and text for promotional materials like web sites, landing pages, sales letters, billboards, brochures, and emails.
What is a content marketer?
- Content marketing is the creation of materials to promote a brand. Content marketers are the people who create, distribute, and measure content. That includes blog posts, social media, infographics, ebooks, white papers, videos, and other content.
Personally, I think that it’s awesome when content marketers and copywriters cross skill sets. The ability to attract and convert leads is super valuable, and it does amazing things for the people who can do both.
But if you’re looking at hiring a content marketer or copywriter, it’s important to understand the difference. Writing skill helps in both areas, but it’s a generalization to say “it’s all words.”
Misconception 3: Copywriting is about writing
This is a pretty understandable misconception. After all, the word “copywriting” literally says “writing” in it. So where’s the misconception?
There’s a common belief that the words a copywriter puts onto a page come from the copywriter’s brain. But good copy actually doesn’t. The best marketing copy—the copy that keeps people reading, nodding along, and converting—comes straight from your audience’s mouth.
We’ll talk more about what that means in a moment. But if copywriters don’t write, what do they do? What does it mean to write copy?
To quote Eugene Schwartz again: “Copy is not written. Copy is assembled.”
The job of the copywriter is to pull together language from a variety of sources and organize it in a way that increases conversions.
The best copywriters never write from scratch. They take proven formulas for marketing copy, like PAS (Problem Agitation Solution), AIDA (Attention Interest Desire Action), and AICPBSAWN (yep, really), then add in the details of their product and audience.
If that makes copywriting sound easy—it’s not. And copywriters still need to be good writers to understand which audience language is compelling enough to steal.
What is copy creation?
Copy creation is the practice of creating words that persuade people to take action. The best copywriters do research to find the most important features of their products, the pain points of their audience, and the exact words people use to describe their problems.
The dangerous idea in misconception 3 is that marketing copy comes from an individual person. It’s a misconception that leads to impossibly tight turnaround times, or the belief that short copy should be less expensive because it’s “easier” to write (it isn’t).
In reality, writing effective marketing copy of any length takes research. The copywriter is the person who organizes that research to build a compelling message.
The final steps of copywriting are an art, but they are an art guided by science.
Let’s look at how you can use customer research, not “writing,” to create copy that converts.
Instead of “writing,” do customer research
(Or, “how to write marketing copy”)
If you think you need rehab, you do.
That headline generated a 400% increase in button clicks for Beachway, a rehab and addiction therapy center. It crushed the control, “Your Addiction Ends Here,” so incredibly that it led to a 20% increase in form submits—even though the form was on an entirely separate page.
Source: Copy Hackers
It’s an incredibly compelling headline. If we hadn’t just gone through common copywriting misconceptions, it would be easy to think “whoever came up with that is an amazing writer.”
As it turns out, Joanna Wiebe is an amazing writer. She’s the copywriter that worked on Beachway’s website and chose that headline. But she didn’t write it.
Joanna Wiebe is the original conversion copywriter, and one of the best copywriters in the world. So she knows that the most compelling and effective marketing copy comes from audience language, not copywriter brains.
“If you think you need rehab, you do.” That copy came from an Amazon review of a book about overcoming addiction.
If you follow top copywriters, you’ll notice that this becomes a theme.
In 2017, Joel Klettke gave a wildly popular talk at Unbounce’s Call To Action conference. In it, he shows you the difference between copy that comes from marketers and copy that comes from audience research.
I highly, highly recommend watching the entire talk, but here are a few of the examples that come from this copywriting advice:
- “Sales made simple” vs. “You hate guesswork and busywork – so we made sales less work”
- “Affordable time tracking payroll software” vs. “The only time tracking tool that pays for itself”
- “Break through native reporting limitations” vs. “Get the reports your CRM can’t give you – without the headache it does”
In each example, the second version of the copy borrows from audience research. And it’s not hard to see that the research-based copy is much more interesting and grabby than the boring controls.
That’s the key—copywriting isn’t about guessing at what people want. It’s about taking audience language and building it into high-converting copy.
That’s why research is important in copywriting. It’s how to write good copy.
Here are the three biggest ways that top copywriters use market research to craft better copy. For more ideas, you can also check out our blog post on affordable market research for small business.
Research method 1: Amazon review mining
There’s a source of incredible, voice-of-customer writing out there for your audience. For just about any audience—no matter how niche, specific, or downright odd—there’s a wellspring of language for you to draw on.
There are books on just about every subject that has ever existed. And when people are trying to solve their specific problems, they read those books.
After reading those books, some especially motivated people leave reviews—reviews where they lay out exactly the problems they were having, how the book helped, and what else they wish the book had included.
Want customer language? All you have to do is read book reviews.
This technique, called Amazon review mining, comes from Joanna Wiebe, but it’s so powerful that I’ve also seen it recommended by Jennifer Havice, Ramit Sethi, and other top copywriters and conversion optimizers.
Amazon review mining is how the headline “if you think you need rehab, you do” came to be. It’s one of the most powerful and fast-