Good to Great Copywriting in 24 Hours
David Ogilvy, the godfather of advertising once wrote, “Never send a memo or a letter on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning – and then edit it.”
We may have abandoned the letter, but we shouldn’t abandon common sense.
Before sending an important email, or publishing any writing of significance, our words need time to incubate. A lot can change in 24 hours. The moment your ideas are projected over the web, they can’t be reclaimed.
And that’s a damn shame. Half of what I have written has been published in the moment; skewed by hot air, passing moods and half-truths. The other half just wasn’t very good.
The Producing Mindset vs. The Consuming Mindset
The longer I spend on a piece of written work, the further detached I become from the final product as it is meant to be consumed. If I spend 3 hours carefully weaving words in to a landing page that is designed to be read in 20 seconds, my producing mindset has strayed considerably from what matters most: the consuming mindset.
That’s not a bad thing. But it is a problem if you write with one eye and review with the other. Use both eyes for each task. And make sure they are fresh.
Fact: Completing a final draft and then proofreading 5 minutes later is a recipe for disaster. Your editor should never be the sidekick.
Even the best copywriters are prone to misjudging their eloquence when the ink is still drying.
Your thoughts need time to settle. The creative mind must detach before any critical analysis.
Only after this separation can you scrutinise your work with the indifferent gaze of a consumer; he with no predisposition to artistic value.
I find there are three steps that help me to detach from my work.
Adopt the Next Day rule.
Ogilvy said it best. From the moment you put the finishing touches on your work, the incubation period begins. Let the work sit for 24 hours and then revisit. You will notice discrepancies and pacing problems that were not visible while you were far away in the creation mindset.
All great writers and designers rely on moments of inspiration. But you won’t know that you are truly inspired by greatness, or overswept by crud, until the morning after.
My portfolio of domains says as much.
When I don’t follow the Next Day rule, I invariably wake up to a new dotcom and a stinking hangover.
“Well, shit. EndangeredHipposForSale.com. It felt so right at the time.”
When does it not?
Good copywriters too often rush their ideas to the market. Great copywriters let them stew just long enough to take them straight to the bank.
Create a library of inspiring role models and highlight their best work.
I find one of the best ways to pinpoint shortcomings in my work is to be surrounded by examples of greatness when it matters most.
In my office, I have cut-outs from the direct response industry’s crème de la crème. They say you can tell a lot about a man by his five closest friends. You can tell a lot by his desk, bookshelf and Internet History too (especially the hour it was last emptied).
If you want to write an awesome sales page, read 5 relevant examples from copywriters at the height of their profession. Do this after your ‘final draft’.
If you want to create an effective conversion funnel, rifle through your inbox and find receipts for every product you’ve bought in the last 6 months. Analyse why you bought it. Compare.
If you want to produce great wireframes, visit the websites you admire most. Why are they so easy to browse? What might you borrow?
Modelling your work in this manner is advantageous for many reasons.
You will gravitate towards proven techniques, even if you can’t lay a finger on them, while developing all new awareness of your weaknesses.
But there’s a catch.
It’s important you turn to your role models after the creative process regardless of whether you use them before. By doing so, you will compare like-for-like as finished works, not as whimsical brainfarts that have yet to take shape.
Devouring a folder of great landing pages is unlikely to influence your bottom line unless you compare honestly the final similarities in your own. Only then can you truly mark progress (and correct faults).
Source feedback from the people that matter.
Something that has become painfully clear from my years in the affiliate business is that the word ‘expert’ is an abomination.
The only expert is the customer. We must not be snobs about that.
Great marketers are no more blessed than the average Joe, but they possess two key traits. Ruthless persistence and a knack for hearing everything.
You can use the best designer in the world, the best developer, the best copywriter and the best photographer too. It matters not one iota unless the people that need to be converted – your customers – are invested in the ‘fix’ that you are proposing.
What is a fix?
The fix is your product.
It’s your brand positioning, USP and execution rolled in to one. When you ask Joe Bloggs to part with his wallet, you are suggesting a fix; an improvement to his busy life. Asking the wrong questions, highlighting the wrong motives, or ignoring his biggest concerns will remove any chance of a sale. Your irrelevance is punishable by the sound of crickets.
Fact: Only a fool spends thousands of dollars advertising a fix that hasn’t been tested outside the confines of his imagination.
There are two methods of sourcing feedback that I rely on.
Pre-launch ‘over the shoulder’ feedback.
Post-launch analytical feedback from software.
When you gain confidence in a skill; be it writing, designing or developing; you tend to search inward for validation. The greater your talents grow, the more resistant to third party feedback you are likely to become.
This is detrimental in many fields, but particularly so in advertising.
A great writer might never spot his weakness until he stands behind a reader, watches silently, and resists the fist fight of wits.
One of the best ways to realign with the consumer mindset is to ask for feedback from friends, family or colleagues. What do they think of your work? Really?
For the sake of coaxing honesty, never let it be heard that the work belongs to you.
Always resist the artistic urge to justify your creation. “Well, the background is red because…”
Pandering for full marks is never helpful. It is just your egoic mind fucking with you. Accept critique for what it is. Better yet, act on it.
‘Over the shoulder’ feedback is as priceless as it is courageous to obtain.
It may be painful to realise the gulf between what a consumer needs and what your artistic genius wants to give them, but it is always the correct decision not to waste dollars in blissful ignorance.
I sometimes wonder what the likes of Ogilvy, Schwartz and Bernbach would have made of the technology that we have at our disposal today.
Advertising remains the art form it always was. But tracking results has become a science.
For all this article was intended to warn you of the 24 hours prior to considering something ‘done’, the following 24 hours are just as important.
If you are launching an ad campaign, a website, a sales letter or a new squeeze page, technology is your saviour. It is now possible to source feedback from the faceless masses just as they are landing on your work.
How will you know that they are liking what they see?
Traditionally, we relied on sales. A positive ROI was the only footprint that mattered. Now we can use eye-tracking, scroll maps and hot spots in real-time. Give it ten years and I’ll be damned if we can’t stare up the nostrils of our target markets.
Here are some popular real-time visitor analysis tools you might consider:
Remember! No matter how polished your final work may be, there is never room for satisfaction. Not if you place a value on the heaps of data at your fingertips. Your competitors already do. And they will use it to put you out of business.
Ten Commandments for Better Writing
Here is the famous memo David Ogilvy sent around his agency on the 7th September, 1982. Print it out and keep it handy.
The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
- Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
- Write the way you talk. Naturally.
- Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
- Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
- Never write more than two pages on any subject.
- Check your quotations.
- Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.
- If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
- Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
- If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.
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4 CommentsLeave a comment
Bob Bly has this rule in his Copywriters Handbook. What sucks is that it’s true…
You can write a sales letter you think is ordained by God himself, then wake up to read it the next day and its like WTF is this…
Do you follow the 24hr rule for everything?
I think the biggest problem is pacing. When you’re in the writing groove, you tend not to notice the flow of the full piece.
It’s easy to get carried away with a certain line of rhetoric because it feels good, and it’s easy to write. But if it strays too far from your objective, then it needs to be cut. I can’t think of a single process a writer hates more than cutting his own work. But it has to be done.
I don’t follow the 24 hour rule for everything. I consider it a must for long-form sales copy though!
[…] Good to Great Copywriting in just 24 hours, or your money back! Finch also writes this post with 5 ways to save your sanity with moonlighting (note: selling your body not required, but recommended.) And finally, how to become a guru in any market. […]
Hey Finch, would you recommend other copywriting books or programs or legends? Writing That Works was a great read! Thanks a lot!