Writing copy that captures the reader’s attention and moves them to take action doesn’t happen by accident. You must have a crystal-clear goal for your copy and a plan. Here’s how you do it.
Research, organization, and preparation are essential. Successful copywriting requires a laser targeted plan designed to achieve a specific objective.
In this article, I give you a proven stress-free method for determining the goal of your copy, a plan for getting there, and a process for writing copy that achieves your objective.
Research, Organize and Prepare.
Before you write the first word, determine the objective of your piece. What are you trying to accomplish?
Once you are clear on your objective, gather all the information you need to successfully achieve that goal and organize it so you can quickly and easily access it as you write your copy.
Thorough research and preparation make the job of writing copy easier and faster.
With a plan, your job as a copywriter is easier, quicker, and stress-free. You will always know where to begin and how to proceed.
When you know how to begin each copywriting project, you’ll have the confidence you need to write your best.
Plus, a plan frees your mind to focus on the creative aspects of the project for bigger persuasive punch.
HOW TO PLAN A COPYWRITING PROJECT.
Where to begin?
If you write copy for an employer or a client, they will initiate the assignment and tell you what they hope to achieve with the campaign.
However, if you work for yourself and write copy for your own business, you alone will determine the objective of the project.
Either way, you must define the objective of the copy in concrete terms.
What are you aiming to achieve?
Your copywriting must inform the prospective customer, hook them with a strong benefit, engage their emotions and inspire them to act.
The 3-Point Objective.
- What do you want the prospect to know?
- What do you want the prospect to feel?
- What do you want the prospect to do?
In the earliest stages of a copywriting project, you may only know what you want the prospect to do. And, at this stage, that’s okay.
However, continue to entertain the thoughts of what you want, the prospect to know, and feel also.
These insights will shape your copy.
Remember, your copy must persuade your audience to take action. It’s essential to use everything at your disposal to make this happen.
At each step in the process, stack the deck in your favor without it appearing evident to the audience.
The more information you can get about the product, target audience, and competition, the more persuasive your copy will be.
It’s important to dig.
If you’re writing copy for your own business, you may have the luxury of time.
However, if you’re writing for an employer or client, you might be racing against a deadline. Still, get as much information about the product, target audience, and the competition that you can.
Eight Steps to Planning a Copywriting Project:
Use the Eight Steps to Planning a Copywriting project to guide your efforts. These steps will help keep you focused and working as efficiently as possible.
- Define the Project (The 3-Point Objective).
- Be the Expert.
- Gather Background Material.
- Know the Target Audience.
- Capitalize on Project Small Talk/Brainstorm.
- Find the Benefits and Deep Benefits
- Organize the Material
- Write a Creative Brief.
Step 1: Define the Project.
The first step is to determine the objective and parameters of the copywriting project.
Use the 3-Point Objective, as mentioned above, to clearly define the goal of your copy.
To help you leave no stone unturned, and to quickly define all the parameters of your project, use the following checklist.
- What needs to be written? (Brochure, sales page, or video?)
- What is the goal of the piece? (Generate leads or sales? Build brand awareness? Sell and idea? Promote a candidate? Get an email address and build a list?)
- What is the product, service, or idea?
- Is an image or demo of the product available?
- What are the product’s features, benefits, and advantages?
- Does the product have a selection of styles, versions, and sizes?
- What does the product offer that the competition does not?
- What is the product’s price, and how does this compare with the competition?
- Is the product guaranteed? What are the details of the guaranteed?
- Are product reviews, testimonials, and endorsements available?
- Who is the target audience? (Gamers, opportunity seekers, sports car enthusiasts, investors, entrepreneurs, medical professionals?)
- Why would someone buy the product or service?
- What is the single most potent reason someone would buy the product or service?
- What is the offer? Is it a limited time offer or a special price? Are there extras?
- Is the copy piece part of a more extensive campaign? If so, what is the theme of the campaign?
Step 2: Be the Expert.
Now that you have defined the objective and parameters of the copywriting project, you must become an expert on the product.
If you’re not an expert on the product, your copy will seem superficial and lack the intrinsic authority needed to persuade the audience.
Understand how the product works. Make a list of its features and convert these features into benefits.
Ask yourself, why would a prospective customer care about the features? How do the product features help them?
Ask questions of anyone knowledgeable of the product until you know as much as they do.
Look for online reviews. What do people like about the product? What do they dislike about it?
Use the product. If the product comes with a manual, read it.
Step 3: Gather Background Material.
Whenever possible, take the opportunity to build on what others have done.
Usually, a product or service has an abundance of material written about it. It might be sales pieces written by other copywriters or develop documents written by engineers and managers.
Either way, these are a goldmine of information. You may be able to use sentences, phrases, keywords, and paragraphs from this earlier work.
If you can, talk directly to someone who helped develop the project or someone in the sales force familiar with it.
Background material is also a great place to find product stories. Why was the product developed? Does the inventor have a personal story about why he created the product?
Stories are one of the most powerful, yet rarely used, elements of persuasion.
Where to find product and service background material:
- Customer letters and emails to the company
- Case Studies
- Product Reviews
- Market Analysis
- Product Catalogs
- Sales Presentations
- Press Releases & Media Kits
- Telemarketing Scripts
- Product User Manuals
- Technical Papers
Step 4: Know the Target Audience.
It’s all about the target audience; the people you are attempting to persuade with your copy.
And, they are the people who will spend money to buy the product or service you are promoting.
It is their money that makes the campaign profitable.
Regardless of how beautiful you might think your copy is, it’s useless if it doesn’t inspire the audience to take the desired action.
The more you can get in the head of your target audience, and the better you understand their thought process as they make a buying decision, the more effective your copy will be.
In the planning stage, it is essential to understand your target audience so well you can empathize with their problems and desires.
While no one can truly walk in the shoes of another human being, through research, you can get close.
How to Get in the Head of Your Target Audience.
Understanding your target audience is a process. As you’re researching your prospective customer, keep an open mind. Avoid jumping to conclusions.
A kernel of information is not enough. You want to find patterns.
Here’s how to do it.
- Read what your target audience reads. Find websites and newsletters your target audience reads and read them too.
- Find blogs, forums, and online communities that cater to your target audience.
In addition to learning more about your prospect, you’ll also discover the words, writing style, and tone they prefer. Use this same style and tone in your copy.
Make a note of jargon and slang they use to communicate with each other. Use the same vocabulary and slang in your copy if appropriate.
- Find seminars that cater to your target audience. You don’t have to attend the workshops. Instead, read the descriptions of the workshops.
What issues is the seminar addressing? Seminars often focus on the most pressing concerns of the attendees. Does the product or service you’re pitching address these concerns?
- Check out magazines that cater to your target audience. Like seminars, magazines continually focus on the problems their subscribers face.
Find what your target audience is struggling with and how your product or service can help them.
- Pick the brains of sales reps. If your product or service is marketed through sales force who sells face-to-face, they can be a goldmine of information.
- Talk directly with your target audience, when possible.
If meeting with your target audience isn’t possible, the company behind your product may have documented customer feedback or surveys from customers.
You probably will never get all the information you need, particularly if you’re working against a tight deadline. However, get as much as you can.
At this stage, your goal is to gain a clear understanding of the needs, problems, and desires of your prospective customer.
Create a Customer Persona.
As you learn about your target audience, create a fictional character who represents the prospective customer. The more detailed you can see your prospect, the better.
A customer persona will give you a mental focal point as you write your copy. For example, if you’re promoting a life insurance product, your prospect might be a young family man.
Give him a name and find an online picture that represents him. Make him as real in your mind as possible.
Step 5: Capitalize on Project Small Talk/Brainstorm.
When your employer or client gives you an assignment, try to get as much information from them at the start.
The initial project meeting is the time to ask if background materials are available and what has been written on the product before.
Never miss a chance to chat with anyone associated with the project. They could be the source of information you didn’t think to ask about and may reveal a creative angle you can use.
If you’re writing copy for your campaigns, you’ll have to rely on yourself to find the information you need.
Look for online reviews or discussions of the product in forums and online communities.
Take time to brainstorm and reflect on the product and target audience, and where you might find the information you need.
Step 6: Find the Benefits and Deep Benefits.
Remember, features are characteristics of a product, and benefits are what these features mean to the customer.
For example, the features of a paperback novel are its pages and cover. The benefits are eight hours of thrilling entertainment and escape from the mundane.
The features of a washing machine are its color and horsepower. Its benefit is clean clothes.
Benefits hook the prospect.
A product’s features will appeal to the prospect’s logical mind while the benefits of a product will trigger an emotional response.
We, humans, tend to act based on our emotions and then justify our actions based on logic.
In other words, in your copy, you’ll want to showcase the features of the product or service you are pitching AND the benefits.
Usually, you’ll find the features of a product or service in the background material. It’s the copywriter’s job to translate the features into benefits.
How to Translate Features into Benefits.
So what? What’s in it for the customer?
Usually, the company will tell you the features of a product, but it’s up to the copywriter to translate these features into benefits the prospective customer will appreciate and value.
Translate product features into benefits by pretending to be the customer. Why would a prospective customer care about a product feature?
Consider a feature of the Kuppet Washing Machine. It’s compact.
Pretend you’re the prospective customer and ask yourself, “So what? (Why is this feature important to me?)”
Because it’s compact (a feature), it will fit in places too small for conventional washing machines, like an efficiency apartment or a tiny house (benefit).
But let’s go deeper. So what if it fits in an efficiency apartment or tiny house?
It saves you from going to the laundromat, saving you time and money (deeper benefits). So what?
Because laundromats are sometimes in dangerous areas, the Kuppet Washing Machine can save your life (yet, a deeper and more emotional benefit).
The deeper and more emotionally charged a benefit is, the more persuasive it will be.
Organize the Material.
Once you have thoroughly researched the product, target audience, and competition and made an exhaustive list of product benefits, organize the material and information into three categories.
- Features and Benefits
- Testimonials, proofs and supporting evidence
- Audience attributes
Organizing the material will make it much easier to access as you write.
Write a Creative Brief.
Many copywriters skip this step, especially if they are writing for their own business. However, I feel a creative brief is an essential part of the creative process.
It is an overview of the project and serves as a mental dress rehearsal for the final writing process. And, it will keep your writing focused.
One or two pages written in an outline form is usually adequate.
Here’s what you might include in your creative brief.
Creative Brief Outline.
- Goal of project.
- Scope of project (What needs to be created?)
- Product or service offered
- Product/Service most notable features and most valuable features.
- Pricing, incentives, and special offers.
- Insights and details of the target audience.
- Analysis and details of the competition.
- Schedule of the project (if there is one).
BEFORE YOU START TO WRITE.
With your research complete and a thorough understanding of your product, target audience, and competition, you ALMOST ready to begin.
First, let’s review the Element of Successful Copy.
The Elements of Successful Copy
Before you start writing, review the elements of successful copy. In a moment, I’ll introduce you to a formula that will guide you through the creation of these essential elements.
Get Their Attention: The Headline.
On a subconscious level, the moment a prospective customer sees your headline, they ask, “What’s in it for me?”
Your headline must promise they will find something valuable in the body of your copy.
Crafting headlines is a critical skill and worthy of a more extended discussion. To learn how to prepare captivating headlines, read The Four U’s in Copywriting.
Use Attention-Getting Images
If possible, use an attention-getting visual and a strong headline together.
An image that supports the promise of the headline is the most powerful.
Stock images might be good enough; however, original visuals are more impactful and favored by search engines.
Focus on the Target Audience.
Your copy should be about the target audience and how they benefit from your product.
Inexperienced copywriters typically focus on the product. Focusing on the product might seem like a logical choice, but, unfortunately, it leaves out the prospect.
When you focus your copy on the product, you fail to answer the prospect’s question, “What’s in it for me?”
Your customer needs you to answer that essential question.
Focus on the target audience. Show the prospect how your product helps them solve a problem, meet a need, or fulfill a desire.
Sell the Benefits.
The more you bring the product benefits to life, the more engaging and compelling your copy will be.
Your goal is to anchor the benefits of your product in the mind of the audience so concretely; they’ll naturally buy without hesitation.
And brag to their friends about the product.
Distinguish Your Product from Competitors.
It’s your job, as the copywriter, to show how your product is different.
Here are a few ways to distinguish your product from the rest.
- Offer an easy, money-back guarantee.
- Feature endorsements and testimonials
- Easy payment terms
- Easier to use
They Have to Belief.
Why should your prospective customer believe you?
More than ever, people doubt of marketing claims.
All forms of media are saturated with marketing messages, many of them poorly designed and executed. People are numb to most sales pitches regardless of what form they take.
Building belief begins by avoiding red flags that trigger a prospect’s defenses. Avoid hype and so-called “power words.”
They’ll make your copy sound “salesy.” Instead use a friendly, casual tone throughout your copy and, if possible, include the following;
3 Ways to Build Belief with Your Copy.
- Prove your product claims
- Guarantee your product
- Make a personal promise
Price in Perspective
The thought of spending money may create anxiety in the prospective customer. Anxiety is an emotional resistance to your sales message.
In the process of persuading your target audience to buy, make the journey to the sale flow as seamless as possible.
To minimize resistance, it helps to put the price into perspective for them.
If your product is priced higher than competing products, it may be less expensive to own over time.
Are the benefits more valuable than the cost of the product? Let them know.
If your product costs less than the competition, tell the audience why.
Some people believe a low price means low quality. Explain why this isn’t the case with your product.
How does your product reduce cost without reducing quality or value?
Break the Price Down to the Ridiculous.
A new car might cost a modest fortune, but we don’t get upset about it because the dealer breaks down to affordable monthly payments.
The subscription for an investment newsletter might be $500 year, a sizable expense. However, when it’s broken down, it’s less than two bucks a day.
Regardless of the price of your product, reduce it to the ridiculous.
Show how much it is per day. Or, how much it is when compared to a cheap meal, like a sub sandwich, cup of coffee, or pizza.
Inspire Your Audience to Act.
Copywriting is about inspiring someone to do something specific.
Everything you write in your copy builds to this point. Remember to tell your prospect what to do.
Tell them to:
- Click Here for Your Free 7-Day Trial
- Call Now for a No-obligation Consultation
- Enter Your Email Address for a Free Gardening Guide
- Order Now and Get Free Delivery
- Buy Now and Save 20%
- Download Free Report: 10 Ways to Profit from the Stock Market Crash.
The point of copywriting is to move the prospect to take a specific action. Remember, in the end, you must inspire them to behave in a particular way.
HOW TO WRITE A COPYWRITING PROJECT.
Now that you’ve thoroughly researched your product, target audience, and competition.
And, you’ve organized the material and created a customer persona who’s as real in your mind as your landlord, it’s time to write.
Start with a formula.
There are many copywriting formulas to choose from, but to keep things simple, I’ll only introduce you to two in this article, AIDA and Bob Stone’s Gem.
Two are enough and probably all you’ll ever need.
AIDA is probably the most well-known formula in copywriting and sales.
Many refer to it as the master formula. It’s even in the movies!
Alec Baldwin’s character in the movie Glen Gerry Glen Ross mentions uses AIDA.
AIDA is an acronym for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.
AIDA works. If you get the attention of your target audience, stoke their interest, build their desire, and ask for action, you will get results.
The weakness of the AIDA formula is apparent when we go to apply it. Getting the attention of your prospect and asking them to take action is easy enough to understand.
However, how do you build their interest and desire? AIDA doesn’t say.
Because of these shortcomings, AIDA is better used as a checklist after you’ve written your copy using a more detailed formula.
I recommend Bob Stone’s Gem.
Bob Stone’s Gem
Created by Bob Stone, legendary copywriter and direct marketing pioneer. His “Gem” offers greater guidance and detail. It’s probably the only formula you’ll ever need.
As you write, just follow from step to step. Let Mr. Stone’s masterful insight guide you.
- Begin with your product’s most significant benefit.
- Expand on the benefit.
- Tell the target audience exactly what they will get. Tell them all features and benefits.
- Backup product claims with testimonials, endorsements, and other proof.
- Remind your target audience what they lose if they don’t accept your offer.
- Remind the target audience of the product’s strongest benefits.
- Tell the target audience to act now and give them a clear, logical reason why they should accept the offer now.
Write your copy, edit, and polish. In the tradition of Professor William Strunk’s little book, The Elements of Style, “omit needless words.”
When you finish writing the piece, check your work against the AIDA.
While many consider AIDA to be the granddaddy of all copywriting formulas, I think it serves much better as a checklist AFTER the copy if written.
AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action
Does your copy capture the attention of your audience? Does it stoke their interest and build desire for your product? And, finally, and does it inspire your prospect to take action?