I recently stumbled on one of my worst nightmares: A 120-page ebook on “every copywriting formula ever invented.”
120 pages! What is that supposed to do for you? Do you NEED to know every copywriting formula ever invented? And are you supposed to memorize them? Or do you eat the whole enchilada every time you need to pick one?
A good mentor will never force you to drink from a firehose. They’d pick out 1-3 formulas that helped them the most, and give you that instead. 30 seconds, and you’re done.
Today, I want to share a few pieces of conventional copywriting wisdom that I’ve been safely ignoring for years.
If you’re doing these, and they’re working for you, great! Keep doing what’s working.
But I’m always looking for ways to succeed while doing FEWER things, not piling more tasks and responsibilities onto my plate.
If you feel the same way, here’s my list of “best practices” you can safely ignore.
1. Reading “classic” copywriting books
Random copywriter: “Don’t you just love the book _________ by <copywriter who’s been retired since the Nixon administration>? It’s the BEST COPYWRITING BOOK EVER.”
Me: “Never read it.”
Random copywriter: “What?? It’s a classic! It was written over 100 years ago!!”
Me: “Cool, cool. Hey don’t you just love the advice from Sir William Osler in the 1923 edition of his textbook, The Principles and Practice of Medicine?”
Random copywriter: “What? WTF is that?”
Me: “It’s the best health book from the 1920’s! It recommends bloodletting as a legitimate way to ward off diseases.”
Random copywriter: “Dude…why would you ever take medical advice from 100 years ago?? That’s crazy!”
<Cue awkward silence>
Jokes aside, it’s not that all of the old copywriting books are bad. But you’ll never have time to read everything — so you need to choose carefully.
Personally, I invest most of my time into reading material that’s new, current, and most relevant to today’s modern world. For example, many people are surprised to learn that I read every single one of Ramit Sethi‘s emails.
Again, if you love reading the classics, and it’s working for you, more power to you.
But for me, I’ve been able to save a ton of time and money by skipping 99% of the older stuff.
2. Copywriting pseudoscience
If you’ve ever seen posts on copywriting theory, you may have sat with the same puzzled look I had the first time I saw a chart like this:
I honestly have no idea what to do with this
Fact: I have LITERALLY NEVER pulled out a chart like this when writing for a client. And that includes $5,000 and even $10,000+ projects.
No fancy charts needed
Rather than studying things like “stages of buyer awareness”, I focused my time on learning a few key needle-movers, like writing copy someone will actually read, and how tap into what people REALLY want.
3. Copying old sales letters (by hand)
OK, OK…on a more serious note, some of my friends have found this practice helpful. Maybe you’re one of them. If so, I have nothing bad to say about it.
But for me, it’s not something I’ve ever wanted to try. I can’t see myself sitting there with a pen and legal pad, writing out long sales letters by hand. It sounds boring — not something I would ever do.
And guess what? I succeeded at copywriting anyway.
There are many paths to success. If you like this one, take it. But if you don’t, feel free to ditch it and save yourself time and energy, without feeling like you’re skipping a key step.
4. Fancy Acronym Syndrome (FAS)
Ah, how copywriters love their acronyms — like AIDA and PAS.
But alas, I’ve never found much use for them. I’ll show you why.
Let’s test the waters with a thought experiment. AIDA stands for:
It may sound good, but I’ve found it less than helpful when trying to figure out WHAT TO ACTUALLY WRITE.
Sure, you need to grab attention with your copy. But how?
And yes, you need to generate interest. But again…HOW?
Then there’s PAS — Problem, Agitate, Solution…
Do YOU like to be agitated?
Come to think of it, copywriting might be the only business where we use words like “agitate” without any irony whatsoever. Do you think the guy who sells gardening tools at Home Depot is trained to agitate you into buying a trowel? Come on people, let’s be better than this
5. Obsessive amounts of research
I once heard a copywriting legend brag about how he did WEEKS of research for every piece of copy he wrote.
Others recommend you learn EVERYTHING about the person you’re writing for, down to every last small detail, like what restaurants they eat at, which magazines they read, and what kind of car they drive.
Let me ask you a question: Do you like the blog posts I write? Well, I have a confession to make: I have no clue what kind of car you drive…or whether you’re more partial to pizza places ot steak joints.
Some research is good. You need a solid understanding of the topic you’re writing about, and the person you’re writing to. But after that it’s time to buckle down and start writing. That’s how you really succeed as a freelance copywriter.
What’s your rebellious streak?
Some of the most interesting people I know have a rebellious streak in them. What’s yours?
Reply to this post and tell me about any ONE of the following:
A) A piece of “expert” advice you’ve ignored, and are happier as a result
B) Some conventional wisdom you’re rethinking
C) Something everyone thinks is true, but you know is false
It doesn’t have to be about copywriting. It can be anything — for example, my wife and I live downtown even though parents are “supposed” to raise kids in the suburbs…and I often drink coffee at 8pm, then sleep like a baby afterwards.
Why? Because these things work . . . for ME.
Pick ONE thing you do differently and let me know in the comments below. This is going to be fun.
(Creative Commons image via Wellcome Images)