Five Ways to Bulletproof Your Copy

Five Ways to Bulletproof Your Copy

Reader Comments (63)

  1. Great information on selling, just like what Gray Halbert once said in his seminar in the 90s, he said “You should sell one thing to one person at one time, never to sell to everyone” that should be the mindset of it….

  2. Nice take on this topic, Sean. Especially the part on writing to different members of your family. That made things much easier to remember.

    Um, what if I don’t have a wife or girlfriend yet? Whom do I write that part to? 🙂

  3. Excellent advice and very well written, Sean. I’d have to completely agree with you on this one. Trying to sell to the wrong audience will make a sale about as likely as I’d be willing to take my daughter to a…wait, you already said that…and I don’t have a daughter…anyway, point well taken. 🙂 Eric

  4. The Bad Blogger: If you try to sell to everyone, you’ll end up selling to no one.

    Shane Arthur: Thanks, Shane. I appreciate it!

    Charles: There is of course such a thing as too much metaphor. However, people like stories and visuals. A picture is worth a thousand words – a metaphor is verbal shortcut.

    Cedric: You can write to anyone, just know who it is you’re writing to. : > )

    Eric: Thanks, Eric. I was slow to the “know your audience” rule of copy. Blindingly obvious of course, and something I’d never forget in my fiction, but knowing is half the battle. It was writing for others that drilled it into my head.

  5. @Charles, with respect, chosing the right metaphor can actually make a complex concept much easier for your prospect to understand.

    In fact, Sean’s article uses metaphors and storytelling quite effectively.

    The human brain is a symbol-crunching machine and it loves stories. That’s why hypnotic copywriting relies on metaphor and storytelling to activate the subconscious, where the sales decision is made.

    I sell to the prospect’s “reptile brain” and give the “primate brain” logical justifications for their emotional decision to buy.

    A great metaphor can be the Trojan Horse that delivers your sales message to the subconscious mind right under the nose of the Trojans (er, conscious mind).

    @KathleenHanover on Twitter

  6. What an excellent piece, from the grabbing headline to the excellent five point list to succinctly summarise the key ideas and the writing really sucked me into it!

    Might not be able to sell to everyone, but with thie one you sold this to me straight away.

  7. These are great tips, bloggers and really any internet marketing copy needs to take heed to this advice 🙂 As usual, groovy stuff!

    Maria Reyes-McDavis

  8. Excellent post, Sean.

    Your mindset and approach are spot on. I really like and relate to your contextual letter-writing examples. Very helpful.

    It’s fantastic to see you here… congrats!

  9. “If you try to sell to everyone, you’ll end up selling to no one.” Makes me wonder why there are still companies trying to become everything to everyone.

    Recently, a local (Philippine) website was launched that aims to be Facebook, YouTube, and iTunes, all the same time. And it’s owned by a pretty big company here. Such a waste of time and money.

  10. I love this! What a great way to think about it. I would add myself to my list becomes I tend to be a cynic when it comes to internet marketing copy.

  11. @Kathleen

    I understand the power of metaphors in simplifying a complex subject. I also understand the power of story-telling.

    But this article was a disconnect for me.

    The only part I understood was the sentence “don’t try to sell to everyone”. And I appreciate that.

    But the rest didn’t make sense to me.

  12. Kathleen: Aw shucks Kathleen, that’s awesome. I would love what you said. I know metaphor often works on me – in any type of copy. And by the way, the trojan horse metaphor is one of my favorites of all time. It’s no wonder it’s lasted thousands of years.

    Bamboo: Thanks Bamboo.

    Brian: Thanks Brian. For everything.

    Kang: YAY! It worked. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thank you.

    Maria: Thanks Maria. Copyblogger is the cream of the crop. I’m fortunate I was able to share something here today.

    Lori: Cha-ching! Nice to see you, Lori.

    Mary Anne: Thanks, as always Mary Anne. Your smiling avatar would light up any comment section. It’s nice to see you as well.

    Cedric: Total waste of time and money, no doubt. When I first started blogging about 8 months ago, I scoffed at the notion of niches. Now, I fully understand that a sprawling freeway will never get you where you’re going nearly as fast as the direct track beneath a bullet train (although the scenery might be nicer).

    MJ: Excellent point! Me too. Writing to myself is often extremely helpful, and yet it didn’t even cross my mind when I wrote the post. Thank you for shining a light on something wonderful I would’ve missed.

    Charles: You can’t sell to or write for everyone. We’re all wired a little differently. We all do have common denominators however. One of a writer’s jobs is to hit as many of those commonalities as I can. It’s something I try to do, even if unconsciously, every time I write. I didn’t speak to you this time. That’s okay. Maybe next time I will. : > )

  13. Great article Sean! I never thought about writing to my loved ones through sales copy.

    I guess I normally write to myself. I’m a hard sell and know what I want. But, I’m also a sucker for great marketing. Actually, I’m a mix of both my mom and dad, so perhaps I’m writing to them.

    I also try to put myself in my customers’ shoes. This is best done when you have knowledge of who your customers are and what they want.

    @Kathleen – fantastic comment!

  14. @ Writer Dad

    You’d better! Or else I’ll unsubscribe from copyblogger!

    Nah I’m joking 😀

    I really appreciate your reply. Perhaps it’s because I come from a different background, that’s why the disconnect. But I appreciate the words where you say “You can’t sell to everyone”. Thanks!

  15. Great tip: find the emotional hooks to make an irresistible selling proposition. I love your examples. In my case, I write with my mother in mind: she’s practical, no-nonsense woman, and would likely hurry me to get to the point.

    But she had passed on. So I write for a friend or for someone whose gift for language is simply superb. And with him in my mind, I strive to write clear, coherent and sparkling copy. And of course I mind not offending him with too many exclamation points.

    @Charles: You should have picked a more appropriate target. Sean is not one garden variety writer. There’s merit in offering a dissenting view as this makes you a standout, but today is a wasted day. Today, you’re shooting blanks. But of course it’s your call. Just saying.

  16. Outstanding article. Just outstanding.

    Charles comments are a powerful reminder (to me, anyway) that you simply cannot write/speak in a way that everyone appreciates.

    This article was fantastic.

  17. This post really resonated with me. I think it’s great advice but the best part is how incredibly simple it is, which means a) I’ll actually remember it when I’m writing and b) I won’t freak out at the 20-million copywriting rules and “formulas” I’m trying to incorporate into my article.

    Writing to family members has the added benefit of coming off more sincere and authentic, I think, than writing to some stranger over there. When I imagine all the people out there who could use the advice I’m giving, I end up sounding more like a circus announcer or something.

  18. Keller: I think with focus, writing to ourselves is every bit as good as writing to others. In a way, aren’t we the sum aggregate of every experience we’ve ever had anyway? Yup, Kathleen’s comment rocked the column.

    Charles: My pleasure, on both counts.

    Jan: Nicely said, and I love the comment about exclamation points. I’ve had more quiet responses to that post than possibly anything I’ve written, on writing anyway. It makes me laugh. I love the exclamation point, I just don’t want to see it treated so frivolously!!!

    Erik: Thanks, Erik. No, you cannot. That’s true for landing pages and bestsellers alike. Even my children ask for different stories at bedtime, and recited in different voices.

    Zemalf: I actually have a draft of “Copywriting for Kindergartners” that I should probably finish. It’s that same sentiment, but I think perhaps better. Maybe a sequel. : > )

    Amber: That’s the thing about advice – it needs to resonate. The best advice in the world means nothing if it doesn’t worm its way into your memory where it can do its job and make you better. That, I believe, is the primary job of a metaphor. To make it reality for the reader. I’m glad it resonated and appreciated you telling me so.

  19. Brian, U have punched a hole in concrete. Direct to Mind’s…

    Thanks for wonderful write-up for everybody.

  20. A terrific reminder of that old adage – you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Keeping these tips in mind will make your copy nearly invincible. Great work Sean!

  21. @Brian, @WriterDad, @Keller, Gee whiz, thanks for the thumbs-up!

    Y’all have made me as happy as a 15-point buck on the day after deer season. 😉

    @KathleenHanover on Twitter
    (will write for food money)

  22. As arrogant as it sounds (and I don’t mean to be arrogant), I tend to write to myself because my target market is people like me! I’m well aware however, there is danger in this as it’s easy to become blinkered and start making assumptions. I get around this by running ideas by and asking questions of others both outside my target market and within it. I’ve found that works well.

  23. Ali: No, it’s Marco that punches the holes in concrete. Brian punches holes in the Internet!

    Sherice: Thanks, Sherice. Even chocolate can’t please everyone. Writing doesn’t stand a chance.

    Kathleen: Wow, now you’ve squared my smile. : > )

    Paul Hassing: My pleasure, really. Thanks for reading.

    Sami: Not arrogant at all. I’ve written to myself often. That’s what having a partner is great for. Writing to yourself works wonders, so long as you have someone to pull you out of the tunnel. You never want to be so isolated that you can’t see peripherally.

  24. @WriterDad,

    You’re as easy as a one-piece jigsaw puzzle. 😉

    Hey, this is fun!

    @KathleenHanover on Twitter
    (will write for food money praise from strangers)

  25. So, to clarify, do you use all these arguments to demonize the objections of your reader, or just one at a time?



    PS- thanks for the analogies-it helps more than you know 🙂


  26. This is awesome, Sean! I’m curious–do you write for all 5, or for one at a time depending on what you’re selling? I love your characterizations. Especially your dad.

    And this is going on a post-it in my office: “Even chocolate can’t please everyone. Writing doesn’t stand a chance. ”

    @Kathleen, laughing, your last signature is me all over.

  27. Kathleen: You would think comments were made of yeast the way they’re so easily able to deflate us.

    Lawton: Mostly just one at a time, though they’re probably all there rattling around at relatively the same time. You know, like Sybil. : > )

    Sonia: That’s my dad to a T. Mostly it depends on what I’m selling, but they are all influencers for sure. It’s no different when I write fiction, I’m just trying to sell the story instead of the reader. In that case, I hear my sister calling bullshit or see a tear sliding down my father’s cheek. Two sentences in the same paragraph can each be aimed in a different direction, while 2,000 words can have laser precision. It totally depends.

    Slightly off topic, I LOVED what you were saying in, I believe, the second part of your chat with Naomi for “Email Marketing for Nice People.” Forgive me ahead of time for the misquote, but it was something to the effect that it doesn’t matter how pretty or well written it is. People just don’t care. I really REALLY struggle with this. It is in my nature to assume everything I commit to writing should be worthy of my children reading when I’m did. Totally not true, I realize. I only heard you say that two weeks ago, but I’ve caught myself a half dozen times since. Copy needs to be clean and clear, not majestic. Thanks. : > )

  28. @WriterDad,

    You just have to constantly remind yourself that it’s not about YOU. It is human nature to sincerely believe it’s about you, but as commercial artists, we don’t get to be majestic on our clients’ dime.

    We get to be clever, perhaps, but only insofar as it makes our copy do what our clients hired us to do.

    Kathleen’s Blog: It’s Not About You

    @KathleenHanover on Twitter
    (will write for food money praise from strangers) I have enough food & praise from strangers at the moment, thanks. 😉

  29. Excellent post. The analogies you use are really well thought out. I can understand where you are coming and the fact you can’t please everyone but in the piece of writing you can appeal to many. Really, well done.

  30. Great Post like always , Very helpfull to in selling advice etc…

    I always though copywriting was not important until i stumbled upon this site .

    Still a Great Post !!.

  31. This is a great, practical article. Finally, a psychological technique anyone can apply to get started producing quality copy.

    … kind takes the fear out of it, when you’re just writing for those five or so people you already know so well!

  32. That’s the point. to be specific when addressing certain needs. i really like the idea of having brainstorming with very focused target. somehow, this is often easier say than done, as many are still thinking big without specific target in mind. thanks for this excellent post.

  33. Your blog is fantastic! I’m struggling with beginning my copywriting business. Often confidence is my biggest roadblock. This post was exactly what I needed this morning. This is the only blog I actually subscribe to and read. It’s always well written and very interesting!

  34. Jenny: Thanks, Jenny! If you know where I’m coming from, I know I did my job.

    Chris: I always knew copywriting was important, but until I found Copyblogger, I didn’t know how it related to me.

    Peter: Exactly, and minus fear you can write ANYTHING.

    Harris: My pleasure. Big subjects + Narrow focus = Clear results.

    Kathy: Well deserving of the subscription.

  35. You’re so right about not being able to reach everyone. Letting go of that expectation helps a lot. And I really love your “five people” idea. When I’m writing marketing and branding copy for my clients, I often imagine real people or develop characters that represent the audience I’m writing for, but I’ve never really taken that approach with my blog writing. I’m going to make my list of five right away!

  36. Sean,
    Thank you, I totally agree, well put. People need to be able to identify with what you are writing, selling etc. Too many writers don’t have a clue about their target market so they have little chance on reaching them on an emotional level.

  37. “is like wishing Seattle was a little more sunny”, ok, that was poetic.

    Writing copy is the biggest problem I seem to have. Whenever I sit to try to write some, I draw a blank and end up making bullets of features, benefits etc…and if time permits, I’ll let it bake and rework it to the nth degree.

    I’m a web developer trying to be a writer, and I’m finding my logical mind interferes a lot with the process.

    Perhaps I should frequent Starbucks when I sit to write copy. I’ll take a quad please…

  38. @Wayne John

    Nice shades. 🙂 My feline secretary is jealous.

    It sounds almost like you’re forcing yourself to do something you don’t love and aren’t good at.

    A wise man once told me, since life is short, and time’s a-wastin’, I should concentrate my energies on getting better at things I was *already* good at. Because it might take the same effort to go from bad to mediocre at bookkeeping as it would take to go from good to exceptional at copywriting. And I’m pretty sure the world has more than enough mediocre bookkeepers.

    I don’t mean to imply that you’re bad at copywriting, but you say you struggle with it. Last I checked, there was an overstock of hack copywriters, and not nearly enough exceptional web developers. So why not focus on becoming an amazing web developer?

    Trying to force yourself to do something that doesn’t light your fire can suck the life right out of you. (Been there…done that.)

    Again, don’t know your situation. But if you struggle that much, it may mean that marketing copywriting just isn’t your bag.

  39. Totally agree with you, however I am already a web development expert and now my push is to create sites for myself instead of constantly doing client work for someone else. That means not only being able to establish a functional site, but populating it with text and such.

    I do, however, force myself to struggle with many things unknown to me as part of an effort to improve my skills with it. It’s how I grow myself.

    I can always fall back on what I’ve already learned and become expert in.

    I think the tips you mentioned above will help me out tremendously. If I can picture writing something for a relative or friend, perhaps the end result will be better. Who knows. I won’t know until I try.

    I can build a site and make it do whatever I want. I have that. All the other parts that go with a website however, marketing, writing copy, SEO and several other soft-sciences are all part of the bigger equation and what I want to learn now.

    Good or bad, at least I will have tried. hahaha

    Thanks for the advice! Just subscribed, but I’m still waiting on the confirmation email. Might want to check that out.

  40. Kristin: Hi Kristin, it really helps. I swear. For example, I would say 9 out of 10 Writer Dad posts are written for Cindy, or for my children when they get older. The audience is important to me, but by putting them second (I believe) I am actually giving them something superior to what I would otherwise produce.

    Chick J: LOL, I’ve done that too. : > )

    Marie: You’re welcome.

    Andrea: If you can’t hit any of the emotional triggers, your copy is empty.

    Wayne/Kathleen: Wow, I loved the back and forth between you two. Oddly, I agree with both of you. If it’s just about making money, focus is probably better. But believe me Wayne, I totally understand your desire to dig deep with your own possibility. I both relate to and admire it.

  41. @Wayne John,

    I totally understand where you’re coming from. I can easily write copy all day, and have been known to produce as much as 5,000 words a day during a crisis. (I still have psychic scars from that one, though…)

    But even with a large-caliber pistol held (metaphorically) to my temple, I have not been able to figure out enough about how WordPress works to get it to do my bidding. HTML, I get. CSS, yeah, a little. PHP? Kill me now.

    But it is the nature of the entrepreneur to wear many hats, by design or by default. I’ve discovered there are some things I’m just so bad at, it’s pointless to try, where there are folks in the world (like you, maybe) who are so smart/talented they can do what I can’t in a fraction of the time. And what’s more, they *do a better job* than I ever could because they actually enjoy what they’re doing!

    Since time = money, that’s a good deal in my book! 🙂

    For me, it comes down to return on investment. Time really is money. Strike that–time is *more valuable* than money, because you can always make more money. Time? Not so much!

    Every moment I invest in activities that are not my core business, is a lost opportunity. But, like you, I’m relatively new in my business (not my profession, my business) and I’m facing the same “if not me, who?” pressures.

    Fun stuff, huh? 🙂

  42. Totally fun! I live to be stressed out and venturing into places that I probably shouldn’t be venturing. hahaha

    Getting myself into trouble too, have the scars to prove that.

    It really is about time more than money. Time can buy happiness, money can’t. At least, not for as long as time might. 😉

    I started blogging to get my writing flowing (as well as a number of other things) and what I’ve found is that when I started, my view was quite narrow as to how hard or easy things my be as they relate to my own goals. Once I started and got a few months in to blogging, I realized that there are these whole “sub-pockets” of knowledge that need to be accounted for, either by myself or someone else to really make things work, and work well. Copy writing being only one of many.

    Even the small blurbs are sometimes troublesome, lol. I’d love to farm out a lot of this type of work. The problem is that not only is there copy writing to deal with, but SEO as well. The two are forever intertwined now when you consider search engine visibility as a factor for a site.

    It really is an art in itself, much like coding a sexy bit of code is.

    Fascinating discussion, you’ve given me plenty to consider this weekend while I continue working on 5,000 different projects and tests. haha

    When’s that vacation coming? Not soon enough? Right. 😉

  43. I always write to myself because I believe I am writing for people like me. That may be arrogant but I believe that I am discerning, cynical, skeptical, easily led, love a good story, romantic, emotional, hopeful and trusting.

    Damn, I’m a mess of contradictions, just like everyone else.

    Excellent post by the way, problem for me is now I have to read some more of this blog and I should be working.

  44. @Brent,

    I don’t think it’s “arrogant” if you are indeed the archetype of your target market. That’s what makes personas so effective, after all. Human beings aren’t generic; that’s why generic copy doesn’t work on them.

    When I write sales copy, I hound my clients until they cough up as much information as possible about the person I’m selling to. (Not the group, the person.) I need to know what keeps that person up at night. I need to know how they make decisions. I really, really need to know what matters to that individual. And that’s how I write all my copy.

    In fact, I’ve turned down a couple of jobs where I was specifically asked to write one-size-fits-all sales copy. It’s not in my best interest to create work product that doesn’t…well, work! It’s a waste of my client’s money and a waste of my time.

  45. There are a fraction of folks who are as likely to open their wallets as I am to take my 7 year old daughter with me to the next Tarantino flick. Don’t even try selling to these people. It’s a waste of your time and is likely damaging to your sanity. Make certain however, that you’re hitting 100% of anyone who will lend your offer honest consideration. Thanks for your information, i have read it, very good!

  46. Yipes! my post was not good writing. One needs to look at something at least twice. Your article has a simple point: you can’t sell to everyone. Then you mention some ways of getting through to various customers using examples, with warmth.

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