10 Principles for Turning into a Killer (Copywriter)

10 Principles for Turning into a Killer (Copywriter)

Reader Comments (48)

  1. Congratulations, Demian – I’ve finally managed to find someone who sounds like they were a worse salesperson than I was.
    To paraphrase Lancelot in John Boorman’s Excalibur,
    “The worst salesperson in the world, worsted!”
    I stuck at it for ten miserable years before stints in customer service, purchasing and e-commerce.
    Now I copywrite and blog for the company website and, if nothing else, I think my years in sales have given some idea of what customers want to hear about. (At least I hope they have).

  2. Thanks for your contribution: I had a fun time reading your post.

    Your ideas are interesting, but I believe that writers are artists whereas copywriters are salespeople.

    There is a difference between writing for your target audience and writing that comes straight from your soul without any desire to sell to customers.

    Some of our finest literary artists were not runaway success stories and did not write best-sellers.

    Some of our best creatives have died “unhonored, unsung and unheard” and were not recognised during their life-times; they gained fame posthumously.

    And most, well, not even that: we know so little about starving artists who passed away penniless, their creative output never shared with the world outside. There are so many potential stories here that we need to know about, but we are still groping in the dark.

    Other than that, your insights are valid and your ideas are spot on.

  3. To #6, let’s add that Don DeLillo, Salman Rushdie and Elmore Leonard were also hotshot copywriters before hitting their “artistic” stride.

    In Leonard you can see the punchy, concise influence of copywriting. In the other two… not so much 🙂

  4. I couldn’t agree with number 3 more, especially about being in the ‘hot seat.’ It is so easy to hide behind the internet and hear what you want to hear. But when you are face-to-face with someone, you cannot ignore their genuine concerns. It is about more than ‘selling’ in person. It is about listening.

    • I also found face to face also forces you to grow some courage … I have no problem going for the ask in an email or blog post, but in person or on the phone … it’s a lot harder.

  5. Selling in person was illuminating. I hopped on the phone with my prospect, delivered my free consultation, then went into my pitch.

    Turns out she had to interrupt me for me to get to the point. Partially because she had another appointment, and partially because she was already interested in the offer.

    Lesson learned – offer a speed ramp for people who don’t need as much information to be sold.

  6. Thank you very very much for that great article. It’s one of the best articles on our job I’ve ever read. It also helps me because I would like to write great short stories. But I’m not very good at it. Reading your article I understand why. I’ve a question: If you started again in our profession… what would you study? Creative Writing? Journalism? Marketing? Or anything else?
    Thank you for the best newsletter on copywriting
    Peter J. Beck

    • I would do it the exact same way: dive into the world of direct response marketing. It really does’t mater what your background/education was in. As long as you like to write. It’s how I tell/train other writers to do it, too.

  7. Hey Damian!

    Spot on!

    I spent a long time hiding my farming roots when I moved to Toronto, until I realized that those plain-talking, arrow-straight zinging, bench-chatting traits were much better gifts than my degree ever was.

    Your post was terrific and I really enjoyed it.

    BTW, you missed the fun of having a Fuller-Brush or a Watkins guy come to the door if you only tried tele-sales. Those guys made friends fast and we were glad to see both them and their products when they showed up. I think of them every time I start imagining that copy is an intrusion.

    Best wishes,

    • Haha, I’m sure those guys would’ve put me to shame. The thought of knocking on someone’s door to sell them something makes me want to vomit. I always admire the people who do when they come to the door. And if they are good at it I tell them so.

  8. Great tips. I used to be the guy who wanted to sound clever also. And being clever almost got me evicted. great post

  9. A wonderfully written piece. Thanks Demian!

    Even with sales copywriting, it still needs to benefit the reader. Offering something that is valuable is the most effective form of copywriting.

  10. I love this! This is SO true. I have a degree in English Literature and a Masters in Creative Writing but the best experiences I have to draw upon for my day job are the two months I spent selling ad space on the phone as a student.

    (Once I’d worked out that the way in was not – “Hi! We’ve got ad space!” but, rather, “Hi! We can help you clear out the junk from your spare room. It’s easy – and here’s how.”)

    And the year I spent in an art gallery selling beautiful – and expensive – work to people who’d just ‘popped in to have a look’.

    Sadly my time selling double glazing was similar to yours on the newspaper subscriptions desk … a week long contract that didn’t quite make it past the Tuesday – but I made some great mates! …. Every cloud and all that.

    As for short and punchy – I love Chris Brogan’s advice to read Annie Proulx’s ‘The Shipping News’. As a model for the snappy sentence length it is superb.

    A great post Demian – *prints and pins to wall*

    • Thanks for the fantastic comment. Never read “Shipping News” though I had a copy. Hemingway did if for me.

      Sad to say I never made any friends at the news sub desk … I wanted out of their bad I didn’t care to meet anyone. I think in my immature mind I thought that the people who were successful there were not the kind of people I’d want to be friends with. The snob strikes again. :/

  11. So true, especially the first one, which is sometimes the hardest one to learn. No one will care about how fascinating a detail is if it is not applicable to the general point of your post.

  12. Great advice Demian! I’ve been working on improving my copywriting skills, I will definitely keep these in mind as a write, Thanks for sharing!

  13. Great post… it’s in my Evernote.

    To hone your killer ‘copywriter’ skills, find a piece of revenue generating copy and “copy” it. I recommend using a legal pad instead of a word processing document. There’s something about writing on a legal pad that makes the exercise worthwhile.

    FYI: you can use this exercise for blog posts and articles too.

    You can copy the greatest copywriters, just don’t plagiarize them. 🙂

    • Great advice, Amandah. And writing it out long hand is the superior method. I’ve done both, but I don’t do it nearly as much as I should. Thanks for the nudge. 😉

  14. Great list! It’s strange because most of the points listed SHOULD be common sense yet few people actually practice them, myself include. I am one of those people that switch off when someone tries to sell to me and I was creating content to match my personality. Needless to say my results were not good until I adapted.

    • That’s an interesting point (about creating content to match your personality). And you are right, that’s our default in situations in which we are trying to persuade someone … in that case I wouldn’t call it intuitive, though. 😀

  15. Hi Damian, this is a great post, I can definitely relate!

    I’m currently reading Advertising Secrets by Joe Sugarman, and I can see a lot of similar ideas between your post and the first 1/3 of his book. There’s a part he talks about creating a setting to make the sale, the same way you would make a fancy presentation to sell a piece of art which is similar to no.9 here.

    I also agree with the last point. I recently started blogging about personal branding, and tried this time around to take a moment to figure out who I’m writing to ironically that spawned ideas for posts I can write I probably wouldn’t have thought of! 🙂

  16. This article completely contradicts the reason why people institute content marketing initiatives. It seems to promote creating content that benefits sales which is an old way of thinking and ultimately the customer suffers.

    Now more than ever, companies need to think of more imaginative ways to get a customer engaged and promoting the personal touch may be good initially, but hardly sustainable. You may not want to buy from the auto salesperson that you mentioned above, but that is the one that I gravitate towards because I don’t like slickness and I am sure others feel the same way as me.

    Think about high tech companies and if you don’t interface in that arena, an auto manufacturer. I personally buy from companies who try to educate me on why they are the best product on the market, not spit out feeds and speeds and expect their sales reps to close the deal. That’s just craziness.

    Check out the Content Marketing Institute to learn more — I have absolutely no affiliation with them other than a person who likes their articles, tips and tricks.

    • We’re very familiar with CMI, we’ve spoken there in the past and will be leading an intensive workshop at their conference this fall. 🙂

      Unfortunately (and CMI does not make this error), many suffer from the belief that content marketing isn’t about selling. Content marketing is about making the sale in an ethical way that respects the intelligence of the customer.

      All of these techniques need to be set in that context, which is what we teach every day here.

      If CMI or any content marketing expert tried to tell businesses to publish content that had no sales function, they would rightly be shown the door. Marketing exists to facilitate the process of a stranger becoming a prospect, and in turn becoming a customer.

      If the marketer is honest and describes the product truthfully (and you’re a fool if you think you can get away with anything else), the customer benefits.

      • Thanks for replying to my comment!

        I agree with your second comment wholeheartedly.

        Maybe I am being naive here but I hardly think that any marketer would write content without having some sort of hook to move them from mildly interested to becoming a prospect (at the very least).

        The biggest mistake that a marketing writer can make is fail to do that, especially in sales collateral. This is easily remedied when a copywriter doesn’t simply write about the products and/or services that s/he is asked to write copy, but actually gets a chance to see it in action or ideally use it/them.

        Besides, if you are a truthful marketer, not only does the customer benefit, your company does because will you (hopefully) gain a customer but also an advocate for your company and/or its products.

  17. Well said Demian.

    Sell in person first, I like that 🙂 That will definitely show you what you’re capable of won’t it?

    There was a time when I couldn’t sell water to a thirsty man but going through all these principles and really understanding them, anyone can write great copy.

  18. The points you make aren’t new, but you have an artful and memorable way of stating them. You’ve got the “bones” of a great copywriter and the “soul” of a artist (which is way better than that of a snob).

  19. Fantastic article Demian. You make a very, very good point in #2… “a bad salesman can only harm your company a little. But bad advertising can harm your company a lot.” Online sales copy can reach so many people, it’s crucial that it presents you and your business in the best possible light.

    The waiter story? Do tell 😉

    • The short version: I could not understand why people kept asking me for things. I took their order, I brought their food. What more did they want from me? The tips, if there was one, said it all.

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