When I was asked to teach a copywriting class for a special program at Ohio State University, I discovered that teaching writing is far more difficult than the writing itself. Many of the things I did naturally from experience or instinct were a complete mystery to my students.
So, in order to make the copywriting process a logical and painless operation, I devised a simple method for writing ad copy for novice writers. I called it POWER Copywriting, an acronym for the five steps in the copywriting process: Prepare, Organize, Write, Edit, and Review.
This represents years of copywriting experience boiled down to the basics. I won’t promise that this will help you create a masterpiece of copywriting brilliance. But it can help guide you toward better and more effective sales writing.
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Step 1: PREPARE
Good ad copy begins with good information. And the best way to gather the information you need is with a thorough Q&A. Here are some basic questions that will help you prepare for just about any ad writing project.
Don’t try to wordsmith at this point. Just collect as much information as you can. Feel free to add additional information as needed. (See the more complete questionnaire I use here).
- Description. Briefly, what is the product or service you are selling?
- Purpose. What does this product or service do for the customer? How does it work?
- Price. What is the suggested cost? What are you asking for it?
- Features. What are the most important facts and specifications about this product or service?
- Benefits. What do the features mean for the customer? What problems are solved? What needs are filled? Of all the benefits, which is the most important?
- Competition. From the customer’s point of view, why is this product or service better than what the competition is offering?
- Your Business. Do you have a special history, unique owner, awards?
- Guarantee. How strongly do you believe in the product or service? How will you back up your belief? 30 days free trial? Money back guarantee?
- Prospect. Who do you visualize as the ideal buyer? Male or female? Income? Job title? Interests? Concerns? Fears?
- Objections. Why would someone NOT want this product?
- Testimonials & Endorsements. Letters from happy users? Media coverage? Celebrity endorsements?
- Objective. What do you want prospects to do when they see this ad? Ask for more information? Buy immediately? Come to your Web site? Request a demo?
- Offer. What is the deal you are offering to prospects? Lower price for a limited time? Free information? Gift with an immediate order?
- Deadline. When does the offer expire?
- Required Copy Points. What information or legal copy must be included?
- Taboos. What can never be said or promised?
- Method of Payment. Credit card? PayPal? Installment Billing?
- Method of Ordering. How should a buyer place an order? Phone? E-mail? Web form?
Step 2: ORGANIZE
After you’ve answered these questions, you next need to organize your information. This is simply a matter of writing the essential points concisely. These are still just notes for reference, but your copy is now starting to take shape.
Don’t take shortcuts. The best selling ideas come from this research and note taking. And I’ve found that writing and rewriting notes is a great way to focus the mind and shape ideas.
Here are the essential items you will need to write your copy:
- Benefits / Prime Benefit
- Method of Payment
- Method of Ordering
You’ll notice that this list doesn’t include everything from the first step. Some of the information you collect in Step 1 is for background only. The items in Step 2 are those most likely to be used directly in your copy.
Step 3: WRITE
Now that you’ve collected and organized your information, it’s time to start writing your copy.
Write your headline.
- Review your Prime Benefit, Offer, Deadline, Price, Prospect, Method of Ordering, Description, and Guarantee.
- Choose the information you want to emphasize.
- Select a basic headline type that best conveys your information.* See below.
- Write several headlines and choose the best.
* 7 Simple Headlines that Work
Direct—A direct headline comes right out and states your main idea. (“7 step online business plan generates cash instantly”)
News—People are interested by news. Words such as “new,” “introducing,” “announcing,” “now,” and “at last” indicate something newsworthy. (“Now program your VCR by simply speaking to the revolutionary VCR Voice Programmer”)
How-To—This headline promises a solution to a problem or information of interest. (“How to stop smoking in 30 days”)
Question—When related to a benefit or the reader’s concerns, the question headline is a powerful attention grabber. (“How do I know which mutual fund is right for me?”)
Command—A command can kick your headline into high gear and start selling immediately. (“Call today and reserve your Star Trek collectible”)
Information—People make buying decisions with the information you provide. By educating people, you gain their attention and trust. (“Two things you won’t get on your average tread mill”)
Testimonial—Nothing is more convincing than a customer endorsement. (“This diet program worked for me. It can work for you, too!”)
Write your subheads.
- Review your Description, Benefits, Features, Offer, Deadline, Guarantee, etc.
- Choose the information that best expands on your headline.
- Write your subheads in order of importance. Use the active voice and make every subhead a benefit statement.
Write your body copy.
Expand on each subhead. List features. Explain each benefit. It may seem that this is the hardest part since the body copy will probably require the most number of words. However, body copy is relatively easy to write once you have your headlines and subheads.
Most good copywriters spend from 50 percent to 80 percent of their time on headlines. If your reader takes the time to read body copy, they’re already interested in what you’re selling. All you need to do is provide clear details and support your headlines and subheads. No need to get fancy.
Write your call to action.
- Review your Method of Ordering, Offer, Price, Deadline, and Guarantee.
- Write your call to action including all the above information that applies. Use the active voice and be straightforward and clear. (“Try the all-new Gizmotron 5000 for 30 days risk free. Your satisfaction is guaranteed or your money back. Order within the next 10 days and get 3 bonus Gizmo attachments FREE! Click here to place your order now!”)
- Look at similar ads to see how other writers have structured the call to action.
Step 4: EDIT
For some, editing is the hardest part of copywriting. But it’s essential to get the clean, crisp results you’re looking for. You must be ruthless. Don’t fall in love with your own writing. Every word must add to the message. If anything is unclear or wordy, cut it out. Long copy is fine. Just make sure that every word is pulling its own weight.
As you review your work, ask yourself a few questions:
- Does my headline get attention, select an audience, deliver a complete message, and draw the reader into the body copy?
- Does my headline exploit human motivators such as fear, exclusivity, guilt, greed, or envy?
- Is my headline clear and to the point? Does it relate to the product or service?
- Do my subheads logically expand on the headline in order of importance?
- Is my body copy full of facts or empty clichés?
- Do I ask for the order? Have I made it clear what I want the reader to do?
Step 5: REVIEW
Put your copy aside for a few days and read it later when you’re fresh. Try these techniques to review your ad.
- Use the “5 Second Test.” Show the ad to a few objective people. If they don’t understand it at a glance — in about 5 seconds — it isn’t going to work. Don’t play with body copy. Revise the big things. Make your headline more clear and direct. Clarify your offer. Give direct ordering instructions.
- List all the negatives. What’s wrong with the headline? The call to action? The tone? Be brutal and honest. Don’t get attached to particular pet words or phrases. This isn’t art, after all. It’s business. So if something needs to be changed, change it.
- Consider one other way to write the ad. Even if you have a successful formula, there are always other approaches that will work. If you keep an open mind, you just might find a better way. Or you may discover improvements you can incorporate.
- Try the “Stop or Go Test.” You should generally speak in the second person, using words such as “you” and “your.” And you should avoid speaking about yourself too much, with words such as “I,” “we,” and “our.” So, with a green pen, circle all words referring to your reader. Then, with a red pen, circle all words referring to you. If you see a lot of green, your copy is a go. If you see a lot of red, stop and edit.
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