Michael Masterson’s Secrets About Writing Copy

I’ve been a student of Michael Masterson for quite a long time. He doesn’t know I exist (although he’s critiqued some of my copy) and I haven’t met him personally… yet. But even without a personal connection to him, he and Bill Bonner (of Agora fame) have had more influence on the way I think about business, marketing and copywriting than just about anyone else I can think of.

Just in case I never meet either of them, I’ll take this opportunity to publicly thank them both.

I first learned about Michael Masterson when I purchased AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. The material in that course contributed to me hitting six-figures very quickly as a new copywriter for hire.

At the time, I was making $85 an hour as an independent technology consultant. I was in control of my time, but at that point, my time just wasn’t that valuable in terms of dollars and cents. Actually, I wasn’t even making $85 an hour because I had just moved to a remote part of Indiana, far away from the big city of Chicago where I built my technology business.

I needed to start over in a business that I could run from anywhere. Freelance copywriting fit the bill perfectly. So on January 1, 2007, I hung out my shingle as a copywriter for hire.

So What’s the Big Idea?

I remember listening to a recording of Michael years ago where he was describing a successful company he worked with and how each of their “franchises” was basically centered around a single big idea; or a unique way of viewing the world.

At the time, I thought I got what that meant, but I really didn’t.

Great copy is built on great ideas. BIG IDEAS that is. In particular, a single big idea which serves as the foundation for everything to follow.

Early in my copywriting career, I wasn’t so good at the big idea thing. Instead, I settled for small ideas and tried to make up for them with “good” writing. I’m a good “writer” so I thought that would be enough. That, my friends was a mistake.

The world doesn’t need small ideas and it doesn’t respond to them. It doesn’t line up and wait for hours in the cold and rain to hear someone spout off small ideas; ideas that people probably already know.

Writing copy based on small ideas is pretty much noise in the marketplace.

BIG IDEAS, on the other hand, stir people to action. Big ideas sweep people into other (better) worlds, propel them closer to their goals and draw them magnetically towards solutions to their problems.

The world needs BIG IDEAS. And boy does the world respond to them.

Great copy has little to do with just words, and it has everything to do with expressing BIG IDEAS with words.

These days, I often take a new project and sit around for a week or so (I don’t always have this luxury) and let the big idea drop out of the sky into my lap. Sometimes that takes longer, sometimes it’s much quicker. Once that core idea is cemented in my mind, however, the actual writing of the promotion is pretty easy.

To me, figuring out HOW to say something is not nearly important as figuring out WHAT to say.

A good copywriter is proficient with words. A great copywriter is a master of IDEAS.

Uncovering the Big Idea is Like Reading Between the Lines

I was going to leave this part of this essay out. After all, it’s challenging to teach someone how to “see” a big idea when it comes to writing copy.

It’s hard to give you a step-by-step, here’s how you do it, system to follow.

It’s a bit like those books of magic illustrations you see in the bookstores. Those are the ones where you’re supposed to stare at a page until you begin to see the real picture hiding on it.

The big idea isn’t always obvious. It’s more a product of looking at all of the obvious things, blurring your “vision” a bit, and then seeing a “bigger picture” based on all of those details.

Despite this disclaimer of sorts, I’m going to do my best to communicate this process to you anyway. Mainly because this skill, the ability to see “the big idea” in any selling opportunity, is the core ability that separates great copy from trash.

Big ideas are persuasive. And that’s what great copy does. It persuades.

So let’s say you’re selling a newsletter. That’s a hard sell because no one really wants a newsletter. Who really wants to pay money so they can add yet another item to the reading list they never have time to get through?

The answer is no one wants that. And yet, plenty of newsletters sell like hotcakes every day. Why?

Because no one is buying a newsletter. They’re buying something else. They’re buying a “big idea.”

You might think you’re selling a newsletter. But that’s not what your customer is buying. The chances are better than not that what they are buying has more to do with things like:

  • Permission to access a world and valuable (secret) information that might otherwise be off limits to them…
  • A credible source of validation and camaraderie for their views regarding their way of living, investing, or earning money.
  • A proven shortcut to helping them reach their goals.
  • A fast and simple way they can relieve pain, whether it’s physical, emotional or both.
  • The promise of a better life.

These are very general, of course, but hopefully you’re starting to get the picture.

You might be selling a newsletter, but that’s the last thing that anyone is buying.

This really is, in part, marketing 101. Where it gets more advanced is when you start to take that core understanding and really “blow it up” so that it is almost larger than life.

Let’s say you sell a newsletter with unconventional strategies and tactics to grow a business very, very quickly.

You are tired of seeing people work so hard for so little and your path in life has taught you how to create big results fast. And even better is that you can create those results with such little effort that it’s almost hard to believe.

So you take that kernel of truth, blur your “vision” and start to understand what you’re really dealing with. That’s when big ideas start to jump out at you. Things like:

  • Perhaps your newsletter becomes a call to war in a worldwide battle of sorts. A battle between the “powers that be” and the underdog hero (your subscribers). Your subscribers are not just customers, they are warriors. And they are determined to go out into the world and claim the success that is truly theirs.
  • Perhaps your newsletter becomes a rallying cry for freedom from the oppression of the world of 9-5 office cubicle slavery that so many people endure.
  • Perhaps your newsletter simply becomes like a wise and mysterious mentor. Someone with the ability to masterfully direct and encourage others towards their goals.

These example are very simple, of course, but the goal is give you a rough idea of how this process rolls out. This is how you take a ho-hum newsletter and transform it into something that people will go out of their way to get.

Once you have your big idea, then it’s time to write.

They Have to Want It

In his book, The Architecture of Persuasion, Michael presents the art of copywriting as very similar to the art of seducing a romantic interest.

Rule #1 is to refrain from whacking them over the head, freaking them out and sending them running in fear. That, my friends won’t do anything for you.

Seduction isn’t about forcing your wants onto someone else. It’s about turning things upside down and becoming the pursued instead of the pursuer.

This is where copywriting meets art. And this is where it becomes very evident that the core foundational secret of great copy has little to do with words.

It has everything to do with understanding the emotional condition of your reader. Your reader has hopes, dreams and fears. They have aging parents, growing kids, and a load of stresses that they face each and everyday.

To the extent you can develop the ability to put yourself in their shoes and feel the feelings your reader is dealing with, the better your copy will be.

What Is Copywriting Really?

Many people will say that copywriting is about writing.

Fewer people will say that copywriting is about selling.

At the core, however, copywriting is not about either of those things.

Instead, copywriting is about developing an emotional connection with your reader. It’s about developing the ability to almost instantly kindle the beginnings of a relationship with a complete stranger; a stranger that you understand on a very, very deep level.

Selling things isn’t the result of great copy, it’s only a byproduct of the real result. The real result is a relationship with another human being.

Secure the relationship and you create a situation that makes selling possible.

That’s your focus.

[Ed. Note: Jason Leister is an internet entrepreneur, direct response copywriter and editor of “The Client Letter,“ the daily e-letter from ClientsSuck.net, where he helps independent professionals create success. You can contact him via his website at JasonLeister.com.]