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There are many ways to build your business – but only one stands above the rest as being the fastest and most impactful. 

Merrill Lynch used it to grow from a tiny boutique firm to a billion-dollar empire. 

An incredibly smart marketer used it to train everyone in the world to brush their teeth (no joke). 

A large gym in Scandinavia used this strategy to increase leads in their sales pipeline by 68%.

(Let me say that again – 68% more people wanting to give them money)

This strategy is called COPYWRITING.

Or writing words that make more people buy from you more frequently. 

If you write emails, content, social media posts, ads or descriptions of your products and services, this is the most impactful way to improve your bottom line. 

Period. 

While this skill takes a lifetime to masterlike a Claude Hopkins, Gary Bencivenga, David Ogilvy or Dan Kennedy…

…Today, I’m going to teach you how to improve your copy by 30-50% by the end of this article.

If you take action on what I’m about to share with you, your business and life will never be the same. 

Copywriting Strategy# 1: Speak TO Your Audience, Not AT Them

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Before we talk about writing, we must first revisit the most fundamental rule of all marketing:

Speak TO your audience, not AT them. 

Most business owners try to get attention by shouting at their audience, or making bigger and more obnoxious claims than the next guy…

Which is why MOST marketing gets ignored. It’s why we skip through TV commercials and YouTube ads and promptly hit “delete” every time a new promotional email hits our inbox. 

Roy Williams, the Wizard of Ads, says that “normal” marketing makes the average person (your customer) feel like you’re trying to fill their teacup with a firehose. 

On the flip side, there’s something I like to call “The Golden Response” – and it’s what happens when your audience reads or hears your message and thinks…

“Woah! That sounds like it was made specifically for people just like me!”

Claude Hopkins (the writer whose ads taught a generation of people to use toothpaste) has another way of putting it – “Your message should single out your prospect like a man being paged in a crowded hotel lobby”. 

Now, the outdated analogy notwithstanding (seriously, what’s a pager?) this is a powerful point to understand. 

It’s easy to ignore a flashing billboard or excessively loud TV commercial – but your audience cannot help but listen when they hear something incredibly important to them (such as their own name, or the exact problem they’re trying to solve right now).

No matter what you sell, the ONLY reason someone will choose to pay attention to your business is that they’re currently: 

  • Trying to move AWAY from something negative (their “before” state) 
  • Or trying to move TOWARD something positive (their after state). 

THAT is the fundamental rule of marketing (and making more money):

Your ability to speak directly to your audience and address how they think and feel about those two states. 

In the history of advertising the simple “Before & After” photo accomplished this better than any written word ever could – it’s why my dentist had a poster similar to this outside his practice back in the 90s:

If you’re embarrassed about your smile, NOTHING could have grabbed your attention faster – but that was then…

Right now, I want you to think about your audience and mentally answer the following questions… 

  1. What is the #1 pain point they are trying to move AWAY from that I can help them solve? (their before state)
  2. What is the #1 desire they have that I can help them fulfill? (their after state). 

With this in mind, we’re now going to get greater clarity on the 3 ways to refine the particular articulation of these states and how you can fine tune your marketing to generate a greater response. 

1. WHAT THEY HAVE

Your audience right now might have a big belly, huge amounts of debt, a new house that needs furnishing or kids that misbehave constantly.

That’s the ‘before’the thing they have that they want to fix. 

From there it’s not hard to figure out what they want to have after your product or service has done it’s job – for example a slim waistline, lots of money in the bank, nice décor or properly behaved children.  

2. THEIR STATUS/IDENTITY

When I was younger, I was the fat kid in my social circle. 

That’s not a particularly nice thing to say (although it was the truth and everybody knew it) – but I wanted that to change that identity so badly I would have given anything to be the “fit kid”. 

YOUR audience has a status or identity that they want to change, too – they might be broke, single, or overworked. 

Your audience obviously doesn’t want you to call them out as ‘the fat kid’ or ‘that lonely person at weddings’, but they DO want to know that 1) You can relate with their current state (you’ve been in their shoes) and 2) You have the solution to help people in their specific before state transition into their desired ‘after’ state. 

Finally, there’s your audience’s… 

3. AVERAGE DAY

The most significant reason why your audience wants your help right now is that their ‘before’ state affects them on an average day. 

They may feel anxiety every time the phone rings, hoping it’s not a debt collector. 

They might feel embarrassed about how their shirt sticks to their sweaty stomach when it’s hot outside (ask me how I know).

They might be lonely when they go to bed at night after their third failed relationship this year. 

They may wake up feeling a sense of dread about how much work they’ve got to do that day – or they may not have gotten a wink of sleep all night because they’re so stressed out. 

Then there’s another kind of average day they wish for, where they come home to the man or woman of their dreams, rather than an empty apartment…

Or when they ignore the advice of Early To Rise and check their email first thing in the morning to see how much money their business made while they were sleeping.

The simpler you are with your messaging here (hint: try asking a few of your best clients or customers about this) the better your copy will be…

95% of business owners never talk about what their customers want – their message is purely about why their offer is the greatest thing ever. 

But, and say this with me, YOUR AUDIENCE DOES NOT CARE ABOUT YOU OR YOUR BUSINESS. 

They only care about what you can do for them…about transitioning from their current state to their desired state, preferably sooner rather than later. 

If the ONLY thing you take away from this guide to better copy is to write about your audience’s before and after states and how they can get it…

You’re going to crush your competition – and I know we’re already DEEP into an article about copywriting and haven’t covered a single writing tactic, but the big takeaway is this:

If ALL you want to do is make more sales, then write about what your audience actually cares about – what they have, their average day and their status BEFORE they become your customer…

And how they can expect it to change AFTER your offer does it’s work.

Now that you understand the most important principle of copywriting, it’s time to shift gears to the more granular and tactical ways you can improve your copy and double your conversions. 

Copywriting Strategy #2: Start With ONE Key Sentence/Idea

While we’re hugely entertained when plots twist in movies like Fight Club or Inception, copywriting is about sales not entertainment. 

Your reader is consuming your copy for one reason: To decide whether to purchase or not. 

The best copy in the world can be summarised into one key sentence, fleshed out in a few key points and fully expanded into a sales letter, email or video. 

Your writing must be continuous and stick to one big idea (this will become easier when we speak about ‘Writing Themes’ in a moment).  

This article began as one big idea:

Business owners can make more money with a few simple copywriting techniques and frameworks. 

There might be one ‘Big Idea’ behind your product – such as the best way to get a beach body is to vary your workouts constantly so your body never adapts to them and plateaus. 

(That’s the premise behind P90X, by the way)

From the ‘Big Idea’ or premise of your copy, we determine a few key arguments or points that we’d like our reader to agree with or understand. 

To follow the P90X Beach Body theme, those might look like this:

  • Most people who join the gym never get a beach body – which is a shame because they deserve it
  • The people who lose weight more quickly than anyone else aren’t starving themselves
  • They’re not spending more time in the gym, or working any harder than you are
  • The human body changes very quickly when given a new style of exercise or training
  • You need a simple way to massively vary up your workout routines so you DO get results from the time you spend in the gym…

And then we’d explain the product. 

All of those points can be roughly linked back to the main premise or argument of the sales message. 

Before writing a single word, reflect back on your audience’s Escape and Arrive state and consider the one thing they should know to have the best chance at success. 

Brainstorm a few ideas that give greater context and awareness around the nature of the problem and solution, choose your most powerful arguments and you’ve got yourself the basic structure of a sales message! 

Let’s turn that into a money-making machine:

Copywriting Strategy #3: Write Better Headlines & Vary Your Themes

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There’s no point writing incredible copy if it never gets read…

And the only tool you have to encourage your audience to read what you’ve got to say is with a killer headline (or subject line, if you’re writing an email). 

In fact, according to David Ogilvy (the Godfather of copywriting), the headline is the MOST important part of an ad. 

If it doesn’t jump off the page and grab your audience by the ears, they won’t read another word you wrote. 

Generally speaking, there are four ‘themes’ you can use throughout your headlines (or any copy) that will grab attention:

  • Specific 
  • Benefit
  • Blind
  • Threat

Let’s break them down one by one. 

1. Specific Headlines 

Specific headlines work because they’re believable – period. 

Typically, this writing style uses exact numbers or percentages to make a claim that’s hard to refute – and that’s not something that every business can do.

(It would be hard to keep a straight face while telling your customer that your mattresses are 41% more comfortable than the competition, for example).  

Look at the headline for this guide – I suggested that you could increase profit by up to 68%, like that gym in Scandinavia. 

For example, a few specific headlines would be: 

  • How to melt 12 lbs of belly fat in 30 days or less without starving yourself, renting out a cot in the gym, or wasting thousands on scam supplements that don’t work. 
  • Step-by-step how to increase your organic traffic by 113% in 6 weeks or less 
  • 7 Proven Strategies to Increase Your Profits by 50% While Working 10 Fewer Hours a week 

You get the gist. 

The formula for these headlines is simple. 

“How to + specific, numbers-based promise (+ without doing xyz negative thing)” 

These are tried, true, and guaranteed to increase the conversion of anything you use them on. 

2. Blind headlines

Blind headlines open the window of curiosity of your reader’s mind. 

These are designed to tease your audience’s need to know more about the promise you make as a business…

(Typically this wouldn’t work as a headline for a sales message or to promote a product – but we’ll revisit this shortly).

Two classic examples that arrived in my email inbox this morning include “The Day I Got Caught Red Handed” and “The Caffeine Fairy Strikes Again”. 

Warning: Blind headlines do work, they get tired real quick if you use them all the time! 

These are best reserved for the occasional email marketing campaign or Facebook ad, not for a long-form sales page. 

For example, one of the highest opened emails from Early to Rise had the subject line “Zebras” (in reference to this article). 

BUT…you’ll notice that 90% of the time, any emails from ETR are specific or benefit based. 

3. Benefit Based 

Benefit headlines clearly explain what the reader has to gain.

Typically that means following up with some kind of promise – such as ‘How To Quit Smoking In 17 Days And Save $843 A Month (Without Any Cravings)’. 

(See how I threw in a little specificity there too?)

The more clearly you can speak to the AFTER your audience seeks – their perfect day, status or what they HAVE, the more this will grab their attention. 

For example: 

  • How to Go From “Mr. Nice Guy” to “OMG Who is THAT Guy” 
  • Build a 6-figure Career from the Comfort of Your Own Home 
  • Eliminate Your Debt in 6 Months or Less 

The more specific you are in the benefit they will achieve, the better these headlines will perform. 

4. Threat Based 

Finally, we have threat based headlines that show your audience how to avoid pain…

But in a helpful way – not by actually making your audience worried about the issue they’re trying to solve. 

Take a look at these headline examples and see if you can decipher which ‘theme’ I’m using:

‘Are You Overpaying For FB Ads?’

‘Want To Work 10 Hours Less Per Week? The Sooner You Know This, The Better!’

‘If You’re Not Earning $2 Per Follower Per Week On Instagram, Something Is Wrong’

‘Where The Money Is On LinkedIn (And How To Get It)’

‘Read This Checklist Before Hiring Your First Freelancer’

‘Your Doctor Doesn’t Want You To Know This About Calcium Supplements’ 

‘Why Haven’t TV Owners Been Told These Facts?’ 

Three of these four themes (Specific, Benefit and Threat) can be used as headlines but all four can be deployed through your copy.

I used a specific headline for this article, and could have followed up with a Blind introduction that may have sounded like this:

Writing incredible copy that turns strangers into happy customers is a LOT like throwing a party. 

To increase tension I could have used the Threat theme to suggest that poor copywriting means your competition will get your audience’s attention better than you just, or how you’re leaving money on the table if your headlines don’t read well.

We’re not done with headlines just yet, though – I want to share a billion-dollar template you can use TODAY.

It’s perhaps my favorite of all time – written by Louis Engel, and it transformed Merrill Lynch from a tiny boutique firm in New York to a global empire:

… And it’s perfect – because it implied that there was something the average person DIDN’T know about stocks and bonds.

(In fact, I’ve used this headline countless times in multiple different industries – including the title for the post you’re reading right now) 

Try using this formula in your next piece of writing:

What [People In Your Audience] Ought To Know About [Topic Related To Your Offer].

It worked for Merrill Lynch – they got 800 leads on their first day.

Let me say that again – they advertised one time in a finance newspaper and got EIGHT HUNDRED LEADS. 

It’s worked in the finance industry, it’s worked for me and it’ll work for you. 

Conclusion

Now you know how to match your offer to the things that your reader cares about most deeply, you have a basic structure and framework for your message and you know how to get your prospect’s attention. 

In Part II of this guide, you’ll discover proven strategies to keep your audience engaged, improve your call to action, and boost your conversions even more.

Keep an eye on your inbox. It’ll drop next week.

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David White

David is a profit consultant for business owner-operators with a speciality in digital marketing. Trained in direct-response marketing and business strategy, he believes that the world would be a better place if ALL business owners made more money with less stress and overwhelm.