online copywriting course insights

Part II: The Next 2 Reasons You’re Not Great at Copywriting

Read time approximately 6 minutes.

In this post, we’ll just focus on two other copywriting clangers deserving of a few hundred words of consideration. Not-Greats #6 and #7 continue to thwart many a copywriter’s effort to connect, engage and compel their audience. My Copywriting in Action® courses reveal Not-Greats #6 and #7 to be time-old problems that demand constant addressing. So let’s do what we do in my Copywriting in Action® sessions — dig in and root out the bad habits of garden variety copywriting. 


What happens to most of the junk mail you get every day through direct mail? You look at it for a quick second, then as soon as you identify it as a piece of commercial spin you bin it.

Same with web pages —  you get “banner blindness”.

We almost literally don’t see the ad. That’s because our mind says:

“That’s an ad. I’m not interested in ads right now so I’m going to filter it out of my field of vision and focus on the thing that I’m interested in.”

All we’re interested in is story, meaning and value. Just give us valuable information, useful tips and sensible advice that’s going to make our life better, entertain us, make us feel good or be clearer about something.

Tonality of copy that reads too much like an ad is the sound of a cold call. Tone is attitude and attitude is tone, so the attitude you bring to the conversation is intrinsic. You want to be sincere in being helpful or caring or understanding, or even self-deprecating, making sure content benefits, interests, educates and entertains, not just sells.

This point often leads to the question about whether to write long copy or short copy. The short answer is that your copy needs to be as long as it needs to be. Having said that, here are the factors that influence copy length:

  1. The more features and benefits there is in a product or service, the longer the copy.
  2. Certain people want as much information as they can get before making a purchase. This is especially true of people on the Internet, and especially true with information products. In other words, know your target audience psychographics and desires.
  3. What’s the goal? Generating a lead for a service business requires less detail, but an ad that aims to make a sale must overcome every objection the potential buyer may have.
  4. The higher the price, the more copy required to justify the spend or create the need.
  5. The more unusual the product, the more you need to relate that product to the user by clearly educating the features and demonstrating the benefits.

When you do write long form copy, know that we need to be able to skim through it and find the points we care about. That’s where sign-posting is essential — sub-heads, italics, pull-outs, images, captions, paragraphing and so on. This is where a good Art Director’s eye will make sure the reader’s eye sees what it needs to see, and in a narrative logic.

To sum up, I quote The Socrates of San Francisco, Howard Gossage, who said, “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.”


There are two sides to this story. The Push and the Pull. Depending on the subject you’re copywriting about and its audience, sometimes you do the push strategy and other times you do the pull strategy.

Addressing a problem/issue/desire is the push side of the story. Great copywriters are great problem solvers. And the solving usually begins somewhere at the beginning of the copy — the introduction part of the Anatomy of Body Copy: Moving Story Forward. There is an enticement within the problem we’re willing to pay to solve.

Of the many strategies for enticing us in at the beginning stage, perhaps the most popular is the Problem – Agitate – Solve formula. It is especially useful for social media writing because you can do it in a very few words. Here’s how it goes:

In the beginning, you identify a problem (e.g.: Our business is doing okay but not great.)

In the middle, you agitate the problem by stirring it up a bit, like adding a tiny bit of salt to the wound (e.g.: We’re overwhelmed with all the dos and don’ts of online comms and the techy mumbo-jumbo that goes with it.)

At the end, you Solve the problem (e.g.: Your online strategy service enables us to find the tactics to maximise return from our online activity.)

Sometimes, it is not a problem we want to think about. Life insurance anybody? And so it is not a problem we want to solve. There’s a saying that we don’t think about life insurance until the hearse is parked outside.

In other words, the problem is not top of mind until it becomes something worth or necessary to think about. This is how we bought the iPad. The ads showed us a slim, sleek, gorgeous, little computer and our desire to have it was born. They didn’t talk about RAM. They didn’t even talk about how lightweight it is or how great the screen is or what an excellent keyboard it has. They just made us want it.

So you can do the desire-based version of Problem-Agitate-Solve, which could be renamed Desire-Agitate-Want.

You can also do the desire-based and problem-based variation. For example: “My skin looks bad (problem). I feel very insecure about it (agitate). I need to solve it now (desire), When I use X product, I will look good and feel good (solve).”

Of all three variations, the problem-based formula is what works 9 times out of 10, requiring the least mastery of copywriting. The other two variations require some creative ingenuity (like the iPad ad). If you’re a copywriting genius, then you’re worth that extra zero on your invoice. If you are not, just think about what’s keeping your customer up at night — what is the problem, anxiety, worry, fear? Then enter in the middle of that conversation and say, “You have this worry. You have this fear. You have this anxiety. This is making you feel bad about yourself. I have some things that can help you with that.” Then you too become a valuable copywriter, without being pushy or salesy.

Instigating a desired response is the pull side of the story. This typically happens at the ending of your story which, in retail-speak, is known as the Call to Action (CTA). More specifically, you tell them what to do and when to do it, like “Subscribe now and get the free e-book” or “Click here and get it while stocks last”. That’s the retail expression of the Pull Strategy.

Now if your customer doesn’t have an urgent problem to solve, build in a legitimate scarcity factor — personal access to something with a limit like coaching, consulting, training where there is a time and booking limit.

But it is critical that the CTA tone be appropriate to the subject matter. Not all target audiences will respond to this pushy type of pull.

Example: you’re writing to a panel of seed-funding decision makers comprised of climate justice lawyers, low-carbon economists, politicians and venture capitalists. You’re not going to end your proposal for a Wave Energy Conversion project with words like, “Fund this project now and save the world before it’s too late!” You need to be far more nuanced. Huge belief, investment and commitment is asked for here. You need to write something more along the lines of, “It is the kind of ingenuity we need to give our planet an even break”. This is much more likely to trigger the desired response of, “Yes, we should make this project happen ASAP!”

There’s more to a call to action than the Call to Action. In fact, there are eight strategies toward a strong conclusion, here is a brief summary of each.

Call To Action You propose a course of action, a solution to an issue, or a question for further consideration. This redirects our thought processes and helps us apply your information and ideas to our own life.

Summary This is your stock standard academic finish, where you sum up the 3 or 4 (no more) points made.

Pull Together You synthesize the summary. Instead of a brief summary of your main points, you show us how these points fit together.

Big Picture With this conclusion strategy, you point us to a broader implication. To something greater than the story told.

Circle You return to the theme/idea by referring back to the headline or introductory paragraph, using key words or parallel concepts and images. This strategy brings us full circle. It also reinforces the point of the story.

So What!? After you’ve written a conclusion you’re not happy with, ask yourself, ‘So What?’ Then rewrite the conclusion. The question “So What?” forces you into reiterating the whole story into a kind of 10-second elevator pitch.

Thought Provoking You end on a provocative insight, a compelling fact, an interesting question or a quotation from your research.

Rhythm ‘n’ Riff You write your ending using a rhetorical device. Like a melodic riff, it leaves a rhythmic resonance in our mind as we exit your story. The most common of these is the Rhythm of Three, Rhythm of Four, Parallel Phrase and Contrasting Pair.

You can also use combinations of these strategies. They each have a particular effect that inspires, initiates, urges or instigates the kind of response that leads to an intended action.

It’s not always a case of you telling us what to do upfront but making us see how your story is relevant to solving our problem, or fulfilling our desire, or both.

In conclusion, how we enter your story (push) determines whether we connect, engage and trust you; how we exit your story (pull) determines whether we think or feel this is the right solution for us to invest in.

Meanwhile, my online copywriting course’s latest timetable is up and running and ready to take your booking now. As a course participant, you too will agree it’s hands down the smartest copywriting course in town.

copywriting in action course insights

Originally posted 2022-03-22 04:56:37.

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