Understand This and You Can Double the Effectiveness of Your Copy Overnight

There are plenty of books on how to write copy. The good ones give you the basics, such as the absolute importance of the strength of your headline. Then there are a few that dig deeper, to expose the infrastructure of human nature and the forces that create markets for products and services. I am going to draw from one such book to point out a few things that will improve your copy.

Gambling on Results?

If you are writing the copy (for your ads, landing pages, sales letters, etc.) for your company yourself, then you know that feeling—you know, the one where you feel like you’re gambling on whether your copy will have the desired effect or not.

That’s one of the reasons you do research to determine your target audience: The more you know about your audience, the more you’ll know exactly what to write to really hit home with them. However, that kind of research isn’t the point of this article.

Beyond conducting a split test (where you take two pieces of copy for the same product or service, run both and see which gets the better response), there’s never a guarantee about how effective any piece of copy will be. But this isn’t about split testing either.

Rather, it’s about something that will improve your copy by giving you:

  1. A sense of relief about what’s expected of you as a copywriter and,
  2. A new understanding of a powerful force that you can harness to improve the results of your copy.

With an understanding of this idea, you will be a bit like a surfer—able to identify a wave, catch it, and ride it. Not only ride it, but you’ll be able to create the wave.

First, we need to clear up a common misconception about what copy is actually supposed to do.

Demand, Desire, Want: What Creates It?

The demand for the “solutions to problems” or the “fulfillment of needs” existed long before the first copywriter ever wrote the first ad. People went to bed at night desiring quiet and restful sleep. They wanted safety from the elements; warmth in the winter and cool in the summer.

We all want, desire and demand many solutions or fulfillment. When a number of people all have the same particular need, want, etc., it becomes a “market”. And this market—this force—exists even if there is no product or service to fulfill the need.

In his classic Breakthrough Advertising, author and copywriting legend Gene M. Schwartz wrote about this force and likened it to the stock market and the forces of nature:

“All three of them deal with immense natural forces … thousands of times more powerful than the men who use them. In science, they are the fundamental energies of the universe. In speculation, they are the billion-dollar tides and currents of the marketplace. In copywriting, they are the hopes and fears and desires of millions upon millions of men and women all over the world.”

“The men who use these forces did not create them …” Schwartz wrote, “But they can harness them!”

He points out that what makes advertising work is the market itself, not the copy. To make his point, he cites the American auto market of 1948: the general demand was for longer, lower, wider vehicles. Yet Chrysler decided to counter the trend by offering a shorter vehicle with a more squat profile. Millions of dollars in advertising couldn’t create demand for something the market did not favor. It was a huge failure.

“By simply directing this gigantic, already-existing mass desire—rather than being required to create it,” Schwartz wrote, “Advertising thus commands an economic force hundreds of times more powerful than the mere number of dollars that the advertiser can spend on it.”

Markets Known and Soon-to-be-Discovered

To make your copywriting job even easier, consider that these market forces fall into two distinct categories:

  1. Appeal to the instinctual desires of men and women (such as the desire of men to be more virile, women to be attractive, all to have vibrant health and greater wealth, etc..) If you are writing copy for a product that appeals to such instinctual needs, then it’s only a matter of how to appeal to a segment of the audience so as to get your share of the market. How do you differentiate yourself through your copy?
  2. Observe new and changing trends and styles. Let’s use another automotive example. In the fifties and sixties, the main emphasis was on muscle—engine horsepower. But by the early seventies, public demand had begun to shift toward fuel economy and smaller cars. To write successfully for such products, the copywriter needs to have powers of observation and a bit of intuition in order to see what changes are coming and which way trends are moving.

When the preferences of a significant number of people begin to create a shift or counter-trend, it’s indicative of what journalist Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book, The Tipping Point: “That magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

Some strong examples of this are the desire for computers in the home; the rise of mp3 music downloads over shopping for music in stores; and the popularity of the minivan and later, the SUV.

This type of shift may take years to occur. Ideally, as a copywriter, you want to be the first to note such shifts and capitalize on them.

How to Get a Market to Want Your Product

For any product or service that a market desires, there will be several emotional reasons why they need it, and are therefore willing to pay for it. Among these emotional reasons, one will be dominant. For instance, the individuals that make up the market for the Apple iPhone may desire it for its beauty, its simplicity, and its quality. But one of them will be the most common and thus have the strongest desire.

“Choose the most powerful desire that can possibly be applied to your product,” wrote Schwartz.

If you are writing for a market that you have experience with, then you likely know what the dominant emotion is. However, if it’s a market that you’re not very familiar with, that’s when research will be needed.

You can ascertain the dominant reason by “listening” to the market. One way to do that is to visit forums or chat rooms and read topic threads about the product. Another way is to read product reviews on Amazon or similar sites. Sometimes, if there are books published about a type of product or service, you can read the book reviews.

Take notes as you read. Be aware of particular words and phrases that people use, especially if you begin to see these repeated in review after review or throughout a thread. This is the “voice of the market.”

Building a Bridge

“The headline,” wrote Schwartz, “is the bridge between your prospect and your product.”

The purpose of identifying the strongest desire is to create a headline that will reach the majority of your prospects, make them want to read your copy and, ultimately, purchase your product or service.

But before you can write the most effective headline possible, Schwartz suggests that you consider the market in relation to both their desire and your product or service:

  • If the market knows your product and knows that it can satisfy their desire, start your headline with the product.
    • “Coke adds life.”
  • If the market doesn’t know your product but only its desire, start your headline with the desire.
    • “A Cola with 50% Less Sugar? Try Johnson’s Cola.”
  • If the market is not yet aware of what it really seeks, but is only aware of being concerned with a general problem, start your headline with the problem and “crystallizes it into a specific need.”
    • “Beat the 3 O’Clock Slump Without Sugar or Stimulants.”

Identifying the relationship between the prospect (market), their desire and the product will enable you to write a correctly-focused headline—one that will create sufficient interest to get your entire ad, letter, etc. read.

When your headline can do that, you’ll have accomplished the greatest percentage of the copywriting task.

Final Thought

You don’t have to create demand with your copy. You only have to address an existing desire or problem and figure out the strongest appeal.

There are basic wants, needs, desires that never change. Health, wealth, security, and attractiveness are among these constant desires. Then there are the desires that come from shifts in style, preference, behavior, etc. For these, it helps to have an awareness of the market and where its interests are headed.

Your headline is the bridge between the market and your product.

For markets that are familiar with your product, your headline should lead with the product. For markets are less familiar or unfamiliar, lead with the problem/desire.

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