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Build Relationships: The First of Four (Self-Revealing) Case Studies on Growth and Success

Aaron Orendorff

Is there a secret to writing copy that sells?

Some dark-magic formula that breaks through the barriers, barricades, and psychological bulwarks? Some universal formula that stretches across sales, traditional media, content marketing, social media, and and search engine optimization (SEO)?

Yes.

And I have proof.

The year was 1976 and Martin Edelston, founder of the now more than $50-million annually producing and direct-marketing powerhouse Boardroom Inc., was broke.

Well, not quite broke broke. More like down to the nubs.

42 years old and working out of his basement, Edelston had burned through half his start-up capital with nothing to show for it save an empty desk … furnace adjacent.

Enter Eugene Schwartz: the hero of our story and a man who knew what words were worth.

“He came to me,” Schwartz recalled, “with $3,500 in his pocket, and I told him I’d have to charge him $2,500 as a copy fee.”

$2,500 might not sound outlandish, but today that’d be a $10,497 price tag for a single piece of sales copy. Even more amazing is what that number represented for Edelson himself. Imagine it:

Yes, Marty, I will write you an ad … just one. And all it’ll cost is 70% of everything you have.

Such is the stuff of marketing legend.

Thankfully, Edelston agreed. The two met. And that night Schwartz wrote it … all of it.

Of course, when you finagle someone out of 70% of their operating capital, you can’t just deliver 24 hours later. “I put it away for two weeks,” recalled Schwartz. “And in two weeks, I sent it to him and he ran it.”

What happened?

With one ad Schwartz rescued Edelston from the brink of small-business bankruptcy and set Boardroom Inc. on a path to becoming a multinational marketing empire.

Not surprisingly, Schwartz’s success with Boardroom Inc. was anything but a fluke. Over his career, Schwartz’s direct mail, sales letters, catalogue copy, and ads were responsible for …

  • 1.98 million copies of a $25 book
  • 2 million orders for a fishing lure
  • Nearly $50M for a textbook on natural health
  • $150,000 for a volume on car repair in three days

Most legendary, Schwartz’s produced a single television campaign that resulted in purchases from 1 out of every 14 TV owners in America.

A month ago, I sat down with Schwartz’s 228-page classic Breakthrough Advertising. Sixty pages in I came across three lines that stopped me in my tracks:

A little over a month ago, I fired off this bombshell of a post …

How I Wrote for Fast Company, Copyblogger, MarketingProfs, and Entrepreneur and Landed My First Nearly $20,000, Three-Month Client … in Less than 120 Days

Despite how outlandishly prideful that headline sounds at first, the point of the post — its secret sauce — came down to three words: “Let’s get rejected.” Naturally, that’s counterintuitive, but check out the post.

Since then, the streak has continued … mostly.

To start, I had another article go up on Copyblogger — “The Ultimate Copy Checklist: 51 Questions to Optimize Every Element of Your Online Copy.” Currently, it’s number two on their most-popular-posts list thanks in large part to the printable poster their awesome design team put together.

In addition, I had a second article accepted to MarketingProfs that’ll be published in a week or two and my first for Unbounce just hit the digital presses a few weeks ago: “4 Steps to Writing Emails with Drastically Higher Open and Click-Through Rates.” On top of all that, I’m looking at a a follow up articles for both Fast Company and Unbounce in January.

But, best of all …

I got rejected.

Yep! How perfect is that?

The story goes like this … over the summer, I wrote an article on storytelling and presenting that Fast Company was kind enough to pick up after I submitted it via cold email.

The waters being warmer, last month I wrote a piece on responsive email, complete with compelling data and these super slick display shots of six of my favorite responsive email newsletters on different devices.

Here’s a couple of ‘em.

Cool, right?

Well, after a week of waiting … it came:

Dear Aaron,

Thank you for submitting this article for Fast Company’s consideration. Unfortunately, while interesting, this piece is not a right fit for us. I encourage you, however, to place it somewhere else. Please feel free to continue submitting work for our future consideration.

Sincerely,

Some Lady

You know the drill …

Enter pain. Enter fear. Enter shame. Enter defensiveness. And, of course, enter those inevitable, manic swings between the land of “how dare they not recognize someone of my literary caliber by immediately publishing my work and renaming their site in my honor” and “of course they didn’t publish it … I can barely string together words, much less justify my existence as a person.”

Like a friend of mine likes to say, “My brain’s constantly telling me I’m either hot s*** or a piece of s***.”

But enough about my existential angst. Pain, fear, shame, defensiveness, and manic swings aside, I eventually picked myself up, dusted off, and reworked the thing for another blog.

More to the point, back some thirty-plus days ago, I promised a more lengthy explanation of how those massive wins — namely writing for Fast Company, Copyblogger, MarketingProfs, Entrepreneur, and now Unbounce — came together.

So today I present the first of four case studies on growth and success:

Build Relationships.

Cliches are cliche for a reason. Because they’re true.

“It’s not about what you know. It’s about who you know.”

At the beginning of last summer, when I finally decided to make a go of this whole “freelance writing” thing, I identified a handful of people who — number one — I liked and respected and — number two — mattered.

Demian Farnworth, Copyblogger’s chief copywriter, was at the very top of that list.

I’ve loved Copyblogger (who doesn’t?) for years and dreamed of writing for them.

A few months ago, I noticed Demian’s name kept popping up and always in connection with absolutely stellar content. The first one I really loved was “13 Good Ideas from 13 Dead Copywriters.” And, of course, his “11 Essential Ingredients Every Blog Post Needs” is on just about everybody’s list of the best content of 2014.

So I tracked Demian down, digitally speaking, and found out not only did he run a personal copywriting site — theCopyBot — he also ran an even more personal “personal” site — Fallen + Flawed.

What I found on the second floored me.

Fallen + Flawed is not a marketing site. It isn’t about improving your CTRs, optimizing your headlines, telling your story, or getting your emails opened. In fact, it’s not really about writing at all — although there are posts about blogging.

Fallen + Flawed is about the gospel. It’s about faith and life and struggling and books and marriage and kids and Mexican wrestlers.

It is creative. It is original. It is authentic. And it is phenomenal.

On top of all that, the theological overlaps were deep.

Even within the (for lack of a better word) “evangelical” Christian community (with which I self-identify), there are camps, especially theological camps. And every camp has its patron saints. For the young, reformed community (the camp I belong to), folks like John Piper, D. A. Carson, and Tim Keller are rockstars.

And that’s exactly who Demian was writing about.

I nearly lost my mind.

I was so excited that I started tweeting anything I could get ahold of.

I tweeted his Copyblogger stuff. I tweeted his CopyBot stuff. I tweeted his theological stuff. I even tweeted lines from his fantastic ebook The Messiah | Eleven Meditations from the Book of Mark.

And … I tagged him each and every time.

By now you’ve probably picked up that I’m a little biased, but let me just say that Demian is a super decent dude. I don’t think there’s been a single tweet I tagged him in that he didn’t favorite. Plus, right around the time I started tweeting stuff from his book on Mark, he tweeted back.

Mind = blown.

We threw a few notes around, mostly just polite niceties, and then … I found his coaching page.

This time, I emailed. And — gasp — he emailed back.

I won’t go into detail here about what an amazing coach Demian has been (after all, I’ve probably gushed enough).

Here’s the point …

When it finally came time to submit a guest post to Copyblogger, I did so both through their online submission process as well as a direct email to Demian himself.

From the first — their online process — all I got back was a “Thanks for submitting … but we aren’t accepting unsolicited articles at this time.”

It was the second route — the relationship route — that opened the door.

Now, of course, you gotta have the goods as well as the relationship. I mean, no one’s gonna publish junk. In fact, I’m gonna say a lot more about having “the goods” in the second case study — “Write [bleeping] amazing content” — but for now it’s vitally important to see how central that relationship was.

What made the difference was not first and foremost the words themselves.

What made the difference was that relationship — that authentic, genuine, giving (not just taking) relationship.

A similar situation has developed with Joanna Wiebe of CopyHackers. She and her team — including her awesome copywriting compadre Jen Havice — have been incredibly supportive of both my personal blog and guest posts. I remember the day she signed up for my email list … again: mind = blown.

The same is true of Ann Handley, who after quoting a post of mine in her most recent book, has also been amazing.

So, let me ask you …

Who do you look up to? Who do you admire? Who would you want to connect with? Who do you respect? Who matters in your industry?

Alright … what’s stopping you from reaching out?

Track ‘em down. Share their content. Tag ‘em. Be warm and be personal. Write meaningful comments on their blog. Ask insightful questions. And above all, be real.

Over the next month, I’ll be sharing three more case studies on growth and success. Here’s a preview …

2. Write [bleeping] amazing content.

3. Be a decent freakin’ person.

4. Go after it … again, and again, and again.

Naturally, Schwartz didn’t mean that good copy should ever exceed 10 words. What he meant was that the core of your ad and, in particular, its headline will always come down to 10 words or less.

Below, we’ll walk through exactly how to unearth and unleash the right “5 to 10 words” in your copy through three unbreakable laws.

We’ll also discover why — as Schwartz put it — “nothing” else you write matters without them.

1. The First Law of Writing Copy: ‘Mass Desire’

Drawing from Schwartz, let’s start with a simple definition.

Another word for “mass desire” is emotion: “the public spread of a private want.”

An ad’s ability to sell begins and ends with identifying a “private want” and  channeling that want into “public” words. Only when an audience and an ad share the same dominant emotion does that ad stand any chance of compelling, converting, and closing.

Put more simply, writing copy that sells lives or dies by the right “mass desire.”

A friend of mine calls this the “Puppy Principle.” If you’re trying to sell leashes or organic Alpo, forget about all the logistics of dog ownership.

Just show ‘em the puppy!

Why?

Because unless how you’re presenting your product makes your audience want to hold it, love it, and give it money … you’re not selling it right. And — chances are — you aren’t selling it at all.

Mass desire means majoring on dreams, fears, desires, needs, pains, and pleasures. And than means …

However, this means the real question isn’t “What?” or “How?” but “Where?”

Where does “mass desire” come from?

The answer might surprise you.

It doesn’t come from your product, your benefits, your USP, your value proposition, your copy, or even from you.

It comes from your market itself. Schwartz explained:

The power, the force, the overwhelming urge to own that makes advertising work, comes from the market itself, and not from the copy.

Copy cannot create desire for a product. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already existing desires onto a particular product.

This is the copy writer’s task: not to create this mass desire—but to channel and direct it (3).

Naturally, this assumes that you have a market — a narrow and clearly targeted group of people whose lives your product would be legitimately improved. But I realize, that’s kind of a big assumption.

Who is your target market?

Copywriters often obsess about what they should write: product features versus product benefits; using the right keywords; nailing the headline, subheadings, images, and first line of copy; banging out a rough draft, and then editing, editing, editing.

Wrong.

Your real obsession shouldn’t be what, but who.

Copy without a target market is worse than worthless. It’s costly.

Without a clearly defined target market — real people with real problems looking for real solutions — you inevitably end up writing for the one person you shouldn’t be: yourself. Self-centeredness is a plague, especially when writing copy.

Begin with the demographics of your ideal customer. Richard Lazazzera’s How To Build Buyer Personas For Better Marketing dives into the sea of personal characteristics and eventually this example of “Alex” for a fictitious company, Bold Socks, surfaces:

Demographics, however, aren’t enough. Not if what you’re really after are words that sell. You’ve got to go deeper than age, ethnicity, income, location, and familial status.

How?

Through personas. On this front, three brilliant (and, thankfully, free) resources stand out.

First is Jen Havice’s How To Create Customer Personas With Actual, Real Life Data over at ConversionXL. As Havice explains:

Patching together actionable information about your customers with gut feelings, good intentions and some duct tape is not a recipe for conversion success. [P]ersonas are fictional representations of segments of buyers based on real data reflecting their behaviors. Their purpose is to put the people behind company decision making in the shoes of the customer.

Havice them shows how to shape personas through qualitative research.

The breakthrough insight — especially for anyone without a budget for focus groups — comes from her review mining work, which she’s consolidated into a recent book: Finding the Right Message. By all means, buy it. In the meantime, work through the above article as well as How to Boost Conversions with Voice of Customer Research [Case Study] that includes this free template:

Writing Copy Through Review Mining
Writing copy through review mining

Review mining to craft copy is one of my own copywriting hallmarks, especially when it comes to landing pages. You can see how I created this simplified copywriting cheat sheet directly from “feedback and comments on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Amazon, Reddit, app stores, and blogs,” along with what the landing page itself ultimately looked like over at KlientBoost.

Writing Copy from User-Generated Content
Writing copy directly from user-generated content

Second, Demian Farnworth’s Empathy Maps: A Complete Guide to Crawling Inside Your Customer’s Head (via Copyblogger). Empathy consists of two parts:

1. The intellectual identification with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

2. The vicarious experiencing of those feelings, thoughts, or attitudes.

After a brilliant overview of empathy in marketing — old school and new — Farnworth drops the gold (which you can download as a PDF simply by clicking the image).

Empathy Map
The Empathy Map Lets You Dissect Your Target Market into Four Quadrants on a Person-by-Person Basis

Third, my own The Only Copywriting Formula You’ll Ever Need.

That’s a post all about fear: hands-down the “most primal” human motivator. At the end are thirteen questions to help you haunt your target market (in the best sense possible).

Here’s a quick sampling:

  • What does your audience hate… about their life, about their job, or about your particular type of product or service?
  • What are the real-world consequences of these problems? In other words, how can you quantify, in real numbers, their hates and headaches?
  • What’s the most awkward, confusing, or inconvenient thing about your type of business?
  • What are the two to three biggest barriers to becoming a customer?
  • What nightmare or hell (be as vivid and emotive as possible) does your business save its customers from?

In all those resources, the point is to define your target market as concretely and viscerally as possible.

What are your target market’s mass desires?

Once that group is fixed, the next step is to make a list of all the possible emotions — the raw emotions — that might inspire someone in that specific market to act.

On the negative side, it might be:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Uncertainty
  • Embarrassment
  • Envy
  • Resentment

On the positive side, it might be:

  • Joy
  • Happiness
  • Accomplishment
  • Satisfaction
  • Elation
  • Desire
  • Lust
  • Pride
  • Comfort

After you’ve selected two or three dominant, raw emotions, get specific.

For example, the most dominant human emotion is fear. But nobody (despite FDR’s sound advice) fears fear. What we fear are people, places, things, and events. We fear the future. Or we fear situations that may arise in the future. We fear loss. We fear uncertainty. We fear failure.

On top of that, every market — just like every person — has its own unique list.

Take the real estate market for instance. What do new homebuyers fear most?

Some of the obvious boogiemen are …

  • The fear of being overwhelmed by the process.
  • The fear of being turned down for a loan.
  • The fear of picking the wrong neighborhood.
  • The fear of not having enough money for a down payment.
  • The fear of something better coming along and missing out.

Whatever it is, by selecting one of those fears and placing it front and center in your copy, you “enter the conversation already taking place in the customer’s mind” (Robert Collier).

Actually, what you enter is the conversation already taking place in the customer’s heart.

Either way, the keyword is “customer’s.” Their mind. Their heart.

Mass Desire in Action

To put a little more flesh on this idea, here are some classic examples of wildly successful headlines from Schwartz’s era that tapped into their market’s mass desires:

  • “Hair Coloring So Natural Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure”
  • “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in a Rolls Royce is the electric clock.”
  • “The Skin YOU Love to Touch”
  • “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
  • “Stops Maddening Itch”
  • “Do YOU make these mistakes in English?”
  • “How a bald-headed barber helped save my hair.”

Today, with advertising exposure rising exponentially, you may think that such straightforward appeals no longer work.

Just to prove they do, here is a handful of my favorite mass desire headlines from the web:

Unbounce: Speed

Sweat Block: Embarrassment

Basecamp: Stress

Mint: Relief

Memit: Simplicity

eHarmony: Winning (and, of course, love)

Blue Apron: Authenticity

Weight Watchers: Release

Designed to Move: Justice

Shopify Plus: Easy

Dapulse: Vanity

Apple Watch: Flexibility

MacBook Pro: Creativity

AirPods: Intrigue

What each of these headlines (classic and contemporary) does beautifully is identify and channel one desire: love, greed, entertainment, the fear of inability, or the fear of difficulty. They use emotive language to capture their audience’s hearts and minds. Emotive language that already exists in the market they’re trying to reach.

To breakthrough, your ads must do the same.

One more law about the word “one”

Having generated a powerhouse list of market-inspired mass desires, your greatest temptation will be to employ them all, like a sort of emotional machine gun.

Don’t.

You only get one.

(Well, you may get to split-test more than one. But each ad only gets one!)

Why?

Because in Schwartz’s words:

Every product appeals to two, three or four of these mass desires.

But only one can predominate; only one can reach out through your headline to your customer. Only one is the key that unlocks the maximum economic power at the particular time your advertisement is published.

Your choice among these alternate desires is the most important step you will take in writing your ad.

If it is wrong, nothing else that you do in the ad will matter.

So remember: Just. One.

2. The Second Law of Writing Copy: State of Awareness

We all know how vital headlines are.

As Brian Clark puts it, “On average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” That means your headline isn’t just your audience’s first impression … it’s more than likely their only impression.

So here’s the question:

Where do “breakthrough” headlines come from?

You know what I’m talking about. The kind of headlines that pop up, stop your market in their tracks, and compel them to read every word after it.

Now sure, there’re a ton of great cheat sheets out there to get the creative ball rolling. Jon Morrow’s “52 Headline Hacks” is among the best.

The problem is most of us start out wrong because we start with us: our idea, our product, our service, our copy.

But …

What if there was a way to systematically craft breakthrough headlines based entirely on your market?

What if there was a proven formula to pull your prospects into your copy because it actually started with your prospects themselves?

On this front, three brilliant (and, thankfully, free) resources stand out.

First is Jen Havice’s How To Create Customer Personas With Actual, Real Life Data over at ConversionXL. As Havice explains:

Patching together actionable information about your customers with gut feelings, good intentions and some duct tape is not a recipe for conversion success. [P]ersonas are fictional representations of segments of buyers based on real data reflecting their behaviors. Their purpose is to put the people behind company decision making in the shoes of the customer.

Havice them shows how to shape personas through qualitative research.

The breakthrough insight — especially for anyone without a budget for focus groups — comes from her review mining work, which she’s consolidated into a recent book: Finding the Right Message. By all means, buy it. In the meantime, work through the above article as well as How to Boost Conversions with Voice of Customer Research [Case Study] that includes this free template:

Message Mining by Jen Havice via CXL

Review mining to craft copy is one of my own copywriting hallmarks, especially when it comes to landing pages.

You can see how I created this simplified copywriting cheat sheet directly from “feedback and comments on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Amazon, Reddit, app stores, and blogs,” along with what the landing page itself ultimately looked like over at KlientBoost.

Writing Copy from User-Generated Content
Writing copy directly from user-generated content

Second, Demian Farnworth’s Empathy Maps: A Complete Guide to Crawling Inside Your Customer’s Head (via Copyblogger). Empathy consists of two parts:

1. The intellectual identification with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

2. The vicarious experiencing of those feelings, thoughts, or attitudes.

After a brilliant overview of empathy in marketing — old school and new — Farnworth drops the gold (which you can download as a PDF simply by clicking the image).

Empathy Map
The Empathy Map Lets You Dissect Your Target Market into Four Quadrants on a Person-by-Person Basis

Third, my own The Only Copywriting Formula You’ll Ever Need.

That’s a post all about fear: hands-down the “most primal” human motivator. At the end are thirteen questions to help you haunt your target market (in the best sense possible).

Here’s a quick sampling:

  • What does your audience hate… about their life, about their job, or about your particular type of product or service?
  • What are the real-world consequences of these problems? In other words, how can you quantify, in real numbers, their hates and headaches?
  • What’s the most awkward, confusing, or inconvenient thing about your type of business?
  • What are the two to three biggest barriers to becoming a customer?
  • What nightmare or hell (be as vivid and emotive as possible) does your business save its customers from?

In all those resources, the point is to define your target market as concretely and viscerally as possible.

What are your target market’s mass desires?

Once that group is fixed, the next step is to make a list of all the possible emotions — the raw emotions — that might inspire someone in that specific market to act.

On the negative side, it might be:

  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Uncertainty
  • Embarrassment
  • Envy
  • Resentment

On the positive side, it might be:

  • Joy
  • Happiness
  • Accomplishment
  • Satisfaction
  • Elation
  • Desire
  • Lust
  • Pride
  • Comfort

After you’ve selected two or three dominant, raw emotions, get specific.

For example, the most dominant human emotion is fear. But nobody (despite FDR’s sound advice) fears fear. What we fear are people, places, things, and events. We fear the future. Or we fear situations that may arise in the future. We fear loss. We fear uncertainty. We fear failure.

On top of that, every market — just like every person — has its own unique list.

Take the real estate market for instance. What do new homebuyers fear most?

Some of the obvious boogiemen are …

  • The fear of being overwhelmed by the process.
  • The fear of being turned down for a loan.
  • The fear of picking the wrong neighborhood.
  • The fear of not having enough money for a down payment.
  • The fear of something better coming along and missing out.

Whatever it is, by selecting one of those fears and placing it front and center in your copy, you “enter the conversation already taking place in the customer’s mind” (Robert Collier).

Actually, what you enter is the conversation already taking place in the customer’s heart.

Either way, the keyword is “customer’s.” Their mind. Their heart.

Mass Desire in Action

To put a little more flesh on this idea, here are some classic examples of wildly successful headlines from Schwartz’s era that tapped into their market’s mass desires:

  • “Hair Coloring So Natural Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure”
  • “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in a Rolls Royce is the electric clock.”
  • “The Skin YOU Love to Touch”
  • “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
  • “Stops Maddening Itch”
  • “Do YOU make these mistakes in English?”
  • “How a bald-headed barber helped save my hair.”

Today, with advertising exposure rising exponentially, you may think that such straightforward appeals no longer work.

Just to prove they do, here is a handful of my favorite mass desire headlines from the web:

Unbounce: Speed

Sweat Block: Embarrassment

Basecamp: Stress

Mint: Relief

Memit: Simplicity

eHarmony: Winning (and, of course, love)

Blue Apron: Authenticity

Weight Watchers: Release

Designed to Move: Justice

Shopify Plus: Easy

Dapulse: Vanity

Apple Watch: Flexibility

MacBook Pro: Creativity

AirPods: Intrigue

What each of these headlines (classic and contemporary) does beautifully is identify and channel one desire: love, greed, entertainment, the fear of inability, or the fear of difficulty. They use emotive language to capture their audience’s hearts and minds. Emotive language that already exists in the market they’re trying to reach.

To breakthrough, your ads must do the same.

One more law about the word “one”

Having generated a powerhouse list of market-inspired mass desires, your greatest temptation will be to employ them all, like a sort of emotional machine gun.

Don’t.

You only get one.

(Well, you may get to split-test more than one. But each ad only gets one!)

Why?

Because in Schwartz’s words:

Every product appeals to two, three or four of these mass desires.

But only one can predominate; only one can reach out through your headline to your customer. Only one is the key that unlocks the maximum economic power at the particular time your advertisement is published.

Your choice among these alternate desires is the most important step you will take in writing your ad.

If it is wrong, nothing else that you do in the ad will matter.

So remember: Just. One.

2. The Second Law of Writing Copy: State of Awareness

We all know how vital headlines are.

As Brian Clark puts it, “On average, 8 out of 10 people will read your headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.” That means your headline isn’t just your audience’s first impression … it’s more than likely their only impression.

So here’s the question:

Where do “breakthrough” headlines come from?

You know what I’m talking about. The kind of headlines that pop up, stop your market in their tracks, and compel them to read every word after it.

Now sure, there’re a ton of great cheat sheets out there to get the creative ball rolling. Jon Morrow’s “52 Headline Hacks” is among the best.

The problem is most of us start out wrong because we start with us: our idea, our product, our service, our copy.

But …

What if there was a way to systematically craft breakthrough headlines based entirely on your market?

What if there was a proven formula to pull your prospects into your copy because it actually started with your prospects themselves?

Let’s save the world from bad content