Good news people … the dream is very much alive.
How do I know?
Because over the last 120 days, I’ve not only written for Fast Company, Copyblogger, MarketingProfs, and Entrepreneur, I also landed my first nearly $20,000, three-month client.
Few experiences are as joyfully intoxicating as slugging through an outline, first draft, second draft, third draft, finally hitting “Send” … and getting back the glorious word: “Yes!”
This is especially true for someone who constantly feels less than and a pretender — always on the cusp of being “found out” and exposed.
Rereading it for myself still feels unbelievable. You better believe I’ve done my share of fist pumping in the last 120 days.
But, enough about me. You’re not here to listen to me gush about how simultaneously insecure and awesome I am (except my mom, that’s exactly why she’s here).
No. You’re here to see if I’ve got anything that’ll help you along your path. So, let’s cut to the chase. You ready for the secret? It’s three words. Seriously: just three.
Breath deep. Wait for it. Here it is …
Sounds weird, right? Yeah, I know.
But the deal is that three-word phrase was (and is) the only secret sauce I know.
That cynical little mantra was word-for-word what I told myself each and every time I went after one of those big, hairy, scary beasts.
Submit a guest post to Copyblogger: “Let’s get rejected.”
Cold email everyone with the word “editor” in their title at Entrepreneur: “Let’s get rejected.”
Direct message Ann Handley after a friendly email exchange: “Let’s get rejected.”
Fire off my first $100 per hour blogging proposal ($150 for sales copy): “Let’s get rejected.”
Each and every time, those three words were my companions. And let me say, they served me well.
They might sound a bit dark for those of you with sunnier dispositions. And don’t get me wrong: I’m not pre-loading sour grapes or setting myself up to get let down easy.
The point is so few people actually try. So few people go for it, put themselves out there, risk.
Easy. Because of fear.
We’re afraid. We’re afraid of being rejected. We’re afraid of not being “good enough.” We’re afraid of failure, of falling down, of looking stupid.
Every time I told myself “Let’s get rejected” I was saying …
So what? So what if I get rejected? So what if they don’t think I’m good enough? So what if I fail, fall down, and look stupid? So f****** what?
Not to get too deep in a post about a few content marketing wins, but it’s like Steve Jobs said in his epic 2005 commencement address at Stanford:
In other words, the only real way to lose is to live like I’ve actually got something to lose.
By telling myself “Let’s get rejected,” I embraced the possibility of being rejected. I even welcomed it.
Once I’d crossed that bridge, not trying, not risking, not just going for it became the only guaranteed way to fail.
Of course, telling myself that little mantra wasn’t the only thing I did …
Over the next few weeks, I’ll walk through four.
For now, here’s a quick preview:
This post originally appeared in Oct. of 2014, when I was just getting started as a freelance content marketer. But its lessons — and especially the mantra — have guided everything since then.
In fact, it was the heart of my very first conference presentation at Unbounce’s 2016 CTA Conf. Also in 2016, it gave me the courage to take a position at Shopify Plus, work my way up to Editor in Chief (when I had no business leading content at an enterprise ecommerce organization), and then to leave that position in early 2019 — when Shopify was absolute rocket.
Most recently, that same motto fueled the creation and launch of my first course, created in partnership with Joanna Wiebe (Copyhackers): Master of Guest Blogging.
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:
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.
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).
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:
In all those resources, the point is to define your target market as concretely and viscerally as possible.
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:
On the positive side, it might be:
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 …
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.
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:
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:
Sweat Block: Embarrassment
eHarmony: Winning (and, of course, love)
Blue Apron: Authenticity
Weight Watchers: Release
Designed to Move: Justice
Shopify Plus: Easy
Apple Watch: Flexibility
MacBook Pro: Creativity
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.
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.
You only get one.
(Well, you may get to split-test more than one. But each ad only gets one!)
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.
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.
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?