By Chris Newton
I make a living out of writing. Over the years, I‘ve spent what seems a large part of my waking hours, writing ads, sales letters, direct mail packages, training programmes, websites, brochures and sales scripts. These days, I tend not to have a challenge starting to write. But I know exactly what it’s like to stare at a blank computer screen, as it stares back at you.
It can be quite intimidating, sitting there trying to come up with the words you know you need to write. Most especially if you’ve got time deadlines, or other demands in your business competing for your attention.
So just how do you get those words flowing? Let me give you three simple ways I learned a long time ago.
Most of us hold off writing anything until we think we have the ‘gems’ pouring out of our brain. This doesn’t work. Not only because, in the ‘cold grey light of dawn’, those ‘gems’ often turn out to be not very good. But also because we need to ‘warm up’ before we can write good copy.
So the key is to just write. It doesn’t matter how good or bad your ideas are to start with. By writing, you ‘warm up’ your brain, and once you get going, you’ll find the inspired ideas follow. When I started out as a cub copywriter many years ago, my mentor was a master copywriter. One of the best.
I remember proudly taking my efforts to him for editing. Almost without fail, he’d put a big red line through the first two or three sentences. Sometimes half of the page! It was demoralizing at first. But when I saw where he was starting my copy, I could see why. He’d started the copy at the really potent hard hitting stuff. I came to realize that we do take time to ‘warm up’.
To this day, when I look at other people’s copy, I do the same for them. By crossing out the ‘warm up’ words, the really potent opening message often appears. Back to my piece of advice … If you don’t start writing, you’ll never get there.
The headline is the most critical part of any communication. It has to grab attention, encapsulate the message that follows, pull the reader into the copy, and hold promise of a benefit they’ll gain by stopping what they’re doing to read the message.
Never underestimate the power of those words! (Take the words ‘Will you marry me?’. Four simple words, big promise of things to come. And to the right ‘prospect’, they’ll certainly grab attention and stop that person in their tracks.)
Now, what if what you’re writing doesn’t require a headline? The fact is, it does. Your headline is the first sentence in your sales letter. It’s the words at the head of your ad. It’s the words on the front cover of your brochure. It’s the opening words to your website. It’s the opening words on your telephone scripts. It’s the opening sentence to your proposal or tender. Every form of communication needs a headline in some form.
And that’s why it’s so important to write not just one, but a number of trial headlines. Thinking of the right headline forces you to summarize the essence of what you’re wanting to say. It forces you to think about what the benefits really are to the reader of what you’re offering. It helps you to crystallize what the copy will be that will follow. The more versions of your headline you write, the easier your words will flow when you get into the main writing task.
This is an awesomely powerful idea for writing great copy. I’ve found over many years that business people who absolutely freeze up at the thought of having to write something, will be amazingly articulate and compelling when they’re telling me their story.
With a few well chosen questions, I get them opening up about their business … about their quality controls, their service standards, their specific processes that enable them to deliver faster, at lower cost, with stronger guarantees, they’ll tell me anecdotes about how they’ve helped their customers, the amazing lengths they’ve gone to, to ‘deliver’ on a promise, and so on and so on.
By the end of it, their adrenalin is really flowing, and they’re really excited and enthused … perhaps Re-enthused about their own business. And they think I’m some sort of genius. When all I’ve done is to get them to talk specifically about their business through the eyes of a prospect.
In my programme ‘How to Write & Design your own Marketing Collateral’, I give the example of Terry O’Shea. Terry is a very astute businessman. He rang me late one afternoon to talk though his upcoming promotion. By being a ‘listener’ and asking questions about what it was he actually was offering, and why it would excite his marketplace, he was inspired to change the headline on his promotional flyer.
The result was that over one thousand five hundred additional potential customers descended on his premises for his weekend open days. That conversation has since been worth millions of dollars to his business. I can’t imagine how much it would have cost him in lost business if he hadn’t gone through this simple but powerful process.
So, here’s the tip. Get someone to listen to you and ask you about what it is you want to write about. Ideally someone not in your business or industry. While you’re explaining it to them, picking up on their body language as they look confused, interested, bored or sceptical, you’ll learn to tailor your message in a way that does interest and engage them. So, get a willing person to help you by listening and asking questions. And tape the interaction.
You don’t have to have the whole tape transcribed. You just need to go back over it to listen for the ‘gems’ that came out of your mouth, that got the reaction you wanted.
It sounds really simple. But it works. One thing is for sure, when you try these three simple tips, you’ll never again sit in front of a blank computer screen, with the cursor blinking at you condescendingly from the top left corner of the page. You’ll be able to produce compelling, persuasive copy. And you’ll do it in half the time!
Of course, in this article, I’ve only skimmed the surface of how to create compelling marketing collateral. To get your ‘big guns’ out, order ‘How to Write & Design your own Marketing Collateral’. It’s one of the best investments you’ll ever make.
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To read more articles related to this go to the Marketing Foundations section of the Academy.