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The Fundamentals of Copywriting

The Fundamentals of Copywriting

Photo by  Aaron Burden  on  Unsplash

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Over the last few years I have been making a decent living as a copywriter, working freelance for brands like lululemonBellroyPacsafeBalter, and more. The best thing about working with a variety of clients is having access to an array of talented people you can learn from - from creative directors, to brand managers, to social media strategists. Each has a different point of view, and each has at least one great insight you can take away into your future work.

For those interested in honing their own copywriting skills, here are some fundamentals I’ve learned along the way to help make sure you’re delivering copy that engages, keeps your customers happy and, most importantly, converts.

  1. Start with why.

If you’re familiar with the work of Simon Sinek, you’ll be familiar with his concept of start with why. If you’re not, basically stated Sinek proposes that:

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”.

For example, Formula 1 isn’t about fast cars, it’s about thrilling entertainment. Nike aren’t about shoes, they’re about enabling people to stay active.


ALWAYS start by asking your client this question. Why does this product exist? Why does this brand exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Get to the heart of what you’re trying to communicate and it makes the details easier.

2. Figure out the ‘Super Mario’ moment.

Extending the “start with why” idea, people don’t by a product, they buy what it allows them to do. Here’s a graphic that shows what I mean:

Head to  User Onboard  to see their original post about this.

Head to User Onboard to see their original post about this.

The textbook example of this is that when mp3-player makers like Sony and Panasonic were talking about gigabit memories and processing speeds, Apple came out with the iPod tag of “1000 songs in your pocket”. That’s a hell of a lot more powerful than a list of features. It focusses on the overall benefit.

This ‘features vs benefits’ idea now sits at the core of a lot of marketing strategies. But, it can still be hard to really get your head around for certain products or services. Using the above graphic often helps you to imagine that goal you’re trying to communicate. If not, the next tip also helps frame things.

3. Think about benefits as “outcomes”.

If you’re having trouble getting that Super Mario ‘benefit’, frame it as an outcome. Ask yourself: what would life look like after I used this? How would I be better? How would that make me feel? If you can answer these questions it becomes much easier to figure out how to articulate what a product or service does to help the user.

*This tip came from a great ecomm podcast you can find here. There are some other solid takeouts in there about copywriting as well. Queue it up on your playlist.

4. Think about how the user will be feeling when they read your copy.

Often the best copywriting is emotional, rather than rational. And, it’s easier to evoke (or change) emotion if you try to picture how the end reader is feeling before they come across your message. MailChimp have an amazing template that lays out their approach on this that should be required reading for any copywriter. You can find it here. Below is a snapshot that shows what it’s all about.


5. Remember that “nobody wants to read your shit”.

Bestselling author and ex-advertising creative Steven Pressfield calls this the #1 piece of career advice he ever received. To quote him directly:

“When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer, must give him something worthy of his gift to you.”

The fact that nobody wants to read what you’ve written is amplified when it comes to marketing copy as well. Nobody wants to be ‘sold’ anything. They want to be engaged, they want you to help make their life better, they want a message that resonates.

So, when you’re writing about something, at a minimum make it painless — short and easy to read. If you can, make it funny, make it interesting, make it pleasurable, and for god’s sake make it honest. If your reader walks away with a wow or a smile, you’ve done your job (almost).

6. Always end with a call to action.

Imagine you see a hottie in a bar, somehow manage to get his attention, back that up with an engaging conversion and then walk away without giving him your number. Or her. Your choice. Either way, you just blew it. Always, always end with how they can take the relationship to the next level. Remember that it’s always a relationship too, no matter what you’re writing about. Don’t try to convince someone to buy something they don’t need, or don’t want. Be generous, be helpful and you’ll have lifelong clients that love what you do, because you make their life better.

With that in mind, for more on copywriting (plus the occasional foray into fiction), sign up to my newsletter here. To say thanks, I’ll send you a free digital copy of my novel Hellbound.