The “Miyagi” approach to copywriting mastery.

From the desk of Razvan Rogoz
Dear friend,

Do you remember this scene from Karate Kid? (From the classic one, not the modern remake).

The student practiced basic moves again and again and again. These moves were not really fitting into the bigger picture. However, sooner or later he realized that he learned everything he needed to know about fighting.

Those moves, done 1000 times each became habits. And using just a few habits, he developed a practical fighting style.

There is a saying in Karate training. This is “you don’t need to do 1000 moves once; you need to do one move 1000 times”. And this applies in copywriting too.

You see, copywriting is not about being a complex writer. It is about finding those basic building blocks that make good persuasion and doing them again and again until perfection.

You don’t need to study 1000 strategies. You need to study maybe a dozen and practice them 1000 times. This is not really a popular approach though. Why? Because it is more fun to read 100 copywriting books and have 500 ways to write a headline than to find five ways to write a headline that actually work and write 500 headlines with each.

I guess that we all go through this in skill development, in a few stages.

  1. We don’t know nothing so we suck at it.
  2. We decide to get better at it.
  3. We find 1000 ways to do it and we want to know all 1000 ways.
  4. We are mediocre at all 1000 ways and we still suck at it.
  5. We keep searching for new methods, thinking that we haven’t found the right one.
  6. We realize that there is no perfect method.
  7. We have an “a-ha” moment when we decide to find one method and actually become good at it.

This is true in copywriting, this is true at the gym, this is true everywhere. At the gym, most beginners will try the complicated machines and exercises. Once they realize they are not going anywhere with this, they start to simplify. Sooner or later, they found out that body-weight exercises and free weights exercises done right and consistently are 1000 times better than that  $5000 weight pulling machine.

This is my current approach. I’m just moving into the “Miyagi” system. Instead of reading book after book, I’ve decided to break copywriting down in functional parts. You have research, you have offer copy, you have headlines, you have bullets and so on. In total, I estimate that there are between 10 – 12 ingredients to being a very good copywriter.

And instead of trying to find 100 methods to do each, I’m building a method for each one that can be used every time with good results. I don’t want to make 50 different wheels, I want to make a good wheel that actually works.

“But wait, where’s the innovation if you want to stick to standard operating procedures?”. Well, the innovation can come only when you’ve mastered the basics. You know what is the first thing that many basketball coaches teach to their players? To tie their shoelaces. Once they can do this properly, then they can move to other more advanced stuff. But they start with the basics and they stick with the basics until they have achieved mastery.

Once you can write a headline in a way with your eyes closed and there is nothing more to add or to remove, you can learn a second method. But you must first master the first one and then move to the second. It is like in my habit building system – first, learn to wake up early and get out of bed. Then you can do other more advanced things in the morning.

Does it make sense?

Best regards,
Razvan Rogoz

What is the golden trait of a good copywriter?

From the desk of Razvan Rogoz
Dear friend,

In every field, there is a center principle that if applied, will bring you success.

In copywriting, this is “Know your market”. This is the most important thing you can do.

Knowing how to write good headlines is good. Knowing how to write in a correct manner is again a good thing to do. However, a person that knows the market in a accurate manner will achieve superior results to someone who knows how to write technically perfect copy.

There are three “schools” of advertising.

The first one is the creative one. These are artists. They are not so much interested in the copy being accurate or technically correct as they are concerned in it being clever. They tend to win awards but not sell that much. Usually the reaction to their advertising is “that’s nice”.

The second one are the geeks. These treat copywriting and advertising like it is chess. They use statistical models, their copy is paint by numbers and it is very accurate in a mathematical like model. Their copy can be used as case-study on what should be done but in a way, it is lifeless. It feels like all the parts are there but there is no emotion, no soul to it.

The third one are the sales people. They aren’t as creative as the first group nor as technically brilliant as the second. However, they do understand one major thing. They understand why people do what they do. They accept the fact that people are insecure creatures in need of validation most of the time, that their actions make no rational sense as it is lead mostly by emotions.

And while their copy may not win any awards nor feel like a well written computer code, they sell. Some don’t even write proper English yet they sell. They sell because they simply get it.

I suggest you become the third category. The only standard in copywriting is how well it sells. Some people may appreciate your creativity and others may appreciate your amazing English writing skills but clients will pay only in front of a effective copy.

Good copywriters are those who can seduce the opposite sex, who can get an upgrade at their hotel for free, who can get a discount when buying a new iPad and who can be caught up in a really tense situation and sell himself / herself out of there.

That’s a good copywriter. A persuader that knows how the human mind works and can leverage this.

Best regards,
Razvan

Review – “Ca$hvertising” by Drew Eric Whitman

From the desk of Razvan Rogoz
Dear friend,

I read. A lot. I’ve read ~70 books this year.

I can’t say that they are all on copywriting (since I do have other interests) but a large part of them are. Cashvertising by Drew E. Whitman is the last one that I’ve finished on this topic. Since there are around 40 – 50 in total, I will post reviews periodically on them.

This book comes highly recommended by many people. Many folks on Amazon consider it the best copywriting book ever written. I’m afraid it is not. It drags too long, it is a bit too hyped up (yes, I do hate hype) and there weren’t many “a-ha” moments in it. Plus, it deals more with advertising in general, the psychology behind it than with web copywriting.

What I’ve liked:

  • There were many references to human psychology, behavioral psychology and why people act in the way they act. This is the soul of copywriting, understanding your prospect, not the writing part. I feel like there are better resources on this out there (like Influence by Robert Cialdini) but it gives you a crash course into it.
  • It teaches you how to write in a very conversational tone. From how to structure your message to how to write in a way that gets read, everything is here.
  • It places a huge focus on headlines and I like this. It is not really Breakthrough Advertising by Gene Schwartz (which many consider the bible of headline writing) but it teaches you the basics of how to write a good and interesting headline.

What I’ve disliked:

  • Overall, there aren’t many memorable parts. It feels like watching a B movie trying to appear an A movie. It is not a bad book, it’s just that it won’t make you say WOW. For example, from “Writing Copy For The Web” by Maria Veloso, I remember involvement devices and the idea of advertorial, two things that really stuck with me. From this one, apart from the associative / disassociation theory, there isn’t much “WOW” material.
  • It drags too long sometimes. There is almost an entire chapter on what font to use. Yes, fonts are important and any competitive edge is important. However, I am not interested in reading 20 minutes about damn fonts. You can simply go for Tahoma + Georgia + Arial most of the time and it will work just fine.
  • Hyped. This is a personal preference but I do like factual books. The kind of books that don’t try to be too cute and too interesting and simply tell me what I need to know. Many copywriters think it is a good idea to write a book like a sales letter. I don’t think it is. It is one thing to read a long sales page and another one to read 60.000 words this way.

Do I like it? Do I love it? My view on books is that if I can get a single idea that I can use, then it is an amazing book. I’ve got more than one idea. However, since it touches on many topics that are not relevant for me or it drags too much on a simple subject, I’m not really excited to read it twice.

Best regards,
Razvan “The Copy Scientist”

How To Get Started In Copywriting In Just Four Steps

From the desk of Razvan Rogoz
Dear friend,

So you have decided to learn how to write sales copy. Maybe you want to do it for your own projects or maybe you want to monetize this skill. You are now wondering, where do you get from here.

I will not get into the detail if it is a good idea or not to learn this. Any skill is a good idea. It is just not as easy as most people think. The closest equivalent I can name is learning a foreign language.

Even so, if you take it slow and if you invest time in it, you become better. Learning copywriting is done in incremental steps. You can’t jump from 20% to 50% overnight. Instead, every book you read, every copy you study, every copy you write, every feedback you get, improves your competence in copywriting.

Here are a few rules or steps that you can follow in your pursuit of selling more online:

  1. Forget everything you think you know about copywriting. Unless you have a psychology background / sales training, it is better to just go in with a fresh and empty mind. Many people think they know what good copy is and most fail to realize that they are wrong. Copywriting in a way is like politics, everyone thinks they can do it but very few can.
  2. Start reading more. If you are already a reader, this is good. I read an average of 52 books per year and reading improves my ability to write and my ability to express ideas. Not to mention that I can get an almost unlimited number of stories, hooks and concepts from those books. About 30 – 40% are copywriting books and these in turn improve my technical knowledge of copywriting.
  3. Understand that good copywriting is goal oriented copywriting. Good copywriting is not creative or interesting or funny. It is not something that you like. It is not something that makes people say “WOW”. Good copy sells and that’s the only standard. Of course, there are circumstances in which good copy won’t sell like in having bad traffic or a bad product.
  4. You do need to write copy as often as possible. There are three main parts to the learning process. Learning how to do it well, writing and then getting feedback to see how well you’ve done it. So the more you write copy, the better.
  5. You need a feedback process. Copywriting can’t be learned in theory. In sales, you know right away if your pitch is good or not. That person will either say no or yes. In copywriting, you need to test with traffic and see if it sells. This is the golden standard of getting feedback. Knowing that a simple change to the headline improved conversion by 25% is better than reading 10 books on copywriting. The second level of feedback, when the first is not possible is having a mentor. He will use his experience in the field to recognize what works and what doesn’t. For all intents and purposes, those are educated guess but if he tested his works and knows, then they are very valuable.

So how do you start?

Step 1: Buy these three books:

  • Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. 
  • Writing Copy For The Web by Maria Veloso.
  • Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples.

Two are classics, one is rather new. Web copywriting is not that different from traditional copywriting but there are some major nuances to it.

Step 2: Start a swipe file

A swipe file is a document, a folder, a collection of sales materials. You can do it in print, you can do it on Evernote on your computer, you can do it however you want, as long as they are organized. You don’t need to gather every copy under the sun there but when you see something you like, you should place it there.

Step 3: Start writing copy by hand

A few times a week, take a promotion from your swipe file (or from the Internet) and write it down. Spend 30 – 40 minutes in a session, otherwise it can become very boring. The reason why you are doing this is to internalize patterns of writing and language.

Step 4: Write spec copy. A lot of it.

In the ideal case, you have someone for whom you can write, even if that someone is yourself. If you don’t, then take products from the Internet and write copy for them or just imagine your own products. You can write one spec letter per week and you’ll see your skills improve dramatically.

One last note, once you finish the initial three books, simply buy others. Virtually all copywriting books are about the same. They carry the same concepts. Some are better than others because they were written by more important copywriters but it is hard to find a book that goes against what Caples or Ogilvy said tens of years ago.

Best regards,
Razvan “The Copy Scientist”

What Do Petty Hustlers & Poor Copywriters Have In Common?

From the desk of Razvan Rogoz
Dear friend,

I’d like you to imagine that you’re walking down a dark alley.

It is late in the evening and you’ve had a long day at work. You’re in a safe part of the town so you know that nothing bad will happen yet this is not the most comfortable place in the world.

You pull out your phone and fire up Facebook. That gal you like accepted your friend request. You hope that you won’t screw it again this time.

Then, from nowhere, a guy in a black hoodie comes to you. You don’t know him and you want to have nothing to do with his person. He comes closer and you think you’re going to get mugged.

But his intentions are different. Instead of pulling out a knife and saying something in the area of “Your money or your life you lover of moms” … he smiles and asks you.

“Hi there. Do you want to buy this new <insert expensive brand phone here> for just $200?. I have a huge problem and I need to get money fast.”

You see a brand new phone in front of you. This piece of glass and metal costs around $700 new. You could get it for just a fourth of the price. This is your lucky day.

Yet, if you are like most people, you’ll simply say no and walk away.

Have this ever happened to you? It happened to me several times. Ranging from iPods to brand new iPhones to jewelry and even opera tickets (yes, no kidding), strangers tried to sell me stuff on the street.

I haven’t bought for the same reason that most people don’t buy from a poor sales letter. The offer was there and it was decent. It wasn’t a promise from some royalty in Nigeria, it was tangible. The benefits were clear; get something I like for pennies on the dollars. Yet, I’ve never bought because …

… I never trusted that person.

And if your prospect is not buying from you, guess what? Chances are that he doesn’t trust you. For all intents and purposes, you are that guy in a hoodie trying to sell him a too good to be true deal, especially if you’ve contacted him without for him to express any interest.

He may be interested in what you sell. He may have the money. He may buy even right now in other circumstances. But you are not trustworthy. You are some faceless, nameless marketer he doesn’t know, he doesn’t want to know and who just interrupted his day.

If the deal is too good to be true, then it is a scam. If it is decent, then he doesn’t know you and he would rather buy from someone he trusts.

Trust is the main ingredient of transactions between human. Trust. The money you carry in your wallet is valuable because you and the other person trusts that a financial institution won’t default on that value (FIAT currencies don’t have intrinsic values). When someone hires you for a job, he trusts to pay you a monthly fee in exchange of a work you haven’t done yet.

And online, trust is the glue that makes everything stick together, that makes everything work. In the same time, it is the most overlook element of a sales copy for reasons that elude me.

Your first job as a copywriter is to sell to your prospect something he wants, something that fulfills his needs. He may not need a 24 DVD course on golfing but he wants a better swing. The second job is to make the prospect trust you that you have no hidden motives and that you are really saying the truth, that you are not pulling his leg.

Think about it.

Best regards,
Razvan “The Copy Scientist”