How to Steal Killer Sales Copy Straight from Your Prospects’ Mouths

The best copywriters in the world are thieves and frauds.

We’re thieves because we steal words from our customers and prospects. We’re frauds because we act like those words came from our brains.

Truth be told: it’s our thievery that makes us powerfully effective copywriters.

Top-performing copywriters know that our job is not to sit at a desk and dream up new ways to express the value of X product or Y service. (Even the most gifted among us are not that insightful.)

No, our job is to use real people’s words to express what they want, what they like, what they need. It’s to make it clear that we don’t have what they don’t want. And that there’s no need to be suspicious when something sounds too good to be true.

That’s our real job.

How do we do that?

Like I said: we steal. We steal words, phrases and stories. From innocents.

We pore over voice of customer data – from surveys, focus groups, product studies, market research, one-on-one interviews, usability studies. From countless sources. And as we’re picking through all that data, we’re making note of:

  • Exactly how ‘real people’ describe our product
  • The multiple benefits and points-of-value they talk about
  • Anything they absolutely rave about
  • Specific things they don’t like about products similar to ours
  • Suspicions they have / Ways they’ve been burned before
  • The exact real-life problems our product helps them minimize or solve
  • Interesting analogies and similes they use

If you use KISSinsights, Survey.io or any of the other great tools that help you get inside your customers’ heads, you’ve probably already found – and stolen – some killer copy.

And that’s great. I steal from those places, too.

But today I want to tell you about 2 untapped warehouses of copy to poach from. Yes, warehouses. Massive storerooms of insanely valuable phrases you can rob blind in broad daylight. The unsecured Louvre of the copywriting and marketing world, if you will.

Depending on what you’re trying to sell, you can head into either of these virtual warehouses today and fill up yer thievin’ bag (y’know, the one with the big $ on it).

What’s in these 2 warehouses?

Pure copywriting gold.

…Also known as “customer reviews”.

Let me tell you, there is more gold hidden in legit customer reviews than in any millionaire marketer’s head. All you have to do is head to the creek (i.e., a new tab in your browser), stick your virtual pan in the water, and start shaking it ‘til the gold shines through.

So, which warehouse should you hit up today – and what should you do when you get there?

Warehouse #1: Amazon Reviews

Amazon.com is overflowing with customer reviews that are jam-packed with poachable copy.

Consumer goods ranging from cell phone covers to books to motorcycle helmets to clothing – they’re all reviewed on Amazon.com, and many of them have the added bonus of being verified (i.e., not fakes).

Even better, Amazon reviews are often improved by the number of people that found the review helpful or not helpful. A review that other consumers have found helpful while researching is a review you should absolutely pay attention to. It’s like your prospects are telling you, “This is how to get me.”

Here’s a snippet of a review for a DeLonghi Espresso Maker, which resonated with at least 67 of 72 visitors:

copywriting review on amazon.com

The first thing that stands out? How ‘bout the fact that the product seems awesome in the beginning… but gets sucky the more you use it: “Day One: 4 star | Day Six: 2 star”.

Now let’s say you’re a copywriter for a competitor product – whether you work for the company that sells it or you’re a retailer or affiliate. You could take that one statement – just that one – and write any of these headlines for a landing page:

Day 1: 5 Stars. Day 1000: …Still 5 Stars.
Our Espresso Machines Are Reliably Amazing.

The Only Espresso Maker You Can Rely on
Morning After Morning, Month After Month

Lust at First Sight.
Love After 1000s of Espresso Pulls.

With those headlines, you’d be making an assumption that people care a lot about reliability – so, to avoid just making assumptions, you could easily split-test headlines to see if you (and the 67 people who found ‘reliability’ to be important) are onto something.

Great. Makes sense.

But what if you’re not selling products? What if you’re selling a service?

What if you run a neighborhood coffee shop and you want to send direct response postcards to locals?

Well, you could steal from the exact same review. Here’s the headline you might put on the postcard:

When Your Home Espresso Machine Starts Shooting Hot Water at You,
Let Ellis Neighborhood Cafe Craft You the Perfect Espresso

(The image of “shooting hot water” comes from the first sentence in the review.)

Most services are tied, in some way, to products. So if you offer a service, read the related product reviews, and steal from there. For example:

  • If you offer a project management service, mine reviews for books about how to manage projects – and be sure to focus on books that are at the sophistication level that best matches your users (i.e., “Project Management for Dummies” vs “The Elements of Scrum”)
  • If you offer a directory of professionals – like AnyFu or Sortfolio – pull from reviews of biographies of the legends in those professions (i.e., reviews for Ogilvy’s “On Advertising” will give you insights into what people idealize and long for in marketers today)
  • If you have a deal-of-the-day site, spend a little time on Amazon reviews for every product you host every day – and compete with Groupon’s funny copywriting by targeting specific pains in your copy
  • If you’re an unknown fashion designer on Etsy, pull from clothing reviews that highlight the things people want when they don’t care about big brands and labels
  • If you’re a freelance graphic designer, find new ways to express your value by reading the reviews for Adobe Photoshop and for books on DIY design

Warehouse #2: AppStore Reviews

If you’re in the mobile app, digital product or game business, the AppStore is loaded with customer reviews that will help you write sick copy that resonates with prospects. The only weakness, IMHO, is that many of the reviews are sooo short.

Customer reviews in the AppStore have both a summary headline and an open review, like on Amazon. I haven’t found the summary headlines to be all that helpful – they’re generally little more than an adjective. The open reviews, though, can be rich in powerful phrases and analogies.

For example, a few months ago, I helped the guys at Bluefin Software redo their AppStore copy for Ease into 5k… and I used their many reviews to feed my copy. Some of the snippets I pulled from their reviews went like so:

  • “It was like having my own personal coach while I ran.”
  • “I knew i needed to get off my lazy butt and start doing something.”
  • “I can’t stand the music on [competitor products]. I can pick whatever playlist I like from my own music.”

With those phrases, I produced this copy:

ease into 5k

Recognize the phrases “running coach”, “get off your butt” and “yes, you can still listen to your workout tunes”? Stolen. All of ‘em.

It had to be stolen.

After all, I certainly couldn’t be depended on to know what people other than myself want to hear! Depending on a copywriter to speak for your whole market is uber-risky. Especially in the AppStore, where the number of words are so limited– and you have to make every single word count.

When you need to get your point across effectively to make the sale, you have to make sure the words you use are the right ones. Knowing where to look is the best place to start. The warehouses will help you with that.

Then comes knowing what to look for.

What to Look for When You’re in a Warehouse

Remember: you’re not trying to find testimonials or other forms of social proof you can copy. (Although I’m talking about stealing, I’m not really talking about doing anything underhanded.)

You’re trying to find natural phrases and analogies that you will be able to use to write actual marketing and sales copy, like:

  • Headlines
  • Subheads
  • Crossheads
  • Bullets
  • Reasons to believe (e.g., “Guaranteed not to scald tender skin!”)

So, that understood, it’s time to go put on your Nixon mask and go robbin’. Here’s how.

With your selected warehouse open on one monitor, open a Word doc or Excel worksheet on another monitor (or split-screen, but be sure to give yourself some room to write) and create a table with 3 columns. Give the columns these names:

  1. Repeated and memorable phrases
  2. What people want
  3. What people are mad about or in pain over

Now what?

Now you go through the reviews, one by one, and look for phrases that tell you what reviewers were struggling with before buying the product and what they wanted (and, in some cases, got) from the product being reviewed.

You’re going to be doing a lot of reading. And a lot of copying and pasting.

(But that’s waaaaay better than doing a lot of staring at a blank screen, hoping inspiration will strike.)

Here’s an example of part of a completed table. I’m currently finishing off my fifth ebook – this one is on the topic of long-form sales pages for startups. Knowing I’d need to write a sales page soon, I went to Amazon.com and read the reviews of about eight books on the topics of sales writing and launching/running startups.

This is a portion of the messaging loot I snagged:

Repeated and Memorable Phrases

What People Want from These Products
(Or Things I Need to Give Them)

What People Loathe About These Products
(Or Things I’ll Eliminate for Them)

“Spills the beans on writing superb sales letters”

Help you crawl under your prospect’s skin

No annoying repetition! Super slick, super tight, super edited.

“Deserves to be dog-eared, highlighted and kept close by”

The most powerful tools

The sense you’re reading a book that’s meant for Reader’s Digest… not modern web-focused businesses

“Storyteller”

Understand the lucrative field of long-form sales writing

Info you don’t need, like how to write a TV commercial or whitepaper

“Secret weapon of a master direct response copywriter”

Not just copywriting – but marketing

Fluff

 

When you have a list like this, your copywriting job becomes an exercise in stringing the best snippets together in the most compelling way.

Your next question is probably, “How can I be sure I’m stealing the Hope Diamond, not cubic zirconia?” Here are the top 6 things to consider before copying and pasting phrases:

  1. The more reviewers say X, the more you should consider using X in your copy
  2. The more people find a review helpful, the more attention you should pay to the words in that review
  3. Phrases that stand out – whether they’re strange, idiotic or funny – are worth noting
  4. Don’t try to revise, rephrase, summarize or water-down what people say – just type it out and figure out if/how to use it later
  5. Don’t fixate on 1 complaint or 1 praise-phrase
  6. Take in a balanced number of favorable and critical reviews

So I’ve told you where to look and what to look for. And I’ve told you how to organize your loot so you can start stringing it together.

The only thing left to tell you is what to stay away from.

Steer Clear of Expert Reviews and Review Sites

Experts tend to write in cleaned-up, professional-sounding ways. That’s not what you’re going for.

You want real reviews from real people who’ve really used the product they’re reviewing. Those are the people who closely resemble your prospect. You want to use the words of people who have:

  • Experienced a pain to such a degree that they sought out a cure
  • Been convinced enough to pull out their wallets(this is a major moment)
  • Spent their hard-earned money on the so-called cure

Those are the people to steal words from. Not experts.

Along the same lines, I recommend avoiding sites that are dedicated to reviewing products or services, like ResellerRatings.com. It’s nothing against the sites themselves. It’s just that they tend to attract polarized groups – people who hated or loved the product or store in question. Objective reviews are nearly impossible to find on such sites.

So there you have it. My confession. I’m a thief. And I’m gonna keep on stealing.

In fact, if you’re familiar with Jay Abraham, you probably know that I stole the Amazon idea from him. I confess! I stole from him like I steal from others – like I’ve probably stolen from you. And I’d do it again.

And you should do it too.

Steal this idea. Steal your customers’ words (as long as they’re not copyrighted). And steal back the time you’ve been wasting trying to write winning sales copy from scratch.

About the Author: Joanna Wiebe is a conversion-focused copywriting consultant and the author of the Copy Hackers ebook series, which breaks the messy world of web writing into manageable pieces that startups and small businesses can apply ASAP. Get more of her writing resources for free here and follow @copyhackers on Twitter here

  1. Thanks Joanna! This is some great content. I’ll go see what is frustrating job-seekers, and I’ll change the copy on my post regarding “How to Land a Job at a Silicon Valley Startup.”

    Thanks again!

  2. Thanks a lot, Joanna! You just had to let the cat out of the bag, didn’t you??

    Are you going to reveal the 40-40-20 Rule next?

    Actually, I loved this article. The best copywriters have always understood this concept. We don’t CREATE (as it were), we CONNECT.

    Picasso said “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” Maybe we should start calling copywriters STEALwriters.

    Good stuff, Joanna!

    • Hey, YOU just let that one out of the bag, Donnie. ;)

      You’re so right: copywriters connect. We don’t sit around dreaming up fanciful messaging. At least, not if we wanna keep our jobs. :) The messages — when they’re done right — come from the customer or prospect.

  3. Michael Rosenberg Apr 25, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Excellent article once again.
    I subscribe to Joanna’s copyhackers, and I can not recall one email that was not insightful, helpful and thoroughly enjoyable to read.

    Thanks!

  4. These days it’s rare that I read a blog post from beginning to end. I did with this article. Very well done; thank you.

  5. Very nice article. But I’m not going to do “sick copy” :-)

  6. Joanna this is some great stuff here. I dont even see it as stealing – I see it as sourcing inspiration from your target market. seems so easy and now i’m banging my head on the desk wondering why i havent thought of this before!

    • No! Don’t bang your head on your desk! ;)

      It is a pretty simple strategy, isn’t it? My short attention span requires simple stuff — and stealing (or “sourcing inspiration”, as you so elegantly put it) is about as simple as it gets.

  7. Some fab ideas here Joanna – obvious when you think about it, yet I’m another who hadn’t! I shall definitely be giving them a go next time I’m in need of some creative ‘inspiration’. Off now to subscribe to your blog as I’d like to read more from you…

  8. I’m so sorry to be negative… But do you have any idea what the font on your blog looks like?… I found it through a Google search and was very interested in reading a post on Google Analytics. But holy cow, I can’t stand to look at the font you’re using. It’s highly, irritatingly, hard to read because the kerning is so irregular. It hurts my eyes. (Helvetica Neue condensed?) Nice blog otherwise.

  9. Loved the post! Being in the internet marketing world, inbound marketing is one of the best way to attract new users. Have read one of your book from copy hackers series on how to write effective headlines. Keep writing and sharing ideas. I want to be a thief too :)

  10. With all these false reviews, its corruption and misrepresentation, you are stealing unsuspecting people’s money and should be ashamed of yourselves….

  11. I love this post! I’ve heard similar advice about using Amazon reviews for product planning, but not for writing the copy too. Good stuff.

  12. I’ve used a ‘snippets table’ before, using variations of target audience personas as categories, but the combination of info with regards to structuring & sourcing copy is probably the most useful thing I’ve read today.

    Like all good ideas, after you hear or read about it, you kick yourself for never thinking of it yourself.

    Really great post, thanks.

  13. Joanna,
    I’ve been “re-purposing” Amazon comments by looking for product details most mentioned by reviewers. I use those details as bullet points when writing similar advertising. Here, you’ve sparked a wildfire of new ideas for me. I’ll now start paying attention to the tone and language the reviewers are using – both positive and negative – and use it to create copy. Thanks for this!

    FYI – I just purchased ‘Conversion Experts In A Box’ and I’m looking forward to “re-purposing” more of your ideas : )

    • Awesome, Tim – so cool that you were already doing this. Really, 2 hours spent on Amazon can fill up pages with copy… and then your task really becomes one of organizing messages vs writing from scratch. Me likey! :)

  14. Joanna,

    I know you stole some of the research tips using Amazon from Jay Abraham but nonetheless, this is the best written copy I’ve seen all day. It’s amazing how so much of the “information” on great copy is itself presented poorly and doesn’t use good emotional triggers. I rarely comment on blogs but this was a homerun all the way.

    You’ve organized your prospects information into clever copy right in this very post. From one pro to another, awesome stuff.

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