“I have not thoroughly enjoyed serving with humans. I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant.”
On the face of it, the much beloved Mr Spock (originally portrayed by the late Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek: The Original Series) might not seem to have much to do with copywriting.
However, whether you’re a Trekkie or not, imagining that you’re writing your copy for Mr Spock can be a very helpful exercise.
Spock’s character is defined by the logical, emotionally detached approach he takes towards things. Mr Spock doesn’t deal in jokes, flowery prose or puns, three things that are all too common in content that is supposed to be copywriting.
Here’s why I believe writing copy for Mr Spock is a recipe for success. If something is logical it is, by nature, persuasive:
“When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Persuasion – without being pushy or coming across as trying too hard – is one of the key desirables in sales content, and taking a completely logical “Spock-like” approach to a subject is one way to generate it effectively.
That’s the first big takeaway I want to highlight in this article but there are several other ways in which writing for Spock can help you to develop your copywriting, illustrated by some classic quotes from the man (or, umm, Vulcan) himself.
Moving Beyond “Copywriting 101”
The “so what?” test – which involves analysing your content by asking “so what?” after each paragraph, or even sentence, in order to ensure that everything you write has a clear point – and “sell benefits, not features” are two techniques often recommended to junior copywriters.
They’re both useful, but they don’t necessarily encourage writers to focus on creating content that’s designed to be directive. For example, lots of copy written by inexperienced writers asks questions:
“Have you ever experienced X? Why not come in and try Y today? We can help! “
Asking “so what?” doesn’t really work here, because “we can help” technically answers that question…just not in a very compelling way.
But you can be damn sure that if Spock read the above, he’d start thinking about all the reasons not to come in and try Y because that’s what the copy actually invites the reader to do.
Apply the Spock test to your copy by following the points you want to make through to their logical conclusion:
“If you’ve ever experienced X, [u]you know how disruptive it can be[/u]. We’ll help you get going with Y [u]so it never happens again[/u].”
That’s a very short, simple example, but hopefully you can see that the end result is a far more clear call to action than just asking questions or rambling about the product or service you’re writing about.
Don’t Act On Everything You Read
One of the greatest tools in any writer, marketer or businessperson’s arsenal is a hefty dose of scepticism. The amount of “X Is Dead” and “Y Is The Next Big Thing” articles I come across on a daily basis is staggering, but only a tiny percentage of them turn out to be correct.
Best practices are useful to keep up with, but they can also be damaging if you take them as gospel. This is because it’s impossible to convey ALL of the context associated with any research or findings when they are presented in a relatively easy to digest 1,000 word article. And, as Spock says:
“Insufficient facts always invite danger.”
At best, blindly following best practices can result in writing that’s derivative and rehashes work that’s already out there. At worst, it can result in discounting techniques or methods that might actually work very effectively in your niche.
Take this article, for example: writing for Mr Spock is a helpful exercise, but there will be times that you’ll need to evoke emotion with your copywriting. Emotions like fear and envy can be very powerful tools for conversion – sadly I don’t have the space to get into that much here – but you’d never try to evoke them in Mr Spock.
For that reason I’d recommend that you remain hesitant to act on any advice you read unless you’ve seen it have a positive impact, ideally on a piece of work you’ve been actively involved with, with your own two eyes.
Find A New Idol
The purpose of copywriting isn’t (just) to look nice and read well. Its primary function is to do something. Being well read is a definite advantage for copywriters, but writing prose in the way a novelist would is a huge no-no.
With the possible exception of straightforward, ‘honest’ authors like Hemingway and Kerouac, novel-style prose just doesn’t work as copywriting – this post on Copyblogger does a nice job of showing why lyrical or ‘fluffy’ writing doesn’t make for good copy.
But it can be hard to shake the style you’re used to from reading fiction, as that’s where a lot of writers draw their inspiration. Your new mission?
“To boldly go where no-one has gone before.”
Well, not no-one exactly. But it is time to break out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to a new breed of writers. In particular, figures in online marketing have all sorts of valuable things to say about sales copywriting.
Here are a few examples of individuals from whom I’ve learned a ton to get you started:
- Neil Patel (of Kissmetrics, Crazy Egg etc.)
- Peep Laja (of ConversionXL)
- Lars Lofgren (of I Will Teach You To Be Rich)
Keep Thinking About Triangles
But not just any triangles. Specifically, the following triangle:
How any piece of writing looks, functions etc. should always take into account those three things:
- Medium – where/when/how the copy will appear
- Product/Service – what it is you’re promoting
- Customer – who you’re targeting with this particular campaign
For example, a banner ad promoting vacation rentals for people over 60 will look very different to one pushing the same location to a student crowd during Spring Break.
Likewise, a cold email about a new model of electric car won’t have much in common with a sales brochure distributed to a customer who indicates an interest in the subject.
It’s very easy to think, “Ok, I need to come up with some banner ads and content for a pamphlet. What can I cull from the website for that?” But it neglects the impact each of the three points of the triangle has on what the copy will look like.
Of course the content on the website will inform them to some degree but, any time one or more of the points on that triangle mentioned above changes, I’d recommend starting over with a blank piece of paper rather than trying to repurpose content.
If It Doesn’t Convert, It Sucks
“In critical moments, men sometimes see exactly what they wish to see.”
Even the best among us sometimes fail to see things that are right in front of our faces. When I was starting out as a copywriter, I was way too proud. When my copy didn’t work as expected, I would look for excuses:
- “Yeah, I think it was partially the design’s fault.”
- “We just emailed this list a few weeks ago, it was too soon to hit it again.”
- “I’m not convinced the product is right for them anyway.”
I found that as soon as I became tough enough to start taking it on the chin, and owning up to it when my copywriting wasn’t right, my writing started failing a lot less often.
The reason for this is that, with that one mindset adjustment, I was suddenly much more open to learning from my mistakes than I had been previously. The earlier you can wrap your head around the concept that “if it doesn’t convert, it sucks”, the sooner you can start becoming a better copywriter.
A big part of that is figuring out what the copy is supposed to do before you start writing it:
- Is this sales copy or is it informational?
- What are our competitors doing? How can I use that to differentiate us?
- What do I want the reader to do after they finish reading this?
However nice a piece of copy looks and however lovely it is to read, the purpose you set out before you start writing should be at the front of your mind the whole time you spend writing it.
The biggest problem new copywriters, or business owners trying to write their own copy, face is they’re too preoccupied with themselves (“the one”): they’re so busy thinking about their business or their writing skills that they forget to focus on potential customers (“the many”).
The iconic Spock quote above, which I’m tempted to frame somewhere in my office, is a reminder that copywriting is first and foremost about the people that it’s being written for and not the person who’s writing it.
Once you have a clear, or as clear as you can get, picture of those people you can then start working on your copy. And, by keeping Spock and these other tips in mind, you’ve got a better chance of coming up with copy that’s:
- Mindful of its audience
and, with a bit of luck, primed to convert.
Live long and prosper.
About the Author: Art Anthony is a freelance copywriter based in the UK. He’s worked on email marketing, CRO, blogging and web content for Fitocracy, Crazy Egg and, most recently, next gen live chat startup, Chatra. You can also find him on Twitter.