How to be creative with your conversion copy

Presented live on Tuesday, October 30, 2018

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So the whole thing with conversion copywriting is this…

There’s a process.

A repeatable process. With frameworks. And formulas. And a user-first approach. And all that great science-y stuff.

As an engineer builds a bridge, so a conversion copywriter writes copy.

Meaningfully. Intentionally. With data. And with lots of testing and validation.

That saaaaaid…

Just as some bridges are more beautiful than others, some copy – precisely engineered – reads more beautifully than other copy.

In this live Tutorial, conversion copywriter, Joanna Wiebe, shows you how to be creative with your conversion copy.


Joanna Wiebe: Today, we are talking about something that I don’t often talk about, but I did talk about it at our mastermind retreat the other week, and I thought it’s worth sharing here. It is all about the artful, or creative, side of writing copy.

This is something that I never ever, ever talk about because it’s where people jump in the first place, so it feels like okay, the world already thinks that copy is supposed to be this creative thing. We haven’t seen evidence that it’s supposed to be all creative at all, at all. I don’t want today’s session to shake you away from what we otherwise talk about with conversion copywriting. If you’re like, “I don’t even know what conversion copywriting is,” then you should go … interesting Todd, then you should go over to, and look at our tutorials, and our blogs, our blog posts all about what conversion copywriting is all about, which is really process based. It’s grounded in the idea that you can be as strategic and thoughtful, and intentional with everything that you do in writing copy that converts.

We’re not ever going to start by looking at how to be creative with our copy, and let’s start with voice, or anything like that. That’s not what a conversion copywriter do, that’s not what we talk about at Copyhackers. But there comes a moment, usually one or two moments, when you’re writing copy where creativity or artfulness goes a long way. These are moments, just moments.

One, I don’t want the takeaway here to be like, “Oh, Joanna said I should always be creative.” Nope, that’s not what I’m going to say today, but there are times when you’ll need to be when you’re writing copy and, in particular, we’re going to talk about when you’re writing web copy today where you want to … I like to say you want to give people chills. That usually means give your client a little bit of a chill, like, “Oh, that was well said.” You want to look for those moments, but that’s not your goal throughout what you’re writing.

I’m going to share with you a snippet of the presentation that was exclusively for people in my mastermind. You’re going to get that today, so I’m going to start showing my screen. Just to be really clear, we are recording this. Replays are available a couple of weeks after the live recordings, so well-done being here. Let me minimize this. Then comes art, so after all of the science stuff, all the process, everything we’re always talking about, then we think about how to be artful.

Now, here’s a line that I like to share and think about when I’m thinking about moments when data driven companies with really great copy branch out and make us feel things. We’ve all been kind of … It might be hard for you some of this, because some of this is a little unclear. The point is not to read every word, or anything, but to know that when we’re writing copy, we have to get inside our customers heads, and using their voice will do that. We also wants to get inside their hearts too, right? We want to make them feel something, like really feel something, and that’s where sometimes … [inaudible] customer data will still do that too, especially when you’re agitating the way they’re feeling, or agitating the way they want to feel. Agitation always sounds negative. You can agitate the way they want to feel in really positive ways too.

But there’s also the artistry behind what we do, and this is where if you are somebody who writes creatively, and you’ve been like, “You know what, I think I can do this copywriting thing.” And then we’ve tried to beat you down with the all of the no, don’t be creative stuff on copywriting, this is where there will be moments where your creativity, or your natural writing talents can shine.

We are going to talk about where exactly that is, but I want to be clear that we’re always thinking long-term. We want to convert our clients’ visitors into customers. We want to get their users continuing to use the product, so retention, get referrals in, generate revenue, all of that great stuff. We have lots of things that we want to do that are all about our clients’ customers or our own customers. But there is immediate power in giving your client the chills, or when you are … the chills, or when you’re sitting around a boardroom table, and you’re presenting copy if you’re in-house … For the marketing team to look at your copy, and you’re like, “Ugh.” When you can make the people in the room feel something, in addition to all of the great research that shaped your copy, when you can make them feel copy, there is incredible power in that. I don’t just mean power for the sake of power, I mean there’s incredible power that will get more people to buy into the possibility that your copy is the greatest copy they’ve ever read, and they’re so excited they hired.

Okay. But how? How do we do that? How do you make things sound really, really good? We’re going to go through a couple things that I do. One day I might dive a little deeper into some of these. But, first things first, you want to have creative inspiration everywhere, everywhere when you’re writing. Again, if you’re following the conversion copywriting process of research and discovery, writing while you’re framing and editing, and then testing validation, you’re already going to be really grounded in data. Everything you’re doing is like here’s the framework, here’s where most of the customer data pushes into that framework, and then we edit in the awesome. That’s all very processe. Then comes this art side where you want to have access to things that make you feel creative to balance out, not balance fully but temper all of the science, as we call it.

So for me, I have this book called Snow White, which is actually downstairs right now but it’s usually right now. This is the first book that I ever read that made me go, “Holy crap. Language can do really cool stuff.” That English writing can be so cool after being raised on Mark Twain. Which genius, of course, we’re not going to get into that. But seeing someone write so differently about something that so standard, like the story of Snow White.

Anybody who was an English major who did Post Modern literature at any point, interested in deconstruction, that kind of stuff, which I loved in undergrad, has probably read this and you might be like, “I know that.” But if you haven’t I’m not saying read this exact book, although it won’t hurt. But have something that is creatively challenging near you and for some people you might have really beautiful artwork that when you look at it on the wall next to your desk and you let yourself just look at it your brain starts shifting a little bit.

Like we know anybody who’s been moved by creativity knows what that feels like and that’s what we’re really looking for. Is just to keep something that inspires you, near you. So that when you’re going through voice of customer data and thinking about the right framework to use and you’re putting it altogether, you can look up to remember that there’s still a little art to what you do and that when it comes down to it you’re going to want to see things differently. You’re going to want to show things differently and that’s where having those creative inspiration pieces around can help.

So whatever book that you think, “Yeah, that was the first book where I ever really felt that writing could be x.” Grab that book. Keep it next to you. It’s not that anything in Snow White has ever actually directed what I wrote when it comes to copy but it’s helped me break out of … I don’t want to say a rut because it’s not even a rut. You don’t have to be in a rut for that but it’s helped me break out of my own head and the data that we’re going through. Another thing that’s really clear and obvious thing to do and we don’t often talk about it but we should kind of all be doing it is have the websites handy, like open next to your … So you have your copy doc. This is how I write.

I have my copy doc off on one side, whether it’s Google Doc, Air Story Doc or Word and I frankly do switch between all of them based on how I feel. But you have that open on one side and a website with copy that inspires you opened on the other and sometimes it’s copy that inspires you to be a really great copywriter and other times it’s like my client really loves the copy on this website. So I’m going to have that open.

So it’s like constantly having a tutorial going next to you where you’re like, “Oh, what did Apple do there?” And you look through it and you read through it. Read through the page again and again and get a feel for the places where the copy seems to come to life and where it pulls back and things like that. Having cliches handy is also going to be really helpful when it comes to the part that I’m going to show you but where you can get creative in your copy. That’s Pro Writing has this giant list of cliches.

Tragically they’re alphabetical but you can still search through them to find any sorts of things and we’ll get into how you’ll use this but having ways that people speak handy that you can play with is a really good thing too. And also having things like great quotes handy can go a long way. So the top 100 quotes of all time, whatever that might be. So you want to have creative fiction handy. Have your client’s favorite copy handy. Have quotes, euphemisms, cliches, other things people say. Just the way people speak, handy.

You also want to audit words that noncompetitive business serving that market that you’re writing for used. So I was writing recently for a really high end mattress and when I was writing for them I was like well, okay how do you describe … how do people that are selling really expensive products to people who are willing to pay really good money for the best household items, how do they describe that product?

Voice of customer data will get you far but matching or exceeding expectations for your market regarding how things should be talked about goes a long way too. So in selling a high end mattress, I went and looked at other high end products that are completely unrelated like a Wolf range. So a lot of people that aspire to have a beautiful mattress, where they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad we spent money on this.” Also aspire to have other beautiful things on their home that some people think are outrageous to spend money on. Like $7,000-$8,000 on a Wolf Range.

But go over to that space. When I was writing, I went to the Wolf website and looked at how they describe it. You think that you need to get really fluffy and make it sound like luxurious and actually say the word, luxury. But in the case of Wolf Range and other high end products when you look through that for the ways to get people feeling things, a lot of that was just getting down to descriptive uses like talking through actually product materials in scientific sounding ways. So that’s another way to get in and start feeling the space that you’re going to be writing in, instead of just looking at voice of customer data.

Study writing books not just copywriting books. So Sarah, years ago bought me a book called, Bird by Bird. I’m sure a lot of people who write have read that book. Other writing books, books about writing will take you a long way when it comes to writing copy. They won’t take you all the way at all. They’ll hurt your sometimes but we want to … again, I’ll focus on where we are going to use writerly techniques and then read and rewrite as much fiction as you do copy. So you might be somebody who writes a lot of … has heard that if you have a swipe file or a really great sales page that you found that you love, you should go through and rewrite that by hand three times.

That’s a pretty common things for people who are learning to be copywriters. I say do the same thing with fiction though to get a sense of how really great stories and arguments are pulled together and how people feel when it comes down to it. Like if you wanted to learn to write like J.K. Rowling, you could rewrite Harry Potter every year for the rest of … for the next ten years and you’d probably end up having more of that muscle memory when it comes to actually writing creative sorts of things.

So I recommend that you read and rewrite as much fiction as you do copy. Now, that’s some background on how to get creative when you’re still thinking commercial copywriting. Now let’s get into where you’re going to use these techniques. You are only, only going to be writerly in your headlines and your cross heads. For those who are like, “What’s a crosshead?” A crosshead is a headline, people call it a subhead often. A crosshead is really a headline that is down the page. So it’s a crosshead. So it’s going to go across the page as you go down the page.

So you might call it a subhead, start calling it a softhead. It’s more copywriterly to call it that. So headlines and crossheads only that’s where you’re going to be writerly. So headlines and crossheads that’s where your going to be writerly. Not in body copy. Not in other spaces where people need to read to acquire information and have their awareness brought up a notch or two or three or where you’re trying to sophisticate your reader. So how do you do that? So really if you are a person who loves writing this will already sit really well with you.

So you’re going to use writing techniques like parallelism and antithesis. So, for example let me just get into it. Again, this is a 20 minute tutorial so we won’t walk you through every possible rhetorical device you can be using. But look up rhetorical devices and keep that open in another tab as well if you’re writing and you’re going through your headlines and crossheads to make them sound better. So when we look at this, this is like parallelism. Dream it up. Jot it down.

This is only used in the headline or crosshead here we can see. So when you go through, you can read the body copy below and again, I encourage you actually Apple has incredible copy. They don’t take it easy just because they can. Like they could call it in. If anybody in the planet could call it in, it’s Apple and they don’t. It’s important. But when you read through the body versus the headlines and crossheads, you’ll see that they save anything that feels like a writer wrote it for headlines and crossheads. When it comes to the body, it still sounds well written but it’s not trying to be noticed. It’s trying to express the benefits and all the things that a copywriter would do in their body copy.

Dream it up. Jot it down. That’s parallelism. You’ll want to stay at that each morning but you’ll want to get up as this antithesis sort of thing, still set up with this parallel idea. Ipad, another here. I’m going to use a lot of Apple examples, because so good. Like a computer, unlike any computer. You write that in a crosshead and what does your client think. Well done us for hiring this person, that’s awesome. And you completely can do it if you focus your attention on headlines and crossheads especially when you’re writing websites to make them sound really good then you can do that.

You don’t have to start there. You shouldn’t start there. That should be something that you do during your suite process when you’re actually going back and editing in the awesome but you want to focus headlines and crossheads on that. Another technique is sort of word swapping. Let me explain what that is. Now, Mercedes is coming out with an electric car. Okay, this is the headline that we see after we see a different headline. It starts with one headline and it switches over to this one on the page.

So, if you were told to write copy, a headline that expresses something that will give people a little bit of chills when it comes to understanding what this car is about. So you hear from the client, “Okay, Mercedes has an electric car. We’re going to write copy about Mercedes having an electric car.” Some people might jump to something just like jumping into what it is but a more writerly approach is to do something like this.

This was their actual headline when you first land on the page. Electric now has a Mercedes and you know everybody when they saw that was like, “Whoa.” And that’s what we want. That the feeling you want to give people. Mercedes has an electric so that’s not the point. So they just swapped those words around. You can’t do it all the time. But when we’re talking about things like shaping new categories or being really innovative you can use that sort of technique in your headlines.

Reworking cliches, quotes and euphemisms. So I already told you to keep those sorts of websites open when you’re writing copy and again, headlines and crossheads only. Things like, “Welcome to the big screen.” Just a little play on words we’re allowed to use. Plays on words in our headlines [inaudible]. Run a miles in her shoes. Stronger than fiction instead of stranger than fiction for like a voting. So we’re taking an existing way that people … something people that already know and memorize that’s baked into the way, at least in this way, English speaker talk and tapping into that as a writer certain things to do.

And sometimes you don’t have to switch around. You can just use a quote or cliché or euphemism but put it in a new context. Like step into the light. This might not be the greatest most writerly headline but we can see what’s happening here. The headline is step into the light and below it the body copy is really clear. This is what an electric vehicle looks like as a Mercedes. The clear surfaces, the minimal contours and the organic forms create a unique aesthetic.

There’s nothing writerly about that. No ones being super creative but it’s clear it’s really good copy and frankly, it’s also really good writing when it comes down to it. Rhyme lightly. So that is something like, “All new for a better you.” Don’t go overboard with rhyming. If you’re going to rhyme at all on a website or in your copy, do it one time. And I mean if you’re writing a big old website. Do it one time in one headline or one crosshead. Don’t go overboard. If your client they see it more than once. They’ll be like, “We’re seeing a lot of that technique.”

So don’t overdo it. Play that card one time and one time only. So those are ways that you can start being a little more artful with the copy that you write again. Where does it happen? Only in your headlines and crossheads. Now others might say, “Oh, I’ve seen it in body copy too.” Right. Don’t start there. Don’t do that first. Headlines and crossheads. Do that for the next five years and then after that five year period is up then you can start exploring other places to be “writerly” or artful.

So you want to sell the signs to your clients. You want to also deliver art that’s based on science and on art. Remember of course, everyone thinks they can do your job as a copywriter. Your job is definitely proving that they cannot. And that means starting with the conversion copywriting process knowing that the core of the copy that you’ve written comes from the voice of the customer and the part that gives them chills comes from you and no one else can repeat what you do. No one else can do it the way you do.

We’re talking about this now because as we get into November the tutorials in November are going to be all about being a better freelance copywriter. So we’re starting to talk about that right now because it’s a really important thing for people to think about especially as if you are a freelancer or you’re thinking of going freelance. As we get toward the beginning of 2019, that’s when you want to start. Most people are like, “What am I going to do in 2019.” So November is going to be all about helping you figuring out what to do in 2019 to be a better freelancer.

So that is today’s tutorial for writing copy. That is more artful. Thanks Sarah for manning all of the chat and making everything work. The replay will be available shortly. Thanks everybody for your great participation and questions and we’ll see you next week where we’ll have a special guest, we’re supposed to have a special guest come in today. He got sick. We have a different special guest coming in next week again, to talk about cool stuff for being a freelancer. So we’ll see you on our next tutorial Tuesdays. Thanks everybody. Bye.


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