Before you write any piece of copy, you need to figure out if the idea you’re writing about is any good.
If your idea sucks ass, your copy will suck ass too.
On the flipside: if your idea is good, writing the copy will be much easier, and faster.
And chances are, your copy will be much more effective.
Luckily, I’ve come up with a simple, three-step formula to help you check if your idea is any good.
Here we go:
STEP ONE: Ask if your idea confirms something the reader inherently knows to be sound
All good ideas are grounded in smart thinking and make sense.
That might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised by how much copy gets put in front of me that is the result of bad thinking and makes no sense.
For a case study of good thinking… take a sales letter written by a top, top US copywriter and a very nice guy called Scott Bardelli.
He wrote a breakthrough sales letter that has become known as ‘The Pot Promo’.
The basic premise of the copy was that in the run up to the vote on legalising cannabis in the US, it would make good sense to invest in various marijuana companies that could see big gains if legalisation went through.
Inherently the idea makes sense:
Pot is made legal. More people want pot. Pot companies do better business.
The proof is in the pudding and the sales letter Scott wrote went on to make thousands of sales for the newsletter he was advertising.
That idea was reasonable too…
And that’s something to remember when it comes to identifying good ideas.
Too many people think good ideas need to be big CRAZY ideas.
They think they have to be incredible. But by aiming too high, they make their ideas incredible… i.e. NOT credible.
I’m not saying a crazy, out-there idea can’t also be a good idea…
But don’t be fooled into thinking your idea is good just because it’s wild.
And don’t try to change people’s minds.
People buy good ideas they want to believe.
You can’t (or at least it’s stupidly hard and a waste of time to try to) sell someone on something they don’t already believe.
Think about the most successful long copy sales letter in the past 10 years: The End of America.
This promotion has been adapted all around the world and has sold countless new subscriptions.
There are many reasons. But fundamentally, it spoke about something people already believed: that most developed countries in the modern world have a huge problem with debt.
People already suspected that was the case. It wasn’t a wild idea. And it made sense.
So, that’s step one: make sure your idea is inherently sound, believable and that it proves something the reader already suspects is true.
STEP TWO: Check your idea informs the reader about something new
Mike Palmer is one of the best direct response copywriters in the world…
But you probably haven’t heard of him – he keeps himself behind the scenes.
I’ve been lucky enough to see him speak a couple of times (and embarrassingly I got drunk at a private ‘who’s who of copywriting’ party with him once and weirdly thanked him for all the copy he’d written, which was just weird).
One of the things I always remember about a speech he once gave was the thought that when it comes to identifying good ideas…
You need to make sure that the idea teaches the reader something few other people know.
You can’t be sold on your own naivety to an idea.
It’s tough – but essential.
If you run with an idea that is already widely understood by those in the industry and you try to present it as something wildly new – it’s going to make you look foolish.
Looking at it slightly differently, you need to define what makes your idea unique.
And I mean the idea, not the copy.
Before you even try to make your copy unique, you need to make your idea unique.
So, what have we got so far?
An inherently sound idea that confirms what people already think, but informs them of a unique new element that they’ve not come across.
Cool, now we just need to take one more step…
STEP THREE: Make sure you astound the reader in your delivery of the idea
This is where we start to introduce the principles of copy…
But if you’ve properly considered your idea in light of the first two steps, writing the copy itself is going to be much easier.
As I said at the start, writing copy for genuinely new and unique ideas will always be faster and, most likely, more effective.
At this final stage, you need to figure out how you can astound people with your idea.
For me, this goes back to Eugene Schwartz’s idea of customer awareness.
You need to establish what level of awareness your audience has about your idea…
For example, let’s say you were selling washing machines in 1908 (which is when they were invented, interestingly… in Chicago).
At that stage you could go to market and say…
Imagine if you could put all your dirty clothes in a box and then take them out an hour later and they’d be clean.
People would think you were some kind of wonderful washing witch.
But flash forward to today and people would laugh you out of the room, hence adverts for washing machines these days involving weird futuristic science or some middle-class aspirational balls.
In 1908, awareness of washing machines was very low, so just the basic idea was astounding.
By 2018, I expect only an advert that promises the washing machine will also make beer from the dirt of your clothes will be effective
So, how do you test customer awareness of your idea?
Well, one thing to definitely NOT do is only share it with other copywriters, or marketers, or people inside your business.
They will have too much baggage… they will want to prove they already understand the idea… and they’ll be bias depending on whether they like you or not.
Instead you should take your idea on the road and test it with as many random people with no stake in your business at all.
I’m talking about your partner… your mother… your friend next door… even the guy in the corner shop who is weirdly over familiar every time you go in… ask what he thinks.
Bottom line is: don’t wait to test an idea out AFTER you’ve written your copy – that’s dumb.
Use the steps I’ve outlined above to identify whether you’ve got a good idea on your hands.
If you have, go for it.
If you haven’t, save yourself a headache and rethink it.
P.S. This piece is a slightly reworked extract from my best-selling book, The Art of the Click