Before we get to into this, some great news…
I’m writing today from a hotel room in east London, where I’m looking out over the Tower of London.
I made the trip down from my usual northern seaside hideout to attend the shortlist reveal event for the Business Book Awards 2019.
My book, The Art of the Click, was entered and I’ve never been to anything like it before. So, I thought I’d come to see what it’s all about and do a bit of networking.
To my genuine surprise, when they read out the shortlist for the ‘Sales and Marketing’ category…they called out my name.
As the founder of the awards pointed out, just writing a book and having it published is cool enough.
But still, knowing the judges sat and read through a load of books and mine was one that stood out is a lovely feeling. My thanks goes out to the judges for a very kind piece of reassurance.
It means the book is not only a best-seller…
It’s now award-shortlisted too.
Pretty good going, right?
Now, enough self-indulgence, let’s crack on…
The best word
What’s the single most useful word for a copywriter?
Nah – there’s a lot of downsides to saying something’s free. Takes a lot of the perceived value out of what you’re trying to sell. And it tends to alert inboxes to spam.
Also, it’s not really a ‘tool’ either.
You might vote for the word ‘you’ – a lot of people did when I asked on Twitter.
It’s a good one, for a number of reasons.
First, as a tool, it reminds you to always think about the reader.
Second, it’s a useful word for attracting the attention of your reader.
And third, it’s a short word – and short words are always handy when writing good copy.
Yeah, ‘you’ is a good word. It’s a powerful word. But I’m not sure it’s the most useful word.
That accolade I propose we give to another three-letter wonder.
It sounds like a single letter…
And it’s often infuriating, yet quite wonderful.
I’m talking about the magical word…
Yup – ‘why’ is the word.
But, er, why?
Hurrah for why: you can’t write good copy without it
You’re thinking – hang on, Glenn. Is this just a love letter to the word why?
What would be the point in that?
WHY would you do that?
Have you been kidnapped by Simon Sinek?
No. Don’t worry – there’s good reason to write an entire piece about the word why.
Actually, that’s not quite right.
It’s what it does as a question that’s important.
You see, asking why gets you where you need to be as a copywriter.
It gets you deep inside the mind of the reader…
It gets you behind the thinking of why a product or service was created in the first place…
And it helps you get to that special thought hidden away in the subconscious of your client.
Asking why is the simplest and most effective way to get to the nugget of goodness that will help inform your breakthrough idea.
It’s not complicated to use…
The only catch is that you usually have to use it at least three times before you get anywhere.
The art of playing dumb
My good friend and incredibly successful copywriter, James Woodburn, has always been great at this.
He’s a super intelligent guy. But he used go into idea meetings with fancy financial experts and appear to know nothing.
Of course, he was only ‘playing’ dumb.
He understood that by pretending to know nothing, he could keep asking why over and over again, until he got to the heart of the matter.
You see, the problem is that experts, clients and product creators are often too close to their ideas to be able to talk about them objectively.
They are so ‘bought-in’, they don’t see why everyone else doesn’t just ‘get it’.
Or sometimes, the backstory or genus of their idea is so boring to them by now – they just don’t think it’s worth talking about.
It’s why it’s so helpful to play dumb to it all and just keep asking why.
Initially they’ll give you the top-level answer, the thing they tell anyone who asks automatically.
There’s probably not much of interest in this answer – so, you ask why again.
Oh, they’ll wonder. Well, I guess it’s because…
And now you’ve got them thinking about it themselves. Why did they do x or invent y? That’s a good question.
Here you should keep pushing – why, why, why…
Eventually – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly – you’ll hit on something. You’ll have that ‘aha moment’ where you uncover the nugget of wonder that will help inspire the rest of your copy.
And all you’ve done up until this point is deploy one simple word:
It works the other way too…
If you’re trying to figure out how to connect to a certain audience or specific reader, you can go through the same process.
Keep asking why the reader would care about what you’re trying to sell until you get to something interesting, something deeper.
Don’t get me wrong, asking why is simple.
It might even be obvious.
But it works.
And that’s why, for me, it’s one of the most useful tools you can use when it comes to seeking out a big idea for your copy.
Remember, the best ideas are always simple…
And sometimes so are the tools to find them.
P.S. Don’t agree with my pick of the word why? That’s cool. But tell me, er, why. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your choice and the reasoning and I’ll feature the best ones in a follow up piece.
P.P.S. Did I mention I’ve written a book? I know, I know. I do go on about it. But I was speaking to a fellow author at the event last night and she was asking how do you keep selling the book?
She was worried about talking about it and telling people. I explained – as I do to anyone when they worry about marketing things – if you believe in it and you believe it offers value, you should never feel bad about talking about it.
I think my book is worth a read. And from the feedback I’ve had, it seems a lot of other people agree. So, I’ll keep going on about it and recommend if you haven’t got a copy yet – go for it here.