What’s Wrong With Copywriting?

I've been studying copywriting and writing for clients for over 20 years. In that time, I've seen some bad things I want to share with you...and I've evolved in my point of view about the subject. You should see that evolution in thinking, too. It'll save you a lot of frustration and probably some money.

The Main Thing Wrong With Copywriting

The main problem with copywriting is caused by two factors: the buyer and the seller. You ought to laugh because those are the key factors that cause problems in all poorly-accomplished sales, but I'm deadly serious here. Both parties come into the arrangement with utter misunderstandings of what's going to happen.

The buyer (usually a business owner or marketing manager) believes they are getting a magic bullet that will "get me more customers."

The seller (the writer) believes they are hot stuff and will "get you more customers."

That's where I was, from my start in 1995 through some time in 2012.

And I wasn't wrong. Not exactly. I mean, my copy is a heck of a lot better than what's typically on somebody's sales page or in their letter. So its performance is sure to be superior.

pieces of flair office space bare minimum what's wrong with copywriting

"What do you think of a person who only does the bare minimum?" Office Space, 1999: Fair Use

So Where's The Problem?

Just one problem: Traffic.

See, copy is about Conversion. That's the second piece of the money equation. And without Traffic, ie. eyeballs sent to view the conversion tool, the copy doesn't have much of a chance of accomplishing anything.

In the early days I would take on a job because somebody asked, I liked the topic, and they waved money in my direction. This is where most writers are at and what the market is used to.

On the buying side, the business owners and marketing managers are accustomed to this arrangement. "I need to get more customers," they say to themselves, and hire a writer. But they miss the fact that a good, steady, pre-qualified traffic source needs to be hooked up to that shiny new conversion tool...or there's no chance of success. And the writer, happy to be paid for their work, doesn't ask.

What Does This Misunderstanding Lead To?

This state of mutual mystification leads to what I call the "Throw The Copy Over The Wall And Run" approach to copywriting.

The buyer, believing copywriting is a commodity service, makes a low investment in the new conversion tool.

The seller, despite supposedly being an expert on positioning and persuasion, doesn't know what else to do when selling their services and accepts.

Can you read between the lines here and get a feel for the level of commitment to the project from both sides?

The buyer is expecting a magic return on a low investment: they're playing the lottery.

The seller has no motivation to stick around and work that project into something powerful: sure, they'll put their best effort into the draft they submit, but why should they continue to work on a project they haven't been paid much for?

Thus the writer does a little Q&A, some research, cranks out the copy in the fastest possible time, and throws it over the wall to the buyer.

"So long! Good luck!" comes their over-the-shoulder call as they run away in search of the next client.

And why shouldn't they?

What Needs To Change With Copywriting

The buyer hasn't made much of a commitment. As a result, neither has the seller. (I'm reminded of the quote from Office Space: "What do you think of a person who only does the bare minimum?" This applies to both parties.)

This right here is what's wrong with copywriting. Lack of commitment to a specific, measurable outcome.

I was conducting an audio interview of a fellow writer who was doing better than I was—he was getting into better business arrangements than I was, and works in niches I don't touch, too; maybe I should learn from that heh heh—some years back when I heard him say something that confirmed a concept that I'd understood for awhile but hadn't clearly articulated:

The buyer must demonstrate commitment to solving the problem and getting to a specific outcome.

In doing so, a good writer will recognize this commitment, and match it with their own effort.

In plain terms, what I already knew was that the first effort of a writer is likely to either fail or not be the best achievable result. That if the writer could stick around for just one, two, or three more iterations of the copy, the performance could be increased dramatically.

But What's Really Happening With Copywriting?

But what was happening? In reality, you know what has been going on. The buyer tries to hire for the lowest possible price; the seller, having little commitment, gives their best effort within the short period they can afford to give the project their attention, then moves on.

Over the wall and run.

Both get ONE chance to get it right.

And, if you've been reading carefully, you'll have noticed neither understands the nature of the money equation. That you need both Traffic AND Conversion to make it work. Writing alone doesn't accomplish anything.

The buyer believes that new copy alone will do the job.

The seller has tunnel vision and the cocksure belief that their copy is a moneymaker.

But where is the traffic?

Whether You're Hiring or Writing, Start Asking This Question

This is why my first question to prospective clients is: "Do you have a solid pre-qualified traffic source ready to go?"

If the answer is "Uh, I haven't thought about that..." or "My Facebook ads guy will figure that out," or "I'll be hiring a launch manager and they'll do that," it's an instant No from me.

I will not risk my reputation on an unproven idea.

I will not risk my reputation on a project without a good traffic source.

I will not risk my reputation on a client who can't afford traffic.

These issues appear frequently. Too frequently.

The business owner gets frustrated. I'm sure they go hire some low-priced writer after I tell them No, and are happy with the copy they get. After all, it's like having a template writer redo your resume: you get that "new car smell" for awhile. But not long after, when you don't have any traffic and nobody sees the thing, you discover it isn't worth very much.

The Dumb Arrangement That Makes Buyers and Writers Mad At Each Other

Buyers will get mad at writers at this point. And the writers may respond by getting mad back at them. But the outcome of the copy is not the writer's doing. Both bear responsibility for getting into a dumb arrangement: frankly, the copy didn't get enough views to determine whether it's any good or not.

What buyers and sellers need to do in the world of copywriting is to commit to a longer term relationship. Longer than the first draft the writer throws over the wall.

I have seen so many newbies over the years set up a funnel, put all the pieces in place, and then be shocked when something doesn't work.
The funnel breaks at every turn! The ads don't convert and you have to fix them. Then the opt-in page doesn't work well and you have to fix that. Then the email sequence doesn't persuade the readers to visit the sales page. You have to fix those. Then the sales page doesn't turn visitors into buyers...and you have to fix that.

The funnel falls down at every stage. Success requires both the buyer and the seller to stick around: for the business owner and the writer to commit to an outcome. Agree at the start what the statistics will be for a successful result, and commit getting there. This means the buyer has to invest in the seller so that the seller can invest in the iterative work.

The Change That Needs To Be Made In Copywriting

The writer can no longer throw the copy over the wall and run. They have to stick around. And the owner has to make it worth their while.

As a writer, this is the very reason you must get out of the scrape-and-chase mode. If you're always on the hunt for the next low budget client because you have to survive, you can never make this kind of commitment (buyers, are you paying attention?).

Up front fees are not the only solution. Royalties or a percentage of gross are other options—but, business owners, the writer has to TRUST YOU. Work on that.

This is what's wrong with copywriting. A basic misunderstanding of the nature of the work, what outcome will result, and what is required to succeed.

Needed and typically missing: a pre-qualified traffic source with sufficient quantity to reach the revenue goal.

Needed and typically missing: commitment by both sides to adjustment of the process until the goal is reached.

Let's get rid of the "Throw the copy over the wall and run" approach and fix what's wrong with copywriting. Please. Writers, will you commit to ensuring both factors above that have been missing are present in projects going forward? Those hiring writers, will you commit to the straightforward changes to hiring and making use of copywriters so that we can all work together on making the money you desire?

>> Jason Kanigan is a business strategist and copywriter. Book a call with Jason to discuss your project. <<


SPIN Selling for Online Sales?

Spin Selling for Online Sales

SPIN Selling for online sales? Does it work? HOW does it work? What are the benefits? And the challenges?

This is the topic posed by copywriter Corey Pemberton in his article How to Use the SPIN Selling Approach to Close More Online Sales.

Relevance of SPIN Selling for Online Sales

First, Pemberton summarizes SPIN creator Neil Rackham's findings:

  1. Hammering for the Close did not help sales of medium and high ticket offerings
  2. Objections are encountered less often by skilled salespeople, who prevent them early in the process
  3. Asking open-ended questions as a tactic by itself did not appreciably help conversions
  4. Closed questions, used properly and in quantity, can advance the sale as or more effectively than weakly used open-ended questions
  5. A consistent sales process streamlines the steps and cycle for completing the sale.

Where SPIN Selling shines is in the Discovery or Doctoring phase. Salespeople typically rush to the Close, presenting and demonstrating to anyone with a heartbeat. In SPIN, we want to find out whether our prospect values what we have to offer, and the underlying or hidden reasons why they want to buy it if so. This means pushing the Presentation phase and the Close to the end of the process, and doing some serious questioning with our prospect. No dialogue = no reason to buy.

SPIN's questioning methodology is outlined nicely in this diagram:

SPIN Selling for Online Sales

Challenge of Using SPIN Selling for Online Sales

You'll note there are four types of questions in Rackham's model (one for each of the letters in SPIN):

  • Situational
  • Problem
  • Implication
  • Need-Payoff.

Each is valuable and uncovers information a salesperson who rushes forward to the Close will not about why this prospect may buy.

But this leads to the challenge of using SPIN Selling for online sales, and the one big issue I have with Pemberton's article:

Pure online selling uses sales copy (text, video, audio scripts), which are one-way communication, to attempt conversions.

So how can the powerful questioning techniques advocated by SPIN Selling be made use of in online selling?

Advantages of Using SPIN Selling for Online Sales

Here's my answer:

Sales copy is frequently written with an avatar in mind. We could also use a Buyer Persona, which outlines how our customer buys. In either case, we enter the dialogue going on in our customer's mind--imagined or as best as we can simulate based on collected data--and duplicate that conversation using SPIN's format.

In other words, we write our sales copy using the process SPIN lays out.

Ask the SPIN questions, and answer them with the responses our ideal customer would give.

What Situation is my prospect in that screams they have a problem I can fix? And answer.

What Problem does this situation shove a Harrison Ford finger in the direction of my prospect having?

What Implications does this problem open up a bottomless pit of doom for my prospect about if my prospect doesn't jump to fix it right now?

What Need-Payoff does this implication lead straight to by the Yellow Brick Road if my prospect buys and gets started immediately?

For those copywriters wondering, "How do I fit the benefits of my client's offering into the product or service, and when do I do that?", this could be an extremely effective method. Get it right, and your prospect will be saying, "Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes!" to themselves all along the process. And when that's the case, how can they not buy.

>> Jason Kanigan is a copywriter and sales force developer. Questions about SPIN Selling for Online Sales? Comment below to let us know! And if you know someone who this discussion could help, please Like or Share! <<


A Lesson In Process and Outsourcing

Process and OutsourcingI have a lesson in process and outsourcing to share with you today. As many of you know, I'm also a copywriter. Sales training and copywriting are the two main things I do for money. Lately I've been working on a product launch for a stock trading software, and it's been very engrossing.

Yesterday, in the hopes of getting into something completely different, I started watching a 2-1/2 hour documentary of how the movie Alien (1979) got made.

Much to my surprise, I found myself in familiar territory. An astonishingly large number of factors I'm quite familiar with from the product launch world reappeared in this “Behind the Scenes” story. And I want to share some of them with you, because they'll help you understand the process of creating a successful business—especially if you're new to all this.

Now we ought to begin by reminding ourselves that the idea for what became the movie Alien popped into a writer's head sometime after 1974 but before 1977. This is vitally important to our understanding of the business environment, because Star Wars had not come out yet. Therefore, everyone was afraid of science fiction and nobody wanted to risk studio money on a project like that. The writer was a young guy who had gone to film school with director John Carpenter, and helped him make the sci-fi comedy Dark Star. But this writer wanted to make a sci-fi horror movie next. He then found another writer who was working on a half-completed story that they combined, and wrote a treatment—not a script—for an all-male crew with some sort of monster aboard.

At this point they had no clear idea what the alien would look like. Someone introduced them to the disturbing metal artwork of H.R. Giger and that is how the direction of the appearance of the monster was settled upon.

Then they shopped this idea around to various studios, looking for money. One studio tried to complete and rewrite the script several times with different writers. The results were bad. However, the android, Ash, was an idea contributed by these new writers.

The decision to make the lead a woman, to be counter-to-type in the genre, was a late one.

But 20th Century Fox wouldn't approve the script. Nobody wanted to risk on science fiction. It sat there until


Star Wars demonstrated in 1977 that sci-fi could be extremely commercially successful. 20th Century had exactly one other sci-fi script laying around. An interesting side note: Alan Ladd, Jr., son of the famous actor, was president of Fox at the time. He had invested in George Lucas for Star Wars, and now OKed the money, at first $4.2 million, for Alien.

The Lesson In Process and Outsourcing Kicks Into High Gear for Alien

So who would direct? The studio went through several candidates. The movie had to be carried off in such a way as to appear an A-level film; the special effects could not look silly, and the monster had to be genuinely scary. The right director had to have the right vision. Five candidates later the team settled on a new fellow, who had made precisely one film: Ridley Scott. Thanks to Scott getting some storyboards together, Fox saw his vision and doubled the budget to over $8 million. Never underestimate the power of painting a picture for your prospect.

Then they got several artists together. Giger for the alien design. Two others for the 'human' interiors. An Italian, Carlo Rambaldi, was hired to make the special effects for the alien's head (and won an Oscar for it).

A whole effects team was assembled, because everything had to be manually made. Remember, this was an era without CGI or much post-production capabilities. It all had to be done right the first time. And nobody had done many of the things they were going to try to do. The set designs were made of bones, plaster, scrap machinery and all kinds of other things.

And finally, the casting.

Sigourney Weaver went to the wrong place and was late to her casting call. Imagine if she'd been passed on for this mistake, or gave up and went home?

The nearly seven-foot-tall, ultra-thin man who played the alien, for whom they custom-made the suit, was found in a local tavern. He was sent to tai chi and mime classes to learn how to slow down and control his movements. A gymnast was used for other scenes.

Jerry Goldsmith, who seems to have done every other film than John Williams, composed the score.

Now look.

Look at how many people, circumstantial events, personal efforts and individual talents contributed to what became a hit movie that has stood the test of time:

  • Original writers/conceptual & management team
  • Studio writers
  • Funders
  • Director
  • Alien artist
  • Terran artists
  • Special effects boss
  • Production team
  • Cast
  • Alien body actors
  • Score developer.

And there were more, such as the Fox producer who ran around telling the crew to stop making new sets Ridley Scott had told them to make, because they weren't financially approved by the beancounters. Imagine the frustration at that! Consider all of the choices made to get these people to the outcome of a great movie. Chance meetings. Additions like the android and a female lead made by other people than the original writers.

Process and Outsourcing for A Product Launch

In the launch I'm leading, we have

  • product creator/owner/funder
  • video sales letter writer and producer
  • signup & prelaunch & launch writer/concept creator/conductor (me)
  • video editor to make the videos the client makes of the scripts I write for him look nice
  • admin tech for actually putting the emails I write into the autoresponder and sending them out
  • programmers who are the team behind the software we're selling at the end of this three-week process.

And stuff gets done fast.

By ourselves, none of us could do each component of the work this well or this fast. And without collaboration, we wouldn't get as good ideas out to our audience.

Takeaways About Process and Outsourcing

Takeaways from the Making of Alien documentary and my recent product launch experience include:

  • To create something really spectacular, you're going to need the help of other people who are exceptional at the things you're not
  • Each outsourcer is hired on because they are an expert in a specific field—not because they “sound good to have around”
  • It's going to take longer than you think, and you'll have more unexpected struggles than you could have imagined, to succeed
  • You have to be open to input from others to get the very best final product.

I've learned a lot from this process. And it is a process—I want you to see that. A great product isn't built in an afternoon. Many elements factor into a success, and plenty of them are going to be found outside of y-o-u.

The road to winning has many twists and turns. False starts. Sometimes even the temporary appearance of failure. But if you have a valuable and clear vision, it's much more likely you'll stick with the project to get the result you desire.

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