“Draw a dog.”
Those were the commands of the art teacher to a bunch of five-year-olds. They didn't know it just then, but they were part of a psychological experiment.
The command reverberated through the room with varying effect.
Some kids furrowed their eyebrows. Some scoured their brains for inspiration. Others chewed on their crayons uneasily.
Yet three kids seemed unmistakably unperturbed. Whipping out their crayons, they seemed to sport an air of flamboyance, even haughtiness. With practiced, deft strokes, they went about rendering a piece of art that many adults would have been proud to call their own.
Barring the three obviously talented ones, the rest of the class seemed to produce nothing but chaos.
Let me not stop here, for our experiment was only half done
To complete the experiment, we changed things a bit. The kids were then given a command to draw a cat.
Except, this time around, the teacher led the kids through the process. She drew a stroke. They copied it. She embellished the stroke, and so did the kids. Whiskers, tails, noses and eyes appeared magically on every sheet.
Not surprisingly, the excitement levels started peaking rapidly. In less than 15 minutes, every child in the room had drawn a cat.
Huh? How could that be the case?
Just 15 minutes ago, most of these kids had written off their art abilities forever. Now, suddenly, they were budding Picassos. What had changed?
It's called imitation.
And if you've been swearing loudly as you try to put your marketing material together, you'll find this tutorial to be of immense help. Just like the teacher, I'll guide you exactly through the process of creating sales copy that really rocks! Best of all, we won't sweat.
You struggle when you write. I know you do. And the reason that your dustbin looks like a Mount Kanchenchunga is that you're trying to draw a “dog” like those kids did. It's way too hard. Mmm... Wouldn't it be easier to just, um... imitate?
Here's how we'll go about creating a page for sales copy.
I'll simply take an ad from the 1950s or so. Then I'll tweak it, and you'll have the framework for an ad yourself. Here's the original text.
Text above the headline:
Do improvements really add to the value of your home? Are they easy to finance? What about FHA Title loans?
The “resale value” of your home may slip—if you don't watch out! Put your home up for sale—even though you don't intend to sell it!
Does that sound foolish? You might learn at little cost a lesson many homeowners are learning painfully: that the resale value of your home is a living thing, likely to shrivel without the care and sustenance it needs. Nothing makes the hard facts about a home's value clearer than putting it up for sale. Then fuel bills suddenly tell a tale about needed insulation. Or the room never added makes the home “too small” for the prospective buyer's needs.
Now let's tweak this ad for a Web design service
Text above the headline:
Do improvements really add to the value of your Web site? Are they cost effective? What about issue like e-commerce?
The customer attraction value of your Web site may slip—if you don't watch out! Audit your Web site now—even though you don't intend to sell anything off it!
Does that sound foolish? You might learn at little cost a lesson many Web site owners are learning painfully: that the customer attraction value of your Web site is a living thing, likely to shrivel without the care and sustenance it needs. Nothing makes the hard facts about a Web site's value clearer than getting potential customers to buy from it. Then, suddenly, you feel the lack of a powerful database. Or the navigation becomes too clumsy to accommodate your growing products and services.
Let's go right into the body copy of the original ad
Here are some facts to chew on. Seven out of 10 homes in the US need some repair right now just to maintain their present value. A survey in Buffalo, NY, for example, showed this year that 24,000 of the city's 169,000 homes needed some fixing up—and 8,000 were beyond maintenance. One out of every six homes needs new siding. One in every five needs a new roof.
Why haven't these homeowners done something? Is maintaining the value of their homes too difficult, or too expensive? The only reasonable answer is that many of them must think so. If they do, they're wrong.
And the tweaked copy for the sales letter...
Here are some facts to chew on. Seven out of ten Web sites in this country need some repair right now just to stop customers from moving on. A survey in (insert city), for example, showed this year that (insert number) of the city's (insert number) needed some fixing up—and (insert number) were getting little or no traffic at all. One out of every (insert number) Web sites in this country needs simpler navigation. One in every (insert number) needs more comprehensive content.
Why haven't these Web site owners done something? Is maintaining the value of their Web sites too difficult, or too expensive? The only reasonable answer is that many of them must think so. If they do, they're wrong.
I know what you're thinking...
Isn't it wrong to copy an ad in this fashion? The answer lies in the cat story. Not all of us are born genius artists or copywriters. All of us have to play “fill in the blanks” at some point. Our entire life is patterned on imitation. Look at how you learned to walk, talk, sing, dance, draw, write, drive and do everything you do.
You learned by watching and imitating.
Yet every time you want to write, you start from scratch. You look at blank screens. You scowl at your quickly depleting coffee. Then you put together some scrambly looking text. You're not sure the text will work but you've got a deadline and yada, yada, yada….
And your results suffer. That avalanche of responses just doesn't occur. I mean how can you expect it to happen, if you keep trying to reinvent?
The curse of reinvention
Somewhere, somehow we learned that imitation taught us to learn quickly. In those same hallowed school grounds you then unlearned what you'd just learned. You were told not to copy.
And you know what? Kindly Mrs. Brown was right.
You shouldn't copy.
You should imitate
Copying is plagiarism, plain and simple.
Imitation is a gentle tweak. It's a color-by-numbers till you get it right. Till you have the gall to pick up your paintbrush and transform a blank canvas into magic.
Hey, maybe your pride is a bit miffed. Maybe you feel you weren't totally original. Yet look at those five-year-olds. They're proud of their art. They did it. And guess what? No two dogs or cats look the same.
In fact, as they keep at it, they get better. Their confidence skyrockets, and their ability grows exponentially.
It works for five-year-olds, why wouldn't it work for you?
The key to learning how to write well is to look over the shoulders of giants. Deconstruct everything. Which part causes you to sit up and take notice? Which line compels you to buy? What psychological factors are at play? How do they deal with your objections? What tone do they have? Does your writing have any tone at all?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
Get yourself a marker. A nice bright orange one. Then sit down and mark exactly where you felt pain in the ad. Where you felt joy. Where you felt the pressing need to buy. And this doesn't need to restrict itself to ads alone. Emails, direct mail, sales letters…. At least 10% of all communication you get will be outstanding material.
Learn to deconstruct it—and then reconstruct it in your own way
You're dealing with fundamental human emotions. If the material you're reading pushes your buttons, you can do the same by simply patterning your writing on someone else's style.
Over time, the training wheels will come off. You won't even notice when it does. Then you'll be ready to write like a pro.
Till then, simply fill in the blanks.
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