A copywriter's tip: Never write a first draft

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A copywriter’s secret to good first drafts is not to write them

Yesterday, I had a coffee meeting in Rozelle, near our Sydney office. I was meeting a prospective client. Before the meeting, he’d sent me a brochure he’d drafted for a new product.

The brochure was fine. The writing progressed logically; it told me exactly what I’d get with the product, and it was all grammatically correct. But the copywriting was fatally flawed. You’d have bought what he was selling only if you were already convinced that this was something you wanted and that he was the guy to sell it to you.

A copywriter’s quick fix: drafting out loud

The amazing thing was that he fixed that fatal flaw in his copy from the moment he sat down in the cafe. He just didn’t realise he was doing it.

Over coffee, he told me why he cared about what he was selling, how far he’d travelled to find the right product, and how many other products he had tested and rejected as not just right for his Sydney-based clients.

In the end, he’d spent tens of thousands of dollars on finding the right thing (and saving his clients from products that looked good but wouldn’t deliver).

He gave me examples of people who’d been helped by what he was selling.

It was extremely convincing.

So why, I asked him, was none of that in his draft brochure.

Over coffee, he had effortlessly convinced me about what he was selling and his credentials to be selling it. But when it had come to writing it down, he had reflexively started to be “serious”. Copywriting does that to people, even copywriters sometimes.

The great story of the question that had needled him into travelling to three continents looking for an answer had not made it anywhere into the brochure. Even the stories of the people who’d benefited as a result were nowhere to be found.

Why the story is everything to a good copywriter

Those stories probably seemed flimsy next to all the concrete detail he had. But the stories were far more powerful than the features of the product. It was the stories that held the answers to the most important questions prospective clients would ask:

  1. Why you?Because I care about this so deeply that I spent years tracking down the right answer and rejecting alternatives that look good but ultimately disappoint.
  2. How will I benefit?I could list for you all the “things” that you’ll get, but let me show you the difference these products have made to these people.

Years of school teach us that the Devil is in the detail, but the detail is often the Devil when it comes to persuasion. We make our decisions based on emotion, whether we like to believe it or not. The research is in and it’s conclusive, whatever your English teacher told you.

A good copywriter understands the emotion behind the purchasing decision.

So next time you’re sitting down to write persuasive copy, stop and do nothing until you talk it over with a friend over coffee. Not only will it help your natural copywriting, it’ll your copywriting for SEO if you’re listening with keywords in mind–the words that you and your friend use will likely be things someone might type into Google.

Copywriting talk
Copywriting talk

How to write copy over coffee

I started this post telling you that you shouldn’t write a first draft.Your first draft is that conversation with a friend. Fortunately, Sydney is blessed with a cafe on every corner, so you’ll have no trouble finding a conducive spot.

Be natural but notice:

  1. Where do you instinctively start? Trust your gut. Do you start by describing how finely your new pepper mill grinds pepper or do you start by talking about how fantastic food tastes with finely ground pepper? Where you start in conversation with a friend is probably the most interesting part–we want to fascinate our friends–so that’s where a good copywriter would start.
  2. What stories do you tell to illustrate your points? Every time I asked my prospective client a question about some aspect of what he was selling, he answered me with a story. “Well, I found the answer to that when I visited this guy in Malaysia…” But there was not a single story in his brochure. The more he told me of his story in coming up with his product, the more I was convinced he was a guy to trust when he said he had the right answer.

What our clients in Sydney say about our copywriters

Sydney offsite document storage company Store A Box asked us specifically to get beyond the detail. They wanted to tap into what their customers needed to know.