What is Copywriting? A Starter Guide for Business Owners

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If you’re a business owner and you just stumbled on the word copywriting, you’re probably asking yourself—What is copywriting?


Don’t worry, I had no clue what copywriting was before I got into it. Digital marketers kept using the word copy as a noun and I was confused. So in this article, I’m going to explain what copywriting is and why you need to understand it as a business owner.

Definition: What is Copywriting?

As a simple definition, copywriting is selling on paper. That’s about it. The words you write to sell your products, services, or ideas is copy. And the process of writing copy is called copywriting.

Of course, copywriting strategies and tactics are a lot more complex than that. When you dive into the underground world of copywriting, you’ll discover that converting readers into buyers goes well beyond the clever slogans and humor most businesses use in their ads.

Is It Really That Hard to Do?

What is copywriting? It's a hard road.

You might be thinking, “Well I can write. And I know how to to sell. So I should be able to figure it out.” Sure, anyone can write copy. But not everyone can convert the masses with their writing.

In fact, most people don’t even recognize when their writing isn’t making sense and isn’t connecting with their audience. They will, however, recognize when there’s a lack of sales or qualified leads coming in with their current marketing campaigns.

Here’s the truth: expert copywriters use a blend of craft, marketing strategy, and storytelling to write persuasive copy. It’s a skill that requires you to study the best copywriting strategies in history and test newly written copy on the masses regularly.

Anyone can do it—but not everyone can do it well enough to increase conversions.

Where Do You Find Copy?

You’ll find copy everywhere. Just look at the writing on a box of cereal, on billboards, or in the script of an informercial. Copy is everywhere you see (or hear) words intending to sell on you on a product, service, or idea.

Copy is also found in content marketing. Content marketing includes:

  • Blogs

  • Podcasts

  • Videos

  • Infographics

  • And more

It’s easy to see how written copy and blogging are connected, but what about videos and podcasts?

How Copywriting is Used in Videos and Podcasts

You might be surprised (or not) to find out how much “reality” marketing and entertainment in video and podcast form is scripted. Shows like Fixer Upper and House Hunters are scripted to entertain. In fact, these shows thrive on scripted drama.

What is copywriting? It's scripted like Fixer Upper.

However, entertainment isn’t the only goal of these shows. They create drama because it keeps viewers engaged. Viewers stick around because want to know what comes next.

Copywriters do the same thing to sell products and services.

YouTube videos created by the best content marketers are also outlined and scripted to keep viewers engaged. Dr. Axe has an amazing content marketing strategy throughout his YouTube channel to motivate viewers to act and convert. He often creates videos such as the Top 7 Foods for Getting Rid of Leaky Gut where he follows this basic template:

  • Introduces his credibility (he’s a doctor)

  • Restates the title (a single pain point)

  • Agitates the problem (talks about why leaky gut is a serious issue)

  • Sets up the 7 foods as a solution to the problem

  • Goes over the 7 foods (each food has a unique feature)

  • Call to action (he encourages people to get recipes on his website for leaky gut syndrome and also asks viewers to subscribe to his channel)

This is a very basic copywriting template that Dr. Axe uses to increase the engagement and value of his videos. You’ll find similar tactics used on podcasts, websites, sales pages, and even public speeches.

The Endless Need and Thievery of Copywriting

Pirate and thievery

Now that you know where to find copy, you’ll realize that it’s EVERYWHERE. As a business owner, you’ll quickly discover that you need to write copy for:

  • Brochures

  • Emails

  • Social media

  • Websites

  • Blogs

  • Product descriptions

  • Ads

Etc., etc., etc. Running a business is a bottomless pit for writing copy.

Consider this: 47% of buyers viewed 3–5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep. In other words, a huge amount of your leads are searching for relevant content to convince themselves to buy.

But that creates a real problem for business owners. If you have a large product line or many different services, you can see how your copywriting needs will get out of hand real fast. Creating all of this content takes time and money. So what do many people do?

They steal it.

However, not only is this practice unethical and possibly illegal, there’s also a practical reason why stealing content is a bad idea for business: doing so only perpetuates common myths and misconceptions about your intended audience.

I won’t go into depth about it in this post, but remember that old game telephone? Well imagine playing that game in the world of advertising. Every time a word or phrase gets reused in a different ad, it loses its meaning and eventually becomes a cliché to the target audience.

And clichés get ignored.

Therefore, writing original copy breaks that telephone game cycle by refocusing on the actual needs and desires of the intended audience—direct from the source. Through extensive market research, a true copywriter will find the best copy directly from the target audience.

The Only Copywriting Foundation You’ll Ever Need

Bridge Foundation

So now you know what copywriting is, where to find it, and the endless need for it—but how do you write copy? It’s deceptively easy, but it can be done if you understand your audience.

I can’t teach you how to write copy in a single blog post, but I’m going to go over some essential knowledge to help you understand the basics…more so than downloading a bunch of copywriting templates.

Where Does Your Audience Hurt?

Ok, what you really need to uncover about your audience are their pain points. Pain points are those problems your audience experiences regularly that cause physical or emotional pain, fear, or annoyance. Pain points can be actual problems such as holding your phone for a selfie but getting shaky images, or taking multiple vitamins but still feeling groggy and fog-brained everyday. These pain points will help you:

  • Call out your audience

  • Speak their language

  • Understand your audience so they feel like you understand them

  • Increase your credibility and authority

Sounds easy enough, right? Sort of. Pain points often live within secret motivations, also known as—

Desires.

What does your audience desire? (Hint: it’s not your product or service.) You have to dig deeper than that.

A brief lesson in psychology. Abraham Maslow created one of the most enduring models of human needs that marketers invoke to this day. In his hierarchy of needs, he discovered that humans have a prioritized list of needs (in order of importance):

  1. Physiological needs
  2. Safety needs
  3. Belongingness and love needs
  4. Esteem needs
  5. Self-actualization needs

From this hierarchy, one thing is important to recognize: we humans are most concerned about biological needs like food, water, and shelter, and safety needs like security and stability.

So when you’ve found a pain point, you have to ask yourself, “What are the underlying human needs that live beneath that pain point? Are their biological or safety needs threatened?”

For example, when someone is getting frustrated about taking certain vitamins and still feeling awful, they don’t desire the “perfect” vitamin—they desire health. Their physiological and safety needs are in danger and they seek supplements to satisfy the angst.

So when creating copy for this audience, you’d target that INTERNAL desire for physical safety, not the desire for a new supplement.

Look, you really can’t create desire in someone else. Nobody wants your product or service. They just don’t care enough to want it.

In fact, it’s hard enough to get anyone to do anything. If you’re a business owner or a parent, you understand this very well. Your employees only want to work so hard in a day. Your children don’t care that you made the brussel sprouts with roasted garlic and Himalayan sea salt. So how in the world are you supposed to convince people to buy your product?

Simple—you harness the motivation they already have.

How to Use Carnal Desires to Motivate Action

Black and white carnal desire lips

All humans want safety, security, to be loved, to be accepted, to be appreciated, and to have what other people have. These are carnal desires. And they’re usually the very things that motivate us to act.

Think about it: no one really needs a new Tesla. If you want a way to get from one place to another, you can buy a bike. If your destination is far, buy a Toyota Yaris. If you need more space, buy an SUV. But why would anyone in their right mind spend ungodly amounts of money on a car that does essentially the same thing?

Because the car represents status and social responsibility.

Electric cars are viewed as environmentally-friendly vehicles, so you look more considerate. Teslas are also expensive, so you look loaded. Not everyone can buy a Tesla, so you look exclusive. Tesla is a forward-thinking company, so you look cutting-edge.

That’s an awful lot of benefits that have nothing to do with the performance of the car.

And this is the gold that copywriters seek. Good copywriters know that premium products and services have deep underlying benefits that go well beyond the product itself. In fact, the product or service is really just a means to get what they really want:

An emotional boost.

People use products and services because they’re seeking emotional pleasure. In reality, they couldn’t care less about the product or the features. What they really want is the promise of emotional benefit. If they’re looking at the features of your product, it’s because they’re trying to imagine how those features will get them to their intended emotional goal.

So when you’re ready to write copy, you’ll target:

  1. The desire to be socially responsible
  2. The appeal of status and social class
  3. The exclusive group they’ll be in
  4. The promise of being ahead of their peers

Those desires will motivate action.

Why You Need to Love Google as a Business Owner

Google laptop computer

Ok, now that you have a foundation, let’s get into the inevitable relationship between copywriting and organic search. For those of you that are new, organic search is basically the process of being discovered by the public on the first few pages of a search result in engines like Google or Yahoo.

Copywriting has been around for a long time. But Google hasn’t. So business owners and copywriters have had to adapt to the algorithms of Google’s search function to be discoverable by organic search. And unless you’re willing to spend thousands of dollars upfront in paid advertising, you need to convince Google that your content is worth ranking.

The internet is basically an infinite ocean of content. Everyday we’re swimming in content, whether it’s a blog, a podcast, or a YouTube video. And vloggers and businesses are competing for your attention like Roman gladiators.

So if you’re a business owner right now, you’ve probably realized that it’s damn hard to make your content stand above the noise. And it’s only getting worse.

In a way, this is a good thing. Bad content will naturally die a slow death in the pit of digital hell. No one will find it, no one will read it, and no one will act on it. But what do you do when you actually want people to find your stuff—without paying tithes to Google Adwords?

This is the deep dark secret that no one will tell you. Ready?

Your copywriting has to be good, but it also needs a good keyword strategy behind it.

Look, if you had a million dollars to blow on a marketing campaign, you can pay your way to be served in front of your audience within minutes. And as long as your copy is good, you’re basically halfway there.

But not every piece of copy in your business needs paid ads behind it. Website pages, brochures, product descriptions, etc. You can’t justify spending ads on these things because they’re not going to generate immediate ROI. But they’re still important to your sales process.

So if you don’t have that kind of money, you’re going to need a keyword strategy to make your copy discoverable via organic search.

There’s too much to go into regarding search engine optimization, keyword strategies, and copywriting here, but I might put out another post in the future because it’s critical for business owners to understand. If nothing else, understand this:

Your website needs to be discoverable AND engaging to convert casual readers into buyers.

Before writing a single word of copy, get a keyword research strategy in place to target keywords with good search volume but low competition. These types of keywords are called long-tail keywords.

The Primary Function of Copywriting

Human connection with puzzle

Ok, let’s shift back to a critical and primary function of copywriting: human connection.

Good copy always starts with the audience first. Despite what you might be hearing in the entrepreneur world, you can’t start from the copy and work your way up to the audience. You must start from the audience and let their desires and pain points guide your copy.

There are software programs out there trying to play “mad libs” with copywriting templates. The idea is that you fill in the blanks and it will spit out a fresh piece of copy for immediate use.

I’m going to be honest with you (and not because I’m a copywriter)—that’s not the way the best copywriters write copy and never will be. Here’s why:

Copywriting templates assume too much about what will appeal to the target audience. Each audience is slightly different, so you have to adjust your copy to match what appeals to the audience. Even then, you might not get it right, so you have to survey your audience to get closer to what they really want.

But if all you do is go back to the “copywriting-template-generator,” you’ll miss the most important source of information: your audience. Again, the primary function of copywriting is human connection. So anytime you course-correct and try to optimize the messaging in your business, you always need to go back to the target audience—not some template machine.

And another thing—if you’re writing copy that sounds like copy, get rid of it. It won’t connect. Your audience knows a lot more than you’re giving them credit for.

What to Do When Your Audience Knows It All and Has Seen It All Before

Ghost elephant and man looking

I believe people are becoming more sophisticated and solution aware than ever before. Sophisticated because we’re getting better at using technology to find specific information. Solution aware because we’re exposed to more ads claiming to solve our problems than ever before.

Before the internet, accessing information was difficult. You had to visit your local library, go to college, or read books and periodicals. Digging for information was a skill only in the most sophisticated people knew how to do well.

For business owners and advertisers, there used to be only 4 main outlets to promote your products:

  • TV

  • Radio

  • Newspapers

  • Magazines

The cost of ad space was expensive and competition was fierce.

What was the result? Overall, there were less ads intruding in our lives.

But with the rise of the internet, we’re exposed to more ads than ever before. There are ads in Facebook feeds, YouTube videos, web pages, phone apps, video games, and more. Today, we’re practically drowning in ads.

So as a whole, people are more exposed to the sly tactics of copywriters than ever before. Which means people are more privy to the claims and tactics that copywriters use to gain attention and persuade. The result?

It’s harder to convince people about anything today because everyone is more calloused. So how do you break through the callous?

With market research and fresh ideas.

But what are you supposed to be looking for when doing market research? You’re looking for the level of sophistication and problem awareness of your audience.

This principle was established many decades ago by Eugene Schwartz in his book Breakthrough Advertising and is one of the most secretive tactics that great copywriters still use today. It’s a tactic many people find time-consuming, but without it, you’re shooting in the dark.

Here’s the basic idea: you need to talk to your audience at the level of sophistication and problem awareness that they’re in now. You need to understand their situation so well that your copy sounds like it’s singing to them. It accurately states their problem and intervenes exactly at the moment they’re in need of a solution.

Your copy can’t speak to everyone—and it mustn’t. If you’re trying to speak to everyone, you’re going to end up losing everyone in a fog of vague claims. You need to speak to your target audience about a very specific problem in their own words. Everyone else—cut them out.

So when you’re doing market research, you’re looking for things like:

  • Which magazines do they read?

  • Which websites do they visit regularly?

  • Which apps do they use?

  • What’s their education level?

  • How do they describe the problem in their own words?

  • What are the underlying desires beneath their pain?

  • How many other direct competitors are there?

  • What types of claims have these competitors used?

  • Which ads and platforms are competitors spending the most on?

  • Is your audience even aware that the problem exists?

This is basic market research. But so many companies lack answers to these questions. So they resort to intuition or stealing ideas from competitors. That’s a recipe for sounding just like everyone else. Which brings me to my last point: big ideas.

You Can’t Come Up With Big Ideas by Stealing Them

Big ideas are new advertising angles that interest readers merely because they’ve never heard of them before.

One of the best big ideas ever created was in the video sales letter called End of America released by Porter Stansberry. The big idea was that America is in decline and you must do something if you hope to protect yourself and your family’s future. It sounds like a wild claim, but if you watch the video, the argument is so compelling and convincing that it’s very difficult to refute, even with the most skeptical eye.

And what was the product they were selling? An investment newsletter. Porter Stansberry made millions of dollars in new subscribers on this campaign. Crazy, right? That’s the power of big ideas.

Big ideas need to sound fresh. When an audience gets tired of hearing the same headlines and claims, they tune it all out. They become callous to future claims. Therefore, you must come into tired markets with fresh ideas if you hope to break through calloused minds.

Conclusion

Copywriting is a daunting subject. Business owners who are new to copywriting often get stuck in the belief that copywriting is merely a set of tactics that can be sprinkled on a piece of copy. But the process goes beyond that. Hopefully this article exposed you to the bigger picture and helped set a better foundation for the copywriting needs of your business.

If you have any questions about anything I mentioned in this blog post, leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts.

If you’re looking for direct-response copywriting services for your business and don’t have the time to learn it all yourself, feel free to contact me and we can set up a free strategy call to discuss your project.


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About the Author

R. K. Anthony

R. K. Anthony is a copywriter and content marketing specialist in California.

 

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