Why some copy fails even before it's written
Your copy can do everything "Right" but still be all wrong if your core messaging misses the mark. Here are 10 things to define before you begin writing your copy.
What do you get when you strip a brand down to its underwear?
No, this isn't the beginning of a bad joke.
It's a serious question. And one that every copywriter should grapple with before beginning to think about writing any actual copy.
A brand in its underwear means the absolute bare bones of who that brand is. Its core messaging.
What do they offer? To whom? And why should anyone care?
It’s crucial to take the time to get your core messaging right before writing your first word of copy. (And then, if you see something’s not working once your copy goes live, go back to square one and do it all again.)
So let's dive in.
Here are 10 things to define before you begin writing your copy:
1. Your elevator pitch.
Describe your product or service in 1-2 sentences.
If you can't state what you offer so succinctly, the solution might be to revisit your offer (not to jam-it-all-in-and-speak-really-quickly-and-hope-no-one-notices).
2. Your unique value proposition.
Other people likely offer what you offer.
What makes you stand out? Why should anyone choose you over the next guy/gal?
3. Your ICP (ideal customer profile).
Who are you hoping to work with? What are their demographics and psychographics?
Think about what gets them excited, what they think about, and what they feel strongly about. The better you know your customer, the more effective your messaging will be.
If you have more than one ICP, list each one separately.
Here's an example of what a fleshed-out customer profile might look like:
Image courtesy of brightspark-consulting.com.
4. Your customer's level of awareness.
Think about how your customer got to you and what they already know.
The less they know, the more you'll have to write. The more they know, the less you'll write.
Admittedly, matching your messaging to the customer's level of awareness isn't always possible, especially on a website which is a catch-all.
Nevertheless, it helps to have a ballpark level to use as your starting point.
Image courtesy of MyAdgency.com.
5. The problem your customer wants to solve.
Also known as customer pain points.
You want to address both the external and internal problem:
External: The situation they want to solve.
Internal: The feelings that arise because of their situation.
For example, when I didn't have a car, my external problem was just that — I didn't have a car.
But my internal problem was that I was exhausted and drained. Getting anywhere was a hassle. Everything was stressful.
If you were selling me a car, it's the internal pain that you'd need to speak to. That’s what was keeping me up at night, and what was motivating me to look for solutions.
Define the external and internal problem of each of your ICPs.
6. Core benefits of working with you.
This is not the time for modesty! Go ahead and list all the benefits you offer.
Make sure you’re always getting to the “so what.”
So, instead of:
❌“This brand uses the latest software”
✔️“Save time: Technical know-how that will save you up to 20 hours per week.”
The “so what” here is time. And it always helps to get specific and anchor your value in a number if you can.
Once you have all your benefits listed, group and order them.
Group them either based on type (monetary/time/customer service) or ICP pain points.
7. Your customer’s hesitations.
Why would your ideal customer object to working with you, if you have what they need?
What are the barriers getting between you and them?
Whether it's cost, turnaround time, quality, name recognition, write out each hesitation as a statement from the customer (e.g. "You're too expensive!") along with your responses.
8. Your customer’s ideal outcome.
When your customer reached out to you, they wanted to solve a problem or pain. What were they hoping the outcome would be? What were they hoping life would look like after your product or service?
Consider both the objective outcome (“I’d have my own great website”) and the emotional outcome (“I’d feel confident moving forward in my business”).
9. Your core values.
While these may never be spelled out explicitly in your copy, core values should always inform your messaging.
If you value respect, your customer should feel respected as they read.
Likewise if you value brevity, or collaboration, resourcefulness, or anything else.
You can actually translate each of your core values into a customer benefit. For instance:
We value honesty, so you never have to wonder if we're taking you for a ride.
We value quality service, so you get responsive communication whenever you need it.
10. Finally, your language and voice attributes.
What adjectives best describe the tone you want to convey?
And the opposite — the tone you don’t want to convey?
Perhaps you want to sound:
✔️authoritative but ❌ not snobbish
✔️friendly, but ❌ not juvenile
✔️hip, but ❌ not hipster
Also define things like:
your grade level (what kind of vocabulary do you use?)
your structure (are longer sentences okay? Commas or periods?)
your level of formality (is your vibe professional? fun? funky?)
your purpose (to sell? nurture? inform?)
Image courtesy of CoSchedule.
Let's review. Here's that list again — at a glance.
10 Things to define before you begin writing your copy:
Your elevator pitch.
Your unique value proposition.
Your ICP (ideal customer profile).
Your customer's level of awareness.
The problem your customer wants to solve.
Core benefits of working with you.
Your customer’s hesitations.
]Your customer’s ideal outcome.
Your core values.
Your language and voice attributes.