Develop your copywriting mindset

The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook_Copy Dojo

Copywriting wisdom from The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman

I just finished reading The Adweek Copywriting Handbook. It’s obvious Joseph Sugarman knows a thing or two about copywriting (a massive understatement!). The Adweek Copywriting Handbook is an impressive book covering every imaginable aspect of copywriting you’d need to develop proficiency – everything from mindset, to strategies, to proven tactics that work. In this post I will give you a sense of Sugarman’s main ideas and will give you a sense of why you need to read this book. 

The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook_Copy Dojo

General knowledge

Joseph Sugarman starts the book on a topic related to copywriting mindset, discussing attributes he has found common in successful copywriters – a curiosity about life, being good listeners, having an interest in learning, exploring, traveling, etc. (do you possess these attributes?). Collectively these things help a successful copywriter build a solid base of general knowledge. He also highlights the importance of copywriters having the experience of running their own businesses to closely link the power of their sales copy to the financial outcomes they produce. The Copy Dojo is targeted at successful and aspiring entrepreneurs, so clearly you will see firsthand how well your sales copy is written, based on the financial outcome it produces.

Specific knowledge

The importance of specific knowledge for writing sales copy was also highlighted, even going as far as saying you need to have expert level knowledge. In the tech sector this is a common question – how much technical knowledge should founders and people working in Sales and Marketing have? There isn’t a black and white answer, but he argues you need to know your domain well enough to be able to communicate specific information about what you are trying to sell. In addition to knowing your product really well, you need to know your customer (their pain, what they fear, what they want, etc.).

Importance of Practise

How do you get better at copywriting?  Practise, practise, practise – the title of the third chapter. Sugarman talks about the importance of getting your first draft of content written without judging it – get all of your thoughts, ideas, emotions, whatever is on your mind, out on the page. From there you can polish, edit, refine, add and remove content.

Elements of an Ad

The elements of an advertisement were explained as well as the objectives of each. Ultimately each component of an advertisement (images, captions, titles, sub-titles) has a goal – to get you to read the first sentence. From there, the first sentence needs to be short. He means short. Really short. I gave it a try myself with this post. He describes the tone that a first sentence sets, where he then tries to make his copy like a water slide that once you start on, you can’t stop. You feel compelled to read to the end of the sales copy. But there’s more.

Seeds of Curiosity

Sugarman shares a lot of ideas on how to stir curiosity with your reader, which he refers to as seeds of curiosity. He often includes very short sentences at the end of a paragraph. The aim is to get you to continue reading. Here are a few good ones he shared:

  • But there’s more.’ (yes, sorry, I couldn’t resist planting one earlier in the post!)

  • Let me explain’.

  • Now here comes the good part’.

These seeds of curiosity can be spread anywhere, not just at the end of paragraphs. Putting one near the beginning of your sales copy, for example, can tell the reader you’re going to reveal something, and they feel compelled to read through the sales copy to find the answer.

Copy as Emotion

The chapter on Copy as Emotion put forth the idea that you ‘…sell on emotion, but you justify the purchase with logic.’ From a buyer’s perspective, I can completely relate to this. Can you? This statement says a lot about how you should approach your sales copy, finding ways to appeal to your reader’s emotions (what they desire, what they fear, etc.), and then help them to justify their decision to purchase with proof (facts and figures).

Psychological Triggers

The second half of the book discussed the psychological triggers you can use in sales copy to encourage people to take action. If you were to read only one section of the book, this should be it. Here are some psychological triggers he mentions:

1) Feeling of involvement or ownership – help your prospect imagine the positive emotions they would feel if they possessed your offering.

2) Honesty – buyers appreciate the truth and want to buy from people they feel are being honest with them.

3) Value and proof of it – compare the price of your offering to other things to demonstrate it’s value.

4) Justify the purchase – remind the buyer that they deserve it.

5) Establish authority – people want to be buy from someone who knows what they’re doing, knows the product, the market, etc.

6) Satisfaction conviction – show the prospect you are so convinced they will be delighted with the offering that you will fully guarantee their satisfaction. Common ways to do this are to offer a full money back guarantee if they are not satisfied, as well as to offer to pay for return shipping costs (if it’s physical product). Having a strong satisfaction conviction sends a powerful message to your prospect and reduces risk associated with their purchase decision.

7) Desire to belong – if people identify with a specific social group it can influence their purchase decision.

8) Sense of urgency – scarcity or limited time offers can create urgency which motivate the buyer to act.

9) Fear – show the buyer how your product can solve a problem they fear.

10) Instant gratification – show how your product can instantly satisfy the buyer’s need. 

11) Exclusivity, rarity of uniqueness – the more exclusive, rare or unique a product, the more you can charge for an offering, and often the higher the demand for it.

Final thoughts

If you’re still honing your copywriting skills this is a great book to read and put Sugarman’s ideas into action. With more than 300 pages, this book isn’t a quick read. And it’s not meant to be. This book gives you a detailed look at all facets of effective copywriting. If your goal is to develop your copywriting skills to point of mastery, The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman should be a critical component of your copywriting education. This won’t be a book you read once, and never go back to. My copy is highlighted throughout, and I know I’ll refer back to it again and again in future.

Now it’s your turn – have you read The Adweek Copywriting Handbook? Which sections stood out for you? Are there other Joseph Sugarman books you’ve read that you’d recommend?

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About The Author

Eric Moeller

Eric Moeller is the Managing Director of Copy Dojo, an agency which helps startups improve their sales copywriting to rapidly grow their business. He has two decades of experience in high tech marketing and product management. Eric has an MBA in marketing, and completed Seth Godin's altMBA in the summer of 2015.

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