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How to Generate BIG Ideas … and Even BIGGER Paychecks!

Great ideas are what separate blockbuster controls from sales letters that produce average results. They grab your prospect’s attention and jolt him out of his day-to-day experience.

Your success as a copywriter hinges on coming up with one fresh “big idea” after another. And by the time you finish reading this, you’ll know three strategies for doing just that.

So let’s get started …

Here’s a headline from a highly successful financial sales letter:

“Like hitting the lottery!” – CNBC Pundit
Skim $5,250 Per
Month Using My
Secret Banking “Pass Code”
Starting tomorrow at 12 noon EST, YOU can divert EXTRA MONEY
into your bank account each month – legally – from the
world’s computerized marketplace!

The big idea here is that there’s a secret banking pass code that can put extra money into your bank account every single month. To an investor, the intrigue and promise of this big idea is hard to ignore.

Ultimately, this promotion is selling a subscription to a financial newsletter. Without a big idea behind this package, the headline might have read:

Here’s How “Takeover Trader” Can Put $5,250 Into Your Pocket Each and Every Single Month!

Notice how, when you read this headline sans a big idea, it doesn’t provoke the same curiosity or grab your attention nearly as much.

Here’s one more example. This one is from a health promotion selling a vitamin D supplement:

Mankind’s greatest medical mystery SOLVED:
Why 438,000 of all heart victims die with HEALTHY arteries …
… And the astonishing new discovery that could help
cut YOUR risk IN HALF!

The big idea driving this package is that if you’re concerned about heart health, cholesterol isn’t the only thing you need to be worried about. There’s another risk factor for heart disease that accounts for 438,000 deaths of people with healthy arteries.

This idea is irresistible because the prospect wants to protect his heart at all costs … so he needs to find out what this astonishing new discovery is.

In this case, cholesterol’s evil twin is inflammation. And, as it turns out, vitamin D is a powerful inflammation fighter.

But again, without a big idea this headline might simply have read:

Protect Your Heart With Our
All-New, Scientifically Proven Vitamin D Supplement

Not very exciting or compelling when compared to the original headline.

So how do you come up with effective big ideas on a consistent basis … knowing your career, success, and bank account depend on it?

Be more creative.

It sounds simple, but if you’ve tried coming up with one fresh big idea after another, you know how challenging it can be.

Fortunately, there are a few techniques you can use to spark your creative side.

My favorite ones are from Roger von Oech’s book, A Whack on the Side of the Head. He’s worked with almost every Fortune 500 company you can imagine as a creative consultant. His clients include Coca-Cola, Sony, Microsoft, CBS, Apple and Disney … just to name a few.

Here are my three favorite tips, straight from the book:

  1. Look for the second right answer. “Often, it is the second right answer which, although off-beat or unusual, is exactly what you need to solve a problem in an innovative way,” says von Oech. Instead of asking yourself, “What is the answer?” he suggests that you “ … train yourself to ask questions that solicit plural answers, like ‘What are the answers?’”

    As a copywriter, you might ask yourself, “What are the best big ideas that will make this promotion a blockbuster success?” Out of those many ideas, you’ll find the best big idea for your promo. It’s like being a photographer who takes 10 or 20 pictures so he can pick out one or two great photos. So if you’re working on a sales letter selling a protein powder, you might come up with the following three ideas:

    • Use Nature’s Building Blocks and Build a Lean, Toned, Sexy Physique!
    • XYZ’s New Protein Powder Contains ZebraStripes™ … A Scientifically Proven Nutrient That Packs on the Muscle
    • They’re Robbing You Blind! The Shocking Truth Behind Most Protein Powders, and Why You Still Haven’t Experienced the Muscle-Building Miracle You’ve Always Wanted

    From there, you’d pick the one you feel has the strongest chance of becoming a control, and work from there.

  2. Challenge the rules. Simply put, you’re going to look at all the copywriting rules you’ve learned and challenge them. Pick them apart. As von Oech writes, “Creative thinking is not only constructive, it’s also destructive.” For example, Einstein broke the rules of Newtonian physics with his theory of relativity. In swimming, the butterfly stroke came about after swimmers “broke the rules” on how to swim the breast stroke.

    You’re going to do the same with your copy. Maybe you decide that half of your promotion is going to consist of testimonials instead of body copy. Or, you decide not to use a headline. Whatever it is, challenge convention. Legendary copywriter Jim Rutz challenged the rules of traditional direct mail when he made his promotion look like a magazine instead of using the tried-and-true sales letter. The result was a smashing success … and he helped create a wildly successful direct-mail format that’s still in use today – the magalog.

  3. Cross-fertilization. As von Oech writes, “Every culture, industry, discipline, department, and organization has its own metaphors, models, methodologies, and short cuts for dealing with problems. But often the best ideas come from cutting across disciplinary boundaries and look into other fields for new ideas.”

    To give an example, in response to a question from von Oech, Apple CEO Steve Jobs answered:

    “I went to Reed College in Portland. At Reed, most of the men took modern dance classes from a woman named Judy Massey. We did it to meet the women. I didn’t realize how much I learned about movement and perception from that class until a few years later when I worked for Nolan Bushnell at Atari. I was able to relate how much resolution of movement you need in terms of perceiving things for video games.”

    As a copywriter, you can accomplish this by reading things you normally wouldn’t read. If you’re a cigar aficionado and regularly read cigar magazines, read something completely different, like Cosmopolitan or The National Enquirer. If you love reading about gardening, start reading kung fu magazines. The ideas and information you come across when you “cross over” to different industries will provide plenty to work with when it comes time to generate new ideas for your sales letters.

Apply these three strategies next time you write a sales letter. They will help you develop that breakthrough idea your client wants and needs. Best of all, you’ll be generating one control-crushing idea after another … thrilling your clients with big results and delighting yourself with even bigger paychecks.

If you’d like more specifics on crafting great “big ideas,” check out Paul Hollingshead’s special report, The Big Idea: How to Find and Develop a Captivating Idea That Sets You Apart From the Crowd.

And if you want to stretch the limits of your creativity, here’s a list of additional resources to get you started:

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: October 20, 2008

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