Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?

Are you a fox or a hedgehog? If you don’t know, you’ll have trouble being the copywriter you could be.

Have I confused you? Let me explain.

I’ve been lucky to live around both foxes and hedgehogs. If you’ve ever been around a fox, they’re into everything, eating anything that comes to them, and using trick after trick if they’re chased by dogs. But hedgehogs simply walk along, eating grubs, and if something unexpected happens, they stop and let their spines do the hard work.

Foxes have many tricks, but hedgehogs have one big one.

I’m sure you’re wondering how this applies to copywriting, so let me explain. Back in 1953, a political philosopher named Isaiah Berlin wrote an essay called “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” In it, he goes back through history, looking at thinkers and dividing them up into hedgehogs and foxes. Hedgehogs had a single unifying idea. Foxes have many ideas.

Berlin pointed out that there’s nothing wrong with either approach, but that each type delivers different value to the reader. One group thinks broadly, and the other one thinks deeply.

You see this in copywriters as well — you can separate them into foxes and hedgehogs just by looking at their marketing. They can be separated by what they DO as well as what they KNOW.

I’ll use names you likely know by now. Bob Bly is a fox. If you look at what he does, he’ll more or less write anything. If you look at his website, it seems he’s written every kind of project that exists.

Bob’s also a fox in the context of what he knows. If you look at this client list, he’s written copy for a huge range of industries.

Gordon Graham is more of a hedgehog. His website, http://www.thatwhitepaperguy.com/, tells you right away that he focuses on one kind of project, white papers. No doubt he can DO other projects, but he is mainly a specialist.

But he’s more of a fox in the sense that he writes about many subjects. He likes to know many things.

In a way, I’m the opposite of Graham. I’m a fox in the sense that I DO just about anything. I write customer presentations and email marketing and brochures. One day it’s product messaging, the next day it’s a sales training module.

But, I’m a hedgehog in what I KNOW. You see some B2B copywriters specialize in various fields, like natural health or medical supplies. I’m a specialist in data center technology. I’d never write about natural health because I just don’t know much about it.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I think self-knowledge is the way to get past your hang-ups and start taking action. If you know what you want to DO as well as what you KNOW (or plan to know), you’ll be better off making decisions about your path toward the writer’s life.

To find your preferences, look back on your career.

Have you jumped from job to job? If so, you’re probably a fox. You’ll probably want to seek a lot of variety in your copywriting projects, moving from new subject to new subject. You might seek out smaller jobs so that you can always have a lot of different tasks.

If you’re a hedgehog, you’re probably someone who likes having a specialty. Perhaps you can leverage subject matter expertise, like I did, or you want to delve deeply into a single kind of project, like Graham does.

But it’s also worth starting off as a fox, trying anything and everything that comes to you, and then figuring out if that’s satisfying. Many copywriters start off as foxes, and slowly develop a specialty — becoming hedgehogs over time.

Have I convinced you yet? Write in the comments and tell me if you’re a fox, or a hedgehog.

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Published: December 6, 2012

1 Response to “Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?”

  1. Thank you so much Brian...

    I'm glad to know that there's nothing wrong with me. With experts promoting the benefits of finding a niche, I was beginning to think that maybe something;s wrong somewhere for which I could not seem to hold down excitement about any particular niche for more than three days. all the benefits finding a niche.

    Maybe someday I'll become a hedgehog, but from now, I am a proud FOX.

    Dan Maxwell JrDecember 10, 2012 at 1:47 pm


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