Without This Foundation, Your Writing Will Probably Collapse


Will Newman

I’ve noticed something about myself that over the years isn’t getting better. When I’m learning a new skill, I don’t always transfer it to similar but different situations.

And I think this difficulty is fairly common. Let me give you an example from Dora, a Circle of Success member.

I’d seen Dora’s copy in COS peer reviews several times. She writes good, solid, direct marketing copy.

Recently, Dora asked me to look at web copy she wrote. It surprised me. It seemed like she’d forgotten most everything she’d learned. She hadn’t generalized from mailed copy to web copy.

I’ve seen this with other members too. When they move from long form direct marketing copy to a different niche – like fundraising, B2B, or web copy – much of their learning disappears. And based on my unofficial observations, this problem crops up in web copy the most.

So today and for our next two visits, I’m going to share three essential writing secrets from Mark Ford that cut across all types of copy you write.

Mark revealed these principles in his book Persuasion: The Subtle Art of Getting What You Want. Today, we’ll look at Mark’s foundation for all successful persuasion.

A strong foundation = a strong promotion . . .

Every successful direct marketing piece – letter, web page, email, every piece of persuasive writing – stands on the foundation of a compelling idea.

Mark puts it this way: Compelling ideas make the reader think, “Boy, that makes so much sense!” Or, “I never thought of that before, but it’s true!” Or, “Wow! I can’t wait to tell someone this!”

Your idea must engage your reader with such force that he’s pushed to keep reading.

How do you do this?

By engaging your reader at two levels: heart first and mind soon after.

You have to sell to your prospect’s heart before you can expect his mind to agree what you’re selling is a good idea. Capture emotions first. Only later do you appeal to intellect.

This is where the compelling idea comes into play. Truly compelling ideas appeal to both parts of the brain – emotional brain first; intellectual brain very soon after.

Where to find compelling ideas . . .

I wish there were a simple prescription for finding compelling ideas. Something like, “Go to this website for the 100 most compelling ideas.”

Sadly, it doesn’t work this way. There’s no shortcut for finding compelling ideas. The best starting place, though, is to read.

If you want to be a good copywriter – if you want to write effectively in any genre – you must read avidly. You must read all types of books, fiction and nonfiction, in a wide range of subjects.

You also have to listen. Your radio is a great hunting ground for compelling ideas. Where I live, about the only radio stations we get (other than country and rock) are NPR and BBC.

I’m not recommending NPR and BBC for their political slant. They’re starting points because they have extended stories that can lead you on a glorious outing into the world of ideas. Any radio network that carries extended stories with details will do the job.

Where else? TED Talks. Internet lectures and classes. (Many are available through iTunes and similar services.) Select podcasts.

The one, critical step . . .

There is one essential step to finding compelling ideas. You must think. Read and listen actively. Think about what you’re ingesting. Make notes. Engage the ideas you hear.

I wish it were easier. But it isn’t. If you think you can swipe compelling ideas (as some copywriting “experts” suggest), your ideas will be warmed over. Stale. Uninteresting.

Borrowed ideas will not engage your reader for one reason. They haven’t engaged you.

Base every promotion – long copy, short copy, direct mail, web copy – on a compelling idea. Do so, and your copy has taken the first big step toward success.

This Wednesday, we’re going to look at another of Mark Ford’s essentials for persuasion. It’s one lacking in a good 90% of web copy I’ve seen, and the biggest problem with Dora’s copy.

Hope to see you then. But before you leave, take a moment to tell us what you’re thinking in the comments below.

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Published: March 28, 2016

12 Responses to “Without This Foundation, Your Writing Will Probably Collapse”

  1. Good morning Will, This is excellent article!
    Yes, I follow AWAI experts to read every day. I do that between the clients.(I work a full time job -10hours/a day, 6 days a week) Also where I work , we have radio on all day.It is 96.7FM.
    I do listen and make a quick note on my notebook if I like some ideas.
    I wish some day , I will work less hours, and get a job and Freelance Writer.
    Thank you. God Bless Jennie

    jennieMarch 28, 2016 at 12:58 pm

  2. Thank you for taking some time to share good and sound advice. I've been on the fence about writing copy for some time. However, every time I read one of your pieces on the subject, it causes me to really think about how I want to make a living. For the first time, I will be attending the copywriting boot camp this year. I have read about the impact that this one event has had on the lives of many aspiring writers. I'm going in with a mindset that it will have just such an impact on my decision to write for a living.

    Guest (Ian Martinez)March 28, 2016 at 1:31 pm

  3. To your point about reading...

    http://www.awaionline.com/2011/05/the-anti-writing-secret-i-learned/

    Guest (Sean)March 28, 2016 at 1:39 pm

  4. Originality, that was my first thought Will. We are told that people are tiring of old marketing clichés and finding new avenues open up with originality. Makes sense, but has it really taken this long to arrive.

    Guest (John Chapman)March 28, 2016 at 4:01 pm

  5. I am brand spankin' new to this this whole copywriting thing. I've signed up for Joshua Boswell's workshop in Denver, and I have an idea for a niche, but doubts hover around me like the very air that I breathe.I guess it's just s one step at a time sorta thing though.I enjoy reading your articles though,so thanks Will.

    SJMN2016March 28, 2016 at 6:57 pm

  6. Am concerned about the length of the material used to persuade me to buy an AWAI-sponsored program. It seems to go on ad nausea. After 3 paragraphs, I scroll to the e-n-d to get what I wanted initially. I am beaten into submission if I read every last word. I taught persuasion 36-yrs. to univ. students. 3-5 points should do-in concise, exciting, logical ways. Get attention, show a need, satisfy the need, visualize the solution, take action-in 5 paragraphs/7-minutes. Too much reinforcement can bore. (These are observations I've made re the daily copy in my e-mail. Thanks for reading this far too lengthy tome...er)

    Guest (E A Roberts)March 28, 2016 at 7:14 pm

  7. Thanks Will for the great reminder! I immediately went back to the ebook I am writing and asked myself, what is my compelling idea? I had the hint of one but then trailed off in another direction, which even confused me. So I got back on track and tightened it up. So much better!

    I have found as I get more diversified projects, including editorial articles, I do get confused and lose my structure. It's always great to remember the fundamentals and have an experienced set of eyes review my work!

    Guest (Cindy)March 29, 2016 at 2:43 pm

  8. Compelling ideas are boredom's antidote without which God's all we have left. But unfortunately, Godlessness is a place from which few people escape to duly contextualize the enormity of possibility.

    Therefore, compelling ideas are the currency of hope for which faith in anything is otherwise insolvent.

    Guest (Chris Morris)April 1, 2016 at 11:05 am

  9. It is compelling that you read, study and know your topic from top to bottom so your writing will be sound, convincing and able to please the reader who then can succeed at understanding the point.

    Guest (susan robe)April 1, 2016 at 4:36 pm

  10. Will, Thank you for the valuable teaching points. I tend to agree with much of the comments E A Roberts made since I was an English major and love the art of writing. He has a point. I, too, am of the persuasion of "concice, exciting, and logical ways." I don't have time to read on and on forever without getting the answer I was promised at the beginning. In other words, I don't agree long copy is necessary. Precise wording would create the understanding without wasting the reader's time.

    Guest (Kathryn Hamblin)April 2, 2016 at 2:19 am


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