How Being Predictable Can Ruin Your Copywriting Success

Will Newman

Most of us want predictability in our lives.

Your prospects certainly do.

But predictability can damage your quest for the writer's life.

Understanding this master-level secret adds power to your writing. (And not just in copywriting.)

Let me show you what I mean. Fill in these blanks …

 … just the tip of the ____________

 … barking up the wrong ____________

 … buy one, get one ____________

That wasn’t hard, was it? You could do it with your eyes closed.

Or, more to the point, with your mind closed.

Your brain is an amazing information processor. It wants to make sense of all the stimuli bombarding it. When it gets information, it tries to “fill in the blanks” to make sense of experiences.

This wonderful capability — called the categorical imperative by psychologists — makes life manageable and simpler. This is why when you see a Chihuahua and an Irish wolfhound, you recognize both as dogs.

This is also why you’re able to fill in familiar phrases like the ones above without even thinking.

While this ability to fill in the blanks is good in everyday life, it’s not good when your prospect is reading your copy.

If your prospect anticipates what you’re going to say, he’ll stop paying attention to the details. He figures he already knows what you’re going to say.

He’ll skim. He’ll read your letter intellectually and not emotionally.

And quite possibly, he’ll stop reading entirely.

If he stops reading your letter because he thinks he knows where it’s going, your letter — and your sale — is dead.

When does this beast raise its ugly head?

One sure way to stir up your prospect’s categorical imperative comes when you’re too organized! When your writing and the flow of your copy is predictable.

Nervous new copywriters fret they’ll leave out something important. So they meticulously outline their letters. Then they carefully follow those outlines in hopes of getting everything in.

Writing strictly by outline has two unintended effects. First, it makes your copy predictable. Your prospect anticipates where it’s going. And loses interest.

Equally important, when you write by a strict outline, you’re crippling your ability to write from your heart. You limit the passion in your writing. And worse, you may kill the emotional appeal to your prospect.

Taming the beast

How can you tame the categorical imperative? (The nuns who taught me in grammar school aren’t going to like this, but … )

Don’t use a strict outline for persuasive copy.

Notice my emphasis on the word “strict.” This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach your copywriting with a strong plan. You mustn’t write it like stream of consciousness poetry.

But avoid having copy so structured, so outlined, so preplanned that it leads you step-by-step through the writing process and leads your prospect step-by-step through your copy.

Instead, follow the 4-P’s© — the Promise, Picture, Proof, Push structure of a successful promotion (taught in The Accelerated Program).

This structure lets you touch both the emotional and intellectual centers your prospect uses to decide to buy.

Start with one, strong, irresistible Promise written out. List benefits with the biggest one first. This is the one you’re going to use for your headline and lead.

Develop an informal list of possible Picture elements. Imagine as many as possible, knowing that you won’t use them all.

Then start writing. Follow the 4-P’s as your guiding structure … but let your words flow.

Once you’ve written a good part of your copy, let it sit for a day or two.

Go back and read it with new eyes. Does it sound like a neatly structured, outline-driven treatise? Or does it flow and rely on emotion to carry it along?

If you avoided using a strict outline, you’ll be surprised how many of the most compelling Picture elements you got in without it.

If your copy sounds too organized, revise it.

Write from your heart. Not from a highly structured outline that feeds the categorical imperative beast and kills your sale.

And kills your effectiveness as a copywriter.

Let us know your thoughts on predictability and achieving the writer's life. Comment below.

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 »

Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: October 20, 2016

6 Responses to “How Being Predictable Can Ruin Your Copywriting Success”

  1. Will makes a great point about predictability. Although I often forget to do it myself this article reminded my about a method I've seen used occasionally. And that is the mixed up cliche. In Will's examples that would be saying something like this:
    … just the tip of the __Mountain_
    … barking up the wrong __Dog__
    … buy one, get one _for your Mother-In-Law___

    Tim McMahonOctober 20, 2016 at 2:22 pm

  2. I'll prefer a little planning to make the piece a bit interest-sustaining such as slipping in a caluse or phrase, anything, to "create" a hint of suspence.

    Guest (Anwer Khalil)October 20, 2016 at 2:54 pm

  3. YES!!! I totally agree. Whatever you write or DO, if you make it as a robot, all you'll get is a chain product, and we all know how anti-exciting these things are!!
    Thank's for asking ! :)

    Guest (Florica Cimpoies)October 20, 2016 at 10:35 pm

  4. I was thaught to write essays with an introduction , body and conclusion.I guess in this kind of writing it doesn't work like this.It sounds interesting the way that we can actually write with feelings and express ourselves.This sounds good what a unique way of writing.

    Guest (Liliana Palacios)October 20, 2016 at 11:10 pm

  5. I thought it was a open, honest outlook of what to do or think when writing. I also thought it gave a clear outline about being organized when writing for a client.

    Guest (Richard Pyles)October 21, 2016 at 12:22 am

  6. Liked Tim's completions. Here's mine:
    ... the tip of the __Spear__
    ... barking up the wrong __eggplant___
    ... buy one, get one __to waste__

    Not to structured, not to loose. Everything in ... well, moderation, as the saying goes.

    John Chambers OregonOctober 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)