What is a Copywriter’s Most Valuable Trait?

Copywriting Advantage

  • How can we write more magnetic copy?
  • Why do even skilled writers occasionally miss the target?
  • What is one leading cause of copy that fails to persuade?

I would argue that this one trait separates compelling writers from so-so writers, and it has less to do with words and grammar than you might think.

What is this magical thing?


Understanding your reader has to be the most important part of any writer’s job, but it’s especially true when writing persuasive copy. Knowing what a reader is likely to be thinking helps you to anticipate and mirror those thoughts, offer clarification where it is needed, and build trust.

Seth Godin nailed the way we lack empathy when it comes to blogs and books recently, and it’s the same with sales copy—we fail when what we write is about the seller (writer), not the buyer (reader). When you’re more concerned about your own needs, or how you appear, or your own personal preferences for style and format instead of finding out what your prospective customers really prefer, you are setting yourself up to fail.

Think about these things when you are trying to persuade:

  • What objections might they raise?
  • Which are their most urgent motivations?
  • Are there particular benefits or features they are looking for?
  • Why do our competitors lose trust or interest?
  • How would the prospect prefer to receive this information?

Getting these insights can be as simple as talking to prospective customers. Ask open questions with surveys, rather than leading them to the answer you’re looking for. If you cannot find likely suspects then build customer profiles based on existing data. Study actual behavioral test results from other marketers to see if you can glean any insights.

Reading your prospective customer’s mind could be the most valuable thing you do for the effectiveness of your persuasive writing. Focusing on your own preferences and desires is likely the worst.

Subscribe to Chris Garrett’s blog to get more blogging, copywriting and marketing advice plus a free ebook on creating flagship content.

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Reader Comments (49)

  1. says

    That’s well said Chris – just not so easy to do, especially blogging. I think blogging can trap people into thinking, “Hey it’s ‘my’ blog so it must be all about me.” Which as you well know is a recipe for disaster.

  2. says

    Here’s a great example: there’s a company near where I work whose slogan is “We want you as one one of our stark-raving fans.”

    My response is: who cares what YOU want?

  3. says

    Couldn’t agree more. I’d actually go as far as empathy being a starting point for (nearly) all copy, particularly that of a commercial nature. You MUST think of the audience before anything else. Great article.

  4. says

    Thanks guys :) Yeah when we have a job of writing to do we think about the goal we are trying to achieve, paradoxically if you only have your eye on the prize you end up missing the target by a large margin!

  5. says

    Hi Chris.

    I totally agree. Copywriting is always about the customer, the client, the reader, and never about the writer or the person trying to sell. Address the need of your readers, solve their problems and allay their doubts without imposing upon them your own opinions (suggestions should be backed with trusted examples).

  6. says

    On a side note, I know some people here also write fiction. Empathy is also a great trait for getting into your fictional characters minds and making them more real on the page. Good writing is good writing, regardless of the end goal. And when it uses empathy to touch people the right way, your odds of success are much better.

    Great post.

  7. says

    What kills me is nailing empathy with great copy of any kind that speaks to the reader, almost pats him on the shoulder… and then having *all* the empathy cut out of the copy by the client to leave just the skeleton.

    They take great, empathetic copy and chops it to bits until the tone is back to a tone of stilted business.

    Anyone else ever have that happen?

  8. says

    I didn’t think I was alone. 😉

    The situation begs the question to writers: Do you give the client your advice and counsel, tell them they’re destroying the whole feel of the work? Or do you shrug, sigh at the loss, and rework the piece as instructed?

    I hate the phrase, “The customer is always right.”

  9. says

    There are a lot of podcasts out there that would be more listenable if the host turned off the Me, Me, Me a little. Problem is, when some of them do that, it turns into a name dropping session, which again, is all about what great friends and associates the host has.

  10. says

    Chris, I was wondering if you’d help me by pointing me to some sites or resources where i can gather facts, data, stats, and maybe quotes from experts.

    Right now i am writing a sales letter on steel frame homes that are 100% re-usable.

    I know that fact-gathering and research will continue to play a huge role in my copy and i was wondering where you and Brian and others are turning.


    Lawton Chiles

  11. Mac says


    Have you tried asking a librarian? I’m sure you know by now that not everything worth knowing is on the Web, and librarians are great information sleuths. Give one a try. And if s/he doesn’t get you what you need, try another at a different library.

    Good luck!

  12. says

    Chris, an interesting experiment (and WordPress widget) would be for bloggers to count the amount of times their blogs use the words “I” “Me” “My” and “Mine”, and see if they can change these instances to be more “you-centric”.


  13. says

    Shane, that would be one useful plugin. Some yahoo once suggested that people do that manually:

    The same substantive content will be more effective with the focus shifted toward the reader. One of the easiest ways to do that is to maximize the use of “you”, while minimizing or eliminating “I” and “me”.

    Every time you finish writing a blog post, check the focus. How many times does you and its derivations appear? What about I and me?

    Got the count? Good. Now, adjust accordingly.

    Try it, and you’ll be amazed at the results.

  14. says

    Brian, “I” just laughed “my” ass off when “I” read your response to “me”.

    If that link to your piece was a “click here” link, I would have laughed even louder!!!! :)


  15. says

    Mr. Chartrand,
    You can register a minor objection with a client, but if they won’t see reason then there really isn’t anything you can do. Take the money then drop the job from your references, if you’re unhappy with the results.

    Your by-line makes a difference, on this. If your name will appear on the piece you’ll want to fight a lot harder to keep it great!

  16. says

    Couldn’t be more right about any form of communication. What is everyone’s favorite thing to talk about or read about? Them.

  17. says

    Funny, I read the headline in my RSS reader and my first thought was “empathy with your perspective”. I click over and you’re perspective is about empathy.

    It is hard to do for every topic and every perspective, that’s for sure, but being able to–even occasionally–is what makes writing fun and easy. When you are what you write, the message that comes out can be very effective.

  18. says

    I have to put storytelling at the top of the list, right next to emphathy. If you can’t tell a story, will empathy help?…

  19. says

    The thought that never gets old is that it’s “all about them” and not about me or my client, at all. The minute we forget that, that’s the minute we start to fail.

  20. says

    Chris-I think empathy is truly what distinguishes great writers from the so-so ones. You have to be able to write to your audience and feel the pain of your market.

  21. says

    Hi Chris, You hit the nail right on the head there – empathy, sincerity and conciseness is so very important for a persuasive piece of writing. Thanks for that insightful post.

  22. says

    but you treat blogging as ad or marketing which is not always the case. I mean, blogging is, most of the time, personal, and you don’t have in mind a specific audience and empathy but yourself. If we want to talk about professional blogging then things change, but it’s an evolution of the original, personal one.

  23. says

    I understand what you’re saying Margherita, but even good art and fiction writing connects with the audience via an empathetic approach, unless the work exists for the artist’s pleasure alone. And of course it bears repeating that Copyblogger is a site dedicated to online marketing, so we are naturally biased in that direction. :)

  24. says

    Empathy is an essential part of writing effective copy, but I think common sense is a part of that, too. For example, during my corporate marketing career, I spent 6 years working within a financial organization primarily responsible for various sub-prime lending products. The disconnect between the sub-prime customer’s needs and the financial company’s executives’ ideas for what the customer’s needs should be was astounding. Not only was I required to cross-sell mortgages and insurance products that the majority of the customer base was not interested in or did not qualify for, but I had to write copy to make them think they’d qualify just so they would apply and the company could use their personal information to try to sell other products in the future. Needless to say, I was happy to leave that job, but common sense goes a long way. Copy can only be effective when it’s written to speak to the customer, not speak at them.

  25. says

    Having a deep understanding of your prospect is by far the biggest key to writing exceptional copy.

    Personally I like to talk to real live prospects before I write a sales letter…that makes a huge difference.

  26. says

    Out of all the e-newsletter I get every day, copyblogger is the one I consistently make a point of opening and reading from top to bottom. It is always intelligent and I learn something every time. I’m extremely grateful as I’m just learning the ropes of putting together e-newsletter and this is perfect. I *so* thank you!

  27. says


    I loved this piece. Unless we connect with our audience, our readers, by understanding their needs – how can we hope to fulfill them?

    Copyblogger is my top resource for writing tips as detailed on my website, long may you guys continue to educate and enthrall us!

    All the best,


  28. says

    Somehow missed this post. This blog is always a treat. I wonder if Robert Cialdini’s thoughts on Influence can be applied to copy and presuasion.

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