3 Steps to Writing Copy that Speaks to Real Desire

image of heart in a wrench

When you’re doing your best work with your clients, it can be magical, sacred. There’s almost something holy about what you do, like you aren’t there at all.

And that’s what your clients love most too — those moments of transcendence in the work and the relationship.

The best businesses always originate from an attitude of service, and Copyblogger has talked many times about putting your customer’s needs before your own.

But if you try to talk about this sacredness in your copywriting, it doesn’t make an impact.

It gets swallowed up in the marketplace, like an insignificant cotton ball swept away in a hurricane.

At the same time, it seems like there’s a stampede of customers running towards the latest exaggeration and hype … pitches for effortless success and instant health.

What gives? Doesn’t anyone care about what’s really important?

Can you increase your business without sacrificing your ethics on the altar of sleazy hype and inflated promises?

You can … but you need to see inside the fight going on inside your customer’s hearts (and your own).

The fight of the millennium: the ego versus the heart

Everyone’s heart craves love and connection. Our hearts are made to love and be loved. Our souls ache for connection and depth.

Unfortunately, that’s not often who’s in the driver’s seat. The one who’s got his or her grubby little fingers on the wheel is the ego.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with Mr. or Ms. Ego in particular. It’s just that the poor dear can’t really take in a grander perspective.

The ego is all about needing safety and security. The ego is always focused on problems and what’s in the way of safety and security. Worrisome thoughts, judgment, and blame are the ego’s best friends.

When the ego has its eye on some big prize, or feels like a fire is burning on his or her rear, then the accelerator gets jammed to the floor. The heart may say, “Uh, excuse me, I’d really like to stop and check out a little bit of that love over there.”

But the ego says, “Huh? Whatever …” And turns up the rock n’ roll even louder, eating ice cream, smoking cigarettes, and driving even faster.

You know it’s true.

How many times have you told yourself, “Well, I bet I’d feel really good if I only (went bicycling, ate a green salad, took a nap)?” But there you are 30 minutes later, sprawled on the couch with an empty pint of mint chocolate chip, and cookie crumbs everywhere.

Your customers are driven by ego just like you are. And they don’t always respond to that heart-centered message.

What does it take to control the ego?

Buddhists, Sufis, Christian mystics, Jewish Kabbalists, Hindus, and Zoroastrians will all tell you that it takes a great deal of discipline and spiritual development to get the ego to give up the wheel, and allow the heart and the Divine to drive the person.

In other words, it takes someone who is pretty darned enlightened.

So, unless you’re marketing only to spiritually enlightened masters, I’d choose another way.

Soothe the ego before you try to talk to the heart

This is why all those crazy hype-masters make so much money — because they know how to get the ego’s attention.

As long as you run an ethical business in an ethical way, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with talking to a prospect’s ego. Now if you get the ego’s attention and then give it junk food and rusty knives … well, not so ethical.

But you don’t have to market only to the enlightened. And you don’t have to abandon the sacredness of what you want to say.

You just need to spend some time soothing the ego first, then you can show the heart. Your business can grow, and you’ll get to do more of what you love.

The ego needs three things to soothe it. So what are those three things? And when do you start talking to the heart?

3 keys to ego-marketing the sacred

#1 — The first thing the ego wants is empathy.

The ego wants to know if you really know the pain it feels. Because pain is uncomfortable, many of us tend to minimize others’ pain. For instance, someone may tell you, “I’m super pissed off and enraged about such and so.” And someone attempting empathy answers, “Oh, I hear you’re upset about such and so.”

Uh, no.

“Upset” does not equal “super pissed-off and enraged.” Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the emotions you know your customers are feeling in your copy. You don’t need to go over the top, “Sounds like you’re ready to burn that place to the ground.” But, don’t be afraid to say, “You’re so mad, you could chew through steel.”

You can read further on this in one of my favorite empathy resources, Nonviolent Communication, a book by Marshall Rosenberg.

#2 — The second thing the ego wants is identity.

The ego doesn’t feel safe with strangers.

If your clients are pregnant women, then they’ll want to know that you know something very personal about being pregnant. If your clients struggle with getting their corporate teams to function, they want to know that you really get the corporate political landscape.

And, if your clients hold strong values around something, they want to know that you cherish the same values, that you won’t run roughshod over them.

For instance, there are lots of people who teach copywriting to business folks. But for me, I waited a long time before studying with someone, because I was concerned that:

  1. They didn’t know anything about the kind of people I talk to
  2. They would try to turn me into a hype-master. That might be what works for a lot of markets, but it’s not for me

#3 — The third thing the ego wants is hope.

The problems the ego faces are real and legitimate.

Your clients do want to be healthy. They do want to be effective. They do want to succeed. And the ego needs to know it can get there.

It wants to know that you aren’t just going to talk about bringing love, peace, and harmony into teamwork — but that by doing that, the team will be able to hit their fourth quarter goals.

Now, start talking to the heart

With the three goals of empathy, identity, and hope showing up first in your copywriting and marketing, you can then bring up the sacred, almost as if it’s a side benefit.

But don’t worry, your heart and your client’s heart know what’s really going on.

Dealing with ego can feel like selling out, or compromising your values, but it doesn’t have to be that way. By paying attention to what the ego wants (what real people really want), you can finally connect with many more people on a heart level, so they can get the profound effects from working with you.

And, what shows up in your bank account will support you to have fun, be generous and keep doing it, too. (There, there, ego, this will help your money problems …)

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Reader Comments (38)

  1. says

    Thanks for this great post, Mark, it came at a really appropriate moment this morning, as I was sitting down to “fix” some marketing copy that wasn’t pulling its weight for me.

    I love the idea of including empathy, identity and hope into the marketing, and the way you explained it makes perfect sense.

    My question here is how much should we talk about these things in relation to the whole marketing piece? For example, if we have a 1000 word sales letter, then should these elements take up 300 words, less or more? I’m sure the answer is probably dependent on the topic, and the type (and degree) of pain the target market is feeling. Hard to know how and where to strike a balance, though.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    • says

      That’s a great question, Nigel, and thanks for your kind words. Because I write on the interwebs, I’ve never thought about it in those terms. However, one things I do know is that you can get a sense of completeness with the empathy fairly quickly. Once people feel seen, they want to move on. And a disaster is to go back into more empathy once you’ve stepped into the next subject.

      Too much empathy, in fact, can risk becoming hype because you end up going into TOO MUCH detail, and that can be retraumatizing, depending on what you are talking about. Hope that helps!

  2. says

    Hi Mark,

    I love reading this great post and I learned few new things as sometimes we get to know the ego and heart fight but you have mention in very use full manner. Its been really worth full reading the article.

    Thanks for sharing great tips :-)

  3. says

    Great post Mark. The post was really nice and the way you told the story really pulled me in.

    So basically, we have to deal with customer’s ego to make sure they are comfortable. This way we won’t feel bad and will sell something of true value. I like the lesson.

    Your post came at a really appropriate time for me. I am struggling to get back into selling (services) again because my ego comes in way.

    Thanks for the post. Good luck to you.

  4. Jezabel says

    This is a great piece of advice, and I’ll be sharing it and using it.

  5. says

    This is probably why Dr. Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, and other spiritual thought leaders like them have a strong following. They get out of their egos (Dr. Dyer refers to the e.g.o. as ‘edging God out’ — a bit of trivia) and understand their audience without judging them. Dr. Dyer, Deepak, Tolle, and others like them usually end up on the Best Sellers list and their products sell out.

    By the way…I think this post is a great piggyback to the one written by Sonia where she spoke about being authentic. If you want to connect to your readers, it would behoove you to drop into that place inside of you where your ‘heart’ center resides. It’s alright for people to ‘feel’ their emotions and acknowledge if they’re pissed off or super angry. Furthermore, it’s okay for business owners to acknowledge the feelings of their customers. It’s a good way to help them process their emotions. Let’s face it; it’s not healthy to keep our feelings bottled up. If you do, you could become sick. Or worse, you could explode! :)

  6. says

    Wow, brilliant post Mark! It is so true that really good work, in copywriting or in other areas, almost always has its base in these basic human principles– empathy, identity, and hope. A successful and meaningful movement has to start there. It is insanely simple but it always comes down to listening to each other.

  7. says

    Mark, this article is incredible! I felt like you were speaking directly to me. I can see how in the past I’ve taken the hype route in an attempt to get the attention of the ego/overwhelm it, but I’ve always felt there was a more effective way… and through your article I believe I’ve found it. I will be checking out all of your stuff, learning what you have to teach, and incorporating it into the flow of all of my work from here on out. Thank you!

  8. says

    Good article.

    I call this “lowercase syndrome.” As important as a copywriter’s job is, his duty is to be invisible. Even the product or service should fade into the background as the customer and his desires take center stage.

    Too many businesses, too many marketers, too many writers think they’re the star of the show. In truth, they only EXIST because there are customers with needs they’re willing to pay to satisfy.

    Thanks for sharing this, Mark.

  9. says

    Very intriguing post, Mark, thank you for sharing. I have been having something of a hard time in trying to find the best way to write copy for my product. I like to take a very psychological, analytical approach in my writing, catering to the id and the ego. This post makes me feel like maybe I’ve forgotten about the heart… Thank you for the reminder!

  10. says

    Spot on regarding the empathy line – there’s nothing engaging about someone who pretends to listen to you before dumbing down your feelings.

  11. says

    Great post Mark! The prospect’s pain is the reason that they are reading copy in the first place. They are looking to buy hope, and want to know if that is what you are selling. When their pain is acknowledged, their relationship with the copy begins to form. When you prove to them that you know more about their pain than they do, they begin to see you as an expert. And if you are an expert then you may be able to provide the hope that they are looking for. Hope is the motivator that keeps us moving from day to day and is a powerful tool to use in copy. Don’t sell the product, sell the experience, sell the hope. What is the prospect hoping for when they buy your product? We should all be in the business of selling hope. When we are able to effectively achieve this, we will write million dollar copy.

  12. says

    Mark, Does it wear you out that you rock it everyday? Because the wise goodness you put forth is a constant gift, you vessel, you.

    Great article, as always!

  13. says

    I had to double check that I was reading a post on copyblogger.. I read and write spirituality and thought I must have opened a blog on spirituality rather than writing. I love that you combine both. Excellent and thank you.

  14. Archan Mehta says

    Thank you for contributing this article. Your ideas are solid. We enjoyed reading your ideas.

    Life is difficult. Consequently, people are torn. They don’t know which way to turn. They are insecure, lonely, scared.
    Thus, the human being wants to feel whole again. They are looking for an antidote to depression and worry and anxiety and things that make them feel that one is less than one.

    If you can appeal to these emotions, well, you are already in the game.

  15. says

    I think a lot more attention to emotions that people feel will engage readers. You got me with talking about the hype masters and over the top explanations of their emotions. It reminds me of the false rage and posturing that you see politicians do.

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