The 5-Step POWER Copywriting Method

Five Hundred Dollars

When I was asked to teach a copywriting class for a special program at Ohio State University, I discovered that teaching writing is far more difficult than the writing itself. Many of the things I did naturally from experience or instinct were a complete mystery to my students.

So, in order to make the copywriting process a logical and painless operation, I devised a simple method for writing ad copy for novice writers. I called it POWER Copywriting, an acronym for the five steps in the copywriting process: Prepare, Organize, Write, Edit, and Review.

This represents years of copywriting experience boiled down to the basics. I won’t promise that this will help you create a masterpiece of copywriting brilliance. But it can help guide you toward better and more effective sales writing.

Step 1: PREPARE

Good ad copy begins with good information. And the best way to gather the information you need is with a thorough Q&A. Here are some basic questions that will help you prepare for just about any ad writing project.

Don’t try to wordsmith at this point. Just collect as much information as you can. Feel free to add additional information as needed. (See the more complete questionnaire I use here).

  • Description. Briefly, what is the product or service you are selling?
  • Purpose. What does this product or service do for the customer? How does it work?
  • Price. What is the suggested cost? What are you asking for it?
  • Features. What are the most important facts and specifications about this product or service?
  • Benefits. What do the features mean for the customer? What problems are solved? What needs are filled? Of all the benefits, which is the most important?
  • Competition. From the customer’s point of view, why is this product or service better than what the competition is offering?
  • Your Business. Do you have a special history, unique owner, awards?
  • Guarantee. How strongly do you believe in the product or service? How will you back up your belief? 30 days free trial? Money back guarantee?
  • Prospect. Who do you visualize as the ideal buyer? Male or female? Income? Job title? Interests? Concerns? Fears?
  • Objections. Why would someone NOT want this product?
  • Testimonials & Endorsements. Letters from happy users? Media coverage? Celebrity endorsements?
  • Objective. What do you want prospects to do when they see this ad? Ask for more information? Buy immediately? Come to your Web site? Request a demo?
  • Offer. What is the deal you are offering to prospects? Lower price for a limited time? Free information? Gift with an immediate order?
  • Deadline. When does the offer expire?
  • Required Copy Points. What information or legal copy must be included?
  • Taboos. What can never be said or promised?
  • Method of Payment. Credit card? PayPal? Installment Billing?
  • Method of Ordering. How should a buyer place an order? Phone? E-mail? Web form?

Step 2: ORGANIZE

After you’ve answered these questions, you next need to organize your information. This is simply a matter of writing the essential points concisely. These are still just notes for reference, but your copy is now starting to take shape.

Don’t take shortcuts. The best selling ideas come from this research and note taking. And I’ve found that writing and rewriting notes is a great way to focus the mind and shape ideas.

Here are the essential items you will need to write your copy:

  • Description
  • Purpose
  • Price
  • Features
  • Benefits / Prime Benefit
  • Guarantee
  • Prospect
  • Objective
  • Offer
  • Deadline
  • Method of Payment
  • Method of Ordering

You’ll notice that this list doesn’t include everything from the first step. Some of the information you collect in Step 1 is for background only. The items in Step 2 are those most likely to be used directly in your copy.

Step 3: WRITE

Now that you’ve collected and organized your information, it’s time to start writing your copy.

Write your headline.

  1. Review your Prime Benefit, Offer, Deadline, Price, Prospect, Method of Ordering, Description, and Guarantee.
  2. Choose the information you want to emphasize.
  3. Select a basic headline type that best conveys your information.* See below.
  4. Write several headlines and choose the best.

* 7 Simple Headlines that Work

Direct—A direct headline comes right out and states your main idea. (“7 step online business plan generates cash instantly”)

News—People are interested by news. Words such as “new,” “introducing,” “announcing,” “now,” and “at last” indicate something newsworthy. (“Now program your VCR by simply speaking to the revolutionary VCR Voice Programmer”)

How-To—This headline promises a solution to a problem or information of interest. (“How to stop smoking in 30 days”)

Question—When related to a benefit or the reader’s concerns, the question headline is a powerful attention grabber. (“How do I know which mutual fund is right for me?”)

Command—A command can kick your headline into high gear and start selling immediately. (“Call today and reserve your Star Trek collectible”)

Information—People make buying decisions with the information you provide. By educating people, you gain their attention and trust. (“Two things you won’t get on your average tread mill”)

Testimonial—Nothing is more convincing than a customer endorsement. (“This diet program worked for me. It can work for you, too!”)

Write your subheads.

  1. Review your Description, Benefits, Features, Offer, Deadline, Guarantee, etc.
  2. Choose the information that best expands on your headline.
  3. Write your subheads in order of importance. Use the active voice and make every subhead a benefit statement.

Write your body copy.

Expand on each subhead. List features. Explain each benefit. It may seem that this is the hardest part since the body copy will probably require the most number of words. However, body copy is relatively easy to write once you have your headlines and subheads.

Most good copywriters spend from 50 percent to 80 percent of their time on headlines. If your reader takes the time to read body copy, they’re already interested in what you’re selling. All you need to do is provide clear details and support your headlines and subheads. No need to get fancy.

Write your call to action.

  1. Review your Method of Ordering, Offer, Price, Deadline, and Guarantee.
  2. Write your call to action including all the above information that applies. Use the active voice and be straightforward and clear. (“Try the all-new Gizmotron 5000 for 30 days risk free. Your satisfaction is guaranteed or your money back. Order within the next 10 days and get 3 bonus Gizmo attachments FREE! Click here to place your order now!”)
  3. Look at similar ads to see how other writers have structured the call to action.

Step 4: EDIT

For some, editing is the hardest part of copywriting. But it’s essential to get the clean, crisp results you’re looking for. You must be ruthless. Don’t fall in love with your own writing. Every word must add to the message. If anything is unclear or wordy, cut it out. Long copy is fine. Just make sure that every word is pulling its own weight.

As you review your work, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does my headline get attention, select an audience, deliver a complete message, and draw the reader into the body copy?
  • Does my headline exploit human motivators such as fear, exclusivity, guilt, greed, or envy?
  • Is my headline clear and to the point? Does it relate to the product or service?
  • Do my subheads logically expand on the headline in order of importance?
  • Is my body copy full of facts or empty clichés?
  • Do I ask for the order? Have I made it clear what I want the reader to do?

Step 5: REVIEW

Put your copy aside for a few days and read it later when you’re fresh. Try these techniques to review your ad.

  • Use the “5 Second Test.” Show the ad to a few objective people. If they don’t understand it at a glance — in about 5 seconds — it isn’t going to work. Don’t play with body copy. Revise the big things. Make your headline more clear and direct. Clarify your offer. Give direct ordering instructions.
  • List all the negatives. What’s wrong with the headline? The call to action? The tone? Be brutal and honest. Don’t get attached to particular pet words or phrases. This isn’t art, after all. It’s business. So if something needs to be changed, change it.
  • Consider one other way to write the ad. Even if you have a successful formula, there are always other approaches that will work. If you keep an open mind, you just might find a better way. Or you may discover improvements you can incorporate.
  • Try the “Stop or Go Test.” You should generally speak in the second person, using words such as “you” and “your.” And you should avoid speaking about yourself too much, with words such as “I,” “we,” and “our.” So, with a green pen, circle all words referring to your reader. Then, with a red pen, circle all words referring to you. If you see a lot of green, your copy is a go. If you see a lot of red, stop and edit.

Dean Rieck is one of today’s top direct marketing copywriters. For tips on copywriting and direct selling, sign up for Dean’s FREE Newsletter or subscribe to the Direct Creative Blog.

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Comments

  1. You couldn’t have made the process any simpler/clear. Thanks for the step-by-step…god know’s I need it.

  2. I have been following this site for some time now as I’m working on making money on-line from my niche website but I’ve moved to a new sales/marketing position at my day job and I’m writing some ad copy. Tips like this have been helping a lot. Thank you.

  3. Man, this is awesome! I’m printing off a copy.

  4. “This isn’t art, after all. It’s business. So if something needs to be changed, change it.”

    Dean,

    I was a little apoplectic at this phrase, but like a good trainer… you present what it takes to be a lean mean copy writing machine….and I say that with the highest of kudos. This goes into the reference notebook.

    And quite frankly, it IS the art of copy by (Sun Tzu) Dean Rieck. Targets look out.

    Of all things learned here, that up front consideration is key IMO. The execution a discipline and the green and red thing…brilliant.

    So does POWER copy writing apply to blogging? Brian asked, “What is a blog?” yesterday. And Seth, John ,Chris and Tim were talking this am about being “curators of conversations”, “concierge services”, “community organizers” and that our products need to be “souvenirs of a good experience”. Are we in effect writing copy even though we are having conversations? It the unique voice versus edited copy that has me stumped here. I apologize for the length of the comment.

    All best, Jan

  5. The best post I’ve read in months.

  6. This is a must read for any person with a website and/or blog who struggles anytime over writing good content. And anyone who has to write that content is bound to struggle at times. Just what I love—a simple, easy to follow and understand process. Both sides of my brain agree.

  7. very helpful post. i especially like the last two points: edit and review. i often return to copywriting work after a brief two or three hour respite, and come at it with a fresher eye for how to most effectively turn a phrase.

  8. Actually, the tips work for almost any kind of writing, especially for those where you want to get paid.

  9. This is a great step by step guide for copywriting. It’s something that everyone does, but you don’t find a lot of “how to” articles or posts about it, so you definitely filled a much needed void. Thanks for the post!

  10. Awesome breakdown of copy writing. Exactly what I was looking for. I’ve learned some great stuff from Alex Mandossian’s video/seminar but this really gives a step by step process that ties it all together.

  11. This is awesome! I am just starting and this one simply puts everything into order. Thanks!

  12. This is by far the best post I’ve ever read about copy writing. You’ve laid it out in such a simple and concise manner that a monkey could follow this! lol

    This is getting bookmarked right now!
    Thanks so much!

    Eddy

  13. Holy moly! Where have you been all my life?

    This is a great post, one I can put to immediate use and will be referring to for a long time to come. Thanks!

    Kristen
    http://www.inkthinkerblog.com

  14. Nice post, I especially like the 5-second test.

    I do differ in one thing, and is the over-use of keywords that are being exploited right now, like the example you used above, “7 step online business plan generates cash instantly”. I’m starting to distrust these kinds of ads.

    Though the rest is great info, thanks for sharing. I do some software and this really helps, bookmarked.

  15. Thanks for sharing!

    My fave – the five second test: with a five-second glance, will your audience “get” what it is that you are trying say?

  16. Where’s the ‘have a great idea’ step?

  17. Great post. Thanks for all the practical insight for a “young” writer.

  18. Great outline. I would have loved to take a course like this in college.

  19. Dean, nice post. Copywriting is my biggest challenge. This will be a nice guide for the next time I need to push some promotions for my sites.

  20. Sending the link to this story to everyone on my team. Great, concise – applicable to all types of writing. Love especially the advice to write headlines first, then subheads, then body copy.

    How do you feel about the editing tip to cut your wordcount by at least 10-20% after the first draft no matter what?

  21. I like this post a lot. I was afraid I would hate it when I saw the headline, but it’s excellent. I will bookmark it and study it more closely, very useful.

  22. Dean, thanks for reminding us copywriters that hype
    and the newest way to sell just don’t hold a candle to tried and true marketing principles…

    It is the simple stuff that sticks to your customer’s ribs- like a good burger or warm soup on a chilly day. Your copy must inspire emotional response.

    Nice job.

  23. That’s really brilliant, thanks Dean!

    The only thing: do you think the active voice is better for subheads?

  24. Janice: I believe you could use this method for a blog, sure.

    Kristen: I’ve been at http://www.directcreative.com for a long time. Come visit. I have YOUR blog bookmarked.

    CurlyBrace: Just because you see some words or phrases used a lot doesn’t mean they are not effective. Don’t let personal preference affect your business judgment.

    Tiffany: Editing a first draft is usually a good idea, but I wouldn’t put a number on how much you should edit. Reread Strunk and White and cut everything you don’t need.

    copywriting911: I said use the active voice in subheads. It’s better for body copy too. I don’t mean necessarily using commands. I mean avoid the passive voice or flat statements. So “Try the new Widget 500 today” instead of “Widget 500 ordering instructions.”

  25. Dean Rieck: I think you’re more than 100% right. Needless to say, many of my not-so-liked keywords do attract a lot of people. I guess the best way to know is comparing it to other keywords and see what drives more traffic.

  26. Great article, Dean. Practical tips that, I think, really do help simplify the process in a way that can be easily understood for people to whom it doesn’t yet come naturally.

  27. Hello Dean, very informative and well said. I do have to say I agree with CurlyBrace in that I’m starting to get tired of seeing the over-used sly headlines to hook you to click. I understand they work and get clicks but I guess from someone with a little marketing or copywriting background, they are so obvious.

    I visited someone’s blog the other day and ALL their blog headings were how to, 7 ways to, Warning:, etc. and I just laughed.

    But . . . then again I’m a hypocrite because I just wrote a post entitled “8+ Ways To Train Yourself To Be Creative.”

    I suppose what I’m meaning is if catchy headlines are used in moderation that’s fine, but if all your headlines are tactics to get me to click, I get frustrated and in a way feel like I’m being spammed . . . but that’s just me. I know you’re just pointing out ideas that work (just wanted to add my 2 cents worth).

    I don’t know – what do others think? Are you guys getting tired of those headlines or is it just me? I’m curious.

  28. I have been working on writing a book and you just gave me a new format to accomplish my goal. Thanks a million!

  29. Thanks for the simple breakdown. We write a lot of marketing letters for our business. It never seems to get easier though and I’ll certainly be referring to the advice you’ve given here next time.

  30. Another great article full of useful advice. Your posts are always full of tips to put into practice.

  31. Love your stuff dean!
    This is strange, cause what you have written as an outline, is what I naturally do now. It was not always the case but after some lazy but resultful use of glyphius, it seems that now, I easily and naturally have good usage of copy coming out time and again. Hence now, even without the software, I am surprised that I flow naturally with such ease.

    Keep on writting
    Duke

  32. Great advice. We find that many people who have good ideas are poor editors. Writing and editing require different skills, and making the mental switch between the two can be challenging. Perhaps this is because the writer must step back from the text and consider it objectively as if reading it for the first time, which can be difficult. However, when a writer is able to do this, he has a better chance of transforming poor writing into something that will impress readers.

  33. I agree with what others have said here – this is a great way to approach writing of all kinds. I used to use a similar method in college to write papers.

    In the world of blogging, I think we often forget the “review” part. It is more than just a simple edit. Is our post REALLY relevant to readers? Is it something they will remember? Is it original? If not, posting it is just further filling the web with junk.

  34. Thanks

    Your posts are going to help me achieve my 2008 goals.

    Learn how to write…good. :P

  35. This is the best posting I’ve read since I started my job in the web marketing department. My company keeps hiring people that don’t know the proper way to write, and we recently had the main Marcom quit. I’m going to print this out and put it on the bulliten board for the new replacement to read and use as a guideline. In the meantime, I have to put some content together and I’m not a writer, but with using your guide it already seems less intimidating.
    Thank you for all your insights. This is really helpful.

  36. I never knew that it was that simple.Each point in this post is precious.But the way you have covered preparation its just awesome.It covered all.It is really a power method.

  37. I like the acronym and the info, but as an advertising copywriter myself, I wonder how you might adapt this to include tips for collaborating with art directors and designers. As you know, copywriters usually don’t work in a vacuum – we have to integrate our concept ideas, structure strategies and text with the work of other creatives.

  38. Noel: That’s an interesting idea. And I might tackle that sometime, since I’m also a designer. But this method was created originally for a class I was teaching for business people to write their own ads. The copy does the heavy lifting, so if you can at least get that right and find a designer who won’t screw it up, you should come out okay.

    FYI: The reason I started doing design was that designers kept screwing up my copy. So as the anal type I am, I wanted total control and that meant writing AND designing my stuff. I noticed my response rates skyrocketing as a result. So…I’m agreeing with you. Copy does NOT exist in a vacuum.

  39. Nice post. Very concrete and helpful. One of the best things about the Internet is you can test and measure copy to see what works best.

  40. Hai Dean,
    A lot of thanks……………
    Very inspiring and informative post.

  41. Just stumbled upon this post again and now printed out and added to my copywriting notes folder. Great tips Dean.

  42. Excellent summary. Sometimes it is easier to just start writing, let it sit, and then follow this structured approach to tidy up. Starting is half-done !

  43. Thanks for sharing!

    My fave – the five second test: with a five-second glance, will your audience “get” what it is that you are trying say?