12 Writing Exercises That Will Transform Your Copy Today

writing exercises

Effective copywriting boils down to one thing: keying into your prospect’s overriding need.

Your headline is the means of stopping your prospect in his tracks, of focusing his attention on one single thought: that overriding need.

The rest of your copy must amplify that need.

When it does, your product emerges as the fulfillment, and it overcomes lethargy, skepticism, and price.

Keep in mind: you can’t create this need. You can only expand on it and bring it into greater focus. You can only channel it into a goal … namely, your product.

But there is a catch.

You can’t repeat yourself as you intensify that need. Once you do, your reader is gone.

And that’s what the following 12 exercises are all about: helping you flesh out and sharpen that overriding need without repeating yourself.

1. Say it bluntly

Let’s pretend you are a financial consultant.

You specialize in debt reduction. And from your 20 years in the business you know that the dominant desire of those in debt is to get out of debt — quickly — without living like an Irish monk in a mud hut.

Your headline might look like this (I’m assuming we are in stage five of market sophistication):

  • Why Some People Will Never Get Out of Debt

Now take that overriding desire and restate it a number of different ways throughout your copy.

And remember: don’t repeat anything you’ve said before. The moment you do, your prospect is gone.

2. Open with the problem

You’ve arrested the attention of your target prospect with your headline (see above). He’s now moving down to the first sentence.

  • “You hate debt. You always said you’d never let it happen to you. But here you are — deep in debt. And it doesn’t matter how you got here. You hate it.”

3. Show your product in action

Explain how your product delivers those benefits through performance.

  • “No austere living conditions. No cutting out fun. No working your fingers to the bone from the time you wake to the time you fall asleep. Just three hours on a Sunday afternoon and you’ll have a budget and plan you can print out and hand to your spouse. She’ll be shocked to see she can still have her nights out with friends. Your son will squeal when he sees you’ve got a plan to start a dog sitting business so he can make money and still buy video games (used, no less). And you’re cutting out your craft beer subscription — because you are going to learn how to make it yourself.”

And so on. Pile the actions on. But don’t repeat yourself.

4. Bring in the reader

This is where you pull in the reader and make him or her part of the story. Say something like “Imagine this.” “Picture this.” “It’s 1972. You are … ”

  • “Imagine calmly noting that your refrigerator just died. No worries. You’ve got more than $3,000 stashed in an emergency fund. Picture yourself saying “yes” — instead of “no” all the time — when your kids ask if they can go to the movies because you have a loaded entertainment fund. Imagine …”

5. Challenge the prospect to test your claim

Step back and say …

  • “Don’t believe me that you can be debt free in 21 months? Try this little test yourself: Take a 30-day free trial and run this program through its paces. See for yourself if you don’t pay 30 percent less on your electricity bill, eliminate at least $300 in debt, and even pocket $50 for that long overdue date with your spouse.”

In this way, the prospect sees himself proving your claims.

6. Mention the desire through a testimonial

You can offer a different perspective of the benefits of your products through testimonials. Find those testimonials from customers in which they mention specific results they’ve gotten from your product.

  • “Just learning the ‘hub technique’ to plan my errands so I didn’t waste so much gas driving around saved me over $75 a month, which I immediately put towards paying off my school loan.” ~ Merlin Sutpen

And remember, you are not repeating any previous result. You are expanding on the dominant need.

Extremely important note: do not ever write fake testimonials.

7. Add an expert voice or endorsement

Has someone with credentials used your product and commented on it?

Did a respectable company, publication, or organization say something about your product that expands on the previous dominant desire?

If so, use it.

  • “This veteran Wall Street accountant swears this is the fastest and easiest way to defeat debt. And Money magazine said ‘It’s amazing you can cut so much debt with nothing more than a spreadsheet and calendar.'”

Don’t make up endorsements, either.

8. Compare and contrast

Hold up your product or technique to an old one. What are the differences? This can bring more results into sharp relief.

  • “No doubt, the fastest way out of debt is to spend no money and put every single penny toward your loans. You probably know someone like this. But while he and his family are eating ramen noodles in a small, unheated apartment, you are taking your children to the movies guilt-free because you’ve hit your monthly goal. Again.”

9. Paint the dark side

Up to this point we’ve mostly noted the positives of your approach — what you can give them.

But what is your solution saving your prospect from? Losing their job? High medical bills?

Show them the before so they crave the after.

This is usually where you agitate the problem.

  • “Ignore your debt problem and you’ll slowly spiral down into financial ruin. For example, miss a single credit card payment and you are charged a late fee, lose credit score points, and your interest rate goes up. Those last two are actually more serious than the first. And it gets really ugly the following month.”

10. Catalog desires

This is where you get to summarize the benefits in a brief, condensed listing toward the end of your sales letter.

  • “Take pride in the fact you figured out how to repair your electric dryer instead of calling in an expensive repairman. Relish the freedom you now have since canceling all your magazine and newspaper subscriptions. (Admit it: you felt guilty seeing those stacks of unread publications anyway.) Savor the opportunity to finally learn how to do something you’ve always dreamed of doing — but didn’t have the time — because you picked the right kind of second job.”

11. List performances

The same as above, but instead summarize with a brief, condensed listing of performances the product will deliver.

  • “Eliminate an unnecessary dentist visit with this daily fluoride tip. Get a healthy raise from your boss with this four-step negotiating technique. Cut over a half of college tuition by tapping into these government programs.”

And so on.

12. Close with a call to action

The final exercise is to help you close with a guarantee that amounts to a summary of the desire.

You ask for the sale, state the terms of your guarantee, and trot out some more benefits.

  • “If you don’t eliminate your debt in less than two years, you’ll get a full refund. Yes, if this program doesn’t help you organize and consolidate your debt into one manageable monthly payment … help you earn an additional $310 a month … and even give you an extra $10 a week for your retirement fund … then you deserve every penny of your purchase price back.”

Conclusion

You don’t need to try all 12 exercises in one day.

Better yet, try just one exercise a day. That way you can fully explore each element of building that dominant desire.

And keep in mind all your hard work can be used in your actual sales letter.

Enjoy.

Editor’s Note: This post was inspired by the seventh chapter of Eugene Schwartz’s classic book Breakthrough Advertising.

Flickr Creative Commons Image by United States Mission Geneva

About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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Comments

  1. I’m in debt to you, Demian, for a great article. So where is the sign up button? I bet you would get a lot of takers with your offer. Hmmm… Demian’s Debt Den, Debtonomics, Debto Destructo, You owe-let’s go, or maybe even… Get outta debt–you bet. Whatever the name, profit would be the game. I say you go for it!

  2. You do a real good job here of demonstrating standard sales letter writing procedure. Your good example here helps me a lot because I am finding it overly challenging to do the same for myself. Some of the elements you present here, particularly your handling of the agitation ingredient, is just what I have been looking for. The price sure is right, too. Thanks much.

  3. Great post!

    The icing on the cake was your link to Breakthrough Advertising.

    I’ve been stalking this book on and off for months… but decided to check again today through your link and found a copy at $93!!!

    And… unless the advertising is false…it’s in new condition!

    Thank you!!!

  4. Demain,

    I see you decided to jump back into Schwartz’s classic as well! I’m rereading it with an eye towards the different stages of market sophistication. I’m sure using these writing exercises in conjunction with what I learn from the master will help me craft more compelling copy. Thanks for this.

  5. I can take away many great tips on writing and my blog is dedicated to debt relief and finances, so this really helps me! I could use this entire article, haha, just kidding, but it really is good. I’m also going to check out the book you mentioned at the end.

  6. worth reading by line, Demian. It takes a while, so i rather book mark this site to read again. cheers.

  7. Hi Demian,

    Some great advice here for writing compelling copy (with a few of these examples providing great ways of sprucing up sales copy in particular).

    I strongly agree with the importance of using testimonials, although it is important to not overdo it with customer praise as it can seem fake.

  8. Demian, thanks for the great writing info! One of the main takeaways from this is to not repeat. I hadn’t put much thought into that being a turn-off to people so will keep that in mind.

    I wish this was a real product. I’m sold on it! :-)

  9. Very interesting take on this, Demian! This really challenges the misconceived notion that you should repeat yourself in order to beat your message into your audiences’ heads.

    I remember learning this in high school only to un-learn later in my final years of college. I think the way you mention is most effective.

    You can repeat information only if you say it in a different way. Otherwise, you’re being unnecessarily redundant and your readers will pick up on this quickly. It’s better to be engaging than redundant.

  10. Excellent article! I don’t even currently have debt, and I still want to purchase this product! ;)

  11. Have you ever done a column on writing for adaptive design? It’s become a challenge to know how to write for both at the same time.

  12. Hi Demian,
    Outstanding article.

    Thanks for introducing me to Eugene Schwartz back in ’09. His teachings still apply in this internet age.

    I think reaching step 9 is where we can easily slip into repeating ourselves. That’s my biggest takeaway from this today: “Don’t repeat anything you’ve said before. The moment you do, your prospect is gone.”

  13. Write with much more emotion, right off of the bat at the beginning!

    That’s a good thought Demian. Testimonials are key to building reputation within the copy and not just any testimonials.

    Readers want to see results and if you don’t have any, that can make or break your piece of writing.

    Making it more effective by adding more service/product results and people’s testimonials that have been helped.

    Thanks!

    – Sam

  14. Love this site, but the use of ‘his’ in the second sentence is a massive turn-off. Is it just one half of the population you’re addressing?

    • Julie, certainly “his or her” could technically be used there, and sometimes is here at Copyblogger, but you’ll find that we tend to simplify gender-specific pronouns and use either the his or the her, typically alternating between examples.

      • Hi Jerod. You could try using ‘their’ to simplify, without being gender-biased. It’s no pedantic point – imagine, as a guy, reading text that solely refers to a generic audience as ‘her’, to see how alienating it quickly becomes.

  15. The most concise piece on copy writing I’ve come across in a long, long time.

    So well written it feels airy and weightless. So much value it’s feels heavy.

    It’s hard to believe your post is actually 1,300 words ‘long’, because it’s so light and heavy at the same time.

    I can but guess at the tremendous effort, time and money behind your post, but I sure know how I feel about it: “Thank you, Jerod!”

    • Thanks Beat, that’s a great quote: “So well written it feels airy and weightless. So much value it’s feels heavy.”

      That’s what happens when you use short words, short paragraphs and break it up with lots of sub headlines … a lesson I have to keep reminding myself.

      Again, thanks for the kind words, and the great comment.

    • Well said, Beat.
      So true about Demian’s ability.

  16. Great article! I can see where I use a lot of this naturally, but it really helps to see it spelled out. I like the Paint the Dark Side part. However, I think you’d have to be careful with that, especially with something like debt. I wouldn’t want to alienate my audience, or make a reader feel generally like giving up before even starting. So, I think that one needs to be used sparingly.

  17. Let me subscribe your rss feed first. I am selling some digital products from my site and i was too much frustrated how to increase sales of these product. Your this article is too much wonderful for me it will help me a lot to change my strategies. Thanks a lot for posting such a wonderful ideas for us.

  18. Another light bulb moment – that’s two in two days generated by you and Jon.

    As a novice blogger I can see how this framework will improve the conceptual ordering of all my blog posts and make people want to subscribe to my lists.

    And Beat Schindler said it all: So well-written it feels light and airy. So much value it feels heavy.

    Thank you for the knowledge and inspiration.

  19. Thank you so much for posting this great article on advertising in copy writing. This will help me tremendously in my future endeavors in the world of copywriting!

  20. This is an excellent, well-crafted article explaining steps to transforming our writing. I love your post title, lead and very catchy picture on this post- and how you utilized everything you mentioned in your article right here in this post! Good stuff.

  21. Demian,

    Not only great strategy for selling, but also great strategy for spinning a single topic into a series.

    Some content needs to be repeated…repeatedly. If you took a look at the subject through the lens of each of these 12 exercises, you would have a blog post a month for a whole year.

    Not a bad way to write cornerstone content…she says as she whips out that editorial calendar.

    Many thanks!

  22. Nduta M'mbogori :

    Demian, everyday I log onto this site, I marvel at the simplicity, pertinence, and relevance of your articles. I’m sure you hear this all the time but the entire team at CopyBlogger are doing a really A* job, and helping the rest of us successfully navigate the vast and sometimes treacherous world of Copy Writing.
    A sincere and solemn thank you!

    • Nduta M'mbogori :

      Since we have our own accounts, I’d love it if you could devise a way for us to favourite your articles and organise them in terms of our own preference and usability!
      Cheers!

  23. Add an expert voice or endorsement
    Mention the desire through a testimonial
    Open with the problem

    These three are my favorites, though there is nothing wrong with the rest of your writing exercises. The example, stated above under the subtitle OPEN WITH PROBLEM is an eye opener. This is a good tactic to use.

    Your post has been shared on Kingged.com, IM social bookmarking site, enabling me to find this good piece.

  24. I always like to take a little time out to read a couple of articles on subjects related to what I do, and I came across this one. I didn’t think I would be overly interested at first but actually, once I started reading, I found myself not wanting to stop!

    I love the approach you’ve taken to demonstrate professional use of language, this is a really useful article, thank you!

  25. Hi Demian,

    Currently i am running products website online and was frustrated about the sales. After reading this i can say that this will surely help me in boosting my products sales. Thanks a lot for posting such a wonderful ideas.

  26. I really found these 12 exercises helpful and convincing if used in sales letter.

    Thanks for the post and writer….

  27. The bullet point summary is something I always struggle with. It always feels a bit tacked on.

    Thing is I sometimes struggle to just do what works!

  28. Marlene McPherson :

    Demian, You cannot say that you are not a financial Advisor! You have demonstrated the art of this type of planning. Great content, great step by step approach. As a former financial advisor I can really relate to your contents. I am congratulating you for a simple yet profound approach to teaching the concept of using the 12 point exercise to be effective copy writer. I enjoyed it and I learnt from this exercise. As a matter of fact from the headline I was preparing myself to get ideas to do 12 different writing articles that would make for a great copy. So I was blessedly surprised with this delicious menu. Thank you.

  29. Nice article! This distilled the process down to something I can figure out, thanks!!!

  30. Thank you Demian for your insights.

    The time and energy you put into producing this exceptional blog post is appreciated. I look forward to implementing some of your ideas in my upcoming posts and sales letters.

    Much Respect,

    Jeffon