The International Copywriters Association

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If you analyse any working system, you'll find it has a start, middle, and end, and if it's a repeatable one, it will be simple to follow and detailed enough to get results.

Furthermore, if that system is any good, it will work for everyone in your audience (all sales copy MUST be aimed at a specific audience or it fails).

In 1986 an American engineer named Bill Smith came up with a system to ensure that all Motorola products would be 99.99% free of defects. This was based on the PREMISE that "less defects mean less returns, which means greater customer satisfaction and higher profits".

He was right.

He called it Six Sigma and Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric used it to take GE from $12billion to $410billion. A good premise beats any amount of growth hacking.

CEO (but not what you think)

In the early 2000's I came up with a simple system to write one-off ads. I called it CEO.

It stands for Claim > Evidence > Offer. Put this at the heart of any ad and you'll know what to do next.

  1. 1
    The Claim is your headline - the promise of what's to come if they keep on reading (more about the importance of headlines below).
  2. 2
    Evidence is proof your claim works. Without proof you'll get very little trust, and that will hurt conversions.
  3. 3
    And the Offer is your proposal where you demonstrate its value and explain why it's worth getting.

The premise of CEO is this:

"Better conversions occur when the evidence matches the claim, the offer matches or beats expectations, and the audience is in need of the product."

Use CEO and that premise and you'll never go wrong.

The system

The most successful businesses use a system. This system, like all good systems, starts with a premise (so we know what to do next) and adds more premises so we get a good grounding of how to create the future we want.

The road ahead

All good systems include a roadmap, but as we all know, a roadmap is useless without a known destination. So the first question we MUST ask is this: what do we want?

The trouble is, the question is too broad. We need to add parameters . To fix that, use the SMART model.

  • SPECIFIC - "I want to become a professional copywriter"
  • MEASURABLE - "earning at least $50k per year"
  • ATTAINABLE - "by getting myself trained"
  • RELEVANT - "because this is something I've always wanted to do"
  • TIME BASED - "and I'm going to give myself a year to achieve it"

Of course, the above is just an example, change it to suit yourself. Maybe you need more money. Maybe you can do it in less time. Maybe you'd prefer to go down another path entirely.

Whatever you choose, by being SMART, you will get clearer on your mission.

The Big Idea (or how to win big)

Every great piece of copy was based on a big idea. To be big, it must be different. It must use an angle not seen before by its audience (that is, it may have been used in hundreds of other markets, just not this particular one).

NOTE: a market is another name for a specific audience or group of people with similar needs.

Developing the skill to come up with big ideas is something we teach in the ICA, and it's something anyone can learn.

"Every time I sit down at the keyboard to write, I am able to come up with something new on the spot. There's no delay, no stress, and within a matter of an hour or so (and a couple of edits later), I have another piece I'm proud to call my own."

That skill improves our confidence and increases our ability to stand out from the crowd. Without a big idea, all copy is mundane. The only copy worth paying for is original copy. It's how the Ogilvy agency earn their high fees to this day.

"If you have a truly big idea, the wrong technique won’t kill it. And if you don’t have a big idea, the right technique won’t help you" - David Ogilvy, The Father of Advertising

A headline is just another sentence...

Using cookie-cutter headlines is fine for click-bait, but if you want long term, memorable ads that make money for your clients (and yourself), you'll need to learn how to create original, relevant, and meaningful headlines.

One way of doing this is to take apart winning headlines and develop a formula for reconstructing them for whatever it is you're selling.

It's not rocket science, and again, it's something we teach inside the ICA. But as has been said many times before - the purpose of a headline is to get the reader to read the first sentence. If the headline fails, you fail.

“If you can’t advertise your own services, what hope do you have of being able to advertise anything else”

Why some copy sucks

Copy is about precision. When every word is carefully chosen and placed in a specific position on purpose, amazing things happen.

But when it's thrown together without thought, it doesn't just suck, it puts people off, the brand gets damaged, and clients are lost.

If you've been following along over the last few years with everything I've put out through the Science of Copywriting website, you'll already know a great deal about this.

“If they don't read your copy to the end, they won't buy your product and you'll have wasted your time.”

Branding - what do you stand for?

There's a reason people walk around in T-shirts advertising the brands they've purchased. They want people to know they're part of something special. They belong. It's a way to be seen and they're happy to pay for the privilege.

In fact, it's a culture thing:

“People like us, do things like this.” - Seth Godin

Branding is part of the system. No branding = no culture, and the only non-culture things that sell are commodities (which is always a race to the bottom).

When you get your branding right, your audience knows who you are, what you do, and why they should trust you.

And that means more money in your pocket.

How much do you want to earn?

What price should you charge for your work? Should you ask for an hourly rate? A cost per word or article? Or pitch on a project basis?

Or how about pushing for a retainer deal where you get paid simply for being on-call (even if you do no work for a month).

For a system to work, the price must deliver the outcome you or your clients want.

There's a system we use in the ICA called The Playing Field. It always involves (at least) three players:

  1. 1
    The seller
  2. 2
    The buyer
  3. 3
    The offer

Unless all three players are taken into account, any negotiation will fail, and if your negotiations fail, you'll never meet your goals.

Pricing is all about the deliverables (in other words, the outcome is the offer).

The journey starts here...

The journey to become a professional copywriter is long and hard. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Most travellers fall by the wayside.

Yet the roadmap is simple. You start by knowing the destination. You reverse engineer it. And then take tiny steps to reach it. All these steps are figured out using first principles and a series of premises.

We break each step down into something doable (using SMART).

That way we get to measure what we're doing so we stay on course.

If you'd like to know more about what it takes to become a professional copywriter and get paid for what you love doing, subscribe to the ICA mailing list or ENROL and get started right away.

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International Copywriters Association