Before you say a word, be sure you’re saying the right thing.

Zippered smiley faceI have been writing a lot of copy recently. I have also been reviewing a fair amount of copy written by others.

Whether it’s my own copy or someone else’s, I keep finding weakness in the same area.

And this area of weakness is..?

It’s when the copywriter starts writing copy before he or she is absolutely clear about WHAT to say.

If the message is wrong, it doesn’t matter how talented you are as a copywriter. You’ll simply end up writing the wrong thing really well. And your ad or web pages or sales letter won’t achieve the result you were hoping for.

This is why whether I’m teaching other copywriters, or reminding myself, I say, “Never start writing the copy until you’re absolutely sure you going to be saying the right thing.”

As an example, let’s imagine we are going to be selling treadmills to middle-aged men.

If we want to maximize our sales of the treadmill, we first need to figure out what message will best resonate with our readers.

What should we focus on? Weight loss? Cardiovascular fitness? Longer life? Looking better in a suit, so you impress people more at work? Looking slightly less unattractive on the beach?

You can’t start writing the copy until you choose your message.

And no, you can’t write something that covers every possible angle. Do that and you’ll please nobody and bore everyone.

For the sake of argument, and after much discussion with our client, let’s say the right message is…”Looking better in a suit, so you impress people more at work”.

OK…so now we have a broad direction. We know what we are going to be talking about. We’ll be focusing on the work life of our readers, and equating physical fitness, and being in shape, with career success.

But we are still only half way there. We know our message now, but we still don’t know exactly what to say.

Is this about creating a better external impression, so our buyer’s bosses and clients are more impressed with his appearance? Or is this more about increasing the inner confidence of our buyer, so he feels more confident when in the presence of these people?

What should we focus on…creating an impression or building self-confidence?

Back to some head-scratching and discussions with our client.

Let’s say the winning idea is to pitch our treadmill as a means to help a middle-aged man increase his self-confidence and succeed more at work.

Finally, we know what we are going to say.

And it’s only now that we should ask ourselves, “OK, HOW are we going to say this?”

Most copywriters believe that their core value lies in HOW they write. They are master copywriters. They really know how to be persuasive.

Personally, I don’t think that’s right. For myself, as a copywriter, I would say that my core value lies in my ability to figure out WHAT to say. And I often need the help of my client to find the right answer.

Only then do I start working on HOW to write my message.

In truth, I’m not a particularly gifted writer. I use simple words. Simple concepts. Short sentences. And I’m not very good at grammar either.

I succeed as a copywriter not because of my writing skill. I succeed because I focus a great deal on finding the exact right message to share with my readers.

You can’t write the wrong message well.

Well, that’s not quite true. Plenty of people write the wrong message well.

But you won’t make many sales that way.

Always take the time to figure out WHAT you should be saying, before you find the best way to say it.

About the author: Nick Usborne is an online writer, copywriter, author and coach.

Writing for the Web

If you found this post helpful, sign up for my e-newsletter and get a free copy of my 35-page guide…

Writing For The Web #1 — 7 Challenges every Writer and Copywriter faces when writing for the Web.

Sign up and I’ll send you the link for the download, and then you’ll receive my most recent post as part of my e-newsletter every Tuesday morning.

Sign Up for my Excess Voice Newsletter…


(Your email address will be used only for the purpose of sending you this newsletter, and you’ll be free to unsubscribe at any time.)

3 thoughts on “Before you say a word, be sure you’re saying the right thing.

  1. Nick

    As always great words of advice, I went through your Web 2.0 when it first came out and still go back to review it when I need inspiration and guidance.

    I would say anyone sitting on the fence about taking this course, get down, get started,
    you will not be disappointed.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.