Copywriters — Do you know what going on a “factory visit” means?

Back in 1979, during my first few months as a trainee copywriter, I was given the task of writing a print ad for a forklift truck.

I received the brief, photos and everything else you might think I needed to start writing.

But my next step was to get on the London Underground and visit a warehouse where this particular model of forklift truck was being used.

I interviewed the manager who ordered the forklifts, and spoke with some of the operators who used them every day. I even got to drive one.

When I returned to the agency, the core of my ad was based on those interviews and conversations.

That’s called a factory visit.

A factory visit doesn’t have to include an actual visit to a factory or warehouse. It’s simply when you take the trouble to touch and experience a product or service for yourself.

The outcome is an ad that is both real, and alive to your readers.

Good days.

Today I despair of reading ads, web pages, emails and direct mail promotions which have clearly been written to some formula promoted by the copywriting guru of the month.

Good copywriting is not about following a formula. It’s not painting by numbers. It’s not about opening in a particular way, and closing in a particular way.

The best examples of copywriting I see are alive in some way. Not alive because they are shouting and bursting with false energy, but alive because the writer has some experience of the product or service.

And no, you can’t fake it by pretending to have experienced the product or service. You can’t make up a story and think the effect will be the same. It isn’t.

Just yesterday I read two emails from the same company. I know the copywriters, and I know the products they were writing about. And I know that one of the writers really did have deep experience of the product she was writing about.

The difference between the two emails was huge.

One was formulaic, the other was real. The “real” one was truly engaging. It was powerful at a very human level. It was irresistibly persuasive.

I phoned the writer of the “real” email and asked her about it.

“I wrote that email in so many different ways. I had so much to say. I have enough drafts here to form the basis of a whole campaign of emails.”

THAT is copywriting. Multiple drafts. Too much great stuff to get into the completed draft. Struggle. Choices.

And here’s the thing. She couldn’t have done that without the “factory visit” – without having first-hand experience of what she was writing about.

Without the factory visit, she would have had to fall back on formulaic copywriting, fiction, false praise.

Your choice. Write by numbers, or write real copy.

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