One of the highest paid copywriters of the 1950s and 60s only wrote for three hours a day. For 33 minutes at a time.
Eugene Schwartz was able to sustain his lifestyle living in Manhattan and growing what would become one of the nations leading collections of contemporary art on a 15 HOUR WORK WEEK.
Schwartz could get away with writing for such a short amount of time because his copy was already written for him.
“The first step, therefore — the essential step — in turning an item into an ad, is turning yourself into a listener.” - Eugene Schwartz
Write With Your Ears
Schwartz would first sit down with the business owner and “pump hell out of him.” He’d grill him for 3 hours minimum on his product, the reviews he got, how he wanted to make it better, who liked the product, who hated it, and on and on.
Next he’d interview customers and see if they agreed or not with the business. Finally, he’d read ads of competitors and see what opportunities they were missing.
He would put all of this together. Set a kitchen timer for 33 minutes and 33 seconds. Sit at his chair. And start organizing and blending together all of the words people had said.
A lot of his best lines were actually spoken word for word to him by his clients. All he had to do was put it on paper.
Use Voice of Customer Data to source your copy
So how do we translate Schwartz’s method to the internet age? Well we don’t need to change much. Let’s pretend our client sells skin care products.
Step 1. Get the business perspective
Start with the business and LISTEN. Preferably record - with permission of course - everything your clients say. Learn what keeps them up at night and what gets them out of bed in the morning. What are their own skin care goals and what do they want for their customers. Your goal is to know their business AT LEAST as well as they do.
Step 2. Get the customer’s perspective
Continuing with the skin care line example, send out surveys to customers (here’s where that email list comes in handy) and ask questions like:
“What was going through your mind when purchasing this skin care product?”
“What was the most eye opening outcome for you?”
“What would life be like if you had perfect skin?”
“If this skin care line suddenly left the market, how would your life change?”
Ask open ended questions that require customers to really think about why they use this product in the first place. The right questions will give you great lines for your copy.
The most questions I would ever ask on a survey are 5. With every question you ask you're giving your customer a choice. Leave or answer the question. The more times you offer the opportunity to leave, the more likely your customer will abandon the survey altogether. So keep it short.
Two ways to increase response rate are simplicity and incentives.
Make the survey as easy as possible for the customer without sacrificing the quality of the responses you’ll get. Ask a handful of questions just so you can get inspiration for your copy.
Offer a discount or store credit for people who respond to the survey as well just to give them an extra incentive to fill out the survey.
And here’s a bonus tip. If you can, have the founder of your company send out these emails asking for responses. It helps people feel like their opinion is important to your success. They feel more of a connection to the brand too.
And here’s a bonus tip. I recently ordered some clothes that I loved from a relatively new startup company based in Austin, TX. A few days later I got an email from the founder, Jaclyn. As soon as I saw her name in the subject line I was like
I totally wasn't expecting that. Best believe I filled out that survey to the best of my ability and I was rewarded with a discount code.
The email actually mentioned that there would be "a lil something special at the end" but I didn't read that. All I saw was that the founder of the company I love reached out to ME for a survey.
Surveys are great but customer interviews can get you even better voice of customer data. Not only is it a great way to get to know your customers, but you can tailor your questions to their real time responses and have a natural conversation.
It's definitely easier to get someone to commit to filling out a 4 question survey than 30 minutes of their time but you only need a few (5-10) customers to collect GREAT data.
If you decide to do interviews here are some things to keep in mind
- Build rapport in the beginning of the call
- Set expectations early on (Why you're doing the interview, how long it will be, etc.)
- Don't script it. The more natural it feels, the better the answers
- Know what information you need BEFORE getting on the call
3. The Internet
Check out Amazon book reviews related to your product. In this case, look for book reviews that talk about skin care. Read the reviews and see what people were saying. What were they looking for? What results surprised them?
The best sources include
- Amazon book reviews
- Product reviews
- Forums and subreddits
- Blog post comments
- Facebook posts and comments
- Survey data
- User testing sessions
- Wherever your prospect is unedited
What kind of words are you looking for?
Anything that makes you stop and reread. Words that are written in a way you haven't seen before. Words that reveal the motivations behind a purchase. And even words that are simply really detailed about your offering. Details sell
What you DON'T want are words that feel too polished or fake. Words you've already used. Fake reviews. And only look for the copy that you need right now. That will help narrow down your focus.
Some bad sources for VOC data include
- Twitter (too edited)
- Competitor copy
- YouTube comments
- Old data
- team, client interviews that feel scripted
- Places you’re ideal client isn’t sharing
So be careful where you're getting your information from. Quality and authenticity really matter here.
4. Copy and Paste
Yep, I said it. Sift through all of your voice of customer data and pick out what jumps off the page. Avoid copy that’s vague and simply says “I liked this cleanser.” You want copy that sounds natural and describes why and how with as much detail as possible. For example,
Once you’ve picked out what you think is useful, start organizing it.
There’s the temptation at this point to edit what people say to make it more “professional.” Don’t. You risk taking all of the creativity out of their words.
Great copy is clear, has personality, and resonates. So use those metrics when you judge what stays and what goes. Ideally, the majority of your copy will be words that customers have actually said, which means less writing for you.