July 24, 2019
When I taught high school, few things drove me MORE insane than these two:
RESEARCH + WRITING FORMULAS
It wasn’t that I didn’t love those two practices to death. In fact, I used them LIKE CRAZY in my own writing.
But I quickly realized, when used out of context or without a good amount of quality practice, these two things hurt so much more than they helped.
Sometimes during writing time, I would walk around and see kids on their phones or on a different website, and I would say, “how’s it going?” to which they would quickly respond, “oh, I’m just researching.” To high school kids (and quite honestly, many creative entrepreneurs), the term “research” could mean a few things:
Distraction: most of the time, Netflix or a straight-up video game is not research. Similarly, even REAL research, looking at relevant websites and examples, can actually be RESISTANCE masquerading as productivity.
Imitation: “doing research” a lot of times is actually “who else has done this so I can copy it?” We’ll get to this later, but essentially, there is a way to imitate in a way that leads to growth. However, most of the time when we START with this type of research, it results in more of a cop-out approach, getting us to a cookie-cutter outcome instead of coming up with something creative, fresh, and true to us (or our businesses).
Inspiration: this is a common excuse for research in the world of creative entrepreneurs. The question you should ask yourself is this: is your “inspiration research” inspiring action or envy? Is it intentional, gaining inspiration for a particular outcome, or is it general + passive? Use these as gut-check-points for this type of research (along with the tips from the next section!).
Support: this is the “correct” way to do research that we’ve all been taught in school. Cite your sources, and use them to support your own “original” argument.
In this blog post, my goal is to teach you the difference between using research and inspiration to strengthen your brand message in a way that helps instead of in a way that hurts.
Austin Kleon argues that stealing is artistry, but it seems like WAY too many websites and businesses are carbon-copies of each other–especially when it comes to the actual copy.
And, if that’s you, I HONESTLY don’t blame you one bit.
I mean, where else are you supposed to start with writing your copy if you can’t examine the “supposed-to’s?” What is everyone else doing? Will that work for me?
In the classroom, and now as a copywriter, I’m a huge advocate for diving deep into the practice of thinking.
I used Kleon’s concept to teach my students how to “steal like an artist.”
PLEASE. Do this step before you look at anyone else’s website.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Ideal Client Avatar, the Dream Client Profile, etc…
You know, yet another thing that feels productive, but doesn’t seem to get you anywhere?
Complete a traditional Ideal Client Profile, or take one you’ve already done (because HAVEN’T WE ALL?). Then, go through and ask “WHY?” after every piece of information. So, Allison shops at Target. WHY? She has kids and runs a business. WHY? She wants her body to be slammin’. WHY? Asking this question will help you get past the surface level and into their thoughts, feelings, desires, and VALUES. Knowing those deep, maybe sometimes dark details of your dream person? That makes for irresistible copy.
Use a MUSE instead of an Ideal Client Profile. Courtney Chaal talks about this technique. She claims that it’s better to talk to a REAL PERSON instead of imagining one. This is better for you if you have trouble imagining things, OR if you go a little too far and lofty with your imagination. Choose a person you actually know who resembles (as closely as possible) your DREAM client. Mine? Rachel Allene. (Uh oh, this is turning into an episode of Jess-tells-all.) Then, do your best to ask them questions, talk to them, throw ideas back and forth. This is best to be done either ALL at once over a recorded video call, or in VERY bite-sized pieces during a regular day (a.k.a. Building a relationship!! Extra bonus).
Please don’t send someone a DM full of questions and expect them to take 45 minutes and respond to you.
I get it. It’s really hard to know what you should actually put on your site, when it comes to copy.
Short answer: You need to put exactly what your person (as you discovered above) needs to hear from you in that moment.
Okkkkkurrrr. That’s the worst advice ever, thanks for nothing, Jess.
Stick with me here for just a second. If you only write words in response to a bulleted list of what other people do, that’s the fastest way to a gingerbread man website. Yep, cookie cutter. Does that sound interesting? Or compelling? I didn’t think so.
This might also lead to missing some key pieces of your story or details of the value you provide.
Write a letter: This is a super old school marketing concept, but it really works in terms of getting you out of all those supposed-to’s and in tune with what your One Person needs from you right in that moment. Try writing a letter to that dream person you outlined below. Write as a tour guide, showing them around your website and helping them get to the place they need to go. What background info do they need to know? Where can they go for the most value? Write it like they’re your total bestie, and you’re doing them a SOLID, because you know how to get them where they want to go, and you REALLY understand where they are right now.
Use prompts to get information OUT of your head + ONTO paper (or screen). My favorite thing to do is to use pieces of content I love to prompt my own thinking.
I might think, “Ooooh I love that she tells us about her obsession with Chick-fil-a on the home page!”
Then think: Why do I love that so much?
It might be because you relate to it, it might be because it humanizes the person a bit, it gives a glimpse into her real life. Then, create a prompt or a question to think about.
What do you run on? What keeps you going in everyday life?
Kleon has something powerful to say about this, too.
If all else fails, take down the tidbit that inspires you, the headline, the title, and think like Ashlyn Carter (my copywriting idol; yep, this is an episode of jess-tells-all):
do I have anything to say about this topic?
It’s important that we focus on improving our thinking as we improve our content. Improving the process will ALWAYS improve the product.
I wrote more in-depth a few weeks ago about how and why you should be doing this: you can read that here.
But, remember this: if you don’t know the outcome or action you want your visitors to take from your copy, your visitors won’t know, either.
And that’s the fastest track to a whole buncha silence instead of engagement, connection, conversion–y’know, the kind of important stuff.
This is your LAST STEP. I repeat: YOUR. LAST. STEP.
Content should always dictate form, not the other way around.
(That’s also why, whenever possible, copy should dictate design–but that’s another soapbox for another day.)
Try your best to research websites outside of your industry. This will help you have the most original website possible, with content that truly reflects who you are + what you do + how you do it differently instead of checking the boxes that all your competitors have already mastered.
Label, then steal. This is the process I required my students to go through before they copied a technique. They had to label that piece of content, idea, etc. with a name that told us what it was doing. Then, and only then, were they allowed to steal that form or function.
For example, you might go to a website and notice that they tell what they do + how they do it, but they also explain how they do it differently than anyone else.
I would label that: what I do + how I do it differently.
Then I would copy down the sentence as a frame, like so:
I help (people I help) (do something they need) that actually (something they want + something different than the norm).
I help creative business owners write words that actually connect, so they can convert BETTER and FASTER.
If you approach your research from this framework, you’ll be on your way to CREATIVE, captivating copy in no time (and it’ll look different (and better) than your competition).
You’re probably wishing, JESS, can’t you just do it for me?
Well, I’m gonna give you an insider tip: I DID.
And this done-for-you process so you can just get-it-done-already will be comin’ atcha in just a few weeks.
In the meantime, have you ever seen your website through your dream client’s eyes?
Download my free Client Goggles Worksheet, and find out what your people actually think when they land on your website.
Then, join us for our Dream Client Goggles FREE challenge during launch week! It’s gonna be goooood!
(just enter your email below!)
iced-coffee-obsessed, saved-by-grace, allergic-to-small talk, and one of the biggest dreamers you’ll ever meet.
It’s the very first solution of its kind to help you take #alltheideas inside your head and turn them into website copy that connects, converts, and doesn’t sound like literally everyone else’s.
You’ve gotta capture, connect, and convert—FAST. No big deal, right?
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