Do You Need a Degree to be a Copywriter?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: #&@% degrees!

OK, I’ll admit that’s a little dramatic. Degrees can be useful in many fields.

But copywriting, unlike disciplines such as medicine or engineering, is something you can learn on your own and start getting paid, without official credentials.

Naturally, many people interested in copywriting seek out marketing degrees, which are considered a business-related field of study. If you go this route, you’ll learn the tools you can use to accomplish various marketing tasks. But there’s something really important missing from these degree programs …

In the hard sciences, you learn the rules of the game. You learn first principles (equations) you can apply to various problems.

In marketing degree programs, these first principles are absent.

What do I mean by first principles? I’m talking about what drives people to take action. I’m talking about the psychology that goes into advertising.

Take the Harvard Marketing MBA program for example.

The courses they offer don’t have anything to do with psychology. They’re all about the function of marketing in the modern business.

Have a look at this course from the program. It’s all about how to launch and market a new company. It’ll teach you lots of great stuff you can/should do throughout the process. But it doesn’t touch on psychology at all. In fact, it espouses a customer survey approach to create customer personas and marketing materials.

That would make sense, right? If you want to understand someone, you should talk to them and ask them questions.

But there’s a big problem with relying completely on self-reported information to make decisions.

The problem with methods like surveys is this:

PEOPLE DON’T ACTUALLY KNOW WHAT THEY WANT.

Sure, they’ll tell you they do. And they’ll be confident they’re right. But more often than not people don’t respond honestly to surveys. They delude you, either on purpose or by accident because they’re deluding themselves.

Surveys are useful. But you can’t rely on them completely. Sometimes you have to intuit what people will want. And the only way to do that is to learn first principles.

Look at Steve Jobs and the iPhone. He couldn’t have come up with the concept using a survey, because nobody knew they wanted a smartphone.

Even University-sanctioned copywriting courses don’t include psychology in their curriculum. This program reads like a creative writing course. And believe me, you don’t need to be that creative to write copy.

Even this top Udemy course doesn’t even mention psychology.

In my copywriting course, psychology is one of the first things we talk about. Why? Because I wanted to start with the first principles of copywriting.

Do you doubt that first principles are really so important? Consider this: a first principles approach drives everything decision Elon Musk makes.

One of the best, if not THE best, advertising agencies in the world, Ogilvy and Mather, publishes lots of thought pieces. And a lot of them focus on psychology. They know what they’re doing. Do yourself a favor and get lost in this library. Some examples:

I think you’ll agree this is all fascinating stuff. Far more interesting and useful in the long run than courses on Surveying, Branding, or Marketing Channels 101.

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