The only three things I look for in copy

Assuming I can make it past your headline.


Headlines are important. There is article after article about writing great ones. And according to Ogilvy, “4 out of 5” people don’t read beyond the headline, which feels a bit hyper-contextual and arbitrary and akin to myths like “people don’t scroll”. But still: we know a great headline elevates an entire body of work.

But that’s not why we’re here today. Let’s talk about the entire corpus of copy: the head, the guts, the end. In advertising, the entirety of copy might fit comfortably inside a haiku. For brochures, web copy, presentations and other marketing material, it’s much longer: hundreds of words with paragraphs, bullets, subheads, callouts and illustrations.

Format, medium, tone, audience and length don’t matter. Anytime I review a chunk of copy, there are only three imperatives.

#1 … Is the one key message evident?

Everyone loves to talk. When it comes to promoting our product or service, it’s tempting to throw words, concepts, proof points and the kitchen sink at our audience. Shock and awe in selling.

This is a terrible idea.

No brand has the luxury of remaining front-and-center to our attention. At some point, the audience hangs up the phone, closes the website, tosses your brochure, deletes your email, walks out of your store, exits the trade show booth. When they do, they’ll never remember the 17 Most Important Things. At best, they’ll retain one. At best. Make sure it’s the right one.

Boil everything away, and you’ll find every brand exists for a reason. One reason. The Big Idea. Intersect that with intended audience, and you have the one key message to capture the market’s attention. It doesn’t need to be transcendently novel, or presidentially inspiring, or whatever, it just needs to be defining. Yours and yours alone.

Focus on the Big Idea. Hammer it home. Don’t leave any ambiguity as to the single message you want your audience to absorb.

#2 … Is the benefit clear?

It’s easy to talk about ourselves. Attributes. Features. Specs. Stats. Speeds and feeds. Shit the brand has accomplished. What the brand does.

This is b o r i n g.

Instead, write about what the brand provides. What customer problem is solved? What perceived gap in the market is filled? What is the meaningful, tangible, measurable, relatable value to the customer?

View the brand through the customer’s eyes and you’ll find deeply resonant ideas waiting to be surfaced. Customers want to hear their challenges framed as a solution. Once that value is discovered, it’s simple to find language that drives engagement.

#3 … Are you providing a next step?

Copy never exists without context. It is one line in a dialog with the customer; maybe the first, maybe the tenth, maybe the 1,235th. Great copy leverages that position by inviting further conversation.

Like it, pin it, tweet it, visit this website, contact customer support, register for our event, download the asset, call me. It’s a back-and-forth: ask and get, get and ask. Always offer a next step; a customer should never not know what action to take if they wish to further the dialog.


Find your key message. Surface value, not features. And then provide a next step. Anything else is sawdust.


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