How to create a copywriting winner step-by-step
Few people view writing as a competitive activity. However, if you embark on a freelance career and choose to handle direct response projects, such as direct mail, you will eventually face a competitive challenge.
It will probably go something like this:
Client: “Do you handle direct mail?”
You: “Yes I do.”
Client: “Good. We have a direct mail package that has been working for a few years, but it’s starting to get a little tired. So we want to test something new.”
You: “Okay, what did you have in mind?”
Client: “Well, we want you to write something that gets better response. We’ll test your package against our control and see which is the winner. Are you up for it?”
If you’ve never faced this situation, you may break out in a cold sweat. After all, this isn’t just a writing project. You won’t be judged by your style or command of grammar. Your skills will be tested and measured with a calculator. You will win or you will lose.
So what do you do?
You could take a shot in the dark and hope for the best, but I recommend a more methodical approach.
Here’s my 7-step procedure for tackling a head-to-head copywriting test, based on proven problem-solving methods. It’s great for direct mail, but it can work for any ad in any medium.
1. DEFINE the problem. Because that’s what you’re facing, a problem to be solved: How do you beat the “control” and get better results? Put the problem in writing. Be specific. If the business you’re dealing with thrives on sales leads, and good leads have dried up, your problem is a lack of good leads. Write “The problem is that the current direct mail package is not generating qualified leads for salespeople.” Without a specific problem, you’ll never arrive at a specific solution.
2. EXPLORE available resources. Gather information about your problem. Collect samples, promotional literature, press releases, competitor information, memos, testimonials, articles and reviews, marketing reports, everything. Read and ask questions. But don’t make any creative decisions yet.
3. ANALYZE the control. Look at the control by itself and in context with any other past tests. How does it measure up creatively? Look for fundamental problems. Run a diagnostic check against proven principles and techniques.
Then look at the numbers — response rates, conversions, ROI, cost per customer, etc. Arrange tests chronologically or by response. Do you see a pattern? What has worked and what has not? Why?
When your analysis is complete, formulate your Hypothesis. This is a statement that summarizes what you believe the real problem is and what — in general terms — should be done about it. For example: “The subscription acquisition package is getting a good response and has beat out all contenders, but the ROI is still unacceptable. The package must be made more cost efficient while maintaining the current response and conversion rate.”
4. PAUSE. By now, your eyes are bleary and your brain is numb. It’s time for a break. Set everything aside and do something else. Take a walk. Golf. Eat lunch. Anything. The break will allow your brain cool off, to sift and organize information subconsciously.
5. CREATE your ideas. Now it’s time to come up with some ideas. How you proceed will be determined largely by your analysis of the control.
If the control is excellent, it may be doing all it can do. So, your best bet is to brainstorm fresh ideas and take a different approach to beat it.
If the control is merely good — the category most controls will fall into — there’s room for improvement. Look for something to change about the current control to improve results.
If the control is bad, toss it. Start from scratch and create something new. It’s safest to use a proven formula, to go back to basics. (Caution: A control can only be a control if it has won in tests. So, a “control” that shows poor technique or low numbers may indicate faulty testing or other serious problems.)
6. EVALUATE your ideas. Go over the ideas you’ve generated. Weed out all but the best. If you don’t like anything, or think you can do better, go back to creating for a while. When the deadline gets close or when you stop generating useful ideas, move on. Choose the single best idea you have. This is the one you will develop.
7. ACT on your best idea. Plan how to make your idea happen. Anticipate obstacles and prepare for them. Be ready to sell your idea to others. Expect hesitation or even resistance: “We’ve never done this before.” “I wouldn’t respond to this.” “It won’t work.” “This isn’t very creative.”
Doubt is a natural and inevitable feeling as you arrive at the moment of truth. Don’t let it stop you. Only testing will prove what works. So, GO FOR IT!
You’ll notice that I don’t include anything about writing the new piece. That’s because this kind of challenge isn’t as much about writing as it is about clear thinking and sound problem-solving.
I face challenges like this all the time. How about you? Have you ever been asked to beat a control? How did you tackle the project?
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