The Definitive Guide to Copywriting by Neil Patel & Joseph Putnam

The Definitive Guide to Copywriting

Chapter One

Laying a Solid Foundation

Every product has a unique personality and it is your job to find it.
Joe Sugarman

Welcome to the first chapter of The Definitive Guide to Copywriting. In this chapter you’ll learn how to lay a solid foundation for your copywriting by understanding every detail of your product, capturing a complete and accurate description of what you’re selling, and defining who exactly you’re selling to.

The notes you take in this chapter will identify the key product features and benefits that appeal to your customers. They will also define who your target customers are, which eventually will influence the language you use and how you write. Ultimately, this chapter will lay a foundation for persuasive copy that sells more of your products and services.

Why Understanding the Product Is So Important

The first step in any copywriting project is fully understanding whatever product you’re selling. David Olgilvy, a legendary copywriter, is famously known for taking three weeks of meticulous study to come up with a winning concept for a Rolls-Royce ad. The final headline read “At 60 miles per hour the loudest noise in this Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” It took him that much time to find a detail compelling enough to sell a Rolls-Royce.

And if it took Mr. Ogilvy that long to discover such an important selling feature, it’s surely worth taking some time to study your product to learn which features will stand out to your customers. That’s the real goal of this chapter — to find out what makes your product unique and what benefits and features will appeal to your customers.

This is step one for any copywriting project.

The good news is that as a business or blog owner, you already know your product inside and out. You know the features, understand how it works, and are familiar with the benefits it provides your customers. This offers a great starting point for writing copy. Instead of needing to do in-depth research, you can begin by writing down what you already know. You won’t need to spend hours researching the product and taking notes.

On the other hand it’s still worthwhile to follow the steps in this chapter in order to capture all of the details of your product. By writing down a complete product description along with a list of the features and benefits, you’ll save this important information where you can refer back to it in later chapters. It’s better to have everything saved in one place so you’ll always have it available at your fingertips.

So before you start writing copy, complete the following exercise to write down a description of your product or service. After finishing, you’ll know every detail of what you’re selling and have a better idea about how to sell it.

Step One Create a Product Description Document

First, start a document titled “Product/Service Description ­­— YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE NAME.” This can be a Google doc or a Word doc, depending on which you like to use (although Google docs are better for collaboration if you need to do that any point).

For the sake of illustrating each step of the process, we’ll create a hypothetical project we can reference throughout this guide. Our first example document will be titled “Product Description — Simple Survey Tool.” Your title should look like the one below (if you used Google docs).

Next, add the following questions to your document (questions may need to be tweaked slightly if you’re providing a service instead of selling a product)

Now, let’s take some time to answer the questions.

Question 1: How would you describe the product?

For this question, provide a simple, two to three sentence description of the product. It doesn’t need to be super long or detailed and don’t worry about providing a fancy answer. Simply write down a short description as if you were describing the product to a customer.

Sample answer:

Question 2: What’s unique/special about this product?

The goal here is to identify something unique or special about the product. What does this product offer that others don’t? Is it made in the USA? Is it easy to install? Does it provide analytics that other sites don’t offer?

Eventually, you’ll use this to identify a unique selling proposition (USP). A USP is something unique that other companies don’t offer. Is there something special about your product? Is there something that makes it stand out from the competition? Record anything here about the product that makes it special or unique.

Sample answer:

Question 3: What big benefit does it provide?

Not only do you want to know how a product is unique, but you also know what benefit it provides customers. Many companies stop at describing the product and don’t go on to conveying the benefit of using it.

For example, a company may talk about how they offer web analytics software but don’t tell customers about the benefit of using the service. Instead, they should tell customers that the software helps them build a more profitable site, generate more revenue per customer, or accomplish something else along these lines. The focus should be on providing a benefit, not just describing the service.

So what big benefit does your product provide?

Sample answer:

Question 4: What pain does it alleviate?

People generally buy for one of two reasons — to increase their pleasure or to minimize pain. In the question above, we identified the benefit that would “increase pleasure;” in this question, we’ll identify which pain is minimized by using the product.

For example, a car insurance company could use a headline like this: “Are You Paying Too Much for Your Car Insurance?” The ad would then go on to talk about how most customers pay more than they need for car insurance, and how company X can save them more money (which is something similar to what GEICO currently does). The purpose of the ad is first to focus on the pain, and then to talk about how Company X alleviates that pain.

Another option is to focus the ad on the pleasure customers experience from saving money. It could use a headline like this: “How Will You Spend the Money You Save Using [Specific Car Insurance Company Name Here]?” Instead of focusing on the pain, it draws attention to the pleasure experienced by switching to a different insurer (which is what GEICO did in 2008 with their “the money you could be saving” ads).

Often, focusing on the pain eliminated is more effective than focusing on the pleasure provided, but both approaches can be tested to evaluate their effectiveness.

So what pain does your product alleviate? Let’s write that down now.

Sample answer:

Question 5: What features are included and what are the benefits of each?

The first thing you want to do to answer this question is write down each of the product’s features. You may not end up using all of them in your copy, but at the very least, you want to record them all in one place so you have them at your fingertips if needed. Some products have a lot of features, others have less. Either way, list all of your product features here with a short description of each.

In addition to listing the features, be sure to list the benefit of each. We’ll talk more about benefits later, but in short, customers care more about benefits provided by features than the features themselves (but you still may need to list the features in your copy so be sure to record them all here).

For example, customers care more about high speed internet that helps them watch streaming videos without interruption than internet that provides 15 mbps download speeds. The “15 mbps” is a feature, in this case, and “streaming videos without interruption” is the benefit provided by the feature. Record the features of your product and the corresponding benefit now.

Sample answer:

As you can see from these sample answers, there’s a big difference between features and benefits. Features are the technical aspects of the product, and the benefits are the way those features help customers accomplish something they want to accomplish. It’s good to record both, but we’ll talk more about the importance of benefits in a later chapter.

Now that we’ve taken some time to understand your product and record it’s features, let’s move on to the other critical step in the copywriting process.

The Other Critical Step: Defining Your Customers

Next to understanding the product inside and out, the most important step in any copywriting project is knowing who you’re selling to. Here’s why.

How you sell whatever you’re selling is determined by who you’re selling it to, what they want to buy, and what will convince them to make a purchase. It’s all about the customer, not your company.

If you’re selling to stay-at-home moms, you’re going to write differently than if you’re selling to high-net-worth business executives, and if you’re selling to Fortune 500’s, you’re going to write differently than if you’re selling to startups.

You may be wondering, “Why is this so important?” It’s important because each group of customers has different hopes, fears, dreams, and expectations. Moms, for example, have different priorities than business executives. Saving money is more important for moms, whereas saving time is more valuable to executives.

These differences influence the way you write and how you sell the product. It also means you really need to know what appeals to your customers.

So as you can see, defining your customer is a critical part of the copywriting process. Let’s go ahead and walk through how to do that now.

Step Two Create a Customer Research Document

Start a document titled “Customer Research -- YOUR PRODUCT NAME HERE.” Our sample document will be titled “Customer Research -- Simple Survey Tool.”

Next, add these four questions to your document (again, the questions will need to be modified slightly for service businesses):

Question 1: Who currently buys your product?

The first question identifies who your current customers are. You may be selling to both startups and Fortune 500’s, but whatever the case may be, it’s important to know who your current customers are because you need to know who pays your bills. (If you haven’t started selling anything yet, skip this question and move on to the next one.)

Sample answer:

Question 2: Who would you like to buy your product?

This second question identifies who you would like to be selling to. As mentioned above, you may be selling to startups and Fortune 500’s, but you’d rather focus on the Fortune 500’s because they have larger budgets and are less likely to be price conscious.

It’s ok to sell to both, but if you’d like to target one over the other, you’ll end up writing your copy differently. That’s why it’s important to know exactly who you’re selling to and who your target customers are.

Sample answer:

Question 3: What does a typical customer look like?

The goal of this question is to create a detailed picture of your typical customers. The other questions create an overview in broad brushstrokes, but this question zooms in on individual customers. We’re zeroing in on a handful of real customers in order to find out what’s important to them.

Sample answer:

Question 4: What do customers love about your product?

In addition to needing to know who your customers are, you also need to know what delights them about your product. Why did they buy in the first place, and why do they keep coming back?

Prius owners, for example, buy because they’re interested in doing their part to save the environment. That’s more important to them than how the car looks. So Toyota is smart to play up that angle and not to focus on how sexy the car is (which is good because Prius’s aren’t the best looking cars on the road).

BMW owners, on the other hand, care less about the size of their carbon footprint and more about their self image. They want a car that makes them appear successful and elite. Their image is more important than gas mileage, and that’s why they buy a BMW in the first place.

With both of these examples, the copy needs to focus on what appeals the most to the target customers and what they love the most about the product. This will be different for every product, even within the same industry.

So take a minute and reflect on the main reasons people buy your product. What do they love about it? Once you’ve figured it out, record your answer in the document.

Sample answer:

Question four wraps up this stage of the customer research document. Be sure to save the documents we’ve worked on in this chapter somewhere you can easily find them at a later time because we’ll refer back to them again once we begin writing copy.

Pulling It All Together

At this point, you should have a good idea of:

  • How to describe your product or service in a simple yet understandable way
  • The main features and benefits of your product/service
  • The big benefit, i.e. the main selling point(s) of your product/service
  • Who your customers are and what matters to them

The notes you’ve taken up to this point will provide a solid foundation for the copy you’ll write in later chapters, and you’ll refer back to the documents you created in each of the following chapters.

Let’s go on to chapter two to learn even more about your customers and to capture the words they use to talk about your product.