Does this problem sound familiar?
You sit down to write copy but don’t know where to start. Because copywriting formulas are great, but you have to fill in the blanks with actual copy. Copy that persuades your reader to take action. (aka conversion copy)
Maybe you’re writing about your brand for the first time. Or maybe you’re writing about your brand for the 100th time. But each time, you’re starting from scratch, whether it’s a website, a landing page, sales page, email sequence or even a social media post.
Meanwhile, the brands you admire have something you don’t. I mean, they sound like brands. Their copy is strong. Confident. On-message.
How do they DO that?
In this tutorial, I’ll take you behind the scenes of creating a brand’s messaging DNA, or copy DNA. (I switch between these terms because not everyone speaks “copy”.)
Your brand’s copy DNA is the answer to the perennial question, “What do I write now?”
Watch the tutorial or read the transcript to find out!
Rather read the transcript? (Me, too.)
Here’s my walkthrough of this brand’s conversion copy DNA + why it matters and how it’s done.
This tutorial is a follow up to tutorial blog posts I did recently on my work for a not-for-profit, Thrive For Good, formerly Organics 4 Orphans.
And in the past post, I talked about how we developed this charity’s messaging using surveys, in part. So how we get to conversion copy, but from a strategic angle of developing messaging that can carry the organization into the future… across assets.
Often conversion copy is focused on a funnel or a particular asset, but in this project, we’re looking at the big picture of the not-for-profit’s messaging. But we’re using conversion copy techniques to get to that messaging.
Now, the process that I’m developing, that I’m teaching here and that I’ve been using with clients like Thrive is what I’m calling their messaging or their copy DNA…
What is Your Copy DNA?
Your DNA is a powerful set of core messages that articulate the unique problem you solve, how you’re different and better, why that matters and more.
Now, there are a number of messages that are part of your DNA, and I’ll review those here. But I want to show you an example of the end product.
So, here you can see on the screen Thrive’s brand book. (This is not quite the final version, but it’s being designed now.)
This brand book is a guide that the organization can use anytime they need to write any copy, whether it’s a grant application, their email sequences, a landing page… And I’m going to show you what they did with their website copy after we went through this messaging DNA, this copy DNA process.
So, here you see the table of contents. Now, not every brand needs all of these elements as part of their copy DNA. In fact, some of these are merging with branding. For example, they have their vision, their mission, their values, tone and voice in this DNA guide.
But I approach a brand’s copy DNA based on what I know they’ll need to write for any messaging, all messaging. And in the case of a not-for-profit, you do need vision, mission, values.
Tone and voice are often thought of as something in the domain of branding as opposed to conversion copy, but it’s also a part of conversion copy.
Think of your Copy DNA as a hierarchy of messages exclusive to your brand – and optimized to convert
There’s a hierarchy of messages that you can see in this table of contents.
And we start with the elevator pitch. It’s often a challenge for not-for-profits to articulate in a concise way what they do because their work is complicated. So, as part of this, we developed an elevator pitch.
We also developed their tagline, their big idea.
Then, we articulate the problem that Thrive solves – again, in a concise and powerful way because these problems are complicated. Often, they can get sort of baggy and you only have so much time to capture your audience’s attention. So, we really had to drill down into the most concise statement of the problem and then link that problem to the solution, including who they serve, where they work, the core programs.
The promise or outcome is a very important part of your core messaging. You can talk about what you do, how you do it, who it’s for, but what are you ultimately going to achieve? And that’s part of the promise that you can make, the outcome that you can describe.
Thrive’s unique selling proposition, this should be their unique value proposition (UVP). So, how are they different from other players?
Their UVP ties in with the next item in the table of contents, which is their position in the sector and their model. People need to get a sense of, “Where do you exist in this sector? How can I place you in the category of organizations that I already know and how do you play with those other organizations?”
And then they added their vision and mission and values.
Their origin story… so, “about” information can be more or less important for conversion copy. In this case, it’s fairly important. There’s a good story behind why this organization exists. And we had to get to the core of that message as well. And then, who you are, that may be part of your messaging as well.
Emotional benefits. Those are very standard elements that we consider in conversion copy. In this case, because there are at least two audiences, we have to consider the benefits for those impacted and for donors and supporters. Which can be further split into corporate supporters and individual supporters and philanthropists. You can see how with not for profits the messaging gets complicated.
The functional benefits of Thrive’s work. So, what does Thrive allow people to do easier, faster, more cost-effectively?
Calls to action can be part of your core messaging as well if you always have a particular call to action.
The risk of doing nothing, this is something that you see in some of the more advanced copywriting online. So, people who are marketing to marketers, it’s very standard to write copy to the audience that’s interested, on the brink of taking action. What happens if you do nothing? You have to let people know.
Perfect for you if copy: This is another element of conversion copy that you see in sales pages quite frequently. So, this calls out to the reader to let them know we’re talking to you and this might be ideal if… and then you describe in this case the perfect donor or the perfect supporter.
Reasons to believe: So, we want to nail down the proofs that the organization will consistently use when they’re backing up their claims. So, some measures in this case, other reasons to believe can be testimonials, case studies, endorsements, credentials, seals of approval.
And then we get into, as I mentioned, tone and voice to keep them a little bit more consistent.
Vocabulary and keywords. These can be tricky in not for profit. Because you know, you have to be sensitive with your vocabulary but also high impact,. So you have to choose your words carefully.
Springboard phrases. This is just something that we added. This is a list of possible phrases that they can use in social media, in headlines, in email subject lines. These phrases came out of the creative process and we didn’t want to lose them even though they didn’t become part of the core messaging. They’re very much tied in with the big idea. Actually these springboard phrases came out of brainstorming the big idea.
Okay, so here you have this finished process and in this case, it’s quite a big messaging DNA book or guide. It’s about 30 pages.
Here’s the exciting part: copywriting becomes so much faster and easier when you have your copy DNA
Now, I’m going to show you now what the organization did once we had nailed down this messaging DNA.
And I’ll also backtrack a bit to tell you how we got here. I talked a bit in a past post about how we were getting here through gathering voice-of-customer through surveys, but I’ll give you a glimpse into the process that followed that surveying stage. Okay.
So, Thrive for Good has this brand messaging DNA. What are they going to do with it?
Well, my hope is always that organizations I work with will become empowered by their messaging DNA, by their copy DNA, to go out and write for themselves.
You may have the capacity to hire a full-time copywriter, which is great and not everyone does. And even if you do have a full-time writer, that writer needs guardrails. They need guidance.
A brand messaging book like this gives it to that writer. So, when they sit down to write, they’re not creating from scratch every time. There’s consistency.
You’re building a persuasive argument so that everywhere your audience encounters you across media, they’re getting the same messaging cut in different ways based on the asset, based on the encounter. But nevertheless, there’s consistency.
Okay, so I am going to show you what Thrive did with this brand messaging DNA.
This is their website copy. And this is actually astonishing. I can’t take you through in detail, but I’ll show you the outline here. So, based on the DNA, the executive director wrote all of these pages.
Now, he’s experienced in writing websites, creating websites. He knows what needs to go where. And if he didn’t, I could tell him, but he was able to extract from the messaging DNA all of the copy or the seeds of the copy to write the entire website.
Once you have your messaging DNA, it’s entirely possible to write a whole website from that DNA. You might need to massage it a bit, but you have all of the messages.
This is also the case if you’re writing a sales page. Sales pages are notoriously challenging because they include basically every aspect of conversion copy. You’re starting with the problem, then agitate, solution, why, try, buy. Everything that I went through in that table of contents can be included in a single sales page. So if you have to write a website or a sales page, you should have your messaging DNA first.
All of these pages he wrote and they were fantastic. I actually had very little work to do when he sent me the draft in terms of revisions because he had a handle on their message.
And that’s my hope for any organization that I would work with that they would be self-sufficient; that they would deeply know their own messaging and what to do with it.
Ok, but how did we use conversion copy methods to write the brand’s messaging DNA?
I’m going to backtrack a little bit and tell you how we got here. I’m going to show you a messy research spreadsheet where I compiled all of the research that we did on the audience.
Now, in this case, Thrive For Good doesn’t have a huge email list, a huge audience.
But we were able to pull from interviews and from surveys quite a bit of what we call voice-of-customer. That is, what people are saying about…
- what Thrive does
- the problem that Thrive solves from their perspective
- how Thrive is unique
- what’s rewarding about giving to or partnering with Thrive
- what were the triggers to give or the reasons to believe
- doubts or reservations (the objections or the barriers to taking an action such as donating, buying, or joining)
- impact or outcomes, including what outcomes matter, what promises we could make that would be actually inspiring and paint a picture of the ideal future
Now, this research is cut a little bit differently from what you see in the brand messaging DNA. The work that we do in the background, the research, it evolves. And it’s great to get that a little bit more standardized. But I would not worry too much about the research process at this point. This is something that will take years to nail down.
But in short, what you’re doing is you’re gathering voice-of-customer for all of those core messages that I mentioned.
So, you want to know, what is the most concise, powerful articulation of the problem that you solve?
Ask your customers. Ask them in surveys, ask them in interviews.
Go to the places where they hang out online forums and groups where they comment on blog posts. Social media and reviews, find out what they’re saying, compile it and tag it or categorize it based on things like problem, solution, outcomes that they desire, benefits, features…
And then start to look for themes as well as what we call sticky copy. So, sticky copy is voice-of-customer data or actual quotes from your customers that are just highly resonant, powerful and sounds like persuasive copywriting.
So you’re looking for two things, themes and sticky copy.
This whole subject of finding your messages through research is an entirely separate blog post, which I will tackle soon. But I want to show you something else.
Making conversion copy research faster and easier… so you can get to your messaging DNA with less frustration
So, as you can see, this spreadsheet could quickly become overwhelming. And this is only frankly a small amount of data. But what if you have a lot of data?
Don’t use spreadsheets. Use something like a Aurelius.
So, Aurelius Lab is a tool that is built for organizing, tagging and extracting insights from your qualitative data. And then sharing that.
So, you start with this big mass of data, all of your survey findings, all of your interview findings, the data mining, the voice of customer mining that you’ve done online. You have it all now, but you need to make sense of it.
So how are you going to do that?
The spreadsheet is not ideal. Aurelius is quite ideal.
So, you create a new project, here’s a sample project. You create categories, so say your categories are like interviews, surveys, voice-of-customer, mining, founder comments. And you start to tag them. (And this is just a sample project from the software. It’s not my project.)
You would tag them with things like the problem we solve, ideal outcomes, benefits, features, reasons to believe, and so on and so on.
And then based on those tags, you can start to see themes. So, when our perfect audience talks about the problem that we solve, this is what they say over and over. And then that becomes an insight.
From research to insight to a brand’s copy DNA
In the case of Thrive For Good, one of the key insights that I can give you as an example was actually a turning point in the messaging.
For years, Thrive For Good talked about their four prongs. The four things that they did or the four outcomes on which they focused. But through the research, we found that they were known for just one. And that one is something that no one else is doing in the same way, as well, as innovatively, as low cost, as grassroots. So they really had a strong point of difference in that one thing.
Now, had we not done this research, the surveys, the interviews, we would not have known that those other three things that they were talking about were falling off and they’re known for this one thing.
So, based on that insight that we got from research, we structured the entire messaging DNA around that one thing.
You can see how powerful doing this research is. It can be messy, it can be time-consuming. It can be overwhelming when you’re in the middle of this research process. It’s easier if you use a tool like Aurelius Lab because you’re going to get to insight faster.
And that insight is the core of your messaging DNA. Insight can shape everything. It can become your big idea.
And your big idea is like this fuel behind your messaging and everything can flow from that insight.
I’m going to do another post in the future on the research process. But I hope this gives you a sense of how you can go from research (from surveys, from interviews, from data mining) to themes to insight to the core of your brand messaging.
And then you create this entire… well, it’s basically like a logical argument. Your messaging DNA is like an entire argument from all of these different angles.
And you’re nailing that down and you’re going out to your audience with that consistent set of messages, the DNA of your organization’s messaging. The DNA of your copy.
How is the copy DNA process different from traditional brand messaging development?
It’s a conversion copy approach to brand messaging.
I have worked on the other side of communications marketing where brand messaging or the big idea for our campaign came from creative people getting together in a board room and brainstorming the big idea. That’s maybe okay if those people really know the market. Maybe they can get to insight quickly. But in most cases, it’s a mistake to develop our messaging from the inside out by assuming that we know what will trigger our audience to take action.
Conversion copy reverses that process. It says, first we go out to the market. First, we find out what people are already saying about us, about the alternatives to the solution, the service, the product that we provide. And then, we create messaging that enters the conversation already happening in our ideal audience’s mind.
Re-cap: why you should care about using conversion copy methods to create your brand messaging DNA
That’s the process we followed with Thrive For Good. And then we laminated the messaging in this DNA brand book which is empowering the organization to write their own copy.
So, I hope you understand how powerful this process is. I’m in the process of articulating it, of teaching it, of putting boundaries around what exactly it means so that I can help more brands find their messaging DNA.
And if you have any questions or if you’d like to go through a process like this for your own organization, please do reach out. I’m so excited at what messaging DNA can do for not-for-profits or for profits. And I’d love to talk to you more about it. Thank you.
(Want to know more about how we go from research to conversion copy? Check out my Tutorial Tuesday webinar with Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers. We’re talking about how to go from survey data to long-form sales page copy.)