Note: As of today, March 21, 2020, marketers are wondering what to do about customer acquisition and retention at a time when everything has shifted. It’s a time when brands can’t coast with copy that converts so-so. We all have to tighten our value propositions – and get better at expressing our value in sales copy. I hope this guide helps.
If you’d prefer to download and read this guide, it’s available here.
Pages, posts, emails, ads, social… copy is your online salesperson
(As Joanna Wiebe, the original conversion copywriter, says.)
But too often, those sales messages are developed on the fly. Without enough clarity on what makes your brand different or better.
Or multiple marketers put their imprint on the brand message… and you get slippage. (Which often looks like brand messaging based on what marketers think sells – not what actually converts.)
Without a core set of ideas that are tested and proven to sell, it’s easy to lose the thread of what your audience needs to hear to believe and buy.
And let’s face it. There’s a lot of copywriting rework that has nothing to do with testing and a lot to do with not being sure what to write.
If you just nailed down a powerful set of brand messages, your team wouldn’t be rewriting every. single. time.
It’s a problem we see across brands from startups to companies with multiple millions in revenue…
Which is why we help brands nail down their Conversion Copy DNA
That’s what we call it here at Conversion Copy Co.
We’re talking about the ~15 messages that form the core of your brand messaging.
The essential pieces of copy that define why your brand is different and better for the ideal audience. And the story that supports that claim.
The copywriting playbook that includes polished, finalized, customer-facing copy that you can plug into any marketing asset at any time.
So you get faster at spinning out on-brand copy – even if you don’t identify as a copywriter.
But we don’t do brand messaging in the usual way (ahem, brainstorming).
We base brand messaging on conversion research and insight.
The key steps in creating your brand’s copywriting playbook?
There are really just three:
1) Start with voice-of-the-customer and competitor research.
2) Understand what messages will set you apart for that perfect buyer.
3) Develop customer-facing brand messaging based on the above.
Then use that copywriting playbook (your brand’s Conversion Copy DNA) to write every single marketing asset.
Because brands, like people, should feel coherent. Your brand should come across as a recognizable entity, with a definable personality and point of view.
You get there by finding and articulating the sweet spot between what you do best, what your audience most values and your competitors fail to deliver.
And then? You take those core messages to market to test and optimize.
It’s the outside-in, conversion copywriter’s method for writing brand messaging.
But what are the messages every brand needs?
When you’ve been writing copy for a while, you realize there are a set of ideas that we weave into every piece of a brand’s sales copy.
Only, you usually can’t find a list of these messages in guides for writing conversion copy.
Which means, most marketers and copywriters don’t where to start pulling together a playbook for brand copy.
Over dozens of projects, we honed in on a core set of messages every brand needs… plus the guidelines to use them.
When we go through this process with brands of all kinds, they use their Conversion Copy DNA to write websites, emails, landing pages, fundraisers, lead magnets, social copy and ad copy…
Read on to learn the key elements you may need in your brand’s copywriting playbook. These include the customer-facing pieces of copy you can’t write without PLUS internal guidelines to help the team stay on track with your messaging strategy.
Of course, reach out if you need help creating your brand’s Conversion Copy DNA.
Defining the Problem You Solve
This element of your “DNA” is the foundation of your messaging. Every brand message stems from the problem you solve.
Problem-Agitate-Solution… it’s a famous copywriting formula for good reason. Starting with the problem gets the attention of the audience experiencing that pain.
That’s why you can’t separate this message from the one below.
First, you have to deeply know your audience to write the most powerful expression of the problem you solve.
Write the problem copy as soon as you have a real handle on how your perfect buyer experiences the problem emotionally, practically, spiritually, existentially… from every angle.
Who You Say Your Brand Serves
Copy that converts calls out to your perfect reader. There’s a sales copy technique Copyhackers teaches called the “perfect for you if” close. It’s like a customer-centric positioning statement because it starts with who the customer is and then connects it with why they’d choose you.
In that closer copy, you list the characteristics, experiences, qualifications, beliefs and needs that make a specific audience perfect for your offer.
Demographics are not quite enough (and would sound really odd in your copy). Psychographics and behaviours are what we want here.
Write that “perfect for you if” list before you write a single piece of sales copy.
And remember, specificity sells. Sure, everyone may need affirmation, security, etc., etc. But what does that look, feel and sound like for the individual you serve?
Does affirmation mean your buyer’s teenage daughter will finally talk to her mom for more than 5 seconds passing through the hall? Does it mean the CEO will let the HR manager into critical business decisions?
(More thoughts on target audiences and testing messages here.)
Your Unique Solution
Your solution isn’t necessarily your offer. It can be the broader vehicle for delivering that offer.
E.g. conversion copywriting for brands is a solution; creating a brand’s Conversion Copy DNA is an offer.
Remember that your solution exists in a category of solutions.
Often in copy we have to just say what it is. What’s this thing we do?
Based on competitor research, you can frame your solution in terms of how other solutions fall short or how you’re positioned relative to these other solutions. This leads into your unique value proposition.
Write the solution copy once you’ve nailed down the best articulation of your problem statement.
Unique Value Proposition
Go ahead and say it. What makes your solution different, better or cheaper for your ideal audience?
Your unique value proposition (UVP) or unique selling proposition (USP) should be captured in a single paragraph and backed by proofs.
Value proposition: Copy School is single education program that teaches the proven methods for writing copy that converts across the funnel.
Proofs: That’s because x companies and # of copywriters trust Copyhackers methods to generate control-shattering lifts in revenue and creator, Joanna Wiebe, is the original conversion copywriter, recognized as the top conversion copywriter in the industry.
From our work with MECLABS, we adopted a heuristic – or formula – for developing the value proposition. In essence, it’s a guideline that reminds us of what makes a value proposition powerful.
A value proposition that moves people to sign-up and buy has these elements:
• Strong and obvious appeal to your ideal buyer
• Exclusivity (they can’t get this value easily elsewhere)
• Clarity and credibility
• A perceived value that’s higher than the material and mental costs involved for the prospect
Use this MECLABS value proposition worksheet to create your own.
As always, make sure your UVP is tightly connected with what you know your ideal audience wants, what else they’ve considered and what they believe. You can find this in your voice-of-customer research.
The UVP has to align with every other message in your Conversion Copy DNA… which is why creating this complete set of conversion-optimized messages is iterative.
To make things interesting, you should have a value proposition not only for your brand (your primary value proposition), but also for each prospect or segment, each product or service and each step in the conversion path.
People say “yes” each time because they buy-into the value. Make sure you’re reminding them of that value every time.
The Big Idea Behind Your Brand
The Big Idea is shrouded in mystery and myth.
Ogilvy famously said that he only created about 20 Big Ideas in his career… And his process for getting to one? Essentially, passive.
Wait for the Big Idea to emerge from your subconscious, he suggested.
Which isn’t very useful for conversion copywriters.
Because few experts have truly clarified the Big Idea, most marketers shrink at the prospect of creating one and too many brands go without.
And that’s a loss.
Because a Big Idea can generate enough desire in your prospect to carry them through the entire funnel and even drive retention.
Done right, the Big Idea can bring your brand to life in a way that emotionally connects and breaks through the clutter.
Great, but what is a Big Idea?
The Big Idea isn’t ephemeral and doesn’t drift our way on the winds of inspiration. According to Joanna Wiebe, it’s a succinct expression of your perfect audience’s deep desire, connected to your brand’s promise.
So, how do we get to that Big Idea?
Ogilvy may have stopped short of telling us how to alchemize the Big Idea, but he nailed the essential material: research.
As conversion copywriters, we start by deeply excavating our audience’s psychology. Therein lies the Big Idea.
But where in the research can we find the Big Idea?
Look for what your audience believes they’re entitled to – what they believe they should have, but that hasn’t yet been fulfilled or has been taken from them. (This is pure Copyhackers gold, once again.)
For Copyhackers’ Copy School, the Big Idea is that conversion copywriters should be recognized as critical to growth. But on many teams, they’re not because there’s too much guesswork around conversion-optimized messaging…
But if copywriters have a proven process and methodology… if they know how to get to the highest ROI, they can fulfill that destiny of “being the most profitable person in the room”. (The Big Idea behind Copyhackers’ Copy School.)
So, look for that desire or that outright sense of entitlement, loss, missed destiny.
In the intersection of that unfulfilled desire and the outcome you promise is your Big Idea.
Once you’ve found it, what do you do with a Big Idea?
Use it as the driving energy underlying audience-facing copy and visual creative. Every message and every visual should reinforce that Big Idea, whether you state it outright or not.
In a perfect world, the Big Idea is baked into your brand and offer. That is, what you created was – from the start – a response to that deep desire you recognized in your audience.
Sometimes we have to reverse-engineer the Big Idea. But now that you know what it is and how to confirm it through audience research, you can articulate this powerful element in your brand’s Conversion Copy DNA.
Not every brand messaging guide will need to detail the offer.
If your brand covers a wide range of different offers, you won’t be able to fit offer copy in your brand messaging guide. If you have very few offers tightly connected to the brand, you can include offer copy in your copywriting playbook.
Write your core offer copy to explain how you deliver that unique value through services or products.
For example, when I was writing a not-for-profit’s Conversion Copy DNA, I defined their offers under categories of core programs.
Offer copy can be written as a mini sales page – a microcosm of a complete sales message, including:
• Who it’s for
• When/why/if they need it
• What the offer is
• Benefits associated with this specific offer
• What’s included/what they get exactly
• Process/what to expect
It makes sense to write your offer copy once you’ve written your primary or brand value proposition. The value proposition of your product or service is a more specific promise of value.
Outcomes, Benefits, Features
If your ideal buyer takes you up on the solution or specific offer, what will they get?
There are three main levels.
1) The outcomes or transformation the ideal buyer may experience.
2) The emotional and functional benefits available to the buyer.
3) The features or functional attributes designed to deliver these benefits and outcomes.
Here’s the nuance: you can write these at the level of the brand and at the level of the offer. It depends on how deep you want to go in your guide.
The key is to tie the above in with the problem, solution and UVP, so it feels like a logical extension. And always root this messaging in the voice-of-the-customer.
Note the italics, above. Unless you’re writing a promise (below), don’t phrase these as legal promises. Not every buyer will realize the outcomes or benefits because they may not use the service or product to its fullest.
Promise (The Outcome You Stand Behind)
Some marketers say the brand promise is only for internal use as a guideline for quality, customer experience, etc. Like service standards.
Joanna would disagree.
Inside Copy School, she defines the promise as a statement of a measurable, highly- desirable outcome. And one you can stand behind, legally.
Sometimes the promise is implied in the benefits, which is why the line between benefits and a promise can blur.
You, however, should be clear about what you’re promising and under what conditions.
Choose one of the outcomes you’ve defined and make it your brand promise.
In long-form sales copy you’ll sometimes need to describe what life looks like after your customer has realized the promise. Go ahead and draft that, too.
Don’t get too hung up on the measurability. Even Copyhackers doesn’t minutely quantify the enhanced competence you’ll enjoy when you exploit all the value in Copy School.
Why You? (Your Story + Authority)
A central tenet of copywriting: copy isn’t about “we”, “our”, “us” or “I”. Whenever you can, flip the phrasing to be less about the brand and more about the reader.
BUT, you still have to convey why they should trust you to solve the problem and deliver all of that value you’ve described until now.
Your brand’s messaging DNA should include your “why story” – usually set up as a hero’s journey, in which the customer is the hero. How did your brand come to the place where you realized the hero needed the solution you provide?
Sometimes you’re so identified with the audience (because you needed the solution, personally), you can position yourself as the hero who went before. Now, you’re the “guide on the side”, leading the ideal customer to the big outcomes and benefits.
Consider this a bio. Once you’ve told the story of “why” include points on what gives you the authority or credentials to deliver. (We get into this in Proofs, below, too.)
A final element is the “prism of value” (as per Joanna Wiebe, again).
If the customer were to see everything that went into the production of the solution you provide, what would they see? How many years, experts, consultations, iterations or rounds of trial and error went into the creation of this solution?
Note that the “prism of value” also works at the offer level.
Proofs (Reasons to Believe)
Proofs are often referred to in branding as “reasons to believe”.
You see proofs under nearly every hero section on a homepage (think the client logo line-up). And you really drive home proofs as you get to the close in sales copy.
Proofs are so important, some branding frameworks reduce brand identity to three core elements: your audience’s problem, your benefits and your proofs. (See Beloved Brands, Graham Robertson.)
Choose proofs that directly support the story you’ve been telling about the problem you solve, for what audience, your UVP and what they’ll get.
There are several types of proofs:
• Endorsements from third-parties (e.g. seals of approval, expert testimonials, awards)
• User testimonials
• Trial or study results
• Achievement statistics
• Measures of how the product performs (e.g. vehicle performance)
• Measures related to how the product is made (e.g. nutritional value)
If the benefit you offer is high-converting copy, then proofs should include training in conversion optimization, endorsements from conversion experts and actual lifts in conversion rates.
Risk Reversals & Closer Copy
This is “seal the deal” copy.
Some risk reversals and closer copy only make sense in specific offers. Others can apply to your entire brand.
The intent is to nudge the reader past fears and objections you identified in voice-of-customer research.
• Do you have any guarantees? (Not to be confused with proofs; guarantees are more like insurance when things go wrong)
• What’s the ROI on the investment? (Sometimes this is the promise, above)
• What’s the risk of doing nothing/missing out?
• What calls-to-action will you use most often?
These are sales messages often missed in classic brand messaging, but as a conversion optimizer, you’re savvier. Ask yourself whether these classic tools of sales copy can boost the power of your brand.
The elevator pitch is a sweet, little summary of the rest of your brand messaging. Which is why you’ll typically write this last – after you’ve developed your complete set of core messages.
Your elevator pitch is the most concise statement of the problem you solve, for what target audience, why and why you’re better. It may include a call-to-action.
Elevator pitches are useful for all sorts of short copy and live sales.
Slogan and/or Tagline
AdAge tells us taglines don’t position your brand; slogans do.
Many, many brands only have one short phrase – either a slogan or tagline – and I wouldn’t split hairs over the definition. Tagline seems the more commonly used term.
The point is to have a concise, memorable statement that expresses your unique value proposition (UVP) and often, the Big Idea.
When you’re newer or what you offer is less understood, focus on a statement that expresses your UVP.
You need clarity and buy-in at this stage because people don’t know why they should choose you.
If you’re established, you can run with a Big Idea. (Like Nike’s “Just do it.”)
Don’t rush the tagline. Like the elevator pitch, it’s one of the things you’ll write last because the rest of the messaging informs the tagline.
Vision, Mission, Values
I’ve left this to near the end because it’s complicated.
Vision, mission and values (VMV) are part organizational development, part branding. Ideally, these statements should be both internal guidelines and audience-facing.
• Vision is what you aim to achieve in the long-term
• Mission is how you’re working towards that vision
• Values are what you’ll embody as you deliver the mission
VMV aren’t typically used as sales copy – and for good reason. Too many brands create brand-centric statements that leave audiences cold.
While creating your VMV, think about how you can put the customer front and centre. You’ve already answered the most important questions above – now pull them in here:
- What are you trying to achieve for them? (Go ahead and be inspirational)
- How do you do that?
- What do you stand for that matters to your customers?
What about the elements of brand messaging that aren’t customer-facing?
Everything we’ve covered until now can be used as plug-and-play copy. You incorporate the above elements into copy for pages, email, ads… using proven copywriting formulas.
But next up we’re covering additions to your guide that are for internal use only.
Your positioning statement keeps everyone inside the brand focused on what you do best, for what audience.
Without a positioning statement, it’s easy for marketers to chase every opportunity… dilute their impact and lose brand equity.
You can develop your positioning statement as a one-pager and keep it front-and-centre with your team.
The statement should summarize elements you’ve already developed, but go ahead and keep these in concise bullets.
• The core problem you solve for what target audience
• What category you play in and how you’re better than any competitor or alternative (think your UVP here)
• The outcomes and benefits you deliver for that target
• Support points (can be functional attributes or proofs)
Tone, Voice, Vocabulary
You’ve nailed down the WHAT of your messaging. Now, HOW will you say it?
Cap off your copywriting playbook with any tone, voice and vocabulary guidelines that will make it easier to write copy on- brand – even if you have multiple writers.
There are plenty of tone and voice guidelines online. I like the Brand Archetypes by Iconic Fox.
Include a list of words you use vs. words you avoid. Sometimes those inside the brand will know the preferred vocabulary.
Of course, insight into tone, voice and vocabulary also comes from voice-of-customer and competitor research.
What tone and voice will resonate with your customers? How can it be distinct from the tone and voice your competitors use?
Where can you swipe actual terms your customers use and include those in your list of go-to vocabulary?What words will leave them cold?
Even though this section is for internal purposes, it should be firmly rooted in your research insights.
Optional: On-Brand Copy Snippets
This isn’t a technical term:) But as you write your brand’s Conversion Copy DNA, you’ll inevitably generate pieces of copy that might not fit under the above buckets.
While I’m coming up with the tagline or Big Idea, I create a long list of options. The ones that don’t make it into the core messages – but still convey the selling idea – I keep in a list of handy phrases.
Use these phrases for inspiration or for everyday copy – social media captions, email subject lines, page headlines and cross-headers…
You don’t necessarily need to laminate this list in a designed brand messaging guide. Just keep it handy.
Which leads to a final question…
What does the finished copy playbook/brand messaging guide look like?
Some clients will use a finalized, designed brand guide that may include visual brand guidelines (colors, fonts, image use, etc.) They use this guide to orient team members and brief external marketers, tightly managing adherence.
Others keep these messages in a Google doc and update it regularly as they learn from the market.
When do you know your brand copy is optimized?
The tricky part with optimizing any piece of brand copy is that it’s iterative.
We may guess at the target audience at the outset, but as we get closer to defining the problem you solve and your UVP, we may realize that audience was a bit off. Or not specific enough.
So, you go back and revise – always based on data-driven insight.
But this takes skill and another kind of discipline. If you tweak one message, you need to understand how that change affects other messages. It’s like crafting a story, really. The throughline needs to be there.
You’re ready to go live with that messaging when:
- There’s a tight link between all the pieces; each reinforces the other
- All of the messages clearly and persuasively argue for why you’re different and better in a way that matters a lot to your specific audience
Go forth and write on-brand copy that’s optimized to convert
The next steps are to take your Conversion Copy DNA, your brand messaging guide, your copywriting
playbook… whatever you choose to call it, and use those messages to write all of your marketing assets.
Having a brand messaging guide won’t instantly turn you into a copywriter.
It does take studying copywriting formulas and lining up your sales copy with your customer’s journey.
But it will be so much easier when you have one source of swipeable, plug-and-play, on-brand copy.
And when it comes to testing, you’ll be testing a hypothesis, versus random elements on a page… which is a topic for another post.
If you need help creating your brand’s Conversion Copy DNA, drop us a line.
Or, check out how we can help when you book us for a day of messaging strategy.