The New Year is here. If you’re like me, you bookmarked way too many “how-to” articles in 2014, downloaded enough content marketing eBooks to fill a thumb drive and you can’t sit through another webinar without crying.
Great. You’re driven.
What if we started this year with the man who inspired the majority of the content that inspires us?
What if you learned directly from the Father of Advertising and then implemented 12 of his best proven tips, so your content can start converting like it’s never converted before?
Meet David Ogilvy: King of Madison Avenue.
I’ve compiled 12 of his best copywriting tips, which I plan to implement every day for 12 days. It’s a simple, effective way to kick off 2015 and start converting.
I’ll get around to those webinars in late January. Maybe.
1. Write for an audience of one.
You have a powerful story to tell. Maybe your SaaS can save a small business hundreds of dollars a week. Or your company offers personalized service that nobody else in your industry can touch.
Forget about it.
Seriously. For one day, forget about what you offer and focus on what the customer wants.
Call your current customers and pick their brains. Ask “why” as many times as you can before they hang up. Act like my four-year-old son, Crosby, who seems to make it a game to ask “why” as many times as he can before daddy snaps.
Fact: “I don’t know” doesn’t work for my son or your customers.
You probably know what your customers want. But you may not know why they want what they want. And the why is where “thar’s gold in them thar hills.” Shiny gold.
David Ogilvy described the customer relationship as if you were sitting across from them at a table at a four-star restaurant.
Let’s get intimate. Let’s not talk about “you, you, you”—no matter how cool your product or service is. You’ll frighten them away. Let’s talk about “them, them, them.”
LeadPages is currently the online leader in mind-reading. They show and tell you the what-why-how-when in their customers’ language.
“Turn your next idea into a published landing page in less than five minutes with LeadPages™.” BOOM!
They start with a simple, powerful, mind-blowing benefit the prospect can’t ignore. Trust me. I’m a customer. They hit me with this benefit, then my pain points: high-conversions, mobile responsive, effortless, the list goes on.
I’m a difficult prospect to woo (I’ve been dumped many times) but through LeadPages’ website, demos, Conversion Cast podcast and countless webinars, I kept nodding my head more and more until I realized I was an idiot if I DIDN’T use them.
Know your audience.
True story: I once wrote a near-complete marketing campaign for a truck tire service before we realized the audience wasn’t the truck fleet owner…but the truck fleet maintenance manager. Do these two guys have different mindsets and worries when they wake up in the morning? You better believe it.
Luckily, we figured it out in time for a successful launch. Close call.
Ask your customers out on a date. Then listen. And if you really want to cheat, hang out in a few industry chat rooms for a day and ask as many questions as you can. Be tenacious. Be my four-year-old son.
That’s what Ogilvy would do.
Next step: Pick the brains of your customers and prospects for one day. Ask “why.” Then ask again.
2. Tell a story. A good one.
Have you read Neil Patel’s “I got sued” story? See if you can resist this headline:
Neil is a marketer who can spin a great yarn for his audience, while also helping them improve their business.
This benefit-oriented science of storytelling (B.O.S.S. as I call it, patent pending) is the secret weapon of successful content marketing.
It truly is part art and part science.
David Ogilvy’s most famous advertisement for Rolls Royce reels the reader in with an intriguing story:
“At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in the new Rolls Royce is the electric clock.”
Ogilvy could have written, “The quietest car in its class.”
What a bore.
What is your product’s story?
What is your company’s story?
Why would someone care?
Let’s drop the “best in class” and “total cost of ownership” descriptions. They’re boring.
Find your nuggets. Then find a unique way to bring them to life.
An example of great, honest storytelling is happening right now at Groove.
Maybe you’ve never been sued by the FTC. Or you’d rather not open your diary to the world like Groove. But I bet there’s a cool way your product has helped a customer. And I guarantee you that no other company in the history of the world started the way yours did. It’s one-of-a-kind, even if there are 10 more that may seem identical.
Next Step: Find your story. Bring it to life on your “About Us” page so you can to take it to market fast. Do it. Then brainstorm ways to expand that story.
3. Test like a madman. But be picky.
David Ogilvy started his advertising career working with Dr. George Gallup at Princeton. Yes, the Gallup of the Gallup Poll. Therefore, his writing was rooted in research.
Ogilvy would want you to test like a crazy person. This pertains to your copy and your business.
If you can write it, you can test it. Headlines. Landing page. Opt-in pop-ups.
Aweber constantly tests their headlines, copy and opt-in content. Recently, they changed one word and improved trial signups by 12%. Look at the green opt-in button below and see if you can guess the word:
If you guessed “now,” I owe you an IPA. (Thanks to Tim Paige at Conversion Cast for this story.)
David Ogilvy said, “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”
This also pertains to copywriting in the Google Age. Oh, David Ogilvy would have loved Google.
If you utilize Google Display Network or Google Search Network, for goodness sakes split test your ads. And please check your keywords once a week to see which one stink (kill them with a furious vengeance) and which ones dominate (write ads specifically utilizing these keywords). .
As we all know, analytics are like the Mines of Moria. You can get lost deep down and never return.
I’m selling hard for the mothership here, but the best guide I’ve found for analyzing business metrics is this eBook from KISSmetrics.
If you’re short on time—aren’t we all—then why not cut your core metrics from 10 to five?
Which five? Good news: Lars Lofgren of KISSmetrics has chopped down the tree for you:
- Monthly Recurring Revenue
- Cost Per Acquisition
- Average Revenue Per Customer
- Lifetime Value
Next step: If you’re running ads on Google, start testing them today and ride your winners. Kill your losers. And start measuring your core five business metrics today. Oh, and stay out of the Mines of Moria.
4. Know your weaknesses.
Even the Father of Advertising admitted his weaknesses.
When discussing television copywriting, he confessed, “out of 50 copywriters in my agency, 37 can write TV better than I can.”
Ogilvy focused on what he did well and farmed the rest out.
It’s time you walked up to your desk, placed your arms down upon it and knocked off as many papers as possible. Let them fly.
What do you hate to do? What do you love to do? What are you great at and what are not-so-great at?
If you’re starting a business from scratch, you’re doing it all, I get it. But you need to find your success stories and focus your talents on what works. Laser focus.
Pat Flynn says that his most popular page on this website is his Resources page.
Sure, you’re visiting this page to copy the steps he’s taken to become so successful, but you also get a peek into the dirty work he doesn’t want to waste time doing.
He’s most productive and profitable while podcasting, consulting and writing. Not setting up email.
Bryan Harris at VideoFruit has also spilled his guts on all his resources, and he’s even found a genius way to monetize this list with his Vault product.
It’s time to pass off those invoices. Farm out that landing page design. Hire a technical writer for the tedious stuff.
Obvious Warning: If you pass off some of your content, you’ll need to find someone you trust, and then proof the heck out of those first few marketing pieces.
Next Step: Farm something out. Anything. I use Coder’s Clan and 99Designs weekly because when a writer gets his hands on code or Adobe InDesign, run for the hills.
5. Offer one simple benefit.
I didn’t say this would be easy.
My average client requests 12,874 benefits in one ad. I could be underestimating.
There’s a reason I love PPC ads and outdoor advertising. Space is at such a premium, you have to be succinct. And the more succinct you have to be, the more creative you have to be. Awesome.
The Unique Selling Proposition—invented by Rosser Reeves, not David Ogilvy as many believe—is not dead. In fact, it’s more powerful than ever. (And rarer than ever.)
MailChimp gets its. Their USP is front and center, along with a nice “social proof” reminder.
WP Curve most definitely has a USP and they make sure it’s not lost on their homepage:
Give your prospects one simple, powerful benefit.
Then give them one call-to-action.
Then give them a next step that reinforces your promise.
Then convert them.
The sales funnel is a funnel for a reason.
Have you ever shopped with Zappos?
Their tagline is “Powered by Service” and it rings true at every customer touchpoint. A 24 hour phone line. Live chat. Seamless UX.
And if the shoe still doesn’t fit your big foot, there’s a 365-day return policy.
Yes, you read that right. A 365 day return policy! Insane.
Next Step: Get a whiteboard. Write down your top 10 benefits. Cut them to five. Cut them to three. Cut them to, gulp, one. Now sell the hell out of it.
6. Testimonials are gold.
Your mother cares what you have to say. She’s about it.
Here’s proof: According to the Pew Research Center, 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
Ogilvy said to “include testimonials in your copy” because even back then, advertisers weren’t trusted. Today? We’re charlatans.
Social proof is powerful. The smart SaaS companies milk their most famous customers. All you need is a logo or statistics.
Example 5 (you get the point):
It’s why New York Times Bestsellers say so on their cover.
And why they have quotes from other “proven” experts on the back of the book.
It’s why 99.9% of Americans walk into Best Buy to look at merchandise, then go home to browse Amazon for reviews. (The other .1% get an employee discount.)
What is your social proof?
Are you utilizing customer testimonials and success stories as well as you could?
Next Step: Contact three customers and get their testimonials. One will ignore you. One will hem and haw. One will buy-in. Write that story.
7. Find a mentor. Ride their coattails.
My copywriting heroes are Gerry Graf, Neil French and Luke Sullivan. (Sorry, David Ogilvy, you’re fourth.)
Click on the image below to see a 15-second TV ad by Gerry Graf’s ad agency, Barton F. Graf 9000, and watch how his team delivers one simple promise in a fast, memorable way.
Ogilvy’s mentor was George Gallup. He also followed the works of Claude Hopkins, a contemporary, very closely.
Quick, who is your business hero?
The majority of my clients don’t have one.
Wanna know who they spend the most time following? Their competitors.
Competitive analysis is a vital ingredient to success, but it’s time to tone back the obsession.
Find a company or guru you admire. Preferably in your industry, but let’s not get too picky today. They could be a vendor. Or a speaker at a conference. Or an online marketing guru.
Now stalk them. Not in a scary way, of course, but follow them on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Join their email list if they have one.
Save everything. Take notes. Ask them questions if you can.
If you choose the right leader, you will learn more in one month that you’ve learned in one year. I promise.
When I ask a client or prospect who they admire and want to be like, the average answer is Apple.
“Because they’re Apple.”
OK. You are not Apple. You will never be Apple.
I hope you aspire to have a market cap of $500 billion, I really do, but let’s find someone like you, just better. Find that mentor. Milk them.
Next Step: Find a mentor. Stalk them online. Email them. Buy them a hot dog.
8. “Help the reader.”
The power of reciprocity is real.
For example, Robert Cialdini’s popular book “The Psychology Influence of Persuasion” called it the “rule of reciprocity,” and stated that every society on Earth subscribes to this rule.
The rule says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.
It’s why inbound marketing strikes fear in the heart of every advertising agency. Inbound marketing wants to help the prospect, usually with lots of free information and goodies. Only after earning one’s trust will there be a sell.
Brain Dean of Backlinko recently dropped a 128-tip blog on CRO Techniques. (Trust me, I counted them.)
Has Brian gained the trust of his readers by delivering a GIANT MOUNTAIN OF AWESOMENESS? Yes he has.
Are you helping your prospect or are your hoarding your knowledge?
Better yet, are you helping your repeat customers with rewards, tips or special correspondence?
If not, your retention rates could skyrocket. Do not overlook your current customers for the promise of new ones.
Next Step: Brainstorm how to best engage repeat customers. Discounts are too easy, and they water down your product or service. Unless, of course, you want to introduce a customer to an “upsell” product. Think about “Did You Knows” that could help your customer get more out of your product or service.
9. Keep writing. No matter how painful.
Ogilvy wrote as many as 19 drafts of copy and 37 headlines for a Sears Roebuck ad.
He once spent two weeks working on a Puerto Rico print ad.
You see where I’m going with this.
You don’t have weeks to write. Heck you may not have hours to write. But we must put in the research and care. Customers know when we’re half-assing it.
My tip for you is to find the best time of day that you write and book that time on your calendar. No phone. No email. No anything.
Fight through it and keep writing. No matter what.
My best headlines are rarely written in the first 10 I write. Sometimes, they’re the 30th line. Sometimes, they’re the combination of the 30th line with the 15th line.
Tip: When you get stuck, start writing headlines that start with “How to…” and fill in the gap with your expertise or product.
Why “how to?”
Open David Ogilvy’s book “Confessions of an Advertising Man” and turn to the table of contents. Here are the headlines of every chapter.
How to Manage an Advertising Agency
How to Get Clients
How to Keep Clients
How to Be a Good Client
How to Build Great Campaigns
How to Write Potent Copy
How to Illustrate Advertisements and Posters
How to Make Good Television Commercials
How to Make Good Campaigns for Food Products, Tourist Destinations and Proprietary Medicines
How to Rise to the Top of the Tree (Advice to the Young)
Should Advertising Be Abolished?
And if it’s not closed, look at his agency’s famous print ad that spilled all of their secrets to the world. Hint: check out the headline:
Next Step: Write a content plan for February. It’s painful, but do it.
10. Write like you talk.
If you’re a software engineer, let’s re-think this. Kidding. Maybe.
Ogilvy wrote naturally, as a conversation. (Remember the romantic prospect dinner in Tip 1?)
He stressed to not get lost in the technical jargon. There is a place for technical jargon, but it is farther down the sales funnel than the marketing pieces we create on a day-to-day basis.
Ogilvy says to never use words such as “reconceptualize” and “demassification.” Those make my head hurt, and they will make the heads of your prospects hurt.
We want to read the mind of the prospect and we need to speak like them, but we also need to maintain the personality and tone of our brand.
I love the brand personality of Moz. They’re consistently witty and approachable, while also exuding expertise. That ain’t easy. Oh, and their design is constantly killer.
Find your brand voice. Then find the voice of your consumer.
Hit the online forums. Go to the tradeshows. Talk with your prospects without trying to sell them.
Find the words they use to describe what they want. (They aren’t always the words you use to describe what they want.)
Then, blend them together seamlessly.
Noah Kagan is a one-of-a-kind marketing genius. Dude is crazy, but brilliant crazy. He’s created and maintained a very unique voice that is true to who he is, and he’s maintained this playfulness in AppSumo and SumoMe seamlessly.
His OkDork blog preaches his crazy gospel to his thousands of taco-loving followers. Who else would have a Best Of page with the word “virgin” in the headline?
It’s time you stood out in the crowd.
Next Step: Find your voice. Are you funny? Serious? Then, keep it consistent. Be who you are.
11. Ride your winners like Secretariat.
This seems pedestrian, but you’d be surprised how many SaaS companies get so busy putting out fires, hunting down sales and going to market that they overlook small wins that could become BIG wins.
Here’s a killer quote from David Ogilvy:
“It takes uncommon guts to stick to one style in the face of all pressures to ‘come up with something new’ every six months. It is tragically easy to be stampeded into change. But golden rewards await the advertiser who has the brains to create a coherent image, and the stability to stick with it over a long period of time.”
If something works—and if you test like I’ve begged you to do then you’ll know what works—then ride it like the wind and don’t look back.
AppSumo loves tacos.
Neil Patel spills his guts.
Brian Dean gives and gives.
David Ogilvy starts every headline with “how to.” (Seriously, he had a bit of an obsession.)
Find your winners.
These can be keywords, PPC ads, headlines, emails, landing pages, opt-ins, sales letters, you-name-it.
If it worked in the past, find out why and create an assembly line of awesomeness that would make Henry Ford’s head spin.
Next Step: Find a winner. Deconstruct it. Repeat it.
12. Don’t be boring.
The average email subscriber receives 416 commercial emails per month, according to MarketingCharts.
If email is a major source of your company’s communication, and it most likely should be, then you’ve got some work to do.
Find a hook in every email. It could be a true story, or a funny story, or an insight few know.
If you’re bored out of your mind when you write your content, the reader will be bored out of their mind reading it. If they read it at all.
This is what separates the engineers from the creatives.
Engineers want to spout facts, facts, facts. And facts are very important.
The trick, dear creative, is to find a way to present those facts in a unique, engaging way.
Next Step: Find something you’ve written recently that stinks. You know what it is. Now make it better and ring in the New Year.
Now Go Write. Chop Chop.
So there you have it, 12 key steps from the Father of Advertising that can help you create better copy for more conversions.
Just pick one a day. Then keep writing with a smile on your face. (No matter how painful the process.)
“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.”
? David Ogilvy, Confessions of an Advertising Man
Let me know what writing tips work best for you. And if you’re truly obsessed with David Ogilvy, I’ve written extensively on his wisdom.
About the Author: Chad Rucker is the founder of Lochness Marketing, which creates copywriting, content and ideas that convert. He’s written extensively on David Ogilvy, and has offered a FREE CHEAT SHEET of this post. Chad has 16 years experience in the advertising agency world writing for Dunkin Donuts, Michelin and Verizon Wireless. Say “howdy” at @marketingisreal.