This week, Dom talks to Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers about their latest eBook, The Startup Guide to Differentiation. They discuss why differentiating yourself or your business from your competition is important, and some quick tips to get you started.
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Dom is also starting a 7-Day Challenge to create a Digital Magazine using Ed Dale’s MagCast platform. You can follow along with Dom’s Crazy 7 Day Challene here on the blog
You can find out more about Ed’s Digital Publishing Blueprint here:
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Differentiation with Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers
Dom Goucher: Hello everybody, and welcome to this week’s edition of PreneurCast with me – and him, Pete Williams.
Pete Williams: Hey, hey. How’s things, big fella?
Dom: Not bad. Forgot to say my own name there, that’s not bad going, really. It’s been one of those weeks.
Pete: The handsome Dom Goucher.
Dom: I thank you, sir. It really has been one of those weeks. We’ll do that little round-up, but I’ll start with you because I’ve got a lot to talk about from my week. So what have you been up to?
Pete: It’s been a family week. My old man has been down from Cairns, Far North Queensland, Australia, for a visit with his grandson Eli, so that’s been a bit of fun. And then just working through the support of Ed Dale’s MagCast Digital Publishing Blueprint launch, helping him do that.
Some copy bits and pieces, and a few other things, as well as our supporting promotion. Yeah, just a really good week with a few other projects, as well, which I’m sure people will hear about at some stage in the future once it’s ready for public consumption.
Dom: Cool, cool, sounds very restful. I can’t say the same about my week. Some of you may already know, and Pete, you know my partner broke her ankle while I was out in the UK. So I came back to a housebound, in fact sofa-bound partner, so my household workload has gone up 100%.
Pete: Doing vacuuming and cleaning.
Dom: Yup, official dog walker, pot washer, dinner cooker – the whole nine yards, mate. That was on top of my volunteering for the thing I mentioned on the previous show, which is this week, coming up, I will be starting my MagCast challenge. It’s going back to what you were talking about.
On top of helping Ed out, you were consulted on the launch, and working with Ed on that, so Ed’s Digital Publishing Blueprint for digital magazines, or the MagCast platform, as we call it. We’re involved in the launch, and people can follow along with us.
I’ll pop a link in the show notes about this, but I basically volunteered to create a magazine in seven days from scratch, genuinely from scratch, as well, because, as some people may be aware, I’ve been a little lax. I had this idea for this magazine quite some time ago, and I talked about it, and I tried to do accountability on it, and it didn’t work. All the bigger projects got in the way.
So it’s always been more of a labor of love than a real kind of business thing. It’s just something that I wanted to do just to share my knowledge, and so I used the MagCast launch as an excuse to really, really pull myself on some positive constraints, which we love on the show. So I’ve given myself this seven-day window.
Starting today, you can follow along. I’m doing a little video diary, just letting you know what I’m going through, just so you can see, really, what I do, what the thought process is behind it, how I use a lot of the stuff I use that we talk about.
I’m hoping to use a lot of the stuff we talk about on the podcast. I’m sure I’ll make sure to squeeze in minimum viable product in there somewhere, Pete, and a lot of other things, including a lot of JFDI [Just Effing Do It], definitely.
Pete: Just do it.
Dom: Yeah exactly. I’m actually looking forward to it despite this newfound doubling of my workload in the house. It’s quite exciting to finally get this project off the ground. Once these things are going, it’s not that difficult to keep it going, and that’s really what I’m trying to prove with this. It’s not that difficult to get started and it’s not difficult to keep going. So there we go.
Pete: Love it. Very, very excited, so we’ll be documenting that on the blog at PreneurMarketing.com. So, if you want to follow along with Dom’s over-the-shoulder videos of the structuring the mag, getting the content, putting it together, all that sort of stuff, it’s going to be a good adventure. You can play along at home at PreneurMarketing.com.
Dom: Yup, and a little really, truly behind-the-scenes for you, folks. [Preneur] Platinum people, for our Platinum members, look at our Platinum area for a special treat because I’m also recording – this is going to sound a little bit complicated – a behind-the-scenes for the Over-the-Shoulder.
Pete: Yes, so let me try to dissect this. I want to see if I can actually understand this because, if I can, our listeners can, no doubt. You are doing over-the-shoulder video series of how you’re producing the magazine and what you’re doing to actually get that up and running. But for Platinum members, you’re doing a video series on how you made the videos for that?
Dom: That’s absolutely right. Normally, whenever we do a project of interest, we put an over-the-shoulder record of it in Platinum for our Platinum members to keep an eye on us and just really see how we think and what the planning is that goes into our projects, and how we achieve what we achieve, and we get great feedback on that.
But as I’m making this Over-the-Shoulder public, I thought to just make this really interesting; I regularly get questions from people about how we make our videos or how we record our podcast, or how we do the things we do. I just thought it would be great, as I’m going along and I’m recording these videos and doing all this stuff. Because I’m doing lots of different techniques when I’m creating these videos.
There’s lots of things involved in it. I know I’m going to have to do a lot of screen recording and quite a lot of presenting. But I’m hoping to do some live action, as well, just to make it more interesting. There’s going to be a lot of information in there, a lot of valuable stuff. So, Platinum members, just look out for that. Hopefully, that’s going to be a bit special for you.
Pete: Love it.
Dom: We haven’t really said what this week’s show’s about. You’ve let me loose again. There’s a topic that I’m really interested in, and it’s a topic that hopefully will not cause listeners to run screaming into the hills. The topic is copywriting.
Pete: Hmm, important topic.
Dom: Well, we think it’s important. But a lot of people, it scares them to death, and I know it does. They either think it’s a dark art, or they don’t think they need to do it, or they don’t see the value, or they’re just confused by it. There’s just a lot of tension whenever you start doing that copywriting.
And a long time ago, long time ago; in fact, roundabout about the time we started making this podcast, I came across a bunch of folks who call themselves Copy Hackers. The front person for the Copy Hackers is a lady called Joanna Wiebe. Copy Hackers are really just a group that focus on copywriting.
They focus their efforts on copywriting for startups. But as with a lot of things, when I look at it, I just see that it’s really great information for our audience. It’s totally applicable, just like we had the angel investor book [What Every Angel Investor Wants You to Know by Brian Cohen] that we looked at a few weeks ago.
Even though angel investors, startups, IPOs, and all those big words are quite scary and don’t appear to be relevant, a lot of advice in there is totally relevant. And again, a lot of the Copy Hackers stuff is definitely, definitely relevant. I’ve been really wanting to get Joanna on the show for a long, long time.
But, again, I’m aware that there’s this negative feeling towards copywriting, and even though they’ve written some excellent, excellent books – and they’re all available as eBooks on their website, I just couldn’t get an angle I really thought people would resonate with.
Until they released their latest book, and their latest book is all about differentiation. Now, differentiation is quite clearly a topic that everybody should be aware of, should be focusing on in their business.
In this day and age when a lot of the technologies that are out there are making all kinds of marketing a level playing field, then differentiation is really what all you’ve got to literally make yourself stand out. By identifying what makes you different to your competitors and learning to communicate that clearly, that’s a huge benefit in your marketing, yeah?
Pete: Yeah, absolutely. It’s that whole conversation that’s overdone a little bit about USPs – about that unique selling propositions. It’s a similar application, just in a different way.
Dom: Yeah, absolutely. Previously, people would have talked about unique selling propositions. You may even have looked at the features and benefits of your product and things like that. What Joanna and the Copy Hackers gang have done is put together kind of a workbook. It’s an information and a training material kind of book.
There’s a lot of valuable instructional stuff in it, but there’s also this workbook model where you go through and you look at it. You look through it for your business or your product, and you identify a differentiation. You know when I said you let me loose? Well, this interview – or this conversation, because it is really a conversation.
Joanna is really interesting and the topic of copywriting is very interesting. Well, it goes on a bit longer than usual. I just warned you, folks, it’s all valuable stuff. Joanna talks about lots of different copywriting topics. We talk about all the different books that they’ve written and why it’s valuable.
I just try to get all that stuff out and make it more applicable to you, but we generally try to keep the shows to 45 minutes. This one runs on a bit longer, so really, really interesting stuff, very valuable stuff. I want to jump straight into it with the caveat. Because you let me loose, Pete, I may have been a little bit of a fanboy again. Sorry.
Pete: Well, let’s jump in and hear the conversation.
[Dom's conversation with Joanna Wiebe starts]
Dom: Joanna, welcome to the show, and thank you for joining us.
Joanna Wiebe: Hey, thanks for having me, Dom.
Dom: I have to say, I’ve been really after this interview, or this conversation, for quite some time. I have said this in the past with other people that I’ve spoken to, and Pete has been very kind enough to let me have this call because I’m a bit of a fan of yours.
Joanna: Oh, that’s nice.
Dom: I don’t mean to put you off or embarrass you or anything, but I’ve followed along. Copywriting is a thing that I’ve always said, you know what, that’s a really important skill, I really need to learn that. I think a lot of people do. And for the longest time, I just couldn’t find anything that I could get on with that really was teaching me or giving me applicable stuff until I found you and your site, Copy Hackers.
And, ever since then, I’ve raved about it. Anybody that’s ever asked me anything about copywriting, I said, first of all, just go there. Look at them, and then come back and talk to me.
Joanna: That’s awesome. I’m actually going to take what you just said and use it as a testimonial on my site. Thank you. That’s really nice of you. That’s great.
Dom: So, the raving fanboy piece over. Just a little bit – obviously, I know your stuff very well, I’ve followed you for a long time. But, because copywriting is seen by some as a dark art or just something that other people do, or we don’t necessarily need to do, people in our audience might feel that way.
They may not have come across you. Could you give a little bit of the story behind Copy Hackers, which I love as a name, by the way? Just a story behind Copy Hackers and yourself. And it’s Lance, as well, is part of the Copy Hackers team, isn’t he? Could you just give us a little background there?
Joanna: Yeah, definitely and I do think it’s interesting that this idea of people who care about copywriting and people who don’t, it seems that people who don’t usually just often don’t even know what copywriting is. So maybe we can talk very briefly about that.
Dom: Yeah, definitely want to come back to that one. Absolutely.
Joanna: Well, for us, it’s me, Joanna Wiebe, and Lance Jones. We’re the ones behind Copy Hackers, and our tagline is Where Startups Learn to Convert Like Mofos, or something silly like that. Again, it’s not just startups, but we do have a lot of small businesses and other types of people who are freelancers, things like that, who are reading our stuff over at Copy Hackers.
But the idea behind Copy Hackers is really just to help small businesses and people who have to do a lot of things themselves, including writing their website copy in particular, helping them to do it, to do it well. It’s not just guess, or just copy what the guy next to them is doing, or their closest competitor is doing.
We see a lot of that blind copying of the messages that your competitors are saying. You have a website, you have to communicate something on that website. Otherwise, what is it doing there? What is the thing you’re trying to communicate? Who are you trying to communicate it to, and what do you want out of that engagement, at least in the short term?
Then, of course, there is the down-the-road stuff where we’re talking about website copy plus e-mail marketing and things like that. But Copy Hackers is really created to help people who want to learn about copy, who want to write better sites and hopefully sell more stuff on their website, in particular to know how to do that. So it was born out of this – people, I don’t know, Dom. Are people that are listening, are they familiar with Hacker News?
Dom: Honestly, I would say probably not.
Joanna: Okay, it doesn’t have to be a big deal, but this is really where we started. There’s this community online called Hacker News or https://news.ycombinator.com, and it’s a really a bunch of startup founders who are talking to each other. They’re about to create a business, or they’re knee-deep in a business, or they’re thinking of changing their business because it’s not successful right now, or getting acquired.
Or whatever it is that they are thinking of doing as a small business, especially in the text space. So they all go on there, they talk, they share their ideas and content, and they get help from each other. Anyway, we were asked by a few people on Hacker News, we got involved in that little community, Lance and myself.
They asked us – they really recommended that we write some eBooks to help people just like them write better web copy. And so, we took their advice. We took their request, and we spent about a year doing some case studies. Then we wrote these four eBooks that are the basis of Copy Hackers, and we launched them again on Hacker News to great success. It really was the beginning of this business that continues to grow and startle me.
Dom: Cool. The question from then is where did you come from that made you able to put these eBooks together, where people said, “Hey, you should write this?” What’s your background that gave you the experience that you have?
Joanna: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I had been writing copy for my entire professional life, since I was, what, 22 and I was living in Japan. We’re supposed to be teaching there, and I did. But more than that, I was taking things that the tourism group – this part of the government in this area I was in, it was a really touristy area, and so they would give me their marketing materials that were rough translations of Japanese.
Basically, a machine had translated from Japanese to English, and my job was to make it sound good to people. So, I would do that and that was – I didn’t know it at the time, I thought I was just making it sound nicer, making a rough translation sound nicer.
But I was writing marketing copy, or at least editing marketing copy. From there, I went and came back to Canada, where I live, and I worked in an agency as a creative writer there for a couple of years. Then I moved into the software world. I went and worked for Intuit, which is a big software company. They make QuickBooks. Dom, are you still there?
Dom: I certainly am.
Joanna: Oh, good, okay. It showed that I was looking a connection. Sorry. So I’ll start from I went to Intuit. From there, I went to Intuit, this big software company. They make QuickBooks and TurboTax, and all those sorts of things, this financial management software and tax software.
I went there, and I worked in the copywriting or creative department, and worked my way up and got into conversion and really focusing on how to make websites sell more stuff. Then, after that, I started to interact a bit with this Hacker News community, and that was that. So I came from this 10-year background of writing copy and I finally said, okay, I might have enough information here to be able to teach it now.
Dom: Wow. That’s an excellent back story. It’s funny. Oddly enough, I imagine in the groups of people that you circulate within, the idea of having 10 years of experience of doing something might actually be quite a long time to a lot of people you deal with.
Joanna: It is. It is, for me – I deal with a lot of, again, startup people. A lot of them are like 22. They were 12 [years old] 10 years ago, they are doing things very differently now than they were then. But when I started Copy Hackers, I guess it was eight years into copywriting, but same difference, right?
You’ve been at it a long time, but it’s good, it goes a long way. Especially in copywriting, where I think there is this idea, a lot of the time, that if you’ve done it once for yourself, and you’ve been successful writing your own copy, now you can go teach copy.
I see that a lot, and it’s one of the little things that kind of worries me because it’s really easy to get some pretty bad or limited advice from people who have written copy for themselves only, and then go out and teach it. So I do think that having that experience is helpful, at least for my audience.
Dom: Absolutely. Now, you said something in there that I think is really what made me want to get you on the show from the get-go. The real catalyst of this particular conversation was your new book, which we’ll talk about in a minute, but the core of what you do is around conversion, right?
Joanna: Yes, yeah.
Dom: And you’ve done a lot of stuff, not just the first four books, but there’s lot of things have happened since that first group of four books, and conversion is a huge part of what we at PreneurCast try and talk to our audience about. We have this hierarchy or framework that we call the 7 Levers [of Business] where we identify seven key areas of a business, any business that you can focus on, and conversion is one of those.
Now, a lot of people focus on traffic, and it’s a big – especially on the internet, we find that a lot of people are obsessed with increasing their traffic. But they’re not doing anything to improve the efficiency of the next steps in our framework which are, once you’ve got traffic, how many of them are opting in and then how many of them are actually converting.
What I found from your side of things, and from what I’ve read of your eBooks, you’re absolutely red hot on conversion and, to a point, on the opt-in part, as well, getting people to take an action or do something. It’s focused on the internet, but it’s applicable to any kind of copy, really.
Joanna: Yes, it really is. It really is. There’s this world of copywriting that still exists that’s more creative-focused, like creating tag lines, working on your brand documents, putting together a tag line for a billboard, things like that. I think those spaces still can and should think about conversion, although it’s less directly tied to conversion than the things that we do on the web and in e-mail and things like that.
But yeah, big focus on conversion for us, and I think it’s an interesting point about traffic versus conversion. It comes up all the time, right? When you’re writing a headline, let’s say. It’s time to put a headline on your home page. You know that your home page, your small business, you’re going to get most of your traffic through your home page so you should be optimizing your home page.
Conventional wisdom would say, optimize your home page headline to be sure you’re including that primary keyword phrase you’re trying to optimize for search engines, for SEO. Then the question is, well, do you focus on the keyword and write a headline that’s just really squeezing the keyword in there, hopefully in a way where it doesn’t sound like it’s been stuffed?
Or do you write the most powerful, persuasive, attention-grabbing headline you can, and then when you do get people there – sure they’re not coming there organically necessarily, not as much. So what’s the trade-off? Do you try to get a bunch of people in and serve them up a ho-hum headline that happens to have the right keyword phrase in it?
Or do you find other ways to get traffic to your site, and then serve them the best possible content that is most likely to get them to get them to do what you want them to do, which just so happens to be what they also want to do, they just might not know it yet? It’s a good question. It’s like, how do you guys answer that for people? I know how I do.
Dom: I love the fact that you’ve brought that up because I’m in the online phase. Pete and I are not particularly popular with information marketers because they market information. That’s their job. It’s a huge growth industry, and there’s lots of information.
It’s along the same lines, I think, as you saying somebody who’s written their own copy, then turns around and says let me teach you to write copy, and the prevalence of information at the ground level about information marketing and marketing on the internet is around the search engines because it used to be that that was the easy game in town – to play the keyword game.
It was easy to do, and it was easy to teach. So the first person that did it learned it, got some success, turned around, and taught it, and it went on from there. But, first of all, that was kind of a losing game if you really understood the way that people do things and the behavior of visitors to a website or any business, really, an audience.
This is my opinion, by the way, but now it’s becoming more and more obvious that the old-fashioned techniques of the keywords and things aren’t really working that well, anyway. People are having to look at all the other aspects. This is really where our 7 Levers framework came from. There’s more to a business and more to a visitor experience than getting the job that you’ve got to do.
And you’ve actually got – as you say, you wrote four books, four eBooks on the topic of separating out different parts to getting the message across to people on your website, which shows that there’s so much more to it. And, by the way, I will say, without prompting, there are four eBooks, but don’t be scared that it’s some huge tome of great theoretical blah, blah, blah.
One of the reasons I followed you for so long, and I’ve been subscribed to your e-mail newsletter ever since Day One, is because the things you put in these books, it’s concise, practical, applicable stuff. Recently, in Pete’s Noise Reduction e-mail newsletter, we linked to one of your recent e-mail posts.
Joanna: The four tips?
Dom: If you’re looking at it from a psychological point of view, and why psychology – what the applicability of that psychology was to copywriting. It was just so applicable to our audience. I just said to Pete, look, that has to go into our newsletter. People need to see this. It’s so applicable.
Literally, you’ve got five things you can do. Do it now. Go ahead, go. But back to the kind of point that we were on, which is keyword stuffing and headlines will get you in the end, what Pete and I call brick wall website. The people will get to the website, but they’ll hit it and slide off because they don’t know they’ve come to the right place, or there’s no obvious call to action, or you’re not even telling them what your product is.
Literally, I saw a site like this today. It said, “Hey, this is my website and we’re launching a new brand of this product. It’s completely revolutionary.” And I looked at the website, and I said, there is nothing on your website – ignoring the home page, which you should say clearly, but there is nothing on the site anywhere that says what your product is or what it does.
Joanna: I really like that. I haven’t heard it as a brick wall website before, but I’m stealing it. I’m going to start using it now because it’s so true. I think it’s really smart. It’s very true, and you see it a lot, and I think it’s a bit of a holdover, and we can’t help it. I know the Internet 2.0 has been around for a very long time now, but there’s still this sense of what do I do with my website?
Why do I even have one in a lot of cases? If you have a brick wall website, what did you build that thing for? What were you hoping would come of having no call to action or no reason for me to act, no sense of your value? I know that sounds like I’m really coming down on people right now, and I’m not.
I just know that it’s hard. But if you’re ready to put up a website, let’s get serious. It won’t be hard, right? Like you say, there’s five actionable tips in X blog post. Start there, or whatever it might be, but we do have to. We owe it to ourselves as small-business owners to think about the channels that we’re using and not use every channel under the sun.
But, when you’re using one, if you decide to build a website, what are you going to do with it, and then build your site with those goals in mind, not just as here’s a place for me to dump a bunch of traffic and hope that they know what to do.
Dom: Yeah, absolutely. The term brick wall website – we really hammer on it with our consulting clients. Anyone that comes to us for a website review or anything – literally, the term brick wall website comes from would you build a brick wall in front of your physical store?
If you had a store, would you build a brick wall in front of the door, or in front of the windows of your store? No. Would you hide the sign of your store? No. Would you hide the goods in your store? No.
Joanna: Would you put the salesperson in the back room and ask them to sit back there until someone rings a bell. No. You’d have the guy out.
Dom: And, for example, would you literally – would you stand on the streets saying, hey, come into my store, and lock the door? All these are metaphors for what is happening. And I guess this is really why I find your eBooks, in the first four, for me, were like little, imaginary cartoon light bulbs over my head.
I struggled with copywriting. I come from this world where I was focusing more, and I think a lot of people do, on the technology. I was focusing on the tactics of the search engine optimization, of key words and things like that. Literally, the example you gave earlier of writing the headlines so that I can get that keyword in it was a core focus for me for quite a few years.
That was it, and I think a lot of people get caught up in it in a lot of different ways. For example, a small-business person really hasn’t got a hope of understanding the technology behind the website, or couldn’t, years ago, when the internet was in its infancy. They couldn’t.
Now, with the advent of things like WordPress, it’s like, okay, the technology now dealt with. Go install WordPress or pay somebody a small fee, get them to install WordPress. Choose a theme, the look of the website. It’s like the clothes on the Barbie doll.
Joanna: I never have any clothes on my Barbie dolls.
Dom: Let’s not go there.
Joanna: Just kidding. I don’t even know what that means, but I know what you’re saying, absolutely.
Dom: Go choose the outfit for your website. There you go. That’s, like, one hour out of your day. So, really, if you’ve got this technology, this WordPress and the themes (there’s lots of options – we just use WordPress because we solved our problem now), and that’s it.
It’s an hour out of your day to build a website now, or get someone to do it, so that’s it. Leave the technology alone. Stop concentrating on that, and concentrate on where the value really is, which is getting the message across to your audience. It is communicating your value, your unique proposition, and getting them to take the action you want them to take, right?
Joanna: Exactly. If we think of a website, we think of this big, daunting space. Like, I have to write a whole website. I have to design a whole website. But, really there is the initial part where you’re producing a web site, that’s true. You’re putting together something. It doesn’t have to be perfect right out of the gate. So, if you have a website, or are thinking of doing one, really just start by doing it.
Most of the time, it’s really when we’re trying to solve a problem for a small business, you just have to just try something initially. Try something, and then optimize that thing. Sometimes, you’ll scrap it and start again, but then you at least have learned something along the way. So start your website, choose your theme, like you say, and then go put in some initial content potential, just so you have something to work from.
Yeah, and then it’s a matter of breaking down. Okay, now, today, one hour a day for the month of October or whatever, I’m going to spend an hour a day optimizing my site. That’s it. I’m just going to give myself October, and I’m just going to take an hour a day, and I’m going to work on it piece by piece moving through the copy, moving through replacing crappy stock photos and stuff like that.
Really, in this very small amount of time, I could end up producing a much better website. So it’s kind of like, what’s holding you back? It shouldn’t be anything with technology being quite straightforward and producing the content being relatively straightforward too.
Dom: Yeah, and I mean that speaks something to Pete and I have said on number of occasions. which is JFDI [Just Effing Do It].
Joanna: That’s awesome. JFDI, whatever does that stand for?
Dom: It stands for just effing do it.
Joanna: I know, I know it does.
Dom: We’ve said this a lot, but listening to you there reminded me of something I know you said before, which is a lot of small businesses are startups, just like startups are small businesses. And you were speaking there as if you were advising somebody that was a traditional startup.
You’re saying things that are very similar to what I’ve read in books like The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Do what you need to do, and evolve – learn from it, and evolve. That’s basically what you’re saying, right?
Joanna: Yes, yeah, and truly, as we’ve said, that applies directly over to small businesses. I have a hard time seeing how it – insofar as marketing materials go, if you want to be a dentist, you’re going to need a certain amount of education. You can’t just JFDI, but we’re talking about trying to grow your existing business, small business, yeah.
Then it’s a matter of doing it and learning from it. Learn quickly, and move on. At least, that’s what we’re learning. That’s what it seems, at least, in the startup world, and I think it definitely applies.
Dom: Yeah. We have a lot of subject-matter experts. We have a lot of people who are consultants or service providers or selling product, and they’ve got a lot of years of experience. But they’re just hitting these walls, and I think, sometimes, it’s a perceived wall. They’re like, technology gets in the way. So it’s just something that – it’s our opinion we want to get out of the way.
But I want to come around to the reason why I kind of pushed for this conversation. Because your first four books (which are on your website, and we’ll talk about the website in a little bit), but they broke down the core part of copywriting, focused specifically on websites.
So though I do think the advice is valuable advice to anybody interested in improving their writing for any form of marketing, and they were – they took in a progression. Book One is called Where Stellar Messages Come From, which really just teaches you in my mind how to start thinking better about what you’re trying to say, right?
Joanna: Right, yeah, that’s the goal. Right before we put any words down on the page, let’s find out what your message should probably be.
Dom: And that includes who you are talking to and things like that.
Joanna: Yes, who are you talking to? Who are your competitors talking to? What are your competitors saying? All things like that, yeah.
Dom: That book steps you through that. Then we go on to the second book, which was Formatting & the Essentials of Web Writing. That’s literally just getting it out of your head and getting it on the page. It’s that minimum thing that you need to do.
Joanna: Exactly, so you can avoid a wall of text and all that kind of stuff. But, yeah, you figure out what you think your message is. You have a pretty strong feeling that you’re going in the right direction with the messages. Now, how do you translate those into really scannable messages on your website?
Dom: And then Book Three is focusing on the Headlines, Subheads & Value Propositions, which you mentioned earlier. It’s a big part of what goes into the pages. Certainly, your home page is a small business, that would be a critical part because that’s the first thing people will see.
And, again, when you’re trying to tell people what you do, why you’re different, why you stand out, why they should choose you, that’s all part of that. And the fourth book was Buttons & Click-Worthy Calls to Action. I like that title. Again, this is probably the most common thing that Pete and I say to anybody that comes to us for a website review is where’s the call to action?
Joanna: Yeah, that’s a big one.
Dom: Then they say, well, what do you mean, and can you give me an example? It’s almost like people don’t actually know how to get somebody to do something. First of all, they don’t think about what they actually want people to do. One of the most common things I’ve ever said in a website review is what is your goal, and again, back to our 7 Levers, what would be an opt-in for somebody for you?
And they’ll say, maybe, we want them to phone in, we want them to telephone call. So, almost without fail, my response will be, then I suggest you write your telephone number on the home page.
Joanna: Good one. Yeah, no kidding. What’s interesting is this really speaks a lot to – right now I’m working on this massive series of tests on calls to action. Maybe I’ll come back on and talk to you more when that’s done, but we’re talking about calls to action and really trying to reframe that, one, as a call to value.
So, it’s not just a submit button, but the thing that people want to get out of it, this call to value. But, in it, we’re talking about focusing on the goal. And I think this is a holdover from the way we’re taught to write. We’re taught to start at the top and work your way down.
You start with the opening, and then you write the first paragraph of the body, and then the second and the third and your conclusion. But when you’re writing a web page, I have found this, and I did a post done recently that was focused on landing pages, but I find that this works generally for most pages that I’m writing.
I think it’s a pretty good tip. One, you have to, of course, always, when you’re writing a page, you have to figure out your goal. You have a business goal. You also have users coming to the site, prospects. What’s their goal? Do the two goals match?
If not, how are you going to work with those two different goals, and what goal is going to be your primary goal for your page? One page has to have a thing that it’s trying to do. And if you know the thing that it’s trying to do, then this is the tip, start with the button.
Always start, at least as an experiment, start writing not with the headline, not with the body copy, not with the bullet list that you have in your head. Start by writing the button for your page. So know what goal you want to get people to, and then work out from there.
I almost visualize it personally as circles that build out from the center point that is your call to action. And once you can start by writing that thing down, so the thing you want them to do, in your case the example you just gave, you want them to call 1-800 blah, blah, blah to do X, to set up a consult, or to set up blank.
So, if you know that’s the goal, and you have that there now, what messages need to be on the page to help people get there, and when I start by writing it that way, suddenly, the page becomes less of this mystery of what kind of things I need to say.
It becomes more about writing an argument that gets people to do the thing you want them to do that they hopefully they also want to do. I find that to be a valuable tip when we’re talking about calls to action at least.
Dom: And amazingly – well, not surprisingly, I think by now, I’ve read that post when you mailed up, and I totally agree. That was a genius way to describe how to do that. It was focused on the button, as you say, but it works just the same for the call to action, that being the telephone call or whatever.
You did start with what you want them to do. A lot of small businesses go to all the trouble of, “Oh, well, we need five pages on our website and this and that.” It’s like, what do you want them to do? You want a phone call. Okay, well, make sure you write the phone number and “Call Us,” and possibly why they call you, and what they can get.
Now, everything else, just make sure that they know it’s you, and that you do what they might be looking for, and you probably quit then, and you can stop now. You’ve probably done a lot more good by putting less information on, as long as it’s the right kind of information.
Joanna: Right. Yeah, especially if you’re going to try to close them in other spaces. If you’re trying to get them to call you, and you just put on the things that you know they need to know in order to call you, why they might call you, what they’re going to get when they call you, what kind of person they’re going to talk to if they’re committed, that kind of stuff, so that makes it very easy to write a page.
If you’re going to try to get them to opt in to your e-mail list or your newsletter list, you don’t have to write everything about all your products or your services. You just have to write the things that are going to make them want to get on your newsletter list. That’s really it, and I think it’s almost too simple, that people are like, nah, I need more than that.
Sometimes, when you’re trying to get them to buy something, you might need more than that. But when you’re trying to get them just to do these other acts, especially if you’re planning on closing somewhere else, then you don’t need more than that, necessarily. Or you shouldn’t, at least, start by assuming you need more than just the things that will get them to do that one call to action.
Dom: Absolutely. Again, in the conversation I was having with someone this afternoon, this assumption that you have to do these things is, very often, if you test it, proved erroneous.
Joanna: Totally. Agreed.
Dom: I’ll talk about it in one second because you mentioned selling things, and you did – you have got a fifth book, How to Write a Long Form Sales Page. Now, I’m actually going to skip swiftly over that because I hate long-form sales pages.
Joanna: Okay, but with a side note. Can I just make a side note there?
Joanna: For people who are getting a little bit tired or down in the dumps about how they’re marketing online, in particular; I worked with someone who’s in the yoga space recently. They do yoga consulting, and she was feeling the same way. I convinced her to write a long-form sales page to sell this thing.
She said afterwards that it reinvigorated her entrepreneurial spirit because she suddenly felt like, oh, there’s so many other things I could be doing. Anyway, that’s a side note about writing long-form sales pages.
Dom: That wasn’t a particularly good defense. I was hoping you were going to jump to the defense, really jump to the defense of long-form sales pages.
Joanna: I was. That was. She loved it.
Dom: That wasn’t very good at all. I’m going to have to do it for you.
Joanna: What? She went from being like, oh, I don’t really like my business any more to writing this long-form sales page, optimizing it, and feeling jazzed about opportunities.
Dom: All joking aside, what I was going to say about that book was I have hated long-form sales letters my entire life. My entire involvement in the internet marketing space, information marketing; I hate it. I am the speed scroller, all right? I come onto a page, and I scroll to the bottom, say, what is it you’re trying to sell me, and how much is it?
Thank you. And I have done that for the longest time. And because I’ve seen too many of them that looked vile, had no value, were full of rubbish, and they’re basically written by these people that couldn’t write copy.
And when I read your book, it was going to be the book I recommended the most because in the same way that your yoga person, the way that you step through it, the way that you talk about it, it made me see the value of doing it.
If you do it right. And, again, it’s one of these things that this information marketing industry has taken and really kind of made a little bit dirty by not doing it right. The original idea behind the long-form sales letter, I think, is what you come back to in your eBook.
Why do you do it? You do it so that you can get your message across, you can give out your value proposition, you can answer potential questions, you can help people identify with the solution and so on.
Joanna: Exactly, exactly, and I’m glad to hear that you came around a bit to it. Have you written one?
Dom: You know what? I haven’t, but I’ve thought of it. I’ve got it – and I really was hoping that I’d gone through this so that I could kind of have you, maybe, look at it, because, if you will, a few weeks ago, we had a chap who was a bit of an expert on creating LinkedIn profiles.
Pete and I have two of the worst LinkedIn profiles in the history of LinkedIn. We’re guilty of signing up and then not really populating the profile. This chap very kindly looked at ours and gave Pete a B-minus, but he never mentioned mine.
Joanna: Oh. Uh-oh.
Dom: So, he kindly said he would look at them after we’d had a go, so I’m going to have a go, and then you can have a look, and maybe we can talk about it. But one of the things you’re really big about, and you mentioned this call-to-action test, you did do a report on a value proposition test that you did, as well, because testing is something I think a lot of people are afraid of.
They think that they have to do something, and it has to be right the first time, and sometimes they don’t even do it, because, if they can’t get it right, they’re not happy.
Joanna: Exactly. I see that all the time, all, massive emphasis on all, exclamation points all around the word ‘all.’ I see it all the time, this absolute paralysis when it comes time to write something. I frankly blame the English teachers of the world for making us scared to write copy, in particular.
You’re so used to getting your hand slapped for not doing it right, and you’re like, well, what does right even look like? You don’t know. But yeah, I agree, and it keeps you from actually getting started because you think it has to be perfect. But as testing shows us, really, nothing’s perfect, but you can keep tweaking things to get there.
Dom: And the technology nowadays, again – previously testing these things was a very difficult or potentially expensive thing. Back in the physical world, people have been testing things for years, but it’s expensive and time-consuming. But now, the technology is borderline free, and, in some cases, to split-test a headline, for example, on a website.
You can get into more elaborate solutions to the problem, but it’s really simple. Somebody came to us consulting-wise, they would say to us, how do I know this? Well, test it. The answer is very often the most obvious one. It’s the one that people don’t believe, like, how do I know what my clients want? Well, why don’t you ask them? How do I know what people will react to?
Well, put something up, and see what they react to. It sounds really flippin’, but, again, it’s this fear of technology or fear of being wrong, or fear of these things that you said. I think it’s a huge thing. But again, just to kind of wrap up the fanboy scenery on the books here, the reason why I recommend these books is because you speak directly to a lot of these fears.
You speak to them, and you give practical, applicable stuff. Not just in the books, the blog posts that you do, the e-mails that you send out, again, they’re actionable. The one we had recently that I said we’d put in a newsletter, it was so actionable. It would’ve been rude not to link to it.
Joanna: Well, that’s nice. That is one of the things that we think is really important, at least at Copy Hackers. From Day One, it has seemed to be – one of the key things that we think of as a differentiator – speaking of differentiation, soon, at least – is this idea of having action steps at the end of each chapter in our eBooks, and often, in our blog posts.
We do have some theoretical blog posts that just don’t really allow us to. But when there is a chance to say, okay, now that you’ve learned this, you could either go away and do nothing, or go back and check your e-mail and basically forget everything, or you could take just one thing – not all four of the things that we said. Choose one.
Take five minutes in WordPress, right as we’ve talked about, and go either: a) test it if you can, b) just plain try it. Just put it up there and see what happens. But, yeah, actionable content is really, what are you going to do with content you can’t act on? As a small-business owner, you’ve got a lot of stuff to do. You can’t just consume content you can’t do anything with.
Dom: I agree with that opinion. But, again, that is sometimes what you find people do, is they come through and they don’t take action. So, okay, you almost did my job there by bridging to the next thing I want to talk about, and, really, the pivotal thing for me, and the reason to really push this conversation, was your latest book, which is The Startup Guide to Differentiation.
Now, there’s that word startup. Please, people, don’t be offended, don’t be put off by the word startup, because the core topic of this book is differentiation. I’m going to just do this straightaway. Why did you write this book? Because this is different to the other books.
Joanna: Yeah, yeah, it is. The other books are really like – I often think of the first four books as, like, not beginner’s (because people are like, oh, I don’t need beginner’s), but they’re like a starter pack, really. They’re the place to start when you have a website, or you’re thinking of putting one up, and there you go. Then Book Five is a long-form sales page book, so that’s very specific unto itself.
If you’re not going to write a sales page, then you’re probably not going to read that book. Then, we were – Lance and I were talking a lot about value propositions. Now, a value proposition, I’ll just quickly say it, is basically a statement for your business that says what’s unique about you that’s highly desirable to your prospects. It’s what we’ve, at least, boiled it down to.
Then it’s said in certain ways that make it able to be customer-facing. So, with this idea in our heads, this kind of theory, this hypothesis that a value proposition has these two – at least, these two components, these two qualities, we extended that and said, well, we do believe that a lot of small businesses, because they’re new, most of the people that come to their site aren’t really that aware of them, necessarily.
You know, you get repeat traffic and whatever, but you get a lot of new visitors, too. Those people need to know what’s unique and highly desirable about you. So, if your headline is your important copy on your home page, in most cases, what if we were to test a whole bunch of value propositions across a whole bunch of websites as headlines and see if we could increase what people did based on that?
So that’s where the value proposition idea came from. But as we’re working on value props, unique and highly desirable – you can say those two things about something that’s different about you, too, when we’re talking about differentiation. I know this is kind of a long-winded answer.
But in order to get to the value proposition exercise, we had to step back and say, okay, how do you know what’s different about you? How do you know how to position yourself differently? And that’s where the differentiation book just naturally came from.
Dom: And that really, to me, is why it was exciting to me when I saw it. After I read it, I was totally happy with the fact that I got excited up front because people out there may have heard this before. They may have heard people say, what is your USP, your unique selling point? What is your value proposition? What makes you different? And they’re told to go away, think about it, and write that.
Joanna: Yeah, yikes. Hey? Like, what? Where do I start?
Dom: People say it in an almost offhand manner, or they say it as if it’s the answer. And you’ll see it in a roomful of people. People will sit there, and you can see them scribbling notes on their pads and nodding their heads and going, oh, yeah, I really need to work out my unique selling point.
I really need to work out my value proposition, and they leave the room, or they finish the conversation, or whatever it is. They heard that, and you know that they’re not going to be able to do it, necessarily. It’s not as easy as the guy or woman who said it is – it’s not that easy. And so you put the book together that steps through that process.
Joanna: Yeah. That’s at least our goal. That’s what we try to write. Because I agree with you, I find that there’s a lot of things that we’re told to do that are just hard to then go do. You want to do it, but, again, especially for small businesses and startups where you’re wearing so many hats, if someone doesn’t tell you exactly what to do, come on, you’ve got other things to do.
So you’re probably not going to do it. There’s just too many options, too many ways to go. So we said, with this differentiation book, there’s lots of ways you can differentiate. There are way more than we could write down here, and by the way, you don’t need to know 300 ways to differentiate.
You just need to get started with a short list of ways that you might, something that might actually be different about you, and so that’s where we’re coming from. We focused on nine different differentiation strategies in Book Six, The Startup Guide to Differentiation, yeah.
Dom: But it’s, again, focusing on that practical application kind of thing. This book actually has almost like a workbook element to it, doesn’t it?
Joanna: It does, yeah, which I kind of liked, actually. It’s different from what we’ve done before because we normally would do an action at the end of every chapter, like I mentioned, but, in this case, it was like, you don’t just take an action at the end. We wanted to sort of walk you through almost an interview without it being some high-tech thing, right?
It’s essentially a form that you fill in as you move through the book. Each chapter of the book, at the end of it, you’re basically completing one or two rows and columns, so you’ve got two rows and about four columns that you complete that should help you, and we’ve seen some evidence that they have helped people, so I feel really good about that.
That should help move you through shortlisting some ways that you could differentiate yourself, and eliminating ways, just based on what you know about your competitors and what you know about your prospects because those two things are obviously really important when you’re thinking about how you’re going to differentiate.
One, what are my competitors doing? Two, is the thing that I think is different about us important to our prospects? So, yeah, we try to walk you through this table that is an interview that, at the end of it, you should be at a point where you can say, okay, these are three things that we think might be different about us.
Now, how are we going to go, and should we go, and how do we go? Just test those, and see if we’re right, and see if that will actually move the needle for our prospects.
Dom: Yeah, and, when I looked through this, I saw this in two ways. One, if it can be seen as a checklist, where you go through, and you can look at your own business or your own product or services, and see if you can identify with any of these nine basic differentiators, and if you can, then you go through the worksheet.
And the worksheet asks you the deeper questions so that you can break them out, which will then feed back – as you say, this is to feed back into your copywriting, into your headlines and your lists of features and things like that. But also, from my point of view, Pete and I talk about this from a marketing point of view.
We always encourage people to stand out, to be different, so it’s not just about identifying if you have one of these differentiators. Sometimes, if you’re in a situation where you feel that you’ve got too much competition, you can also look at this list of differentiators and say, well, can I amp up one of these areas of my business to be different in this way and make myself stand out?
Joanna: Yeah, and I think standing out is such an important point. I know that it’s a little scary, sometimes, especially since we’re not all extroverts naturally, so we don’t necessarily want to be noticed, or to put ourselves out there. But I’ve generally found, especially in messaging, that when it makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re probably starting to do it right.
So, if you’ve identified something that’s a little different about you, now, how can you make yourself really, as you say, amp that up, and maybe amp it up to the point where you’re like, ah, that’s too amplified, but give it a shot. People, you think it’s one thing, you think, oh, I’m shouting it now.
I’m really saying that we’re different because we offer outstanding service, and that’s our differentiator. We’re going to say it everywhere, it’s going to be a really big deal for us, we’re just going to drive it home. But as soon as you do, then you’re like, oh, no, we said it too much, what if, what if, what if?
But meanwhile, you’ve actually said something that people landing on your website, are hearing your message, might actually stand a chance of remembering, which is absolutely critical to getting them to not only convert, but to stay with you if they can remember what’s different and good about you.
So I agree that just take, maybe, little pieces that are different about you and choose one to amplify. Then, seriously, go to won with it, scare yourself a little with it.
Dom: Pete told this story before, there’s a very famous copywriting example from way back when where there’s a beer company, and the example was that the copywriter at the time said, look, I’m going to list the way that we make the beer. And the owner of the company said, but, well, everybody makes beer the same way.
And he said, well, yeah, but nobody’s saying that. You can even stand out in such a simple way just by saying what you do, by identifying the thing that you do. And that is something that you say in the book.
Joanna: Yeah. One of the secrets to messaging what’s different about you is just simply putting something down on the page, just say it. Just try it, just say it, because 10 bucks says your competitor – I mean, you can always check and see if your competitors are saying it; but if they’re not, especially, then just say it.
You don’t have to go and rebuild your product or service or your business to squeeze in some point of differentiation. You just have to identify things that might be already existing in your business and just call one of those out. I think that’s a great example, the beer one, and I think someone left that comment on my blog about something like that, too. I hadn’t heard it personally, but I love it, and it goes to the – do you watch Mad Men, Dom?
Dom: You know what? I don’t. I’ve only seen a couple of shows, but I know I must go watch it. All the examples that people call out – you put an example in the book.
Joanna: Yes, the ‘It’s Toasted‘ principle.
Dom: You’ve reminded me that I need to watch the show.
Joanna: Yes, that’s right. It’s a really good show, so you should watch it. But yeah, this idea of, it’s toasted. Anybody who watched – all you have to do is watch Season One, Episode One. You don’t have to go any further if you don’t like it. You’ll see the example in there. By the way, it’s a really engaging little show to watch, so a little plug for Mad Men.
Dom: All the clips and things that I’ve seen about the show, I’ve used them as examples to show people about advertising, marketing, copywriting, and whatever. Because, even though it’s an incredibly entertaining show, it’s real in the examples that they give, like, as you say, this differentiating this product by saying it’s toasted.
Joanna: Yeah, Just as a bit of a tangent, there’s so many sales things – sales and marketing tactics that we can learn from these kinds of TV shows and movies. Frankly, I’ve learned quite a bit from all of these, and you can then go apply them, and it’s quite entertaining. But anyway, yeah, it’s worth watching.
Dom: So you heard it here, folks, if you want to learn marketing and advertising, go watch the television.
Joanna: It’s true, it’s true.
Dom: Seriously, I mean, that’s a great tip, just – the differentiating. The importance – we’ve spoken, Pete and I have spoken about the importance of differentiating yourself, and you’re focusing on it in this book in terms of messaging, in terms of communicating with your audience, and, specifically, on a website.
Now, again, I’ve said already, it’s called The Startup Guide to Differentiation, but the examples in each one of these nine differentiators that you have identified – and again, it’s just a starting point. The nine are just a starting point, but examples you give – you’ve actually got a repetitive group of types of things.
You’ve got software as a service, which is a quite nebulous thing, so it’s great that you’ve got an example of that. But you’ve also got downloads and installs, hard goods, and services, so it cannot just – internet-based startups that you’re talking to with this material.
It’s physical, practical examples, and lots of different examples people can look at and key off of. They’re all real and current companies that you can go and look at. There’s a little bibliography at the back with all the links to the sites, isn’t there?
Joanna: Right, yeah, exactly. That’s my goal, whenever I’m writing any of these, is to bring in the most relevant, hopefully up-to-date examples that I can so people can actually go immediately and look at that website and see what’s up there. If you want to, of course.
Dom: So differentiation is important, and I think this is a great help for anybody who wants a guide to differentiate whatever it is that they do in their business, to make themselves stand out, and to target their messaging. But you gave the tip that you may already be different, or you could easily be different, just by looking at what you do and telling people that’s what you do, or that’s how you do it.
In the way that you did that recent blog post, so maybe I’m kind of preempting a blog post that you might possibly already be writing, or you might want to write, seeing as you’re stealing my ideas already here; do you three easy ways to differentiate yourself, or three easy things to look for as differentiators.
Joanna: Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I would always recommend starting with the easy ones. Don’t redo your business, or, if you have a product, don’t start changing it right away. But three easy ones – when it comes down to it, what I’ve seen, but it obviously depends again on what your competitors are doing and what your prospects care about.
But there do seem to be some things that are pretty straightforward that don’t require you really make any changes to your business. One of those is differentiating based on the people in your business, your team, and that might seem obvious, or it might seem not at all obvious, I don’t know.
It depends where you’re coming from. There are a lot of cases. In, at least, the startup world, I know a lot of so-called internet celebrities. If a certain person who is really popular among this group was to start his own software that served that group, it would make sense for him to say, ‘software brought to you by,’ and then use his name.
Something like that. The people who are actually behind your product can be a way for you to differentiate. If you are a research consultancy, and you have no PhD, so that could be an interesting thing to say, or like research of the people, by the people. That kind of idea.
Or to say we’ve got a team of 20 PhDs, and that’s all we hire, and they’re always from Ivy League schools, that kind of stuff. You might already have that on your about page, or in your about materials and things like that. But do you have it front and center as a primary message so that people – again, I’m going to talk about your home page because that’s what I tend to talk about.
People who arrive on your home page see this is the research consultancy that’s run and built by Stanford PhDs. That could really make you stand out from the other research consultancy that just says, we get your research done right. And they’re like, what? I don’t even know what that means, but I get what these guys are saying, so that’s one way is to focus on your team. Does that make sense?
Dom: Oh, absolutely. I mean, just a very silly and tangential reference again to TV shows, and one thing that I’ve been watching recently is a show called Suits, which I’m enjoying immensely, but this law firm differentiates themselves by only hiring from Harvard.
Joanna: Ah, yes, right. And who doesn’t love that from their lawyer? Yes, please.
Dom: Exactly. It’s like your – it’s something that Pete talks about. It’s something like what we call the halo effect. You’re associating yourself, your business, your product with something else that has already got authority.
Joanna: Exactly. Something that’s influential to your audience in particular, right? Some sort of e-mail tool made for moms by moms would probably do a really good job selling to moms, so it’s like, yeah, talk about that.
Dom: Yeah, I think, so that’s a great starting point, and, again, it’s one of those – it’s something you’ve already got. If you’ve already got that asset, that person’s already part – those people are already part of your organization or whatever, then just talk about it, yeah?
Joanna: Yes. Another big one that I think is probably already built into your business, but you might be a little scared to talk about it, is – some people, some marketing theorists don’t believe that this is differentiation, and that’s fine. It doesn’t really matter so much as just getting the work done.
So what I do think is an interesting way is to differentiate based on who you’re serving – or whom you’re serving. Who are the people that you’re actually delivering a service to? Maybe you’re a hairstylist who happens to have a lot of kids coming in, like a lot.
You’re known for being really good with the kids. You’re kind of hesitant to talk about that, or position yourself that way, as that’s your differentiation or your point of differentiation because you’re like, oh, I don’t just want kids. But we all know kids don’t walk into the hair salons by themselves.
Their moms come with them or their dads do. So, if you were to position yourself as the hairstylist that’s awesome with kids, that’s a pretty good way to do it. Then, of course, the moms, when they’re there, you can upsell them, too, and bring them in, as well.
But there’s lots of ways you can say, who are the people that get the most out of what I do, who are bound to be the happiest with what I do, who are bound to talk to their friends who are similar to them about what I do, and can we make that the group that we target and then message as the key differentiator?
You and I have already talked about how Copy Hackers – our primary way of differentiating our services and products from other copywriting services and products is we say we’re the people who help startups. That’s like people know that. Copy Hackers isn’t there to be the way that truck drivers (which I love, my dad was a truck driver), or teachers, or anything – we’re not there to help those people necessarily write copy.
They can probably learn a lot from us, too, but we’re going to say that we’re focusing entirely on startups, and that will be the way that we differentiate. That’s kind of something that’s probably already existing in your business that you could easily tap into.
Dom: Sure. In a completely different world, it could be that you, maybe, are, let’s say a plumber or an electrician that specializes in rental properties. Your target audience is landlords of rental properties, for example. It could be something like that. But, yeah, just focus on your primary audience, on the audience you can have the most positive effect for, and highlight that.
Joanna: Exactly. Just say it. Don’t make people guess at it, don’t imply it. This is a big tip for copywriting. Just put it on the page. Say blank-blank serves truck drivers, or whatever it might be. But make it really clear that that’s what’s really different about you. It’s one thing.
You’re going to have layers of differences for your business, but you’ll probably end up with something that really separates you from the pack, and, again, that’s one way to separate yourself. A final one, where it’s kind of probably built in, it could be built in, and it could be quite interesting, depending on who your audience is, is talking about your worldview.
Now, this is one that I happen to like quite a bit. What’s your point of view, what’s your perspective, or what’s your worldview? So, I use as an example – I know it’s the hard goods example, so it might not be perfectly relevant for everybody who’s listening. But I think you can still learn a lot from it and see if it would work for you. I use the example of TOMS Shoes. Dom, you’re familiar with TOMS?
Dom: I am, yes, because I’ve read the book, but I was before, anyway.
Joanna: Okay, right, of course. So, TOMS – I can’t help but think this is – and there’s lots of other examples outside of it, again, in the book – but it’s about saying we really care about X. Say you’re running a computer repair shop, and you have a partner – both you and your partner are running the shop.
And you really care about, just in your personal life, helping, you give to World Vision or something. You sponsor three kids in Mexico through World Vision. That’s your personal thing, but your small business is really closely tied to your personal life. Can you port that care that you have over to your computer repair shop and have that be something different?
Like you’re the computer repair people who care, the computer repair people with heart. Now, the problem there is that, if you have a bunch of people coming in who don’t give a crap about whether you’re giving money to somebody else or not, then it’s probably not a good way to differentiate.
But if you’re like TOMS Shoes, where they sell these shoes, where you buy one and you know that someone who’s in need gets another, gets a pair for themselves. You’re selling a consumer product, in that case, so there’s a big, huge pool to draw from there. It makes really good sense for them, in their particular case, to differentiate based on their worldview.
That one’s a little bit up in the air, but I just really like it so much. There are obviously loads of other ways to do it. People tend to differentiate based on price and features, and those lead to wars of all kinds. But they’re still perfectly valid ways to differentiate.
Dom: Yeah, but the worldview one – it’s been incredibly successful for some people. I think that really goes back to your point before you gave your three tips, and that was you need to know who you’re talking to. Because if you’re talking to somebody who cares about that stuff, that’s a great differentiator to use.
If that’s your target market, if those kinds of people are interested in that kind of thing, then that’s a great differentiator. But if that’s not your target market, then it would be a mistake.
Joanna: Totally agreed, and then, further from that, if you want to be successful with it, these ideas are really there as a starting point for you. If you choose one, you identify that one is really good for your business, you go and you try it, and you find, voila, it actually is good.
People are starting to understand what your brand is about, they’re starting to see why they should stick with you and tell their friends about you, and return to you and whatever else it might be. If you’re seeing that happen, then I think that you move from this position of having identified it and kind of implemented it to really making it your deal, where you’re like Zappos.
I think everybody knows Zappos. They’re the customer service people before they’re even the shoe people. So they’re like the big guys who have decided to differentiate based on one thing. They saw that it worked, and then they threw all their resources at making that hundred percent what their business is.
I think that that’s the same thing for any small business, which – Zappos, of course, was a small business like anybody else, at one point. So, you have to take the thing – if you identify one thing, whether you learn something today, or you go get the book, or you just go looking at different ways to differentiate, you identify it, you try it.
If it works, I really, truly believe that you’ll then probably do well to pour a lot of resources into moving forward with that point of differentiation. I don’t mean a lot, like, take a loan or anything. I would never say that to anybody. But really start thinking through all your messaging as, okay, if we’re going to say we’re talking about our difference – our point of differentiation is that we have this worldview.
Then we’re going to want to make sure that all of our messages match that kind of tone. So we would never say anything that sounds offensive, in some way, to a group. We’d always use imagery that speaks to that worldview, rather than something that would conflict with it, and so on and so forth.
Like, for startups. Obviously, for us, our point of differentiation being startups, that we focus on startups, first and foremost, that’s the primary thing we’re working on, we’ll only produce content for startups, and we won’t see us producing content for franchisees, necessarily, if we don’t see those as startups.
Well, moving forward, we know what content to produce, what messages to use, what tone of voice to use because we’ve figured out what’s uniquely different about us that our customers want.
Dom: Absolutely, and the irony there is, once you get over this initial hurdle of what is your differentiator, you find it, you have identified it, you’ve tested and validated it, focusing on that message, focusing on that audience, focusing on anything, really, narrowing down will make your life easier because it’s consistent. You get used to it, you get used to that messaging, you get used to that kind of client, instead of trying to be all things to all people.
Joanna: It’s such a pain in the butt to try to be all things to all people. As soon as you can focus on one thing, yeah, now you start knowing what messages to use and repeat. Now you can buy PPC ads, if you decide to go that route. You can buy them for certain keywords and not worry about the other ones because those other guys don’t matter to you.
Or that way of thinking doesn’t matter to you, or those features, or whatever else that goes in, whatever way that you choose to differentiate. Suddenly, it frankly becomes a lot clearer. At least, that’s how it seems in what we’ve seen.
Dom: Cool. So, I think we’ve covered quite a lot of very, very wide-ranging topics around copywriting, but we have a question. Pete has this question, it’s his favorite question, and I’m going to add a question to the standard ones you might already have had, which is, what question should I have asked you?
Joanna: Oh, no!
Dom: What question, if there was something that you really wanted to get out, it’s like people really should know this, but you didn’t ask me the question, so I didn’t get a chance to say it, for example.
Joanna: Yeah. That’s a question that I ask when I’m interviewing people to find messages for myself, or for clients. That’s the last question I ask whenever I go through that interview process. What should I have asked you? And then people always have that, “oh, well.” And if they take a while to answer, I’m like, “What, you don’t know what I should asked you?” But now that I’m on the receiving end of it, I’m scared.
Based on the fact that we talked so much about differentiation, and I think we had a good discussion about it, maybe the only other thing that’s really outstanding, one thing that might have followed naturally from that is that we did do a bunch of tests, and what were our findings on the tests based on. Differentiation and value proposition, that could be an interesting topic. That could be one worth talking through.
Dom: Well, is this what went into The Great Value Proposition Test report?
Joanna: Yes, exactly.
Dom: Let’s talk a little bit about that. Because I think the whole point of this is that Pete and I talk about why differentiation is important. You think differentiation was important enough to identify and build this workbook for people to go through to feed it back into the copywriting. But the logical progression from this is, well, prove it, and that’s exactly what you did with The Great Value Proposition Test, right?
Joanna: Yeah, most of the time, ‘prove it’ is something that I would ask. I would ask somebody, okay, really? So you say. Let’s see, where’s the evidence? And so, yeah, we did do these 11 tests. We actually ran 15 tests, headline tests across 15 different sites. But four of those didn’t reach significance, so we didn’t want to include the results in the book.
We did get nine out of 11 of the conclusive tests that were winners. I think that’s like an 88% win rate. I don’t know, 82%? Is it 82%? Maybe it’s 82%. Whatever the case is, it’s a pretty good win rate for A-B tests, for anybody who’s familiar with A-B tests. Dom, is your audience familiar with A-B tests?
Dom: We do talk about split testing. To just anyone who doesn’t really know what you’re talking about, basically, it’s a test where you have one thing versus another, and the two options are presented to an audience with the – one person visits the website, they see Headline A, the next person that visits it automatically sees Headline B, or Call to Action B, or whatever it is. And you can then measure the response or measure the success of that test.
Joanna: Exactly. Yes, exactly, right. So that’s what we did here, all on home pages, all with headlines and subheads. We came up with this little scorecard, really, this way of testing your value proposition, which is a separate conversation, obviously, but it’s in the book if you decide to go that route.
We ran these tests, and we found an average lift – and a conversion lift, in this case, because it’s your home page headline. We’re not talking about trying to get paid conversion lifts, but rather to keep people moving through your site, or moving closer to doing the things you want them to do, rather than bailing on your site.
We often measure based on engagement or click-throughs, and so we saw an average lift of 33%. So how does that work out in real people terms? What does that actually, physically mean? That, where you used to have three people moving from your home page to your plans and pricing page, now you have four people moving from your home page to your plans and pricing page.
So, yes, we saw this direct correlation that we can actually say, based with a statistical confidence, that when you changed X Headline to Y Headline, or, in this case, A Headline to B Headline, you got a better business or a growing business out of it.
Dom: Just to really put that in context to our audience, I’ve mentioned, a couple of times, our framework, the 7 Levers. The concept is, so many people focus on one area of their business, like traffic, and try and double their traffic, for example, try and increase their traffic, and they put all their effort into traffic, but not into opt-ins or conversions.
The idea behind the 7 Levers is that if, instead of focusing on one area, you can focus equally on these seven areas and just increase each one by 10%, the cumulative result is doubling of the profit, and a 10% increase is a lot easier than doubling something. Now, you’ve just said that your tests got a 33% increase.
Joanna: Yeah, on average, right. We had some in there that were like 10% and some that were over a hundred percent, that kind of stuff, but yeah.
Dom: So we’re encouraging our listeners and the people that follow the 7 Levers framework to increase opt-ins and conversions, which are things that are directly what you’re talking about here. By using differentiation or whatever else, you can affect things like opt-ins, you can affect things like conversion.
Your results have actually gone way past the 10% that we’re encouraging people to get, on average. What we’re basically saying here is differentiation is a really compelling way to affect at least two of these 7 Levers.
Joanna: Yeah. I think that sounds right to me. It could be you can actually measure the impact of it.
Dom: That is exactly what we would encourage people to do. You and I have talked in this conversation about try it, test it, see what the result is. And to me, this is applicable directly to opt-ins, but also to conversions. This is something that somebody could look at, see your suggestions, apply them to their copy on their website, then measure the results. But it could be a really, really easy way of getting that 10% lift.
Joanna: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
Dom: Excellent. Well, Joanna, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been an awesome conversation. I’ve really enjoyed finally talking to you.
Joanna: Thanks. Yeah, me, too.
Dom: Lots of really valuable content for our audience, and I appreciate you going through all the different things that we’ve talked about. How can people find out more about Copy Hackers and get a copy of The Startup Guide to Differentiation and all those other books that we’ve talked about?
Joanna: If you go to CopyHackers.com, we’ve got everything under the sun. We’ve got a lot of stuff on there, useful stuff. The eBooks and blog and our link to follow us on Twitter, obviously, is a good thing for everybody, hopefully too, and to get on our newsletter. That’s where you can go about getting that stuff. Now, I think, Dom, you and I were considering doing some sort of interesting giveaway, so that may happen now or down the road.
Dom: Yeah, we’ll talk about that, and we’ll let everybody know what the result of that conversation is. But, if you want to find out more about Joanna and Lance and Copy Hackers, if you go over to CopyHackers.com – very simple, very easy to find – you’ll find some very clear calls to action for things like signing up for newsletters and buying books.
Joanna: Right, hopefully.
Dom: Yeah, you really hope that your value proposition’s quite strong on the site.
Joanna: I know, I know.
Dom: Joanna, thank you so much for your time today. I’m really hoping that we talk again soon.
Joanna: Yeah, me, too. Thank you. It’s been great.
[Dom's conversation with Joanna ends]
Dom: So, folks, hopefully that was a real insight into this idea of differentiation and why it’s valuable to you in your business.
Pete: And the really cool thing is, for those who want to find out more about the book, we have a contest. The usual sort of contest stuff going on, which is fantastic. Joanna’s been able to give away four copies of the book. Is that right, Dom?
Dom: That’s right, yeah, four copies of the book, which is The Startup Guide to Differentiation.
Pete: You actually build on all the amazing stuff that Dom was able to pull out there in that conversation. So, if you head over to PreneurMarketing.com/Win, that’s PreneurMarketing.com/Win, you’ll be able to enter the contest to win one of four copies of the amazing book. It’s a PDF book, so you can read it on your Kindle or your iPad or your computer, or whatever it might be. Very, very exciting that you guys can actually get a copy of that book.
Dom: Yeah. In fact, all their books are in all digital formats. It’s really cool. Whatever your device is, you can download a copy for that device. Now, folks, if you’re listening to this podcast in the future, which sounds a little bit odd, but you know what we mean, don’t worry, the competitions at PreneurMarketing.com/Win, they run for a while after the shows.
We do change them from time to time, so there’s always going to be something there for you to go and have a look and see what the latest prize is, what we’ve got from the latest author or person we’ve had on the show, or something valuable we’ve found ourselves. So pop over to PreneurMarketing.com/Win and enter whatever the contest is that’s there right now.
Pete: Absolutely. And finally, let’s keep this wrap really, really short this week, as well. There was so much content that you guys spoke about, I want to drag the outro on, let people go and start taking action from the notes they no doubt took whilst listening. But I also wanted to mention the usual fantastic sponsor we have, Audible, which – you can get a free trial of an audiobook.
Audible’s a fantastic tool. And if you head over to AudibleTrial.com/PreneurCast, you can download an audiobook of your choice as a free guest-added gift from Audible to our PreneurCast podcast listeners. And just to give you a suggestion, if you’re not sure what you want to go and listen to this week, I strongly suggest a book called Nudge, which is a book I’ve been listening to over the past week or so.
The subtitle is Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, and it’s another one of these books written by – I’m pretty sure – the university lecturers. It’s similar, to a certain extent, to Predictably Irrational, where it talks about what causes people to make decisions and how marketers cause people to make decisions by doing certain things.
So, for example, if you’re going to create a survey by asking certain questions in a certain order, or if you’re going to create a checkout form on your e-commerce website, what boxes do you put in there that are pre-ticked, and what aren’t pre-ticked?
Those sort of things can help nudge your audience in a particular direction to a particular outcome you want as the marketer. Now, the book is written more as a consumer focus. It’s about how you, as a reader, are getting nudged by these people.
But from our perspective here as marketers on PreneurCast, it’s interesting to listen to it from both sides of that same – or how can you use this information they’re sharing here in Nudge to help you as a marketer and as a business owner. It’s a very cool book, another one of those not directly business marketing books.
But if you listen to it with the right context, right frame, you can easily and absolutely apply it. It’s a really, really cool listen. I’m sure it’s a cool read, too, if you want to pick up on the book on Amazon.com, which you can do, as well.
Dom: Cool. That one sounds really interesting. It sounds a little bit like Influence, really. That’s how Influence started out, right?
Pete: Yeah, exactly the same thing.
Dom: It was the book about the consumer side of the things, and then marketers found it and went, hey, this is useful.
Pete: Yeah, the term they use quite a lot throughout the book is ‘choice architects,’ so they refer to marketers as choice architects, and that you architect the choice that’s being made by your audience, which is a very, very cool term.
Dom: Cool. Well, definitely check that out, folks, over at AudibleTrial.com/PreneurCast if you want to join Audible and get a free trial. That could be your free download book as part of your free trial. As you say, Pete, let’s keep this wrap-up short because I did spend quite a while talking to Joanna, but it was all really great stuff.
I’d love to get her back on. I’m sure that they’re going to do something else fascinating. Or if anyone’s got anything that they’d like us to ask Joanna, then definitely drop us a line. In fact, if you want to drop us a line on any topic at all, pop over to PreneurMedia.tv where you’ll find every episode of the podcast, all the transcripts, all the show notes and links that we talk about.
Everything’s there, and you can leave us a comment either below the particular show, or you can leave us an audio comment. There’s a little pop-up box at the side of the screen you can click on and record us a little audio message. And as you may have heard, some people in the past have left messages.
We’ll feature you on the show if it’s interesting or useful stuff. So drop us a line, let us know what you think, let us know if you’ve got any questions. As always, you can e-mail us at – Pete?
Pete: I would say the best one, probably, is just support [at] preneurgroup [dot] com, and you’d better reach out to us, and we’ll personally respond.
Dom: We will, indeed, personally respond to e-mails. So thanks, everybody, for listening this week and, well, see you all next week.
http://copyhackers.com – The Copy Hackers Site
The Startup Guide to Differentiation – The new book from Copy Hackers
Nudge – Richard Thaler
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