Who is Joanna Wiebe?
Joanna Wiebe is the original conversion copywriter. She’s the co-founder of Copyhackers and Airstory.co, and she’s written for companies like Wistia, Buffer, Crazy Egg, Shopify, and more.
If you’ve ever struggled to write copy for your landing page, you’ll want to learn from Joanna. Tune into our interview for her step-by-step guide to better customer research, more authentic writing, and increased conversions for your business.
What is Copy Hackers?
Copy Hackers is where startups and marketers go to learn how to write persuasive website and email copy. Joanna teaches all things copywriting, growth marketing, and how to run a profitable freelancing business.
3 Steps to Writing Copy That Converts
Conversion copywriting is about moving somebody to take action. Your role is to convince someone to say yes to your offer—whether it’s buying your product, signing up for your email list, or clicking a link to read your latest blog post.
According to Joanna Wiebe, it’s all about getting inside people’s heads.
The difference between writing persuasive copy and “meh” copy is how much you focus on your audience. You should be thinking about your audience the entire time you’re writing copy. It’s not about the words you would use to describe your product.
What words does your audience use? How do they talk about what you’re selling?
Writing copy that converts means you find out how your prospects talk about their objections, their problems, and what they’re going through in life. You find those words and phrases in your research—and put them into a framework that’s designed to make people say yes.
In this interview, Joanne walks you through all three steps in detail.
The best copywriting starts with research and discovery.
In fact, this is the most significant part of the entire process. It’s simple. Start with customer interviews and zero in on the parts you hear that are interesting. What are the things that make you pause and take notice?
When you’re really looking for messages and the order you want to put them in.
If you can’t do one-on-one customer interviews, you can send out surveys or dig into a process Joanna calls review mining. The point is, you’re never starting from scratch when it comes to copy. You’re just organizing raw, voice-of-customer data.
How do you organize your messages on the page?
In this step, Joanna shares the frameworks she uses to pull the copy together. Her favorite is PAS, or Problem, Solve, Agitate. This method opens with the problem that’s being solved—and agitates it so your reader really feels these pain points.
If there’s no major pain point, you can turn the classic framework AIDA. It stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. You start organizing messages based on what will grab your reader’s attention.
The final step is editing. This is where you sweep through your messaging and edit it to prepare for AB testing. All you’re doing is taking the clunky voice-of-customer data and making sure it sounds smooth (but still sticky).
In this interview, Joanna reveals her process called The Seven Sweeps. You’ll learn the 7-step framework for executing a fast-moving copy review, so you can edit quickly and confidently.
Listen to this Episode:
- Rev.com transcription
- Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
- Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples
- Joanna Wiebe on Twitter @copyhackers
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour! Welcome to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com, the digital marketing podcast for tech marketers who are sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.
As I’ve said in previous episodes, you’re more than welcome to send me emails if you have any questions or feedback, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know the feeling. You’re in front of your laptop. You’ve decided that today is the day you’re going to write this copy for your landing page, but you’re in front of this blank page, and that really scares the shit out of you.
You really don’t know what to do. I’ve been in this situation many, many times over. Where do you start, what should you write, how do you make sure that people care about what you’re gonna write?
My guest today might be able to help. She’s the original conversion copywriter, she probably optimized more web copies than anyone on the planet including companies like Wistia, Buffer, Crazy Egg, Shopify, InVision.
You know the drill. It sounds like a lot of tech companies out there who used her service. You might know her as the Co-founder and Head of Growth for Airstory.co, and also the Co-founder of Copyhackers.com. Joanna Wiebe, welcome. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Joanna: Thanks for having me on. This is awesome. I love this whole concept for the show, it’s gonna be great.
Louis: Let’s dig in straight away. What’s the main difference between writing for a novel like fiction type of writing and writing for conversions?
Joanna: Everything. They both use words and that’s about where it stops. There are similarities but the differences are much, much bigger than the similarities, lots of things. I’ve done the whole novel thing, published in bookstores.
I can actually speak to the differences here pretty decently. Conversion copywriting, you are trying to move somebody to say yes. You’re thinking about your audience an incredible amount, basically that’s all you’re thinking about, is your audience.
We like to talk about the customer as the product that you’re really selling, the new customer that you’re creating.
You’re not thinking about the words that you would like to use, with conversion copywriting you’re thinking about the words that your audience uses. You’re going out in finding those words, those phrases, how they talk about their objections, their problems, the things that they’re going through.
You’re putting those on the page in an order usually in a framework that is designed to move people again to say yes by getting inside their heads. When you think of writing anything else, whether it’s a novel or an essay, you are coming at the things from a very different angle.
Where you’re really trying to make a case for yourself, your own opinion on the page, or your own story you’re trying to tell on the page. That’s just not gonna be the case with conversion copywriting at all. There are so many differences though. It’s out of control.
Louis: It’s a tough question to start. What you said there is really important. The key concept, I think, if I had to summarize will be you need to get into the yes, you need to make people say yes at least in their head. That should be your aim when writing for conversions.
Joanna: Whatever that yes is. When we’re optimizing, we are looking to optimize for paid conversion but we know that that requires smaller yeses along the way. Along the awareness spectrum. It’s definitely moving them toward that yes, whatever that yes looks like.
Louis: Joanna, I have a confession to make, I’m a very bad copywriter.
Joanna: That’s probably a good thing. I also think there are lots of times when I’m a bad copywriter.
Louis: I’m a bad copywriter but I’m not the only one far from it. When you look at websites around the web, it’s painfully obvious that people struggle with writing copy. It’s really hard to write something that resonates with people.
Today, in this episode, I’d like to go through a step by step methodology that people can take away and apply in their business to start writing copy that converts.
Let’s assume for this example that we’re gonna go through that we are trying to sell a side project. Something small that we’re starting on the side, like a course or a service we wanna sell as a consultant. One thing that we can focus on.
Let’s try to pick a project, the side project, whatever it is and act as if we’re gonna write copy for it. Let me put you on the spot right there because I didn’t tell you that before. What side project would you like to pick? It could be something completely outside of your niche, just for the fun of it, let’s pick something.
Joanna: I have to pick and then I have to tell you how to do it? You have to pick.
Louis: Okay, fine. Every time people tell me I have to do something, I come up with something French related. My side project is actually a museum around The Simpsons. I’ve been collecting Simpsons stuff for the last 20 years — that’s not true by the way, I’m just making it up.
I have so many things Simpsons related like posters and figurines and movies. I decided to actually start a small museum in my garage, in my yard. That’s our side project, that’s not related to the French things at all which is good for you.
Joanna: We’re gonna write copy to get people to say yes to paying money to get into a Simpsons museum that’s in your yard. You’ve already got your product in place, that’s something. You’ve got the core of it. What we do is always the same, the process it should, in my opinion, always be the same. It’s a really basic three-step thing. Of course it’s three steps, it’s really three steps.
It starts with research and discovery, that’s the biggest part of actually writing copy. I don’t write copy. Good copywriters, great copywriters don’t write copy; they listen, they eavesdrop on their prospects and they just use their words. Good copywriters are super lazy. We’d rather just sit there and listen to people talk and go, “That sounded interesting.” Just take the things that sound interesting and put them on the page.
That’s how the best copywriting happens. Not just the best, in my opinion, but the best based on tests that we run and seen perform well. Obviously, understanding that there’s a lot of people who hate marketers might say I hate AB testing too.
I get that and there’s a whole discussion to have there. Nonetheless, we’ve seen it work again and again where you go out and you listen for your message. The first part is to do that research and discovery.
Louis: It’s just fun sometimes to stop right there and go through the first step before telling anything else.
Joanna: We could. I wanted to lay out the three steps but let’s stop. We can go through and say how that would happen.
Louis: Let’s make a note, first of all, to say that people are gonna think that I only invite people on the show who agree with my marketing philosophy which is obviously understanding customer very well. Being able to market with them and not at them. Let’s just make a point here that I haven’t selected you based on that, it’s just that you are very good at what you do.
It seems like every single excellent marketer I’ve interviewed say the same thing. Listen to your customer or listen to your users, listen to people first and foremost. It’s great to hear that again over again. Step one understanding them. How do you typically go about that?
Joanna: It depends how much time you’ve got. You can do a lot in a little bit of a time, you can do a lot with a lot of time. I love the jobs to be done methodology, interviewing people to get down to the problems that they’re trying to have solved now.
When we’re selling people on attending a museum with Simpsons memorabilia in it, we’re not probably solving a problem but we’re wanna get down to some emotional core.
Why would a person do this? What is their motivation in getting out of their house, driving somewhere, parking their car, not doing all the other things they could be doing, going into a shack and looking around at Simpsons stuff. It’s a crazy amount of steps someone has to do unless they’re a hardcore Simpsons fanatic.
We’d wanna probably interview, first, hardcore Simpsons fanatics and then other people who like going to museums. The people who don’t know what to do on the weekend or people who have children and want to show them what they grew up with.
I would setup interviews with those people as soon as I possibly could. How you go about setting that up is another story entirely but that would be step one, can we interview about seven people, seven to ten people maybe?
When I’m doing these interviews, when I’m listening to customers and prospects, I’m interested in their motivations, the things that they feel, etc. But I’m really interested in the actual words that they use. Those interviews would be recorded and then they get transcribed. Other people say you should transcribe them yourself–I still like just sending them out to Rev.com or whatever to get transcribed.
Do the interviews as step one is a really good starting point. And then zero in on some parts that are interesting in what you hear in those interviews.
What those emotions are, what do they feel when they go look at a museum? Is it important to them? Is it important to them to make sure that their friends know they’re doing? This step, you’re listening to these things then you’re making notes of the important stuff, the sticky stuff.
When I’m looking for messages and the order I want to put them. I want start first by what are the things that people say that make me pause. That usually takes getting down deep. That’s why interviews are so great because you get to push deeper versus a survey. Where you can get decent results, decent copy can come out of a survey. We do surveys galore definitely to find our messages too.
Nothing is quite as good as sitting there interviewing somebody, talking to them face to face ideally. When they say something that needs clarification or that feels like you were just getting at the surface, you get to pull down deeper and really dive into that. That’s where your best messages are usually hiding, the stuff that people don’t say right away.
But then there are the other messages that they do say right away. Where, again, if you do a survey that’s awesome. If you have a list to do a survey with, or you go to ask your targetmarket.com or aytm.com and try to find people who love The Simpsons, or love museums, or whatever.
It might be or hanging out in the strangest places on the planet then okay, great, go do a survey there. When you do those surveys, if I were doing this exact survey for this, I’d be looking largely for long answer responses.
Because I’m looking for coffee, I’m not looking for some high level thing, I wanna hear the words that people are using. Even though your response rate can be lower, when you ask for a lot of long answer questions, I need the qualitative not just the quantitative. Quantitative can be good as well for identifying which of these adjectives best describes what you’re looking for when you hang out with your family on the weekends.
They can choose the one that can help you identify the right adjectives to use on your page like in your headline. I have talked with this on the blog for Crazy Egg’s home page. Finding the right adjectives in surveys that worked out pretty well. Our page converted better with controls, that’s good. We’ve surveys, we’ve got interviews. Surveys, okay cool if you can do them.
This is my favorite one, I talk about it all the time because it’s so good.
Let’s say you don’t have a lot of time and you’re setting up a new company. You’re setting up this side hustle thing you’ve got going with this backyard museum and you don’t wanna spend a lot of money.
You can’t go to ask your target market what you’re gonna pay a certain amount per respondent. You just wanna go out and maybe do the cheapest thing you can possibly do to find your message. That would be going out and doing review mining.
Louis: Dropping bombs after bombs after bombs, I feel like I need to go back in time. Let’s just take a step back and breathe a little bit in terms of all the stuff you said because it’s really valuable.
Your friend Claire Suellentrop was on the podcast and talked about the jobs to be done extensively. It’s great to hear another person talking about this methodology. That’s the first point I wanted to make. The second point is briefly, how would you answer the objection ‘I don’t have time for customer interviews’?
Joanna: Do you have time for a business? How important is this? I would have a big attitude about it. When I talk about this three-step process, when I dry it out for my students, if you can imagine a Keynote slide or a PowerPoint slide, the research takes up two-thirds of that slide.
The other stuff like actually writing and then editing, that takes up the remaining third, squished together those two parts of it.
People who haven’t done the research before, who haven’t done the interviews think it’s gonna be hard to do. It’ll be a little uncomfortable, the first two or three that you do because you don’t know what you’re doing.
You have to figure it out as you go but you can get coaching on that as well. Claire talks about it, obviously the guys from the rewired group who do jobs to be done extremely well, they teach about it as well.
You can go learn learn these things. Once you’ve done a couple of interviews, you get hooked. People that I know do because when you sit through, you get to pull in all of this information. You will have fireworks going off in your head, this is why you, for jobs to be done, you usually need two people to do the interview to interview one person.
You have two people who are asking questions and taking notes because you’re gonna be so busy writing down things that you’re hearing this person say. Someone else is gonna have to jump in, take on the gaps in it, and ask their own questions that dig deeper on things.
It sounds like, “I don’t have time for that.” One, you have to make time for it. Two, you’ll want to make time for it once you have actually started doing it. It’s not painful.
The first one or two times that you have to go through any process, those are like ooooh. After that, you realize what’s so awesome about it and you will want to do it, you will, you just will, you just have to do it.
Louis: I agree 100%. I’ve done this process a few times. Every time I’ve done them, it’s like clarity on steroids. It gives you this clarity about your marketing, about what you need to do next, it’s absolutely amazing. To talk about the interviews on service a little bit more, what would be your three favorite questions to ask?
Joanna: My number one question that I won’t leave any situation without asking is what was going on in your life that brought you to and then blank. What was going on in your life that brought you to check out our service today? What was going on in your life that brought you to buy this product? What was going on in your life that brought you to return this product? What was going on in your life that brought you to do X?
Get people starting to think about their own lives. What was actually going on. It’s not like, “what did you do” or “why did you do it” but what was going on in your life?
Again, when you’re in an interview scenario, the first answer they’ll give you will probably be okay but it’ll give you enough to start digging in. Because now they’re imagining the scenario they were in when they actually started out whatever that X thing is that you’re trying to learn about.
Often times it’s what was going on in your life that brought you to check out our service today or to search for our product like this today or whatever that might be. That’s my number one question to ask all the time, I love it so much. The best copy wins for me come out of answers to that question. That’s number one. It depends if you’re talking to prospects or actual customers.
If I’m talking to actual customers and I’m looking for copy, it doesn’t always have to be actual customers. In this scenario where we’re trying to get people to come to this museum, it could just be a customer of our competitor.
If our competitor is the museum of modern art, let’s say. It’s a good competitor to have for this product but if that was our competitor, we could interview people who have been to that competitor and ask them more questions around unexpected outcomes.
You’re asking a question where they’re going to tell you a surprising or unexpected side effect of using your competition or your competitor’s product or using yours. This is where you can draw out more interesting specific examples when we talk about writing copy that converts.
Specificity is huge, because it’s how you actually show that you’re inside your prospect’s head when you get specific.
For Crazy Egg we did this, where we had this giant list that came out at the end of it. At the end of asking this question, where I think we had on the winning page, we had 30. We had three columns of things you could use Crazy Egg to do in your business.
There were 30 different ideas in there. Those were all based on what people said they’ve done that was unexpected with Crazy Egg. We were able to redesign our home page.
The list kept going on. Sometimes it’ll be really obvious that you already know why people are using your product. Then there’s this little unexpected stuff that can help bring your product to life for people who are making assumptions about what your product is.
Our product is a Simpsons Museum in a backyard, people are gonna make a really quick assumptions about that.
What are some unexpected outcomes that actually go in there or what did you experience that was unexpected for you? That can help add dimension to the product that you’re trying to sell, so people don’t just look at it at surface value but they start imagining that there’s more to this thing that they even thought was possible.
What else could be hidden under the hood? Hiding under the hood is usually a bad thing. But in a good way, what other cool things might actually take place at this museum?
Those are some bigger questions. I do like the adjective question. Like what word would you use to describe your experience with X? If they just get to choose one word, it’s a short answer question. What word would you use to describe your experience with, with The Simpsons, or with going to the museum of modern art, or with trying to find something to do on a Saturday with your family?
If you can get those adjectives and that’s where a big quantity of them, you’ll see a lot of people saying for things to do with your family, you might say, “I think people would be frustrated because they can’t find things to do with their family.”
What could happen is if you could surface a more interesting word or something that’s not even frustrating, you thought it was a negative thing but maybe they’re feeling really enthusiastic about building memories with their families.
Those are things that once you asked people to say the words, that can start opening up new ideas for your copy that makes you actually sound different and better.
Louis: You talked about the third way you get data from potential customers if you don’t have a lot of time and don’t have a lot of money.
I think a lot of people will be really interested in what you’re gonna explain right there. You started to say it before I interrupted you, because I think it was important to go through the previous steps a little bit more in detail so that people could understand what you meant.
The third one is the mining reviews and mining information online. How do you go about it?
Joanna: At its core, you’re really looking for reviews for your products, if you’ve got them. But this is a new product, there is no Simpsons Museum in your backyard. You don’t have reviews for it yet but people have reviewed other similar services. When I say that, I don’t just mean like MoMA, like reviews of MoMA although great, good.
You can go on like Trip Advisor would have a lot of reviews for activities, Yelp might have some reviews for activities. But you wanna go in and look at reviews for things that people are to use the terminology for jobs to be done, you wanna find other products that people are hiring to do the job your product is supposed to do for them.
Sometimes that won’t be a direct competitor like a museum. It might be something else that families are gonna do on a Saturday. It might be reviews for the circus, or for some carnival, or for going to a laser tag facility on a Saturday.
Or some other place where you drop your kids off and they place in a tub of plastic ball things. You can look at other solutions that are being hired to do the job your product is supposed to do for people and you go through the reviews for those.
It’s not about if it’s a book that was being hired or something, you don’t have to worry about the content of the project itself, you’re looking at reviews. What are people saying about that?
This is a really quick exercise. It should be, it should block out about an hour of time but you should expect to fly through reviews where your job when you’re doing that is to really pay attention to the parts of the reviews that make you stop or pause.
Some reviews are crap. You don’t know, it’ll be useless, it’s just like a quick little bleh. Just prepare yourself that there’s gonna be some crappy reviews in there. There are gonna be some really useful reviews that people will leave.
You’re looking for objections that they had to actually going to do this activity in the first place, “It’s too far a drive. It only opens at 10:00 in the morning and my kids are up at 6:00AM and I need to get them out of the house by 7:00 or they’re gonna be nightmares.”
What are these little things that you wouldn’t know without actually doing this eavesdropping activity? You’re paying attention to sticky language, to objections, to things that make you go, “What? What do they mean by that? That’s interesting, that’s a weird way to put that.”
You’re looking for all of that. You’re gonna go through and basically highlight using whatever like Web Clipper or whatever that you use, we use our own Web Clipper for this.
You go through and you do this highlighting activity and then you just start organizing those messages on the page. That’s really what it is. You’re just gonna read through reviews, you’re gonna look for the stickiest language that expresses things about hopes, desires, objections. And then you’re gonna start clipping that and organizing that as actual copy.
Louis: Step two, I suppose, how do you organize all of that then?
Joanna: That is step two. Once you’ve done all this research and discovery, then you wanna start organizing what you’ve got. You have to start making sense of the things that are rising to the surface as the most important stuff, okay fine.
How do you really put that on the page? You organize, you go through and you tag all of the research hopefully whether you’re using Evernote or the Airstory system or whatever it might be. If you’re using something to organize this research, that will make writing copy a whole lot easier.
We get to this place where we have to organize the research and put it on the page. Again, we’re not summarizing the research at all. Your job is not to take what people said and find a way to make it sound like a marketer said it.
That’s why everyone hates marketers, they think that people actually give a crap about what’s going on in their head. We don’t, we don’t care at all. We wanna hear our own selves on the page, we wanna see ourselves on the page.
Do not summarize or do not rewrite the things that you have heard people say. Take it exactly as it is. That’s a raw, voice of customer data that you need to write high converting copy. When you organize it on the page, you want to rely on old school frameworks.
I say this with full enthusiasm for swiping and stealing from the greats of the past, the Gene Schwartz, the John Caples, the list goes on. Claude Hopkins, all of these great copywriters in the past.
We’ve seen over time certain frameworks keep working that were born in the 1920s and so on. You wanna grab a copywriting framework. My favorite is Problem, Agitation, Solution.
I wanna organize my messages on the page or in the email or whatever it is that I’m writing at this point, I wanna organize them. Opening with problems, with the core problems, usually the bigger idea problem that’s being solved–then agitating it.
That’s where we use specifics. And that’s why that voice customer research is so critical, because you’ll find all these specific examples and then you get into the solution. That’s where your product is.
You talk about the why, the try, and the buy within solution. That’s one framework. What we’re selling people on doing something delightful on a weekend, we could lead what the problem.
If when we’re doing this research, we’re like there are real challenges with trying to find something to do with your kids on a Saturday or on a Thursday afternoon or whatever that thing might be that we’ve identified as an opportunity.
We might say there is a problem here. We should open with that problem then we’ll agitate the problem. If it’s like, “I don’t know of anything to do with my kids on Saturday.” That’s my opening part of my headline based on something that I pulled from voice customer data then we wanna agitate it, what does that really look like?
We pull in examples there. Ideally, if you’re using the right solution, you’re gonna start driving those agitation examples on the page like, “Your kids are freaking out by 11:00 in the morning and you need something.”
You just wanna start putting those examples on the page that you pulled in. Again, you’re not writing, you’re organizing. We’ve got problem, then we’ve agitated it then we’re gonna get into the solutions.
Here are some things you could do. Here is why those aren’t gonna work for you. Here’s the thing that we think that you should do this weekend that you’ll love doing this weekend.
It’s The Simpsons museum in my backyard. Here’s what’s gonna make it so awesome, here is why you’re gonna love it, here are some pictures of what it looks like, here are some examples of people who had a great time there.
That’s the tried idea and then a call to action. That’s the basic framework that we’d wanna start organizing our messages in. If the research isn’t showing that there is a strong problem here or that there is a big pain point to lead with, we could try a different framework.
We could do a very, very popular one, is AIDA. It’s attention, interest, desire, action. People use it all the time. It’s the go to for beginner copywriters for a good reason. It’s a pretty solid framework.
We’d start organizing messages based on stuff that’s going to grab their attention. We can start putting those on the page–it doesn’t mean that they’ll make it into the final copy.
We just wanna start organizing what we’ve got. No point have we written a word. We’re starting to organize things that are gonna grab their attention like some cool statement that somebody made about how museums give their kids, I don’t even know.
This is why you don’t ask a copywriter because I jump to some stupid made up idea, you’d listen, you put it on the page. You want that attention grabber at the top and then you wanna build on it with like, “Make me more interested in this. I’m interested. My logical brain is being pulled in here. Now make it emotional for me.” That’s where the desire happens and then you get into actually a real call to action.
This is how we’d start organizing them on the page using a framework. That’s the second part of it. Sometimes it’ll be in a wider frame, other times it’ll just be in a document. That’s step two.
Louis: I love this concept. I actually haven’t heard this methodology before. I did talk to a few copywriters or people who are heavily involved in copywriting, but this is the first time I’m hearing the idea that you don’t have to write anything yet.
You can just organize the voice of your customer in a neat fashion, to have a nice framework in front of you, where it’s really easier than to write anything. Because you don’t have a blank page in front of you, you basically have a structure in place already with words that people use.
It’s much easier, I feel, for beginner copywriters as you mentioned or even people who are not copywriters themselves but do need to write convincing landing pages or convincing messages.
Joanna: By large, when I’m not working with clients, I’m teaching people who are like those clients. I certainly believe that you do not have to be a copywriter to write great copy, and that founders should be writing their own copy.
It will be a skill that will never stop working for you, it works everywhere all the time. It always comes back to copy.
If you can do this exercise of listening to people, organizing what they’re saying on the page, and of course, doing this step three. Which is going over it with basic editing techniques which we can talk about. And then, of course, testing what you find there.
That will always pay off for you. Even if you are an experienced copywriter, this is still a better way to do it.
Even when we were talking and I was trying to come up with stuff like here, something that might grab their attention, I don’t know, obviously I’m not bad at copywriting, I’ve been doing it for 15 years. You would think, “Joanna should be able to do that.”
No. It’s hard to do, it is far easier to just go listen to what people are saying. The best thing about it is not just that it was easy for you but now in the end, when people look on the page, when they read your copy, they are far more likely to see themselves in it.
That’s the best part. Your page becomes a mirror. It’s not just a bunch of words that a copywriter wrote and polished. It’s a mirror where your prospect really sees themselves the way they wanna see themselves. That’s completely based on stealing their messages using voice of customer data.
Louis: This is important, this is more than important. I don’t have the right objective right now but this is absolutely critical to understand.
When you read copy that feels like, “Oh my God, they understand me so well. Oh my God, I feel this service is just for me.” They’ve done this job, they’ve done the job like what Joanna has described in terms of understanding people so well that you can write the copy that will connect with them.
There’s one thing that we haven’t talked about that is obvious to you and me. That is obvious to a lot of listeners, maybe not to new listeners, is the fact that for that to work you do need to pick a target market. A target audience that is small, that is tiny enough for you to be able to pull that off because if you start to write for everybody, you write for nobody.
Joanna: It’s true. If you write for everybody, you write for nobody. But then people get really scared. They’re like, “I don’t wanna reduce the size of my market.” When I think about Calendly, where Claire was, Calendly really could work for any business on the planet which means any person in those businesses could use Calendly and life would be good.
They might look at that and go, “I don’t want to niche down, I don’t need to niche down.” Their product is actually made to go broad. If you can go small, Seth Godin was just at Business Of Software this year.
I don’t think anybody would be surprised to hear that he said start small with that little tribe that you’re building and then slowly, only when you’ve nailed that, then do you move out and slowly moving out from there.
We all know that we should start there but then there are still those people who are scared. You shouldn’t write for everybody but you do have to put those specifics on the page that might not resonate with every business on the planet if you’re Calendly where you’re really saying, “Who are our best prospects?”
If Calendly is good for everybody, what about the paid version of Calendly? Shouldn’t we be trying to sell that one instead?
People will find a way to sign up for the free one, no brainer, they’ll figure it out but maybe our whole page should be about than the paid version of it in which case, who are those people?
That’s where you would start. It’s not niching down. It’s choosing your ideal prospect and saying, “These are the guys with the credit card that we need to get in our system.” Let’s talk more to those people exactly and that’s where you can of course narrow your market and talk to them definitely.
Louis: I was expecting this answer which is great. I had Seth Godin on the show. We talked about this particularly when you’re starting out. This is an important distinction to make.
If your business like Calendly generating 10 million upwhirls in annual revenue, obviously you will have an audience that is maybe slightly bigger than a side project for Simpsons fanatics.
When you’re starting out, usually you should start with a tiny audience especially if it’s your first time launching something. It’s easier than to write copy. I do like the advice of obviously focusing on your most profitable prospect, most profitable customer and talk their language on the page.
You can also create different campaigns for each type of person, you don’t have to write this one landing page that suits everybody.
Joanna: Alleluia for that, it’s so true. There’s really no excuse for anybody whether they identified some marketer or not or anybody to say, “I can’t do that because it would require too many pages or too many emails.”
Segmentation tools are better than ever for email marketing, personalization tools are springing up all over the place. Landing page platforms mean you can just duplicate a page in an actual single click and just rewrite the parts that need to be rewritten.
There are really no excuses for not targeting your messages to the different markets or market segments that you’re trying to contact.
Louis: Before moving onto step three, can you just remind us of the key frameworks for copywriting that you’d recommend people to use? You mentioned two, which are they again?
Joanna: They are problem, agitation, solution, that’s the one. That’s my favorite one, it’s my go to. It performs well every single time I test it, I love it so much. Attention, interest, desire, action is the other one, AIDA.
There are the four Ps, I always get them in the wrong order which is why I don’t love the four Ps. That’s out there as well, I think it’s promise, picture, proof, and push. Although promise and picture, I might have flipped around.
You open with a promise and you create a picture, bring that to life for people and then you put your pitch in there, the actual here’s what what you should do and then push them or hold them or whatever people are saying now instead.
Those are some basic frameworks. I default to the problem, agitation, solution one all the time. It doesn’t seem to get old. People don’t call me on it.
If you’re like, “I need a bunch of different frameworks.” No. You can just work with one, just make one work, kill it with one, really get it so you’re perfect at it. If it doesn’t perform pretty well anymore then we’ll move on to AIDA or something else.
Louis: When I was much younger than this and I was starting out in marketing, I used to follow this French blogger who was talking about marketing. There’s one lesson that I learned from him, this framework you shared around writing copy.
I actually have never really shared that to anyone except a few people I work with. It’s basically the same basis than the problem, agitation, solution but it’s a little bit more detailed.
It goes like this, problem, the wrong solutions being used to solve this problem, why are those the wrong solutions, new solution, why is it the right solution and proof that it is the right solution and then moving on to the next step, what you should do next.
You mentioned a few examples briefly about agitation, I think that’s probably the most important part of this framework. Can you clarify a little bit more into this concept? What examples could you give our listeners?
Joanna: Agitation is my favorite part of problem, agitation, solution. We have this case study and I’ve talked about it at WistiaFest and all different conferences too. At MozCon I talked about it last year, this case study for a company called SweatBlock.
It’s an ecommerce company, it’s not SaaS but it’s ecommerce. They do the number one solution if you have hyperhidrosis or aka you sweat a lot. It’s called SweatBlock, it’s just a towelette that you buy.
It’s solving a real problem, there’s no question about it. It’s solving a problem for people who sweat excessively, sweat on their face, sweat on their hands, sweat behind their knees, sweat everywhere. It makes their life very uncomfortable.
We did this AB test, we did a bunch of AB tests on their page, and this was the one that after a series of AB Tests that continued to outperform everything else.
Problem, agitation, solution was the framework we used. The headline was, “It doesn’t even have to be hot out, my armpits are always wet.” That’s the problem that we setup. Then we built on the problem just a little bit just below that headline. We had an entire section which was a significant size on the page that was just agitation points.
What does that really look? We said, “Deodorant isn’t enough for you. You probably tried to hide your secret or to mask your sweat by…” And then we listed out, this is where agitation happen, the things people were doing to hide.
This all came from Amazon review mining, because I think SweatBlock has 5000 reviews on Amazon. We could just go through their product alone and find a lot of examples of how people were masking their problem.
They would say things like, “I wear a sweat soaker undershirt.” Sweat soaker undershirt is not something a copywriter would sit around and come up with. You have to actually experience this problem and live through that attempted solution to use that kind of phrasing. If you heard somebody using that phrasing and you had that problem, you’d go, “Yup, I’ve done that before.”
Examples like that. You always wear dark colors, you don’t ever get to buy light blue shirts or light pink shirts anymore, you’re afraid to raise your hand in social settings, you’re afraid to high five people.
When you hug, you leave space between you because it’s likely that you’re going to be damp and you’ll rub off on the person you’re hugging. We got through, we agitated with these actual examples. Solutions do exist. This is what you’re talking about, Louis. You’re talking about solutions.
I jump quickly through the solution part of this and right into the product but you’ve expanded that solution area where you’re saying, “Here are some solutions that you might have tried, solutions like this. Here’s the outcome for SweatBlock. You might have considered trying buttocks to stop sweating. Here are some of the problems with that. Maybe you’ve also tried putting on deodorant four times a day but here’s why that doesn’t work either.”
After you’ve knocked through those other solution, let’s now get into the better way. That’s where we introduced SweatBlock.
We didn’t do the things that I’ve said where we expand on the other solutions but it’s exactly what you’re saying. It’s a very easy thing to shove into this exact framework, then you get into the solution.
You’ll talk about, “Here is a solution that could work for you. There’s this advanced way where you can dab it on once a week and let it air dry. For the whole week, you don’t have to worry about sweating. We’ve made this into something called SweatBlock. Here is why it’s better than anything else you’d ever consider using in this area.”
That’s where we’re now getting into expanding on the solution. Talking about the product itself that we’re trying to move and then moving through why it’s important to you, the try side of it.
Here’s a demo of how it works, here’s how other people have used it. That’s where social proof really comes in and then we get into the buy part, the actual, the why, try and buy that fits under the solution.
It’s similar to what you’re saying. For this example, for SweatBlock, our problem, agitation, solution framework that we use to write the second page outperform the control and brought in 49% more paid conversions that the control did just by leading with problem, then agitating, and then solving it.
Louis: Thank you so much, that’s a great clarification. I think it’s gonna help a lot of people into using this framework. We have organized voice of the customer in front of us, we have a framework that we want to use to start with, what is the step number three?
Joanna: We’ve gone through the “writing process” which basically isn’t writing at all, it’s organizing things on the page. If you’re using a solution like Airstory, that’s when you just merge all of your cards and now you have a whole bunch of copy.
You go through and edit it in order to get it to a place where you can AB test it. Editing is where the actual job of the copywriter becomes something more than simply listening and organizing.
The best copywriters are really good listeners, we’ve done the listening part. Now all we wanna do is edit in the awesome, it’s how I talk about it as editing the awesome all the time. That’s where you do things like voice and tone.
Where you go through and you take language that’s clunky–I don’t wanna say polish, because people then immediately just start cutting things down until it sounds like every other thing that’s ever been said in the history of marketing.
Not polish, but you wanna take clunky voice of customer language and just make sure it doesn’t sound clunky. That’s it.
It has to still be sticky. We don’t wanna lose all of the good that comes in just pulling language from what our prospects and customers are actually saying. We wanna keep the core of that.
I use the word raw a lot. Keep it as raw as you can without sounding like you threw a bunch of voice of customer data on the page. We wanna go through and do that editing process. Just clean it up, very light cleaning, shouldn’t be a heavy detailed thing.
You’re not rebuilding anything, you’re cleaning it up. We do something, we talk about the seven sweeps which is a great way to think about. As I’m going through and editing, what am I really paying attention to? What should that look like?
Once I’m cleaning it up, I’m gonna list off the seven sweeps for you. A sweep is a fast moving review of the copy on the page. It’s a quick, very quick editing process. That’s why it’s a sweep, it happens quickly.
The clarity sweep is the number one sweep. Everything goes back to clarity, always and forever, always, without question, it goes back to clarity. We start with that and we end with that, we always go back, is it clear?
That’s number one. Here comes the voice and tone sweep, you identify what is our brand voice, is it coming through line by line, is the mood that’s being created by this copy, is it the one that we want, is it gonna be the positive experience that we need our prospects to have, is it gonna make them feel the thing we need them to feel?
If we want them to feel panicked by the end of this copy, did we make them feel panic? That’s where you’re doing this voice and tone sweep, tone being more around than panic, voice being more about your brand.
But whatever, we’ve talked about the two together. The voice and tone. The next two sweeps are the so what sweep. As I go through and read through my copy line by line, if I am the prospect looking at this, every line I read, every statement that you’re trying to make me believe, I should be able to answer so what.
Why does that matter to me? Why would I care that there are 16 Homer Simpson dolls from Japan, why would I care about that?
My job would be to say, “Here’s why. Japan is cool and they’ve done really cool stuff with Homer Simpson dolls. You have to see the stuff to believe it.” You do the so what and then the prove it. The prove it for that would be, “Here’s just a picture of one of the crazy Homer Simpson dolls that we got in Japan. See? This is pretty cool.”
You’re doing the so what and then the prove it. Proof is obviously social proof where you have to have social proof to support a claim. A proof can be a demo of your product, that can be a screenshot, that can be product shots.
It can be the look inside on Amazon, look inside the book, things like that but you need to prove it. We’ve done clarity, voice and tone, so what, prove it and then the last three are specificity.
Am I being specific or am I being vague? Can I be more specific? Can I get deeper into my prospect’s head than this? That’s part of the sweep. The sixth one is the heightened emotion sweep.
People are feeling something, are they feeling it enough? Can I do anything more here to make them feel the thing they need to feel in order to move on acting today?
Finally is the zero risk sweep. That’s when you go through and say at what point do I feel risk when I’m reading this and what can we do to reduce that risk by the end of the page? That’s it, that’s what we go through when we’re doing the editing process.
Louis: That’s some proper framework right there. I don’t think you are a conversion copywriter, I think you are the best framework person in the world.
Joanna: It’s because I’m lazy, I’m so lazy.
Louis: Everybody is lazy. I think it’s coming a little bit from your past experience, you used to consult for Conversion Rate Experts.
Joanna: Yes, they’re awesome.
Louis: I know very well somebody who also was part of Conversion Rate Experts, David Darmanin who’s the CEO of Hotjar. He’s the same with you, it’s frameworks everywhere. I’m quite the same as well.
I think it wouldn’t be fair to say that, I’d love to find somebody who doesn’t like framework. Our brain is wired this way, the least energy we can use, the better.
Joanna: Karl, the co-founder of Conversion Rate Experts is a rocket scientist, he’s an actual rocket scientist turned copywriter.
If anybody is going to teach you the importance of not starting from scratch and of relying on past excellence to build on and make your own excellence so things don’t fall apart, it’s gonna be a rocket scientist. That’s probably why there’s such a pull for people who have been with Conversion Rate Experts.
Louis: Joanna, you’ve been amazing in delivering the step by step methodology. You actually over delivered, I wasn’t expecting that level of detail. I actually learned a lot from you. I don’t say that lightly, I did learned a lot from this conversation.
I actually wrote a few notes there to remind myself to do starting tomorrow. More generally, what do you think digital marketers will learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 30 years?
Joanna: There’s so much that we can learn every single day. But for me, the part that’s been the most useful is throughout my career, I keep coming back to humility. To the idea that you don’t know. “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” is one of the greatest lines ever and it’s true.
The more we can learn humility, the more we can stop acting like we’ve got all the answers, the better things go.
As soon as I step out of the frame when we’re trying to convert people, as soon as it’s not about me in any way, shape or form, things get way better. I’ve learned humility. I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously in my role.
In addition to everything, you can learn about analytics and email marketing and SEO if you can come out at all with humility, then you’ll always be learning and you’ll always be doing things from the right perspective, not just from your own. That’s what I would say.
Louis: That’s a great answer. What are the top three best resources you would recommend marketers in particular? It doesn’t have to be a book, it doesn’t have to be a podcast, it can be anything.
Joanna: This podcast, obviously, because it sounds like you’re doing really cool stuff with it. Backlinko by Brian Dean is my go-to resource for everything. When I just wanna do something better with my business.
Brian Dean, who I love, keeps teaching great stuff. I go back to Backlinko a lot, that’s one of the bigger ones for me. Any of the books from the 1920s on copywriting.
You talked about David Darmanin from Hotjar. He talks about Scientific Advertising, Tested Advertising Methods is another one. Any of those books that you can find, what’s the one that’s coming out? Is it Scientific Advertising? They’re bringing it back.
I would find any resource by Claude Hopkins, by John Caples or by the more recent but still late Gene Schwartz. Those are also Gene Schwartz, however his actual name is Eugene Schwartz but everybody calls him Gene. I would Google that and follow any links there, you will be destined to learn crazy amounts just from those three guys.
Louis: Amazing, thank you so much. I’m gonna check them out as well. Joanna, last question, where can listeners connect with you, learn more from you?
Joanna: I am over on copyhackers.com, that’s where we do all of our writing on what we’re learning about Conversion Rate Optimization and conversion copywriting, copyhackers.com.
On Twitter @copyhackers, do add the S. The guy that doesn’t add the S does not like hearing things that should go to me. Add the S. Other than that, check us out. We’re doing a lot of cool things over at airstory.co as well. Those are the places where you can find me.
Louis: Joanna, thank you so much.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.