The Imitation Game
How to Quickly Craft Engaging Copy by Harnessing the Structure of Trending Content
Becoming a Collector of Inspiration
As I mentioned early in the introduction, I’m not a professional copywriter by trade. This is good news for you as it shows that really anyone can create effective copy that gets results.
But where do we start, and how can we cut down on the time it takes to learn?
“…great poets imitate and improve, whereas small ones steal and spoil.” - W. H. Davenport Adams
Imitation & Adapting Vs. Creating From Scratch
Copywriting, like most creative exercises, has been around for generations. In time and with experience you will hone your ability to create copy from scratch, but at the start (and many times when we lack inspiration) we’ll want to turn to the power of imitation.
Some might call imitation “an easy way out”, and in a way it is, but more importantly it's building upon what’s already working. Innovation can only happen after you’ve established a creative piece to work with.
We may start with a headline (or hook) that imitates, but from there we can adjust it to fit the mood, audience, and subject we’re writing about.
The goal is to create a form for our copy FIRST than Fill In The _______.
I want to double down on an opinion; imitation is not copying when done correctly & in good faith. There appears to be a fine grey line between the two, and where you draw it separates plagiarism from potential genius.
The logical progression in developing any skill, copywriting & marketing included, goes like this: First, learning the basics & terminology, Second; imitation of others in style and form, perfecting the basics and exploration of the advance; then and only then does one have the tools they need for “spontaneous” production.
No matter what field someone is in they are constantly building upon the work & discoveries of others. Scientist don’t start from scratch when they design an experiment, artists (arguably) don’t spontaneously manifest art; they pull from years of practice and emulation of others. Same too in literature and film, with too many examples to site just one. So, if you find yourself cringing at the word “imitation” remember, it’s about learning as much as it is about doing. Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will our writing & persuasion skills be perfected quickly.
You can’t have innovation without a touch of imitation and a dash of imagination.
forming headlines exercise
start with what’s working
STEP #1: WRITE A BRIEF - Take out a piece of paper, at the top write a brief description of what you want your reader to gain from reading your piece, and what they should be inspired to do by the end.
Example: My objective for this email is for the reader to be inspired to register for a webinar that’s selling my course on XYZ, I want them to see the pitfalls that befall those who don’t take XYZ action.
STEP #2: RESEARCH - Visit popular aggregation websites like digg.com, reddit.com, news.google.com, medium.com, buzzfeed.com, cracked.com & look for headlines that capture your attention.- Many sites will let you sort by trending topics or articles.
Here are a few examples from the sites mentioned. Focus less on what’s being said, and more on how it’s structured.
STEP #3: FORMULATE - Next we want to rewrite the headlines of trending topics imitating the style of the headlines but use your subject matter. I’ve found actually writing them out in the style we’re imitating without a subject can help as well.
STEP #4: DEVELOP - If you’re new to this it can be helpful to spend a few moments analyzing “why” the headline works. Is it stoking curiosity? Is it confirming a belief? Is it opening a loop in our reader's mind?
Q: What is it that captured our attention in the first place?
“The [noun] that perfected the [topic].” Works on a few different levels. First it’s a strong statement to say something was perfected, most of us would be interested in learning how it was perfected; especially if it’s in our field of expertise. We may be skeptical but interested enough to see if the writer can justify the claim.
The action the headline is inspiring is to investigate a big claim. If the rest of our copy persuades the reader that we’re correct, then our headline did it’s job!
STEP #5: ADAPT - Next we want to adapt the structure around our own topic. For this example we will use an audience of real-estate agents, and a product about short selling properties… specifically we’ll be leading them to a case study where our agent increased sales 4x.
The ‘noun’ becomes our target audience, our ‘topic’ reflects our product we’ll be introducing to that audience.
STEP 6: EXPAND - Now we can expand upon the topic, adding a bit more spice and BENEFIT to the topic. It’s important here to think about our reader, what’s in it for them (benefit) if they continue on reading our material?
Headline Starter Inspiration
Headline Benefit Modifiers
“… and How XYZ Saved More Time & Money By Making This Small Change.”
“… and Why Now More Than Every XYZ is Becoming More Common Place.”
“… and What You Can Do To Change XYZ So You Can Enjoy More Freedom.”
“… and What They Did to Increase Profits At The Same Time.”
“… and Why You’re Missing Out on XYZ if You’re Not Embracing The Change.”
Simple Attention Grabbing Headline
“Audience Identifier” + “Hook” + “Benefit”
The first thing they read is the headline, you have about the length of a hug to grab their attention.
Make sure your headline accomplishes at least one of the following…
Inspiring the reader to explore the rest of your content.
Your readers are lost in a sea of misinformation, often confused and unhappy. Guide them confidently with your copy and they will become a customer for life.
"On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
- David Ogilvy Advertising tycoon, founder of Ogilvy & Mather, and known as the father of advertising.
In this method we focused mainly on “how to generate an engaging headline”, but what can we do with this headline? Even if it seem obvious, but let’s take a closer look at different ways to apply this method.
The·sis - /ˈTHēsis/ a statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved.
Our headline/thesis is the point we’re going to be discussing in the rest of our copy. The structure of what follows the headline is really going to depend on our medium. A blog post is going to be structured differently than an email, and a sales page is going to differ from an advertisement. However there are going to be elements that are shared between all of them. Let’s take a look at how we can build on our thesis with the goal of maximizing our persuasiveness.
Structure of most persuasive content…
INTRODUCTION TO THE IDEA - Build upon your headline/thesis, focus on where the outcome (often called the promise land) will take the reader. Answer the “I know you’re probably thinking…” questions your reader may have. Build credibility with facts, figures, and quotes from reputable sources.
Keep it interesting… Keep an archive of articles, screenshots of chapter introductions, collections of quotes, things that capture your attention. If you’re not sure if your introduction is interesting enough, post a part of it to your social media channel of choice. Did it generate much engagement? If not, you may want to revamp. You can look at ways to make it more shocking, something your reader didn't expect; be more revealing, share something that most people would keep to themselves; be controversial, shake the pot a bit and call out a popular perspective as wrong.
Still not sure where to start? Here's an "introduction cheat-code":
You can start your intro with “Even if…” to go right for the jugular objection.
Headline leads to ~> Intro: “Even if you’ve found that XYZ hasn’t worked for you in the past, let me show you how a simple change in perspective can make all the difference. Addressing a common objection at the beginning can both entice the critic to keep reading, and reassure the believer that progress can be made… if they simply keep reading.
The Jugular Objection
"The jugular objection" - the single most common objection to your point. The one, that if not addressed, will lose the most people in your target audience. Your first step in writing anything should be to identify and crush this objection. Go for the jugular and you have a solid chance of winning over even the strongest critic.
Illusory superiority, the above-average effect, the superiority bias, the leniency error, and the primus interpares effect all are meant to define the same thing – most people think they are better (or unquestionably different) than the average people. “Yea maybe for them, but…” is the default response of our reader, even if it’s subconscious. With our “even if” introduction we are taking the common objection away from our reader.
This insight into our readers will also will help us stop making assumptions about people’s need for our offer. If everyone thinks they’re special and unique their initial reaction to any of our arguments is “ It might work for them, but it wont work for me.” Understanding this will help us craft better openings to our arguments, building a better case for reading further.
A subtle goal we should keep in mind is that everything we right should, in some way, keep our reader engaged and moving down the page.
“What’s important is that you start addressing a person’s objections before they even have a chance to think them. Your prospect feels like you can read their mind – and that your product can actually solve their problems.” - Benyamin Elias - Dir. Content Marketing @ Active Campaign
Example: Headline: The exercise program that help even the most time crushed person lose weight!
Even if Introduction: Even if you don’t have hours to spend at the gym, this unique program can work for you, let me explain. (Keep building, here you can even start talking in terms of your own experience.) I used to get overwhelmed thinking about the time commitment I’d have to make if I really wanted to reach my fitness goals, I’m sure you can relate. Time is something we all could use more of, and with all the demands of daily life it can be easy to conclude that if something’s going to get cut, it’s exercise. But here’s the truth, you can accomplish so much more, in so much less time, if you simply take a few moments to learn the “80/20 rule of fitness.” Below you’ll find the routine even the most time crunched person can use to get noticeable results, fast! —
After our introduction it’s time to jump into the meat of our topic.
If this is an email, we may choose to send them directly to our offer at this point with a call to action to “find out more”. If this is a sales page we can continue our content marketing piece by sharing the “outline” of our training, focusing more on the benefits of each steps than the techniques, eventually leading to our call to action to buy if they want to get the full system. As a content piece ( blog post, ebook, white-paper) we still want to focus on the benefits, but our reader can benefit from a bit deeper dive into the tactical parts of our topic; eventually leading to a call to action to learn about our offer. We’ll dive further into the tactical content in future methods.
Imitation Game Worksheets
Download the blank worksheet: link.sean.co/ig-ws1