One of the first projects I was a part of was about writing hundreds of articles - about plumbing.
For days we just sat with my colleagues in the office, because we didn't know how we can make that topic interesting enough for people to read it.
Keep in mind our target audience were not plumbers, and they are mostly who care about plumbing.
We needed that project bad, we just started out as a copywriting company. If we didn't, I may have turned it down just because of the immense amount of pain I knew it would cause in my brain. But it would have been a great mistake, because it was one of the most useful projects in terms of experience.
I learned how to write about something not even the company doing it really cares to read in their free time about.
We figured out that people don't care about plumbing, but they have certain problems. We should look at how they search for a plumber and make a list about the possible problems they experience.
If we write stories about how others solved it in a personal manner and provide useful information to them, than they will read it.
And they did. We wrote more than 300 articles and they were a huge success, given the circumstances.
This is how much content I was able to write about plumbing in 4 months. It's nearly as long as a shorter novel.
As you can see, most often if you have a certain topic, or a product you want to sell, the last thing you want to write about is that thing itself. It doesn't matter if you think what you have is boring or no one really wants to read about it, because its gross or taboo in some way.
But we will get to what you should write about. First let's discuss...
What NOT to write about
In our article about features and benefits we have already talked about how your audience doesn't really care about your product. Features are good for providing some proof, but they are not where you start your story.
Have I mentioned already that this article is part of a bigger email copywriting series? You can check out other articles using the links below.
If your product is boring this is true all the more. You should find a topic, a story that your audience cares about and is relevant in some way to what you want to sell.
Simply put: thank you, but I know very well what a hammer and nail is, I am not interested in you telling me about them. I am interested in the method of building my kid the perfect treehouse for my kids.
Or maybe I want to learn about carpentry. Or internal decoration.
The things your target audience already knows are not interesting to them.
Also, there are certain subjects that just don't really go well with audiences. You may think these are for example the ones that are too gross. And you would be incredibly wrong. Go check out the YouTube channel of Dr. Sandra Lee, aka Dr. Pimple Popper. That name should be enough of a warning itself, but I would like to further advise you not to start any video there before, during or after eating.
People actually tend to like watching disgusting or straight out frightening stuff. This is why the horror movie industry is a billion dollar business.
There are multiple psychological and evolutional factors at play. For example we tend to like medical shows in part because if we see sick people, we can learn the signs of sickness and avoid it more effectively in the future. This is of course not conscious.
Neither is why we like horror and thriller. The brain experiences positive effects like the adrenaline rush when it is exposed to scary things, while we consciously know we are in perfect safety ourselves.
The science behind all this is pretty sound. But that might not be the effect you are aiming for. If you want to sell pest control, it may not be the greatest idea to show swarms of cockroaches to people who want to get rid of them.
So if you know you have to change the subject, do it as wisely as you can.
Find your shoulder niches
A shoulder niche in copywriting is a topic, a story that is somehow related to the one you start with. But given that you cannot write about that specific subject, you have to find these niches that are in some way connected. Like this:
Let's say you want to sell skin care products.
I can assume that because your audience cares about their skin, they also care about overall wellness and health. This opens up a whole bunch of topics you can write about.
They also care about how they look. So they may also be interested in not only beauty tips, but fashion as well.
You don't have to figure out these connected topics on your own. I'm going to show you a method for coming up with 10-20 topics for any target audience.
First do a quick search for the best performing content in your own niche. Use a service like Buzzsumo which can tell you which kind of content gets liked, shared the most across various channels. (If something is successful across multiple social media channels, it's safe to assume that it will also be suitable for email marketing.)
Look at this search I ran for "content marketing".
Here I can see a lot of other topics.
- How to run a successful business.
- How to deal with competitors.
- How SMBs can compete with big brands.
- How local content works.
- How to write about boring stuff or for very specific niches.
- How to market to millenials.
- How branded content works.
And I only looked at the headlines.
After you found the best performing content pieces, read them and look at the sites they were published on. Look through those sites and write down 10-20 relevant topics.
Now, search for the original topics plus the new ones you wrote down, and repeat the process.
And then again.
After a few rounds you should end up with dozens of topics which can be interesting for your audience.
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I'll show you a slide from Hannah Smith of Verve Search about the same process for researching topics for PR:
Now you have topics. But you also have to identify the best ones for your campaigns. In order to do that you must...
Figure out what is not boring
Of course if you want to find out about their particular problems and interest, you should know your audience.
If you have a boring topic, simple keyword research won't do it. Your job is easier if you have an existing list which you know quite well, but if you don't, you have to get out there, even if only in a virtual sense.
- Join relevant groups and boards. Look at the conversations and actually participate, test a few stories, note the reactions.
- Talk to your audience. Your customers, those who call you, and literally ask them about what type of content they would like to consume, what do they read in their spare time.
- Look at case studies in your niche and swipe them. If you have good original ideas but don't know how to implement them, you only need a framework (like our storytelling framework presented in our article about storytelling in email).
If you do have a list, but you want to market a new product or service to them, than the questions you should be asking are:
- Who are they? Which segments could be the most interested? Keep in mind that your audience is likely diverse, they care about different topics, stories and offers.
- What kind of emails have they received from you in the past? Were they in any way relevant to what you want to market now?
- How will you present the new topic to them? Why are you writing about it now? What is in it for them if they read your email?
Useful things are rarely boring
One of my earliest projects besides the articles about plumbing was filling up a database about thousands of different machinery. From bulldozers to forklifts.
Now I figured out early on that those who want to rent these kind of machines often don't even know what exactly they are looking for. There are a lot of similar machines and since they don't own them, they often mistake one for another.
So I focused on not only the features: for each one I included paragraphs about how they are unique, what types of tasks they are ideal for and so on. Information that could be the most useful.
I can still remember what the exact differences between forklifts, pedestrian stackers, pallet trucks are. This is the stuff that slowly makes copywriters to forget their own birthdays.
But what is more important, those who searched for rentable machinery found it useful. This is the difference between telling them
I have a forklift.
I see you have to move some stuff, this is the most ideal machine for that specific task, so you will be able to perform it fast, without problems and not too expensive.
From story to sales
So far I have told you how to find topics that your audience cares about. But how is that going to help you to sell something?
Fist you can compose a sequence of emails in which you introduce a topic. Say you have a skin care product that can protect the skin during summer. Say you have multiple segments, and you targeted one of them with summer fashion and beauty advice, tips and tricks before.
Now that they know you and got used to a certain kind of content, you can send them a more direct offer.
Imagine how they are going to use your product. What are they going to feel. What is the desired after state for them. Make a list, a scratch.
Think about the benefits
- Get a bronzed look without the fear of hurting your skin.
- Get through the summer without your skin drying up.
- Feel beautiful and confident when you party on the beach.
- Be prepared when a friend asks you for advice.
- Be prepared when they ask you for a skin care lotion.
You have to imagine that you are in their place - and based on what content worked best with them before, you can do that more effectively.
Copywriting is all about empathy
Your product is not interesting, but a situation they might find themselves in, a specific problem and the solution, now that can be.
(In the last article in this series we will look at some specific examples and templates, including marketing emails and newsletters.)
We have 200+ email templates lined up for our users in Chamaileon. You can register and use them for free. We are striving to build really the best email template builder out there.
Did you hit a writer's block?
There are many ways you can look for topics besides the ones I told you about. You can for example just open up Google, type in your keyword and "why", "how", "when" etc.
But if you truly don't know what to write about, just stop trying.
Get out, leave your laptop and colleagues there and watch a movie, read a book, have a walk and look at people, not your phone.
Yes, I know how I sound like.
But I also know that according to scientists your brain can be the most creative when it has trouble focusing. Distracting experiences, random things you decide to do can actually help you and bring those moments of enlightenment you saw on House M.D.
It may also help you to just try some brain exercises, because paradoxes and contradictions you think about also incite creativity.
I have several years of experience and I can tell you that 80-90% of writing is not writing but research and planning, sketching, brainstorming. I spend at least a day a week banging my head on a desk behind a laptop. (Most of the time figuratively.)
So the very best advice I can give you is, to quote Douglas Adams:
Research, think, talk to people until you find what your audience really cares about, and from that point you can plan a clear path. You can draw up your story, plan your sequences and sell your stuff without boring your audience to death.
What works for you to get over the writer's block? Share with us in a comment below!