Holy shit! You did an amazing job on this letter. It sucked me right into the zone. You are becoming greater every single day.
-Mike Agugliaro from CEO Warrior
I was recently asked to participate in a round-up of the best self-help books over at SelfDevelopmentSecrets.com.
There are a number of great books that have changed my life and my work, including Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect, Gary Keller’s The One Thing, and David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Each one of these is powerful and I urge you to read them.
However, I chose another (perhaps surprising) book as the best self-help book…
… and the thing is, you might not normally consider this to be a “self-help” book in the style of other similar books on productivity, focus, and personal performance. Yet, I find my particular book choice to fundamentally influence all aspects of my life — from goal setting to productivity; from good habits to vision-casting.
The book I chose?
The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal.
Read about my choice at SelfDevelopmentSecrets.com’s Best Self Help Books blog post. (You’re gonna have to scroll a bit to find my name).
This isn’t the first time I’ve written about McGonigal’s book. Check out this blog post about willpower and I’ve also listed her book in this blog post about the 10 books that changed my life.
I think about willpower everyday — about how much I have at any given moment and how to optimize the willpower available to me — and it’s entirely because of this book.
If you’re looking to make positive changes in your life, your business, your health, your relationships, your habit, or anything else… this is the book to read.
Would you leap off of a 22-storey building?
I did. Specifically, the building in the center of this picture…
Here’s How It Happened…
A few years ago, when I lived in Winnipeg Manitoba, I heard about an event where people raised funds for charity and, as part of the fundraising, they could rappel down one of the skyscrapers downtown. It sounded like SO MUCH FUN!
Unfortunately, I heard about it too late to participate that year. In the years to come I wanted to do it but never had the time or the money or the desire to raise funds all at the same time… then over the years I forgot about it.
Then I moved to Regina Saskatchewan. While searching for fun things to do in the city, and for ways to get involved in a good cause, I stumbled over a website for The Dropzone — the exact event that I had wanted to do in Winnipeg… and it was happening here in Regina too.
The Dropzone is an annual event hosted collaboratively between Easter Seals and the Saskatchewan Abilities Council. Both groups work to help people with disabilities live full and active lives. The Dropzone event happens every year across Canada since 2005 and has raised more than $15 million for this cause.
I signed up and committed to raise the funds to rappel. I was SO excited! Rappelling has been on my bucket list for many years.
As a requirement of participating in this event, I had to take some training (makes sense!) and I went in late July. It was held at a safety training company; we learned about the equipment and then rappelled off of a simple 2-storey structure inside a warehouse.
I felt comfortable with the process and the equipment, although the harness was excruciatingly painful and left two very big bruises on my stomach. (I was worried that, if I felt that way during the 2-storey drop, what would it be like during a 22-storey drop! Fortunately, someone identified the problem — the shoulder straps were too loose — and it was fixed for the main drop).
Then, it was a waiting game during which I raised money, waited for the day to come, and took silly pictures like this one…
August 19, 2017
The day of the event finally arrived. I was so excited!
Here I am leaving the house. My game-face is already on!
One disappointment from earlier in the week was that my rappel time was scheduled for between 7:45 and 8:15 in the morning. The whole event is supposed to be a fun and party-like atmosphere that happens in Regina’s bustling downtown core at the same time as a nearby farmers market. I thought the atmosphere would have been very fun but doubted that anyone would be there at 7:45! (Although the early drop time turned out to be a good thing… more on that in a moment).
When I arrived, it was SO quiet downtown. Here’s a picture of me failing to get the perfect selfie in front of the building.
Then I entered the lobby of the building, signed a waiver, and started getting suited up with the harness and helmet and gear. Yes, it’s not lost on me that the helmet would serve no useful purpose if the equipment failed. But safety first, I guess!
Then I took the LOOOOOONG elevator ride up to the 21st floor, signed another waiver (!?!) and then had to climb a ladder onto the roof.
The view was incredible. The building I was on is the tallest in Regina (I think!) so I could see all around. Here’s a selfie of the view. I am excited in this picture but also look silly because the helmet is squeezing my cheeks out to make them look really chubby! haha.
Then, it was time to wait my turn and I got super-focused. Here I am, all ready to go in my gear, with full focus. A couple people tried to talk to me and I probably came across as rude and cold but I was really just getting into the zone.
Finally it was my turn to rappel I approached the edge of the building and my safety rope was tied to the tripod.
Once my safety rope was tied, I had to climb up onto the ledge of the building and then lean out into my harness. The ground below was SO FAR DOWN.
It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I can’t describe how challenging it was to grab hold of the tripod, stand on the edge of the roof, and stick my feet over the building to feel around blindly until I found the ledge… and then I had to lean backward into my harness and trust a rope to hold me.
Here’s a screenshot from the Global News report about the event. I actually look surprisingly calm here but I cannot describe how insanely scary it was to see all those tiny people below!
I leaned back, gave the photographer a thumb’s up (I’ll post that picture here when they send it to me) and started my descent.
… And it was awesome! :)
As soon as I started, the initial fear vanished and was replaced by a rush of adrenaline as I got into the groove. The day was perfect, the view was amazing, and I was doing something that I’d always wanted to do.
Here’s a picture of me very early into my descent. There were two rappellers going at once and I was on the right…
I tried to pause on my descent from time to time to get a good view but that was harder than I thought. I even brought my phone along to get some pictures or do a Facebook Live video but there was no way I could do that because I was wearing gloves and my phone had been tethered to me but was not easy to get to, and I was too busy concentrating on everything.
The thing with rappelling is, it’s trickier than I would have guessed: Your arms and legs are doing 4 things independently of each other, all at the same time. Your right arm is under your butt trying to keep you from getting rope burn, your left hand is up by your chest working with a special lever that controls the speed of your descent, and with your legs you are periodically bouncing off the building and also adjusting for wind.
You’re doing this in windy conditions. In gloves. In the most uncomfortable harness you can imagine. While swallowing your fear. And somewhere in there you need to pause and drink in the experience!
I did stop a couple of times on my descent to enjoy the view but it was harder than expected so I just stuck with maintaining a good descent.
The wind was crazy, actually. It was fine until about halfway down, and then a big gust blew me off course and almost sent me spiralling out of control (which did happen to a couple other rappellers after me). Fortunately I was able to put out my one foot to catch myself against a window to keep from spinning. I believe that’s what the picture below shows: me with my right foot out as I tried to catch myself in a gust of wind.
(Side note: I mentioned earlier that I was disappointed that I had to go so early in the day. However, later that afternoon the wind picked up considerably and they had to postpone the rest of the event so it turned out to be a good thing that I went so early!)
And, as I neared the bottom, I could hear the cheers of a crowd that had gathered, and that was an amazing feeling. And by the time I got to the bottom and got untied, I felt like some kind of rockstar, as evidenced by this hilariously confident swagger…
And here I am after the event. The descent only took about 15 minutes but I was sweating and tired!
After The Event
I was surprised at how exhausted I was after the event. It’s a fast descent but also extremely active the whole time.
Immediately after the event I walked through the farmers market and then took a nearby walking tour of some historical buildings… and then went home and slept.
And then the next day I slept again.
And by the afternoon of the second day I felt stiff in my legs, arms, and back from a combination of the unusual activity and the tension of contorting against the wind in that harness.
But it was fun and I would do it again!
It was amazing!
A big theme in my life lately is breaking out of my comfort zone to discover new challenges and opportunities. Once you enjoy a bit of business success, it’s easy to get complacent in business and life, and to expect things to continue on in the same way. And this is one way that I push myself just a bit (even while doing something I’ve always wanted to do) to get momentarily uncomfortable and discover new experiences.
On August 19 2017 I raised $1065 for charity, crossed an item off my bucket list, and had a memorable experience that I would do again in a heartbeat!
Thank you to everyone who supported and encouraged me! It was something I’ll never forget.
This blog post is part of a series of blog posts about Advanced Copywriting Strategies — the next level ideas and methods that can help you become a better copywriter.
“I cried when I read what you wrote.”
A client said that to me a couple years ago in response to a video sales letter I’d written.
It was a wake-up call for me and, looking back, I think it helped to elevate my skill as a copywriter by establishing a powerful benchmark that I’d never encountered before. Since then I’ve done a lot of writing for that client and I ask myself, “Would these words evoke the same emotional response?”
A basic/beginner copywriter is told to identify the benefits of a solution and create copy around those benefits. So, to borrow the often-cited example of a drill, most people would talk about the drill while the basic/beginner copywriter will (correctly) focus on the holes.
But is that all there is?
No. That’s a great start and it’s a skill that every copywriter (and salesperson) needs to develop and hone. But there’s a next level: rather than selling the product and its features… and rather than selling the solution and its benefits… the advanced copywriter will build an emotional connection with the reader and evoke that emotion through the copy.
So, why build an emotional connection with your client? What makes this an Advanced Copywriting Strategy, especially if you can write effective copy simply by selling the benefits of the product or service?
Well, what’s advanced in copywriting is basic in sales: Ask any salesperson how people decide to buy and they’ll tell you that people buy on emotion. Even purchases that seem to be made on logic are really made on emotion… and the logic simply backs up the sale and allows the customer to justify the purchase in their own mind.
Mediocre copy sells the drill.
Good copy sells the holes.
Great copy sells the feeling you get when you’re listening to your kids laugh with glee as they play on their new swingset, and the confidence you’ll feel that it will hold together securely so your children can play safely for years to come.
See the difference? The first is focused on the features; the second is focused on the benefits; the third is focused on the emotion of the result.
There is no logical sale. Even large sales (like houses and cars) are emotional; even B2B sales are emotional to some degree, usually driven by the emotions that the decision-maker hopes to get from the purchase.
So, the copywriter who becomes a master of emotion will create copy that sells. And this is exactly what I tell aspiring copywriters when they ask me what skills they need to become a great copywriter. It has little to do with the grammar; I always advise that they become masters of emotion by studying psychology.
There are a lot of emotions out there. Can you become a master of each one?
This is an area I’ve been thinking about for years. Which emotions should I focus on? Which should I learn and master? Which are useful for sales?
In fact, you can see some of my past thoughts on emotion in copywriting (and in the sales funnel as a whole) in a blog post series I wrote a few years ago on the 7 basic human emotions. In my studies at the time I’d read that there were only 7 basic human emotions from which all other emotions were derived, so I wrote a blog post series to examine each emotion and how to use it in copywriting and sales funnels. It’s still a really valuable resource, IMO. You can bookmark the tag — 7 basic human emotions — or you may want to dig into each of the seven — anger, fear, disgust, contempt, joy, sadness, and surprise.
My thinking on the topic has not changed, although my exploration of emotions has prompted a lot of thinking and research since that series. And there’s a really powerful image that I think should be on every copywriter’s wall that helps you understand emotion more effectively.
It’s Robert Plutchik’s Wheel Of Emotions.
This depicts 8, not 7, emotions as the base emotions (closer to the center) — ecstasy, admiration, terror, amazement, grief, loathing, rage, vigilance. And as emotions fade in intensity or mingle with other emotions, you get different emotions.
Of course no list or map of emotions will be completely accurate but it’s a helpful starting point to think about and write to an emotional state.
Okay, so you know you should be writing about emotions and you have a list of possible emotions as a starting point, what now?
Now you need to see what your reader is feeling or wants to feel. I’ll write more about the reader in the future but, in short, you need to do some analysis on what the reader feels so that you can connect with them effectively.
One of the best tools for that is Xplane’s Empathy Map. It’s a simple diagram that prompts you to consider what your audience is seeing, hearing, saying, thinking, and feeling. I’m not going to include a picture here because I believe the Empathy Map has a copyright attached to it but you can easily go to Xplane’s site and check out this blog post to learn how to use the Empathy Map and to download a really slick looking version of it, or just Google “Empathy Map” and see the very simple diagram for yourself.
Choose one emotion
Once you’ve done some thinking and research about emotions and what your audience might be feeling, then you need to choose one emotion and start writing your copy to evoke that emotion.
I suggest you choose one emotion because not only does that make it easier for you to focus and write, it also helps the reader stay on track and allows that one emotion to become the catalyst for change. If you bounce between (for example) happiness, sadness, frustration, contempt, joy, worry… then you’ll diminish the effectiveness of your copy.
The emotion you choose could be either tied to the problem or tied to the solution.
Problem-specific emotions are painful emotions that your audience is feeling now (or tends to feel now) while the solution-specific emotions are joyful/relief emotions that your audience wants to feel.
In spite of my recommendation above to only choose one emotion, it’s possible that you might start with a negative problem-specific emotion now and then transition to a positive solution-specific emotion at your call to action. However, if this is new to you then you may want to just start with one.
So, for example, you might start with a negative problem-specific emotion that your readers are feeling and you write your copy around it, and the call to action is to simply take that negative emotion away. Or, for example, you might start with the positive solution-specific emotion that your readers want to feel and you write your copy around it, and the call to action is to simply get that positive emotion. So, it is possible to deal with just one emotion in your copy.
The copy I mentioned earlier that made my client cry was about a client’s business strategy seminar that he was selling. And, the copy I wrote was focused on the negative problem-specific emotions and it reminded him of how hard it was in the early days of his business.
Build The Bridge
Once you know what emotion you want to use in your copy, it’s time to start writing.
One of the biggest challenges I face, especially in some topics or industries, is wondering: “How will I ever write about this problem effectively if I haven’t actually experienced the same problem?”
For example, as a real estate investing copywriter, I write for many different kinds of real estate investors. And, while I have a ton of experience in the industry as an investor, there are times when I need to write some sales copy for one of their audiences about a problem that I’ve never dealt with.
One example is foreclosures. I’ve never been through a bankruptcy or foreclosure, so how do I write about it? When I encounter this internal rebuttal in my mind, I think back to a professor in my undergrad degree who taught me psychology and counseling. Her name was Margi (yes, we had to call her by her first name) and she was a character! haha. I’m chuckling remembering her memorable classes. Anyway, she had been a professional counselor and someone asked her a similar question, “How can we counsel someone on one issue or another if we’ve never experienced that issue ourselves?”
I’ll never forget Margi’s response. She said, “I’m not married but I can counsel people on marriage because I’ve been in love and I’ve experienced loss.” (That was a shortened/paraphrased version but you get the point.)
You may not experience the exact problem or situation that your reader is experiencing but you likely have experienced the same emotion. So, before you write, access that emotion and consider all the things you felt and thought and said when you had that emotion.
I was able to write evocative copy about business struggles for my client because there was a time, nearly 2 decades ago, when I experienced similar things even though I’m in a different industry. The emotion was the same and I tapped into that effectively.
Once you have accessed the emotion yourself, it becomes much easier to write. And, rather than writing about features and benefits, write word pictures about the emotion.
And here is where copywriters become creative writers. But you don’t want to simply pile on adjectives or adverbs; rather, you want to hold up a mirror to your readers’ lives and show them what they are feeling now or what they could be feeling (depending on whether you are using the problem-specific emotion or the solution-specific emotion).
A problem-specific emotional use might explore the following: Is your reader so frustrated about their problem that they are frozen? Don’t talk about the problem, talk about being frozen and what that means and what the result is and their emotions are about the result.
A solution-specific emotional use might look like what I already discussed earlier with the drill. Notice that the advanced copywriting version didn’t even mention the drill but rather discussed the glee-filled shouts of his children’s voices as they played on the swingset.
By creating these stories to make your point and to compel action, you will stir up the emotion for your reader and get him or her thinking about how to take action — either to eliminate the emotion or to achieve it.
Use the Empathy Map you created earlier to help you create copy that resonates with your reader. Look at what they are seeing, hearing, and saying and write about that as if it was happening to them. Look at what they are thinking and write about that as if you’re thinking the same thing. Look at what they are feeling and weave those emotions through all of your copy.
Become A Master Of Empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand an emotion that someone else is feeling and relate to the other person in that emotion. I’d go a step further and say that the true masters of empathy are those that learn to feel the same emotion that someone else is feeling.
Practice empathy with others (and use that ability for good to enhance your relationships, of course!) but then leverage that same skill in your writing to evoke emotions and then show that you can relate to your reader.
You will build trust with your reader by proving that you understand the exact emotion they are feeling and that you also feel it too… and then you can lead your reader toward action by showing them how you dealt with that emotion in the past.
- Hold just one person in your mind and write to that person. The more real they are, the better.
- Want to learn more about emotions? Wikipedia has an insanely useful and comprehensive guide right here.
- People will more actively seek to eliminate pain than they will to achieve pleasure so there’s a good chance you’ll have better-converting copy by starting with a negative emotion. This isn’t always the case but it’s a good rule of thumb.
- Learn to tell very short stories. Read one-sentence stories and even haikus for examples of emotionally-evocative language that communicates a story in very little language.
- I’m not saying that your copy should be devoid of logic. You’ll follow a flow of logic to build the emotion, and, you’ll want logic because people will justify their purchase decisions with logic; and perhaps most importantly, you’ll want to include logical elements because people think they need them. However, the main thread of your copy is emotion.
- The effectiveness of your copy is dependent on one thing: your ability to evoke the emotion to a strong enough degree that your reader either becomes desperate to stop it (the negative ones) or get it (the positive ones). If your copy is not converting, consider digging deeper and working harder to evoke stronger feelings.
Will your readers cry when they read your work? If not, go back and look at your work and consider what might help to raise the emotional quotient in your copy to better build an emotional connection and to evoke an emotional reaction from your client.
Scarth Street is one of my favorite places in Regina (the city I live in).
It’s pedestrian-friendly, a great mix of old and new architecture, and there’s plenty of places to eat, drink, relax, and enjoy the surroundings.
And at the head of the pedestrian-only section of Scarth Street is the McCallum Hill Tower Centre, a 2-tower complex pictured below. (Check it out in Google Earth)
Well, on August 19 I am going to jump off the one on the right.
It’s 22-storeys down.
But not a free-fall, fortunately! ;)
I’ll be rappelling down the side of the building to raise money in support of Easter Seals, a really cool organization that helps Canadians with disabilities live active lives.
If you want to learn more or donate, check out the link below:
I’m pretty excited about it!