The Most Undervalued Skill to Become More Persuasive

by Scott - 22 Comments

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In this post I want to highlight one skill that can help you become more more persuasive in life and business.

This skill has been pigeon-holed within one business discipline which has prevented throngs of people from accessing its power that could be taking advantage of it.

But first I want to ask you a simple question…

What is the difference between the two items pictured below?


more persuasive 2

If you’re having trouble seeing, the first photo is a cold email asking for a partnership I grabbed from google. The second photo is a pamphlet asking me to sign up for a credit card.

…wheels turning…pinky and the brain style…

Though these two items pictured may seem very different, their high level objectives and the route to achieve them are very much the same.

The goal of the cold email is to initiate a process that results in a prospect complying to a partnership. In order to do this it must:

  1. Win a dogfight for the prospect’s inbox attention
  2. Generate enough interest with the first few sentences to compel the recipient to actually read it in its entirety
  3. Demonstrate enough potential value to get a prospect to respond

In order for the credit card company to achieve their goal (a signup)  the same process must occur. I need to stop what I’m doing it, read it, and be interested enough to take a response action.

At the core, both pieces of communication are looking for a response – the difference is that the process and sophistication in which they were created to accomplish their goal is markedly different.

Why The Heck Any of This Matters

Today I want to make a case that more people should study copywriting, particularly direct response copywriting. I believe this is one of the most untapped, high-leverage skills in business.

Copywriting, isn’t that like online marketer/spam stuff?”

Not at all. Copywriting is about understanding your audience so that you can put words into a sequence that drives the people you’re communicating with to take your desired action.

“Dude, but I’m not a marketer?”

Do you write email to prospects and clients to grow your business?

Do you write job descriptions to recruit top talent?

Do you create pitches to close deals?

Do you write updates to your company in order to inspire and motivate your team?

If you rely frequently upon anything that requires writing, you’d be a huge beneficiary of improving your copywriting ability.

I think that founders, as well as business development and sales people, have just as much to gain from becoming incredibly talented copywriters as marketers do.

“Ok that makes sense…but what is direct response copywriting and why should I study that.”

Direct response copywriting typically takes the form of marketing and advertising material that aims for someone to take a desired action immediately after encountering it. Direct mail offers similar to the credit card picture above are the most classic example of this (Google Adwords is too).

I think studying direct response is the best place to spend your time because you can measure it and it’s the most challenging (which means you must be good!).

Think about how persuasive of a writer you must be to convince someone who was not looking for your product or service (and may not even be familiar with your company), to stop what they’re doing, open an envelope, read it in its entirety, and then send you money.

The fact that this actually happens is an insane to me. Millions of do this everyday which is demonstrative of the power of being able to write exceptional copy.

Two Copywriting Principles to Whet the Palate

1. Your first job as a copywriter is to get people to pay attention.

Newsflash: most people you approach are not actively looking for your product and service. Thus, a copywriter’s first job is to create a headline that stops people in their tracks and compels them to read to your body’s first sentence.

In order to do this effectively, you must first understand your audiences’ mass desire(s) so that you can write something that resonates with them.

Let’s talk about some “headlines” that exist outside of direct response marketing:

  • Email subject lines
  • Social media content
  • Job titles – and subtitles
  • The title of a blog post

If you understand your audiences’ mass desires and can weave this into the initial words that they encounter, you’re more likely to get them to stop and pay attention. Again, this is the first step towards achieving your goal.

Writing a first sentence that gets them to read the second sentence is next.

2. A second fundamental of copywriting is understanding your audiences’ awareness.

If prospect #1 knows all about your product, service, or even the need that it fills and prospect #2 is completely clueless, it makes sense to communicate to them differently no?

The interesting thing is that majority of people that have not studied copywriting fail to intentionally cater their emails, job descriptions, and general writing to the level of awareness and sophistication that their audience possesses.

There are actually 5 levels of audience awareness and each one requires a different approach to communication if you want to maximize effectiveness.

A more concrete example of audience sophistication:

A Level 1 audience is familiar with your product, where it stands in the market, and desires it.

If you’re goal is to get them to buy, you probably want to grab their attention by stating the product’s name in your headline and compel them to purchase by offering a time sensitive discount or bargain because they already want it.

Compare this to a Level 5 audience at the opposite end of the spectrum. Level 5 audiences are not only completely unaware of your product or service, but also typically don’t recognize their need for it.

Would it grab a Level 5 prospect’s attention to state your product’s name? Would a discount on something they never heard of stop them in their tracks?

Absolutely not.

In this instance, you’d be better served by stating an emotion or feeling that they might self-identify with so that they stop what they’re doing to read on. Only after you’ve captured their attention, as well as accomplished a few other things I’m not going to go into here, would you introduce your product or service that solves their problem.

Using the principle of audience sophistication, here are two example cold email subject lines where the end goal is to get a business to purchase a software called Ipanema CRM.

  • Level 1: 30% off Ipanema CRM until Next Thursday
  • Level 5: Why Didn’t They Come Back After They Loved My Service?

The headline must be congruent with your perceived understanding of what will appeal to your audience given their sophistication. Determining their sophistication is a time-consuming art in itself.

*To inevitable the copy critics, I wrote these in 26 seconds.

So You’re Kind of Curious About Copywriting…

My goal in writing this was to compel more people who are not explicit marketers to study a discipline that has immense benefits. I’ve seen them first hand in my own life.

If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d begin by reading the first copywriting book I read Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz. Note* I found a free PDF on google and did not buy it for $93.

As part of my self-directed learning about copywriting, I am going to be doing an online presentation on copywriting in order to provide some accountability to my knowledge acquisition…the best way to learn something is to force yourself to teach it to others!

I’ll be posting this online somewhere when it’s available, but in the near term, I plan on doing a small introduction to Biz Dev copywriting in a free webinar I’m doing this Thursday on Business Development maneuvers.

You can sign up for the webinar here.

In terms of business skill acquisition, Copywriting is the number one skill I’m focusing on building this year.

What skill are you most focused on learning this year and why?

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22 comments, add to the conversation.

  1. eyefodder

    You missed the very first principle – make sure you spell correctly. It’s Palate not Pallet 🙂 I actually read through your post wondering if you were going to make some pun about that.

    Also, if you want to get extra nerdy on the grammar you should really be using whet instead of wet. Whet means to stimulate or sharpen, wet to soak in liquid.

    All that said – couldn’t agree more on the need for good copywriting. It’s essential stuff; I’ll be interested to see your presentation!

    P.S. Hope Brazil is treating you well!


  2. Michael Riley

    I want to continue to work on my writing as well. It’s probably my biggest strength, and honing it further will only have positive effects. For now, that means effectively communicating in emails at work as well as blogging. I’m also thinking about compiling an e-book for breaking into the sports industry based on past content. If it’s not writing I’m working on, it’s generating ideas. I just started writing down 10 ideas per day based on James Altucher’s Daily Practice. I’m hoping to build that muscle and hopefully start coming up with million dollar ideas! I hope Brazil is treating you well!


    1. Scott Britton

      That’s awesome man.

      Whatever you decide to do in business/life you’ll likely need to write and communicate effectively so I think its awesome that you’re focusing on that. Looking forward to seeing the fruits of that idea muscle : )


  3. Nicholas Maroun

    This is great. Also, once you’ve chosen your Subject Line/Text, remember to test, test, test. I use YesWare to track opens and reply rates and it has tools to compare different responses against one another.


      1. Nicholas Maroun

        Cool I’ll check out ToutApp. Also YesWare is great for reminding yourself to follow up. Which actually brings me to a question, how many times do you follow up with a lead if they stop responding? I know persistence pays off and I always assume interest, but when do you just move on?


          1. Nicholas Maroun

            Just used your tip “Even if it’s bad news please send me an update”. Awesome stuff, worked like a charm!

  4. Daniel Lopes

    Personaly, in terms of skills my main goal for the next 11 months revolves around becoming a great communicator – orally and in writing. I’m now reading the ‘On Writing Well’ book and have recently applied for my local Toastmasters club. Any copywrite material will sure be a great addition.


  5. André Braga

    Very nice, man, good intro!

    I’ve read some material focused on long-form, which I’m not very interested in but it gave me a handful of good insights and objective knowledge. Getting hints on short-form and things like e-mails would be very useful! It’s a pitty I only saw it today.


  6. Pingback: How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day | My IM Journey

  7. Robin Bull

    As a professional writer, I can tell you that the ultimate goal is to make sure that your message is communicated in a clear, concise, and interesting manner. As a professional editor, yes grammar (and proper spelling) is important. However, not everyone is a professional writer. That could be lack of skill or it could be lack of interest. For those looking to build their writing ability and worry about their technical application, you can check out Comma Sutra or Sin and Syntax. They are fun and very educational. I recommend those books to all of my clients (and I’ve worked with reality TV stars and with self-help authors). Great job in 26 seconds, Scott. 🙂


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