On Tuesday my head was a simmering stew of knowledge, fit to boil over and spill scorched information onto a hob of inspiration. The kitchen was a master class in promotional copywriting and head chef was Mike Kingston of OpenPage.

Mike’s an old school consultant in marketing and he’s worked with some of British industry’s biggest behemoths. He lectures in the timeless practice of increasing sales. The gig was free thanks to Business Link Yorkshire and I drifted along with a devil-may-care what have I got to lose attitude.

Illustration of two people with right and left sides of the brain shown

Brains: oversimplified. Illustration by opensourceway

I was very pleasantly surprised. Inspired even. In fact I’d go as far as saying I almost picked up more than I could cram into my grey matter. It was one of those blissful days when you benefit from a different way of looking at things just when you thought you knew how the game worked. I’d liken it to a recent epiphany when I figured out how to make my own oven chips from only a potato and some oil. A ‘game changer’ they call it.

I came away from the master class with some valuable new skills to add to my arsenal. Here’s two methods to help improve your copywriting that sit equally well with any creative marketing process.

1. Avoid writer’s block: play to your brain

Try not to go cross-eyed, but sciencey beardos propose that the brain is split (metaphorically) into two broad modes of thinking: creative and logical. In loose terms, one deals with imagination and emotion, the other with order and analysis. If you’re willing to accept this generally accepted simplification you can take advantage of either mode of thinking. Then succeed at fitting tasks and avoid creative block.

How? It’s devastatingly simple. Don’t plan and think about how or what you need to write while you’re actually writing. One must separate the planning from the writing or you’re trying to engage both logical and creative modes of thinking at the same time. When that happens, writer’s block comes riding into town, kills the sheriff and rustles all your cattle.

Sometimes if you’re lucky the old just write rule works. In fact there are days when I just can’t stop writing (seems to follow a day of reading). But there are others when I’m scribbling away with one hand and re-organising my copy structure with the other. That lasts a short while until I hit a brick wall. Then the voyeuristic world of Facebook beckons and Twitter seduces the fingers. Before you know it you’re LOLing at drunken photos of ur m8z.

Guinea pig eating parsley

Fonz Guinea pig loved his parsley. Photo by motograf

Like your loyal guinea pig I experimented with this approach yesterday. First I planned out a structure for four client web pages and resisted the temptation to tinker with a sentence, dress up any language and play with my copy. Then I had a brain rest to savour the invigorating delights of Leeds’ ever resplendent Merrion Centre. I came back and all of a sudden – I gave birth to this article. So it seems to work for me.

2. Take benefits to their logical conclusion: customer outcomes

This is a great example of a different perspective on an accepted truth. Most of the marketing boffins I follow stress the importance of translating features into benefits. To give the customer what they want to know: what’s in it for me? That will always be valid. But there’s another logical progression beyond that.

This suggests that you explore where those benefits will take the customer. It describes the state they’ll be in after they start to enjoy them. So a modern well-built (feature) car that will run reliably for many years (benefit) becomes a way to increase your sense of freedom, increase happiness in your life as you visit distant relatives and gain admiration from your colleagues as you roll up to work in it (outcomes).

It takes benefits which are product or service focussed and transforms them into copy which is customer focussed on outcomes which are desirable: where they would like to be and where your product or service can take them.

Working out why things work

I’m sure there are crusty grey copywriters out there who think that these two methods are money for old rope. But I’m always on the lookout to learn and improve my copywriting. For me this was an opportunity to understand why some things work better than others. For example, I know that a well-written success story is an effective way to show a reader how a product can take them to a desirable future state. Now I know why: the story illustrates the outcomes albeit by proxy.

Likewise I’d read about brain dominance in the past and thought it was all about separating us into creative and analytic people. But then I’ve always found it hard rationalise a background in computer science with my passion for writing and photography (both arts). I’m relieved that we can be both, just maybe not at the same time.

Money for old rope or not. As is often the case: it’s the simplest ideas that are the best.

Copywriters? Graphic designers? Share your thoughts

Is writer’s block similar to creative block? Do you think the first method would work for you? And who else out there straddles the creative-analytic fence?