Last Friday, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as 45th President of the United States of America.

That first sentence either made you smile…or it made you spit. Either way, it’s okay. The purpose of this post isn’t to judge you, regardless of who you voted for. 

There are a few theories about how, with no political experience, Trump came to be President:

  • The Democratic Party insists that the Russians are to blame. 
  • Both liberals and conservatives have cited rising distrust of Hillary Clinton, based on the results of the FBI investigation into her use of non-secure, private server for federal business while she was Secretary of State, as well as Benghazi and the Clinton Foundation.
  • Conservatives say it’s because Trump hit the right nerve with the working man—that the government status quo of the past 35 years has enriched itself while neglecting the people it was intended to serve.

I thought that this last point was closest to the truth but it’s still not quite 100 percent. I think there’s an even bigger reason for Trump’s win, which I only fully realized after hearing his inauguration speech this afternoon.

What I feel is largely responsible for Trump’s success was the consistency of his message: from June 16, 2015, when he announced his run, right up through his inauguration, it has been (Do I even need to say it?) “Make American Great Again.”

Now before you start rolling your eyes and condemning me as being “just another simple-minded copywriter” consider a few questions:

·      Why do people choose to shop at Wal-Mart?

·      Why would some people rather have an iPhone?

·      Who do you call for next-day package delivery?

People shop at Wal-Mart because it’s cheaper. For 19 years, the company’s slogan was “Always low prices.” In 2007, they changed it to “Save money. Live better.” They’ve been repeating those messages in every ad for nearly 30 years. So who do you think of when you need to save money?

People line up early for the new iPhone and pay considerably more for it than most Android phones cost because Apple emphasizes innovation and design in all of their marketing: “Think different,” “The only thing that’s changed is everything,” etc. A large group of people strongly identify with those values.

FedEx is the name that jumps off of most peoples’ lips when you mention next-day delivery. It has everything to do with the messages they’ve repeated for decades: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” “The world on time,” and “Relax, it’s FedEx.”

It’s a truism in marketing (first identified by Bob Berg, in his book Endless Referrals) that “People will do business with those people they know, like, and trust.”

And it must occur in that order, starting with “know.”

The way a business gets the public to “know” them is by repeating its message often.

Even if you don’t shop at Wal-Mart, don’t use FedEx and don’t own the iPhone, you’ve seen or heard their message so often, that you know what each of them stands for. You know what they value. 

When you come to know someone, it opens the door for you to like them. Just that little bit of familiarity that you’ve built up by hearing their message regularly gives you a degree of affinity for them.

This is how a company builds a strong brand. It’s also how one candidate built a strong brand.

Trump’s success is due in large part to his marketing: “Make America Great Again” was everywhere. It’s on his website. In his emails. On hats. t-shirts, bumper stickers, and coffee mugs. He stated it every time he spoke in public.

By constant repetition of his message, Trump built a strong brand for himself. People came to know him.

On the other hand, while his main opponent had far more experience in politics, she lacked a message. She lacked repetition. If Hillary Clinton had any brand at all, it was the one the media created with its constant repetition of messages about her involvement in numerous scandals.

Or maybe it was the Russians….

-  -  -

Every business has a message, though not all of them have discovered what their message is.

Your company’s message should express your core value and what differentiates you from your competition (these are often one and the same), in a way that benefits your customers. That’s your brand.

“Repetition makes reputation and reputation makes customers,” said businesswoman Elizabeth Arden (of make-up fame). So, once you’ve isolated your message, repeat it as often as possible in all of your marketing efforts.

If you need some help working out your brand messaging, I can help you with that. Call 323-646-2469 or email me steve (at) @stevewagnercopy (dot) com 

(or, what's copy got to do with it?)

The "wish list" of many a direct marketer probably looks something like this:

1. More sales. 

2. More customers. 

3. Umm... more conversions, sales and customers. 

Makes sense, right?

But while some direct marketers regularly have high sales and attract new customers, other marketers struggle and even fail. 

Why? Ask Bly.

In his white paper, "The 12 Most Common Direct Mail Mistakes... And How To Avoid Them," renowned direct marketer Bob Bly isolates 12 factors. Not surprisingly, seven of them are related to the copy itself. 

So, all other things (product/service, mailing list and number of mailings) being equal, the greatest difference is the copy they use in their direct marketing efforts: 

•   High-quality copy gets read. A  percentage of readers take action (make a purchase or take another desired action such as "click here" or "call now"). Life is good!

•   Poor-quality copy does not get read. Less or no action occurs. Life ain't so good.

High-quality direct response copy is effective. It grabs readers' attention right from the headline or subject line and holds it. It fires their imaginations and increases desire for the marketer's solution to their pain point or deep desire. It presents an offer that's magnetic, irresistible--so high in value and low in risk, that the reader can't not buy it. 

Hence, high-quality copy makes you more money. 

Get Better Results

If your sales or lead generation aren't as healthy as they should be, the copy is often the first place to look, especially if it was written by someone without a lot of direct response experience or training. 

If you're going to tackle it yourself, I would highly recommend studying Bly's The Copywriter's Handbook or any of Dan Kennedy's "No B.S." books on the subject. 

Or contact me and let's discuss your copy and your marketing aims and see how I might be able to help.

(Originally posted on LinkedIn.)

If you’re re-inventing the wheel with each new marketing effort, you may never achieve the desired reputation. Here’s how to invent it once so that your marketing efforts really roll
About a year and a half ago, I wrote a series of marketing pieces for a financial services company. Let’s call them “The Company.”

I did not work directly for The Company but for a marketing specialist The Company had hired to help them revamp their website and improve their marketing results. Let’s call them “The Agency.” 

In all, The Agency hired me to write on six separate occasions: four landing pages, a home page and an “About Us” page

I came up with some very strong messages for each landing page, each of which was for a different service The Company is marketing. The Agency must have thought so too, since they kept re-hiring me.

The home page was the fifth item they hired me to write. It was to include information about some of the services I’d already written about for the landing pages. As I worked on it, I began to feel a bit scattered.

There were messages I’d written for some of the landing pages which I thought would have been ideal for the home page—headlines and other copy that would have been excellent descriptions of The Company’s “Unique Value Proposition” (UVP, that quality or qualities that make them better or more desirable than their competition).

It was a bit like having Joe manufacture “some doors” and having Fred build “some walls” and having Ron construct “a roof” and then trying to jam all the parts together to make a house.

Build Your Marketing From the Top Down

It seemed to me that The Agency should have had me write the home page first. It’s an ideal place for a company to communicate its UVP. The company could then incorporate the UVP and related ideas into all of their marketing copy, thus creating a strong and consistent overall message.

But there is an even better way to achieve this consistency—before you ever write a home page or brochure or whatever you will use to introduce your product or service. This better way, which I am going to get to in a moment, strengthens your marketing impact and makes effective copywriting a no-effort affair.

Repetition of a Message

So The Agency ended up with several marketing pieces, each of which contained strong marketing copy (if I must say so myself) but all of which functioned more or less independently—each with its own messages but no consistent Company message.

That’s not the ideal scene.

So what is? Before I answer that, consider this:

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Coca-Cola”? You probably think “Coke Adds Life” or “Things Go Better with Coke.” Perhaps even Coke’s red and white “wave” logo. Though they have used other tag lines and images in their long history, these are some of their more enduring ones for me (and I don’t even drink the stuff).

This kind of brand identity is what any company wants if they wish to be successful. In other words, you want the public to identify your product or service with a certain concept: your UVP, the thing you do best, which the customer benefits from.

You can only achieve that through repetition of a particular message or messages. As copywriter Casey Demchak has so succinctly put it:

Repetition builds reputation.

The Chaos of Random Messaging

It is an acknowledged phenomenon in marketing circles that inconsistent messaging reduces conversions. For instance, if a shoe company’s pay-per-click add says “Shoes that massage your feet” but their landing page header is “Shapes and tones while you walk,” a significant number of people who encounter it will search elsewhere for shoes. That’s what inconsistent/mixed/conflicting messaging can be counted on to do.

Can you imagine if some new cola company did that? The lack of repetition of a single or carefully-crafted group of messages would result in no impression on the public. They would never gain any reputation. Mostly likely, they would fade away.

On the other hand, consider the following brands. Large segments of the public immediately know what these companies are about—an effect achieved through repetition of a message:

  • Chevy trucks are dependable (“Like a Rock,” “…the most dependable, longest-lasting pickups on the road”)
  • Apple Computers are innovative yet simple life-style products (“The Computer for the Rest of Us,” “Think Different,” “It just works”)
  • WalMart saves you money (“Save Money, Live Better,” “Always Low Prices”)  

Each of these companies’ messages may have been repeated in their ads for years or decades.

This is true for companies and is true for their new product offerings, each of which needs its own messages.

Use This for Consistent Messaging

So how can you ensure that messaging is consistent? How can you get on the road to building a strong reputation?

It’s called a Key Message Copy Platform.

The Platform contains the guiding concepts and messaging about your product/service.

These concepts and messaging are worked out by you, with or without the help of a copywriter (though a copywriter will know all the questions to ask).

It is the master document for all copy you will produce for your product or service. Among other things, the Platform contains:

  • Headlines and taglines
  • Description of voice and tone of marketing copy
  • Descriptive key words that apply to various aspects of the product or business
  • Descriptions of how the product or company provides value
  • Messages for overcoming objections
  • a whole lot more…

The Platform contains the Key Messages about your product and service that must be in every marketing piece in order to bring about the repetition that establishes your reputation.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

So, when you need to write a landing page, an email sequence, brochure or whatever, you don’t have create it from scratch.

The key messaging—those ideas you want the public to identify with your product/service—has already been worked out. Refer to the Platform before creating your next marketing piece. Incorporate the key messages.

This ensures consistent marketing messages, so your prospects and customers get a consistent understanding of your product/service.

With repetition of a consistent message, you arrive at a reputation. People know who you are, what you do, what you’re good at and how it benefits them.

Do It First

I now try to guide my clients to create a Platform, particularly when it’s evident that they don’t have anything guiding their marketing. Hiring a copywriter to create a Platform is not a budget-buster and is often be the best use of your marketing dollars, for the effect it will have on all future marketing efforts and the establishment of your reputation. 

Sounds good, doesn't it? Call me 323-646-2469 or email me and let's discuss your marketing goals. 
I have traveled and lived in several places in the U.S. over the last year. In talking to the various people I've met, they've invariably asked what kind of work I did for a living.

"I'm a copywriter," I told them. 

Their responses ranged from a furrowed-browed nod to a change of subject.

Many people have no idea what "copywriting" or "copy" is or what a copywriter does.

Here is a short, easy-to-remember definition: A copywriter writes with the intent of getting the reader to act. No, I don't mean getting them to do community theater or pack up and move to Hollywood. By "act" I mean to "take an action."

If you've ever been looking around online and decided to give your email address to some website in exchange for a free e-book, newsletter subscription  or similar item, you've experienced copywriting. If you've ever ordered something on TV after watching an infomercial or QVC, you've experienced it.

"Okay, but that doesn't explain what 'copy' is," you're saying right now.

Definition of "Copy"

"Copy" is another word for "text," particularly text that is used to sell something (or get a person to take an action which may lead to a sale). It is not something that the writer "copied" from somewhere else, but something he/she wrote which is to be copied--printed in a magazine or newspaper or used in a TV/radio commercial, which gets broadcasted over and over.

The terms "copy," "copywriter" and "copywriting," traditionally relate to advertising, marketing and promotion but these terms sometimes get applied to other kinds of writing and writers. For instance, news writers and editors deal with their own kind of "copy."

Copywriters (the capable ones, that is) are trained in a specific and somewhat complex technology that they use to produce writing that engages the reader. It holds and increases their interest because it appeals to some fundamental desire or need for a solution to a problem. Ultimately, if it's written well, it gets them to take action.

To some this may seem sneaky or unethical but there's this one fact: people's desires and needs for solutions to their problems existed long before there were copywriters or the field of marketing. The only thing that marketing does is channel that existing desire or need in the direction of a particular product or service.

A copywriter writes with the intent of getting the reader to take action.
Take for instance the "mid-life crisis." For some men who've reach their forties or fifties, an insecurity may have set in about their looks, physical condition or ability with the opposite sex. They may long to recapture some of their youthful vitality. This phenomenon exists. You've observed it. And it's this phenomenon--not the copy--that enables companies to sell convertible sports cars, hair replacement surgery and Viagra. If one company doesn't make the sale, another will. And truly, all other things being equal, the winner will be the company with the most effective copy. 

Who Uses Copywriters? 

You might be surprised by the number and variety of businesses that use copywriters:
  • companies that advertise by mail (banks, book publishers, credit card companies, insurance companies, etc.)
  • companies that advertise via infomercials (fitness equipment, greatest hits music collections, etc.)
  • companies that sell online (too many to list), by way of landing pages, sales pages, long-form video sales letters, pay-per-click ads, etc.
  • non-profit organizations, who use copywriters to help in their fundraising efforts

(Though regular TV or radio commercials may be written by copywriters, much of that kind of this kind of advertising, which is usually short and clever or cute [and sometimes, confusing], doesn't follow the tenets of actual copywriting.)

Copywriters can also use this writing technology to help companies and individuals define who they are, how they are unique or what they do best, so as to differentiate themselves from their competition. This action is a part of what is broadly known as "branding." 

The Copywriter and the Brand

Branding is not entirely a matter of copywriting but of building an image and emphasizing a particular and desirable value, skill or strength. You've seen and felt it with with many companies. Some that come to mind are Chevrolet (long-lasting, "Like a rock"), Apple Computers (innovation, "Think Different") and Netflix (selection and convenience). 

Once the brand "message" is established, copywriters may write copy that conforms to the brand, to be used on everything from business cards to websites to television. 

And that, friends, is what copywriting is.

If you have questions about your current copy, need a review, or have a future copy project you'd like help in planning, call me at 323-646-2469 or
email me.
Just a short post this time: 

Content editing (also called "structural editing" or "developmental editing") takes into account the entire text, whether it's a book, sales brochure, website or other content. When editing for content, the editor seeks to ensure the logical flow or correct sequencing of ideas; consistency of the writer's voice; consistency of character (such as in a novel) and other broad areas.

The editor won't always take it upon him/herself to write the changes (unless it has been agreed up with the client ahead of time) but will make notes, either directly into the text (in a contrasting color) or by use of margin notes, such as the "Comments" function in Microsoft Word.

Content editing is not always a matter of removing content or re-arranging it; it can also be a matter of what I call "the canyon effect." The person who wrote the copy leaped from one idea to another without a proper transition. So the reader, missing the transitional material, does not make a smooth transition; they fall into the canyon. I note this in particular with technology-related material, written by people who are tech-savvy but who are not writers by trade.  

While it probably goes without saying, content editing isn't just for novels or other books: I have had clients request it for two-page articles and tri-fold business brochures and other "smaller" jobs. 

Have you ever walked out of a movie before it was over? If you answered “yes,” can you recall why you got up and left? What was the reason?

Back in my early 20s, I took a girl on a date to see a movie called The Perils of Gwendoline, which looked okay in the coming attractions. “Gwendoline” was played by the young and attractive Tawny Kitaen and the film looked like a lightweight Raiders of the Lost Ark with a dash of Rocky Horror Picture Show…if you can imagine that. Okay, Perils of Gwendoline, here we go!

And we went alright: We were outta that theater 20 minutes after it started and we were not the only ones.

Was there something particularly offensive about the movie? No.

Did its production values look as if it had been shot on Super-8 film and edited with a butter knife? Not at all.

The problem was that it was uninteresting. Boring. Gwendoline failed to “hook” a significant part of the audience, who went streaming for the exits. (My apologies to the cult following that the film has since developed. Perhaps I would view the film differently today than I did back then.)

On the other hand, I was transfixed by a movie released the same year called Repo Man--a quirky indie film with a largely then-unknown cast (save for a barely-known Emilio Estevez and perhaps Harry Dean Stanton—if you were an aficionado of character actors). The plot (“Find the Chevrolet with the aliens in the trunk!”) was on the thin side. However, what it lacked in star power and plot line, it made up for with a significant quantity of interesting things that grabbed your interest and kept you interested.

(Interesting, isn’t it?)

In my last blog entry, I talked about redundancy and overwriting—using seven words to say what could be said with three or using the same sentence structures over and over. In pointing out these kinds of shortcomings in your own or another’s writing, it’s sometimes very easy to overlook what's really good about a piece of writing. 

I took those redundancy examples from a manuscript that became a book called Across the Hall: Real Love the Right Way by author Monique Francisco. But far more important than being a source of such examples, Real Love is a great example of how a good story trumps any technical flaws. Francisco weaves three plot lines and takes the reader up and down the emotional roller coaster: I hissed at the “bad guy” and fell in love with the good guy(s). 

Francisco might have had a few things to learn about tightening up a sentence or a paragraph (we all did at one time or another) but there was little I could tell her about how to improve her storytelling. It held my interest, without effort, and it’s not even a genre (romance) I commonly read.

Q: What can you do with a manuscript containing a perfectly-punctuated yet dull story? 

A: Use it to start a fire.

The story is the most important factor.

You can always find an experienced freelance editor to correct your grammar, punctuation, etc. You can even find one to work with you on the overall flow of your story. (That’s called “content editing” or “substantive editing.”)

But the bottom line is: tell a good story and make it interesting--in your emails, your website, your blogs--all your marketing. 

And if you need help achieving that, give me a call 323-646-2469 or email me
Who do you write for? 

Let’s take for granted that you write for the sake of your readers. You have a feeling, an image or an idea. You write, consciously or unconsciously, so that the reader will feel the feeling, see the image or duplicate the idea.

Words are plentiful and free, so there's no penalty for giving your readers more of them and likewise no benefit from conserving them.

Or is there?

Correct answer: if you can achieve your aim with five words, there is no added benefit in doing it with 11 words.

Writing A to B

In writing, as in geometry, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Between you ("Point A") and your reader ("Point B"), the straightest line contains only as many words as is necessary to convey the idea. More often than not, when the writer does not take the shortest distance, the reader's mind wanders. 

This can be deadly in marketing and sales copy, where everything hinges on holding the reader's interest and moving them toward the call to action.

(I can just hear some people reading this and saying “Oh, so we’re all supposed to write like Hemingway, in five-word sentences, eh?” That isn’t what I am suggesting but, then again, Hemingway is one of the most widely-read authors of the last 100 years, so….)


For some, the idea of the shortest distance makes perfect sense when traveling from St. Louis to Los Angeles but may not be as clear when applied to writing. So I will illustrate my point with examples taken from a recent editing job I did for a client: 

1. “She ordered a cranberry juice; she was always the designated driver by default just in case.”

“Default” is defined as “a preselected option that is adopted…when no other alternative is specified.” But the presence of the word “always” makes the use of the word "default" unnecessary; because she was always the designated driver, she is the default.

Additionally “in case” is unnecessary; designated drivers exist in case someone is unable to drive due to drunkenness. 

It’s only necessary to say “She ordered a cranberry juice; she was always the designated driver.”

2. “It dawned on him and he realized that he had never been involved with anyone worth the consideration.”

The expression “dawned on” is practically synonymous with "realize." So, it's only necessary to write “It dawned on him that he had never been involved with anyone worth the consideration.”

3. In some cases, the writer may reiterate who is being written about, when the reader already knows:

“Getting ready for church was a pretty uneventful thing for her: simple dress, comfortable shoes, combed hair, a few accessories, perfume and out the door.”

The sequence preceding this paragraph shows the protagonist in her apartment. The scene is set. There is no need to re-state the who, what, or where. 

“Getting ready for church was pretty uneventful: simple dress, comfortable shoes, combed hair, a few accessories, perfume and out the door,” is all that's necessary.

4. Another form of redundancy is the use of the same sentence structure over and over. In this case, the author starts nearly every sentence in this paragraph the same way:

“She stretched and groaned as she turned over on the sofa. Jerking back after almost tumbling onto the floor, she sat up on the edge of the sofa. She was stiff from the awkward position she had laid in. She felt in her pocket and retrieved her cell phone. 7:45, if she rushed she could still make it for the 8:30 service. She hurriedly dressed quickly into a brown wool sweater dress with brown boots and was ready in record time. She dashed her face with a few strokes of makeup to help minimize the tiredness under her eyes.”

This creates a static effect, similar to a movie where the camera is still and none of the characters moves much. If you want to hold your readers’ attention, vary sentence structure:

“She stretched and groaned as she turned over on the sofa and, after almost tumbling onto the floor, sat up on the edge, stiff from the awkward position she had lain in. Reaching into her pocket, she retrieved her cell phone. 7:45. If she rushed she could still make the 8:30 service. After pulling on her brown wool sweater dress and brown boots, she dashed her face with a few strokes of make-up to help minimize the tiredness under her eyes.”

Possible Source of Redundancy

My suspicion is that redundancy and overwriting are the result of a desire to be perceived as “sophisticated” or from assuming that the reader can’t “connect the dots.” 

I will admit I have been guilty of this (particularly the latter) myself. Eliminating redundancy comes with awareness and practice: Write, write and write some more but then go back and re-read and re-write. I suspect that you will usually find things such as the above examples and perhaps others.

I don't mind reviewing your copy to make it snap or let's talk about your next copy project and I'll write something for you that helps move your customers toward the sale.