Writing Kick-Ass Confident Copy that Connects: An Interview with Elizabeth McKenzie

By Louise Graham

"I work with entrepreneurs who really struggle with stringing words together in a way that compels people to take an action."

How did you get involved with writing, and what inspired you to set up The Copy Word?

I first got a taste for writing when I was working in corporate marketing. I soon realised that corporate marketing wasn’t for me. I was pretty much a glorified admin assistant. My hate for corporate, coupled with my love for all things communication led to me study speech pathology.

While I was working as a speech pathologist I had an idea to set up an online marketing blog and business. Even though it was hard to admit at the time, my business was where my passion lay, and as it started taking off, I had to make the decision to quit my speech pathology job and follow my passion, which was taking up a lot of my time.

Enter: The Copy Word.

The Copy Word was born because I noticed that every single one of my clients were struggling with their communication.

I work with entrepreneurs who struggle with stringing words together in a way that compels people to take action. It could be buying a service or product, commenting on a social media post, or engaging and building rapport.

So, what services do you offer?

There’s the agency side of my business, where I write the copy and then there’s the online course, that teaches people to write copy themselves.

I find that most entrepreneurs have a very clear feeling inside of what they want to say — which I call their message, but they get lost in translation when trying to put it onto the page.

So that’s what The Copy Word does — we help businesses put words on the page so they can better connect with their audience.

So, that brings us to the question on most of our minds — what is a copywriter and why is copywriting so important?

Copywriting is the art and science of strategically delivering words that inspire people to take a form of action.

Every entrepreneur needs to know how to write good copy because ultimately, every single business needs their audience to take some form of action, specifically it buying a product or a service. I’ve found a lot of business owners aren’t making the most of their copy, and are missing out on opportunities to convert a prospect into a buyer.

What do you notice from the industry? What are the key mistakes entrepreneurs and brands are making with their copy?

The first mistake that business owners make is that they’re super vague with their copy. They use high-level lofty concepts they understand, but that doesn’t mean their audience understands what they’re saying.

If people don’t understand what you’re saying and selling, they aren’t going to buy from you.

For example, in the life coaching industry there is a lot of talk about confidence and self-love, but all these are just lofty concepts that don’t mean anything to anyone until you put a meaning behind the word.

So, if you’re selling confidence, how does having confidence make someone’s life better?

Your client might have the confidence to walk into their Monday morning meeting with their boss without sweating bullets, and ask firmly for that pay rise, and get it.

That’s how you take a super vague concept of confidence, and make it real for someone.

The second mistake business owners make is that they’re trying to talk to everyone. They don’t want to be specific and that fuels their vague copy.

By trying to appeal to everyone, they’re not experimenting with different phrases, or words to disrupt their industry, so they end up sounding like every other person in their industry.

What are the key factors holding people back from creating great copy? Do you think it may be confidence?

Definitely, I think one main reason is confidence.

Many people don’t want to say things that will disrupt the industry as they i) don’t want to be seen to upset people, ii) don’t want to exclude someone, and/or iii) they don’t have enough confidence to stand tall in a crowd.

When it’s time to stand up and be seen, people often shrink down and just want to fit in. The first module I teach in my online course is all about “Growing Your Confidence” because it’s an important part of the process.

When businesses don’t stand out, they only have their price to differentiate themselves by. They become open to price-shoppers, and it’s hard to build a brand and a company based on price shoppers, because price shoppers are never loyal.

What do you suggest for entrepreneurs who struggle with depth of vocabulary?

The goal of copywriting is connection.

To get the connection, you need to hold someone’s attention.

So it’s not about ‘finding a big, fancy word’ to use.

It’s about saying something in a way that’s a little different to the stock standard, because the way we get someone’s attention is to disrupt the constant stream of thoughts in their head.

I’m on thesaurus.com all the time. It helps me say things in a different way.

The questions to ask yourself as a business owner are: How is it different to what everyone else is saying? What’s my opinion on this? How does what I’m saying make someone feel?

One exercise I do with people to get them out of their vocab rut is to try to write ‘I’m going to get a beer’ in twenty different ways.

It’s a great exercise to use on your tagline too.

The thing you need to remember is, no one’s going to come up with twenty compelling, amazing and intriguing taglines, but it forces you to say the same thing 20 different ways, which is a great catalyst for creativity and change.

From a brand perspective who do you think is doing the best work in the industry, and what qualities do you think they have that others don’t? I noticed a great campaign from Spotify recently. They had billboards around the country with messages like “Dear 3,749 people who streamed ‘It’s The End of the World as we Know it’, the day of the Brexit vote, hang in there”. I found that really compelling.

I don’t follow the industry, but the people who do the best work are specific.

Spotify is insanely specific. Apple also does amazing copy. They get really specific. For example, every Christmas, they sent out an email which says ‘do you have an artist, musician, or gamer in the family? Click here for gift’. They then had three specific sales pages for the same laptop.

It’s also about humanising your copy writing. You have to remember that you are essentially talking to someone at the other end — you are writing to a human being.

THE NITTY GRITTY

Copy is not about being clever. It’s about connecting with intention. To get a desired outcome. The question you want to ask yourself when you’re reading your copy is: am I making someone feel something?

When sitting down to craft copy is there a proven formula for success? What questions should we be asking ourselves?

I am 100% against secret formulas, but there are definitely some guidelines for writing copy.

The biggest one is around being specific. To get specific I suggest going through your copy line by line and asking yourself ‘what do I mean by that?’, and see what else comes to you. If you can answer that question, then you’re talking in high level concepts. Take that answer and find the example that highlights what you’re trying to say, and use that.

The next thing to consider is: am I making someone feel something? Am I making someone feel that they are missing out on something if they don’t buy from me?

Those are the two guiding principles.

A lot of copywriters talk about psychological tricks. How do you get your head around this if you’re not a psychologist? Is this just trying to be too clever?

You don’t need to get too technical about it. Psychology for me all comes down to humanising the copy.

It’s not about writing to win awards. It’s about the experience for one human being, and you need to remember that this human being is full of emotions.

This human being, who’s reading what you are writing wants something, needs something, and is desperate for something.

All you need to do is connect with that and write from that space.

All this psychology stuff is just about understanding the one human being at the other end who is going to read it. If you understand that we make purchasing decisions based on emotions, and that the person you are writing for has desires, then you are naturally writing with this whole idea of using psychology. It’s not about being clever, or being an “advanced copy writer”.

On this psychological note, we’ve been learning about the copywriting trends of minimalism (saying a lot without saying a lot), humour (when done right), transparency and disruption. Do you have anything to add from your perspective of what trends you are starting to see?

I’d love to see more people writing with the mantra ‘smiling is selling’.

If you make your prospect smile while they read what you have written, then you are naturally being humorous, transparent, disruptive, and you’ve got their attention.

They’re enjoying it, so they are going to keep reading it.

I don’t think there is any need to be insanely humorous or disruptive. It all comes back to delighting your readers, and everything else will fall into place.

We all have the innate ability to delight someone face to face, but sometimes we struggle to take that into our writing. I suggest you read your copy out loud and write as you’d speak, as if it was a normal conversation. Then edit it.

You could set yourself a little interview?

Sure. Why not record yourself talking and transcribe it as a starting place? When I work in my copywriting agency, I begin with a questionnaire and an intake call. On the call, I’m typing every single word that comes out of the clients mouth, and I use a lot of that in their copy.

A lot of blogs and entrepreneurs use the term “storytelling”. What does “storytelling” mean to you and how important is it? What qualities make for good storytelling?

Storytelling is huge right now.

The reason is because when you tell a story, you’re naturally connecting to your audience emotionally.

You’re telling people what your main character is experiencing, what they want, what they need, and the struggles that are going on for them. In storytelling mode you naturally can describe the environment, the thoughts that are going through their head, and where the character is. All the elements are there.

Storytelling is such a buzzword. The reason it gets spruiked a lot is because every story needs emotions, you must be specific, and those are the key elements to copywriting, and getting people to purchase your offerings.

It’s about the concept of what the story does vs. the construction of the story. It’s not the length that matters. All that matters is that you convey to your audience that they’re missing out on something if they don’t say yes to you.

Good storytellers show people rather than tell people. For example, by saying “you’re anxious” you are telling people vs. if you say “you wake up, you’ve got butterflies in your stomach etc..” you are showing people.

You talked during the interview about your copywriting course. You’ve also got a lot of really useful free content on your website. Where should our readers start?

I have two free guides on my homepage at the moment: thecopyword.com. “The Copy Hit” is a guide that outlines the main elements you need to write great copy. The seven elements include: storytelling, emotions, specificity, outcomes focus, the truthbomb, the hook, and using your client’s language. There are examples and exercises for each of those. I also have a “Disrupt Guide” which outlines how to position yourself as an expert in your field without losing your personality.

The online copy course I run is called “Cash Copy and Cojones”. It gets launched twice a year, and the next one will be launched in February. The courses consist of 6 modules over 7 weeks and it’s all done live. I love the live format. After that there are ongoing monthly coaching calls and personalised feedback.

A LITTLE MORE ABOUT YOU….

How would you best describe your copywriting style?

I would describe it as being disruptive and delightful!

All I want to do is make people laugh. I truly believe that smiling is selling. You really want to make the purchase and the experience a pleasure, and not a pain or a punishment that people are spending money on you.

What excites you most about the work that you do? What do you love most?

The writing! Sure, I get stressed when I’m staring at a blank page like most people, but once I let the brainstorming process happen, ideas start to form and then it’s a roll from there.

That’s the thing about writing, knowing that the idea and feeling is already there, inside you, and it’s just about experimenting with how you want to say it on the page and out into the world.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Hollywood. I love how Hollywood entertains people. I love watching comedy.

Also, getting off the laptop. As entrepreneurs we often forget to live, and living is what inspires everyone.

TELL US A SECRET…

Do you have any copywriting secrets to share?

Copywriting is the final thing that you do. It’s the icing on the cake, but first you must bake the cake. There are a lot of things to be done before you just show up on the page and write copy. It all starts with understanding your audience’s worldview and how they perceive what you’re selling.

Once you start to understand their perception, you’ll know what to say that will connect with them.

So for me the biggest secret is about having that solid foundation, and copywriting is the top layer of the cake really.

What’s your favourite copywriting book?

I’ve never read a copywriting book in my life! But I follow The Middle Finger Project. When she talks about copy, connection, or communication — I listen.

Do you have any last minute piece of advice?

I’d say that copy isn’t about being clever. It’s about connection. The question you want to ask yourself when you are reading your copy is: am I making someone feel something?

About Louise Graham:

London-based (for now) Co-Founder The Think Collective. A global network of problem solvers helping entrepreneurs solve their marketing problems in effective and imaginative ways.