One does not simply copywrite. There are certain skills that you must bring to the game, such as the ability to compose marketing-oriented texts, which includes a feeling for style and persuasiveness. Then, a copywriter needs to understand the product and the audience in order to explain the value of the product to the prospective buyer. And finally, a copywriter should stay sharp by keeping track of what other marketers are doing while always trying to improve their own work. Resting on your laurels is bound to hurt your copywriting skills.
The Development of Copywriting Skills
There are many ways to continuously improve your marketing writing abilities:
- Read a top-notch blog or popular book about copywriting.
- Review what competitors are up to, and check out the work of top marketing writers.
- Use proven copywriting formulas such as PAS (pain-agitate-solve.)
- Get to work on copywriting practice exercises.
Why Are Copywriting Exercises Important?
If you depend on your copywriting skills for a living, or even if you only write/edit occasionally, it pays to stay on top. Everything is online today, and that means literally millions of pieces of copy vying for the attention of an ephemeral audience.
With this in mind, we should also recall an essential truth when it comes to skill development – it takes time. Especially if you believe in the 10,000 hour rule or the concept of deliberate practice, you’ll know that retaining your edge means putting in effort.
Similarly, it’s easy for a writer to slip into mediocrity. Working on a single product for a long time, or on numerous products all at once, can cause a copywriter to lose focus and cut corners. Eventually, somebody notices, and they might just move on to a writer who is more in the groove. And guess what? To bounce back, you’ll still need to get those skills up to par for the next client.
The Top 4 Copywriting Skill Exercises
It’s recommended to do at least one of these exercises every day. For some of them, you should build text from scratch, while for others, you can rewrite your own material or that of somebody else, preferably a top copywriter.
1. Creative Sprints
For a creative sprint, you should spend 15 minutes to half an hour writing headlines and/or leads about the product of your choice.
The headline is the first text read by the audience and so needs to be as compelling as possible. A good headline will use curiosity, FOMO, an offer, or an outstanding product benefit as a way to motivate the reader to keep reading. In terms of style, a headline might:
- Ask a question
- Promise something
- Create a mental image
- State an interesting fact
So, as part of the exercise, write a few headlines by mixing up a few of these elements. For instance, establish FOMO by asking a question: “Could you stand not having this widget?”
Leads are the first few paragraphs that appear after the headline. There are some copywriters who prefer building the leads first as a way of warming up to the information that they will use to create the headline.
In any case, the purpose of the leads is to maintain the interest of the audience initiated by the headline. Use the leads to:
- Explain the headline
- Discuss the product’s unique selling points
- Clarify one selling point in detail
- Demonstrate a pain-solution
- Establish a mood or feeling that the product will create
Once again, as part of your practice, you should write two or three leads, each according to one of these viewpoints.
2. Extreme Makeovers
This term can apply to cosmetics, houses, and weight loss, but it’s also a copywriting exercise. The mission is to take your everyday, run of the mill text and turn it into something extreme. This can mean funny, exotic, emotional, or outrageous. Done properly, and even if the result does not really reflect the product’s positioning or audience, the revised text will illuminate the subject from an entirely different angle. More than that, it will make your copy highly readable and compelling. Then, the next time you have a creativity challenge, just think about the new viewpoint that you generated and apply it to that intimidating blank page.
For example, here is an existing “About Us” sentence for an urban transit company in Canada:
YYY is the public transport agency that operates services in XXX. It is the oldest and largest of the urban transit service providers in the area, with numerous connections to surrounding municipalities.
And here’s a makeover, focusing on a simple value proposition (and some Canadian humor):
We drive buses, that’s it, and we’ve been doing it for a long time. Not aero planes. Not high priced yachts. Not even a Zamboni. So get on us, so that you can get on with your day, anywhere in XXX.
3. Actually Writing
Another copywriting exercise is to do (at least some of) your work by hand. Studies have shown that people remember things better when they write them out by hand, as opposed to typing them. There are also various famous writers, like Ernest Hemmingway and Quentin Tarantino, who prefer using pen and paper to keyboard and monitor.
There’s just something about longhand that seems to transfer the feeling of a text from one person to another. Perhaps it’s because you need to read, momentarily remember, and write something out that it sticks in your mind.
So, grab a pen and a blank sheet, and start your daily practice that way. Or, copy the texts of an expert marketing writer to get an intuitive feel for their style. Does that seem pretentious? Gary Halbert, a very successful copywriter, recommends doing exactly this.
4. Cut it in Half
You might have plenty of patience to read four paragraphs, but don’t bet that your audience will. Always assume that shorter is better.
The practice of chopping ad copy down to the bare minimum is a way to develop an eye for what counts. One way to accomplish this is to take four paragraphs and pare them down to two, without losing much information. Aim for half the number of words and/or sentences. You can use somebody else’s work. But everyone is biased towards their own stuff and reluctant to throw some of that genius away. So, at least part of the time, take a bit of your old material and go postal on it.
But How Do You Find the Time?
In your quest for copy creativity, let technology give you a hand. AI-powered copywriting platforms can generate conversion-oriented text for many of your marketing channels in a fraction of the time used by manual methods. That way, you can get more done – like daily copywriting exercises.
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