Expert Copywriter Interview with Brad Stafford – Episode #28

by Richard Wilson on June 16, 2011

Within this episode our team interviews copywriting expert Brad Stafford.  Brad helps business owners target their persuasive writing abilities, sales funnels, and boost their email open rates.  The definition of copywriting is writing with a specific purpose of getting a reader to take action, it is about effective communication through writing and it can be very powerful for business owners to master.

Heads Up – Just so you know before you start listening this expert audio interview was originally recorded for and is now being published here as a helpful resource for business owners as well. (Download this Audio MP3 Interview)

Audio Summary: Lessons from this episode on copywriting include:

  • Write emails in conversational tones
  • The hardest part is to know your audience and niche very well so you can speak directly to them
  • Test everything and see what open rates and conversation rates are on each message used
  • Watch advertisements, sales pages, and emails so you can pick up best practices that are being used by your competitors
  • Many people ignore writing as a critical part of marketing and sales

Audio Transcript: Expert Audio Interview on Copywriting

Today we are joined by Brad Stafford, president and founder of Financial Marketers and Publishing Group.  Brad has been in the online marketing business for six years and focuses on the trading and investment niches.  Thank you for being here today, Brad.

Oh, of course, I’m glad to be here.

Well, do you want to briefly describe what it is you do now?

Sure, basically what I’ve been doing is taking a lot of the information and knowledge I’ve learned from being in the industry—specifically in the investment and trading industry for six years and applying it to private clients.  Anybody that has a product or service to sell or they need more emails opened, or they need more click-throughs, that’s really what I help them with.  I help them target their copywriting, and I help them target their sales funnel.  So, that’s what I’m doing for private clients right now.

And how did you get to where you are?  Was there a specific route you took?

Well, I started with the company I guess about six and a half, seven years ago.  I was with them for a while, I started at a lower-level job.  I just continued to glean as much information as I could from what others were doing and what I saw that worked.  Then, just through different testing and networking I decided to go out on my own and take the skills that I have learned and help other people to do it.

How did you get better at copywriting?  I’m assuming you may have been less than perfect when you started, was there some training that you went through?

Not necessarily, to me, most of the copywriting approach and the voice that I take is a very conversational tone.  I think that especially in e-mail marketing, when you’re marketing to some person you have to know who your audience is and more often than not what they’re doing when they’re reading it.  I just sort of took how I write normally and applied that to the e-mails and sales pages that I write for clients.

I would say that testing is one of the things that I put to good use.  While this did well, this was awful.  Everybody hated it, in fact, people responded very negatively.  So, let’s trash that.  It’s just like anything in marketing, if it works, great then you expand it.  If it kind of works but just doesn’t look good, you just have to keep constantly changing and editing.  There’s never going to be a perfect sales page or a perfect auto responder that can just keep on going forever.  It’s always going to be changing, it’s always going to be needing the constant testing because the market changes all the time.

I’m curious, did you have a mentor that helped teach you?  Or, was this mostly just based on what you learned on the job?  Did you do a lot of reading?

Well, I guess it was a combination of a number of things.  My wife is actually probably the best writer that I know.  So, I benefit a lot from her knowledge.  She worked for a newspaper for a while.  She wrote a lot of articles, so she helped me to sort of tweak my writing.  So, that was sort of one aspect to it.

The other was really just again gleaning from what other people were doing “Hey, I like how that guy writes,” or “Hey, that was a good subject line.”  Especially in the trading and investing niche, there are so many talented people that each one of them does something very, very well.  I’ve tried to just take what they’re doing and try and adapt it to other clients.  Just to be a sponge of information that I like and stuff that I feel is compelling and just try to apply that to my work.

Now, I know that writing is a very important part of marketing.  Do you find that a lot of people don’t perfect that part and maybe don’t do so well in their marketing as a result?

Yes and no.  In marketing, the hardest part is to just know your audience, who that person is, what they’re doing and where they are.  Without hand-delivering an e-mail it’s hard to know all of that stuff so you try to equate as much as you can.

Sometimes I find especially with people who are really good at one thing, like really good traders, they aren’t able to step outside of their “trading mind” and write for their audience.  They write more for themselves.  “This is how I would want it to read,” or “this is how I would do it.”  In one sense, you have to do that, because that’s who you are.  But in another sense, you have to be able to figure out who is reading your stuff or you’re not going to get the response you want.  There are a lot of great traders out there who are good writers, but they sort of need to tweak what they’re doing to better appeal to their audience.  Someone could be a great technical reader of trading charts and just completely blow 99% of their audience out the door because their audience says, “Well, this guy might be really smart but I have no idea how to relate to him and I have no idea if this is for me.”  So, yes and no.  Know who your audience is and I think a lot of traders don’t necessarily do that as well as they could.

I know copywriting is something very tricky, there’s a lot of things that go into it, you know, organization, all of that stuff.  Are there particular books you’ve read, do you think that training programs are useful?  How do people go from the first end of the copywriting career to maybe six years in like you are now?

The biggest thing is to always be a sponge.  I mean, I probably buy one or two interesting courses or products from a marketing or copywriting sampling, you know, once a year.  So, maybe two products a year that I’ll glean information from.  “Oh, wow, that’s an interesting technique,” I’ll say.

So, to someone who is just starting out I would recommend to really just figure out what your style of writing is—do you want to be more technical, more conversational, have a more formal tone?  Then, just sort of seek out the different people that fall into those categories.  But as far as books or courses are concerned, I mean, I don’t know.  It’s hard to say, “Well, I really got a lot out of this,” while someone right next to me will say, “that really stunk.”  It might not be really great.  It’s a very personal thing to take on, to develop your writing, especially writing for a particular audience—whether that’s trading or water bottle sales, whatever.  It has to be a unique personal take on it.

When you’re first starting out and getting one or two clients and every client requires a different voice, do you think it’s important to be versatile in that aspect?  Or do you think it’s best to stick to your voice and find clients that fit that mold that you can offer?

For me, I like to work with clients that just sort of fit my voice because that’s what I have the most experience with and that’s what I like to do.  It’s what looks natural to me, so therefore I’ll be able to deliver the best product to that client.  But I guess if you want to broaden that if you feel like “Well, if I just write for someone that’s very formal, then I’m not going to have many clients,” then definitely you have to take on a different voice.

Some things do require a different voice.  For example, if you’re always very casual in your promotions.  If you’re promoting for another company on the affiliate side of things and you’re very nonchalant, you’re very relaxed saying, “Hey, I just bought this great video, click here.”  You’re going to take a different voice for that than when you’re selling your own product.  “Hey, we just released this super-fantastic water bottle-making course, you have to buy it today.” It’s just different promotions require different voices.  For the most part, you try to maintain the same voice overall, but you will have different inflections.

I know that writing can come more naturally to some than to others.  Do you think that a writing course is something important to take?  Maybe something not specific to copywriting, but just something on writing in general?

I definitely think so, obviously vocabulary, but just general grammar is often something that is missed.  Even in a conversational tone, you find that people misuse there and their.  Most people just think, “Am I really going to buy something from someone whose writing I can’t even read?”  A unique vocabulary can also be helpful for describing a lot more with a lot less.  So, drop a lot of filler words and add some interesting vocabulary.  Obviously, not something that is going to blow people’s minds away where they go, “OK, I was reading your e-mail and then I had to break out my Webster’s Dictionary.”  That doesn’t do any good.  But if you can use advanced vocabulary to fill in, and get your message across it will certainly help.  Definitely, I think that any sort of classes or advice will be helpful.

Are there any sort of tools that you use when you do your copywriting?

A lot of it goes back to what we originally talked about, knowing your audience, knowing how you’re going to sell to them, what you’re going to sell to them.  Copywriting for the most part is story-telling.  It depends on what you’re selling, what you’re promoting and what action you want them to take.  That’s going to mainly reflect how you engage them—whether it’s a fear tactic, whether it’s inspirational, or taking an emotional look at what’s going on deep down, “What’s ruining your trading career?”  It all depends on what you want the outcome to be.  So, knowing your audience and knowing what you are going to sell and what’s going to drive them to that point of sale or point of action.  That’s going to be the biggest, the most important rule and tool that I use when I’m doing copywriting.

How do you create a call to action?

Again, it kind of goes back to whatever the product is, whatever the action is that I want them to take.  Let’s go back to that water bottle example.  If I want them to sign up to do a free test drink out of what I’m calling the coldest water bottle ever.  What I want to do is to talk about how hot it is all the time, you always think about it heating up in the car, but with this water bottle it’s always cold.  I’ll tell the prospect, “I can guarantee it.  So, what I want to do is send one of these super-cold water bottles right to your door.  Click on the link below, fill out the information and you’ll have what you need to try the coldest water bottle ever.”  You just have to know what the product is, what the person is, who they are, what’s going to be the best way to get them to take the action—whether it’s to buy the cold water, or to sign up for a free drink out of the water bottle (laughs).

Now, when you do this for a client, how do you fully understand what they want, how do you figure out what their audience is?  What’s the process you take?

I think first before you can even consider selling anything to someone else, you have to know what that product is.  So, even though I’m not the greatest trader in the world, I feel like I can sit down with a course or a product and say, “OK, what is it?” And I can spend time with.  That’s the biggest thing, to let me sit with whatever it is and pull out whatever the biggest chunks are that will get people to take action.  You want to figure out what of this super water bottle cold-deluxe course is going to be the most important for people.  Does it solve the problem of hot water all the time?  Can they also drink it super-cold and filtered?  Does it make them grow taller, you know whatever the claims are or the facts are of the course, you want to pull them out and convey them.  So, you have to start at square one with whatever product you’re selling.  Step two is what’s the audience, what’s the problem that this course solves?  Do people have hot water or drinking water out of the toilet?  OK, so let’s solve that.  That’s who we’re going after.  Then, step three is sort of putting pen to paper.  It just goes then into testing small groups, small chunks of an audience to test the sales page or the e-mail copy in order to get your metrics so you can then expand that.  Once you get good results on step three you can move onto step four which is taking it to mass market—whether that is through advertisements, affiliate links, partnerships or whatever.  That’s the process you have to go through.

How do you pick your test market?

Often times, the best test market is the internal test market first.  People that know who you are, they know this guy loves cold water.  So, I already have a group of people who are interested in cold water.  So, let’s say that I have 500 people on my e-mail list who have followed me in some way, shape or form.  I’ll segment them and take 25, 30 of them and let me e-mail them the e-mail encouraging them to take action and buy the super-cold water filtration system that I’m selling.  Once you get a good metric from that, then it would be small, external ads and partnerships.  So, we figured out we have great metrics with internal tests on people that know me and we take it a step further and test the new traffic that’s coming in.  The internal traffic that we’re going to test with the copy I’ve put together is going to be different than the external, so we figure out how to mesh the two results and take it to a much more mass market.

Do you have a list of tips for someone to improve their copywriting?  How would you advise someone to get better?

The only tip I have is to test.  There’s not something like “you need to do this” or “you can’t say this,” because just like my clients everyone of them has a different personality.  Everyone of them has a different niche or focus of audience.  The same is true of anyone who is listening to this.  No one is going to have the same clients that I have (hopefully).  They’re going to have a different audience that requires a different message.  So, the best tip is to do tests and definitely get to know who the people are that you are marketing for, what they’re all about.  One of my clients is far and away an expert in his field of specific training, so what I’m doing is help him develop into that mass expert, not just beyond the huge group of people that follow him.  Now, it’s like we need a lot more people to realize he is the real deal, he is the expert of all experts in this.  The same thing is true for someone who is writing about the water bottle guy.  “This guy has drank water all over the world, he is the greatest water bottle tester.” I’m going to write for him differently than one of my clients where it’s not just him, where there are 8 or 9 other people on his team.  You just have to know who you’re writing for and what you’re trying to accomplish.  I wish there were sexier tips but there aren’t.  It’s not easy, it’s hard.  But if you can figure it out and test things and do it right and meet with the audience and meet with the person that is the client then you are going to have an outcome that is extremely positive.

I’m curious, how important is prior knowledge?  Whether it’s training in psychology to understand what you’re writing or training in marketing?  Is that important in how you do copywriting?

Definitely!  I think that knowing the psychology behind it all, for me, is very interesting.  I’m twenty-seven years old and the majority of the people I’m trying to sell to are my parent’s age or older.  So, I had to not necessarily ditch the people that I know and who I am friends with, but I had to know who I am writing for: where are they in life?  What are their thoughts?  What are their dreams, their goals?  The only prior knowledge that I wish I had had when I started was to write for those people, write for your audience, not yourself.  There are always new tricks and tips that I think are interesting and cool but then it is will this work with my audience?  Will this work with the cold water bottle crowd?

Do you have any other tips and tricks?

Again, for me, I have a very conversational style.  I like to write how I talk.  In high school and college, this was to my fault, because I wasn’t very polished.  That’s why I have my editor, my wife, she polishes me up so it looks very professional.  If you write like you talk; I keep things short, light, I keep things very conversational.  I think that works a lot better.  More often than not, people in my industry in the trading and investment aren’t checking their e-mail as often as I do.  I get e-mails all the time and check it all the time.  But the audience that I’m writing for may only check their e-mail one or twice a day.  So, I need to write to them in a way that they are going to be interested in opening an e-mail or they are going to be in a place where they are willing to buy a product.  So, for me, it’s just keep it short, keep it light, keep it very friendly and make the call to action valuable.  That’s the other tip, most people are looking for value, something to sink their teeth into.  There should be some mystery as to what the whole thing is because if you’re driving traffic to video you don’t want to trascribe the whole video.  You just want to give a couple of meaty chunks and then “watch the rest here.”

Aside from knowing your audience which I think is something that maybe comes more into play once you actually start writing, do you have some tips for someone just starting in the industry?  Would it be to find someone they really like and try to emulate them?  Any ways to get clients or get experience?

I would say just be a sponge.  Start to Google: writing experts, writing courses.  More often than not, people have free newsletters or e-books that you can sign up for.  Just do it, what’s the worst that can happen?  That they can try and sell something to you?  Great!  Then you just learned their sales technique.  If they’re trying to sell something to you then if it’s great buy it, if you think it’s going to be valuable.  If not, then at least glean their sales process and say “Wow, I almost bought this thing.  Look what this guy did.  I could do that with my cold water bottle product over here.”  Just be open to different products and different courses.  Again, just be a lead—what’s the worst that can happen?  You get an e-mail?

This has been great, do you have any other tidbits to throw in?

The biggest recommendation I have to someone who is just starting out is—it’s really hard to just start out and say, “I’m going to be a copywriter.”  If you’re looking to do that then you probably want to get on with a company that needs some copywriting.  You know, you’re going to have to start entry-level.   If you already have a consistent audience and you just want to write better and get better responses from your copy and your e-mail, then I would just say just be a lead and sign up for as much free stuff as you can.  Not only read what they’re sending you and what you’re potentially buying from them, but sort of read between the lines and see “Wow, this subject line paired with this got me to open it.  Why?”  Try to understand the situation that you’re in, think, “well, I was just getting home, it’s 8 o’clock and my favorite TV show is about to come on.”  Those are all pieces of information that you can glean and then

apply to your own products and stuff that you’re writing about.

Great!  Very informational.

No problem, hopefully this helps.

It was great, thank you so much for your time and for offering some insights.

Thanks for joining us, and I will see you again soon,

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