What’s the single toughest secret you’ll ever learn, if you hope to blow the doors off the world of writing sales copy?
For all the clever metaphors you’ll ever come up with, for all the phrases and images, the formatting breakthroughs, the clever taglines, and everything else… nothing will pack more career-building punch for a copywriter… than mastering the art of coming up with “big ideas.”
By no coincidence, that alone could take you a lifetime of writing.
Great copywriter and originator of the “big idea” idea himself, David Ogilvy, once claimed that he came up with only about 20 so-called “big ideas” in his entire career. And yet, that was enough to more than create his fame and fortune.
So what does a “big idea” look like? I’ve seen many try to define it.
Here’s one more list of filters to add to your collection…
* Big Ideas Have Instant Appeal:
Have you ever had a ‘gut’ feeling about a person? Have you ever asked a long-married couple when they decided to get married, only to find out they ‘just knew’ after just meeting each other?
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Blink,” calls it ‘thin-slicing.’ And it’s what we do, naturally, whenever we encounter something new.
Your target audience will do it too. Which is why you have ZERO luxury for trying to convey a complex idea in that very first instant your copy flashes them in the face.
They’ll “thin-slice” you, as a reflex.
They’ll compress all their judgment about whether to read on into that moment. If you don’t manage to win them over, in milliseconds, say hello to the trashcan.
So, the Big Idea is an idea that can be sorted, absorbed, and understood instantaneously. Which is why cleverness and complexity in advertising can be so dangerous for even the most skilled of copy wordsmiths.
* Big Ideas are Tightly Expressed:
Just because an idea has impact, doesn’t mean it has to be dense. In fact, the opposite is the idea. The more insightful the idea, the tighter you can usually sum it up.
And you should aim to do exactly that. Preferably in 8 words or less. And as early as possible, so that your reader knows as soon as possible what you’re getting at.
* Big Ideas Have Momentum:
Gladwell has another more famous book that I’m sure you’ve read, “The Tipping Point.” He starts off talking about a suede shoe.
It was big in the ’70s, and then disappeared. Suddenly, over 20 years later, it came back with a vengeance. First, on the hip street corners of Manhattan’s East Village. Then across town… uptown… then to young and artsy areas in cities across the U.S. Why?
Nobody, even the shoemaker, could tell.
Only that an idea started to build. It spread. By the time everyone noticed, it suddenly petered out again. It was too late. The trend had come and gone, elusive to all who’d tried to do anything but hang on for the ride.
Ideas are like that.
They catch on, they build, and then, just when you least expect it, they can recede out of popularity again. The best marketer is plugged in enough to see the swell of the wave coming, before it crests.
* Big Ideas Are Timely:
Related to the idea of momentum is the timeliness of an idea, especially when you’re selling information products. How so?
I write almost exclusively, these days, for financial products. My best promos tend to hinge on what’s happening in the markets.
For example, when oil sold at $147 per barrel, anything I wrote about oil and energy related investment products was almost a sure bet to do well.
In the mid 1990s, the market’s mind was elsewhere. You couldn’t say anything about investing without talking about the Internet, telecoms, or biotech.
When that market crashed in 2000, the tide of desire had shifted over night. Trying to write tech pitches suddenly became about as tough as talking a tabby into taking a dip in a hot tub.
Of course, the greatest asset you get by finding the timeliest ideas is that timeliness brings with a sense of urgency to your message. Maybe as a warning. Maybe as an unfolding opportunity.
But either way, you’re much better off when you’ve got that element to whatever you’re writing.
* Big Ideas Are Original:
Ideas feel biggest when you’re among the first to deliver the message. When you’re playing catch up to everyone else, not so much.
Even an idea that’s already current, already popular, and already talked about… gains new life when you can make it even more ‘new,’ simply by finding the extra twist.
This is why headlines built on “secrets” are so effective. We naturally want to read the story nobody else is telling.
The new angle… the new information… the overlooked discovery… there are many ways to do this. All of them, almost always, are buried in the unique details of the story you’re telling.
* Big Ideas Have Depth:
Yep, I said that ideas need to be simply and clearly expressed. But can you have clarity and substance, even in a short line?
Absolutely, you can.
When we say that Big Ideas need “depth” what we mean is richness and life-altering impact. Ask yourself; does the Idea suggest major change ahead? Is it something that will shock, awaken, or fascinate your reader?
If not, why would the reader want to read on? And why would you want to get the success of that letter… or your business… on something that thin?
* Big Ideas Are Emotionally Stirring:
Too often, we mistake the preponderance of proof behind an Idea as all the “Bigness” we need for selling.
With smugness, we script any old headline, knowing it’s just a set up to hit the reader with blazing, double guns of the most rock-solid bullet points and factoids you’ve ever seen.
Sure, proofs matter in persuasion.
But, in the end, the one thing that makes one Big Idea compelling beyond any other, is it’s ability to sneak behind that locked door of the mind, where the emotional reasoning resides.
It must make a connection with that core, unspoken, and perhaps unrecognized place where the reader’s heart really resides.
Are there other ways to know if you’ve got your mitts on a “big idea” or not? Absolutely, there are. But this is a pretty good start. Try putting your next piece of copy through these paces and see for yourself.
Last modified: May 6, 2019