Issue #141—October 22, 2021 Today you're in for a treat.. It's a special Guest Spot issue written by Gabriel Baumstark... one of my current copywriting mentees in my Fast Track to A-List program (I just opened the doors for next year's program. You can check out the details here.) When Gabriel first started working with me, he was still working full-time as a government lawyer in Berlin, Germany. He was fairly new to copywriting, but already had a few financial newsletter controls under his belt. Now, after just 20 months as a copywriter, he's written 5 financial newsletter controls. One recently cracked the $1 million revenue mark and a second one is close but not quite there yet. More importantly, Gabriel's been able to quit his full-time job as a lawyer, he's more than doubled his copywriting fees (and continues to increase them), and is also earning nice royalties. All of this is leaving him more free time to pursue his passion for electronic music on the side. Gabriel offered to write this week's Copy Insiders issue. He's a super-analytical guy with a PhD, so get ready to read a unique approach to coming up with "big ideas" that you can apply to any type of copy you write. It's certainly worked well for Gabriel! This unique approach involves legos. Heck, we've all played with Legos before, right? Maybe you've even been to Legoland... I'll never forget going to the one in Germany several years ago with my kids. I loved how the cafes served schnitzel sandwiches and large mugs of beer! Quite different from the Legoland in San Diego. Okay, without further ado (drumroll, please), here's Gabriel... This is going to make you THINK...but it will be well worth it! ***** How a bunch of Lego blocks help me write controls One of my favorite things about copywriting is that you don’t have to be in “work mode” to become better at your craft. If you keep your eyes open you can find nuggets that spark off ideas or that can help you become a better writer almost everywhere. Today I want to share one of those insights coming from an unexpected place. It’s from the book “Subtract” by engineering professor Leidy Klotz. This idea is easy to understand and can help you to substantially streamline your copy. At least that’s what it does for me. It all starts with this Lego setup:
Let's assume I'm going to pay you $1,000 if you can renovate the structure so that it will hold a real masonry brick above the little Lego person’s head without collapsing. There is a pile of other Legos you can use, but each one is going to cost $100 from your bonus.
This puzzle was part of a study conducted at the University of Virginia—and if you've already found the solution that earns you the whole $1,000, you're ahead of the majority of participants in the study (they could only earn $1 and each additional piece cost 10 cents but I wanted to spice things up a little).
Most people tend to grab some extra Legos and add three more bricks under the platform. But the better solution is to simply remove the existing support. The platform drops down and sits flush on the base below, still with enough clearance for Lego Guy. This puzzle demonstrates that our brains prefer addition over subtraction when we look for ways to fix or improve things. We tend to add things because taking things away in order to strengthen something requires more mental effort.
But that’s a problem when it comes to writing copy. Because our brains‘ tendency to add stuff conflicts with our goal: to guide prospects smoothly through the copy so they’ll eventually click that buy button.
If too many ideas cluster together, your prospects have to think too hard and are more likely to stop reading. It’s the opposite of Joe Sugarman’s proverbial “greased chute” that sends the reader all the way to the order form.
I’m certainly guilty of cluttering my first (and second and third) drafts with too many concepts. That’s why keeping this Lego setup in mind is so helpful. It’s a visual reminder to always ask myself, “is there something I can remove to make this better?”
Removing stuff doesn’t necessarily mean throwing it out altogether. Often it’s about giving an idea space to unfold before moving on to the next idea. When you write e-mail copy it can mean that your cluttered first draft is simply filled with so many ideas that you have enough material for three separate e-mails.
But if you find your copy to be crowded with a lot of concepts, it can also be an indicator of a weak initial idea. You might keep adding stuff as a support for something that’s not strong enough to stand on its own. Removing the clutter can reveal that an idea wasn’t good enough to pursue in the first place.
Let’s take a look at an example for this principle of subtraction. This is a sales page promoting a financial newsletter called “Nova-X Report” published by Money Map Press. Until recently financial publishers sent out a LOT of promos that were about next generation wireless 5G technology. I came across this promo quite often which indicates it was particularly successful...
As you can see, the headline and lead aren’t mentioning what’s so special about 5G. Although it’s safe to assume the prospect had at least a basic understanding of what 5G is.
Instead, they use a visual representation for 5G – “the mysterious M-Boxes” – and show that 5G is already starting to pop up everywhere. This demonstrates 5G is a real thing and already happening. The Washington Post quote in the eyebrow adds some extra credibility.
Interestingly, going against conventional copywriting wisdom, the lead brings up the big promise quite late. There’s a promise in the headline (“Spark a $12 Trillion 5G Cash Rush… Find out how to claim your share below”), but the lead only talks about these “mysterious boxes” for quite a while.
In total it gives six examples of where these boxes can be found and goes on to describe them (“Now, these boxes come in different shapes and sizes... Some are big... some are small... some don't even look like boxes…“). Only then we get to the promise that this could “change your financial life in ways most people only dream about...”
Some proof points follow as to how big 5G is (“CNBC reports that the opportunity is worth $12.3 trillion”) and a repetition of the big promise tying into this proof (“even a tiny sliver of this potential 5G $12 trillion windfall could change your family's financial status for generations to come...“). That’s essentially all there is to the lead. This approach is interesting because a promo on 5G could’ve started in a lot of different ways since there’s so much to explain.
For example, 5G is a lot faster than previous wireless networks and will make new applications like remote surgery or driverless cars possible. But this lead doesn’t talk about any of that.
It focuses on the “mysterious boxes” and includes a big promise. That’s it, no clutter here.
It’s radically reduced to one core idea that tells the prospect: there’s a huge money-making opportunity literally at every street corner and you’ve failed to notice it until now.
The reason this simple idea worked so well is probably because of its local relevance to the prospect (“Your neighborhood”). Usually people are interested in what’s happening close to them and the lead gets readers wondering, whether these boxes are already up in their streets. If this was only about NYC and San Francisco, for example, it’s likely that a lot less people would be drawn in.
These “mysterious boxes” are 5G antennas and the promo teases the stock of a company that makes them, in case you were wondering.
The rest of the promo goes on to explain what exactly makes 5G so exciting and why it’s such a big opportunity. Each section follows the pattern of laying out one clear idea before moving on to the next until all questions have been answered.
It’s worth taking a look at the whole promo as there’s a lot to study.
I hope you enjoyed this little ride from Lego to 5G and find the idea of subtraction helpful the next time you’re wondering how you can improve your copy. If you want to get in touch you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or add me on LinkedIn. *****
Thank you, Gabriel! That was a great financial promo example... and having a way to whittle down your "big idea" concept to its essential core is critical to creating a powerful message and making it as strong as possible.
It's what enables you to thread your "big idea" throughout your promo and take advantage of "the power of one" in order to amplify its impact.
Keeping it "simple" can be hard for so many of us...but Gabriel's method is a way around the kind of "overthinking" that so often happens. It's so tempting to want to say everything about a particular story or angle...but that's not the most effective approach. P.S. As I mentioned earlier, the doors are now open for my 2022 Fast Track to A-List mentoring program. You can find out all the details and reserve your spot here.
Here's what Gabriel has to say about his experience with this year's program:
“Being in Kim’s private mentoring group is the edge you need to supercharge your copywriting career. Her extraordinary experience and instinct helped me to uncover the blind spots that were holding me back from reaching the next level. If you have the chance to work with her then this opportunity is a no-brainer. And it doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced copywriter or are just starting out. Her training will give you everything you need to know to write killer sales letters that can keep royalties coming for years. But having Kim in your corner goes way beyond developing control beating copy skills. She’ll also help you navigate the business as a professional who knows how to maximize deals. Since I started working with her, I more than doubled my rates. Now I’m on a clear path to go even higher from here.”
Gabriel's put in the work to master copywriting concepts and apply them to the financial promos he's written. He's also a brilliant and analytical thinker, as you can tell. But all of us have "blind spots" that may be holding us back.
If you think you could benefit from the mentoring I do in my program and make 2022 a breakthrough year, then be sure to check out my Fast Track to A-List program details here.