When You Hit a Slump

Issue #63—April 26, 2019

This past Monday I found myself in a bit of a funk.

I'd gotten some sad news about a friend who's been heroically battling pancreatic cancer for more than a year and is now facing significant challenges.

I also heard last week about the passing of longtime copywriter and copy mentor Chris Marlow, which really shook me up. 

As long as I've been a copywriter, there's been Chris Marlow---putting out copywriter salary surveys,

publishing advice-filled articles, and helping countless copywriters launch and navigate their careers. Although I never worked with Chris myself, I know she truly made a huge difference for many.

When you hear sad news like this that really hits home (my friend coping with pancreatic cancer is about my same age), it makes you stop and think.

In some cases, it makes you stop and evaluate your whole life. Which actually isn't a bad thing to do now and then.

If you're not engaging with your work with the same energy and passion, maybe it's something to pay attention to. It could be time to evaluate the types of clients you're working with or the niche you're writing for.

It also could be something going on inside your head. It happens to all of us from time to time. Until you address it, you'll likely stay stuck in that "slump".

There are lots of "self-talk" messages you need to identify and banish from your mental chatter. One of the most powerful and emotionally raw Hot Seats from my recent Copywriting Velocity event was a perfect example.

Everyone in the room---including those at the highest levels of the A+ list, as well as those just starting out--could relate to this copywriter's feeling of no matter what they do or how hard they work, it's never enough.

It's like a gnawing insatiable hunger deep inside that keeps you from being as happy---and as creative and productive---as you could be.

What's your "enough"? What makes you happiest and proudest?

Going a bit deeper, identify your deepest yearnings--things like your desire to create, to express yourself, to connect, to belong, to be valued, or to make a difference. Try to become aware of any surface actions you're taking to constantly placate them.

For example, if you're constantly checking your email and social media, maybe you're seeking to connect or to matter...and you're addicted to these surface actions that really aren't serving you in the way you need.

Or if it's just a temporary "funk", find a way to snap yourself out of it. I wasn't sure I felt up to meeting up with my Improv pals Monday night, but I ended up going anyway. It was a beautiful night so we did our Improv games and skits outdoors in the park behind the library.

And it did the more funk. Getting outside myself is something Improv lets me's like being a kid again and going "outside to play".

After my Improv meet-up, I decided to browse the shelves of books at the library, something I hadn't done in a while. I came across the book "Pause" by Rachael O'Meara. I've just started reading it and it's talking about identifying all these yearnings and other factors that affect all of us from time to time.

The struggle is REAL

Let's face it--being self-employed is hard. Obviously it has lots of advantages over working for someone else. Not that working for someone else doesn't have its advantages, either---or can be tough or even soul-sucking from time to time.

But either way, you have to learn to be your own best cheerleader.

You will inevitably hit bumps in the road in your career, and you must always know how to pick yourself back up and keep going. It's one thing I always appreciated folks like Chris Marlow talking and writing about when I was starting out...and I'm still always learning how to do it, just like you!

Now let's move on to taking a look at a recent promotion that landed in my mailbox. I have to admit---when I critique these promos, I'm always worried I'm going to tick someone off.

However after last week's critique of a Dr. Sears promotion for an energy supplement, I got the following email from their copy chief...

Thanks for the tips for the re-energized piece. I sent them to the writer. We’ll definitely test some of your ideas...

He went on to clarify some things I had commented on about the outer envelope and the offer structure (I won't share as some of it could be confidential). Here's the rest of his email:

LOVE the “tongue trick” idea for outer envelope testing. And thank you for the order form tips. I’ve been making those mistakes.

You going to AWAI boot camp next month? I’d love to buy you a drink to thank you for this valuable insight.

I won't be able to take him up on his drink offer, as I'll be lounging on a beach in the Caribbean then (with a tropical umbrella drink in hand...) but I told him "next time."

In the meantime, let's see if this next mini-critique gets as nice of a response!

What's in Kim's Mailbox?

This promotion is for a curcumin supplement from Nature City. I know the owner of the company and not only is he a smart guy, he's a heck of a copywriter (although I know he works with freelancers on occasion as well). I'm not sure if this is his copy or someone else's, but let's take a look at the front cover of this "slim jim" self-mailer...

The bright colors and simplicity of the cover---without a lot of text or too much going on--grabs my attention, and the question headline draws me in. The copy and layout does a good job of moving your eyes down the page to the big red arrow pointing you inside.

At the top of the front cover it's casting a wide net: people who suffer from joint pain, digestive trouble, memory and mood problems, or blood sugar or cholesterol. I'm assuming through their research they decided there was a lot of confusion about turmeric vs curcumin. Many people may think they're basically the same thing.

So it's using curiosity to find out the answer to get the prospect inside. Then you turn the page and see this on page 2...

The main headline at the top of page 2 answers the big burning question in the headline on the front cover. But the copy that follows doesn't really explain why curcumin is better than turmeric, aside from citing the number of studies done on it (which begs the question, how many have been done on turmeric?)

It's also a little clunky how it's introducing the idea of a superior form of curcumin early on in the 6th paragraph. I feel like it could have planted the idea of a superior form of curcumin in a different way, that it takes the best parts of the compounds in turmeric and concentrates them in a way to make it produce much better results.

So maybe the answer to the "burning question" of which one is better should be "both!" or "neither!" Also while the increased absorption is impressive, I'm not sure that really matters as much to the prospect than the compelling proof that comes later (I'll get to it in a moment). But first let's look at the copy that continues on page 3...

Here's where I feel it gets a little confusing. The big reveal of the "secret ingredient your curcumin must have" is essential turmeric oil, which sounds a lot like turmeric, which you just told me was not as good. Plus curcumin comes from turmeric, so how can it be better?

I also feel this lead is taking a few too many twists and turns, where it could have led with the surprising idea of "both" or "neither" and then built up to the big secret being certain concentrated ingredients from both---basically taking the best from both.

I'd also play up the unique mechanism more clearly and consistently in terms of tying it to the increased absorption--and which end benefits that actually provides the prospect, i.e. "so you can enjoy greater joint comfort more quickly".

It's not till we get to page 6 that we come across what I feel could be brought up much earlier...some very strong study results that provide proof for why you need to take this superior "hybrid" form of curcumin:

"93% of users walking better and enjoying significantly reduced pain" is a dramatic study finding that should be teased about earlier on when introducing this unique form of curcumin. I'm not sure what the speed of result here was, but if it was impressive (say within a few months or less) it should be mentioned.

Plus counter-intuitively, there is something more believable about saying "93% of people enjoy significantly reduced pain" versus "100%". You say "100%" and people's BS-detectors start going off. You admit a small percent don't see a benefit and now they believe you're telling the truth (and that they'll be one of the 93%).

(Note: I used a similar strategy in my "98% Stanford Solution" joint supplement sales page that's been a strong control for the past year or so.)

Other compelling study results include the 52% (or "more than HALF") reduction in markers of inflammation and the 60% improvement in joint comfort which could be mentioned earlier as well.

And then there's that incredible sidebar showing the capsule next to the pile of's probably an even bigger pile that's the equivalent, and this idea alone could be a potential front cover idea, i.e., "Which would you rather take?" because most people are never going to use that much turmeric in seasoning their food on a regular basis.

On the previous page there is a full-page sidebar (which should never be put on the right-hand side of a spread since it acts as a "wall" separating the running copy) that lists a wide range of various study results that aren't nearly as impressive, and none of which have to do with joint pain.

Because most people take an anti-inflammatory supplement for joint pain, and because the studies are far more impressive for its effects on joint problems, I'd probably keep the cover and lead far more focused on solving this problem and not casting as wide of a net initially.

You could add additional "side" benefits later but by keeping it focused on being a breakthrough joint solution the promotion could be stronger, and also bring in more empathy for the prospect early on (there's none now).

That said, there are a number of things that are working quite well for this promo...and it did stand out in my "pile" with the simplicity of the messaging on the front cover and the strong curiosity component. Curiosity is truly a key part of any winning headline these days, online or off!

The more curiosity you can inject into your email subject lines, main headlines, lead magnet landing pages, or whatever you're writing these days, the better...

After all, these are curious times we live in! (to paraphrase an ancient Chinese proverb).

Okay, aside from this mini-critique, this was kind of a heavy issue. So let's end with something funny I came across on Facebook (yeah, I guess it good's for something...)

Emma, I definitely feel 'ya! Who else does?

Sounds like at some point I'll be writing you from my hut in the Bahamas in between bites of fish tacos and doing Improv! Thanks for clarifying my life goals, Emma...

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. If you wish you could have been at my live Copywriting Velocity event last month (it was amazing), I've got the next best thing coming up soon. And if you get on my priority list now, you'll be among the first to hear about it--plus get a special exclusive deal. Add your name and email here and you'll be hearing from me soon!

P.P.S. If you haven't checked out my Copy Insiders blog lately, you can find all of 2019's issues  here, along with assorted musings from 2017. You can also get all of 2018's issues in a insight-packed book dripping with copywriting and marketing "gold" here. (If you like "What's in Kim's Mailbox", you'll find 24 copy breakdowns right here, along with a link to a live call where I break down one of my current long-running controls!) Save 50% through the end of April with this code: CIHALF

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