Big Ideas

Copy is King?

Copywriter is kingThe battle rages on…

You’ve probably heard various versions of “Copy is King” or “Copywriting is King.”

MaryEllen Tribby declared it once again in a piece in the Huffington Post two weeks ago.

Content marketers take umbrage with that statement, as Brian Clark did with his post on Copyblogger a while back, “What’s a Content King Without a Kingdom?”

Then Copyblogger trumped their own proclamation with this blog post, which posited that context, not content was king.

Of course, high-flying Internet marketers like Frank Kern and Ryan Deiss would laugh at both and say it’s  all about marketing funnels and driving traffic.

Everyone things their discipline is the key factor, and the hardest to master.

So who’s right?

Ha! You think I’m getting in the middle of that one? No way.

I have a different take all together, and since none of the aforementioned gurus follow me, I probably won’t have to answer to them.

Look, all those things are important. Copy, content, the list, the offer, the marketing channels, the funnel or system – each plays a part, of course.

But I would say there’s one role that’s even more important…

The Idea Generator reigns supreme

Yes, the world is at your command if you can come up with Big Ideas on a regular basis.

It’s one of the key themes of my Ultimate Writing Retreat™ and one of the main reasons I’ve succeeded as an Independent Creative for five and a half years.

Your business will grow when you become known as someone who comes up with good ideas to help your clients make money.

You have to read like crazy, observe people and trends, and find a gap in the marketplace where there’s a demand that’s not being served.

Then you have to communicate effectively (read: sell your ideas) to people who can help you make those ideas happen. You have to connect with the marketers, venture capitalists, copywriters (unless you’re doing it yourself, which I’d recommend), and maybe technical people.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Copywriters are idea people

If you’re a copywriter, for example, you come up with ideas for your client before they “give you an assignment.” It could be as simple as suggesting a new welcome video and writing the script for it, or creating a true sales funnel for them to replace their two-step process.

It could mean reading the Wall Street Journal and New York Times everyday and noticing consumer trends.  Then you think of an idea to help serve people, come up with a great name, register the domain, and create an information marketing product and campaign to promote it.

I’ll let you in on something here, too. Most copywriters are more focused on the craft of writing copy itself than developing their idea-generating muscles.

Much easier to have someone tell you what they need than to come up with brilliant ideas for them, which you can then help put into action. The former won’t make you wealthy, the latter will.

Where do ideas come from?

You have to write, of course, and I try to put in 4-5 hours a day – writing for clients, my own personal projects, and for fun.

But I’m going to go against the grain here. Writing in and of itself won’t do anything to make you a better Idea Generator.

I know copywriters who spend countless hours every week practicing their craft by copying classic sales letters by hand. Not a bad idea if you don’t go overboard on it.

And certainly time spent writing on client projects will yield profits.

If you want to make money and build a business, however, your time is even better spent elsewhere. I maintain that you get ideas by spending lots of time reading, thinking, and having deep conversations with interesting people.

Here are five offbeat ways to do that:

1. Read outside of your niche. If you’re an alternative health copywriting specialist, read Forbes. Financial writer? Subscribe to Organic Gardening. You never know where the Big Idea for your next promotion will come from.

2. Read things you disagree with. Dyed-in-the-wool conservative? Go to the library and pick up Mother Jones (you might be surprised by common viewpoints). Progressive through-and-through? Read Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty.

3. Interview people you’d like to learn from. One of my plans is to interview celebrities – actors, athletes, and musicians, to start with. I’ve been interviewing people for almost five years for one of my clients, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Start with local “celebrities.” People love giving advice and ideas, and you can spin them into articles and possibly business ideas.

4. Follow someone you’ve never heard of. As direct response copywriters, we’re constantly told to learn from giants like Clayton Makepeace, Bob Bly, and John Carlton.

I’ve learned a lot from each of them myself, but I’ve also veered off the path lately. I’m incorporating ideas from a lesser known legend named Howard Luck Gossage and modern-day bestselling author and podcast master James Altucher.

5. “Connect the dots.” Go somewhere every day, unconnected to any device, and just think. After reading a lot and talking to interesting people, find a way to make connections based on observations, trends, your ideas, and others’ ideas.

Keep a journal with you at all times, and write down these ideas before you forget them. If you’re like me, you also have a favorite domain registrar where you rack up good domain names. I’m currently up to about 55, and surprisingly, many of them are in use and making me money.

The big takeaway

Copy is not king. Neither is content, context, or whatever you want to call it. Marketing systems and funnels will make your life a lot easier and more profitable, but they’re secondary.

First and foremost, you need to be able to come up with ideas.

Read more, think deeper, and have higher-quality conversations with interesting people. Then “connect the dots.”

I’d love to know – what is one way you generate ideas? Tell me about it here.

Steve Roller

Author Steve Roller

I'm a business coach, author, copywriter, world traveler (33 countries on five continents so far), and professional speaker. In addition to helping companies get more customers and make more money, I help other writers create profitable businesses. I offer one-on-one coaching, professional copy critiques, and live, in-person business-building workshops. When I'm not writing, coaching, or speaking, I enjoy nothing more than hanging out with my wife and four kids and planning my next adventure.

More posts by Steve Roller

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Victoria says:

    I like to read lots, then go away and do something like a crossword or a sudoku. It lets my subconscious process the information and join up the dots. When I go back to work, I get the great ideas.

    • Steve Roller says:

      Excellent idea, Victoria. I find any mentally challenging escape from writing helps my writing and idea-generating. Thanks for reading my posts, by the way.

  • Steve,

    Lately my sources of ideas are ‘celebrities’, my co-workers and teenagers.

    I have started interviewing ‘celebrities’ after I have read you suggesting it and the advantages are various including, in this case, ideas popping up like strikes.

    My co-workers because they live a life so distant from what I write about in my blog that they bring my feet down to the ground – not everything is fashion month!

    The other one is my daughter and her girlfriends. Teenagers talk different and look at life from another angle.

    Thank you Steve for keeping the conversation interesting.

    • Steve Roller says:

      You might find this site interesting, Francesca: I’m planning to join in October when I have some time to actually put it to use.

      You’re right about teenagers – they do have their own language and outlook on life. I have three right now, and in a year and a half, I’ll have four!

      Best wishes with everything you’re doing.

  • Michael Hicks says:

    Creativity trumps competition every time.
    Always has and always will.

    So for all of you copywriters who are worried
    that there might not be enough work to go
    around within your niche, just exhale and relax.

    The Kingdom you seek lies between your ears.

    Last month, I attended a 3-day business conference
    highlighting dozens of ways to live, work, travel
    and invest overseas. And even though over 400
    people attended the event, I kept a very low profile
    and elected to choose my conversations wisely.

    Instead of spreading myself thin and running myself
    ragged trying to talk to hundreds of people, I just stuck
    to myself and ended up conversing with less than two
    dozen folks, all of whom are incredibly bright and insightful.

    The result? We had much deeper and more thought-provoking
    conversations, all of which have spawned wonderful ideas
    that I’ll be able to craft into copy and add value to potential clients.

    So don’t go wide and shallow. Go small and deep. The more you drill
    down, the faster all the ideas you can handle will come gushing to
    the surface. But be sure and jot them down so you don’t forget.

    With an “idea strategy”, you can write your own ticket instead
    of waiting in line for admission to enter someone else’s show.

    Superb post, Steve. Keep up the great work!

    • Steve Roller says:

      Thanks, Michael. Glad to see you back here! That’s a great approach: “small and deep.” I like this, too: “With an ‘idea strategy,’ you can write your own ticket instead of waiting in line for admission to enter someone else’s show.”

      Best wishes with everything you’re doing. You have the right mindset to make it big.

  • Keith Sims says:

    Hi, Steve.

    Interesting post. There is so much diversity in the online world today that one can specialize and sub-specialize, using this technique or that, ad infinitum. “Copy is king”, however, has stood the test of time. And the biggest marketers in the business have quietly continued to make fortunes practicing this medium (DRM and the long copy sales letter–including VSL’s) because it still pulls in the dough. If other forms were that much more profitable, being profit minded, they would have long ago made the switch. I’m not saying, don’t do them. I’m not saying you can’t make a lot of money doing them. Just because the crowd is chasing BSO’s, does not mean that a successful approach–one that is feared to be on it’s way out–should be ignored or side-lined to make room for the new. I have been around long enough to remember when TV was supposed to destroy radio, and the internet was supposed to destroy TV. All are still around.

    To get ideas, I do many of the things you mentioned. If you’re not a little uncomfortable with something you’re reading, you probably won’t get many big ideas from it.

    I was at the 2013 AWAI conference when Drayton Bird took the stage. He lamented that the new copywriters he worked with were so ill read that many of the ideas they presented as new were anything but. Read the classics; read their copy. Swipe, swipe, swipe.

    The more I do read, the more I realize how seldom a new idea comes along, but I also live by the credo–in terms of copywriting–‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


    • Steve Roller says:

      Lots of great comments here, Keith. Thanks for sharing your insights. We’ll have to connect sometime, I have a feeling we’d have a few ideas to discuss. 🙂

  • Terri Scott says:

    First Steve, this is probably the best post I’ve read so far. My problem is that I constantly get ideas, but I’ve not been in a place to strategize, or implement. But, now I’m in a good place for both.

    I like how you mentioned that most people are on stand-by waiting for an assignment. That’s the employee model we’ve been taught all of our working lives. It’s a model in which the ideation, planning, marketing, funneling, etc., has all been done for us. We simply need to come to work, follow a blue print to the letter, and get paid a small wage for our contributions.

    And, this has made me aware of why employees are never paid enough; as hard as they may work physically, they usually don’t have to come up with the harder creative work. On the other hand, entrepreneurs do. And, this is why the entrepreneur will eventually out-earn the employee by the ten-fold.

    It’s the old “Give a man a fish” vs. “Teach a man how to fish”. The one who understands how to fish, where to fish, what type of fish is more filling, how to capture the most premium fish for their time and energy, etc., will never go hungry. Even if they stop “fishing” for a time, they’ll always have the skills to fill the coffers again.

    You also mentioned another good point: There are so many gurus, mentors and “voices” out there, telling us all that their way is correct, and everyone else is wrong. It’s enough to cause paralysis of the analysis!

    Again, coming from an employee background, most folks like me want the blueprint, the groundwork, the instructions that we can learn, master, and earn money from.

    Problem is…things just aren’t that simple in the entrepreneur world! The truth is, part of our growth as entrepreneurs is learning how to create our own blueprint, groundwork, etc., all on our own. It’s a scary proposition, and we could fail!

    At the end of the day, I’ve learned to do like you’ve suggested: Focus on the voices who are right for me, and what I want to do. Also, I’ve realized that with everything I want to do, and with everything I’m capable of doing, I can’t do everything at once.

    But, as the anxiety and the pressure of attempting to listen to everyone and do everything fades away…I find that I’m actually becoming more productive!

    Thanks for the post, and for allowing this long comment. 🙂

    • Steve Roller says:

      You’re welcome, Terri. I’m really looking forward to our live Chat soon! You’re on the right track, and I’m glad to hear you’re now in a situation to start implementing. Press on.

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