The Vicious Little Reader in My Head (And Why It’s Made Me a Better Copywriter)

For as long as I’ve been a copywriter (10 years and counting now), I’ve had a voice in my head. Sounds strange, I know.

Sometimes she’s female. Sometimes he’s male. But one thing remains the same: This voice is almost exclusively negative.

This is not the voice of a caring, concerned mentor who wants to spare my feelings about that blog post that I stayed up all night to write, or the landing page copy that I rewrote six times.

No, this is the voice of an editor who demands perfection, who expects me to ruthlessly cut extra words, who pushes me to get to the point faster.

It’s the voice of my insanely busy, stretched-too-thin reader who wants to know what I have to say, but can only give me a few minutes (or seconds) to hear exactly what that is.

I even gave this voice a name. I call it the “vicious little reader.”

Over the years, this vicious little reader (VLR for short) has started asking a predictable series of questions that force me to evaluate my own writing. If you’re writing anything that will be published online (from emails to blog posts to landing pages), these questions can also help you edit your own work.

(Hint: Asking yourself these questions is a powerful first step towards becoming a more effective copywriter for your business.)

VLR Constantly Asks: “Who Are You Writing This For?”

“Who are you writing this for again?”

That’s one of my VLR’s favorite snarky questions.

When you’re writing for your business, it’s your job to know exactly who you’re writing to on any given day. You should understand who your ideal reader is, where that person is coming from, what makes this ideal reader tick, and inspires them to take action.

You want your ideal reader (or customer) to know that you really “get” them. You know what they’re going through. You know what it’s like. That’s why you have the solution they’re looking for.

Again, this ideal reader may change depending on what you’re writing. So as you begin to write, ask yourself:

  • Who is the person who will get the most value from what I’m saying/selling? What is this person like? Why do they want this information? What kind of language would they respond to? Why do I consider this person part of my target audience and a potential customer for my business?
  • Where is this person coming from? Are they a stranger who found me through a Facebook ad? Are they an avid fan who’s following me on Twitter? Are they one of my lifetime customers already on my email list? (Where they come from, and how well they know you and your work, will impact how you speak to them.)
  • What’s their emotional state? What keeps this person up at night? What stops them from doing what they love to do? What drives them to make their decisions? What makes them feel stuck? What fulfills them like nothing else? (These emotional triggers will influence how you write to this person, and describe the benefits of your product or service.)

The more questions you can answer like this, the better you understand this person. And the better you can craft compelling copy that speaks directly to your ideal reader’s situation.  

VLR Wants to Know: “How Does This Apply to Me?”

“Excuse me, how does this apply to me?”

My VLR wants to know what’s in it for her.

Take it from me. Even after 10 years as a copywriter, it’s possible for me to overlook this step, and forget to explain how whatever I’m saying (or selling) directly applies to my ideal reader.

I can’t emphasize enough how necessary this is.

When you’re writing for your business, it’s up to you to show your ideal reader “what’s in it for them” and how whatever you’re writing about (or selling) directly impacts your reader’s life in a very specific way.

If you forget to explain how whatever you’re saying applies to your reader, then you can’t reasonably expect that your reader will make these mental leaps on their own. (Frankly, they shouldn’t have to. That’s your job as a copywriter.)

There are countless ways to connect the dots for your reader and show them how whatever you’re writing about applies to their situation. Here are four of my favorites:

  • Add a Live Demonstration: This is where videos or webinars come in handy. If you’re explaining a complex topic, filming a quick Screenflow or Camtasia video with a live demo can show your readers exactly how what you’re saying can improve their lives. 
  • Give Specific Examples: Nothing is quite as powerful as saying: “Let me give you an example of exactly how you can use this idea/product.”
  • Share Case Studies: A well-placed case study shows how your customers or other individuals are already implementing your ideas or using your specific product. That alone can reveal to your readers how they could take action on your ideas. 
  • List Action Steps or Takeaways: Spell out exactly how your readers can apply your ideas to their lives by telling them what to do next. (This list is a quick example of what these action steps might look like.)

Any one of these techniques can help strengthen your writing and prove to your ideal reader that you know exactly what’s it in for them.

The Question That Keeps Repeating: “Why Should I Care?”

“And, why should I care about this, again?”

My VLR asks this over and over (and yours should too).

Constantly ask yourself: “So what? Why should my reader care about this?” forces you to evaluate and reevaluate your own writing—maybe even your product or service.

Just asking this question helps your writing in two ways:

1. As an editor: You can easily slash unnecessary words or axe whole extra sections from your writing. As an exercise: Go through one of your landing pages or blog posts paragraph by paragraph and ask: “Why should my readers care?” Then ruthlessly edit out any paragraphs that don’t have a good answer.

2. As a copywriter: You can uncover phenomenal, never-before-imagined benefits for your product or service if you just keep asking: “So what? Why should my customer care?” about every product/ service feature. I’ve heard this copywriting technique called the “So What? Test” or “deepening the benefits.”

Let me give an example of how this copy technique works.

Let’s say you created a new app that lets you master speed reading. The major feature/ benefit listed of your app might be: “Read 50% faster in 10 minutes.” If you were to apply the “So What? Test,” it might lead you down this path:

  • Feature/ Benefit: “Read 50% faster in 10 minutes.”
  • So what? That means you can read your work materials in half the time.
  • So what? That means you can get work done faster and leave the office on time.
  • So what? That means you can spend more time at home.
  • So what? That means you can be a Super-Mom/Super-Dad and still have your career.

That’s what “deepening the benefit” means. It means saying “so what” until you figure out exactly how your product or service could potentially change your customers’ lives. Then, as a copywriter, you can use these enhanced benefits to create new copy.

Exercise: Look over the benefits of your product. Ask yourself “So what?” for each benefit.  Are there any “deeper benefits” that you haven’t thought of yet?

I’d love to hear: Which copy techniques are you planning to use in your own business? Are there any specific copy topics you’d like to see us cover in a future workshop, webinar, or blog post? Please drop them below in the comments.