Copywriter Colin Theriot joins Rob and Kira for the 104th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. Colin is well known as the leader of the Cult of Copy (as well as four or five other related Facebook groups). He often jumps into the club to answer questions or comment on something, and we thought it was about time to talk shop with him. In our discussion, we covered:
• how Colin became a copywriter
• why he started The Cult of Copy
• the short cut to getting people to know who you are
• how beginning copywriters can create a copy learning experience
• the most important thing for beginners to learn (this skill is portable)
• his philosophy for running more than one Facebook group
• why he offers a “jobs” group and why you probably shouldn’t use it
• the five Vs of the Viking Velociraptor Formula <– this is gold
• the “artist vs. cabinet maker” mistake copywriters tend to make
• the scalability secret for earning more by doing less
• why you need to treat your business like a business
• why he tells copywriters to read books that aren’t copywriting books
Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:The Cult of Copy
Understanding Comics by Scott McLoud
Books by Elmore Leonard
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Kira: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join the club for episode 104, as we chat with Copywriter and cult leader Colin Theriot about starting a cult and running a Facebook group with nearly 25,000 members. The 5 Vs of the Viking Velociraptor Formula, what most copywriters are doing wrong today and why, when asked about his favorite books about copywriting, he doesn’t recommend books about copywriting.
Kira: Welcome Colin.
Rob: Hey Colin.
Colin: Hi guys. Thanks for having me.
Kira: Yeah, great to have you here.
Kira: So Colin, let’s kick this off with your story. How did you end up as a copywriter?
Colin: I was working at an internet marketing company. It was an eCommerce company. I was working there as a graphic designer/SEO analyst/content writer. One of the owners of that eCommerce site and his other marketing partner in other ventures, they decided to launch this thing called StomperNet and I was working there making their web pages at the time, so I helped them, stayed up on launch night, making some HTML for that. And they launched it and it was a big record breaking launch. I think was like $24 million at the time. And so I got called over from the eCommerce site to go work on that. And then while we were wiring, my boss at the time, Andy Jenkins, his house for Wi-Fi so we could work there legally, while I was doing that, the writer we had on staff at the time, I can’t remember to this day if she was sick or if we were just busy and had too much stuff going on, but it was sort of like a voluntary basis, ‘Hey, we need this sales letter rewritten, because we’re about to relaunch with all these new features we’ve added.’ So I took a shot at it and Andy was like, ‘This is pretty good. Do you like doing it?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah. It’s easier than wiring your house for Wi-Fi.’ And he’s like, ‘Well cool, because you’re the chief marketing copywriter, so get good at it.’
Over the next, I think it was a little under two years, I worked with all the high end marketing faculty they had there that were all copywriters in their own right and written things and sold their own products for years. And I got to write all the emails for their list of 100,000 subscribers that they had left over from the launch. I got to write all their blog posts, all the affiliate promos, all the slides. I wrote a draft, at least, of everything we’ve ever launched. They had a lot of chefs in that kitchen, as it were. So, I didn’t necessarily write the final draft of everything, but I had input and I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was basically like hard core Copywriting University, because before I started doing the job, I had no idea you could even be a copywriter. I just kind of presumed advertising was written by somebody that worked at the company, in there as a side project. I didn’t realize it was a highly paid specialist field or anything.
But I picked it up, I learned on the job. And then I went freelance when that company changed hands, the bosses had what I refer to as a business divorce, and they went their separate ways, so I went freelance at the time. I worked freelance for a few years while starting a little community for other copywriters who were doing the same thing I was. Started on Skype originally and then I moved it to Facebook, because I was goofing off on Facebook more and I wanted to justify it, so I’m like, ‘If I’m going to be spending all this time on Facebook, I may as well be trying to build something valuable for myself.’ And that group was The Cult of Copy. And here we are five years later. End of 2012 is when I started the Facebook group.
Rob: That’s a great road to success, I think. I’m curious, when you went from that switch from being the in-house writer, where you’re having this fantastic experience learning all of the copy to doing your own thing, how did you make that transition? How did you find your next clients from that experience.
Colin: It worked out really good. Again, I’ve got to give credit to Andy Jenkins, basically he launched Video Boss for himself not long after he left StomperNet. And he just hired me to work on that with him. And then he was getting his own client work to do marketing. And since I had been the guy who actually wrote the copy everyone thought he wrote. I want to point out he was super open, he told everyone I was the house copywriter, but still, on the public facing side, all those sales letters were from Andy Jenkins even though I helped write them.
So he hired me to do work with him. And then when people would ask him who he recommended, he would refer to them to me. And generous guy that he was, he did me a solid to where I didn’t even tell him what I charged, he just told them what he thought I should charge, so that was a nice surprise starting out when you just get a huge check before you’ve even discussed what the payment is, because Andy told them what I charged already.
Basically, you can tell from my story that I didn’t want to be a writer of any kind necessarily, like I’ve been good at it, but I don’t have a novel in my brain that I’ve been kicking around. I wasn’t looking to be a writer. It’s a skill that was easy for me to pick up on, but when I went freelance, it was never my goal to have a 30 year long career in copywriting. I didn’t want to be an A-lister. I don’t necessarily, wasn’t looking to be famous as a copywriter in any kind of way. What I really wanted to do was, since I had done the work for the guys at StomperNet writing all of their material, the way they made their money was basically by being a recognized authority, a recognized expert in marketing and conversion, and from that position, from that perceived precision in the marketplace, they could sell anything very easily. And I know it was easy, because I was the one doing all the writing.
So, I knew that I knew how to do the work part to make the money. I just didn’t have a reputation yet. So the idea was to as quickly as possible, instead of trying to write a bunch of copy and build a reputation that way, I wanted to get on stage and talk at events as fast as possible, because I knew that was the shortcut to having everybody know who you are and what you do. And then once you’re in that position, then it becomes a lot easier to market yourself, because people have heard of you.
And really the goal was to transition out of doing client work as a copywriter as fast as possible to get into doing what I do now, which is training and consulting and critiques and all that stuff, where you use the same knowledge that you had used as a copywriter, except I don’t have deadlines, I don’t have launch stress, I don’t have people nitpicking my work and me having to take my name off of it. So it’s like, for me anyway, all the fun parts of being a copywriter with none of the bad parts that sometimes clients can bring to the table.
Kira: Right. So it sounds like you were clear from the beginning about what you wanted and what you didn’t want?
Colin: I think a lot of people look at my career as a copywriter and it seems like the decisions I made were strange, but they’re only strange if you think I wanted to be a copywriter for a very long time. When really, it was just, copywriting was the most valuable thing I knew how to do to be able to build an authority position on the knowledge that I have as a copywriter continues to be what actually makes me my money, I just don’t deliver it as a service where I write your sales letter for you for hire anymore.
Kira: Right. You got it early on, hey this authority building thing works. This is how I can build my business. You mentioned speaking on stage helped. What can other copywriters do to build their authority when they’re relatively new and no one knows who they are?
Colin: In addition to being able to speak on stage, that’s a huge one, just because, first of all, there’s a little competition as a copywriter, if you want to try and speak at events. Because typically, copywriters are introverts, that’s why they became a writer in the first place. And I’m also an introvert, it stresses me out to be around people, but I can do it. I don’t have social anxiety, it’s just not my favorite thing to be in a crowd. But being able to be on stage and talk with ease about your topic and not only that, being able to answer questions live from the audience, positions you as an authority in a way that is very hard to do with any amount of writing or promoting or marketing. Just because, people are scared of public speaking, so the fact that you can do it, makes them automatically admire you in a subconscious way. And then that just elevates everything else you’re going to talk about. You seem larger than life when you are able to step on a stage.
So that one really helps. That said, you can also do the same thing in video, if it’s the right kind of video, which is to say, if you’re trying to use video to build yourself up as an authority, you want to be able to portray that instantaneous comfort and ease with your subject, so doing Facebook lives are very good for that, where it’s obviously one take and you’re interacting with a live audience, versus having something that sounds like you’re reading it off a script that’s been pre-prepared. That can also work, it’s just not as good at instantly giving people the impression that you know what you’re talking about, because there you are doing it.
So in addition to doing that, I would say, the big one I see is a lot of copywriters know that they want to try and put content out there to demonstrate their expertise, but they sort of present it as just flat information, which puts it on par with everything else anyone can learn about copywriting anywhere else on the Internet. But what you should do instead is position that exact same information as an experiential story. So instead of saying, ‘Here’s three ways to write effective headlines’, you say, ‘I had a client who came to me and the reason their offer wasn’t converting is because they had bad headlines. So here’s a formula that I use to help out my clients and it helped this client. Here’s how you can reword three headlines really quickly when a client needs one.’
It’s the exact same information, but now you’re actually using that information to jam your authority positioning into their brain involuntarily almost. Like it has to piggyback with the content and they can’t help but learning that little bit about you, which is to say, ‘you’re in business, you have clients, they like you, you’re an expert.’ All of those things piggyback instead of just trying to give them flat information that doesn’t say anything about you. So I would say a big tip for beginners is to make sure you’re always telling a story about yourself when delivering the knowledge that you have.
Rob: I love that tip. I think it’s really helpful. And as we talk about beginners, I think that we listen to your story Colin and hear you had this awesome experience working with Andy, where you’re basically in this University of copywriting for a year or two while you pick up the skills. A lot of people listening might think, ‘Well, that’s easy for him. He had that unique opportunity.’ Is there a way that somebody starting out today who maybe doesn’t have that same connection or that same lucky opportunity can recreate that Copywriting University experience in the first year of their business to learn the same kinds of things that you learned?
Colin: I would say, if at all possible, try and get a job doing marketing at a company that does the kind of marketing that you want to learn how to do. That can’t always be feasible, but I really feel like how great is it to just learn on somebody else’s dime. You know. You’ll pick up what you need to learn. And not only that, when you’re learning in that context, you learn the other aspect of the business beyond just writing the copy. I feel like that was very handy for me too, because I understood things like contracts and being set up as a corporation and taxes and those kind of things, because I had worked inside of a small business versus just, I know how to write copy, how do I use that to make money as a legal entity and that kind of thing.
But I would say if you can’t get a job doing it yourself, the fastest way that I know of to get yourself out there and established is to start selling. It’s not about studying, it’s not about reading the right books, it’s not about knowing which copywriter wrote which letter and which year for which company. It’s selling stuff. So sell some things around your house and write ads for it. Find products that you can be an affiliate of and try to promote those. Write material that promotes you and the services you sell as a copywriter. And when those things start working, then you can be a freelance copywriter with confidence because you know how to sell things.
A lot of times I’ll see people say, ‘I’m a copywriter and I don’t know how to find leads.’ Or, ‘I don’t know how to close leads when I get them.’ And I’m like, ‘What is it you pretend to sell, businesses as a service, if you can’t do it for yourself?’ And that’s not to admonish anybody about it, because beginners, you’ve got anxiety and self-esteem rolled up into it when you’re a freelancer and timid and just starting out. But the fact that you can find someone who can use your service and convince them to hire you to do it is a self-proving method of letting them see the value in what you do. If you can convince them to give you money, then it goes without saying that you can probably convince their prospects to turn around and give them money, since you know that trick. Right? It’s sort of self-explanatory thing. So I would say, focus on your own marketing materials and then as a side gig, to develop your own portfolio, if you’re not getting clients yet, write material for affiliate products, because then you’re practicing, but also if the practice works, you make money even though you don’t have a client on tab.
Does that make sense?
Rob: Totally. For sure. I mean, it’s all about getting the right kind of experience and projecting yourself as an expert, but beyond projecting yourself, you have to actually have the skills that you’re pretending to sell. So yeah, it totally makes sense.
Colin: I mean, what’s great about it is, a lot of the old school copy material was developed in the 70s and early 80s and it was all direct mail. And this idea that you had to develop into a mental marketing master before you could do a campaign was because your client was going to not just pay you, but they’re going to spend 10 grand on paper and ink and printing presses to run this ad and get it in front of prospects and if it flops, they don’t just lose your fee, they lost the 10, 15, $25,000 that they spend to run that ad that you wrote bad copy for.
But in this Internet age, that cost, that overhead is gone. So it’s basically so cheap as to be free to test advertising material. So you as someone who is learning, you don’t need this safety net of being scared, because you can test and fail quickly, almost invisibly, until you get good. And when you find that you’ve gotten good, being good at selling things on the Internet is generally very portable. It’s not largely different to sell this guy’s information versus that guy’s service versus this other guy’s eCommerce stuff. The principles that sell things on the Internet are pretty universal. So once you learn it, once you get a grasp of it and you understand it and you start to be able to, when someone brings you a problem and you have five ideas how to solve it, that’s when you know you’re ready to go, to where you’ve got the solutions that are coming to you almost as second nature to help people who come to you for that help.
Kira: I love that you mentioned that it’s solving problems too, because for a lot of newer copywriters who might feel like selling feels overwhelming and uncomfortable. If you just look at it and look at a sales call like you’re just trying to sell a problem, it just takes the pressure off. At least for me, it takes the pressure off.
Colin: I think a lot of people who first get into copy think it’s about describing the product and how great it is and why people would want it. Really the first thing you need to do is let the prospect know that you understand that they have a problem. And then describe it back to them in more detail and with more understanding than they currently have, which means in their minds, subconsciously they think, ‘Well, he knows more about my own problem than I do. Therefore, whatever solution he’s going to recommend is going to be the right one’, because they want someone to solve the problem for them and they don’t know how to do it.
So if you can demonstrate to them that not only do you know that problem, you know it very, very well beyond what even they know about it. They’re going to trust your diagnosis, whatever that is, and, ‘Surprise! I happen to have a product or a service that is exactly what you need.’ And they’re going to think, ‘Well, that must obviously take care of all these problems that I have, since he knew all about those problems and what they feel like and how they bother me. What parts of my life they mess up. He gave me a full diagnosis so I’m going to trust the cure that he’s going to recommend.’
Kira: I want to shift gears and ask you about the cult. So, you mentioned 2012, you’re starting to get clients, but you started spending time on Facebook and wanted a good reason to spend time on Facebook, so you started a community. Can you just talk about why a cult? And what those early days looked like. Did you know that you wanted to grow something really big? Or did it happen more organically?
Colin: As part of that plan that I talked about before, where I really wanted to parlay as brief, as brief as possible copy career into that sort of easy authority figure that can sell into the marketplace. I knew part of that was having a community, having a fan base, because that’s really what you need to get started as a quote-unquote ‘guru’ is, you have to have a following. I had already been giving talks. I had been doing a live streaming web show weekly on somebody else’s network that had several other people doing shows. This was before everybody had podcasting apps on their smartphone. Podcasting wasn’t even a thing yet, really, so I was doing that kind of thing, but I didn’t have anywhere for that audience to go, other than maybe subscribe to my email list, but I still, to this day, don’t like sending emails, because I used to write them for clients, and I don’t read email as a person. I might check my email maybe once every couple of weeks, so I don’t mess around with email. I needed somewhere, as a community, to put my fan base and just bomb them with value, and then that way, it sort of operates like a mailing list.
You know they’re there, and they’re warm, and they’re excited about the subject, so whenever I want to make an offer, they’re ready for it without me having to do anything. I think Facebook groups are ideal for that, because if you set them up right and get them going in the right way, they can be self-perpetuating where 99% of the content is user-generated, and if you create a strong ownership and community vibe, it’s self-policing also. Before the call, when I was chatting with Rob, he mentioned that it’s crazy that I run a group that large and I don’t have any administrative help.
It’s because a lot of times, like spammers will show up, and then they cause trouble, but the group knows that it doesn’t belong there, so they’ll make fun of the spammer so hard that he’ll quit and delete his post before I even wake up, so I’ll wake up and see a bunch of notifications that lead to a dead end, and I’ll have to ask like, ‘Guys, did somebody spam the group while I was asleep?’ Then they’ll tell me about it, some of whom will have screenshots will put them up, and everybody makes fun of it together, but really, that’s the key to having a group as an asset for your business is, you want it to be a self-perpetuating community that they feel like belongs to them as much as it belongs to you. The idea with the cult was, I’m spending a bunch of time on Facebook. That’s why it ended up on Facebook, but I’m glad it worked out at the time so I didn’t have to set up a website with forum software or something, because if that was the case, I probably still wouldn’t have done it.
Rob: We talk a little bit about the voice of the group too, Colin, because I think there are so many copywriting groups out there, right, that, like our group and there are others, and yours also has a really unique, almost like a USP or a brand voice. I’m guessing that was intentional.
Colin: You had asked about the cult angle, and really, it ties into that idea that the things that I found most interesting about persuasion don’t come from sales books like sales training books or … Not to diss on them, but let’s just say they’re not for me. They’re not my favorite kind of reading. They’re cheesy. They’re sleazy, in some cases. I guess what we’re talking about when it comes to persuasion is covert manipulation of human behavior. That can sound evil. It can sound bad, but, I mean, it’s the same thing as offering a kid a treat if he’ll go take his bath and put his pajamas on and get ready for bed.
The things that I found were most valuable for that weren’t coming from salesmanship, but they were coming from things like looking at propaganda, or cult leaders, or con artists, or TV televangelists is another thing that I’ve studied, these people who convince other people to do what they want with what seems almost like magical powers, but they’re really not magical powers, like you look at a lot of weird cult leaders, they have no education, even. They’re just doing innately something that clicks with even smart people. Cults don’t just get weirdos to join them. A lot of times, it’ll be like rich, successful people conned into following someone who doesn’t have their best interests in mind.
That was always fascinating to me, and there wasn’t any place that was kind of looking at persuasion in that way, and I think the reason for that is, as a businessperson, I can see why you wouldn’t want to be promoting that, ‘We give you all the best stuff from cult leaders and con artists in our sales messages.’ I could see why someone wouldn’t want to hinge their reputation on that, but I guess at the time I was sort of thinking like, ‘I’m not trying to have this long career in copy. Maybe this is something that I can do for the marketplace that’s not already there and sort of take ownership of that dark side of copywriting and bring it over.’ That sort of was the underlying idea of what I wanted to do as a sort of USP. Not for me and my service as a copywriter, but for like the community and the idea behind the products that would eventually come. What is it that we do differently?
I think that was something, I don’t know, it just appealed to me. It’s got a little bit of a seductive vibe to it, I guess, because it sounds like it’s the same reason teenagers like heavy metal music. It seems wicked, but it’s not really. It’s safe exploration of evil things, maybe, like a sanitized version, I guess, but yeah, that’s kind of what I was going for. Then from that, I definitely developed like a voice in the content that I create for the group, because I do try and have that tongue-in-cheek sort of magician showing you the secret of the trick. I’ll talk about prospects as marks, and rubes, and things like con artists refer to them just to give it that flavor. Right? But yeah, I’m not actually evil, I promise.
Rob: Talk a little bit about how The Cult of Copy has grown, because you’ve gone from one group, which now has almost 25,000 members, like we mentioned, to also adding a job board. Then there’s The Cult of Copy Training Wheels, and then there’s the PR Department, and The Colosseum. You’re all over Facebook.
Colin: I’ll tell you, it’s funny, because people are like, ‘Was it your plan to have all these various things?’ No. What it was is that if you look at those groups and how large they are, that is the degree to which they became annoying to me to be things that kept popping up in The Cult of Copy, so the jobs group was the first spinoff, and I got tired of people posting copy jobs in the discussion group. Because of the way Facebook groups work, the people interested in that post would keep it popping up to the top, but by definition, a job post is only going to be interesting to a subset of the group. That got to be annoying, and I felt like it was taking value away from what I liked about the discussion group, so I broke off a group just for job offers. Then it became the same thing with the Colosseum where, ‘Hey, review my copy.’
Again, not very valuable for everyone in the group, but because of the nature of how Facebook group works, it would keep popping that topic up to the top of the group. It was getting undue real estate because of the nature of the way that you interact with Facebook groups relative to how actually interesting it would be to everyone, so by breaking those things off into discrete groups, it kept the main group clean, which is what I cared about, and then it actually did work out to give the people who wanted those things what they want in a better way. Now, I think, for example, posting a job in the jobs group will give you more value than trying to post it in the main group, because that’s what people are there looking for exclusively, but it wasn’t ever part of a master plan. It was really like, ‘Is this giving my discussion group that value that I want it to have as a user of that group?’
That’s really how I make all decisions for The Cult of Copy is, ‘What do I want to see as a member of that group? Is it giving me that?’ Like when I go and read my own group, do I like what I see there? If not, is it something that I don’t like because it doesn’t belong there, or is it something I don’t like because it’s not fitting in with the purpose of being a discussion group, but it is still related to copy? If yes, then does it happen with enough frequency to justify its own group? The few times that that’s happened, it’s worked out. I don’t really touch any of those other groups unless somebody reports something to me that shouldn’t be there, but really, those groups are kind of self-running, because they give people what they want to be there for, so that’s worked out pretty good.
Kira: I was going to ask you about the jobs group, if you see what’s working and what’s not working, because I feel like new copywriters want to land these jobs, but there’s typically so much competition, there’s one post and 20 people posting. How, if you are new and you want to land one of these jobs, is there a right or wrong way to do it, from what you’ve seen? Because I haven’t really studied that space.
Colin: I never had to use that space either. The thing, for me, is, if you want to be a copywriter, you should learn basic marketing principles, because that’s what copy is comprised of. One of the easiest principles that you can use in marketing is to find an arena where you have no competition for what it is that you’re trying to sell. A jobs group, by definition, is not that, because you’re automatically in competition with every other person who wants that job, not to mention the fact that the job exists and therefore the person posting the job wants there to be competition, but if you find the kinds of businesses that you think you can help, even if they’re not posting jobs, you can pitch them for work.
You can show them that you’re familiar with what they’re doing. You can give them suggestions that you think would help, and you can make it easy for them to hire you and make it cost-effective, you’re all of a sudden not in competition, because the job doesn’t exist until you invented it to pitch to them, and no one else is trying to take it from you. You’re the person putting it out there. I think copywriters kind of get caught up with this idea that either you’re going to hang up your shingle and say, ‘Hey, I’m a copywriter. Come hire me,’ and that’s going to happen, or that you have to go look where the copy jobs are, but really, it’s way better and way more profitable, actually, go find businesses that need your help and pitch it to them in a cost-effective way. As the owner of a jobs group, what I’m saying is, what you really want to do is not use that jobs group.
Kira: Get out of the group people.
Colin: Yeah, and I mean, like if you like picking up little jobs here and there, and the group works for you, that’s great. That’s awesome. I would say if you’re hurting for work and you feel like those jobs are just getting taken away from you, even if you got to go local and take it offline. Like every week, I got to throw this free advertising newspaper in the recycling bin when I take the trash out, because I never read it, but they throw it in front of my house every day, but I’ve checked it out one or two times, and it’s basically just a bunch of local businesses with horrible ad copy. You know they’re paying to put it in there. That’s all opportunities for someone that would want to go track those people down and offer them, ‘Hey. I can fix this and make it better for you. If it doesn’t work, I get to put it in my portfolio and you don’t have pay me, but if it does work, pay me a percentage of your savings.’ Right?
That’s an example of making it a win-win, where you get the client a result. As long as you charge less than what that result, they’re happy, because that’s free money you found them, and you’re paying yourself out of extra money they made, so who wouldn’t take you up on an offer like that? There’s so much work you can do and make that arrangement where you’re not taking money away from them. You’re giving them a bunch of extra money and only asking for a little bit of it back. That was my bread and butter as a copywriter in between launch projects when I was still freelancing is going to my existing clients, or people who knew who my existing clients were, so I could say, ‘Hey, I helped this guy out doing this. It looks like you’re trying to do the same thing. How about I rewrite your email campaign for you for a percentage of the profits?’ Something like that.
Rob: Great advice. Colin, I want to switch gears just a little bit and ask you about some of your copywriting formulas, or … Maybe the one sticks out most to me, and that’s the Viking Velociraptor Formula. Tell us what that is, and why you chose such a unique name for it, and how it’s used by copywriters to get results for their clients.
Colin: A long time ago, I wrote this article that was like, ‘30 things that start with the letter V that you can use.’ It was 30 irresistible influencers, or something like that, and just as a quirk, I don’t know, I like messing around with words and things, they all started with the letter V. It’s one of those things that if you like writing, you start playing a game with yourself while you’re writing it, so maybe the first four I thought of, I thought of a V word, and then I’m like, ‘Well, now they all have to start with V,’ so I had to go get a dictionary and start messing around with it, but over time, that list fell into a formula. The first three parts of the formula are what mattered, and then I would kind of swap out the other ones. Then I realized they all basically generally fell into two categories.
That meant five things in the formula, which is cool, because five is the Roman numeral V, so that was a nice little happenstance. Then the five steps all start with V, and they are verify, validate, vantage, values, and villains. The way the formula works is, it’s sort of like that tip that I told you, where instead of just giving someone your information, you want to give it a context so that all of the information in that context piggybacks along with the information, and they can’t help but learn that, too. If I’m teaching you a valuable tip, but I give it to you in the context of, ‘I’m a professional marketing consultant, and this is something I developed for a client as part of my work,’ now all of a sudden, you’ve learned all that stuff about me, and it puts a new context on that information.
I did a talk for the group recently where I said information has no value on the internet. People can find information anywhere. What has value on the internet is knowledge, and knowledge is information tempered by experience. Now, all of a sudden, the same piece of information you can find for free on 50 different websites, if an expert, someone you can recognize as an authoritative expert in a field, says that exact same thing, all of a sudden now it matters, because it’s been put in a context that tells you that it’s true, more so than just finding it on howto.com or whatever. Right? The Viking Velociraptor Formula is about doing that, where you take what you intend to be your basic information, and you put it in a context where it’s going to click with your audience member and make it feel like it was created for them by someone they should listen to.
The way it works is, the first thing you do is, you verify something the audience has seen, or heard, or experienced. Then you validate their emotional, internal response to that thing. Then vantage, the third one, is the position you use to present the information you wanted to give them. That’s the first three basic steps, and the idea is, it goes like this in the simplest way. That sounds complicated to explain, but it’s real easy. ‘Hey, did you see the football game last night? Boy, that really sucked that our local team lost, but you don’t have to lose. Here’s something I found today that I wanted to tell you about that I think would be really valuable for you.’
That is a super basic, off-the-cuff example, but what that does is, it shows the prospect that we live in the same world, we like the same things, we feel the same way about those things, and that gives them a context for the information that I’m going to give them, so it makes all the difference between someone who is a total stranger trying to tell you something, or someone you consider to be a friend, or an ally, or at least a colleague in some kind of way, giving you that same information. By just using that little positioning of, ‘Here’s something that shows you we’re in the same world, we see the same things, we encounter the same things, and we also internally respond the same way about those things,’ now we have a rapport. We have a kinship.
It’s the same way as if you walk into a crowded bar on game night, all the people wearing the same jersey for the team you support are instant friends of yours. All the people wearing the opposite jersey are instant enemies. No one has to say anything, but you are, all of a sudden, on the same side. You’re on the same team, just by giving off that visual. Well, what the Viking Velociraptor does is, it does that in words. It indicates to them you have things in common, and you can relate to each other. Therefore, whatever it is you have to tell them is going to click better.
Then the last two steps are just add-ons, values and villains, you can think of them as positive reasons that we are friends, things that we have in common, that we value, and then villains are things that we both hate, that we don’t like. To go back to the example I gave, ‘Hey, did you see the football game? The local team lost. It sucked, but I have some good news for you. Here’s a cool offer. I think you’re going to like it. Blah, blah, blah, here it is.’ The values would be, it could be a value in the product itself like, ‘I know you care about quality, unlike the refs who were refereeing that game last night when our team lost.’ Right? Now, all of a sudden, we have values and we have villains in common, and it just reinforces that positioning and makes like a little sandwich around your information. It’s like a container, almost, if that makes sense. That formula works for everything. It can be one sentence long really. It can be fives lines. It can be paragraphs. It can be whatever format you want. It can be an email. It can be a blog post. You can even use it face-to-face. Friend of mine told me, his wife wrote an email to apply for a job using the formula and she got the interview. She used it in the interview and she got the job. I never heard of it being used that way, but that’s what it does. It makes the person you’re interacting with, feel like you’re their friend, which gives you an advantage when you’re trying to get them to do what you want them to do.
Kira: I like that formula. The cool part about it, is that you’re using it in a way to build your authority, or that’s what happening, by even creating the formula, which is just a good example of what we could do as copywriters to build our own authority, is by creating something similar, where it becomes your own and people are talking about and they’re spreading it. People are using it. You don’t even know at some point. I love that example.
Colin: That’s a great bit of advice, if you’re trying to position yourself as an authority. Nothing new has been created as far as persuading human beings for hundreds of years, if not longer. Right? It’s funny, because con artists and magicians and various performative types, actually have known this stuff longer than psychologists and marketers have, just because of the nature of the work that they do, its been kept secret. Human behavior, is human behavior. There’s nothing new under the sun as far as that’s concerned.
What you can do is you take it and you combine it with something that’s unique to you and you explain it in a way that only you could. Now, all of a sudden you own that little tidbit. It becomes your advice, instead of just general information. It’s like I said, you’re creating knowledge by adding experience to information. Just by doing that, even though it’s the same information, they can get from everywhere else, now it’s yours, because it’s framed in what you can do and what you know what your upbringing is, whatever you want to add to and bring to the table. Keep that in mind.
Any tidbit that you want to share, to present your authority, wrap it up in a story about yourself. Whether professional or personal, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s unique to you. And then, it’s when the person you told it to remembers that advice, they remember it came from you. Which is what you were really telling them for in the first place.
Kira: So, before we start to wrap, I want to ask you, you’ve been near, close, very close to copywriters for a while now. You see what they’re asking. What they want. What’s not working for them. What would you say is a common mistake you see new copywriter’s make over and over again?
Colin: I would say, thinking that it’s a creative endeavor. You’re not an artist as a copywriter. You’re a hack. Right? You’re not a master level woodworker carving a one of a kind antique piece of furniture for a king. You are the guy that installs cabinets from Sears. Right? They’re modular to a degree but generally speaking, everyone’s getting the same cabinets with the same guts inside. Copyrighting is like that.
I say that like, I’m not trying to take the art out of it but, I’m trying to say if you’re a solo operator, you have to have some understanding of scalability. Right? You cannot be a creative genius professionally. It’s not possible. You will starve like an artist if you act like an artist.
When you’re writing for copy, you’re working for businesses. They have deadlines. Money is spent, it’s budgeted. There’s fiscal calendar dates that have to go around. You can’t blow deadlines and say, ‘Well, yeah, I wasn’t feeling it.’ You know?
So, you need a way to scale your efforts, and be able to deliver your services in an expected manner. Something you can rely on. So if you have a bad day, and you have writer’s block, you’re not creating a domino effect that’s going to ruin your reputation in a month that you’ve spent a year building up.
The way I did that, is by having templates for everything that I do. If I created a piece of work for a client, and it worked for them, I would make a template out of it. Then I would take that template, and approach every other business that I could find, that wouldn’t be unethical competition for the first client I sold it to, then use that to pitch them. Now, all of a sudden, I’m getting more projects at the same pay, but its way less work because I’m not starting from scratch. I have a template to build off of.
Being able to do that, lets me make more money, with less effort. Now that I’ve got more effort that I can put in, I’ve got myself back some free time, I can now spend that time finding more people that can use that template.
That is a big one, is that people don’t understand scalability when they get into copywriting. They focus more on the writing part and less on the fact that you are creating a result. What the people that are hiring you want, is the result. It doesn’t matter how good the copy is, they want the result. That’s what it is. If you can get them the result, and you charge less than they make as of that result, that’s a win. They should be happy. When you are able to do that, you’ve created a formula, a template that you can take and more to other places and profit from it. That’s a big mistake I see.
I guess that’s a double edged one because it’s about the way that you create the assets for the client’s and it’s about the way you operate your business. That’s a big one.
I would say another one is, we talked about it earlier, is not taking your business seriously as a business. Get incorporated. Get an accountant. Get an attorney that, you don’t have to keep them on retainer, but someone that understands your field, that you can call on if need be. Get set up properly to pay your taxes the right way relative to where you live. Take it seriously.
It’s way more likely that you’re going to get the work and trust from high-end clients if you are legit as opposed to, coming across like the IT guy that is the secretary’s grandson who goes to college and is doing this on the side. Get set up the right way so that you are now in a class above that. So, when you come to the table, you’re not competing with people that give off that perception.
Those are the ones I see over and over I think. That resistance to feeling like what the customer is paying for, is a custom creation. The customer gave me all this money, I need to put in the work to earn that money. That’s not what it is. They are paying for the result. If you’ve got a template that can get them the result that justifies the price tag that you put, it doesn’t matter if it takes you two minutes to do it, it’s worth the price that they pay. Right?
That, I think, is a big perception a lot of people need to get over. Especially if they came into copywriting as a hopeful writer. Because all other forms of writing are more creative than copy is. Copy is engineering first, and then you can be creative within the structure. But the structure is what matters. The structure is what makes it work.
Rob: Totally agree with that. In fact, I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s great advice.
Colin, I want to ask you about your favorite copywriting books. We’ve had a few comments posted, or threads posted in our group in which you’ve jumped in and you never recommend the Eugene Schwartz books, you never recommend the old classics. You always throw out book titles by guys like Elmer Leonard, and others. Why? Tell us why and what you get out of that.
Colin: Well I mean, first of all, if you’re going to ask a question like, ‘What’s the best copy books?’ If everybody’s just going to say the exact same titles they would get from a Google search, what’s the point in even answering it? So, everybody’s going to name the same books, somebody’s going to say the Boron Letters, somebody’s going to say Breakthrough Advertising, somebody’s going to say the Robert Collier Letter Book, somebody’s going to say Scientific Advertising. It’s going to be the same stuff over and over.
I like to throw in our books that I’ve found to be valuable in the art of persuasion but outside of the realm of copywriting. So that it’s removed from salesmanship and you’re dealing more with elemental things that have to do with tricking people into doing what you want. Because really, that’s what copywriting is. People don’t like to say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to manipulate people.’ But that’s what it is if you own up to it.
The way I try and explain it to people is, if you’re going to take the reins of someone else’s brain and get them to do what you want. If you don’t own up to the fact that you’re manipulating, you’ve not going to be as good as you could be. People are hesitant to think of it as manipulation. But you think of something like a testimonial. Right? Everybody knows testimonials work, you should put them in a sales letter. It helps the prospect decide to buy your product. The reason testimonials work is because they take advantage of a psychological, cognitive bias. I forget exactly which one it is. But, it’s the one where you presume someone else’s experience will predict, in some way, what your experience with that product will be. Logically, that doesn’t make sense at all. Just because that guy liked it, and it worked for him, has no bearing whatsoever on whether it’s going to work for you, but you feel like it does.
If I’m being 100% honest with you, and I put a testimonial in there, I have to tell you, I’m manipulating you. But it wouldn’t work as good if I tell you, so I don’t want to tell you that I’m trying to trick you. But everyone thinks, you know, like testimonials, no one thinks testimonials are manipulative, but they are.
Looking at books that have nothing to do with salesmanship can give you a lot more value in that way because they’re not trying to hold back because they want to see like a professional sales person and not scare you away. They can also push things into a realm that people wouldn’t necessarily think to go in a sales book.
The way I look at it, a technique is a technique. The intent is what can be good or evil. If I’m using a manipulative technique on you to buy a product that’s going to actually solve a problem you have and you’re going to love it, you’re never going to be like, ‘Oh, well I bought that product and you’re right, it was great. I just wish you wouldn’t have tried so hard to sell it to me though.’ If it works, and it solve that problem, they’re never going to be mad about how hard you pushed. But, if you’re a bad person and you want to use that same method to steal money from someone and give them nothing in return, then it’s evil. But it’s not evil by itself, it’s just a technique.
With that in mind, some of the books I look at, books upon cold reading. Which is the method that phony psychics use to pretend to read your mind, it’s just basically guessing based on demographics, and appearance, and clues that people give you. It also takes advantage of the psychological effect of, people tend to remember when you get something right and they forget when you got it wrong. You go to see a phony psychic and they make 50 guesses, but only got 10 right, you’ll tend to forget the 40 they got wrong and really hone in on the 10 they got right and you’re like, ‘Oh my God! That was so accurate!’ But you weren’t really counting, because you were only paying attention to the ones that hit.
Another one that I recommend a lot is Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. That one is a comic book about how the medium of comic book works. It’s meant for people who want to write and draw comic books for a livig’. But, it’s probably the best treatis on visual communication I’ve ever read.
If you do videos at all, that one is huge. Understanding the interplay of imagery and words, and how they interact with each other if you’re using pictures to go along with your sales letter. It’s killer for that.
Elmer Leonard you mentioned. He writes fiction. He wrote fiction. He passed away. His style is such that there’s no omnipotent narrator. The only things that you know in his stories come to you by things the characters said, or things the characters saw and did directly themselves. There’s never any person telling you behind the scenes things that the characters don’t know. It’s a really elemental form of writing. It really pulls you in for the story. Even though his books are very small, it’s powerful the way he does it. He also wrote a list of advice for writer’s and he said the last one is really the only one you need. His advice was, if it sounds like writing, re-write it. He’s great for that. His writing does not sound like writing, you forget you’re even reading a book. It just tricks you into participating because without realizing that you have to look through that character’s eyes, and while you’re looking through his eyes, you’re in his world. You’re interacting with things instead of having them described to you by some floating narrator in the sky who can see everything.
Those are a few. I have a standard list. But no other one’s come to mind necessarily. That’s why I try and look outside the realm of the same five, six books everyone is going to recommend. If someone’s going to bother to ask, I want to give them something that is not going to be the exact thing they would have got from a Google search.
Kira: Those are great recommendations. Thank you. Colin, if one of our listener’s, all of our listener’s, want to find you, where can the find you if they want to get in touch? Or check out your programs?
Colin: The Cult of Copy Group is on Facebook. That’s probably the best way. It’s a closed group so, you have to apply to join, and I ask questions. You need to pay attention to the third one especially. Everyone thinks I’m joking but, I’m not. With that said, I get hundreds on requests a week, and I actually do read the answers to every single question. I approve people in batches. If you apply, and you don’t get in right away, it might take a week or two for me to go through a hundred of them at a time. But that’s how I do it.
I also have a public facing page on Facebook under the same name. It’s called The Cult of Copy PR Department. That’s just daily content about persuasion, and marketing, and inspiration, motivation, that kind of thing for people in our line of work. If you don’t necessarily want to participate in a discussion group, you can check that out. That’s more of my work.
From there, you mentioned Copywriting Training Wheels, is a group I have for beginners. The other groups, like the jobs group and The Copy Colosseum. The Copy Jobs group is for jobs. The Copy Colosseum is copy that you want to get reviewed. It’s full of other copywriter’s that like to give you advice on how terrible your copy is.
Yeah, all in one place just for you. Yeah, I’m not hard to find. That’s another bit of advice for people that want to be authorities, don’t make it hard to find you. Be everywhere that people are going to be looking for you. I think, if you look me up, it’s not hard to find me. I’m pretty spread out. If you find someone doing something under my name, it’s very likely going to be me.
Rob: Lots of great resources.
Colin: Oh no problem guys. Thanks for having me. I hope that was useful for you.
Kira: This was a great conversation. I’ve taken a lot away from this. Especially about the context and giving advice but really creating that experience and providing context to build authority. I think that’s just such great advice. Thank you so much for sharing what you’ve shared today and your time with us. Appreciate it.
Rob: Thanks Colin so much.