11 Lessons from Eugene Schwartz to Improve your Copywriting

by Lynn Swayze // August 10 // 2 Comments

Looking to improve your copywriting skills? Who isn’t! If you’re looking to improve your copywriting skills, you will do well to follow the advice of a highly regarded and successful ad genius.

That man? Eugene Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising and The Brilliance Breakthrough and author of numerous successful ad campaigns. In this article, I highlight 11 key lessons you can learn from Eugene Schwartz to make you a better direct response copywriter – works even if you only write for your own business.

Lesson 1: Your Buyers Think in Images and Stories.

According to Eugene Schwartz’ book, The Brilliance Breakthrough: How to Talk and Write So That People Will Never Forget You, Schwartz says, “The shorter your images, the easier they are to understand. Too much detail overwhelms them. It prevents your reader from completing them fast enough to be comfortable with them. “

Your buyers can’t mind read. The only path to understanding your point of view is in the words you write to convey your message. Which means, the clearer the message… and the more compelling the overall story… the more likely you are to get the idea delivery right.

Lesson 2: Create an Image in Your Buyer’s Mind.

Building on the principle that buyers think in images and stories, it makes sense to write to create an image.

Write your sentences so your readers can easily understand the ideas expressed. This habit will automatically force you to write punchier sentences that mean something.

Have you ever read corporate paragraphs full of buzz words… and wondered what was even said? I have! Writing like that sounds great, but doesn’t help with understanding or conversions. Write with clarity and you’ll find all your marketing becomes more effective.

Lesson 3: Your Buyer has Hidden desires. Your Job is to Tap into Them.

“The power, the force, the overwhelming urge to own that makes advertising work, comes from the market itself, and not from the copy. Copy cannot create desire for a product. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears, and desires that already exist in the hearts of millions of people, and focus those already-existing desires onto a particular product. This is the copywriter’s task: not to create this mass desire – but to channel and direct it.”

Eugene Schwartz, Breakthrough Advertising

No one wakes up and says, “I want to buy XYZ Product today!”

Instead, they’re thinking about the emotional implications of their problems, decisions, and goals.

What will happen if the project doesn’t get delivered on time?

How long will my husband stay if I don’t lose weight?

What if I’m losing promotions and respect because of my thinning hair?

What if, what if, what if…

Your job is to know these hidden desires and “tap into” them in your copy. if you do this well, your buyer will trust your solution more. Because who doesn’t trust someone who “gets them”?

“People do not buy the steel in a car, the glass in a vase, the tobacco in a cigarette, or the paper in a book. The physical part of your product is of value only because it enables your product to do things for people.”

Eugene Schwartz, Breakthrough Advertising

Lesson 4: Buyer Awareness will Tell You What to Write in Your Marketing and Advertising.

Too often, advertising starts by reaching people where the seller is, rather than the buyer. So they ask the reader to call now, buy now, act now.

The problem?

Almost all buyers are not yet ready to call now, buy now, act now. A few are, but the vast majority need to be nurtured, informed, and comforted before they will take action.

Which means….

You can have great copy but have it not work at all because you’re starting too aware… or too unaware.

According to Schwartz, the awareness stages are:

  • Unaware: In this stage, the buyer doesn’t know they even have a problem… let alone that there’s a solution for it. Reaching them with any marketing will feel like an intrusion. At best, you can tell stories here…. but it’s better to just not target these people at all.
  • Problem Aware: In this stage, the buyer is aware they have a pain point. They want to lose weight… they know they need more leads… they’re noticing the hair loss is getting worse. But which way to solve the problem is still a wide open field. In this stage, hitting on their problem is where your marketing needs to start.
  • Solution Aware: In this stage, your buyer has already started researching potential solutions to the problem. That solution could be doing nothing…. doing it themselves… going to a competitor… or maybe even something you haven’t yet thought of. This is more the mechanism of solution than a specific solution provider.
  • Product (Provider) Aware: Only at this stage does the buyer begin to compare service providers of that chosen mechanism. So if they think a book will solve their problem, they’re looking at books. If they think it’s hiring a cheap consultant, they’re comparing there. If they think it’s an expensive agency, they’re going to compare agencies. HERE is where you should already have developed trust with the buyer…. or should develop it quickly for sales.
  • Most Aware: In this stage, the buyer knows all they need to know about their problem, the ways to solve it, and even the products/providers available. They are ready to buy, and just need the right opportunity to do so.

It is logical to assume that for any specific product or provider, the number of prospects at each stage decreases exponentially as some prospects go down different paths. Some may decide to not solve their problem at all; others choose a solution that isn’t in the vein of what you offer. Some choose your competitor. And some, hopefully, are waiting for you to reach out and remind them to take action.

Which is why only reaching the unaware or most aware, as many B2B companies do, is entirely missing the mark. It’s why companies say “marketing doesn’t work”. It does – IF you get the awareness stage right!

As a copywriter, your primary job should be to make sure the approach your client wants you to take is at the right awareness level. Get it wrong, and no amount of offer-building or savvy copy will make up for it.

Lesson 5: Formulas Won’t Work For Long.

Even when Breakthrough Advertising was first published, it was known that formulas may work for a little bit… but then fall apart as things change and become stale.

On this, Eugene Schwartz says,

“In a field in which the rules are constantly changing—where the forces that determine the outcome are constantly shifting—where new problems are constantly being encountered every day—rules, formulas, and principles simply will not work. They are too rigid—too tightly bound to the past. They must be replaced by the only known method of dealing with the Constantly New—analysis.”

Eugene Schwartz, Breakthrough Advertising

Which is why knowing the principles of marketing… and why certain strategies work… is so, so important for direct response copywriters and marketers. And this innate knowledge of human psychology and buying behavior – as well as the analysis of trends – is what enables good copywriters to stand the test of time.

Let’s face it: maybe email, direct mail, or Facebook ads won’t work forever. Maybe the new trend will be messenger bots. Or some new-fangled marketing that we haven’t even heard of yet, like straight-to-brain marketing ads. The best copywriters will be able to pivot and keep pivoting because they understand how to make copywriting convert no matter the medium because humans don’t change… even if the mediums we use to reach them do.

Lesson 6: Simplicity is Clarity …

“The art of writing simply, so that your reader understands every step in your thought, before you take him on to the next. To write simply, build a sentence that states that thought in the fewest possible words, and with the greatest number of Connectors.”

Eugene Schwartz, The Brilliance Breakthrough

This one is easy to understand yet harder to implement. To make the job easier, Schwartz recommends first breaking out the ideas into short, individual sentences… and then link those sentence up with Connector words.

Lesson 7: … But Monotony is Just as Distracting.

When writing short, punchy sentences, it’s easy to start sounding… monotonous. Boring. Repetitive. And when that happens, readers start seeing the sentences rather than grasping the meaning. And that’s NOT GOOD.

Schwartz’ solution? Simplicity balanced by variety and emphasis. So you can vary how you write sentences, adding length as needed to buffer shorter sentences.

However he cautions, “Simplicity is always more vital than variety. If you must choose between the two, choose simplicity” (The Brilliance Breakthrough, p. 171).

Lesson 8: Three Steps to Channeling Desire, per Eugene Schwartz.

Throughout Breakthrough Advertising, Gene Schwartz was adamant that it was the copywriter’s job to stay on top of the mass desires that affect the buying public: other advertisements, product trends, entertainment, movies, and so forth.

“The copywriter in his work uses three tools: his own knowledge of people’s hopes, dreams, desires and emotions; his client’s product; and the advertising message, which connects the two.”

Eugene Schwartz, Breakthrough Advertising

Schwartz also lays out the three steps to channeling desire (and your copywriter’s knowledge) and turning it into winning advertising:

  1. Choose the most powerful desire that can possibly be applied to your product.
  2. Acknowledge that desire—reinforce it—and/or offer the means to satisfy it—in a single statement in the headline of your ad.
  3. And then you take the series of performances that are built into your product—what your product does—and you show your prospect how these product performances inevitably satisfy that desire.

Lesson 9: There Exist Two Kinds of “Emotion-Definers”. Use Them.

In Breakthrough Advertising, Schwartz points to two “emotion-definers”: power words and tone-builders. These words don’t convey an image as much as they convey an emotion… defining, for the reader, what he or she should feel. They enhance the image the buyer is already building in their mind.

These emotion-builders are highly dependent on awareness level and the avatar; get the words wrong, and your marketing will appear corny, hyped, or worse – out of sync with who they are and what they want.

Power words are words which, “build a subconscious currency of potency that permeates each individual claim as it occurs in the copy.” Schwartz lists words like “liberate”, “tower over”, and “out-think” from an ad he wrote.

Tone-builders are words which indicate the class and type of buyer and call him out. In the ad Schwartz is pointing to, the tone is targeted to the man who wants to get straight to the point, isn’t “high falutin’”, and who likes common sense: “like a sponge”, “this letter says”, and “stopped cold”.

Finally, the rhythm of copy can also define the buyer the ad or marketing is meant to attract. Looking to attract fast-paced, no-fluff buyers? Make your pace quick. Attracting a buyer that needs more time… or doesn’t respond well to being rushed? In that case, write longer sentences that flow.

Lesson 10: Slash the Adjectives – Sometimes.

One of the successes of the famous “Volkswagen Ad” is its lack of adjectives. If you’re writing direct copy that needs to sell, then cut the adjectives. Transform bland verbs into action verbs, and delete the adjectives which slow reading and block comprehension.

But Schwartz says that there IS time when you want your copy to not look like copy… like an advertorial, for example, where the copy is meant to appear more honest, trustworthy, and not like marketing. “Just try us,” that kind of copy says. There’s room for someone not to act, if they don’t want to.

But above all, the implication is to write deliberately.

Lesson 11: Next to Awareness, the State of Sophistication is A Factor In Marketing Success.

One reason I always look to add a unique mechanism to my marketing efforts is because of sophistication. For most clients I work with, they’re selling to a highly saturated market. And this market is very sophisticated; they’ve seen all the sales pitches before, tried it already. Been there, done that. Standing out in this marketplace is VERY DIFFICULT.

According to Schwartz, there are three questions you need to ask before you ever write a headline:

  1. What is the mass desire that motivates your market
  2. How much does your market know about your product? (Their State of Awareness.)
  3. How many similar products have they been told about before? (Their State of Sophistication).

The State of Sophistication refers to where your product or service stands in the long line of products to market. If you’re first, you are in some ways enviable and in other ways not. On the one hand, you don’t have much competition. On the other, you have to try to channel desire in a way it’s never been channeled before.

If you’re not first to market, you have to market a little differently than if you were first. You need to enlarge on the claim the more sophisticated the market, so you add unique mechanisms, bonuses, and more expanded benefits.

Which is to say: you can’t market in a highly sophisticated market like you can an unsophisticated market.

A good copywriter understands this, and knows how to make claims work depending on the awareness level and market sophistication… even if the business owner doesn’t.

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