Beating Copywriter’s Block [PODCAST]

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We’ve all experienced that feeling of dread.

You’ve got your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), but your mind is as blank as your Google doc. And your landing page copy isn’t going to write itself.

Before you throw up your arms and abandon your work, listen to the latest episode of the Call to Action podcast. Unbounce’s Content Strategist Dan Levy interviews Grant Lingel, Content Manager of professional service provider Bunny Inc. about tricks he’s used to break free of the prison that is writer’s block.

You will learn:

  • How you can find the happy medium between landing page copy that delights and landing page copy that converts.
  • What mirror neurons are and how they can help you get out of your copywriting rut.
  • Why you don’t have to feel guilty about the hour a day you spend browsing your Facebook newsfeed (turn your procrastination into productivity!).

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Mentioned in the podcast

Read the transcript

Dan Levy: Writer’s block is something anyone who writes can relate to, but you usually hear more about it in literary circles rather than in the context of online marketing. Why do you think that is?

Grant Lingel: That’s a great question because it’s definitely true. And as a writer, you know, writer’s block can definitely happen to anybody at any time. But in my eyes, I think writer’s block typically occurs more in the world of fictional writing as opposed to nonfictional.

Dan Levy: Right.

Grant Lingel: Now, as a writer, I’ve worked with both fictional and nonfictional. With online marketing and copywriting, usually the writer’s pretty well versed in the topic or at least very well briefed about what they’re working on, and not just that, who the audience is gonna be. So they have a much better idea of what they’re getting into as opposed to somebody who’s in the literary world where they’re usually creating characters, building a whole new world, developing storylines, trying to connect everything in an engaging, fun way that’s gonna keep the reader turning the pages. I think that’s why writer’s block affects fictional writers more so than copywriters and online marketers. So, with that said, writer’s block can definitely happen to people that work with copywriting and people who work in online marketing and content marketing worlds. But at least in my opinion, I think it’s a lot more short-winded and it deals usually more with struggling to find the right wording and not so much being lost altogether and unable to continue or needing to take a few days off or −

Dan Levy: Yeah, that makes sense. They have to wait for those moments of inspiration where you’re obviously working within a preexisting constraint, which is to persuade people to do something. At the same time, copywriters don’t just have to worry about their writing being really great; they also have to make sure it converts. So do you think that variable makes your job easier or harder?

Grant Lingel: I think both. First of all, I’ll say why I think it makes it easier. So going along the lines of what I was just talking about with writer’s block, writing copy entails not only knowing the topic but understanding the audience and understanding the business you might be working for or the product or the service that you’re writing about. Because the writer needs to do a lot of research to craft the copy in the right way, to drive conversions and to a very highly targeted reader, they’re able to focus on building up the content to make the call to action essentially the climax of the story. I mean, this’ll keep the writer focused on the task at hand, which is to create engaging copy. And that will ultimately drive conversions. So I think that makes it easier because it keeps the writer focused. I think focusing on conversions can make it harder as well. I know it’s kind of saying one thing and then saying the other, but because it’s harder because if you’re writing just a blog post, for example, about your favorite restaurant, you don’t really need too much research. You don’t really need to think too hard about it. You went there, you had a meal, you enjoyed it, fantastic, you can write about it. You still wanna do a good job because you wanna drive people to that restaurant. But instead of just understanding the topic that’s being covered, a copywriter also needs to understand who they’re working for, the product in question, the audience, trying to do it all in a specific word count that contains the right amount of keywords and is polished for SEO purposes. All these factors make the process a lot more intensive. So you can’t really take shortcuts, and if you do, you’re gonna pay for it down the road.

Dan Levy: Yeah, I think sometimes having those constraints is helpful creatively when you know you’re constrained or at least you’re focused on a particular goal and a particular business goal. It gives you a context for your writing that you don’t have when you’re just writing fiction or writing for some other reason. At the same time, you’re definitely more accountable to your words, aren’t you?

Grant Lingel: Absolutely, yeah, absolutely. But at least for me, and I know a lot of writers who think the same way, that added pressure is fantastic for productivity. I mean, being under the gun when it comes to deadlines and knowing that you need to get it done in that certain amount of words or in that certain timeframe, it’s like cramming for an exam. You have to do it or else you’re gonna lose that client; you’re gonna lose that project. And obviously, that is not at all what you wanna do. So having that added pressure, I think, is a fantastic motivator to get it done and do it in a great way.

Dan Levy: Yeah. Also, there actually is such thing as right and wrong when it comes to copywriting.

Grant Lingel: Definitely, yeah.

Dan Levy: If it’s persuading people and making people convert, then you’re doing it right. If not, it doesn’t matter how pretty the words are — you’re ultimately doing it wrong by definition.

Grant Lingel: Yeah, you might have a way with words and tell a beautiful story, but if it’s not doing the end goal of converting readers into buyers or users of certain services, you need to go back to the beginning and figure out what you did wrong and focus on what’s gonna drive those conversions.

Dan Levy: All right. So your post outlines nine ways to dig yourself out of those kinds of ruts and find inspiration for crafting your landing page copy. Can you talk about how something called mirror neurons can help?

Grant Lingel: The whole idea of mirror neurons is really interesting because essentially not until long ago in the 1990s, humanity had no idea why we cringe if we see somebody take a sip of rotten milk or why we get warm and fuzzy inside if we see a family embracing at the airport. It makes me feel good. The answer? It’s because of mirror neurons. When you witness an event like this, you put yourself in the place of the person to whom it’s happening. So when you see somebody coming home and embracing their children, it makes you feel warm and fuzzy because you can feel that. You don’t need to be in that hug. It doesn’t need to happen. It might never have happened to you. But you can put yourself there, and that’s because of mirror neurons. So, although it may not seem like it if you watch the news a lot, humans are actually very empathetic creatures. So mirror neurons let you connect your own experiences to experiences that are currently happening around you. So because you know that, for example, rotten milk is absolutely disgusting, you’re gonna gag if you see your sister unknowingly take a sip from a cup of funky milk. So by digging deep into your own past and using your own experiences for inspiration, you’re already gonna have an idea of what kind of content that you wanna write and what kind of reactions you’re gonna receive from the people who are reading them. So if you can put yourself into the eyes — or the mind rather — of the reader, you can already draw certain emotions and certain conclusions while you’re writing, before it’s even published. It’s a great way to connect with your reader on a very emotional level without even having to talk to them, without even having to know them, because they’re gonna be able to experience what you’re writing just from reading it. They don’t even need to be in the room. They don’t need to be with you. The mirror neurons in their brain are gonna relate their own past experiences to the words that they’re reading on the screen. It’s a very interesting concept, and I think it can really help a writer because you can honestly put yourself into the position of the reader without doing anything but digging into your own experiences.

Dan Levy: I love it because we’ve talked about empathy on the show before in the context of copywriting and just great marketing in general, and it’s always felt genuine, but it’s also felt a little bit touchy-feely and a bit of a squishy concept, especially for more conversion-centered marketers. But what you’re saying here is that, no, this is actually rooted in science.

Grant Lingel: Yeah, absolutely.

Dan Levy: And I think that’s a language that a lot of data-centered marketers understand maybe a lot better, so I love how we’re kind of bridging the science with the human emotion here.

Grant Lingel: Yeah, it’s great, because emotion drives everything. People wanna hear a great story. So even if you’re talking about copywriting or creating a landing page for a product or some service, you can sell it based on telling a beautiful story and making the people relate. Touching on those emotions is one of the most important things there is when it comes to selling a product or hooking a reader, making them feel like they’re more connected to a company instead of just a wallet waiting to buy something at the other end.

Dan Levy: Well, talking about good stories, no pressure, but can you maybe give an example of how you’ve used your own experiences and memories and empathy to inspire your landing page copy?

Grant Lingel: I mean, it’s not a fantastic story, but it’s something that’s stuck in my mind every time when I’m writing for a landing page. Writing copy for landing pages needs to be done in a way that drives action. Otherwise, there aren’t going to be any conversions. So, if there are no conversions, what’s the point? You’ve got to start over. So when creating the right copy, I think back to all the experiences I’ve had reading copy on other sites to see what piques my interest and what leaves me uninterested or bouncing away quickly. So this one time, I saw an ad on Facebook that I thought looked fantastic. It was about a skateboard company. I’ve been a skater for ages. And the company made handcrafted longboards, and the photo was beautiful. The text was simple in the ad, and it was effective. I clicked. I went to the landing page. And when I got there, I was just knocked over. I was completely bombarded by just so much information. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing because it was the opposite of what the ad looked like. Their colors clashed. There were images everywhere. Some were black and white; some were in color. There were multiple headlines, big, chunky paragraphs that just rambled on and on. It took me way too long to find the call to action because it was buried below mountains of random text, reviews, images. It was just a mess. By the time I was able to find the call to action, I had to actually scroll down to get to it, which is a big no-no right there, and I left. But I did like the page on Facebook. A few months down the road, they posted something on their Facebook page, and I was like, all right, I’m gonna check it out because it looks great, and it was different. It was a much different experience. Somebody must have gotten on the horn and was like, “Yo, you guys really need to change this because it looks terrible. It’s not working. You’re not selling these boards.” So when I got there, the new page was crisp; it was beautiful, and I ended up buying a board. I use that experience every time I write landing page copy. I always think about that skateboard company and how awful the experience was the first time, and then a couple months later, it was completely different, and it worked. It’s funny because the board didn’t change. It was still the same fantastic product that I use to this day, but the sales experience, the whole experience between me and the company changed and that’s what made the difference.

Dan Levy: That’s a great example because it shows you the opportunity there and the opportunity that’s lost when you do succeed in making that emotional connection and speaking to somebody’s lived experience and their sense of anticipation and then you completely crush their hopes when you show them the landing page that just doesn’t speak to that at all.

Grant Lingel: Yeah, it was really surprising. And I felt fantastic when I went back a couple months later and saw that that was resolved, just gotta keep it crisp and to the point. You don’t wanna go crazy and lose people before they get to the call to action.

Dan Levy: You also recommend looking to books and TV shows and movies and even tabloids for copywriting inspiration. In a sense, it sounds like you’re just enabling my bad habits here. But can you paint a picture of how you’ve applied something you’ve seen in a book or on screen to your landing page?

Grant Lingel: A lot of different things that I’ve done with inspiration that I’ve seen from TV, but it’s not like a specific show. It’s more of a specific technique actually. I’ve always been a big fan of standup comedy. Standup has always been huge in my life. Comedians like George Carlin, Mitch Hedberg, Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, they’ve always influenced me because they take the obvious and they shed this brilliant light from a totally different angle that really makes you think, obviously makes you laugh as well, but it makes you think. And you’re gonna hear something that they say, and you’re gonna say, “Wow, why didn’t I think of that?” or maybe you had thought of it. Why didn’t you say it? Why didn’t you go on stage and tell that obvious joke? And it’s because what they’re pointing out are things that are not only true but they’re things that are relevant to almost everyone. I mean, they’re things that almost anyone can relate to. So when I’m thinking of the right one-liner or the right title or the right slogan, I think of these comedians and I think of different ways to grab people’s attention by pointing out something obvious but in a way that might be hidden. I mean, I’m obviously not doing it for laughs. I have a terrible delivery when it comes to comedy. I’m doing it to leave people thinking. I want them to think what I think when I hear a great joke from one of the best comedians. You know, “Wow, that’s so true. Why didn’t I think of that?” When you do that, whether you’re writing subheads for a listicle post or a catchy title for a landing page, you’re instantly gonna leave the reader wanting to read on and learn more about whatever the content is about because you’re gonna catch them with just a few words and I think that, especially now today, people don’t have amazing patience. People are just surrounded by endless information. So if you really don’t catch them right off the bat, you’re gonna lose them. So you need to figure out ways that’s gonna make people think because if they’re thinking or smiling or laughing or whatever, they’re gonna wanna see what else is coming.

Dan Levy: It’s funny because, on one hand, we’re marketers and we’re reading these case studies and blog posts and a lot of these best practices that are floating around. But we also all watch Netflix, I’m sure, and we read either books or trashy magazines and go to the movies. And I don’t think a lot of people are necessarily making that connection. They think that these are two separate worlds, but a lot of these storytelling techniques and even these persuasion techniques and these ways to connect with you emotionally exist in these other media as well. So I think that’s a great piece of advice to pay attention.

Grant Lingel: Absolutely. It’s all connected. I mean, storytelling is everywhere. It’s on a box of cereal. It’s not just in the literary world or movies or TV. Everything is telling a story. So if you can connect with who’s listening, that’s it. You win.

Dan Levy: Yeah. Actually, another thing you suggest in your post is Facebook and Twitter −

Grant Lingel: Oh, yeah.

Dan Levy: − which I think again sometimes feels like a bad habit and like a total time suck.

Grant Lingel: Oh, absolutely.

Dan Levy: Yeah. You also recommend looking at your competitors for copywriting ideas, right?

Grant Lingel: Oh, for sure.

Dan Levy: How do you do that though without, you know, like, stealing?

Grant Lingel: You never wanna steal, ever obviously. But you should definitely take into account what your competitors are doing. The reason is to check out the competition because you wanna see what they’re missing out on. You wanna see what they’re doing but you wanna see what’s not there as well. You don’t just check out their landing page as the competition, looking for ideas and then jacking those ideas. You wanna look at their landing pages, not as a competing writer business or landing page creator. You wanna look at their landing page as a potential customer. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who was interested enough to click over from an ad and who may wanna buy what the landing pages are offering. And then you look at it. You think, “Okay, this looks great, but is there something missing? Are the colors off? Does the text say too much? Does it say too little? Are there any emotional connections being made from the copy?” If you break down the competition, you can craft a landing page that fills in the missing pieces from the competition.

Dan Levy: Right. It sort of goes back to what you were saying earlier about clicking through that Facebook ad and being disappointed by the skateboarding landing page.

Grant Lingel: Definitely.

Dan Levy: You could learn a lot by clicking, just clicking around and seeing the opportunities that your competitors and your peers and just other marketers are missing out on.

Grant Lingel: Oh, for sure.

Dan Levy: And of course, often it’s as simple as that, right? Follow up with a landing page that actually matches what you offered in the ad. It’s so basic, but so many people are missing that opportunity.

Grant Lingel: Yeah, constantly. I mean, with that skateboarding company, I wanted to just email them, be, like, “Hey, guys, let me help you out. I mean, I wanted −”

Dan Levy: “I’m trying to buy from you. I’m trying, but −”

Grant Lingel: Yeah, “Please stop ruining my purchasing experience with your loud landing page. Please let me help you.” But luckily, they figured it out on their own.

Dan Levy: Well, not to bring back any painful memories, but to circle back to what we were talking about before in terms of maybe being faced with that writer’s block or not knowing exactly how to start writing your landing page copy, can you recall a time in your career when you’ve been in that situation and you were able to dig your way out of that hole by using some of these tactics?

Grant Lingel: Oh, yeah, for sure. There’s always gonna be writer’s block. There’s always gonna be a time where you have no idea how to get started or how to continue where you left off. I wouldn’t call it a painful memory because a lot of time, writing itself can be very painful.

Dan Levy: True that.

Grant Lingel: But every writer has been hit by writer’s block. It happened to me while writing my books. It happens to me all the time writing blog posts, outlines for future blog posts, landing pages. Heck, even sometimes I get writer’s block with emails because I want to word an email properly, but sometimes I’m like, oh, man, I’ve got to just − I’ve got to get out of here, and it happens.

Dan Levy: Oh, for sure. I think of all the copywriters and content marketers that we have in house, and I know that just hearing you say that is gonna provide so much comfort and reassurance because everybody’s in that boat sometimes.

Grant Lingel: Yeah, of course, because writing is intensive. It’s hard on the brain. It’s a lot of mental work and stimulation because you’re not just trying to create something out of nothing. You’re trying to use everything in your brain to get to that creation point. You’re reading, you’re studying, you’re researching, you’re pulling from your own experiences, you’re trying to create something out of thin air. So sometimes your brain just gets really tired and doesn’t want to write. It just wants to chill. And I’ve found for me, getting outside and getting as far from technology as possible is the best way to dig myself out of the hole… just getting outside and feeling some sunshine on your face and watching the clouds breeze by and feel the wind and listen to the birds, and while you’re doing this, you’re gonna be putting a smile on your face. And if you’re putting a smile on your face, you’re gonna feel better. And when you feel good, you feel motivated, you feel inspired, and when you’re inspired and happy, writer’s block is not going to affect you.

Dan Levy: All right. Well, I’m feeling inspired. I think I’m gonna go outside −

Grant Lingel: Nice.

Dan Levy: − even though it’s snowy and cold, I think it’s time for a walk.

Grant Lingel: Yeah.

Dan Levy: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, Grant. This was great.

Grant Lingel: Yeah, of course, yeah, it was great chatting, and thank you very much for talking with me.

Dan Levy: Thank you.


Transcript by GMR Transcription.

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About Stephanie Saretsky
Stephanie Saretsky is a former multimedia producer at Unbounce. Producing projects like the Call to Action podcast and The Landing Page Sessions by day and a radio DJ by night, she is a lover of all things multimedia. Find her on Twitter: @msbeansie
» More blog posts by Stephanie Saretsky