I’ve received no formal education in marketing or journalism. In fact, my degree’s in management, which seems a bit unrelated to my career choices at first glance. But despite all this, do you want to know what made me realize that I have the potential to be a great copywriter?

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

That right there. That’s all it took.

I was in business school a few years ago, soaking up whatever I could on the arts of management, leadership, and entrepreneurship. I read piles of books on business, certain that I’d found my calling. And I was right. Well, almost. But we’ll talk about that some other time.

What’s interesting is that while I’ve read books and taken courses on writing great copy, the best advice I ever got came from a book by a motivational speaker who teaches the business world about leadership. It’s the quote above by Simon Sinek that made me realize that–just like all of the other aspects of marketing strategy Sinek mentions in his book–writing great copy isn’t about what your clients do, it’s about why they do it. And that’s all I needed to know to write great copy.

Great copy starts with why. So let’s talk about the why and how we’re going to use it to make our clients go “wow.”

But first,

Who is Simon Sinek?

And why are we taking copywriting advice from him?

All you need to know is that Simon Sinek is one cool dude. He’s a phenomenal speaker and leadership expert and he really knows his stuff. He’s not a copywriter or even a marketer, really. But he does talk about marketing in his book Start with Why, essentially teaching us that all great marketing strategy comes from the core. The deeper purpose, the big raison d’être.

What Sinek probably didn’t anticipate is that I’d take his advice and run wild with it. He didn’t write his book for copywriters, but we’re going to pretend like he did anyway because when it comes to exploring the art of copywriting, it’s the best damn thing I’ve learned so far.

His Message: Why, How, What

golden-circle

This is the Golden Circle. “But it’s white!” I know, but just listen for a second.

See how why is at the core? That’s because it’s the most important. To give us some context, let’s take an example we can all understand and define it in the terms of why, how, and what.

If you’re a copywriter, you might say that:

  • Your why is your greater purpose, which is to make magic with words and use this magic to help others accomplish their goals. Their own whys.
  • Your how is the method, which is simply by using the English language and principles of marketing and persuasion. It’s how you get the job done.
  • Your what is the product you deliver, the copy you write for businesses’ websites or sales materials.

See how it gets less feel-good and a little more concrete the more we move outwards from the core? Which description had the most passion behind it?

The first one, of course. The why. Here’s the thing about the why: it makes everything sound 10 times cooler.

If you’re a hairdresser, you’re not just about cutting people’s hair. You’re inspiring self-confidence in your customers. You make people feel good about themselves and the way they look.

If you’re a mechanic, you’re not just about fixing people’s cars. What you’re really doing is keeping all of us safe. You’re the one keeping the roads safe for us and our families.

If you’re the owner of a flower shop, you don’t just sell flowers. You help others express love, thoughtfulness, and appreciation.

Get the picture? If the why is the purpose, the how is the tools we need to do it. That makes the what the final result, or the deliverable.

I could talk about this stuff all day, really. It’s so cool. And I would, but it turns out some guy already conveniently wrote a book on it. You know the one.

He breaks it down way better than I do, but that quick explanation should hold you over in the mean time. Now, do you absolutely need to read this book to learn how to leverage the power of why? Not necessarily, but it’ll sure as hell help. Trust me, it’s worth a read. There’s so much more to it than what I’ve mentioned here and all of it’s fascinating.

Use the Why to Write Great Copy

Sounds intuitive, right? It’s actually kind of not.

You might think good copy for our flower shop lady looks something like this:

We sell every type of flower imaginable.

Well, if you do, you’re probably not a great copywriter. Still, it’s not completely awful. But if you’re starting with why, it would look more like this:

Daisy’s Flower Shop doesn’t just sell flowers. We sell joy, love, gratitude, and celebration–all in the form of the bouquet in your hands.

See the difference? The first one is boring as all hell. If I read that as a customer, I’d probably be saying, “No shit you sell flowers, but what else?” Or–even worse–Daisy’s Flower Shop wouldn’t even have caught my attention at all.

What will those flowers do for your customer? What’s the real purpose behind them? That’s when the joy, love, gratitude, and celebration come in. That’s what matters. Customers aren’t buying flowers, they’re buying the expression of a feeling. Your copywriting clients aren’t buying your words, they’re buying the magic they make. They’re buying the feelings they rouse in their customers.

So before you write a single word, dive deeply into the why. Feel it. Try to experience it as passionately as you know your client does. The how and what aren’t important right now–the why will give you the structure you need to get off to powerful start. The how and what are add-ins, accessories for your copy, so trying to begin with them alone is a mistake. Your copy will be soulless.

Instead, start with why and watch things flow much more easily.

Getting to the Why

Of course, before you even feel it, you’ve got to find out what it is first. The only way to do it is to ask your client an ass-load of questions. Some clients will be almost embarrassed to let their passion show. They’ll try to play it cool and not get carried away in talking about their dreams. But get them excited, get them emotional, and you’ll have the tools you need to serve them much better than they ever thought you could.

Here’s a hint: when your client starts speaking too quickly, using dramatic language, or is getting even the tiniest bit emotional, you’ve got it. Pay attention, because she’s opening up her soul to you. And when that happens, you’re golden.

Beware of a Lack of Why

When you start interacting with clients this way, a funny thing happens.

You realize that unless you connect on the why, unless their why resonates with you and inspires you to write moving copy, your job isn’t as fun as it could be. A lack of purpose isn’t as uncommon as you’d think–some people really only show up for the paycheck.

You realize that when you gravitate towards companies who start with why, who let it guide everything they do, you fall in love with your job all over again. Your work comes to life. You know you’ve chosen the right path.

That’s why you shouldn’t work with just anyone, which is something we’ll talk more on later. Your number one criterium for new clients–even more crucial than whether or not they fall within your niche market–is passion. Because passion is contagious, and when they’re passionate, you’ll be too. And that’s when you’ll do your best work.

So do you see what I meant when I said learning this showed me that I can be a great copywriter? I realized that I don’t need formal education in journalism, marketing, or writing to do what I do. My writing skills were good enough already. I realized that I didn’t need to know all the rules, the textbook methods of writing about the whats and the hows. I realized that all I needed to do was become a relentless hunter of the why and learn to harness its power. Hunt it with me, and you’ll write great copy, too.

Hunt it relentlessly, and your words will move mountains.