Fishing the copy vs. design debate out of the sewer

A couple days ago, I flushed the copy vs. design debate down the toilet, as it were.

To be truthful, it isn’t a completely useless conversation. But my point was that copy and design aren’t in competition—they both serve the ultimate marketing task of communication.

My philosophy isn’t “design-centric” or “copy-centric” (though if I had a gun to my head, I would pick copy hands down). It’s communication-centric.

But when it comes down to creating actual marketing pieces, we have to start somewhere.

In GENERAL, it’s better to start with copy for a few reasons.

Firstly, good copy communicates in the abstract world of ideas. Images can only communicate a specific thing in a specific place at a specific time stripped of all context. And because a sales message is fundamentally a series of abstract propositions, we start with copy and use images to portray them.

Secondly, copy gives the graphic designer constraints which allow him to be creative. As my 8th grade English teacher once said, “creativity requires constraints.” Even when an “arteest” does abstract art, they must constrain themselves by medium, material, method, etc. Copy gives a designer natural constraints so they don’t have to just make it up.

Thirdly, making “message” decisions requires words on paper (or screen). Copy is the natural next step.

Do you need help making the messaging decisions for your business and getting words on paper? That is available to you here:

Flushing the copy vs design debate down the toilet

Marketing creatives talk about this all the time. What’s more important: copy or design?

Or what should you start with: copy or design?

Those questions are all fine and good. But they are tactical questions—which means they are much less useful than more principled focused questions.

Such as…

What are we doing in an email?

What is the purpose of a banner ad?

What is the goal of landing page creative?

Having a tight, deep understanding of those answers make all the tactical questions about copy and design easier and quicker.

And here’s the answer: we’re communicating a message. 

The point of any piece of marketing is communicating a specific message that leads to a specific action.

That’s it. 

The golden calves of copy and design are meant to communicate your message in a compelling and engaging way. 

Copy and design serve marketing, not the other way around.

They’re not unimportant, but they aren’t ALL-important.

You have to determine what your message is before you figure out how to communicate it. 

Need help with that? 

You can get help here:

“You’ve got mail from the government”

USPS has this new fangled technology that will send you an email with pictures of your mail before it arrives. 

Aside from being an instance of our culture’s obsession with instant gratification…

…it represents a great marketing lesson for those who have ears to hear.

My wife got the USPS email with a picture of a letter from a federal agency.

“Look at this, what could this be?” she texted me.

I could hear the worry in her voice even over text.

And quite frankly, it set alarm bells off in my head, too.

(Which is completely justified because usually the government reaches out to take something from you…or take something from you disguised as giving you something.)

It ended up being of little consequence.

Here’s the marketing lesson.

The government has a brand that elicits worry and stress. 

Some of that is from the reputation they’ve built over the past 250 years…some is from the bureaucratic style of their envelopes.

What emotions, thoughts, and experience does your business elicit in your customers?

That is something that can be controlled, concocted, and strategized.

And it reiterates a point I heard Ben Settle make about email…

“The “from” line of your email is more important than the subject line.”

That one requires some thinking.

Need some to help you think about your marketing and execute a plan that works?

Get that help over here:

How to veto-proof your copywriting

Recently, in the great state of Kansas where I live, our state legislature passed a bill with a super-majority in both houses.

Normally the bill would likely be vetoed by the current governor.

But more than two-thirds of each house voted yes, making the bill theoretically “veto-proof”. 

It doesn’t matter so much what the bill was about, so I will stop yipping about politics.

The point is that you can “veto-proof” your copywriting. 

And this isn’t really a copywriting tactic at all. It’s more big picture than that.

You can do all the linguistic judo on your website and sales pages you want, but the one thing that will veto-proof your writing…

…is having a no-brainer offer.

A no-brainer offer is something that your ideal, qualified prospect almost CANNOT say no to. Something where the perceived value is exponentially greater than the price.

There are at least two ways to get this done:

There are at least two ways to get this done:

1. Lower the price of the offer


2. Add something to up the value of the offer

If you do this successfully, and your prospect has an immediate need, this will veto-proof your copywriting.

Click here to get more like this straight to your email:

Wodehouse fools the nazis

A story:

British writer P. G. Wodehouse was captured by the Nazis during World War II.

When the Germans realized he was a well-known writer, they “asked” him if he would write propaganda for them.

He inwardly snickered (as you’ll see why) and accepted their offer.

Now why would a loyal Brit gladly write for one of the evil empires of history?

He was so talented that he could write in such a way that the Germans thought he was writing propaganda for them while signaling an entirely different meaning to the British people.

Good copywriting is like this.

And especially your headlines.

It should really only make sense to the exact ideal customer. And everyone else should shrug it off.

Here’s a famous example: “Do you make these mistakes in English?”

This headline sold a home-study course about improving your English skills. And it was published during a time when refugees and immigrants from Europe were flooding into the United States.

Now, are you especially intrigued by the headline? Do you feel like your broken English keeps you from succeeding?

Probably not, but back when this was written there were hundreds of thousands of people who felt that way.

It resonated with them and no one else.

So, one test to apply to your advertising is this: would this resonate with a lot of people or only the ones I really want?

To get more tips for crafting that perfect headline for your landing pages, sales pages, and more, go here:


Recently I attended Carline Anglade-Cole’s webinar Tribute to Clayton Makepeace, one of the legends of direct response copywriting.

It was a who’s who of the past 40+ years of direct response marketing featuring people like...

Gary Bencivenga
Bob Bly
David Deutsch
Brian Kurtz
Kim Krause Schwalm
Kevin Rogers
Parris Lampropoulos
Lori Haller
Richard Viguerie
Marcella Allison
And others...

And they said many great things which I will not go into here.

But there was something taught there in silent whispers

The practice of reading.

If you want to be a great writer (and that includes copywriting), you have to be a great reader.

This concept was powerfully sold by the fact that at least half of these legends of direct response copywriting were surrounded by bookshelves.

And not cute ones - these were packed to the brim with books. Book stuffed in sideways and piles of them everywhere.

And I would suspect that the other half also has loads of books, they just weren’t shown on camera.

This was all confirmed when Bob Bly said that if you want to learn to be a great writer “you have to read everyday, and write everyday.”

Enough for today.

As always, if it is time to take your copy from the “Dick & Jane” level to “Lord of the Rings”, you can get that help here:

How to build authority like Ben Franklin’s father

I once picked up a story from Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography about his father.

Franklin Sr. was apparently very well regarded in his community as a man of sound judgement.

Franklin Jr. says that he was often visited by both politicians and clergymen to give his advice on certain matters. All this without his invitation.

And not only that, but he was often an arbitrator in disputes among the residents of his town.

In fact, Franklin even refers to his father’s work as “consulting” (though I am sure he didn’t mean exactly how we think of consulting in a business sense today).

How does a mere Candlemaker become the sought-after conscience of government officials, pastors, and “private persons”?

Junior explains...

“At his table he liked to have, as often as he could, some sensible friend or neighbor to converse with, and always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse, which might tend to improve the minds of his children.”

Franklin Sr. wasn’t necessarily the most knowledgeable guy in the room (though he couldn’t have gained his reputation without knowledge).

Instead, he was the facilitator of discussions. Particularly smart discussions.

And you can do this as well. Whether that means sharing interesting articles with your coworkers. Being the one who asks the question that starts the smart conversation.

Or even reporting things from the autobiographies of famous people to your email list (ahem).

This is of course a double-edged sword. Because you have to gain new knowledge to share new knowledge.

So as you gain new knowledge, you also build your own authority among people who may be interested in buying from you or partnering with you.

As always, go here for more tips like this:

The case for removing your logo from your website

Recently at work, we were asked to figure out why a certain page wasn’t converting the high amount traffic that was being sent to it.

And upon arrival, it was clear what was wrong. Too much branding.

People who clicked on the ad (which was about a specific make/model of car) expected to see content about that.

But what they ended up seeing was a big header image of a car (different make/model) with the company logo on it.

Big mistake.

My suggestion?

Remove the header image entirely—in fact, toss the logo in a dumpster fire. Stick it at the bottom of the page below the contact info if we really want it.

But for marketing’s sake, make sure what they see on the page delivers on the promise of the ad.

And that is really the main point. If your landing page doesn’t instantly deliver on the promise of the ad—you should *expect* people to click off quickly.

Speaking of clicking, click right here to join my “Golden Horde” and get more tips like this delivered to your inbox:


Why I voraciously sign up for email lists and ruthlessly unsubscribe from the ones that provide little to no value

A “tribe” is any group which is gathered around a common goal with a common set of beliefs and rules for belonging.

But tribes exist in many forms.

The main benefit of tribes is the collective experience. The “hive mind”—or in science fiction they call this “gestalt intelligence”.

Some tribes are very small and curated such as the “Inklings” which was a small group of literary enthusiasts including the household names Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

And then there are email lists—which give you the collected experience of the person writing the emails. Which is why I suggest you keep these to a minimum. Perhaps only 3. And only the best. Only the ones that consistently provide something valuable, something thought-inducing—even if they have something to sell every time.

Speaking of something to sell, you can join my “Golden Horde” to get copywriting tips to squeeze more money from your website and landing pages:

Copywriting as decision-making

One of my favorites, “Start With No” by the late Jim Camp, outlines a method of negotiation that centers on decision-making.

The main point being that negotiations are moved forward by effective decision-making by both parties.

The negotiator’s role is to make effective decisions and then facilitate and encourage effective decision-making on the part of his adversary. 

This involves things like…

– Painting a picture of their pain
– Giving them an agenda and deadline
– Managing expectations
– Helping them understand the full weight of their decision
– Letting them be “okay”
– Giving them the right to say no

All of which he explains in much more detail in his book.

The point? Oh yes, I got carried away.

Copywriting is not much different. It is merely negotiation (or facilitating effective decision-making) in print (or pixels).

Which is why good copywriting always paints a picture of the reader’s pain, gives them the info needed to make a decision, manages their expectations, and requires a decision (without taking away their right to veto). 

Anyway, enough yappings on.

If you need more tips for negotiating with your customer in print or online, you can sign up for my Golden Horde email newsletter here: