Q&A Series: The CopyHacker Joanna Wiebe
We're back with another Q&A with the CopyHacker herself, Joanna Wiebe. Joanna is known for her tack sharp writing skills on CopyHackers.com and for helping companies use copy to "convert like mofos using li'l ol' words, old-skool copywriting and new-skool smartz". We wanted to pick Joanna's brain to help us get the most out of our copywriting and become better writers.
Enjoy our Q&A with Joanna Wiebe!
Q: When did the copywriting-bug bite you and what has your journey been like so far?
Picture it - Sicily, 1922. A young peasant girl...
...Kidding. Golden Girls reference. (Actually one of the funniest shows ever, FWIW.)
It wasn't until I discovered A/B testing that I really got bit by the copywriting bug. That was about 3 years into my career - a career I'd spent dealing with "I don't like this" and "just wordsmith it" kinda feedback from clients. Once I got to Intuit and found myself in a team with CROs, I saw that you could actually measure the success or failures of copy. With split-testing, copy wasn't measured by what someone liked or didn't like. It had nothing to do with wordsmithing. All of that BS feedback I'd dealt with vanished. My work was validated. I could see the direct line between what I wrote and how many units of QuickBooks sold. Hard not to be excited when you see that.
Since then, the journey's been not without its bumps... but always great and getting better. I'm disheartened by testing today because, as promising as testing is, it's hard to do it well without Intuit-sized traffic. So today it's about figuring out 1) how to write copy that's more likely to perform - using frameworks, formulas and research - and 2) how to measure copy's effectiveness in meaningful ways.
Q: Tell us about your current goals with CopyHackers and your new project Airstory.
Copy Hackers has done well in spite of my shortcomings. I've mostly tried to stay out of its way and not screw it up. :) Now that my team is growing, though, it's become necessary to set a direction for Copy Hackers and lead it there. So we're really happy with where it is today, and our next step is to add fuel to the little, growing fire. We publish great information - so how do we make that better? We're looking at publishing more frequently, with a greater range of topics based on our 3 primary readers, and adding a little levity and brevity into the mix. Carefully. But also boldly.
Airstory is in private beta right now, and the user sessions are decidedly humbling. I have to remind myself that the software's not supposed to be perfect yet - that it's early beta, and we're doing private tests so we can work on the right features and functionality. It's an incredible challenge, but I love it so much - solving the problems professional writers struggle with drives me because, hey, they're my peeps. :) By the end of 2016, we'd like to be out of private beta and helping teams turn lots of great ideas into publishable content faster.
Q: I know you're a big believer in the power of story telling when it comes to writing content. How can we incorporate a story format in our writing if there is no story to be had?
There's always a story. If there's not a story, scrap the idea and move onto the next one. We like to tell ourselves in copywriting that people only care about themselves - but that's not entirely true. People care about underdogs, and people love to watch kings fall. That is, people care about other people's stories. And everything has a story.
For example, in 2014, Jen Havice wrote a post on Copy Hackers about A/B testing. When she first gave the post to me, it was a bit of a listicle: 3 things to avoid with A/B testing. Something like that. (I hope she'll forgive my poor memory for the details here.) Lists are fine, but nobody really cares about them. So I nudged Jen to rewrite it to focus on the challenges she experienced while spending the summer running tests with me. That turned into the post, "I Spent All Summer Running A/B Tests, And What I Learned Made Me Question the Whole Thing", which was our most popular post of 2014. Only when she told her story did it get really, really good.
Q: Who are 3 of your favorite copywriters doing great things today and why?Any examples of their content we can digest?
That's tough 'cos I've got a mastermind filled with great copywriters. The copywriters that are most worthy of attention aren't getting much of it. Like the people writing for ModCloth, J Peterman and Poo-Pourri - whoever they are, I want to take those people to dinner.
I think we're gonna see really cool things from Kira Hug, who brings an incredible amount of personality to the table. Ash Ambirge at The Middle Finger Project has been great at beating the drum about writing something that actually sticks. And, lucky me, I've just hired Jon Lamphier, a conceptual copywriter out of North Carolina with the most wicked sense of humor.
Q: Can you suggest 3 of your favourite reads to help us become better copywriters?
- Great Leads, by Masterson and Forde.
- Scientific Advertising, by Hopkins.
- Copy Hackers, by me. :) Honestly - if I thought my books weren't essential reading, I wouldn't sell 'em.
Q: What is the most important piece of information you could give a new writer to be more effective?
Get out of your head. By that I mean 1) don't look for the messages inside your brain, 2) don't polish all the rawness out of your work and 3) don't treat copywriting as an academic assignment. Get out of your head.
Q: With so much more content being produced these days, what strategies do you use to make sure your content and copy stand above the crowd?
I heard this story when I was in creative writing class back in university: As one of the Barthelme brothers was teaching a writing class, he described his typical day to his students, upon which a student asked, "When do you sleep?" And Barthelme replied, "Who said anything about sleeping?" If you want to write killer, head-and-shoulders-above-the-crowd content or copy, expect to work. Anyone that tells you it's gonna be easy is trying to sell you something. Put your best work into every single thing you do - and you will be exhausted, yes, but you'll also produce an incredible body of work that will win you fans, likes, shares, clients and life-changing job offers. Your content is your resume. Use it to get what you want.
There you have it guys, some great insights from Copy Hacker, Joanna Wiebe. I hope you got a lot of actionable tips from Joanna to help you write more effectively. Stay tuned for our next Q&A!