You know, that thing that makes you you.
That one thing that’s next to impossible to change, because it’s almost innate. Sort of like it’s buried somewhere in your DNA.
Well that thing contains a whole bunch of characteristics which determine another bunch of things about you.
Like who you’re likely to date. Or what kind of friends you’re likely to have. Or how likely you are to become a great copywriter.
You see, being an awesome copywriter has very little to do with knowing how to write.
Ok, so not very little – you’d hope a great copywriter would be able to string a sentence together – but it’s not the most important determinant in how supersonic you’ll be in your copywriting career.
Believe it or not, there are various parts of your personality that play a huge role in whether you have what it takes.
Consulting my good friend Google, I managed to dig up a relatively large list of traits people seem to think are crucial to being a copywriter. In short, here’s what I found (and how many times each was mentioned):
- Creativity (x4)
- Intelligence (x3)
- Good communication (x3)
- Empathy (x5)
- Discipline (x3)
- Curiosity (x3)
- Perceptiveness (x2)
- Good reading skills (x2)
Sure, there were some other important things that were mentioned.
An AppleCopywriting post, about the personality traits of a copywriter, mentions research by some scientific types from the University of Ohio. Apparently they found that good copywriters “have the ability to understand the feelings of those around them without having to speak to them directly”…
…they also found that most writers are messy introverts.
Another interesting post by Big Grey Horse Media, on 5 traits of a good copywriter, focuses more on the salesy side of a copywriter’s qualities. Like knowing the difference between benefits and features. And writing compelling copy that makes customers take action. Also, knowing how to deliver a USP (unique selling proposition – that thing that makes your product/business so much better than the competition).
The dudes at IMGrind.com went so far as to count 22 characteristics of a great copywriter. Wow! What a nice little catalyst for a copywriter’s ego.
But here’s the thing: in all my research, I barely found mention of the one trait that I think is the most important for a copywriter.
And I’m not talking I’ve-worked-at-Ogilvy-for-10-years-so-I’m-a-kick-ass-copywriter experience. I’m talking about the only kind of experience that truly matters.
I can hear your eyes rolling over in their sockets. “Life experience isn’t part of your personality!” you’re thinking. Oh but, my dear Watson, it very much is.
Life experience, it can be said, is what helps shape our personality. Of course there are things that you’re born with, and then there’s the attributes you acquire through your life experience.
And let me tell you why this life experience is so imperative in your copywriting career.
First of all empathy and compassion are one thing – walking in someone else’s shoes is a whole new ball game.
Real life example? Here's one...
I used to write copy for a real estate company. I’d drive around to houses and speak to the people selling them. They would tell me about all the great features their house has (walking distance to schools, polished floor boards, ducted heating, etc.). Then they’d tell me what they love most about their house (the shady backyard, the solar heated pool, the great little café down the road that makes those custard thingies…).
Once I got back to the office, the agent would tell me what the buyers were looking for (a family home, close proximity to shopping centres, an upstairs master bedroom, etc.). And then I would sit down and write the copy.
Don’t get me wrong. My copy was good. In fact, it was damn good. Cat and I (working together) lifted the standard of Melbourne's Eastern suburbs real estate copywriting.
But (yes here comes the “but”)…
Only once I’d actually experienced the home selling (and buying) experience, did my skill for real estate copywriting come into its own. Before, I could imagine – and sympathise with – the people who were selling and the people who were buying. I wrote copy that catered to both equally, because you have to please the vendors, but you have to sell to the buyers.
Now, I know exactly how much of each perspective needs to go in to create the perfect blend. My real estate copywriting is better than it’s ever been and it’s all thanks to life experience.
(And before you ask, yes, I still write real estate copy on a freelance basis.)
I believe that all the traits mentioned in this post, to some extent, depend on life experience.
Even intuition. The more you’ve been through, the more you know. And feel. And the better you are at injecting that into your writing.
This post by Dan Watson, Kiwi copywriter and illustrator on the side, sort of covers what I’ve been talking about.
I say ‘sort of’, because he talks about watching television and stand up comedians in order to gain perceptions. While I totally agree that this is also important, it still doesn’t give you the felt-it-on-my-own-skin experience.
Dan does say this, however: “The best advertising messages stem from life insights. Aspects of daily living that transcend language, age, and gender boundaries. And the best way to come up with these life insights is to experience life.”
Yes!! That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!!
Life experience + a whole bunch of other personality characteristics (subject to change from person to person) = one whiz-bang copywriter.