Humility in Online Copywriting

Learning to be humble in the not-so humble world of online marketing.

I’m a confident guy. It’s one reason I chose marketing as a career. I had this fool idea I could write winning sales letters and beat the best of them.

Even if my competition had been writing for 20 years, I figured I’d find an angle they hadn’t explored – a stone left unturned. Then I would turn a phrase better with my superior wordsmith abilities and win the control.

But I was wrong.

Listen To Your Teachers

Anyone who has tried marketing more than a few months learns something about creatives. Winners don’t win because of the copy – only. They win on the idea and the execution of the idea, and more importantly – how the market responds to the idea. Copywriters learn quickly not all their ideas are good. Even if they have a winner, it’s no guarantee the next one will beat the next control.

In My Life in Advertising, legendary copywriter Claude Hopkins wrote, “Advertising teaches us how fallible our judgments are, even in things we know best.”

He was right.

No matter how long I do this, I learn how wrong I can be. From sending a mailing that bombs to putting up a website that doesn’t convert, copywriting puts a man in his place. At least it’s not worthless. Failure teaches us ways not to do things. I guess that’s why the best copywriters have been doing it the longest – they’ve made the most mistakes.

Learning From The Market

I’m learning more lessons about humility with pay per click.

PPC advertising is great. It’s the quickest, cheapest way to test your idea in the market. This medium allows advertisers to float an offer to prospects. Advertisers have 130 characters in Google to convince the prospect your ad is worth their time (I’m counting the display URL, too). Not only can the advertiser see how good your offer is, they can also see how bad it is – fast.

Not long ago, I worked with a client who sold specialty baby items. Her launch date for the website was late 2008. As she launched her site and pay per click campaigns, the stock market cratered and normally-hot luxury items lost their shimmer. No matter what we did in the campaigns, potential customers didn’t buy. Sure, we sold some products, but nothing compared to what she would have sold a year before. It was rough.

Yes, I could have structured the PPC account differently or she could have spent more money on the site. But most of the blame rests on the economy. Overall economic conditions shut consumers’ wallets for luxury goods despite our best efforts.

I believed in her site. She did too – much more than me. But it’s not about the business owner or pay per click manager. It’s about the market. If the market doesn’t believe your offer, you don’t have a business.

That’s what humility is all about.

The search copywriter should be confident. The copywriter should know their efforts will eventually result in success. But the copywriter is at the mercy of elements far more superior to personal intellect or abilities. Yes the business owner is important, but ultimately, the customer makes the rules. The customer is king. The sooner we put the customer in their rightful place, the better we’ll adapt for that reality.

If we do, we learn humility. We become less assumptive, less arrogant. Not only does that make us better copywriters, search marketers, and business consultants – it makes us easier to live with.