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How is Copywriting Changing?

In a recent interview, I was asked how do I feel that copywriting is changing. It was an interesting question. In my answer, I shared some observations and predictions that will apply in many areas of marketing and not just copywriting. I felt that this might be a good discussion to explore here.

But first, let me give you some context.

Back in the early 2000s, I wrote several long-form salesletters. Some of them were incredibly successful, including the one that I'm mostly known for, which is the famous “million-dollar day” (i.e., the first salesletter to sell over a million dollars online in one day).

But after many of those successes, I started to see more aggressive, FOMO-laden, over-the-top salesletters. They seemed to be getting longer and louder. Some were so hyperbolic that they were outright misleading.

That's when I believed that the endlessly-scrolling salesletter was becoming increasingly commoditized and falling out of favor. Plus, more and more of these salesletters were used to sell scams, snake oils, and subpar products.

This observation was coupled with a few others.

One of them was the fact that my clients were seeing better performance with more conversational, tiered sales approaches. The second was something my friend and conversational copywriter Nick Usborne once said: “Great products don't need long copy; they sell themselves.”

This created some intense debates on my now-defunct copywriters' forum, but I had to agree with him. If only to point out the converse, which is that bad products typically need more aggressive forms of marketing.

In essence, educational, conversational, relationship-driven sales copy made more sense to me than long, manipulative salesletters that feel like carnival barkers preying on their “marks.”

I believed that this was where the web was heading. I believed in it so strongly that I decided to write a manifesto about it. The Death of The Salesletter wasn't about the salesletter dying but evolving…

  • I believed that salesletters were getting shorter but more spread out.
  • I believed that they would be delivered in various formats (e.g., videos, emails, blogs, etc) instead of just one, long-scrolling piece of text.
  • And I believed that the message would be more personalized and segmented, rather than presented as a one-stop, one-size-fits-all letter.

Today, those things are standard practice.

We see things like email drip campaigns, remarketing ads, personalized web apps, video salesletters, sales funnels, marketing automation tools, customer journeys, buyer personas, customer experience, and so on.

So yes, copywriting has changed and continues to do so. The fundamentals, however, will never change. Human nature will never change. Selling is selling, and that will never change.

However, there are two things to consider.

First, one change that is constant is the medium. It’s the part of copywriting that continues to evolve, and the basis behind my writing my manifesto.

For example, we went from reading print mail, to listening to the radio, to watching TV, to browsing the Internet. Armed with a keyboard and a mouse now, we went from passively reading content to actively interacting with it.

Another great example of how things are evolving is the smartphone. The majority of all traffic on the Internet is mobile. Google has favored mobile search results and has shifted from mobile-first indexing to mobile-only.

So the way we consume content has changed and will keep changing. Copywriting, therefore, has to change to fit within that context.

Which brings me to my second point.

Machine learning and eventually artificial intelligence (AI) will slowly start creeping into our work, like it or not. When I learned that GPT-3 was able to write human-like blog posts, I imagined that copywriting won’t be too far behind.

In fact, we’ve already seen it with a tool called “Persado,” which wrote ad headlines that outpulled human-written headlines in split-tests.

Will that make copywriting obsolete? Eventually, sure. But not entirely. It will likely force copywriting and copywriters to evolve, too.

For one, machines need programmers. They need data and input in order to function. So the realm of copywriting might evolve to be more data-driven and strategy-based. (This is already happening.)

For example, some say that robots are replacing workers and eradicating jobs, while others say that they will present new job opportunities such as in the field of robotics. After all, robots need to come from somewhere.

I believe copywriting will be the same. Shifting to higher-value work, such as marketing strategy and planning (which is what I do now, for example) will bring more to the table for copywriters and for their clients.

I don’t think artificial intelligence is going to kill copywriters soon. But it makes sense for them to start looking at deepening their skills in more upstream work, such as creative and strategic thinking. 

Needless to say, machine-learning has already crept into copywriting through software-assisted tools, such as grammar-checking, idea brainstorming, style-checking, headline generation, fact-checking, split-testing, and so on.

Personally, I've used Grammarly and Hemingway, but I've never used content creation tools like WordSmith or Articoolo. I have used Rank Math, a plugin in WordPress, to give me SEO scores, readability scores, and links suggestions.

Nevertheless, these tools don’t replace writers. But the day when they will be able to is going to come soon, and of that I’m certain. Better be prepared.

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