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This Reason I Created Formulas May Surprise You

Today, I had a conversation with another copywriter about ADHD and his own recent diagnosis.

The conversation reminded me of a formula I created some 20 years ago to help me and other copywriters, which I call QUEST. Now that I know I have ADHD, it struck me because it explained so much as to why I created and use formulas like this one all the time.

See, I'm a big fan of mnemonics.

I often use acronyms, particularly if they spell something, because they help to stick in the mind.

For context, here's a quick synopsis. QUEST is a reminder to:

  1. Qualify the reader,
  2. Understand their problem,
  3. Educate them on the solution,
  4. Stimulate them on buying it, and
  5. Transition them to buy.

The point of this acronym is not to dictate how to write marketing messages or a specific formula to strictly follow, like AIDA for example.

They're more like gentle reminders.

My mind wanders a lot, which is also its own source of inspiration. ADHDers are often recognized as highly creative for this reason.

So once I find the main idea I want to communicate in my marketing message, I need to write it down, let it flow, and flesh it out. Or else I'll forget it.

Sometimes, I don't have an idea. In this case, I simply start writing for the express purpose of finding it eventually. It's OK because I'll edit later.

This reminds me of a conversation on LinkedIn a few days ago.

A writer asked for advice to help beat writer's block.

When being forced to “write about a certain topic or come up with an idea,” they said, “my brain just panics and shuts down.”

Another copywriter rightfully suggested not to wait for inspiration. Just start writing and the idea will eventually turn up. He added, “I'll write pages of the worst copy anyone's ever seen until something clicks.” I agree.

The old adage, “Write first, edit later,” is important as it stops us from trying to edit ourselves while in the process of writing. When we strive to find that perfect morsel of an idea, we wait, stumble, procrastinate, start and restart, and then blame writer's block.

We are our own worst critics.

My friend John Carlton calls this writing clearing-the-throat copy.

After a while, you will become your own source of inspiration. That's why the purpose of the QUEST formula, as it should be with any formula, is not to restrict you but to guide you.

If I had to force myself to “stay within the lines,” I would feel constrained.

This would stifle my creativity and flow.

Don't be a car. Be a boat.

A car is forced to stay within the lines on the road, follow the flow of traffic, and respect traffic signals. A boat, on the other hand, sails on the vast, open ocean and looks out for buoys and beacons to let them know what to watch out for.

QUEST, in this sense, is a set of guides rather than goals.

You may or may not have ADHD like me. But like with everything in marketing, success is formulaic. However, formulas are meant to remind you, guide you, and nudge you in the right direction — not control or constrain you.

Like Walt Disney once said: “Don't ‘think outside the box'. Think like there is no box.”

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