Article by: MaryEllen | Sunday, August 29, 2010

By MaryEllen Tribby

“Mommy, Swiper’s bad,” my five-year-old Delanie told me.

She and I were snuggling together watching the popular kids’ show Dora the Explorer. Swiper, a fox, constantly steals and hides items that Dora needs to complete her quests.

“Why is Swiper bad?” I asked Delanie.

“Because he takes things that don’t belong to him!” she replied.

“And when he does that, what happens?” I inquired.

“Well,” Delanie said, “Dora, Boots, Isa, Benny, and the rest of the gang shout ‘Swiper, NO SWIPING!’”

Even five-year-olds understand that swiping is wrong! So why do so many business owners and Internet marketers think it’s okay to swipe other people’s sales copy and editorial content?

Perhaps it doesn’t seem so bad because “swiping” is such a cute, non-threatening word.

In reality, swiping is stealing, it’s plagiarizing, and it’s just plain wrong!

Now here’s the funny part…

When the great copywriters originally invented swipe files, they never intended to give future writing generations an excuse NOT to write. Swipe files were intended to be a resource for the writers to study and dissect in order to understand why certain techniques did or did not work.

These days, people think that all it takes to absolve themselves of wrongdoing is to admit with a big smile on their faces that they swipe.

Would you let your child walk into her favorite toy store and walk out with a $10, $5, or even 50 cent toy without paying?

Of course not! But swiping copy – whether you admit to it or not – is the same thing: it’s stealing.

And you know what? Stealing other writers’ copy and content doesn’t do you any good! On the contrary, by swiping content and copy your business will never really grow. You are doing a grave disservice to yourself, your prospects, and your existing customers.

You see, every piece of copy and content starts with an idea. And that idea should have its foundation in the current needs of your customers. You should be solving their problems, alleviating them of their anxieties, and helping them overcome their challenges.

When you swipe someone else’s content or copy you are sending a message that was written for that person’s community, not yours.

Recently I worked with a young up-and-coming copywriter. And we started at the beginning. I poured my heart and soul into all the sessions I spent with him, hours and hours.

The outcome was great. He produced a letter that captured my voice and addressed my customers’ needs. I paid dearly for that copy. Not only with cold hard cash, but with my heart and soul – real sweat equity.

Once our project was complete, he sent me this email:

MaryEllen,

I wanted to tell you thank you for trusting me with this project. I know how important it is to you. But it was extremely important to me.

I’ve been writing copy seriously for about 3 years. I mentored with [“Peter”] for over a year (at $1000 a month). He taught me to swipe. To take a whole letter and swipe it from beginning to end. So that’s what I did. A lot.

But I’ve always feared that that may have been a disservice to me because I wasn’t learning to really write original copy that was good. So I’ve really struggled with whether or not I’m really any good at this.

When I started writing for [“Company X”] I knew I couldn’t swipe like I was used to. I was afraid it would be too obvious, to them or the market. And that I would appear to be a fraud. So I hammered out everything, swiping nothing but a headline. And even then not much.

Then came your project and I certainly didn’t dare write like I had been used to. I poured my guts into that letter MaryEllen. I really want it to work for you. And when you responded the way you did today…

…it was the most validation I have EVER received in this business. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.

I’m sorry this is so long. But I had to tell you how much I appreciate you. I appreciate how you’ve coached me. Thank you for believing in me. I look up to you very much and sincerely hope we can work together for many more years.

Best,

Andrew

***

The only changes I made to this email are the name of the swiper teacher and the company Andrew worked for to protect the innocent and not so innocent.

Did you notice that Andrew paid “Peter” $12,000 to teach him how to steal copy? I can hardly believe it!

But I hope you also noticed the most important part of Andrew’s letter: His heartfelt admission that when he and I worked on the copy together – when I coached him on how to create original copy – not only was it was the best copy he had ever written, he learned a new skill and felt much better about his work and himself.

I guess because I worked with copywriting legend Clayton Makepeace for seven years that the idea of swiping never entered my mind. Or perhaps I never thought about swiping because studying with Michael Masterson made me a top-notch thinker.

And that is the biggest problem with swiping: when you swipe you don’t think. You become robotic and you get caught up in a sea of sameness! Believe me – swiped copy is never as good as the original!

If you are not sure where to start when it comes to writing copy or content, let me make it easy for you…

5 Easy Stepping Stones to Writing Awesome Content and Copy That Works

Servicing your customers properly takes a little bit of hard work, time, and creativity. The following five steps will help you come up with ideas that appeal to your community… and write high-quality sales copy and editorial content that address your community’s needs and desires.

1)   Survey Your Customers and Prospects. Conducting surveys today is easier an ever. There are so many inexpensive – even free! – tools out there. Use them to find out what keeps your customers awake. When you have that intelligence you will be miles ahead of your competitors.

I have even taken this concept one step further. When  I was president of a large financial newsletter  publisher, not only did I survey my customers, I called  a friend at our largest competitor, told her what I was  doing, and asked that she send the same survey to her customers. She did and we compared the data.

2)   Understand the Current Events That Affect Your Market. Most people think that reading or watching the news via mainstream publications and channels is enough. Take it one step further. You know the survey we just talked about? One of the questions on that survey should ask what your customers and prospects read, listen to, and watch to get their news. Once you have that information, make it a HABIT to watch, listen to, and read the same things as your community members. This will help you get inside their heads.

3)   Put Together an Idea Team. Copy should NEVER be written in a vacuum. For every new sales promotion, form a team that includes at least four people: the copywriter, the editor or guru of the product, a marketer, and a customer satisfaction person. If you are just starting out, ask your friendly colleagues to be on the “team.”

4)   Brainstorm. Set a time to get your entire Idea Team together in a room or on a phone call without interruption. Start by going though the surveys and talking about what’s going on in the world that affects your customers and prospects. Do not leave that session until you have a “big idea” for the promotion and an idea of what the headline looks like. Within 48 hours of that session, the copywriter should come back with a headline and lead (2 to 3 pages of copy).

5)   Peer Review the Copy. Once copy or content comes in the door, gather your Idea Team and go through it. Have everyone make suggestions for how to make the copy stronger based on what you know about your community’s needs.

When you follow these easy steps, you are on your way to learning the best way to communicate with your community and help improve its members’ lives. When you learn these things, your company will grow.

When you swipe, you are a hamster on wheel – always scurrying for the next morsel to sock away, but never getting anywhere.

Learn how to generate your own ideas, and anything you write will be much stronger that what you can steal. As a result, your community members will reward you with their loyalty, their respect, and their dollars.