An interview with Steven Lewis: Powerful copywriting tips that will “make the phone ring”

An interview with a direct-response copywriter

This episode of The Morning Kick has Andrew Pitchford talking with direct-response copywriter and Director of Taleist Agency, Steven Lewis.

We believe that one of the most influential elements to convert visitors into sales from your website is the copywriting. However, we often hear from Business owners that “no one knows my business well enough to write for me”. It’s a dangerous path that is fraught with unsuccessful marketing.

On the Morning Kick we talk to Taleist Agency’s Steven Lewis about the importance of professional copy. Don’t settle for watching fistfuls of expensive traffic from Google or Facebook slip through your fingers!

Interview Transcript 👇

Andrew Pitchford:
Well, good morning Kicksters! Welcome back to the Morning Kick. Hasn’t it been exciting how much innovation has been coming out of this situation? There’s a lot of businesses that have been challenged by, how do I get my business to be more productive? How I deal with maybe a downturn that’s effected because of the economy or locked down different things. But certainly people are evaluating everything they do and trying to get better at what they do. And that’s gotta be a positive. And we’ve been pleased to have a lot of guests on the Morning Kick that have been able to help people innovate or add resources or ideas. Now, Excite Media has always had the idea that one of the most important elements in website design is the copy. The copy is the writing that goes into your website that conveys your message. And even on a landing page, the opening statement can be so powerful in the success of your sales or lead-generating campaign. So we’re really pleased this morning that we’re able to invite Steven Lewis from Rozelle in Sydney. Steven’s with a copywriting agency called Taleist and Steven, thank you very much for coming on the Morning Kick, pleasure to have you with us.

Steven Lewis:
Thanks for having me Andrew.

Andrew Pitchford:
Really excited to be able to find out a little bit of your background. First we’ve put it into the YouTube and Facebook description that you come from a variety of writing backgrounds. Tell us what you’ve done because there’s a lot of writing styles there.

Steven Lewis:
I started really as a journalist in Hong Kong, which is where I’m from just by appearances to the contrary, but I, you know, went to Hong Kong when I was a child. I went to school there. Um, I had my first businesses there and I was a journalist in Hong Kong, so I wrote features and feature writing and columns, and feature writing is about writing things that people will find interesting enough to read and hopefully read through to the end. But if you’re in Hong Kong as an English writing journalist, you are inevitably going to get approached to write corporate copy because you can write in English, you write well and you have the appropriate visa to be doing it. So I moved into copywriting from that. And copywriting is a level of difficulty beyond journalism because journalism is that feature right now. It wasn’t a news journalist. Feature writing, make it interesting. Copywriting, you’ve got to make it interesting, but actually persuade somebody to do something more than simply read it. So, um, everything that I’ve done, whether it’s been journalism or PR or copywriting has been about writing, but it is that direct response copywriting. That is what I am particularly fascinated by because it’s the interaction of writing, which I enjoy and human behavior, which is of course endlessly fascinating if you’re a human.

Andrew Pitchford:
It’s interesting, one of our founders, Scott Maynard has an equal interest in this. When it comes to human psychology. What are the things that make us tick? What do we resonate with and how do we kind of blend that into the message in order to get a response? And otherwise we’re throwing out all this wonderful information but not, I’m trying to articulate a response mechanism or what’s the point, isn’t it?

Steven Lewis:
Yes. And what is fascinating to me particularly is, you know, it’s human behavior as well. It’s the human behavior of the person presenting the information is we are in vigorous denial that we’re actually writing to another human being. So for instance, you know, a lot of my corporate clients, for instance, you know, they’re doing what I loathe as a term, which is B2B. Because when you say business to business, it allows you to create a sense that you’re talking to a business, but you’re not. You’re talking to a person, a human decision maker in that business who has needs, like looking good at work, maintaining their relevance, getting promoted, getting a bonus. And these are all things you should be talking to in your copywriting. But people find that distasteful. When I put it to them, they’re like, Oh know, I don’t know. This is a rational person we’re writing to, you’re like I’ve not met many rational people. Um, so chances are if you hint they’re going to look good, you’ll convert better.

Andrew Pitchford:
Yeah. I’m glad you’ve said that because that’s the conversation I have with clients as well and trying to help them understand, you may be an engineer, you may be a corporate executive, you may be a scientist, but we’re all humans with a pulse. We all have things that we’re trying to achieve and we’re all kind of connected in some way looking for results. And sometimes it’s not always about the way the figures add up. I’ve met some accountants who are reasonable human beings who are not just robots. So sometimes got to get the human connection working through the copy and draw that out. Don’t we?

Steven Lewis:
People do business with people they like. It’s one of the six principles of influence. So if you’ve ever read the book influence 1982 Robert Cialdini, it’s never been out of print. There are six shortcuts that humans use to make decisions. And one of them is, do I like you? Because it makes sense! Who wants to get into a relationship, and business is a relationship, with someone they don’t like.

Andrew Pitchford:
And they say that don’t we buy from those we know, like, and trust. And one of the things that I talk about often is that your website has to have a whole lot of trust factors and the copy is one of the things that’s going to build that trust. So one of the things that Taleist does is that you do all website copywriting but you also specialise in direct response landing page writing. Can you give us some insights as to what goes into getting a landing page to really work?

Steven Lewis:
There was a great copywriter called Eugene Schwartz who wrote a book called Breakthrough Advertising in 1960-something. Copywriting, all the great books have already been written, right? Like, like people think everything’s changing, but just because you’re watching this on Facebook or YouTube doesn’t mean the human beings who are watching it have changed how they make their decisions since 1960 and Eugene Schwartz says “copy is not written, copy is assembled”. And if you find yourself staring at a blank page, not knowing what to write as a copywriter, it’s because you haven’t done enough research. Once you’ve done the research into what am I really offering, why does somebody really want it? Then you know what to say. So 80-90% of copywriting for a landing page or a website, frankly it’s the same process is we get to understand the client, like what? How do they see their product and their business and their competition and their customers.

Steven Lewis:
And then we say, that’s fantastic. And then we go off and do a whole load more research. And quite often we come back to the client and say, there’s all these things your customers want that you’re not talking about, but you do. You do these things. And it goes to something Peter Drucker once said, which is most businesses don’t know what they sell. You know like the example I always use is, and Mercedes does know this, so this isn’t aimed at Mercedes, but nobody buys a Mercedes because it will hold the road on the way to Woolie’s better than a master. Right? So you’re not buying the Mercedes to get you from A to B. There is something else you want when you buy a Mercedes. And when you know what that is, you’re more likely to persuade somebody to buy the Mercedes.

Andrew Pitchford:
That’s brilliant stuff. And you’ve picked up on something that I think is so important and ongoing conversation with clients who are considering should I get a copywriter involved but a copywriter can’t understand my business. A copywriter doesn’t know it. The way I do is probably best that I do the writing. Can you talk to us about the flaws in their thinking?

Steven Lewis:
You’re too close to it. Like one of the best things a copywriter will ever do for you is ask you a load of stupid questions. Um, and I think of it like, uh, my first job in Hong Kong, I worked for a company that owned bars and restaurants and there was a senior that the head of the accounts department was a Chinese lady called Connie. And whenever you wanted to do something, Connie would call you into her office and she would ask you this series of stupid questions. Right? And you would be sitting there as a 22 year old going, that is a stupid question. Of course I have thought of that. And you’re just thinking who is this lunatic woman? And the third question or the fourth would be something so blindingly obvious and yet you had never thought of it and that is why it was painful but important to have those meetings with Connie because she asked a whole series of stupid questions and would draw out things that you had been stupid not to think about.

Steven Lewis:
And that’s what a copywriter can do for you. Like I mean if I give you one example, I had a client here in Sydney who sells food wholesale and one of their customers is David Jones. So as part of our research, we called the food at David Jones and I said, well, you know, why do you, why do you buy their food? And I assumed she would say, because it tastes delicious and people buy it. Firstly, I learned that, and this is one of the great things about copywriting, you’re always learning. I learned that the food buyers don’t actually always taste the food. So she had never tasted his food and never clue what it tasted like. And the number one reason she liked him, apart from the fact itself, if it doesn’t sell, they’re not going to put it on the shelves. Was because his team answers the phone and I said to her, but you’re David Jones!

Steven Lewis:
Surely when you call the supplier, they answered the phone and she said, you wouldn’t believe it. They’re small businesses. They’re like leprechaun and you can’t get hold of them. Um, but my client who owned the wholesale food business was a PWC trained accountant. It had never occurred to him to have a business with. Nobody answered the phone. So he had a whole competitive advantage that he didn’t know about and he was selling something he didn’t know about. He was selling the convenience of being able to deal with him. And that is a huge advantage of having somebody from outside come into your business and ask you a load of stupid questions.

Andrew Pitchford:
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. And very shortly we’re going to have a look at your website, but in my own profile online, I talk about bringing objectivity into the room and I think something that a copywriter can do often in business we a little bit tunnel vision we’ve focused, which can be a good thing in terms of driving a business forward, but sometimes we miss this peripheral vision of seeing things as they are or seeing opportunities. Obviously a copywriter can do that if you’re asking the curly questions that lead people in the right direction. So if people would like to find out more about what’s happening in the world of copy, but also to learn more about Steven’s team at Taleist Agency.

Andrew Pitchford:
Now you’ll notice that the website that we’ve got on the screen is Taleist dot agency. There are so many more versions of domains now than just.com so if you put that into your web browser, you’ll find Steven’s home online. But also tell me, Steven, we were saying that if people put a slash X site on the end of that, you’ve got a landing page piece of information. Can you tell us what we’ll find if we had to taleist.agency/excite/?

Steven Lewis:
I guess I’d say it’s like, it’s like having a PDF version of Connie in your, in your hands in that it’s going to ask you 11 points about your landing page that are in our experience. So one of the things that we do is we review people’s landing pages for them and you know, we ask them who is your ideal client? And then we’d look at it through those eyes. And in having done that for, I think it’s about five years now, we’ve looked at so many websites and you see so many common but easy to fix mistakes. And you know, quite often it’s that it’s the little thing that’s going to improve the conversion rate on your landing page. Um, you know, does the headline actually do what it should do? Does the first line do what it should do? Are you talking only about the features of your product, which is an incredibly common mistake. You just talk about what the feature does, but you don’t talk about what the benefit to the punter is. And I think one of the best examples I ever saw of that was somebody saying, um, you know, back in the day when you know, car stereos, you know, had those pre-program buttons and it’s like you’re gonna you can get 50 radio stations in your car because you got these 50 but who cares what I care about so I can have any music that I want whenever I want? That’s the benefit. So all of that is presented to you in an 11 point checklist that you can use as a, as a proxy for having a copywriter with you saying, well, why are you saying that? Why aren’t you doing this?

Andrew Pitchford:
It’s so true. And what business owners should be able to grab hold of something so important and the digital marketing is, if at the moment you’re getting 2% conversion and you just do something unique that takes that up to three or 4%, you could be adding 50% or doubling your sales or doubling your leads so that fine tuning by the copywriter or the web design firm as certainly gonna reap rewards for you as a business. That’s great advice, Steven. I really appreciate that. Is there anything else that we should consider in terms of copywriting? Um, just ideas that maybe are innovative. Can we be too clever with our copywriting?

Steven Lewis:
Oh, absolutely. If people, I mean, you know, not, not to single anybody out in, but, but I do love the number of accountants whose websites that you arrive on who tell you that they want to be your trusted business advisor. I don’t know what that means. I’m looking for somebody to do my BAS. Do you do BAS? Um, and there are so many websites that you look at where people are trying to be, I don’t know, are they trying to sound clever? Like, I mean, to give you an example, I bought some shorts from Myer recently online and the shorts came, I’m not kidding you Andrew. It’s going to sound perhaps like I’m making this up. The shorts, in the description of the shorts, they had “storage solutions”. Pockets, Andrew! They had pockets, but they would describe the storage solutions. The more you do that kind of nonsense and that is the kind of nonsense people do when they’re left to their own devices because it seemed clever.

Steven Lewis:
When you’re writing it down and it’s just confusing. Do you do my BAS, will you build my website? You know, do you also do the copy and the photography and the what people don’t know and the clearer you make it and you spoke about trust earlier, the more trust you’re building. Like if you want somebody to pull out their credit card and buy from you, obviously you need giant amounts of trust before they do that. But equally before somebody sends you an email or picks up the phone, they have to trust that it will be worth their while. So you’re always building trust and you’re always trying to get somebody over the line and somebody is generally going to be looking at one or two websites. So just telling them that you are the leading website developer in all of Australia is not going to do it. You have to be directive and clear and prove what you have to say. But yes, innovation for innovation sake is just nuts.

Andrew Pitchford:
I love it. So one of the things we’re probably learning from this and the storage solutions, a great example is great copy is not based on using every word in the thesaurus, it’s more about finding out what your audience wants and giving it to them.

Steven Lewis:
As, as a journalist I used to, you know, so I was, I was young back then Andrew, so I was, I was under 30 and I had this editor in Hong Kong, Susan Sams, and I used to write when I was at school, people used to, you know, the, the, the, the, the thing that people used to tease me with words. So you say you’ve swallowed a dictionary and I used to think that it’s absolutely fantastic if the worst thing you can think to say about me is that I know more words than you do. That’s great. I’m happy with that as, as an insult. But then as a journalist, I wanted to use all of them and Susan kept saying to me, the reading age needs to be, I think it was sort of, you know, under 14 for the paper. And I used to say, it’s not my job to write simply.

Steven Lewis:
These are words that are in the English language. It’s the reader’s job to go and look them up if they don’t know what they mean, because I was under 30 and I was say, you know, I won’t swear on your podcast. People can insert the epithet of their choice, but Susan was right. You should be able to write a landing page or a website that a 12 year old can digest and you can explain the most complicated things. I know you think you’re some kind of whiz kid, you know, because you’ve got a degree in this and you’ve been doing it for 25 years, and how could you possibly explain arbitrage without using the word arbitrage, but you can and you need to, because even smart people are probably only giving you 40% of their attention when they’re reading the website. The kids are screaming, they’re on the bus, somebody’s doing something, there’s a noise, so you’re not even getting a hundred percent of the smartest person’s attention. So people will thank you for just making it clear,

Andrew Pitchford:
Scannable and digestible content that converts. It’s great stuff. Steven, thank you very much for joining us on the Morning Kick. You’ve given us some great insights and people can look at the recording, go to taleist.agency/excite/ and get some insights into that landing page information that you provided. Really appreciate you coming on. Hopefully we can get you back as a guest in the future as well. Thanks Andrew. It’s been a pleasure.

Andrew Pitchford:
So the Morning Kick has had another great guest with great insights and somebody who specialises in a space that can help your business. I hope it’s been useful for you. Make sure that you do pop along and find out more by visiting excite media’s website. You can do that by having a look at the uh, excite media website, which you’ve seen here. Nice and easy to pop along. Find out all the information about the services that we provide and strategic websites.

Andrew Pitchford:
We’re interested in getting traffic to the website that converts and we’d love to talk to you, really encourage you to have look under our team and read our blog. The team has been putting some great content up there. There’s a transcript of one of the Morning Kick episodes, also information about Google’s latest rollout, possibly affecting your SEO. We’d love to be able to assist you if you need any help there. And we’ll be back with another episode of the Morning Kick at the moment trying to get guests on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it looks like we’ve got a rollout of guests for the next two or three weeks, but we’ll keep them coming, look forward to talking to you again soon.


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