When it comes time for you to write your web copy, a long sales letter, a landing page or even a squeeze page, you first want to make sure your headline knocks it out of the park.
But there is even a more basic principle to pursue, one that every serious copywriter knows.
It’s called…. (drum roll, please)
The Big Idea.
In search of Bigfoot… and The Big Idea
When I first heard of “the big idea,” I was perplexed. I knew copywriting required a collection of ideas and time-tested principles. But what was this “big idea” everyone kept talking about? I needed a concrete definition.
Even David Ogilvy, my invisible go-to guru, wasn’t much help. Here’s his description of it:
- Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?
- Do I wish I had thought of it myself?
- Is it unique?
- Does it fit the strategy to perfection?
- Could it be used for 30 years?
Now Ogilvy was addressing advertising professionals with these questions but it still didn’t give me the definition I was looking for.
A big idea has longevity. Think of the Merrill Lynch bulls, charging through streets and stores. That was a Big Idea and those bulls are still associated with Merrill Lynch.
Singular, not plural
The tip-off to writing your copy that supports your Big Idea is the fact that it’s a singular idea, not plural. This simplicity made me breathe a sigh of relief. In order to write great copy, you need to find one, just ONE idea that will resonate with your audience and then write around it.
Let’s say you’re writing web copy for a product that provides simple email newsletter templates, shows how to get subscribers to your newsletter, and also offers autoresponders so you can automatically follow up with them.
Sounds great! You may be tempted to convince your audience of each of those benefits.
But don’t do it.
You’ll likely end up minimizing the power of your copy.
Your readers who don’t have issues getting subscribers — for example — will skip over those parts. This gives them permission to ignore the rest of your copy.
To thoroughly explain all the benefits, you’ll have to provide lots of evidence to support your claims.
This would take a long time to write, and worse, it’s too much work for your reader to wade through. Instead, focus on what your product or service does really, really well and then create your big idea around it.
Behold, The Big Idea
I’m going to take a stab at defining The Big Idea.
The Big Idea is a singular, unique idea that powerfully and memorably captures a benefit of your product or service.
Take Allstate’s clever use of “Mahem,” a character that personifies all the types of accidents you could get into while driving a car.
“Mahem” is a big idea.
When I first saw a commercial with “Mayhem” in it, I was entranced. Sometimes it does feel as though there is a troublesome gremlin that causes accidents to happen.
“Mahem is everywhere. So get an Allstate Agent. Are you in good hands?”
We all know accidents happen. And showing an accident happening, although memorable, would not be nearly as unique as using a man who represented “bad things happening.” Add in wry, dark humor and you have the Big Idea.
Big ideas usually don’t happen instantly. They need time to percolate. You have to sift through your product or service’s features and benefits to understand what one message you want to convey. Then you have to find a unique way to communicate that message.
I know. Easy-peasy, right?