What is copywriting?

Wikipedia answers the questions “what is copywriting” with:

Copywriting is the act or occupation of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing.[1] The product, called copy, is written content that aims to increase brand awareness and ultimately persuade a person or group to take a particular action.


What makes copywriting different from other forms of writing is that a copywriter needs to understand human behaviour and psychology. That’s because your copywriter’s job is to persuade your ideal client to do something, whether your copywriter is copywriting a website or copywriting a specific landing page.

The difference between copywriting and content writing

The difference between a copywriter and a content writer is the degree of action the writing is required to inspire the reader to take.

A content writer can write to educate, to inform, to raise awareness. A copywriter writes only to persuade someone to do something.

Copywriting is essential to direct response marketing because copywriting is 80% of what will get the direct response from the reader.

SEO copywriting is different again because it’s about persuading Google, not persuading a human.

How can Taleist help?

Taleist is an agency of direct response copywriters with a proven website copywriting process. We also have free tips for you on finding the right person for website copywriting.

If you’re looking for a website or a landing page that persuades the reader to do something, contact us. We’d love to hear more about what you’re trying to achieve.

Concise copywriting tips

Once a week we email concise, practical copywriting, lead generation and conversion optimisation tips to the inboxes of our clever subscribers.

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Also, Taleist has more Copywriting FAQs, as well as a guide to hiring the perfect copywriter and 7 Things Anyone Can Do To Increase Their Conversion Rate.

Recommended reading on what is copywriting

Here are some other people’s takes on what is copywriting:

Transcript of video

Ashutosh Garg (00:00):

Once an ad is out or once copy is out. What is the role that the agency and the copywriter play in understanding the impact of yet? Because once it out in different formats, then it’s out

Steven Lewis (00:17):

Because we specialize in websites and landing pages. There’s so much data. You can gather them now on how people are interacting with the copy or the page that if the client wants, then the copywriter can have it ongoing because all copy is a hypothesis until it meets the reader. So the better the copywriter, the better the hypothesis that they’re forming about what will be persuasive, but you can’t know until you have the data.

Ashutosh Garg (00:52):

Welcome to another episode of the Brand Called You, the podcast show that brings you leadership lessons, knowledge, experience, and wisdom from hundreds of people from around the world. I am your host

Ashutosh Garg. And today I’m privileged to welcome of senior and accomplished marketer from Sydney, Australia,

Steven Lewis.

Steven, welcome to the show.

Steven Lewis (01:24):

Thanks. Lovely to be here.

Ashutosh Garg (01:26):

Thank you, Steven is the director of copywriting at Taleist in Australia. So

Steven, let’s talk about Taleist; you know, fascinating name. Tell me what you do at this venture.

Steven Lewis (01:39):

Taleist is a name we made up to embody the idea of a teller of fine tales because that’s really what copywriting is. It’s about understanding of business and its story, and presenting that in a way that is compelling to its ideal prospects. So most of what we do is write websites or specifically landing pages that take a reader and compel them into action. Whether that’s clicking to call, to inquire, to download or to buy whatever the action you want. It’s copywriting that will decide whether the reader takes that action.

Ashutosh Garg (02:19):

The work that you do as director of copywriting, help me understand that also.

Steven Lewis (02:24):

So we have a team of copywriters. So part of my, I mean, I’ve been doing this for 26 years now. So a lot of my experiences in working with the client to understand their business and then directing our research process to find out more about the customers and then working with our copywriters or doing some of the copywriting myself to get that message across in a way that is compelling.

Ashutosh Garg (02:54):

You know, when I was much younger working for British American Tobacco, I used to sit in somebody’s advertising agencies and the copywriters were always the most creative people. What, in your opinion makes good copy?

Steven Lewis (03:13):

Research. Like, you know, that either copywriting appears to be creative and it can be creative. Like, I mean, if you’re coming up with a tagline for an ad, you know, if you’ve got a cigarette campaign and you need to grab somebody with a headline or, you know, whoever came up with a Marlboro man that was intensely creative yet it would have been based on research. They would have done that research and worked out that the brand wanted to be associated with people who were independent and strong and had a sense of their own destiny. And then somebody would have thought, well, what embodies that as an icon, more, you know, Cowboys and embody that as an icon. So a lot of there was a great copywriter called Eugene Schwartz who said, great copy isn’t written, it’s assembled. And that is what makes a good copywriter, the ability to do the research, to find out what it is that people really want, because nobody wants what you do. There’s something they really want. Correct.

Ashutosh Garg (04:14):

And, you know, would you like to share maybe some iconic copies that you and your team have created?

Steven Lewis (04:22):

Well, we have worked in so many niches and, and what I, you know, what I love about copywriting is that it puts the right people in the path of the right company to do what they need. So for instance, some of the copy that I’m most proud of is where we’ve worked for doctors and specifically surgeons, and we’ve presented them in a way, like they are very good at what they do, but obviously if you’re facing elective surgery, you’ve got a lot of choices generally between surgeons and you can choose to do nothing at all if it’s elective surgery. So, you know, we’ve done some work with surgeons that have really improved their conversion rates of getting the right people to come to them. So it’s those sorts of examples that I think I’m most proud of in that I know people have really benefited at the end of that particular rainbow.

Ashutosh Garg (05:18):

So, you know, I’ve often debated this with the agency that I have worked with, you know, and I worked with several of them. Once an ad is out or once copy is out, what is the role that the agency and the copywriter play in understanding the impact of yet? Because once it out in, in different formats, then it’s out

Steven Lewis (05:42):

Because we specialize in websites and landing pages. There’s so much data you can gather now on how people are interacting with the copy or the page that if the client wants, then the copywriter can have it ongoing because copy is a hypothesis until it meets the reader. So the better the copywriter, the better the hypothesis that they’re forming about what will be persuasive, but you can’t know until you have the data. So if you set the campaign up properly, and that goes right back to Claude Hopkins and you know, the 1920s with newspaper advertising, if you set up the campaign properly to measure, who’s responding and to what, then you can constantly refine the copy. So online, for instance, we might use Hotjar. So to give you an example, we did a website for a wedding planner. We used Hotjar, which gives us an idea of where people’s eyeballs are going on the page. And you could see that there’s this particular paragraph about two thirds of the way down that really got people stopping and reading that. Now, of course, more people will read the top of the page, then reach the bottom of the page. So that copy clearly needed to be moved up to the top. We moved that up to the top and her conversion rate improved by 33%. So that’s, that is an example of the work that you can get on an ongoing basis.

Ashutosh Garg (07:13):

And a follow up question to that.

Steven would be, you know, again, in my days we used to sit with the agency and they’ve come up with a storyboard and we discussed that in much greater detail, but now in the age of digital media I’m not sure if there is the luxury of so much time to react. And since you are focused a lot on websites, how do, how has the copywriting business, if I can use the term or the speciality evolve because of the media,

Steven Lewis (07:46):

It hasn’t, it wasn’t like one of the things that I love about copywriting is that it doesn’t really change because human psychology doesn’t really change. There’s a lot of rubbish. That’s talked about people’s attention spans are shorter than they were, which is rubbish because you know, Hollywood films are longer than they used to be. Right? So if people are interested in what you have to say, they will consume the content. So those things haven’t changed. We are still the same fearful, uncertain status quo bias to people that we always were. But what digital gives you the opportunity to do is test a lot of different angles, very fast. So copywriters always done that. You know, again, Claude Hopkins scientific advertising, they would put one ad in Chicago and one ad in San Francisco, and they would see how it was all different. So AB testing isn’t new either, but you can do that so quickly. Now, you know, you very fast, you can run a Facebook campaign with five different angles and then go, well, that audience really liked that angle. So now let’s build the landing page around that angle. So maybe you’ve spent $2,000 on Facebook to work out where you should invest your effort on the landing page. So that speed is phenomenal.

Ashutosh Garg (09:09):

And my next question is that, you know, a lot of marketers rely on advertising and copy to build a successful brand. My question to you from your perspective is what goes into a successful brand?

Steven Lewis (09:26):

I think the word authenticity is horrendously overused now, but it has to be something you feel you can rally behind. So, you know, I mean, Nike is a classic example. We all feel we know what they stand for, and we all believe that sort of authentic to Nike and therefore it can run and run and you can run different campaigns and you can have different angles and you can have different sports stars behind it, but the ethos is the same and it has to be deep. Like if you can’t go deep. So for, for instance we’re, tailless, we went through a branding exercise a few years ago, which was, you know, really helpful, like what do we care about and what we came to as the absolute core of what we are, is reading the world of one sentence at a time, like that’s what we’re doing. And we can build a whole brand around that because every single thing that we put out in terms of our marketing has that in its DNA. So if you, if you have that DNA level understanding of what you stand for, then you can build a brand that endures, if all you stand for is trying to make budget this month, then, then that will crumble.

Ashutosh Garg (10:47):

And you know, when I was speaking to a few senior marketers on my show, a lot of them are really struggling with how to handle their brands in the new world of, you know, very quick reactions in the digital environment. Do you think the copy needs to keep changing repeatedly?

Steven Lewis (11:09):

When you say copy, do you mean you need to put up a new copy? Yeah. I think you need constant, fresh content potentially depending on the brand that you have. Like, there are lots of examples of, I mean, there’s one very famous example by a copywriter. I think I’m not going to remember who it was. So I won’t, I won’t name them, but it’s a how-to, how to get back together with your ex. So he sells an information product on how to get back together with your ex that has been running. I think it’s about 20 years now. Same copy, same message. Nothing’s changed because we might have Facebook. Now we might have Google now, which we didn’t have, you know, 20, 20 years ago where we did have Google 20 years ago, twenty-five years ago, let’s say, but we still feel the same way when we break up with somebody we love, none of that has changed digital or not digital Tinder or no Tinder. So you can have a copy that is absolutely timeless. And if you read some of the classic copywriters, you know, some of the great examples, like, you know, the, the lemonade behind me that would still persuade people to buy today, you know, if some good copy is, is pretty timeless.

Ashutosh Garg (12:27):

And what would you get from viewers and listeners give you an example of say a timeless copy.

Steven Lewis (12:38):

What would be a good example of, of Tommy’s got what I example I really like is the blue blocker sunglasses, which is a Joe Sugarman example. So well before we all had screens in the 1980s, Joe Sugarman, this copywriter came across blue light blocking as a concept. And he bought into a sunglasses company that made these, and he used copy to sell 20 million of these sunglasses over time. And the ads for blue blocker sunglasses are not really significantly different today from what they were in the mid 1980s, because as a copywriter, Sugarman one understood his audience. And as I say, what people want is pretty timeless. He wrote in short, sharp, attractive sentences, not a lot of jargon language that still holds up today. So that, that sort of copy. If you were to see an ad for blue blocker sunglasses from the 1980s today, you might want to change the image, but you probably wouldn’t want to change very much about the copying

Ashutosh Garg (13:48):

Because, you know, I was telling somebody else about a timeless copy that I remember four decades ago when I did, when the business school was David Ogilvy’s Rolls Royce at 60 miles per hour. The only sound you hear is the ticking of your clock.

Steven Lewis (14:03):

Wouldn’t that make you want to buy a rolls Royce again today? And it’s another great example of the research because the Ogilvy is such a phenomenal example of that. He went to the Rolls Royce plant. He went to I can’t remember there was a, there was a coffee that there’s something that nothing smells like coffee roasting, or, oh, I’m blanking on the, on the thing now, but it still smells as good as it tastes, which I think was an S cafe slogan. He came up with that by visiting the factory, because you can sit in an office and talk about coffee and how many beans you want to sell and buy. And you know, whether your brand is elegant or not elegant, but smelling the coffee roasting, you can only do in the factory. And that is why, you know, even with Ogilvy, one of the greatest copywriters who ever lived, if you read his biographies or his autobiography, you see time. And again, those breakthroughs came down to research. Although the man and a half away shirt with the eye patch that came down to going into a pharmacy 10 seconds before the shoot, but on the whole, his stuff came down to research.

Ashutosh Garg (15:16):

I agree with you. So, you know, when I was reading about Q a, you made a comment that, how do words make my phone ring? Give me an example.

Steven Lewis (15:30):

Well, I mean that in itself is a good sell. I mean, that’s a tagline that I have on LinkedIn, for instance, and the number of people who contact me through LinkedIn, because they read that, which is my, the headline on my LinkedIn post. And they said, I immediately understood what you do because copywriting is one of those things. A lot of people don’t understand what it is. A lot of people who even know what a copywriter is, think that it’s just about writing nicely and putting the apostrophes where your English teachers would think the apostrophes should go. They don’t understand that it’s research and psychology rendered a salesmanship in print. But when you read a line like copywriting, that makes your phone where you go, oh, because it’s what the person wants. Nobody wants copywriting. Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks, you know, what I want is I want a thousand words, what they want is their phone ringing. And that is a line that works for that reason. And people quote it to me all the time.

Ashutosh Garg (16:32):

Very interesting. So Stephen, I’m not going to move to the second part of our conversation. Just some questions that you personally, let me start by asking you, what would you say are three key milestones in your life or your career?

Steven Lewis (16:45):

For me? I think it was the first milestone would have been in 1994 when I started building websites. I read in a magazine about this thing called the internet and, you know, back then, as I’m sure you remember, you know, you were dialing up, you were unplugging your computer from the phone line and you’re plugging it in. And if you were building a website, you were literally typing all of the code. That was no Wiziwig editor. And that was 1994. And then I started a business selling websites, and that was a terrible time to try to sell websites because nobody knew what a website was. So people weren’t buying them. And then I went into editing because I have a law degree. I went into editing a legal journal, and I had an epiphany that I didn’t want to. I was, I was there one day editing lawyers writing and I wasn’t enjoying it.

Steven Lewis (17:42):

And I realized I’d always wanted to be a writer. I didn’t want to be an editor and those and that, they’re not the same. So then I went into journalism and the journalism combined with my knowledge of the internet, because back then sort of 1997, when I started in journalism, there weren’t a lot of people who could write about the internet because there weren’t a lot of people who knew what the internet was. So I got a column in a newspaper and from that technology column in a newspaper in Hong Kong, which is where I grew up technology companies would contact me and ask me to write for them. So that’s how I became a copywriter. And then, so that’s two milestones, one building the websites to that, that recognition that I wanted to be a journalist. And then the third was when, what we used to call web 2.0 came along, which was, you know, the ability to blog and podcasts and have wikis.

Steven Lewis (18:39):

And essentially you didn’t need an expert to build your website or to put content on a website that combined two of my skills being understanding of the internet and journalism to start taking my work on online and selling the words for websites online. So that, that would, I think be the third, that sort of advent of web 2.0 and starting, what was then a social media agency in 2004, selling social media to people who didn’t know what social media was in 2004 and from there into copywriting. So, and that’s really how I got to where I am now.

Ashutosh Garg (19:18):

And you know as a copywriter, who’s really taking greens of an organization out to consumers. What are some of your core values?

Steven Lewis (19:31):

I cannot stand. I’m just not interested in at all. And that informs everything that we do. It’s what drives me to do this. So, you know, we do a lot of work for companies that are successful. They have a great product, they are selling that product to people. There is a market, but they cannot explain in words or in writing anyway, what they do and why you should care. And that is because people are trained to write jibberish all the time, nonsensical long-winded, pompous crap about their product or their service, and it doesn’t work. And I hate it. So really we, I mean, that is probably my core value is, is the one person fight against and integrity. Like we don’t take on clients whose products we don’t believe in or who services we don’t believe in. And we deliver, we say we will deliver. And we have a good time while we’re doing it. So we are ourselves. So really I care deeply about communicating clearly. I care deeply about doing what I say I’m going to do, and I care about having a good time while we’re doing it. So if we don’t enjoy the people we’re working with, we will start working with them because probably if we’re not enjoying them, they’re not enjoying us. And nobody’s

Ashutosh Garg (21:12):

So a follow up question to that,

Steven, is that for a person who started selling websites became a journalist, became a legal individual. And now is a copywriter from where you stand today. What does success mean to Stephen?

Steven Lewis (21:31):

I, with the greatest respect to people who work in large organizations, I was not happy when I worked in large organizations. I’m not bureaucratic. I don’t like long pointless meetings. So I know these things are cliches, and yet they’re cliches for a reason. This is how things work in big organizations. And I didn’t so success for me quite literally means not having to work in that environment. If, if I had to go back into that environment, that would be the opposite of success for me. And as I say, I say that with a lot of people love it, and I’m very happy in those environments and that’s fantastic. I just am not built. Okay,

Ashutosh Garg (22:15):

Wonderful. So I’ve got time for two more questions for you. My next question, as someone who is creative, who, or what inspires you,

Steven Lewis (22:26):

I am constantly in awe of people who execute to use the current phrase. Having ideas is so easy, actually putting the steps together and following them ease incredibly difficult. So, you know, the people I might, I mean, you know, of course, you know, I could point to a great leader or a great orator, or there are many copywriters like Ogilvy that I hugely admire, but the people I really admire are the people I know in my life who have an idea and then go through the painstaking process of making it happen because I am as guilty as the next person of coming up with a great idea that I just don’t apply myself to. So that’s where I seek inspiration.

Ashutosh Garg (23:10):

Very interesting. And my last question to you, and this is a question on failure from the part of the world that I come from, parents don’t teach children. It’s okay to fail. They’re always told first in line, first in class, et cetera, et cetera. And that manifests itself in our behavior back then, I’m sure, you know, a lot of people from my part of the world, my question to you is that we all learn and we fail. We learn what have been some of your learnings from your, some of your mistakes?

Steven Lewis (23:41):

Well, I mean, I made the same big mistake twice, which I’ve already to one was getting into a website business when it was just too early. Like, I mean, I try and explain this. My son is 23 and he has no comprehension. When I say to him, you go into a meeting and you’d say, I sell websites, and they’d say, well, what is a website? And you’d spend 20 minutes explaining what a website was. And then they’d say, yeah, I’ve got a yellow pages ad. I think we’re okay. And then they’d say, but before you go, we’ve heard of this thing called email. What is email? The business I should have been in was teaching people about the internet because people obviously have enough interest to call me in for a meeting where I gave them free education. And I did a similar thing stupidly 10 years later when I started a social media agency.

Steven Lewis (24:29):

And when I say I was early, I started my social media agency in 2005 Twitter. Didn’t start till 2006. I don’t think you could get a Facebook account until 2007. And I had a full-time social media agency before Twitter, before Facebook. I was podcasting in 2004. Again, I should have been teaching people about social media, not trying to sell the social media. So I’m very conscious now not to be too far ahead. I think there’s this incredible pressure now that if you’re not doing the age thing, you’re somehow too late. And you’re like, man, 80% of people aren’t even on, they’re not in the surf yet. Let alone on the wave. Don’t you worry? Yeah, of course everyone, you know, is already surfing into the beach, but there are about 1% of the population. So concentrate on where the 90% is, and you will be fine.

Ashutosh Garg (25:28):

Fantastic. Steven, thank you so much. It has been such a pleasure speaking to you. I’ve enjoyed everything that you’ve spoken about, the copywriting business and what goes into writing. Good copy. Thank you again and good luck. Thanks.