Thought Dump is changing


I’m not going to publish weekly blog posts on Thought Dump anymore. It sucks to say it, but I don’t have time to and I haven’t for a while.

Recently I started driving to work, which has made my commute a lot easier. I used to have to sit on long, tedious train journeys.

But I did a lot of writing on those train journeys. And I don’t have them anymore.

I’ve been doing weekly posts up to now, but it’s been challenging. I’ve rushed to get just a single post ready a few days in advance, and I’ve felt beat while doing so.

So I’ve decided to take the pressure off myself. And this is something I’ve also been thinking of doing for a while.

Nearly two years

I was hoping I could get to the two-year anniversary of TD in July before changing my posting schedule.

It sounds cooler to say ‘I published a blog post every week for two years’ than ‘I published a blog post every week for just under two years’.

And it sounds even less cool to say ‘I publish blog posts two or three times a month’, but I’ll have a much easier time sticking to this commitment.

I hope you can empathise with my reasons for publishing less posts, and I want to say thank you for your continuing readership.


Five things copywriters fear


You probably thought you were a terrible copywriter at some point. You may still do.

From not getting the right results for your clients, to being the only one who cares about good writing, here are five things that can cause you to doubt yourself as a copywriter.

Oh, and how you can get over them.

  1. ‘What if I’m sh*t?’

The fear that no matter what you write, it’s awful. It’s off-brand, and won’t connect with you reader. And it’s going to take forever to get good.

Yes, it is. But since you’re going to spend almost every day writing, you’ll get much better at it over time.

  1. ‘What if I think I’m good, but I’m actually sh*t?’

You’ve learned all the tips and tricks that make great copy great. And with them, you make your copy great. That’s what you’ve convinced yourself, anyway.

But no one else thinks so. That’s why everything you write is still wrong.

Over time, you’ll learn how to be confident in your quality of work, and how to accept criticism and get better at writing from it.

As you keep writing, you’ll get better, and getting better will make you more confident.

  1. ‘I’m the only one who cares about good writing …’

Yes, you are. Remember, your clients don’t care about you ending jargon and unnecessarily long sentences; they care about getting results.

Your copy should do that, even if it means, er, using jargon and long sentences.

Your readers don’t care about good writing either. They care about making their lives better. Your copy should show them how they can do this.

  1. ‘What if my writing isn’t getting results?’ 

Sure, you can write, but what good is it if your writing doesn’t increase sales, or donations, or likes?

After your copy has been published, or gone live, or aired, you need to find out how it performed.

You may be relived, or have more to learn about getting those precious results. Remember, you can only lean and get better.

  1. ‘I can’t get the message, or TOV, right.’

The wrong TOV will bore or alienate your readers, and the wrong message will waste their time.

You have to nail both. But what if you can get one and not the other?

Prioritise. Start by working out you’ve got to say, then focus on the best way of saying it.

How to turn features into benefits

Aldi Intex

Aldi started selling the Intex 120 Air Jet Spa Pool Hot Tub recently. It sold out online within minutes, and probably did quite well in stores too.

This is partly down to its cost. At £299, it’s its own USP. Who else sells a hot tub this cheap?

The other features and benefits in the product description helped, but the features alone may not have been enough to do this. Aldi did wonders for themselves by turning the features into benefits.

Let’s take a look.

Tell me something good

The description says the tub has a ‘simple, sleek finish’. This doesn’t tell us why that’s a good thing. It just tells us there are no wacky patterns on it.

But Aldi reckon ‘it will look great in your home, either indoors or outdoors’. The plain design means there’s nowhere it will look out of place. It gives the buyer choice.

Speaking of place, the tub is ‘inflatable’. Alone, all this means is you can take it up and down at will. Why is this a good thing?

Because it’s ‘portable’. You can take it anywhere you want, at anytime. As with the finish, the choice is yours.

Finally, the tub has a ‘lockable insulating cover’. Which means it keeps heat inside.

And this is useful to the reader as ‘it helps keep heating costs to a minimum’. Money-saving. An appreciated benefit any time of year.

Making life better

All these features can be thought of as benefits if the imagination is left to it. But including these benefits in the description probably helped Aldi sell the tub.

It’s easy to see how they’ll make the reader’s life better. A hot tub that’s cheap to run, can be put up anywhere at anytime, and won’t look bad.

Creativity vs. information

Creativity vs. information

Before I was a copywriter, I was a creative writing graduate. I’d spent the last three years learning how to be clever with words. But then university finished, and I had to get a job.

I didn’t have the patience to be a novelist, so copywriting seemed like a good career choice. I’d get to be clever with words, but for brands and companies.

But I found out that’s not quite how it works.

It’s useless being clever. Unless …

David Ogilvy, who many copywriters see as the father of advertising, once said “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

In copywriting, there’s no point in being clever with words just so you can be praised for being clever with words. Your writing has to speak to your reader, and be interesting or helpful to them.

And being a copywriter who’s clever with words can be useful here. It can help you find unique ways of promoting benefits to your reader. You just have to remember to sell those benefits.

No one wants you to be creative

David also said “Advertising is not an art form, it’s a medium for information, a message for a single purpose: to sell.”

When you’re a copywriter, your client isn’t paying you to be creative. They’re paying you to help sell their product.

And your reader isn’t reading your copy to see how creative it is. They’re reading it to find out how their life will get better. Your copy has to show them this so they buy the product you’re writing about.

Connect and sell

Going into copywriting from a creative background isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it can be a good thing. Just remember to speak to your reader and sell the benefits of your client’s product.

How to make your out of office email more interesting

Out of office emails are pretty cliché. It’s always ‘I’m on annual leave until [date]’ or ‘I have limited access to my emails’. And companies seem to use the same few templates.  

So how do you make your email more interesting? You could get your reader to feel sympathy for you, make a pop culture reference, or be honest. Really honest.

Here are five examples for your inspiration.

The empathy generator

Empathy email

Poor Stevan. He got snowed in, and can’t come to the office. He’s even made his email personal by including a photo of himself shovelling snow, and used sarcasm. The latter is something we can relate to as humans.

The anti-climax

anti climax email

You send an email and get a response straight away. Only to learn it’s not a relevant response, but one of the clichés I mentioned above. This example mocks that anti-climatic feeling you get.

The pop culture reference

pop culture reference email

For this one to work, you have to be sure the thing you’re referencing has lots of mainstream appeal. In this example, I can’t help but hear Simpsons character Troy McClure’s voice.

The riddle

riddle email

I have to applaud the writer of this email for asking their reader to take action.


honest email

This writer doesn’t care about office etiquette, which makes their email stand out from the millions of others.


How to write your own brief

No brief no problem

The brief. It tells you exactly what to write, how to write it, who you’re writing for, and a bunch of other essential facts. In an ideal world, every client you write for will give you a brief. But we’re not in an idea world, and some clients won’t give you one.

So you’ll have to write the brief yourself. All it takes is eight questions and a 20-minute phone call.

What to ask

For every piece of writing you ever do, there are only a few things you need to ask yourself.

  1. ‘What am I writing?’

This could be an email marketing campaign. Or Direct mail. Or a web page. Or a brochure.

  1. ‘Who is my average reader?’

The person you’ll be writing for. The more you know about them, the easier it is to write for them.

  1. ‘What’s my message?’

What your writing is about. You could be selling computer software, or raising awareness of a disease.

  1. ‘What’s my tone of voice?’

How you should write. Should you be sophisticated, or goofy? Your average reader may answer this question for you.

  1. ‘Why does it matter?’

Or rather, why your reader should give you their time or money. You should think about how your content will make their life better, and focus on benefits and unique selling points.

  1. ‘How many words should I write?’

There’s not much I can say for this one.

  1. ‘When’s the deadline?’ 

When your client needs it done by.

  1. ‘Where can I learn more?’

If you answered questions 2 – 5, you’ll know what you need to find out. You should to talk to PC enthusiasts and learn how they talk, or read medical journals to discover how the disease spreads.

It’s equally important to know how your competitors write. What are they saying? What aren’t they saying? How is your product better?

Where to get the answers

To answer your questions, you’ll need to look over all the emails, phone call notes and any other communication you’ve had with your client.

Highlight anything that answers your questions, and write these down together.

Once you have this, ask you client if you can speak to them for 20 minutes.

Keep your brief in front of you during the phone call, and read you questions and answers to them. Ask if this is correct.

If they say yes, you can leave your brief alone. If they say no, ask what should be different. Make a note of anything they want changed.

Run the changes by them one more time. If they say yes, you can start researching.

Keep these questions close by. If you find yourself without a brief again, you can turn to these questions.

Why it’s okay to use jargon. Sometimes.

For jargon okay

First of all, I owe you an apology. I published this post in the wrong place last week. It was still on Thought Dump, but as a page and not a blog post. Anyway, here it is now. 

For the last few months, I’ve been writing copy for a surveying and scanning company. Their audience is mostly estates and facilities managers.

One of the things I do is write and send their email marketing campaigns. They told me to make them better, if I could.

I looked at their old campaigns. I saw lots of jargon. Words like ‘compliance’, ‘ROI’ and ‘efficiency’ were everywhere. Words that mean ‘must do’, ‘more money’ and ‘make better’. And sound more human this way. So I decided to make their next campaign sound more human.

I wrote a jargon-free campaign, and sent it to their subscribers. I eagerly waited for the open and click rates to come through, confident these would be higher than anything that’d been sent before. They were lower.

Un-serious and un-professional

I’ve worked for some great copywriters, and they told me to never use jargon. It rarely, if ever, speaks to anyone. But my jargon-free campaign wasn’t speaking to the estates and facilities managers.

They’re serious professionals who hear words like ‘compliance’, ‘ROI’ and ‘efficiency’ every day. Words like ‘must do’, ‘more money’ and ‘make better’ must’ve sounded un-serious and un-professional to them.

I begrudgingly put all that jargon back in the company’s next campaign. And the higher results came back too.

Write for you reader and don’t re-invent

You should always write for your reader. After getting to know them, you might find they use a bit of jargon. Using it in your writing can get your message to them quicker. And it could get your client or boss the results they want.

Writing isn’t always about re-invention. Before you write or edit anything, take a look at what copy’s already there and what results it’s gotten. Use the things that what work, and get rid of the things that don’t.