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Tips on how to be a conversational copywriter with Nick Usborne

  • Conversational copywriting is like I’m writing to you … I’m writing as if I was speaking to you face to face across my kitchen table. I’m not going to come out spouting kind of sales nonsense.
  • I’ll ask fundamental questions like “what is it you’re actually trying to say here?” What do you really want people to feel about your company, your business, or your product or service?
  • Copywriting is a craft just like any other craft. And I think that a lot of people who write their own copy for their website … I guess obviously and predictably, most of them don’t do as good a job as a professional copywriter.
  • My argument is that, okay, now you’ve got let’s say 10 percent more buyers by being aggressive, but what kind of buys have you got? Are they happy buyers?
  • I’m really excited about being able to help the kind of companies I like and respect the most because I just think the conversational copywriting approach is so useful to those people.

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Conversational copywriting is like I’m writing to you … I’m writing as if I was speaking to you face to face across my kitchen table. I’m not going to come out spouting kind of sales nonsense.

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Doug: Well, welcome back listeners to another episode of Real Marketing, Real Fast. Today, we’re going to talk about a very interesting topic that we’ve covered a little bit with some of our previous guests but not specifically, and that is how to double your sales in three easy steps, but you must buy now before this offer ends. No, just joking. The conversation today is really about conversational copywriting, copywriting and how you should integrate that into your company, your sales message, your social media, and everything you do.

I can’t think of a better guest to have in studio joining us today than Nick Usborne. He has been a copywriter for over 40 years. He’s an expert in copywriting and web writing. He has written copy for some of the world’s biggest brands, including Citibank, Apple, Chrysler, MSN.com, New York Times, WebEx, and the US Navy among others. He attributes his success to conversational copywriting, and he’s here today to share his approach on how to help you write a persuasive effective copy for clients. Well, welcome to the Real Marketing, Real Fast podcast this morning. How are you doing, Nick?

Nick: Good, good, glad to be here.

Doug: I’m so excited to talk to you because I’m a big fan of copy and copywriting and I think that our listeners will get a lot of value for understanding how it works and maybe some of the changing paradigms in what’s working in the marketplace. So did you want to share just a little bit about your background and kind of how you got into this space?

Nick: Okay. For your amusement. I kind of fell into this. Next year is my 40th anniversary as a professional copywriter. This is how I’ve made my living like pretty much forever, but I just fell into it. I just needed a job and I was talking with some friends and one of them said, “Hey, I work at an ad agency and it’s fun.” And I said, “What’s that?” I had no idea,

Before that, I hadn’t been to university, I just had manual labor jobs. I was totally unqualified. And he explained a bit and he said, “Yeah, it’s fun.” So everyone went to work the next morning and I pulled out the yellow pages and I wrote hand … Well, obviously hand back then, this was 1979, hand typed letters to the first 20 ad agencies in the yellow pages. They all begin with a BOC. And so I send off those 21-page letters. I got three interviews, one job offer took it and that was it. And just kind of [inaudible 00:02:32] into it. And the first day I started copywriting, I thought, man, I just love this stuff. I love this stuff.

Doug: Well that’s awesome.

Nick: And they paid me for it. So it was even better-

Doug: So you stayed?

Nick: So I’ve been extraordinarily blessed in my career because I still really enjoy it today. So nothing to complain about.

Doug: You’ve worked for some really big company. So just a general question. So in terms of working with businesses, where do you normally find the low hanging fruit? So whereas normally the biggest opportunity for you to come into a company and help them?

Nick: You mean what’s the best thing, the simplest thing I can do for them?

Doug: Well, I’m just thinking in terms of opportunity, so you’re working with a business and they probably already have social media accounts and they have websites and they have some print collateral and who knows what else. Whereas normally the first place that you would look or that most people ask you for help?

Nick: Oh well, that’s two different things.

Doug: Okay.

Nick: And so what they’re gonna ask, it can be anything and everything. And very often it’s promotion or campaign based like we’re going to do X, can you help us with it? Like maybe, it’s an email campaign, maybe it’s a launch thing. Maybe it’s a rewrite of part of a website. So when I’m asked by a client, they usually have some specific task, usually kind of time-sensitive task like campaign promotion.

What I try to do and often do with a client, particularly if I have a relationship with that client, is I say, “Hey, as well as the stuff you’ve got in your calendar, let’s step back and look at some broader issues like your messaging.” And I’ll ask fundamental questions like what is it you’re actually trying to say here? What do you really want people to feel about your company, your business, or your product or service? Because I think companies, they get so wound up with the calendar, the promotional calendar, they forget to step back and say, “Hang on, what is it that our prospects and customers are actually hearing when they come to our site or look at our social media channels? What’s the message they’re getting? Is that the message we want them to hear?”

So I think like all of that promotional calendar is A, it’s necessary, it’s part of the process. I’ve been participating in that as I said for decades now, but more and more do I like to try and get people to step back and say, let’s look at the messaging. Let’s look at what are the first … what does it say in the headline on your homepage? Do you have a headline on your homepage? If I’m a stranger coming to the homepage of your website, if I don’t know your business and I’m there for 10 seconds, do I get it? What are you telling me? And does it matter to me?

And again, this is another thing, and probably the bigger the company, the bigger the problem this is. A large company is so structured in what it wants to say and it’s so kind of built into the corporate structure and process of this is what we say that a company can go for years, not realizing that there’s a huge disconnect between what they want to say and what the customers want to hear. So I love looking at that kind of stuff. The, let’s pause and stop and see if you’re actually saying something that your audience cares about.

Doug: Well that brings the question to mind and that is, do you think that people can effectively write their own copy and their own sales copy? And the reason I’m asking is I am obviously an audience of one, but I’m so close to what I’m doing after I talk to people, I forget that not everybody’s in the same space that I am. So my messaging may be for people that are in my space and I don’t realize that, so a prospect that’s looking at it might not get it.

Nick: Yeah, that’s a tough question because sometimes the owner, the founder of a company can be the perfect person to write the copy because they have the voice, they have the passion, they have the energy, they have the desire to get the message out there. But copywriting is a craft just like any other craft. Would  I do my own roofing repairs on my house, probably not? I’m not a qualified roofer or mechanic of my car. Maybe I can tinker a bit, but if it’s something that is serious to me, then no, I’m going to get a professional to do it. So, so there’s definitely that side to it.

And I think that a lot of people who write their own copy for their website … I guess obviously and predictably, most of them don’t do as good a job as a professional copywriter. Occasionally, I’ll come across a founder who just happens to be naturally talented copywriter and then that’s wonderful because like I say, they have the kind of … the craft comes to them naturally and the understanding of how copywriting works comes to them naturally, but they have that kind of deep knowledge and passion and enthusiasm about their business. And I guess that’s what you’re looking for, if you’re looking for a copywriter, you’re looking for a professional, but you’re looking for a copywriter who can almost like love the business the way you do.

Doug: Yeah, absolutely. And I guess the other side of that was you and I had a conversation before we started recording, we talked about different styles of copy and I think of guys that I’ve met in my years of business like Kevin Harrington and the thing that comes to mind when I think of him is, but wait, there’s more. Because that’s the infomercial style because there’s more, there’s get two for the price of one, just pay to ship. And we talked about conversational copywriting, which isn’t that way because that’s not how I would talk to my family at dinner or my friends. So what is conversational copywriting and just let’s start with that?

Nick: Okay. Actually, we can cover this sideways because you’re raising an interesting point there. So there are … I started off as a direct mail copywriter before the web when I was working in the print world. I wrote print ads, but I wrote direct mail as well. So back in the 1980s and the first half of the 90s, I was all over, rush, rush, hurry, hurry, get two for the price of one, offer expires at midnight tonight.

And the thing in the sense it drives me nuts, but that stuff still works today just as well today as it did back then. So that’s why we keep seeing that online. We still see that in emails or landing pages, there’s scarcity, there’s urgency, there are prices going up, there are only three seats remaining. And it’s there because buyers are chronic procrastinators and we all need a little nudge. And all of us do.

If I’m marketing to fellow marketers, if I don’t follow any of those kinds of fundamentals, nobody buys anything. If I say, “Hey, the price will double tonight.” Everyone buys. Even among marketers and copywriters, we know the game, we know the rule, but it still applies.

So going over now to conversational copywriting, conversational copywriting is like you alluded to, it’s like I’m writing to you … I’m writing as if I was speaking to you face to face across my kitchen table. I’m looking you in the eye. You’re looking me in the eye. So I’m not going to come out spouting kind of sales nonsense because it would just be embarrassing for both of us if we really work across the table from us.

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Conversational copywriting is like I’m writing to you … I’m writing as if I was speaking to you face to face across my kitchen table. I’m not going to come out spouting kind of sales nonsense.

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I’m not going to talk in business gobbledygook because that would sound ridiculous. I’m going to write in the way I’m talking now, as you and I talk. But I can still say, “Hey Doug, I’m glad you’re loving this, but I got to tell you the price is going up at the end of the week. So if this is something that might interest you.” So I’m going to still use those devices because in a sense as I said, I wish they didn’t work, but they do. But I can still frame it without coming over like a late night infomercial. I can still frame that in the same way that … I can still be a conversation.

Hey, you know this, you’ve got kids, right? And you’ve got teenagers, so you had teenagers. And me too, I got tons of kids, I got tons of grandkids. And teenagers sometimes you want to be super persuasive with them. Like, “Hey, yeah, getting your homework done is important.” So conversational language can be incredibly persuasive. Hey, I’ve got a 19-year-old daughter. You should listen to her persuade me that it’s okay for her to stay out until 2 o’clock in the downtown club. She can be amazing, really persuasive, but it’s still conversational. She doesn’t sound like a direct marketer or a copywriter, she just sounds like a teenager.

So when some people say to me, hey, this conversational, it sounds like second best. It sounds like you’re kind of not giving it your full effort. And I say, “Not at all.” Again, listen to a teenager, listen to a 10-year-old who wants to stay up later, listen to your partner who wants a different vacation package than the one you want. We’re all incredibly persuasive in conversation with others. And that’s the foundation of the conversational copywriting approach, is to be just as persuasive, but to do it in a human way, so that you don’t sound like a Ginsu knife salesman or a used car salesman.

Doug: Yeah, I mean some of that style makes me a bit uncomfortable. I like direct mail. And it’s interesting that you brought it up because I’ve been in this business for a long time. So before I got into digital, obviously there’s direct mailing, and we had had a stamp made from a stamp shop that had a … the wording was there and you could change the date and said, “This offer expires.” And then we would just change the date on it, and we stamp all the physical letters. And I remember once getting a call in my office from a real estate company, she goes, “Don’t you think that’s awfully aggressive?” And I said, “Well you are phoning to make an appointment, right?” She said, “Yes.” And I went, “Yep, because you’re writing. It works.”

Nick: It does. You see that’s the kind of fun and imaginative way to do it. Actually, that’s fun, that story of the stamp where you’re constantly changing the date because it shows you the power of it, but also the kind of sneakiness of it. Expires on, and then you just roll up to date.

Doug: Well, in terms of reminders to. I remember we were doing the direct mail campaign and for the Chamber of Commerce and we sent out three letters. We had a multi-step mailing, and the third letter to the same people brought the biggest response.

Nick: Yeah.

Doug: And we basically said, “Hey, we’ve said you two letters and your problem is not going away, in fact, it’s probably gotten much worse and you obviously didn’t receive the first two letters. So we’ve included a copy of the first two letters.” And I remember that was their biggest sale letter out of all the letters that went out because you’re right, people … and I talked to the guy at the bank who bought the biggest ad, and he said, “I got the first thing. I thought about it, so I got to put it in my side pile. I got the second letter, I thought, Oh man, I forgot about that, I really need to do this. I got the third letter, I thought I just got to do it right now.” So you’re right, people need to be reminded because we’re busy and we have families and kids and work and all these other things going on.

Nick: Yeah. I mean, hey, a typical online campaign, if you’re doing, if you’re sending out three emails or four emails over the course of the week and you pull in X thousand dollars on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, if you have a last chance email going out on a Thursday or the Friday, you’ll make the same number of dollars on the last chance email as everything else combined before that.

Doug: Wow.

Nick: That is very typical, it happens all the time. And like you say, it’s just because people put it off, it’s the procrastinating, it’s the, no, this isn’t urgent right now, I know it’s not urgent. And then suddenly, oh wow, now it’s urgent.

Doug: I like both styles of writing. I’m still drawn to the more aggressive style of writing, especially because it’s maybe more my approach. So what do you think the biggest myth is? So for people who are listening or going, I hear this and I need to get a copy, I’m not comfortable with the buy now or your world will end approach. And you’re saying, hey, conversational still works. So what’s the biggest myth? Why would people go one way or the other way or think that conversational wouldn’t be as effective as a hard sell direct approach?

Nick: Hey, to be completely honest, it’s because if you asked me, you said write two versions of a campaign today and I wrote one version as old school in your face broadcast, aggressive copy and I wrote the second version as conversational copy and we tested them, maybe split test. The first one today, if they went out today, the first one would probably win. That old school tried and true and tested approach would probably win. But that’s not my argument. My argument is that, okay, now you’ve got let’s say 10 percent more buyers by being aggressive, but what kind of buys have you got? Are they happy buyers? Did they like you? Are they going to come back again? Are they going to buy again? Are they going to tell their friends about you? Have you built a relationship with them or have you actually just had an adversarial encounter that you won where you were the victor and you got money out of their wallet?

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Conversational copywriting is like I’m writing to you … I’m writing as if I was speaking to you face to face across my kitchen table. I’m not going to come out spouting kind of sales nonsense.

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And so I say, what do you want? What do you want Mr. Company? Do you want the short term win where you made X number of extra dollars but You have not built a warm relationship with that customer? Or do you want to put aside some of the dollars today and have a much higher lifetime value with that customer? So that is really the argument. And it’s kind of weird because I’ve been in both worlds. So I’ve seen both worlds and now I know how both can work.

And I think for a lot of companies … and I guess it depends on the business. If I am actually selling steak knives then I don’t actually much care about the relationship, but if I … hey, anything that’s trust-based, maybe I’m a coach, maybe I’m a consultant, maybe I’m a therapist, maybe … anything where the relationship, nature, the quality of the relationship with the customer is important, then I would always go for the conversational approach.

Doug: Well, and I think as you mentioned early on, like listening to Jim Pedea talk when I was interviewing him, like you said, never sacrifice that customer experience for the sale. And I think lots of times when you get overly aggressive you do because you might not feel as good as you would like to after you’ve made the decision to purchase.

Nick: Right. Yeah. I thought that was a great quote from Jim. I think he was talking mainly about business to business, like big sales; don’t compromise the customer experience just to make the sale. But I think that applies across the board, whatever you’re selling. It could be a 20 or 100 dollar product or service that you’re selling online. And people get so caught up with the short term win, the quarterly result. There’s so much in that, whether it’s social media, marketing, automation, all of this stuff that’s happening in the digital marketing world, all speak to let’s maximize short-term results. Let’s milk this for as much as we can, as fast as we can.

And if you do that, yes, it can work. But the other thing I noticed in this digital space is sometimes I’ll think, oh wow, whatever happened to such and such a prison, who was huge five years ago and then suddenly dropped off the radar because their business didn’t endear. They’re not still standing because they never built a customer base that loved them and talked about them and shared the news and stuck with them.

Doug: Yeah, that totally makes sense. I mean, I would always look at when I’m building a marketing campaign, I’m looking at lifetime value, so what is the lifetime value of the customer that we can make a decision of how much money and time we can invest to get that customer the post. Or how quickly can we get them in the door, get their credit card and get them out the door?

I’d had heard someone speak a while ago about online courses and this really struck me because we’re building an online course for our different business and he said, “You’re responsible for your customer or the consumer who’s bought your course or your training to use it.” And I went away thinking about that. I thought, man, how many courses over the years have I bought? And that’s the last time I ever heard from the company.

And with analytics and with data and the computers and everything that’s there, you know whether I ever logged into that and ever used it. And so the question’s got to be why didn’t you follow up and say, “I see that you bought this but you’re not using it, is there something wrong? Are you not happy?” Because I’m more likely to give them a referral, which obviously increases the lifetime value than I am if I just buy it and forget it.

Nick: And I do that. I sell online courses and I do, as you say it, I can see how far someone gets through a course and where they are. And I can see if people like a week or two weeks in haven’t even started. And I will, I will write them, takes me 30 seconds, I’ll write a very short email saying, “Hey Jack, I notice you haven’t started yet. Is there anything I can do? Is there anything in the way?” And the response I get back is like, “Wow, I can’t believe you reached out to me personally.”

Doug: Yeah, that’s huge.

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Conversational copywriting is like I’m writing to you … I’m writing as if I was speaking to you face to face across my kitchen table. I’m not going to come out spouting kind of sales nonsense.

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Nick: And so I see a huge irony here, like so many companies now are all over social media. So what is social media? Social media is word of mouth. It’s like word of mouth on steroids. Do companies use social media to generate word of mouth? Not really. They use it a broadcast advertising media. They buy Facebook posts, on Twitter, they just linking to their staff, and it’s like you say like word of mouth is so powerful to actually get a customer to like you enough to respect your business enough that they actually do tell colleagues or friends about you. That is so powerful.

But yeah, we get so stuck in automation. When I get pitches for you can automate your twitter feed, everything that happens on twitter. I’m like, “That’s crazy talk. That’s not what twitter is for.” With Twitter, I can engage with people, I can reply to people, I can talk to people, I can take part in conversations on Twitter. I can’t do that if I automate it. It’s like telling me that you’ve got a script so that if I go to a backyard barbecue, I can automate, or my conversation with everyone in the barbecue is all pre-written for me. No, that’s ridiculous.

So this whole idea of conversation online, whether it’s conversational or copywriting, in sales or whether it’s being conversational through social media, which for goodness’ sake almost by definition it should be conversational. I’m constantly up against this thing of, Oh, let’s automate that stuff and let’s hire a copywriter who can press all the right buttons and maximize return on this campaign and double our income on Friday and all that stuff. And it’s great. We’re in the business of making sales. But there’s a balance. I think there’s a balance.

Doug: I think so. I mean, I do some of both and I’d heard John Lee Dumas speak years ago at an event and he said do some stuff that’s not scalable. And so my approach was to … what you just mentioned, was social media, was to start having conversations with people. And guess what, if you have some conversations, people responded and you build relationships. And I know through Twitter, for example, I’ve met some great people, literally all over the world. I met a guy in Australia, I started talking to him, introduced me to somebody in the UK and around we’ve gone and it all started with and almost all of our conversation today is still on direct message on Twitter.

Nick: Right.

Doug: You’re the only person I’ve ever heard that says that social media is being used as broadcast. That’s my platform these days is quit using it as broadcast. People give me a bad time for doing email marketing, they’re going, “Oh, you’re filling my email box.” And I’m going, “You’re doing the same thing on social media. And when’s the last time you added value to my life or actually talked to me or tried to talk to me or even responded to a direct message you sent me.” And say, hey, nice post, like your page, because I know that’s automated, in your respond saying, hey, thanks. Appreciate your comment. What’s your biggest goal this year? And you never hear back because there is nobody on the other side.

Nick: Right. The first word of social media is social.

Doug: Yes.

Nick: So this goes back to like both of us we were in the print world. I read my first website, in fact back in 1995, and then I started working on the web nonstop full-time in 1997. And when I got up on stages in the late 90s and early 2000s, my message was, “Hey, people, wake up. Writing for the web is different.” When you write for traditional media, they are broadcast media. If I write a TV commercial, I am coming up with a sales message and I’m pitching that sales message at my audience through the TV screen. It is a one-way deal. It’s broadcast media. The web, as a medium, is not a broadcast medium. It certainly not a one-way medium, it’s a two way or a multi-way medium. Unlike with the TV and the web, I can talk back and I do talk back.

In fact, individuals, consumers create more content online each day than media companies and e-commerce companies do, and mainly through platforms like Facebook. This is not a one-way broadcast medium, but still, marketers insist on treating it as if it were. And when they do that when you treat the web as a broadcast medium and you’re sending your clever sales messages at an audience, one, is you are ticking a lot of them off and they install ad blockers and start screening your emails, but secondly, you just missing the point.

It can be so … that’s one of the definitions I took about with conversational copywriting. I say old school copywriting is about broadcasting your message at an audience, conversational copywriting is about sharing a message that engages with your audience. In other words, it taps into the fact this is a multi-way medium. It taps into the fact that social media is by definition social and conversation.

So to me, it’s kind of a no-brainer and everyone who still insists on using the web as a broadcast medium for just pushing messages at an audience, they’re just missing the boat. They’re just not understanding the potential of the medium.

Doug: I’ve heard the other side as well, if you try to engage, you’re going to be overwhelmed, but I’m saying trust me, I’ve never experienced the overwhelm when you send somebody an email and you ask for a response or you’re moving someone in a certain direction, not necessarily a sales direction. People are busy, so there’s only a certain percentage of people who are going to respond anyhow. So try it and be pleasantly surprised at the people that do. What I found is they become your advocates and your evangelists for you and your brand because you’ve started a dialog. And so I don’t need to have five million people following me on twitter. I just need 20 people who we communicate with that really like me and talk about what I do. And that’s way better than having millions of followers and who cares how many people like it.

Nick: That’s right. We talked a little bit before we started recording about following the wrong matrix, look at the wrong data points, and the number of followers or friends or people or whatever, subscribers on the platform means nothing. It means nothing. You can trick your way into a big number. But yeah, what matters is the level of engagement and particularly the power of word of mouth. And like you said, I’ve never ever been overwhelmed when I’ve invited people to engage with me.

And funnily enough, the point you were making about starting relationships when you reply to someone, probably some of the most endearing, supportive relationships I’ve had is where it began with someone writing me an email that was a complaint. There were ticked off with me. I wrote back, resolved the problem, they write back and, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I had no idea this was going to a real person, and I’m just so embarrassed that this you Nick reading this and I’m sorry about that.” And all of a sudden, now that whole dynamic, the whole relationship utterly turn around. And I can think just off the top of my head, two or three people that I now back and forth, on an occasional basis, but for years we started off with them being upset with something that I was selling or talking about or whatever.

Doug: That’s so funny. So in terms of this industry and where it’s going, I mean I’ve heard lots of people will get up and talk and they talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. It’s like, Well, you need to date before you get engaged and you need to … yet they immediately go to the hard sell side of the business. So you’ve been doing this for a long time, which is really cool, there’s obviously lots of younger people come along and getting into space, what are you most excited about? I mean, you’ve probably seen this about everything, so what are you most excited about the next six to 12 months in the copy space and what you do?

Nick: Most excited about in the copy space? Wow.

Doug: Or Your Business, like you, ‘re helping customers and you’re seeing obviously the world’s changing and society is changing and technology’s changing engagement and there’s a new platform that shows up every day. There’s probably more than that. I probably see one that shows up every day.

Nick: All right. So to be totally kind of self-centered about it. I’ve been teaching and training for well over a decade now and I actually love that. I love teaching and training. It gives me enormous pleasure to pass on what I know to other people, particularly when I see it applied and working for their business.

And with the conversational copywriting, it allows me to add a lot of value to some of the types of companies I was talking about before where the relationship is super, super important. Like whether you’re … you could be a coach, you could be a therapist, you could be a consultant, where that one on one trust is super important because you can’t be a Ginsu knife salesman to acquire a coaching client, and then when you get the coaching clients say, “Oh, all that nonsense, that’s not really me. I’m actually a nice, trustworthy guy.” You gotta be the same person throughout the process, through the marketing and the delivery of your service.

So I love the fact that what I’m teaching now, conversational copywriting is such a powerful and appropriate tool and approach for that kind of business. It’s always been my favorite kind of business. I’ve worked for a lot of very large companies and it’s been really interesting, but emotionally they’re not my favorite type of company. I actually far prefer working with smaller companies. I love the kind of courage of Small Business. I love the coverage of entrepreneurial startup, all that kind of stuff. And so yeah, I’m being kind of selfish when I say that.

Doug: No, I mean, I see what you’re most excited about. That’s the focus on you. Yeah.

Nick: I’m really excited about being able to help the kind of companies I like and respect the most because I just think the conversational copywriting approach is so useful to those people. So I’m really looking forward to that. In terms of the tools and the platforms, on the one hand, it’s just freaking amazing. We take it so much for granted.

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Conversational copywriting is like I’m writing to you … I’m writing as if I was speaking to you face to face across my kitchen table. I’m not going to come out spouting kind of sales nonsense.

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When I pick up my smartphone, everything it does … recently I added an app to it that is a spirit level, so instead of getting down to the basement for the spirit level, if I’m putting up a shelf or something, it’s just on my phone now. The things the phone replaces, the thing the smartphone does, it’s my fax machine, it’s a compass, it’s like everything. And we take all of this technological advancement so much for granted so quickly.

I mean we’ve only had smartphones for what? 11 years now. And it’s like we just take it all for granted. So as marketers, again, we just take all these platforms for granted. The ability, like with Facebook, Facebook advertising, I can get so granular in who I reach and I can test so thoroughly … It’s extraordinary. If I think back to my direct mail days or your direct mail days in terms of just how blunt it was in terms of our understanding of our audience or our segmentation was so course compared to what we can do with Facebook. So the potential there is extraordinary. So I’m a huge fan of these amazing advances. I’m not a fan of when people use these tools as an excuse to stop thinking or use these tools as an excuse to stop being a human being and stop talking like a human being and reaching and connecting with people like a human being.

Doug: Well, I might add one more. I’d say I’m not a fan when people use this as a form of procrastination and they lie to themselves and their boss or their shareholders that I’m marketing my business. Like, no, you’re not marketing your business, you’re using tools to broadcast your message that is ineffective and you’re wasting time.

Nick: Right. I was actually … somebody reached out to me a while ago and he invested in a number of startups and he said, “Hey, Nick, I just need to get their email lists from X to Y because if I can move them up to that high number, it’s going to add an extra $10 million to the valuation.” And I’m like, “So hang on, you mean it doesn’t matter where the list comes from, it’s just the number?” And then someone’s going to see the number and add millions of dollars to the fact … it’s just like a crazy world. It’s like, hey, I don’t know, maybe I’ll make a lot more money that way if I followed that route.

Doug: Yeah, I don’t. I don’t think so. I mean, I say that I probably say no to more people than I say yes to because I know there’s somebody else that will take their money, but if I don’t feel comfortable in their approach to the expectations then it’s just not worth going down that road.

Nick: It’s a joy to me to discover that I can do what I love, make a good living and be a decent person at the same time. I mean, that’s amazing. That’s worth getting out of bed for in the morning.

Doug: Well, and to the point of your writing style or your copy or your sales process style and then switching over to your coaching or your consulting business where you’re going to have more of a one on one relationship. I read a book years ago, the author’s name Roger Ailes and it was, You Are The Message. And he consulted some presidents. I mean there was a big story about him with Reagan.

And so, yeah, I mean if you think about it so … if you and I are out communicating in the marketplace one way digitally and then people meet us at a cocktail party or people see us on a stage, we better be the same person or they’re going to think there’s something off.

Nick: I love that, you are the message because you are. Whether you like it or not, you can’t pretend to be otherwise. Yeah, I like that and yeah when you meet some … and I’ve had that, I’ve met people at events who presented themselves in one way in their marketing and then you meet them in person and they’re not that way at all. And there’s always that sense of disappointment.

Doug: Yeah.

Nick: That damn, they fooled me. I’ve fooled again. One other thing I just wanted to mention. When I talk about conversational copywriting, some people say, “Oh yeah, we do that.” And I say, “Oh, that’s great. Show me.” And they show me as an email series. And I get these and you probably get these too where it’s like, “Hey Nick, I was thinking about you this morning. I noticed you’re really interested in our super duper product, but you haven’t bought it yet.” So that is like false conversational. Right? So, hey Nick, I was thinking of you this morning. No, you weren’t, don’t lie to me.

This is an email that’s automated, it’s been sitting in a funnel waiting for me for the last six months. You weren’t thinking of me, you’re trying to get under my skin here. And that drives me nuts where people … because these marketers, what they’ve done is they’ve recognized the power of conversational language, how strong it can be to engage with people at an emotional level. And then they abuse it, they manipulate it. And they pretend to be my best bud, but they’re not, they’re a stranger and I’m a stranger.

Again, yeah, maybe they can get a short-term win, but are they building a longterm relationship with me? No, because at some point they’re just going to fail to kind of pass the sniff test, I’m certainly gonna, even if I didn’t recognize it in that first email, sooner or later I’m going to think, hang on, this just feels off.

Doug: Or try a more direct approach. “Hey Nick, I wasn’t thinking about you today, but what I did notice was my bank account was a bit short and I really need you to buy my course and It would make a huge difference in my life.” And maybe be honest.

Nick: There’s this copywriter called Drayton Bird. I’ve been doing this 40 years, Drayton’s been doing this for 60 years and he’s an absolute firebrand. I think he’s 80 this year and he’s still full-time. He’s from England. He’s one of the world’s greatest copywriters and he has been forever. And in his emails he is … first of all, he’s very conversational, it’s absolutely as if he’s talking to you, bad language and all. And secondly, he’s utterly transparent.

He said, okay, I’m going to write to you today about the power of the word free, and then so he’s teaching about the using the word free as a copywriter, and then he segues. He says, “Okay, now you understand how that works. I’m going to use it on you because I want you to download my free guide.” So he’s like a magician who’s showing you how to do the trip while he’s doing it.

And it is so disarming. It is so delightful to actually have somebody being that transparent and open with you. And of course, it still works. He says, “Okay, I’ve explained how it’s working, now I’m going to try it on you.” And yeah, it’s going to work gangbusters because we like that. We love stuff that’s free.

Doug: That’s funny.

Nick: So there’s no sneakiness, there’s no manipulation, there’s no apology, there’s just complete transparency. And again, if companies would stop thinking that, oh, I have to be clever, I have to manipulate emotions, I have to all this kind of stuff. If people forgot that and just said, you know what, let’s just be upfront and transparent and open about this. Huge difference.

Doug: Yeah. I think one of the highest open rate emails I’ve sent out to my own list was, I’m sorry. And that was it. But the beginning of the email went through to explain why. And the fact was, I had promised people to subscribe to my list that I would mail them every Monday, and the reality was I wasn’t fulfilling that promise, and months had gone by and I had not sent out an email.

And so I got some really good feedback from the people who had subscribed. So life got busy and I got doing this and this and no excuses, I haven’t done it. But then I saw one of my subscribers using it thinking, okay, you’re not sorry, I’ve met you, I know you. You’re just wanting to see if you can get a bump on your fill in the blank product that you’re trying to sell us.

Nick: I know. So you got the open rate because to your list because they knew of you, they knew your reputation, when they saw that subject line, it was you’re being human, you’re being pressing and that’s immensely appealing amongst all the rubbish we get in our inbox. So because of your name recognition, they said, oh, it’s from Doug, I like Doug. He’s sorry. Oh Wow. I wonder why, so I’m going to open it. But then there’s always someone who’s going to say, “Oh, that’s clever, I’ll use that too.” And then, of course, different context, different reputation, different level of recognition, it doesn’t work so well, or if it does, again, it’s a short-term win.

Doug: Yeah, absolutely. That’s really cool. So moving forward and talking about your business, what’s some of the bad advice that you hear in the marketplace? I’m not asking about people, but you go to conferences and speak at conferences and so do I, and so we always hear something that makes all the hair in the back of our neck stand up when somebody says something about our industry that’s simply not true. So what some of the bad advice that you hear with companies that are looking at copywriting or conversational copywriting or hiring someone like yourself to do this type of work?

Nick: I think it’s whenever I hear someone who’s pitching the easy button approach. So I was listening to your conversation with Rebecca Gayle about SEO and some of the less reputable SEO companies who offer, we’ll get you on the first page of Google in 10 days, guaranteed, blah, blah, blah, blah. That kind of stuff, I still … not necessarily that line, but I still hear stuff like that, whether it’s to do with Facebook or social media in general of here’s the easy way, here’s the proven way, here’s the killer way.

And we are all of us, as individuals and as marketers, susceptible and vulnerable to the promise of the easy button. Here’s an easier, here’s an easier way to do it. And it drives me nuts because it hardly ever works. It’s one of the things like I probably have a little bit of pride in having done this for 40 years because I think to myself, you know what, to be still standing after 40 years counts for something. It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had my ups and downs. I’ve had really bad years. I’ve had really good years, but I’m still standing.

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[just click to tweet]


Conversational copywriting is like I’m writing to you … I’m writing as if I was speaking to you face to face across my kitchen table. I’m not going to come out spouting kind of sales nonsense.

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And I think, okay, that’s cool. I give myself a little pat on the back. Then I contrast that with people offering the easy button. The other thing that drives me nuts, and again this probably says more about me than it should, it’s probably my pride at work again, is that I will maybe be a fan of what somebody’s doing and then I’ll go to an event and we’ve got speakers at the event and I’ll walk up and say, “Oh, hi, my name’s Nick, I really like what you’re doing.” And they’re immediately looking over my shoulder to see if there’s someone more important they should be talking to. Hey, it’s a pride thing, and I’m sure I’ve done the same, but I try really, really hard not to do that. So that’s just a separate thing. It’s not about marketing, it’s just about … hey, it’s like you’re talking about. It’s like being human. It’s about being respectful. It’s about being kind. It’s about … I don’t know.

Doug: Yeah, maybe another time, I’ll share a story with you on that topic. But that comes back to being authentic. I mean, so you’re feeling for that person at that point, I’m guessing, would be the same as mine is that they’re looking at me and they’ve made a judgment and they’ve put a dollar value on my potential. Our relationship is worth X number of dollars and that’s not the number I’m looking for, so who else can I go talk to?

Nick: Right. And then you’ll come across someone who … we could ramble about, this is a whole different conversation. But actually, I find it really, really interesting as well; that whole thing. Because networking, again, is a hugely important part of a lot of our businesses. Probably most business can benefit from networking. So the way you present yourself to the world, that the whole thing, you are your message. And when you’re not your message, like say this guy, I’d been following what he did, I liked him, I was on his email list and he came over as super friendly, accessible, nice guy. And then you meet him and now he’s not his message. And if networking is important to a business, you’re going to be really careful with stuff like that.

Doug: Well, he’s better to stay in his office and not go and meet people. Just keep sending a copy, don’t leave the house.

Nick: That’s right.

Doug: On the other side of that. I remember years ago a Canadian hero that you probably remember as well is Rick Hanson.

Nick: Correct.

Doug: And I remember my grandfather saying, “Hey, I met this young man and he’s playing basketball and he’s in a wheelchair and he’s got this goal that he wants to wheel around the world and raise money for spinal cord research, and I think we’re going to fund him and help them do that.” I remember meeting him after he came back from his tour and when he said, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you.” And shaking your hand, you knew from just the warmth in his hand and the way that he looked at you that he actually meant it, which shouldn’t be an odd thing to be talking about. But it was like, wow, he’s … Pat Flynn was the same way when we met Pat Flynn, just a nice guy and he gave you his full attention. Now, he didn’t spend an hour with you, but when he was talking to you, he was talking to you.

Nick: Right. I’ve had the same experience with Seth Godin. I just find him just such a class act. We’ve met, we’ve had dinner, we’ve spoken and it’s like very occasionally I’ll write him an email and stuff and he replies. He’s never too important to reply.

Doug: That is so cool.

Nick: You know what I mean?

Doug: Yeah. That is so cool.

Nick: And so there’s this horribly overused word which is authentic. Being authentic, which has just become this massive, ridiculous cliche because now it’s about how to automate authenticity, which drives me nuts.

Doug: Or it’s finding the right authentic to market that will get you the most sales.

Nick: That’s right. That’s right. So the word has been utterly destroyed and its meaning is being destroyed. But if we can think back to … go back to the dictionary and understand what authentic actually means. And this again, I’m being self-serving because this comes back to conversational copywriting. If I can be authentic with my voice, if I can be my message, if I can be generous with myself, my real self, like that handshake you had, if it’s the real me, if really can be authentic, I think that is a hugely, hugely powerful thing. Particularly online where we have the opportunity for interaction, where we have the opportunity for kind of word of mouth on steroids, is if you really truly are that decent person, it can be massively powerful. And as a company, a company can find a conversational voice. You can do that as a business and you can be more authentic as per the original meaning of the word.

Doug: Yeah. I don’t use that word anymore either, for obvious reasons.

Nick: What a shame.

Doug: So a couple of a couple of questions and we’ll wrap up our time together. So this is my tough question. Who’s one guest I absolutely have to have my podcast?

Nick: Oh Wow. Wow.

Doug: I told you it was a tough question.

Nick: You should have given me some warning here. Oh well, if you want to … I don’t know whether Drayton Bird. So he’s an Englishman like I say, he’s been doing this forever. I don’t know whether he does podcasts. His language can be a little flowery at times, but the thing with Drayton Bird is the only person I know who has a testimonial from David Ogilvy on his homepage. Like he goes back forever and he’s been one of the best forever. And he is so articulate and so full of energy and insights. So see if you could … I’ll introduce you if you want.

Doug: That would be awesome.

Nick: See if you can get Drayton Bird on your podcast. I’ve never heard him on a podcast. I Don’t know whether he’s done that, but I think he’d be an amazing guest.

Doug: Well then let’s do that. Now, where’s the best place for people to connect with you? And I know you’ve put up, you’ve got an offer for our listeners and I see that you’re very social on all the platforms so if you want people to connect with you, where should they connect?

Nick: Well, if anyone wants to send me an email, they can just send it to [email protected]. If they want to read a ton of stuff I’ve written about conversational copywriting, then check out my blog @conversationcopywriting.com. If you want to grab some free goodies, go to conversational.com/fast as in real marketing real fast, but just the word fast, all lower case.

And there’s a page there where you can sign up and get a free download of a guide, access to some videos and yes I’m going to ask you your first name and your email address. That’s the plan, right? But if you do, hopefully, as you get my emails and I have a short automated sequence, it’s just four, hopefully, you’ll notice in the language that yes, I’m using the tool of automation, but I’m not being a creep about it hopefully. Hopefully, you’ll get that sense that I’m actually talking to you like a real person in a respectful tone. So that’s me walking the talk of conversational copywriting.

Doug: And what about social? Where’s your favorite platform?

Nick: I guess I do probably Facebook. And again, that’s /Nick.Usborne. So Nick.Usborne on Facebook.

Doug: Well, excellent. I just want to say thanks so much for taking time out of your day to share and give to our audience.

Nick: Oh, thank you. You know what I love about a conversation like this is you will say things, you’ll ask questions, you’ll bring stuff up that allows me to look at my topic from a slightly different direction. So it’s super, super valuable for me too. And I hope your listeners get something out of this. If not, we’ve failed utterly.

Doug: Yes. Well, I mean, it’s all about communications these days and as you said, we’ve gone from an era of broadcast and print. And print used to be in a big piece of paper that left your fingers dirty after you read it to now digital, and from digital, from big screens to mobile. And so the world’s changing the way that they interact. And I can’t suggest more strongly to make sure that you’re talking to the audience the way that they want to hear from you and the places they want to read.

Nick: Exactly right.

Doug: So, thanks again listeners for tuning in. We will make sure that we transcribe the show notes. As usual, we’ll make sure that all of Nick’s information and all of his social media links are in the show notes as well as the offer for you to sign up and get the guide, the five quick and easy ways. So that’ll be there for you. So you like this episode, don’t be shy, leave us a comment on iTunes or leave us a comment on the blog or ask a question. Reach out to Nick and we look forward to serving you in our next episode.

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[just click to tweet]


Conversational copywriting is like I’m writing to you … I’m writing as if I was speaking to you face to face across my kitchen table. I’m not going to come out spouting kind of sales nonsense.

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"Innovation isn't just thinking outside the box; it's about setting the box on fire and building something extraordinary from the ashes."

Doug Morneau