Copywriting Tips: “Can I borrow a cup of content?”

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We used to hear about neighbors who’d knock on the door and ask to borrow a cup of sugar. Frankly, I don’t know anybody who ever did, although my statistics may be skewed because I’m a city dweller. Nowadays most people I know wouldn’t (a) admit to owning sugar in any form, or (b) knock on people’s doors without notice.

After all, your neighbor might be holding a webinar at that very moment!

I’m not trained or licensed as a lawyer, so I can’t comment on what’s legal. But here’s the right way to borrow other people’s content and make it work for you.

Your friend just ordered a lovely custom cake to celebrate her anniversary. Would you swipe the cake and use it for yours?

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Apart from the legal and moral aspects of stealing, you won’t get much value out of that cake. It’s not your style. It doesn’t represent the feeling you want to create for your anniversary, which isn’t like anyone else’s.

When I first started out, a prospective client said, “I’m going to copy X’s website as closely as possible. X is a gazillionaire. He knows what he’s doing.”

That prospect was partially right. X does know exactly what he’s doing…for his product and his market. But once you reach a certain level of success, you depend less on copy and design to make your sales. You still sell — but your name does most of the work.

My prospect was a brand new newbie. She needed her own strategy.

But don’t assume I’m insulting those gazillionaires. X probably tested the content and format six ways from Sunday…for his market. Your market may be different. Your offers and styles certainly are.

One of my clients said, “I really liked the video on Joe’s website. They introduced each new slide with a different colored flag.”

Another said, “Marian created a flip chart and pulled down each page in each slide. So cool! “

These tactics can be cool, although they lose their charm if you’ve seen them a dozen times on different sites. But they’re not necessarily creating success for the website owner.

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Photo by Halacious on Unsplash.

For all we know, they’re distracting from the message and actually hurting the website owner’s sales.

But even when they’re supremely helpful, these tactics have limited power.

They can showcase a message. The real work of marketing goes into creating a message and then putting that message into high-converting copy.

Business owners sometimes feel they need to tell “their story” and they believe their story has to follow a particular format. For instance, you may be advised to tell a story of how you conquered obstacles, made mistakes, and suffered many misfortunes.

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Photo by Wojciech on Unsplash.

Your brand may call for an entirely different story, which may not be about you at all. In fact, brands and stories share the ability to differentiate you and your business from everyone else on the playing field. No one can tell your story, and no one else should be confused with your brand.

Definitely follow the recipe instruction to, “Add a story and stir.” But you’ll have to choose your own story — one that resonates with your audience and communicates your message and style.

It’s tempting to follow the actions of a successful role model.

But it’s much more exciting — and ultimately more profitable — to follow the recipe. Borrow the recipe but make the final product your own.

Click here for a free guide to branding with stories.

Originally published at

Helping entrepreneurs and independent professionals grow their businesses one story at a time.

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