People lie. Sometimes on purpose, other times subconsciously. And it’s our job as copywriters or marketers to make sure we get to the truth. Or as close as possible to it.
People make decisions based on emotions and then justify them with logic.
We all know that.
But there’s one thing that most of us refuse to accept as an actual tool to navigate that dichotomy: our intuition.
Call it woo woo or just pure imagination, but I truly believe intuition + expertise (in your product and market) can be your unfair advantage.
Ask any founder…
The most successful ones didn’t brainstorm a hundred ideas and carefully validated every single one until they logically stumbled on the golden goose.
No, they relied on their intuition, on their knowledge of the industry and on their resonance with their market:
- Steve Jobs trusted his gut, dropped out of college and even went against market research to introduce products like the iPhone and iPad. His point of view? “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
- Richard Branson’s decision to start Virgin Atlantic was more of a gut feeling than a calculated move
- Reed Hastings’s move of switching from DVD rentals by mail to streaming was a gut decision that turned Netflix into a media giant
- Mark Zuckerberg turned down Yahoo’s $1 billion offer in 2006 when Facebook was still a startup, believing that the company could grow into something much bigger
- Elon Musk’s decision to invest all his PayPal earnings into Tesla and SpaceX was not just a data-driven decision; it was a gut feeling about what the future could be like.
Look for it and you’ll see it over and over again.
Intuition pays off.
And it turns out it’s also often inevitable.
As H. Liddell Hart writes in “Why Don’t We Learn From History?”:
“[History] cannot be interpreted without the aid of imagination and intuition. The sheer quantity of evidence is so overwhelming that selection is inevitable. Where there is selection there is art.”
Intuition is selection.
Happens all the time when I’m working on copy projects. After months of drowning in research and data, you have to take a stand. You have to make an executive decision, and ship your work.
Because the only way to validate is to let your prospects tell you, through their actions, whether it works or not.
Intuition is useful when you speak to customers, too.
A lot of times they’ll say one thing, but deep down they mean something else entirely.
Rory Sutherland says:
“just because there is a rational answer to something, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a more interesting, irrational answer to be found in the unconscious”
And in order to find that more interesting answer, we have to connect the dots between what people are saying and what they actually (irrationally) mean.
The sooner you accept that intuition is not hairy-fairy magic, but an actual tool, the more effective you’ll be at your job.
It’s nothing mystical, like Philip Tetlock says in “Superforecasting”:
“It’s pattern recognition. With training or experience, people can encode patterns deep in their memories in vast number and intricate detail”
Intuition, your gut feeling is the key to creativity. Both in understanding and in producing.
It’s something I had to change my mind about when it comes to the copywriting process. I was a firm believer in research and hard data. But there’s really no such thing as “hard” data.
We’re all just guessing.
But some are able to guess better and make fewer mistakes than others.
It comes down to a few things, in no particular order, that can build your intuition muscle:
- Exercise both sides of your brain, the thinker and the feeler. Take time to exercise your creative side as much as your analytical one. Examples: read more fiction, watch movies, draw, stare at nature and just wonder.
- Develop emotional intelligence: Practice active listening in meetings to discern hidden needs. Example: If a client says they want more traffic but sounds hesitant, they might actually be more concerned with quality leads.
- Build trust in instinct: As you gain experience, pay attention to when your gut feelings were right and learn from them. Example: If your instinct about a tagline was spot-on in previous projects, trust it for similar projects moving forward.
- Watch for silent signals: Train yourself to notice non-verbal cues in your interactions. Example: If a client avoids eye contact when discussing a particular strategy, probe deeper.
- Use open-ended questions: Example: Instead of asking if they want more leads, ask what their ultimate goal is.
- Beware of confirmation bias: Make it a point to seek data that challenges your beliefs. Example: If you think short copy works best, look for cases where long copy outperformed.
- Bridge the empathy gap: Always factor in the gap between stated intentions and actions. Example: If a prospect says they will do something but that never happens, find out why.
- Avoid decision paralysis: Use your intuition to simplify choices for your client. Example: Offer 3 pricing options instead of 10.
- Use intuition in A/B testing: Start tests based on intuitive hunches, then let data validate. Example: If you feel a CTA button should be red, A/B test against a blue one.
I’m not saying to rely solely on your gut feeling.
But in most cases, doing that is what will spur your major breakthroughs.
So work that muscle out.
Trust it to do the work.
📚 3 things to get better at copywriting
1. Expertise in the age of AI matters even more
I love what Ethan Mollick says in this podcast about the importance of expertise in the times of AI: “The obvious wrongs are gonna disappear, the subtle wrongs are going to grow.” This means that we need experts now more than ever to spot those subtle wrongs.
2. Get more eyes on your copy to write better
Lately I’ve started using conversation to talk through ideas and even get feedback on my writing. I used to hate that. I didn’t think it could be useful and that my work and research should speak for itself. Well I was wrong. Part of developing your intuition is also accepting feedback. Two main things I’ve learned are:
- Sometimes you know where you’re falling short but don’t want to admit it or confront it. That’s why you need others to tell you.
- Don’t take anything for granted when writing. Other people are not inside your head.
3. The way you approach reading matters.
Putting yourself in the right mindset before reading anything makes it more meaningful in the moment. Which makes you absorb the content better.
Try it: say to yourself, before reading a book or watching a movie, that you’ll enjoy this because you’ll learn XYZ/you’ll get [feeling XYZ].
See this from your audience’s perspective and you’ll understand why context around how and why they consume your content is critical. Learn as much as possible about it.
✅ Don’t miss it
- This week I posted another essay on my personal newsletter Negative Capability. It’s my take on the ethics of AI “stealing” from artists. Hint: you can be a victim, or you can use it to your advantage. Find out how.
- A new video is going live today on the Youtube channel. Learn what copywriting for SaaS is all about.
🤔 Thought of the week
“It’s not hours in the day you lack, it’s a vision for your life that makes time irrelevant”– Arnold Schwarzenegger, Be Useful
Vision guides your behavior. Let it dictate what your day looks like and what you focus on.