Why do copywriters need to read between the lines to be successful?

Successful copywriting is all about connecting with an audience. It’s about convincing them to do something that we want them to. Sounds blunt I know, but let’s not beat around the bush, it’s the truth. It’s a bit like witchcraft without the creepy spells. When we fully connect with someone they are now under our spell. We can persuade them to take action and this is why a successful copywriter is every business owner’s dream. Do we want our audience to buy, eat, drink, think and exercise? You get the picture. But how easy is it to connect with an audience? The short answer is pretty darn difficult.

I see so many people opting for a career in copywriting because they think it’s the easiest way to make money online. They think they have the skills to be a copywriter if they have access to a keyboard, they can spell and they passed their English exam. After all, it’s just writing, right? Wrong.

Copywriting is an art and a skill which takes time, patience and practice. Contrary to popular belief, there is a strategy behind copywriting. You can’t just sit down and right, I mean you can, but this won’t achieve good results. There is so much thought and planning which should go into copywriting before your fingers even touch the keyboard. You need to listen as much as you can and you need to be asking why, all the time. Only then, will you have the knowledge and expertise you need to fully connect and resonate with the target market that you are speaking to.

So, why do we need to read between the lines to be successful copywriters?

Firstly, what do I mean when I say ‘read between the lines? I mean not taking anything at face value. This refers to conversations you have with your clients and your customers. Copywriting is deep-rooted in psychology. We have to understand how the human mind works in order to get the human mind to behave in the way we want it to. Most people assume this applies when writing the copy for the target audience but it also applies when working with a client. You see, people seek the services of copywriters because they are having trouble selling and communicating their products or services with their audience. This usually means they aren’t connecting with their audience which usually means they aren’t saying the right things. So if they aren’t saying the right things why would you take what they say at face value?

Let’s take an example to highlight my point on how to become a successful copywriter:

The client’s issue

A client hires a copywriter in London to write website copy for her London-based luxury swimwear brand. She tells the copywriter that her garments are the high end which is why the price tag is so hefty but she’s struggling to sell them at this price. She doesn’t want to lower the cost of the swimsuits as they are high-quality, handmade pieces and for the amount they cost to be made, she can’t afford to sell them any lower. However, she goes on to explain that she is struggling to sell them as she thinks her audience perceives them as too expensive.

Who does the client think they are selling to?

The client and the copywriter have a call and the copywriter wants to know who her ideal customer is. The client goes on to talk about someone who she ‘thinks’ is her ideal customer. They explain “There was a young girl in my office, she used to buy the majority of her clothes on the high street but she’d always have something new that was designed and she was always up to date with the latest trends. She would save up and buy the newest jeans, shoes or bags so she was always wearing a label which made her look high-end and glamorous. A trendy person who everyone was envious of her.” That’s why I want to wear my brand.

How does a successful copywriter read between the lines?

Now, if the copywriter wasn’t reading between the lines she’d have taken what this client said at face value. Then she’d have written the new copy with this customer in mind. They would have struggled to make sales again and the client would have assumed it was because the copy wasn’t doing its job. However, this copywriter was smart, she was used to thinking on her feet and most importantly, she would always read between the lines, never taking anything at face value. She instantly knew that this client wasn’t making sales not because of the price, but because the ideal customer persona was all wrong.

What is the actual solution to the problem?

The customer that the client wanted only wears brands to make herself appear rich. Therefore she will only purchase brands which other people have heard of and are already well established. This means that she wouldn’t pay £400 for a swimsuit brand nobody has heard of because it wouldn’t make her look high-end and glamorous. The copywriter explained to the client “The kind of customer you need isn’t someone who saves up for designer pieces. It is someone who buys them day to day. They don’t think twice about buying a Burberry purse and they don’t need all of their clothes and accessories to be branded with an obvious name tag because they know they are wealthy and they haven’t got to prove anything to anyone. This means if your swimsuits look good and the customer likes it she will just buy it without worrying about whether people will know what brand she’s wearing. Basically, she needed people with higher disposable income who shopped for the appearance and quality of clothes rather than the designer label (it’s just the two usually go hand in hand).”


This resulted in a total switch in the tone of voice and brand personality in order to fully connect with the new target audience. The copy was now more mature, classy and elegant as opposed to informal, young and slang-focused. 

Why is reading between the lines so important when writing copy?

When you write copy you need to have a good solid understanding of what the client is trying to achieve and you need to have a solid understanding of who the customer is. Your job is to analyse everything the client says to work out if what they are saying aligns with what they really want to achieve. You can only do this if you read between the lines of what they are saying. And it’s exactly the same with customers. If you hold a focus group with your ideal customer you need to look beyond what they are saying and work out what it is they really mean. This is the only way you’re going to really evoke emotions in your audience and spark something inside of them which convinces them to take action.

For example, customers might say they really want designer clothes because they think the quality and style are better than high street brands. However, when you ask more questions and listen to them more deeply, you will start to uncover the truth. Which is that they want to wear designer brands because it makes them feel superior, confident and bold. This is the real reason they wear designer clothes and this is what you should use to form the basis of your copy, not that you offer quality and style.

How do you read between the lines in order to become a successful copywriter?

1. Have a phone call with the client or target audience

First things first, you can’t read between the lines over text or email. You need to call your client or target audience and listen to the emotion in their voice. It also gives them a chance to speak freely which leads them to say things that they wouldn’t usually say over text.

2. Let them chat

When you call them you will obviously have a list of questions that you need to ask but it’s crucial that you let them chat without intervening. Don’t be scared of the silences as this encourages them to speak more. The more you listen and the more they say, the easier it is to uncover the truth behind what they are saying.

3. Ask what bothers them

The things people won’t say but are crucial in order for you to uncover the truth are the things that don’t sound desirable or acceptable in our society. This is why it’s your job to get them to reveal those truths. You can do this by asking about things that bother them or make them frustrated.

4. Always dig deeper

Not taking something at face value means you don’t quite believe the statement which is presented to you. In order to read between the lines, you need to dig deeper. When you hear something interesting that the person says don’t stop there, continue to ask why. Ask why they feel the way that they do. What made them come to this conclusion? The more they say, the more you can go down the rabbit hole and uncover the whole truth behind what they say.

5. Revisit the information

Sometimes you listen and listen and you don’t really uncover anything that insightful. This isn’t uncommon and it usually means that you are too wrapped up in the moment. This is why it’s so important to always record your conversations. Or even make notes and revisit them on a different day. Doing this will help you gain a fresh perspective. You might read or listen to the information again and see a problem or truth which you weren’t aware of before.

So there you have it, that’s exactly why copywriters need to read between the lines to be successful. If you follow the steps noted in this article and work on asking why at all times, you’ll notice a significant improvement in your results. Your copy will stand out head and shoulders above your competitors and your clients will come back to you time and time again.

Continue Reading: How to Successfully Market Yourself as a Freelance Copywriter

About the author

Hayley is a freelance copywriter who’s been writing successful copy for eight years. She’s results-driven and loves writing copy that converts audiences into paying customers. Her business HYB copywriting helps clients across the globe to communicate with their audiences more effectively.