Lianna Patch on Humor in Copy, Improv Comedy, and Mad Men

May 20, 2019
Jim Berg

Content Crafters is an interview series where we de-construct the tools, tips, and tactics that top bloggers use to get so much work done. you’ll walk away in mere minutes with actionable takeaways you can try out right away. Let’s dive in!

Lianna Patch is a conversion copywriter who focuses on copy with humor (which means she gets people to say yes and also laugh).

Additionally, she’s the Copy Director at SNAP Copy, which delivers conversion-optimized copy on demand.

She’s also super respected across the industry, with reviews like this:

  • “Lianna is easily the best copywriter I know.” (Jes Kirkwood)
  • “Lianna’s gift of language is astounding.” (Patrick Quirk)
  • “Lianna is a terrific writer – and maybe the only copywriter I’ve seen blend snarky humor and conversion copywriting principles.” (Joanna Wiebe)

Conversion copywriting is all about business and action-driven copy. In this interview, we’ll cover her origins in the marketing world, how she views humor’s role in copy for any given business, and where she gets her ideas and inspiration.

You can find Lianna on Twitter at @punchlinecopy, on her website, or on her LinkedIn here.

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How did you get into content marketing and copywriting? What’s your origin story?

Ten-ish years ago, I was sort of unmoored and unsure about my college major. I had a conversation with my dad (more on that below), started watching Mad Men, and thought, “So THAT’S why I care so much about ads!” Started freelancing by posting ads on Craigslist at an hourly rate of somewhere around $20. Ohhhh the projects I took on…

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What do you believe is unique about your background, skills, or experience that allows you to be an effective and successful copywriter?

I’m a Wildly Sensitive Person, which has its benefits and its pitfalls.

Benefits: I can hop into your head and understand how you feel and how you might feel.

Pitfall: I had to stop re-watching “I Am Legend” the other night because I was too upset by poor Will Smith being alone, and that was before the dog even died.

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Is humor something you believe anyone can pull off in copy, or is it something that only works for the funniest among us? If there’s some element of “nurture” here rather than only “nature,” what can the average business owner or writer do to learn more about comedy/humor and how to incorporate it into their writing?

GO TAKE AN IMPROV CLASS. Honestly. It’s so much fun, and it just helps you strengthen the part of your brain that responds reflexively and openly! Such a valuable skill for marketers.

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Is there a difference in how you would do customer research in terms of designing copy and tone for blog posts versus landing page or sales copy? If so, what’s the difference (strategically and tactically)?

When I write content, it tends to be a bit more conversational — because there’s more room to build that relationship with the reader. Don’t get me wrong, my copy is pretty conversational most of the time, too. No matter what kind of project I’m approaching, I’m looking for a hook or intro that’s going to be unusual enough for someone to keep reading.

For example, there are tons of articles about writing more emotionally piquant copy. But how many of them are Matrix-themed? I THOUGHT SO.

What’s an absolutely essential skill or attitude to have in copywriting (something you believe no copywriter can succeed without)?

You’ve gotta know why you made a particular choice (be it page structure, punctuation, word choice, whatever) and be able to explain and stand up for the validity and importance of that choice.

Otherwise, Copy by Committee will flatten your work, suck the life out of your sentences, and crush your spirit.

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Is there ever a conflict between your ability to write humorous and punchy copy and customer research and data suggesting to you that may not be the most effective strategy? If so, how do you move forward and, if necessary, choose a different tone/voice?

Oh, absolutely. I believe there’s a place for humor in 95% of copy out there — but it’s definitely a sliding scale.

If qualitative customer research comes back indicating that readers won’t have much of a sense of humor about a given topic (for instance, “finding a funeral home because my mom just died”), then I won’t focus on humor.

There are also B2B segments that tend to be a little more buttoned-up, so I can tone down the absurdity at their request.

But more and more, I’m grateful to work with clients and markets who understand the appeal of humor.

If you didn’t work in content marketing and copywriting, what would you be doing and why?

OOH WHAT A GOOD QUESTION. What *would* I be doing?? Do I get to choose another specialty in the marketing realm? Probably UX or UI. I love making things easier and more intuitive.

If I had to pick something outside of marketing altogether, I… God, honestly, I don’t know. This question has ruined me.

OK wait I figured it out. I’d be a comic book writer! Is that too close to copywriting? Most of my teenage years, I was planning to be a comic book artist. Then I got to college as a studio art major and realized I was either going to need to step my game WAY up, or change my major.

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I asked my dad for advice, and he said, “I always thought you’d be a writer.” I changed my major to English, started responding to ads for copy jobs on Craigslist, and went from there. Thanks, Pops.

What inspires you? How do you come up with ideas for copy, content, etc.?

I’m fairly merciless when it comes to dismissing my own ideas if I feel like they’re something I’ve seen before. Most of my best ideas come from seeing a structure or product that I find appealing, and saying, “How could I apply this to copy?” or “Does this have any parallels with the type of work that I do? How can I take the best parts of this thing and roll them into my work?”

For example, I really liked the idea of being able to buy a productized service. It’s something a lot of people offer, especially in SEO. I thought, “How can I productize my copywriting services — which we were already doing at SNAP — to only offer the kinds of products that Punchline is best at? And that I most enjoy doing?” The answer was to offer one-off email copy and landing page punchups. That’s where my first few productized services came from.

Gimme a few tips to improve my writing (or rather, tips that anyone can use to be a better writer)

  • Don’t be afraid to show your personality. There’s so much of the same old crap floating around. Why not be the black sheep or purple cow or whatever weird-colored animal you like best?
  • Be specific. Be silly. Heighten your examples. Don’t say “This chair is comfy,” say “Just looking at this chair feels like giving your eyeballs a Swedish massage.”
  • Use parenthetical “asides” to address user objections and join the conversation going on in your reader’s head. If you know your reader is worried about getting locked into a billing agreement, write something like this:PAY NOW
    (Worried about being auto-billed from now until forever? Don’t! You can cancel anytime with one click).

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Jim Berg
Jim is the editor-in-chief at Wordable.

About the Author

Jim Berg
Jim is the editor-in-chief at Wordable.