Yes, this rule is as old as direct response marketing. And while the online marketing space pokes fun (and raises uproar) at some of the old, dated, and somewhat disturbing sales and marketing tactics from yesteryears…this rule still stands the test of time. 

It goes like this…

40% List

40% Offer 

20% Copy 

Specifically, in that order. 

I’ll go into more detail about what each of these means and how the success of any marketing campaign hinges on this classic truism. 

But first, what are the implications of overlooking this rule?  Especially, if you’re a copywriter who’s hired or about to be hired for a launch. 

*incoming – a narration of recent events that involves yours truly*

(Narration done by Samuel L. Jackson minus all the m*therf*ckers 🤪)

The Set Up: 

I was briefly reminded of this rule’s importance a few days ago after a sales call – one that I knew I would not get hired for, 10 minutes into the conversation. 

Over the course of my copywriting career, I’ve had my share of failed launches, a helping of not-so-great clients who relied ONLY on copy to do the heavy lifting, and a barrage of well-intentioned social media posts that scream “Offer first, copy second”…

The Outcome:

I told a potential client they were being delusional 

Okay, I didn’t quite say it that way – but I kinda said it that way. 

2 things that rubbed me the wrong way (okay, okay made me mad) on this call. 

  1. Expecting a copywriter to “just write emails” 
  2. Leaving the marketing department to work on the marketing strategy (read: online traffic, pre-launch, and offer development) 

For anyone reading this…please know that marketing and copywriting aren’t silo activities. They work in tandem and point to the validity of the 40/40/20 rule. Starting with the….

The List: The humans who need to see your offer, your marketing, and identify deeply with it so they buy from you. 

Let’s assume… 

If you’re converting less than 3% of your live webinar attendees to buyers which, according to industry benchmarks, you’d be in the red. 

And since the prospect’s previous launch only earned them 50 sales, they were clearly not meeting their desired goals. 

It could be…

  • List fatigue. Same webinar, same pitch, and the same subscribers subjected to the not-so-different message.  
  • No conscious effort to foster the relationship with their subscribers post-launch. That’s conversion harakiri at its best. 
  • No pre-launch runway to warm up existing and potential new subscribers. Building buzz around your launch is the single most important thing you can and should do (I detest should-isms…but this one is staying put in my books). You can’t take your audience for granted and assume they’re going to jump all over your offer. 
  • Low open rates.
  • Poor list quality.

You get the idea…all roads lead to a not-so-ideal-client list for a lack of a better term. 

If your targeted audience (email list and le socials) isn’t responding to your messaging, the promotion will fall flat like the perfect blowout in the winter months. 

Two things. 

#1) Know your audience. 

#2) Please with a capital P don’t forget about them in between promotions. 

You get the idea…all roads lead to a well-nurtured, hungry for your offer audience (or list).

This brings me to the next variable in the 40/40/20 rule.

The Offer: The “irresistible thing” that promises a specific result, offers 10x the value to your clients, and sells with ease

If you have an ideal list of prospects who are chomping at the bit to buy from you but only to discover that your offer doesn’t match their expectations…

No matter if good copy will convince them otherwise. 

Unless the offer is optimized and the copy amplifies this effort.

Back to the prospect with the webinar funnel. Here may be some reasons the funnel underperformed. 

  • Solving a problem that the market deems it’s worth paying for -not the seller 
  • Whether the offer is even designed to effectively solve the solution the buyer faces 
  • Wrong audience (as established above)
  • Weak, too little, or low-quality content 
  • No coaching or support 
  • Too much content (leading to overwhelm and low completion rates)
  • Price mismatch (too cheap or too expensive)
  • Inability to articulate the offer’s value 
  • Little proof why the offer will work (i.e., lack of testimonials)
  • It’s a “me-too” offer – the claims or promises made fell on deaf ears because the audience may have heard it all before 
  • A strong risk reversal or guarantee that this offer would “transform” buyers’ lives 

Again. Research. Research. And RESEARCH. 

Research that looks like interviews, surveys, and competitor analysis to understand if an offer even has legs. 

Notice, I didn’t mention adding bonuses to your offer like you’d throw crushed red pepper on a plain pizza slice to enhance the taste. 

Contrary to popular belief, bonuses can sometimes feel like a crutch for a weak offer to prop itself on. 

Besides, most buyers want content simplicity and a desire to complete the course/program. Not drown under a pile of information and worksheets (Oh. Em. Gee. those worksheets!) 

Strengthen your offer and the copy naturally becomes easier to write. 

This brings me to the last variable…

Copy: the superpower that determines how well your list responds to your sales message and buys it, courtesy of the words.

List? Check

Offer? Double check. 

And last but not least. 


How do you use copy to move the conversion needle in your launch? 

  • Identify the core themes and messages from your audience data (surveys and interviews): For example, what are their desires, pains, and challenges? How can you weave them into your pre-launch and sales copy while making the case for your solution (not in a “buy my thing” kinda way but “here’s why this is a problem for you.” Remember…empathy first)
  • Identify how your audience likes to consume content: Emails may have worked the first time you launched a program. For a relaunch, the same strategy may not work. You might find that it’s effective to do IG lives to garner more interest, 1:1 calls, or sell purely via DMs. What content vehicle to use? Survey your audience.
  • Use a copy framework: I swear by the Problem-Agitation-Solution. I’ve tweaked it to PADTA; Problem-Agitation-Desire-Transition to Solution-Amplify Your Awesome, which I teach in my mini-course on how to write sales pages.
  • Message alignment: The copy on the sales page can be repurposed for emails, socials, and ads. This ensures messaging alignment. Why sales page copy? Because it is shaped by the audience and the offer. 

Know this…

If you’re ONLY hired to write copy and magically produce conversions, without optimizing the list and offer, please know that you’re set up for failure.

Yes, it feels tempting to say yes (I’ve been there and done it) when you’re asked if you’ll write “launch copy.” 

But what should make you want to sprint in the other direction is when you’re told to leave the “marketing” to the marketing department. And work on the copy which they’d like in two weeks, thank you very much. 

Want to write copy that converts? Tattoo this to your brain: 

Conversion occurs when you’ve got all 3 variables ready to create a money-making explosion. 

Forgot ‘em already? 

Here they are…

40% List

40% Offer

20% Copy

Lean on this rule when you’re launching the first time or for the 50th time. 

This requires putting on your thinking brain and not so much the fingers-to-keyboard brain.

And this, my dear copywriter/digital marketer, is what will set you apart from other copywriters, and elevate your brand and bank account.

The Audit Superstar is where we’ll go deep into taking an idea to a robust, money-making, impact tripling offer.

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