The Need For Long Copy and Other Stupid Myths

Igloo, Eskimo, Inuit

Recently, Terry Dean wrote an awesome article, entitled “Copy is King and Other Common Lies.” The article boils down to the fact that the market and the offer come first.

Copy is still important. Design plays an important role, too.

But copy is not king. The market is. And I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, after reading the article it made me think of something I’ve been meaning to share with you for a while.

And I’m warning you, this might ruffle a few feathers.

Three years ago, I wrote a white paper called “The Death of The Salesletter.” It was controversial because a lot of it was contrary to popular belief, particularly since it was coming from someone whose career revolved around writing salesletters.

Long-scrolling salesletters, that is.

Long-form web salesletters are dead. Or better said, they are evolving. But the changes we are seeing are more than what you think. And I’m not talking about video…

Ostensibly, the impetus for this change is largely influenced by the introduction and adoption of multimedia. That’s because the Internet is different. Some say the Internet is just another medium. It is, but it is still different. It’s visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

Better said, the way people consume information on the Internet is different.

But there are a couple of things I wanted to share with you that I didn’t cover in the report. The reason is, since then we’ve seen a lot of other changes, too.

After three years, we’ve gone through a recession, a series of societal pressures forcing us to change, and new or updated governmental regulations to comply with.

We’ve had the FTC’s new disclosure, affiliate marketing, and blogging rules. We’ve had the Google slap, Facebook slap, Visa slap, MasterCard slap, AdWords slap, and more.

(Reminds me of old Catholic school days where teachers, who were mostly nuns, walked around with wooden paddles ready to swat you if you were ever out of line.)

After all this, I have become a firmer believer that long salesletter copy is often not needed. And when it is used, it is largely misused. Sure, long copy has its place. It will always have a place. We need long copy when there’s a level of education needed.

For instance, in a previous blog post I wrote about my OATH formula. This formula is based on knowing the level of buyer awareness of your market.

In my marketing management class in college, I taught the stages of awareness new products go through, often called the “product adoption curve” or “diffusion process.”

(Famous copywriter Gene Schwartz discusses something similar in his book, Breakthrough Advertising, and how copy is different for each stage.)

My formula is simple. OATH is an acronym to define each awareness stage.

“O” stands for “Oblivious.” Your market doesn’t know about the problem. They aren’t aware they have it. Next is “A,” which means “Apathetic.” They know they have a problem but they don’t care. Solving it is not important to them for whatever reason.

Then, there’s “T,” which is “Thinking.” They know they have a problem and can solve it, but they’re thinking about it. Maybe they’re not convinced or they’re shopping around. And finally, “H” is for “Hurting.” They want to solve it now. They’re desperate.

When you look at the OATH formula and how copy fits in each stage, it stands to reason that the more oblivious they are, the more you need to educate them. And conversely, the more desperate they are, the less copy is required.

Makes sense?

(This doesn’t include the product type. The four product types are “convenience,” “shopping,” “specialty,” and “unsought” products. The more commoditized the product, the less copy it needs. The more specialized it is, the greater the need for copy.)

Now, here’s the thing.

Internet marketing is not just about Internet marketing. There are tons of markets, products, and solutions being marketed on the Internet. But the most conspicuous is the Internet marketing industry. In other words, the “how to market on the Internet” market.

Which boils down to the making-money market. The bizop crowd.

(Not entirely, of course, but in large part.)

Let me ask you, where do people in the make-money market stand in the OATH formula? If you guessed “hurting,” if not at least “thinking,” then I would say you’re right.

(In terms of product type, most how-to-make-money products are commoditized. Or they are not as specialized as they used to be — unless it’s software, of course. But much of what you find in $5,000 infoproducts can be easily found in $30 books.)

So let me ask you, if that’s the case, then why are most Internet marketing products still being sold online with long-copy salesletters? Particularly hard-hitting ones?

And that includes long video sales pitches, too. Remember, multimedia salesletters are still using long copy — they’re just delivering it differently.

And I’m also not referring to actual training followed by an offer of some kind. (In other words, educational content unrelated or indirectly related to the pitch at the end.)

I’m talking about overzealous, aggressive, superlative-laced, hypnosis-inducing, carnival-barking, smooth-talking, slick-sliding-from-headline-to-P.S. sales pitches.

Whether it’s on video or in text.

Today, I still see long sales copy, with hard-hitting sales pitches, pushing Internet marketing products onto the marketplace. Why is that? Why would you need long copy to push something that’s seemingly targeted to a hurting market?

The reason is simple. There are actually 10 of them.

Here they are, in reverse order (David Letterman style)…

10. The market is skeptical and cynical (probably because of the rest of this list).
9. The product is overpriced.
8. The value or benefits are small, insignificant, or non-existent.
7. The product is unneeded or irrelevant.
6. The solution is temporary in nature.
5. The product is just snake oil.
4. The product is scammy.
3. The order process is scammy (e.g., forced continuity, upsell hell, fake scarcity, etc).
2. The market is naive (i.e., being hurt opens you up to abuse and manipulation).

… And finally, number one is (drum roll, please)…

1. The product is crap.

There.

I said it.

This is nothing new. I remember copywriter Nick Usborne saying this many years ago in my copywriters forum. It caused quite a stir. And since my clients were mostly Internet marketers at the time, I was apologetic whilst defending my clients. And my livelihood.

But today, I have come to the conclusion that most (not all, but most) Internet marketers who still use long copy, especially long copy that screams like a Monster Truck Rally announcer, is for a product that sucks. Period.

Now, not all of them are that obvious. Some of them are slick. Very slick. Copy injected with great storytelling, believability, personality, and testimonials that make you salivate.

When someone says about an Internet marketer that “he’s so good at selling, he can sell ice to an Eskimo” — being Canadian, I would have preferred to call them Inuit, but I digress — the question is, why would you? Think about that, for a moment.

Really. I’m serious.

Would you feel good about yourself if you sold something utterly useless to someone who doesn’t need it? Plus, I bet you that when you tried to sell your “ice,” you had to use a pretty long sales pitch, too. Either that or manipulate your client somehow.

Obviously, that’s nonsense. It’s downright abusive, too.

Ultimately, the lesson I want to deliver here is this…

Great products sell themselves. Just as educated markets, particularly hurting markets, buy themselves. They prefer to buy than to be sold. They don’t need much help. They just need direction. And that, my friends, is what direct marketing should be.

It should direct the market as well as be direct.

(As my friend Armand Morin always says, “Just sell the darn thing!”)

No need for long, drawn-out, credibility-pumping, testimonial-oozing, adjective-laden, trance-inducing, endlessly-scrolling copy. Especially audience-manipulating copy.

Some people might respond with, “But Michael, you’re full of crap! Long copy works, I tell you. My sales numbers prove it!” Of course, it does. No argument there. Heck, that’s why it still exists and is being used all the time. Spam still exists, too. Right?

But because something works doesn’t make it right. It’s no different than saying, “Hey, if you need to make money, go rob a bank. Why? Because it works!”

So unless your market is oblivious, and uneducated about your problem and its solution, you don’t need long copy. Unless, of course, your product is crap, your business is shady, your reputation is shot, or your market has been abused in the past.

So I’ll end by repeating something I said earlier, because it’s important. Great products sell themselves, just as great markets buy themselves. Your job is simple…

… You just need to find them and match them up.

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