What's the single, most important element in copywriting?
Let me say it another way.
You've done your research. You found a starving market. Your product fills a need. And your sales copy shines with benefits. If everything is so perfect, then why is your product still not selling? Is it the price? The offer? The competition?
Maybe. But not necessarily.
The fact is, these things are not always to blame for being unable to sell an in-demand product, even with great copy. Too often, it has more to do with one thing:
Focus. (Or should I say, the lack thereof.)
In fact, the greatest word in copywriting is not “free.” It's “focus.” And what you focus on in your copy is often the single, greatest determinant of your copy's success.
In my experience, copy that brings me the greatest response is copy that focuses on:
- One messsage
- One market
- One outcome
Here's what I mean…
1. One Message
The copy doesn't tell multiple, irrelevant stories. It doesn't make multiple offers. It doesn't go on tangential topics or provide extra information that doesn't advance the sale.
Copy should make one offer and one offer only.
Too many messages confuse the reader. And as copywriter Randy Gage once noted, “The confused mind never buys.” It confuses them because they don't know which offer provides them with the best value for the amount of money they are ready to spend.
Prospects want to spend their money wisely. Lose focus, and it is harder to think clearheadedly as to make a wise decision in the first place. Remember this axiom:
“Give people too many choices and they won't make one.”
You don't want to do what my teenage daughter does to me. When we go shopping for a dress, after hours of flipping through hangers and racks, she finally pinpoints one she likes, goes to the changing room to try it on, looks at me and asks, “How's this one?”
“Perfect!” I say. “You sure, dad?” She asks. “Yes,” I add. “I'm positive.” So we head to the cash register when, suddenly, she stops along the way, picks up another dress off the rack, and says, “How about this one? Or maybe this one? Oooh, look at this other one!”
We came really close to walking out of that store without buying any of the dresses.
2. One Market
I don't want to spend the little space I have for this article to extoll the virtues of niche marketing. But when it comes to writing high-converting sales messages, it goes without saying: trying to be all things to all people is next to impossible.
When it is possible, then your sales message must be generic enough to appeal to everyone, causing the majority in your market to feel you're not focused on them.
(There's that word “focus,” again!)
In order to appeal to everyone, your sales message will be heavily diluted. It will lose clarity. People will feel left out because you're too vague. You will appear indifferent to their situation, and to their specific needs and goals, too.
If you cater to a large, diversified market, I highly encourage that you segment your market and target each segment separately, and write copy that caters to each one.
That is, write copy for each individual and targeted group of people within your market. If your market is made up of two or three (or more) identifiable market groups, write copy for each one — even if the product is the same for everyone.
3. One Outcome
“Click here,” “read my about page,” “here's a link to some testimonials,” “call this number,” “fill out this form,” “don't buy know, just think about it,” “here are my other websites,” “here are 41 other products to choose from,” and on and on… Ack!
When people read your sales copy, and if your copy is meant to induce sales, then you want one thing and one thing only: get the sale! In other words, there's only one thing your readers should do, and that's buy. Or at least your copy should lead them to buy.
In other words, the ultimate outcome should be to buy — every call to action, every piece of copy, every page, every graphic should revolve around this one outcome.
Remember K.I.S.S. (i.e., “keep it straightforwardly simple”).
You would be surprised at how many salesletters I critique where the author asks the reader to do too many things, to choose from too many things, or to jump through so many hoops to get the very thing they want in the first place.
Your copy should focus on one call to action only, or one ultimate outcome. Forget links to other websites or pages that are irrelevant to the sale. Forget irrelevant forms and distractions. Why invite procrastination with too many calls-to-action?
In fact, I believe that the goal is not to elicit action but to prevent procrastination.
Because when people hit your website, whether they found you on a search engine after searching for information, were referred to you by someone else, or read about you somewhere online, then they are, in large part, interested from the get-go.
So your job is not to get them to buy, really. They're already interested. They're ready to buy. Your job (i.e., your copy's job), therefore, is to get them not to go away.
Ultimately, focus on the reader. One, single reader.
This is probably the thing you need to focus on the most. The most common blunders I see being committed in copy is the lack of focus in a sales message, particularly on the individual reading the copy and the value you specifically bring to them.
In my experience as a copywriter, I find that some people put too much emphasis on the product, the provider, and even the market (as a whole), and not enough on the most important element in a sales situation: the customer.
That is, the individual reading the copy at that very moment.
Don't focus your copy on your product and the features of your product — and on how good, superior, or innovative they are. And don't even focus on the benefits.
Instead, focus on increasing perceived value with them. Why? Because perception is personal. It's intimate. It's ego-centric. Let me explain.
When you talk about your product, you're making a broad claim. Everyone makes claims, especially online. “We're number one,” “we offer the highest quality,” “it's our best version yet,” etc. (Often, my reaction is, “So what?”)
And describing benefits is just as bad.
Benefits are too broad, in my opinion. You were probably taught that a feature is what a product has and a benefit is what that feature does. Right? But even describing benefits is, in my estimation, making a broad claim, too.
The adage goes, “Don't sell quarter-inch drills, sell quarter-inch holes.”
But holes alone don't mean a thing to someone who might have different uses, reasons or needs for that hole. So you need to translate benefits into more meaningful benefits.
You see, a claim always looks self-serving. It also puts you in a precarious position, as it lessens your perceived value and makes your offer suspect — the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish by making claims in the first place.
Therefore, don't focus on the benefits of a certain feature. Rather, focus on how those features specifically benefit the individual. Directly. Personally. Intimately.
There is a difference. A big difference.
The more you explain what those claims specifically mean to the prospect, the more you will sell. It's not the features that counts and it's not even benefits. It's the perceived value. So how do you build perceived value?
The most common problem I see when people attempt to describe benefits is when what they are really describing are advantages — or glorified features, so to speak. Real benefits are far more personal and intimate.
That's why I prefer to use this continuum:
Features ► Advantages ► Benefits
Of course, a feature is what a product has. And an advantage (or what most people think is a benefit) is what that feature does. But…
… A benefit is what that feature means.
A benefit is what a person intimately gains from a specific feature. When you describe a feature, say this: “What this means to you, Mr. Prospect, is this (…),” followed by a more personal gain your reader gets from using the feature.
Let me give you a real-word example.
A client once came to me for a critique of her copy. She sold an anti-wrinkle facial cream. It's often referred to as “microdermabrasion.” Her copy had features and some advantages, but no benefits. In fact, here's what she had:
- It reduces wrinkles.
- It comes in a do-it-yourself kit.
- And it's pH balanced.
- It reduces wrinkles, so it makes you look younger.
- It comes in a kit, so it's easy to use at home.
- And it's pH balanced, so it's gentle on your skin.
This is what people will think a benefit is, such as “younger,” “easy to use” and “gentle.” But they are general. Vague. They're not specific and intimate enough. So I told her to add these benefits to her copy…
- It makes you look younger, which means you will be more attractive, you will get that promotion or recognition you always wanted, you will make them fall in love with you all over again, they will never guess your age, etc.
- It's easy to use at home, which means you don't have to be embarrassed — or waste time and money — with repeated visits to the doctor's office… It's like a facelift in a jar done in the privacy of your own home!
- It's gentle on your skin, which means there are no risks, pain or long healing periods often associated with harsh chemical peels, surgeries and injections.
Now, those are benefits!
Remember, copywriting is “salesmanship in print.” You have the ability to put into words what you normally say in a person-to-person situation. If you were to explain what a feature means during an encounter, why not do so in copy?
The more benefit-driven you are, the more you will sell. In other words, the greater the perceived value you present, the greater the desire for your product will be. And if they really want your product, you'll make a lot of money.
It's that simple.
In fact, like a face-to-face, one-on-one sales situation (or as we say in sales training, being “belly to belly” with your prospect), you need to denominate as specifically as possible the value your offer brings to your readers.
In other words, express the benefits of your offer in terms that relate directly not only to your market, but also and more importantly:
- To each individual in that market
- And to each individual's situation.
Don't focus on your product. Focus on your readers. Better yet, focus on how the benefits of your offer appeal to the person that's reading them. And express how your offer benefits your prospect in terms they can intimately relate to, too.
Look at it this way:
- Use terms the prospect is used to, appreciates and fully understands. (The mind thinks in relative terms. That's why the use of analogies, stories, examples, metaphors, and testimonials is so important! Like “facelift in a jar,” for example.)
- Address your reader directly and forget third-person language. Don't be afraid to use “you,” “your,” and “yours,” as well as “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” Speak to your reader as if in a personal conversation with her.
- Use terms that trigger their hormones, stroke their egos, tug their heartstrings, and press their hot buttons. You don't need to use puffery with superlative-laden copy. Just speak to your reader at an intimate level. An emotional level.
Because the worst thing you can do, second to making broad claims, is to express those claims broadly. Instead, appeal to their ego. Why? Because…
… We are all human beings.
Eugene Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising (one of the best books on copywriting), once noted we are not far evolved from chimpanzees. “Just far enough to be dangerous to ourselves,” copywriter Peter Stone once noted.
He's not alone. My friend and copywriter Paul Myers was once asked during an interview, “Why do people buy from long, hypey copy?” His short answer was, “Human beings are only two feet away from the cave.”
(Speaking of Eugene Schwartz, listen to his speech. It's the best keynote speech on copywriting. Ever. Click hear to listen to it. You can also get a copy of his book, too, called “Breakthrough Advertising.” I read mine several times already.)
People buy for personal wants and desires, and for selfish reasons above all. Whether you sell to consumers or businesses, people are people are people. It's been that way for millions of years.
And nothing's changed.
Your message is just a bunch of words. But words are symbols. Different words mean different things to different people. Look at this way: while a picture is worth a thousand words, a word is worth a thousand pictures.
And the words you choose can also be worth a thousand sales.
Michel Fortin is a certified digital marketing expert and renowned copywriter who specializes in a unique combination of SEO, CRO, and UX to improve traffic, leads, and revenue for his clients. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless wins, generating in excess of $300 million in sales and results that have broken many industry records. He has worked with thousands of businesses ranging from individual entrepreneurs to enterprise-level multinational companies. He's the author of two top-selling books and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.