Have you ever picked up a book off the shelf at a local bookstore, read the front and back covers, opened it up and, after reading a few pages, just couldn't put it down?
Do you remember, after buying the book, how you flipped each page with an almost excruciating curiosity because the story was so tantalizing, you became increasingly riveted to the book with each subsequent chapter?
Copy is, or should be, the same.
Look at it this way: good copy makes a good case. But great copy tells a good story. They say that a great copywriter is also a great salesperson. But all great copywriters and all great salespeople also have one thing in common…
… They are also great storytellers.
The closer your copy reads like a story, keeping the reader interested and engaged, hanging on to every word, the greater your chances she will read your copy from top to bottom. From the headline until, of course, the thank you page after she buys.
Your story should tickle the reader's curiosity, pull her deeper into the copy, even mesmerize her — as if she's in a trance-like state, completely engrossed in your story.
Each new idea introduced should build on the other, pulling the reader further and deeper into the salesletter. Each paragraph and each word crescendos and prepares you, step-by-step, for the climactic twist in the story's plot.
The climax, of course, is the offer.
And the plot, in copywriting, is called the “appeal.”
Your appeal is the major concept or storyline that will appeal to your target audience. It's possibly a core benefit, result or key topic that creates the foundation upon which your entire “story” is built. It's one powerful idea on which your entire copy will hinge.
The appeal you choose to present your offer with is critical to the offer's success — hopefully the offer is good, but getting there is the job of the appeal.
The concept of the “greased chute” is where you keep the reader hanging on to every word you write — up until they buy, as if they are sliding down a well-greased slide.
They simply can't leave. They're glued to your copy. They have to keep reading.
Copy is telling a good story that involves the reader so they can see in their mind's eye the benefits of your offer, as if they owned your product already. The appeal is the foundation, if you will, you choose to build your story on.
It could be your USP, your unique selling proposition. I prefer to call it a unique selling position. Because it's tantamount to what copywriter John Carlton calls your “hook.”
A good hook grabs your readers “by the eyeballs.”
It could be some major advantage, claim, promise, or benefit. In copywriting, some people call it “the big idea.” But the best one I found often consists of some totally unexpected, incredible, shocking, almost unbelievable, or even surreal idea.
John Carlton says that the best hooks are often what he calls “the incongruent juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas, facts, or events.”
(If you want some examples, then subscribe to the National Enquirer. They contain some of the best eyeball-grabbing hooks, especially on the front-page headlines. Or check out this awesome article by Dorian Greer from SeducingTheBuyer.com.)
Here's an example ripped from my own experience.
A stock trader once asked me to write the copy for his how-to stock trading information product. Sure, the program was great. But in terms of salability and positioning, there was nothing new, fancy, or unique about it. So I had to dig. Dig real deep.
After gathering some preliminary information about the author, I discovered that the story behind the creation of his how-to product was rather interesting.
After finding a tumor lodged on his brain and undergoing life-saving surgery to remove it, doctors told him he could no longer work in his old 9-to-5 job, and so he decided to plunge into trading full-time to replace his income. (He only dabbled in it up to that point.)
Over time, he tried different things and later discovered a unique formula to profitably trade the markets. He then honed his method and started to make a killing. That's when friends and family took notice, and began asking him to teach them his method.
Things started to snowball. Everyone asked him about his technique. But as time went on and the popularity of his program grew, he realized that teaching his method was starting to take its toll. It felt a lot like work, which went against his doctors' wishes.
So to save time and effort, and obviously for health reasons, he created a program that taught his strategy to aspiring traders who bugged him to reveal his bag of tricks.
It was a fascinating story! A story I needed to tell.
Well, the hook I came up with was to use his surgery as the pivotal moment that changed his life. Here's how I worded it. The preheadline said: “As if the surgery ‘jogged' something in his brain…” And then, the headline said:
“After having a golfball-sized tumor removed from his brain and forced out of a job, 57-year-old stock trader accidentally stumbles onto magic formula that consistently humiliates even some of the most respected Wall Street stock trading gurus…”
But if that's too off-the-wall for you, here's a simpler example…
Ray McNally, a programmer and a friend of mine, offers a neat software program that complements an affiliate marketer's efforts by helping them capture the names and email addresses of traffic they generate to a website they're an affiliate of.
The gist of the program is that it sets up an optin page — a doorway page that, before the affiliate's generated traffic is sent to the site being promoted (and then gone forever), captures their name and email addresses for potential follow-up.
Why? Because if you promote an affiliate program, then once they click on your affiliate link, they're gone. But you, as an affiliate, have worked hard or spent money on generating that traffic. You own that traffic. So why not capture it in the process?
If they didn't end up buying that affiliate product, no problem. That list can now be followed-up with, offered special incentives or even monetized in other ways!
What has that got to do with copy?
Originally, Ray had one of those hackneyed headlines: “Discover how to explode your income… Blah, blah, blah.” Bland. Hypey. Boring. Just plain yuck.
After talking with Ray, I said: “Ray, your USP is not made up of the benefits your software offers. Your hook is that top affiliates use your ‘secret weapon' to stop giving away their hard-earned traffic and driving them into black holes! So, why not capitalize on it?”
Consequently, the hook I told him to use was this ability affiliates gain with his software to catch the traffic they generate, and how to make far more money with affiliate promotions by monetizing them before they blindly drive visitors off into the ether.
The result? AffiliatePageCreator.com. (The link leads to an archived page as this was a few years ago.) Check the headline out and you'll understand what I mean.
Also, you'll notice another strategy I used. Before I explain it to you…
A great way to learn how to write mouth-watering copy is to read fiction. Take a popular book and read it through once. Then go back, read it again, but this time take notes. List the nuances, twists, and storylines that grabbed you. And why.
In other words, try to look beyond the story. Pinpoint where certain characters, ideas, and plot twists were introduced in specific locations of the book. And see how they relate to the whole plot. Also, pay attention to the flow and the intensity.
Is there a crescendo? Are there small valleys along the way until you reach the summit?
What do I mean by “small valleys?” Copy should build on the reader's intrinsic curiosity. But it needs to do so multiple times throughout. In fact, incorporate what copywriter David Garfinkel once told me are called “nested loops.”
A nested loop is an NLP (i.e., neuro-linguistic programming) term. It means, you start by introducing an idea (you “open the loop”), but before you complete it you introduce another idea, until later where you finish the idea and “close the loop.”
And guess what? People will read every single word, they will do so more intently and intensely, and they will remember more what is being said within the loop.
Within the nested loop is therefore a great place to insert a key idea, a critical point, or an important benefit you want to drive home and people to remember.
Why are “nested loops” so powerful?
In 1927, Bluma Zeigarnik, one of the early contributors to Gestalt Psychology, noticed something peculiar after observing restaurant waiters and waitresses, who seemed to memorize their customers' orders and forget them once the food was served.
In other words, the incomplete task created a certain tension, a certain discomfort or uneasiness, that caused the brain to “hook” onto the unfinished task until it was done.
So Zeigarnik concluded that people remember unfinished tasks better than they do finished ones. And the reason is, humans have an intrinsic need for closure. We get a certain feeling of disconcertedness when something is left unfinished.
Called the “Zeigarnik Effect,” the tension it creates not only forces us to remember interrupted tasks, but also pushes our curiosity to an almost excruciating level.
As a result, we passionately attempt to relieve the tension created by incomplete tasks, and often go to great lengths to do so. In copywriting particularly, this tension forces us to read, and to read more intently, desperately searching for the rest of the information.
For example, have you ever watched the news, where they begin with the following:
“Tonight, Hollywood superstar escapes blazing fire while filming her new mega-budget movie. More on that later. But first…”
That story aroused your curiosity, so you remain glued to your TV set until they air it — often, at the end of the show! Now, did they do this intentionally? Of course. They forced you to watch the entire show — and, of course, all of the commercials in between.
Look at all the TV shows that keep you hanging with each show to the next. (Look at the hit show “24” as a perfect example.) Even commercials use this strategy brilliantly. (Remember the “Taster's Choice” soap-opera-like series?)
Keep in mind, once you close the loop, you release the tension and your audience's concentration goes down. That's why you want to use multiple nested loops throughout the copy. Because after the climax, you stand a great chance to lose your reader.
(Take the show “Dallas” in the 80's with the famous “Who Shot J.R.?” plot. After the show's culmination when they finally revealed who did it, ratings dropped dramatically.)
Therefore, insert multiple nested loops to not only keep the reader reading but also to build on the reader's level of concentration until the very end. I often include double and even triple nested loops, i.e., loops inside other loops, within my copy.
That way, you can keep them hanging until to every word until the very end…
… Until, that is, they buy your product!
Michel Fortin is a senior marketing specialist, renowned copywriter, and digital marketing expert. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless successful marketing communications and profitable campaigns that generated in excess of $300 million in sales. He's broken many industry sales records, including being instrumental behind the first ever “million-dollar day” online marketing campaign in 2004. He's worked with thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs around the world in a wide variety of industries on building their businesses, improving their marketing, and increasing their profits. He's a published author and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.