I remember 10 years ago.
In the wake of rumored proposals to regulate the web, in 1999 the CRTC, comparable to America's FCC, officially declared that the Internet is not a broadcast medium.
Now, that ruling was significant for many reasons.
Technically, the Internet is a medium. But the government based its decision on the fact that the web is interactive with its audience — unlike other unidirectional, one-way broadcast media such as the TV or radio. As a result, regulators concluded the Internet could therefore police itself.
(The “Net Neutrality” debate of late is a perfect example that it is different.)
Nevertheless, my point here is not a political one but a marketing-related one.
Unlike traditional media, the Internet is both user-driven and transactional. Active and interactive. Dynamic and conversational. Particularly in this age of Web 2.0. You can say that, in many ways, the Internet is more of a process than it is a medium.
And that this is reflected not only in its benefits but also its unique challenges. For one, its biggest limitation is the lack of tangibility. People cannot physically inspect the products they are buying like they can in a retail environment, for example.
Sure, you can easily develop rapport when meeting clients face-to-face, answer their questions on the spot, and allow your products to undergo their close scrutiny.
But on the web, those abilities are nonexistent.
That's why copy has a greater job online than offline. Greater than most people think. Other than communicating the emotions that empower people to buy, and directing them to take some kind of action, copy must also develop a level of trust with customers.
You might say, “Sure, you must build trust.” But it's a lot tougher in an intangible world!
The question is, should the responsibility rest solely on the words you choose? Not necessarily. Granted, with the growing popularity of video and new technology that allow more interactivity with sales copy, the Internet is becoming far more effective.
I talked about these in depth in my white paper, “The Death of The Salesletter.” Plus, some of them require quite a bit of technical savvy. So I won't go over these here.
For now, let's take a look at some of the easiest and most efficient ways to tangibilize and dimensionalize your sales copy using some very simple elements.
First off, we are predominantly visual. Our brains are wired in such a way that they translate what they're being told into their visual equivalent. And they do so unconsciously.
Whether it's books, cookware, vitamins, jewelry or even software, let pictures do some of the selling for you. As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Stated differently, texts tell but pictures sell. Give them a visual idea of what they get.
For example, add a scan of your book's cover and table of contents (like Amazon.com does), thumbnail pictures of your necklace line, a photograph of your vitamin bottles, or a 3-D graphic box shot of your software package (even if it's digital and downloadable).
In short, give something people can visually appreciate.
Sure, videos would be the most effective way to accomplish this. But don't forget low-tech ways, too. You can simply take your product out, put it on a table (preferably with a white tablecloth or background), and take a snap with your digital camera.
Do just like you would do if you were to sell your product on eBay or any other auction site, for example. (In fact, listings with pictures are proven to get more bids.)
However, a caveat: don't overdo it!
Don't go loading your site with graphics.
Remember, copy is more important. There must be a balanced mix of text and pictures. Also, pictures provide “eye gravity” and draw the eyes into the copy to get people to start reading it in the first place. But copy is more important. So use graphics judiciously.
Use thumbnails (i.e., smaller-sized pictures that can be enlarged when clicked). That way, your graphics will remain small and compressed for quicker downloads.
Plus, whether it's physical or digital, have your packaging and covers professionally designed. The design is just as crucial in the trust-building process, because like it or not, people do judge books by their covers. Otherwise, you look smarmy or scammy.
I don't say this lightly, either. If your cover art doesn't communicate professionalism, value, credibility, and trust, it will be counterproductive and work against you.
Some people frown on the use of ecover art, especially with digital downloads. But tests show that they do improve response. My take is that people say this because most covers are poorly designed, and often accompanied by really poor copy.
(Here's a great parody of most online salesletters these days that proves my point.)
What if you sell a service? Graphics still help. Take a picture of you in action delivering your service, possibly with a client. Or take one that represents the benefits or results of your service, such as before-and-after shots. Or include photos of happy clients.
But whether you sell a product or a service, logos are just as powerful.
Adding a logo that represents your company, website, product, or service, and especially its main benefit not only gives it an element of tangibility, but also communicates credibility, professionalism, trustworthiness, quality, and higher perceived value.
The lack of a logo on the other hand, or even worse the presence of a poorly designed one, makes you look “cartoonish,” as my friend Armand Morin would often say. A poorly designed, cartoonish logo would cause people not to take you seriously.
Here's a tip: I often use Design Outpost for my ecovers, website designs, graphics and logos. You post your requirements, and designers will create mockups in an effort to bid for your business. You only pay for the work you select.
Also, graphs and charts also help to make the service more appealing because they can help to emphasize the benefits that your service offers. Add a graphic that communicates something important that's relevant to your market and to the sale.
(Just look at some of the comparison charts and competitive analyses software developers use in their copy, often in tabular format, where you can see the superior features and benefits of the software, at a glance, or what's included versus what's not in others.)
Also, try to “samplify” your offer or your copy.
If your product or service can be sampled in some way, then great. But if they cannot be sampled somehow or if you prefer to avoid offering samples or trials, then provide an illustration or a visual representation that people can sink their teeth into.
Speaking of samples, screenshots are just as effective.
Screenshots can also be used in tours, demos, and above all, case studies, and testimonials. In addition to adding an element of proof to your copy, screenshots also can be used to provide examples, descriptions and illustrations to a point you're making.
(I use SnagIt almost religiously and wherever I can in my copy.)
However, if your product can indeed be sampled somehow, choose the live version instead. Samples, free or limited trials, and live demos or tours help consumers to get a taste of what you're selling before they make their decisions to actually buy.
Samples sell, not only because most of the time they're free, but also because they help to reassure the client and communicate the value of what is being considered.
Virtually all products and services can, in some way, shape, or form, be sampled. Because of their nature, websites offer a plethora of possibilities. For instance:
- A software can be turned into a time-limited shareware download.
- A free online media kit can be presented to a potential advertiser.
- A free online consultation can show a consultant's expertise.
- An initial assessment or needs analysis can reduce buyer skepticism.
- A publisher can offer a few free chapters from their books.
- A real estate agent can offer free online property assessments.
- An exercise equipment seller can offer a free ebook on exercise tips, perhaps how to exercise more effectively, particularly using the equipment they're selling.
- A cookware seller can offer free recipes using the cookware.
- Ad nauseum.
But what if you have nothing to offer for free? If so, offer a more economical alternative. A cheaper, scaled down version of what you offer is like a paid sample. A loss leader.
Sure, it's a downsell. But offering a cheaper alternative can entice customers, whether immediately or over time, into buying the central or more expensive product or service.
But these “paid samples,” so to speak, do a lot more than that. They also help penetrate new markets, prequalify customers, and build on your customers' lifetime value.
But let's say you can't add pictures, offer samples, or sell cheaper alternatives. What else can you do? In that case, another element you can certainly use — one you should use in any event — is adding an “FAQ” (i.e., a frequently asked questions section).
FAQs are powerful. A section offering stock answers to common questions also help to tangibilize the user's experience, handle potential objections, and alleviate doubt about the product or service. (Just like a live sales representative would, for example.)
Sure, you could answer questions strategically in your copy, and should do so throughout — particularly in sections where specific objections are bound to crop up.
By adding this extra section and lumping answers together, they are not only easier to spot — whether they appear on the sales page or on a separate page altogether — but also clustered for greater impact. They can alleviate many questions in one fell swoop.
Plus, an FAQ offers another benefit many don't realize. It may answer questions customers can have later on, after the sale and not necessarily at the time of purchase.
Your answers can more than reduce reduce customer support requests. They can also reduce post-purchase doubts and buyer's remorse (also known as “cognitive dissonance”), which often needlessly lead to complaints, returns, and refunds.
You can certainly link to a separate FAQ page for offering further details. But I like to keep my clients riveted to the sales copy. That's why I usually embed the FAQ section within the copy, or put them at the end of the page, likely in its own “P.S.”
(It's also important to note that, other than the sales copy, if you have an optin page and lead generation process, having an FAQ within your follow-up autoresponder sequence is also a great sales strategy. It should be included in your autoresponder cycle.)
If you don't have a list of common questions already, ask yourself:
- “What are the most common questions people have about me, my product, my service, my business, my company, or my website? What answers do I offer repetitively?”
- “What are the most common misconceptions about them?”
- “What are they mostly confused about and have some difficulty understanding, even though I address them in my copy? What has the potential of being confusing?”
- “What are some of the most common objections people have or may have about my product or service? What can keep them from buying my product or service?”
- And, “What kinds of objections would I get (and how would I answer them) if I sold my product or service in the offline world? Face to face? Or in a store somewhere?”
Of course, it goes without saying that your copy should offer the usual suspects: testimonials with full names; strong guarantees; good, clear copy; easy-to-find contact information; a real, physical address, and clear, straightforward instructions.
But the more tangible the buying experience is, and the more senses you engage, the more people will buy. Anything you can do to make the sales experience more comfortable, easy, and secure will definitely impact your response rate in positive ways.
In the final analysis, people hate parting with their hard-earned money. And the buying process in this digital world can be a hurdle for most customers — let alone vendors.
But by giving something customers can see, appreciate, and “chew on,” you can lower that hurdle considerably. And of course, increase sales tremendously as a result.
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.