The difference between good copy and great copy are in the results achieved. In direct response specifically, results are based on the number of actions the copy generates.
The more actions the copy drives, the greater the copy is.
My friend John Reese, a master at simplifying what we often tend to unnecessarily complicate, says it best. He says the only metric you should ever really count on is this:
How many said “Yes” or “No.” And that's it.
Sounds simplistic, I know. But here's the key point: your copy may get readers and it may get great feedback. It may entertain and it may educate. It may inform and even inspire.
But if it doesn't sell, it doesn't matter.
Now, what makes copy nudge people into action requires a variety of different things. So let me share with you three powerful elements that can help you turn your not-so-good copy into good copy, and your good copy into outstanding copy.
You've heard it before. Above all, great copy proposes a series of benefits the prospect will enjoy once they respond. But this is the area most people struggle with. What makes a good benefit? Heck, what makes a benefit in the first place?
A feature is what the product has. An advantage is what that features does. But a benefit — a true benefit — is what that advantage means to the reader. And that meaning comes from the specific motive or motives to which that feature caters.
A benefit is the reason why the feature exists and why it's important to the reader. Stated differently, a benefit is what a person intimately gains from a specific feature — and not what you think the customer will gain from it.
Granted, trying to figure this out can be a little challenging. So whenever you describe a feature, or what you may think may be a benefit, say this: “What this means to you is this,” followed by a more personal benefit your reader gets from the feature.
Keep asking until there are no further reasons to give. Here's an example — and keep in mind that I'm repeating myself in this example, on purpose, for the sake of illustration…
“This stereo has a 14-band equalizer. What this means to you is, you can adjust the frequencies of the sound. What this means to you is, you can add depth and dimension to your music. What this means to you is, you can adjust the music the way you like. What this means to you is, you can make your music sound as soft and relaxing during those nice quiet evenings to create the perfect ambiance while enjoying a delicious dinner in the company of your friends, or as rich and lively as if you were at a concert listening to your favorite band and feel just as if you were right there, in the auditorium fully immersed in the experience. What this means to you is…”
Here's another example. My wife Sylvie Fortin often tells the story of one of her clients, a nutritional supplement company, who was once giving out free bottles of a specific supplement from their website. Their headline clearly indicated, “Free Bottle!”
Aside from a form to fill out in order to request your free bottle, that was pretty much it in terms of copy. The response was so-so. Not bad, but not great, either. However, in just one extra paragraph, the owner added the following statement to his copy…
So why are we giving away a free bottle? Because we're so confident that, once you give us a try and start seeing the amazing improvements in the way you feel after a single bottle, you will come back to us for more.
Just adding that simple statement more than tripled response.
Whether it's because people are skeptical and don't want to be scammed, or whether they're confused and don't bother taking action due to the lack of information, the reason is not as important as the fact that giving people reasons why boosts response.
Tell readers why they must read, why the product is important, why it is perfect for them, why they must buy, and why they must buy now. To help you, think of the “5 Why's:”
- Why you (the reader)
- Why me (the author)
- Why this (the offer)
- Why now (the urgency )
- Why this price (the value)
Give as many reasons why as possible for any of the above five, if not all of them. Doing so qualifies the reader, credentializes the author, adds believability, builds perceived value, backs up the price, justifies the need to act, and injects a sense of urgency.
For the more reasons you give, and the more specific and personal those reasons are, the more believable you are and the more compelling your copy will be.
Good copy makes a good case. But great copy tells a good story. Sure, a great copywriter is also a great salesperson. After all, copy is salesmanship in print. However, all great copywriters and all great salespeople also have one thing in common…
… They are also great storytellers.
At a seminar I was attending, copywriting legend, the late Gary Halbert, was one of the speakers. On a topic that at the time seemed totally unrelated to copy, sales, or Internet marketing, he began to talk about this newfangled anti-wrinkle cream he came across.
He went on to talk about how the product came about, how it was made, and even how the product worked. Not only was the story itself quite fascinating, the way in which he told the story made us hang onto the edge of our seats. He captivated the audience.
He wove an explanation of the product into his story, linking features to benefits, such as the fact that an accidental discovery led to the creation of the cream's key ingredient, which contained special hydroxies formed during the crystallization process.
The story — specifically, the analogy — was that these hydroxies were like millions of microscopic prisms that reflect light. He went on to describe that it was those prisms that helped to make your wrinkles invisible. It was a terrific story.
And while some people missed it, Gary indirectly provided the greatest lesson of the entire seminar. Because his story was a powerful lesson itself.
Why? Because the mind thinks in relative terms. A key component of telling great stories is to relate them to the reader in terms they can understand. Often, this can accomplished with the help of analogies, examples, metaphors, and case studies.
One of the most well-known users of this technique is Drew Kaplan, creator of DAK.
DAK sells electronic equipment, and some of their most popular line of products are stereo speakers. But to illustrate the depth of the sound these speakers create, Drew doesn't call them speakers. He calls them “Thunder Boxes.”
Here's another DAKonian example. If you visit the DAK website and click on the wireless headphones, a pop-up will appear with the name and the following description:
WIRELESS MARRIAGE SAVER
It's late at night. Your spouse is asleep. And you're watching the late, late, late show without bothering her. That's why I called these ‘wireless marriage savers'. These wireless headphones were an infrared breakthrough. Now, I've also found them in 900MHz and 433MHz so you can even roam from room to room while you listen to your favorite music, even MP3 or TV sound. The products get better and the price gets cheaper. Pretty neat!
Here's another example, which actually came from a reader of this blog. As a comment to one of my blog posts on creating mental imagery, she made this powerful comment:
I used to work in corporate finance. When I gave presentations the audience's eyes would glaze over in about 30 seconds because most people find numbers boring, really boring. Once I started painting pictures with my numbers I suddenly found people paying attention. When people knew how many plasma TV's a million dollars would buy or how many years the average person would have to work to recover the money the company lost that quarter they suddenly understood what I was saying.
But what if a story makes the copy too long?
When people object to long copy, I often argue that long copy is like a good Stephen King novel. (Notice my analogy, too.) If you were a diehard King fanatic, and if his latest book was, say, over 600 pages, would you stop reading it because it was too long? No.
In fact, most Stephen King lovers I know often read his books in one sitting. They tell me they simply can't seem to put his books down. Some even re-read them several times.
Dan Kennedy calls this “message-to-market match.” Like a Stephen King fanatic, when your copy is targeted and your audience is interested in your offer, they will want more information, not less. They will read it. All of it. No matter how long it may seem to you.
Sales are largely based on faith. Faith in the company, faith in the product, and faith in the delivery of the promised benefits. And sales trainers often tell you that, to get readers to have faith in your “story” you must get them to temporarily suspend disbelief.
But belief, on the other hand, requires more. It requires “the suspension of critical thinking,” as my friend and copywriter Peter Stone would say. Not just disbelief.
People first buy on emotion, then justify their decisions with logic. Even analytical types buy on emotion, whether they express — or are aware — of their emotions or not.
The earlier commentor used mental imagery to convey strong emotional feelings when relating boring financial figures to her audience. I submit that even the most analytical types appreciated her approach more than just a bunch of monotone data.
Conversely, critical thinking causes the suspension of feelings. If your reader starts to think too much, then fundamental fears, doubts, insecurities, and concerns take over, leading them to make false assumptions and, eventually, to the greatest killer of sales:
If we focus on logic first, we think about all the “what if's.” We fixate on the negatives. We think about other needs, concerns, and preoccupations at that time. And more important, we may think about other, more important things we can do with our money.
You must do the thinking for your prospect.
Don't stop short of describing the benefits, offering reasons why and telling stories simply because you're afraid of insulting your audience's intelligence. You're not.
Clients often say, “My clients are not idiots,” “the benefits are obvious,” “they can think for themselves,” “it's pretty intuitive already,” or “they can figure it out on their own.”
Technically, that's true. But leaving the copy to the reader's own devices will also open up a can of worms, since they will also think of all the other things that may be irrelevant, untrue, or unnecessary, which will negate any positive emotions and therefore the sale.
They may magnify the smallest of negatives and exaggerate certain aspects that may be perceived as negative, even though they are not, and possibly come up with erroneous conclusions that will cost you in perceived credibility — and ultimately, the sale.
Unlike a face-to-face sales presentation, you're not there to guide any reactions, answer any questions, or handle any objections. So your copy must do that for them.
In fact, my friend and copywriter David Garfinkel says it best:
You must do the thinking for your reader and tell them why your offer is so valuable. Of course, they may ‘get it' in the abstract. But going from the abstract to the reader's specific situation requires thinking on their part. A prospect considering your offer wouldn't dare do that thinking.
You have to do it for them.
So here's a tip: use the “so-what” acid test. If at any point in your copy your reader says, “So what?” then that part needs to give more reasons why. It needs to tell a better story. And it needs to prevent critical thinking and guide the reader in the right direction.
Otherwise, rewrite it or delete it because it's irrelevant.
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.