Copy Is Not About Selling, It’s About Serving

If you’ve read my report, The Death of The Salesletter, then you know that many of my “predictions” (I’m using quotes for a reason) were based on actual test results. Many of them were made by, or done based on tests from, John Reese.

John is one of my mentors. He’s not only a multi-millionaire but also a visionary. And lately, John has proven this to be true. Recently, he released a fascinating report entitled The Rebirth of Internet Marketing, which I highly encourage you to download and read — if you haven’t already.

While John touches on many aspects of the trends affecting Internet marketing (such as advertising, content, authority sites, and more), for me the most salient point is, without question, the decline in long-copy salesletters, and the increasing popularity and versatility of video-based salesletters.

However, there are a few things to note.

Business management expert Peter Drucker once said: “The truly important events are not the trends. They are changes in the trends.”

In other words, it’s not how trends affect sales copy that’s important. It’s what they tell us about how people digest it (and how they want to digest it) that is.

In “The Next Information Revolution” (Forbes, August 24, 1998), he stated that we are moving beyond the mere “collection, analysis, and presentation of data,” to understanding the meaning and purpose of the data.

In fact, Drucker said that trends most often are just fads. In my estimation, important trends — those that affect how we understand and serve markets better — are the ones worth spotting.

Why? Because trends teach more about our market and their behavior, than they do about market demand or opportunities.

In other words, what’s important is what we can learn from these trends, how they affect the way we serve markets, and how we can use them to serve (and sell) more effectively.

Again, it’s all about human behavior and salesmanship, which will never change. People shape technology and allow it to flourish — and not the other way around.

New technologies will come and go. Some will flourish and expand. Others will eventually fall by the wayside or outright fail.

But any new technology — like video on the web, for instance — is not the result of a new trend. It basically allows trends to take form. It allows users to receive, collect, and act upon the data in the way that best suits them.

Technology is a facilitator, not an instigator. It allows users to affect the way businesses serve and persuade them, rather than let businesses dictate how users should respond to, and buy from, them.

That said, I want to make something clear: copy will never change. That is, good, compelling, personal, ego-driven copy (the user’s ego, not the author’s) will never change. And long copy will never die, either.

But the spammy, garish-looking, gaudy, long-scrolling salesletter is on its last legs. It will always be around, I believe. But people will invariably see through them, if they don’t already. And they will do so particularly because of the contrast created by other forms of content delivery and the value they create.

Let me be more specific.

These long salesletters will always work. And in some markets, they will work better than others and are more appropriate.

But to me, such salesletters are akin to “smash-and-grab” jewelry thieves. They come into the market with their long, hypey, over-the-top copy, make as many sales as they possibly can, and then stagnate or die — forcing the marketer to come up with a new product to sell to keep cashflow at a sustainable level.

Long, hypey salesletters are like drugs. They give the marketer a temporary high with an injection of new sales. But after a while, they come down from the “trip,” which forces the marketer to change, tweak, test new copy, or create more of the same “one-shot products” to stay afloat.

For a growing number of people, this is no different than the snake-oil salesmen of days gone by who drove into a new village, sold as many of their concoctions as possible, and then skipped town before people realized their “amazing cures” were worthless.

Does this mean that direct marketers are snake oil salespeople? Not at all. Loud, long-scrolling copy has sold many a great product — and will continue to do so. They will always have a place.

But for long-term, steady, sustainable success and growth, these devices will falter more and more over time — or be perceived as snake oil salesmen by an increasing majority of people. The copy will therefore need to work harder at communicating proof, credibility, and trustworthiness.

This need was always existent. But it’s moreso today, especially on the Internet. Why? Because the Internet is indeed different. And this is the point I was really trying to convey in my own report.

After John Reese released his report, one person defiantly mentioned that “the video-based salesletter is ludicrous,” that “nothing beats classic paper and pen,” and that “video buffering times are too slow,” which will deter the easily distracted.

I agree in part. Particularly the bit about distraction. But my answer to his statement is, you don’t use classic “paper and pen” on TV or radio. And ostensibly, you shouldn’t. The Internet is just another medium, true. But it’s not a direct mail medium.

Granted, it used to be at first (since browsers were once only text-based), and still is to some degree. But that’s changing. Why? Because the Internet is growing up. (Call it “Web 2.0” or whatever you want. It doesn’t matter.)

In fact, this is the same thing with buffering times: the increasing penetration of broadband and new video technologies (i.e., Flash and better compression) will make video even more flexible and faster-loading over time. In fact, it’s here already.

(If you want to see where video is going, check out this webcast from Adobe. While this video shows upcoming ways of monetizing videos, I’m more intrigued by to the use of videos to monetize copy — and how videos are becoming easier to use and more versatile.)

As for the point about being a distraction, it’s exactly for this reason I believe that video is more powerful than long-scrolling, “pen-and-paper” copy.

I called this the “ping factor” in my report, The Death of The Salesletter. We are distracted on the Internet, and moreso these days because of the growing popularity of technologies that allow for more interaction, communication, and content delivery.

(Think instant messengers, blogs, RSS feeds, emails, alerts, widgets, applications, push technologies, multi-tabbed browsers, etc.)

For example, if a salient point that might clinch the sale happens to be in the middle of your long video, it can be easily overlooked when people are distracted.

That’s why I believe long infomercials on the web don’t work, just as much as long copy on the web doesn’t work — or work as good as it used to. The web is not another direct mail medium, just as much as it is not another TV or radio medium, either.

Entirely video-based salesletters on the web will be counterproductive. They still need copy and mechanisms that allow those videos to be digested, and above all, small enough to appeal to the easily distracted.

Small, pithy, bite-sized videos, audios, even copy (e.g., shorter paragraphs, copy clusters, and visual aids for eye gravity), that are used to communicate, support, or emphasize key points in the salesletter, are best.

(With respect to videos, smaller sizes also increase loading-time speeds.)

To be clear, John Reese did not claim that salesletters should be entirely video-driven. In fact, his report offers a few examples of how they work best with, or accompanied by, written copy.

In the end, remember that video, audio, and text all use copy. It’s all copy. It’s not the copy that’s changing. And it’s certainly not human behavior. It’s its delivery that’s changing.

Bottom line, saying that classic “paper and pen” on the web is the only way to go is analogous to saying that 8-track tapes is the only way to listen to music.

About The Author

Avatar of Michel Fortin
Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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