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Copywriting

Risk-Reversal’s Role Reversal

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The greater portion of my career has been in copywriting, selling, and direct marketing. And one of the common denominators I've found in any successful piece of copy is the power of risk reversal.

That is, taking more of a risk from the sale than the purchaser of your product.

Risk reversal is a powerful method to increase sales by easing the buying decision and allaying fears consumers might have.

When people are considering an offer, and if the offer is “too good to be true,” they will invariably seek out more secure means to benefit from it. Otherwise, they will have a tendency to think, “What's the catch?”

The greater the guarantee, the greater the sales. This has been consistent in almost every industry in which I've worked, and with every split-test I've conducted.

For example, a 30-day guarantee will outsell no guarantee. A 90-day guarantee will outsell a 30-day one. And so on and so forth.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

Sometimes, shorter or more creative guarantees can outperform longer ones.

Why? Perhaps this is because, in a promise-filled industry oversaturated with, and burned by, over-the-top hype, long, unrealistic guarantees make the offer suspect.

People might be left scratching their heads wondering if the guarantee is an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes.

Guarantees that are too strong (like one or even multiple years, lifetime, etc) can unconsciously convey that the product is so poor that either the purchaser will forget about the promise during the guarantee's extended lifespan, or the seller is trying to build perceived value in areas other than the product itself to make up for the lack.

But length doesn't always mean strength.

In other words, the strength of a guarantee is not limited to its timeframe.

Creative guarantees work extremely well, especially in an industry where people encounter typical money-back guarantees. These include guarantees that don't necessarily have anything to do with refunds or money. By being different, a unique guarantee can provide a powerful twist to an offer.

Notwithstanding the legal requirements to offer a money-back guarantee, think of guarantees that include gifts, discounts, credits, vouchers, etc.

For example, just recently a friend of mine launched an intensive and pricey classroom-style training program, but with a very interesting angle. Whether you succeed or not, or whether you like the program or not, you get your money back.

It sold out in just a few hours.

Ultimately, guarantees exist because we fear making bad decisions.

And a purchase is a buying decision.

But remember that a guarantee's job is not to remove fear. Not in a direct sense. It's to increase the customer's confidence that the product will do as promised.

In fact, in an article titled “The Great Customer Service Hoax,” the author, Belinda (who is also a copywriter), said it perfectly. “The simple truth about customer satisfaction,” the author writes, is this:

You might think that to maintain awesome levels of customer satisfaction you need to have outstanding products and services, diligent processes and reports and excellently trained staff who know when to make a decision that’s right for the customers. Well, you do need those things but the truth about consistently good customer satisfaction is much simpler.

Customers are satisfied when you met their expectations.

Guarantees help to communicate this important promise. A guarantee communicates not only that the product has value (e.g., “it's so good, I guarantee it!”), but also that the product will meet their expectations.

A guarantee encourages sales and profits. (Sales is self-explanatory. But profits? Yes! Guarantees can also decrease refunds. I'll come back to this in a moment.)

So objectively, add a guarantee that's easy, strong, and reasonable (that is, it's not far-fetched). If it has the appearance of being too long or unbelievable, either reduce it or add copy to justify your attempt.

Just like the power of “reasons-why” advertising, don't forget to back it up. Provide a logical, commonsensical explanation behind your guarantee to justify why it's so strong. The more you do, the more believable your guarantee will be. Otherwise, an overzealous guarantee will make it questionable.

(For example, with a “lifetime guarantee,” people will often ask, “Whose lifetime?”)

But in the majority of cases, if you failt to offer a guarantee let alone a strong one, you're losing a great percentage of potential sales.

In addition to communicating value of and confidence in a product, a guarantee can also become a powerful positioning tool.

Take for instance the story of the Monaghan brothers. The two ran a small business in order to pay their way through college. While one worked the day shift in order to attend school at night, the other did the converse.

After about a year in the money-losing venture, one of the brothers sold his share of the business for a beat-up old car. The other, however, with a good dose of stick-to-it-iveness, decided to make something of his fledgling pizzeria.

According to some interviews he recently gave, Tom Monaghan said that, at the time, he wasn't quite sure that his decision to put a guarantee on his pizza delivery would change much. But obviously, history tells us that his decision was a good one.

By simply marketing the strength of a guarantee (i.e., “Pizza delivered fresh in 30 minutes or it's free”), Domino's Pizza became the multimillion-dollar franchise operation we know today.

Online, strong guarantees are more than just sales tools.

The Internet has opened many doors, including those to many unscrupulous entrepreneurs. Scams and snake oils are rampant online. Millions (if not billions) of dollars are lost to these scamsters each month.

The Internet is rife with fraudulent offers, phishing attempts, and shoddy products. Even laws and anti-scam tools won't stop crafty entrepreneurs who are determined to bypass the systems to scam the unsuspecting.

So people are understandably leery, skeptical, distrusting, and cautious.

Obviously, the use of testimonials, demos and tours, statistics, laboratory tests, clinical trials, case studies, free trials and samples, real pictures of the product in question, and so on are all incredibly important.

But in addition to these methods and elements of proof you can and should add to your copy, strong and creative guarantees are equally powerful proof elements and probably some of the most underutilized.

Why? Mostly because business owners are leery themselves of adding, extending, or creating guarantees because they fear the onslaught of losses from returns.

If the product is mediocre, then this fear is sadly justified. But most products are good. (Granted, there are just as many fraudulent consumers out there as there are scams. Businesses fear them equally as consumers fear buying from fraudsters.)

But generally, guarantees will increase sales.

Chris Ayers, former publisher of Unlimited Traffic!, gives an astonishing real-life example. Writes Ayers:

“One of my first direct mail products years ago was a self-study program. When I first offered the program in a magazine, my sales weren't even enough to cover the cost of the ad. I changed my ad and sales letter to include a guarantee. The number of responses to the same ad increased by a factor of 20 and my conversion rate from my sales letter rose from 10% to almost 40%.”

Remember that adding a guarantee might increase returns and refunds. But try it and do the math. In some cases, a small increase in refunds might be greatly overshadowed by a disproportionately larger increase in sales.

For example, in one test I've conducted with a consulting client, we raised the guarantee from a 30-day guarantee to a 6-month, double guarantee.

(The “double” included a 100%-money-back guarantee within six months, and a double-your-money-back within the first 30 days.)

The result? During the test, there were no refunds within the initial 30 days. But refunds within the first six months increased from about 4% to 6.5%.

Of course, that's significant.

But look at the increase in sales…

Sales conversion went from a little less than 3% to 7%. Mathematically, it means refunds increased by 62.5%, while sales increased by over 133% (i.e., twice as many more sales as the increase in refunds).

The lesson is this: while a guarantee might increase refunds, the increase will be negligible when contrasted by the more significant increase in sales.

This is true in the majority of cases. But in other cases, net profits can increase quite substantially. Even more than the norm.

Why? Because, unbeknownst to many marketers, one of the most important benefits of using a guarantee is the fact that it can actually reduce returns.

If you have a professionally-looking website, an ethical sales approach, and a proven product or service, the lack of a strong guarantee will still, particularly on the Internet, cause most prospects to perceive your offer as questionable in the very least.

But adding a guarantee — particularly a strong one — not only increases sales because it removes the risk from the buyer's mind, but it also increases perceived value and therefore overall confidence in the product and the seller as well.

Guarantees also grant you an almost instant credibility with potential customers.

And finally, strong guarantees also help to raise tolerance levels.

Customers are more apt to ignore or even accept a few flaws, thereby reducing the need to return the product at the slightest imperfection.

This is because they feel they are in good hands, whether they know this experientially or not. The confidence level that the guarantee created acts as some sort of psychic security net.

In other words, a guarantee not only reduces the skepticism around a purchase, but also contributes to what psychologists refer to as “The Halo Effect.”

Ultimately, add a strong guarantee to your offer. But don't stop with just at increasing its timeframe. Be creative with your guarantee.

Think about multiple-money-back guarantees, add-on guarantees, gift certificates, credit or discount vouchers, the ability to keep bonuses if they return the main product, keeping the product even if they ask for their money back, etc.

Bottom line, guarantees will increase sales. The stronger the guarantee is, the larger the increase will be.

Categories
Copywriting

How to Extract Doubt From Your Sales Copy

A few years ago, something happened that provided incontrovertible proof of an infallible rule in copywriting. I knew it all along but never saw it proven to me in such a personal and direct way.

The one element that can transform flimsy, “yeah-right” copy into a sales-inducing powerhouse, is proof. Other than poor targeting, lack of proof is probably the greatest reason copy fails.

People are more educated and skeptical than ever. Everything readers see is suspect right from the start. They never believe anything at first, so to convert them into buyers you must first convert them into believers.

Persuasion has much less to do with selling than it has to do with building believability. It's about trust. You need to prove your case — and not just tell it or, worse yet, sell it. You need to provide proof. As much proof as you can muster.

Any kind. Every kind.

For instance, criminal cases win in court because of a preponderance of proof, and not just a little. Conversely, they also lose if there's reasonable doubt. That's all that's needed, and often it's not that much.

If there's reasonable doubt with your marketing message, you're going to lose the sale. Even if it's just a little. Or at best, you will only get a tiny fraction of what's possible in terms of sales, if any.

Case in point: before she passed away, my late wife was chronicling her breast cancer battle on her blog. She discussed the many hospital visits and tests she had to undergo, from MRIs to biopsies.

Soon after she started her blog, my wife posted the pathology results on her breast tissue along with the complete cancer diagnosis. She posted some of the medical terms discussed in her report, and what they meant — in general as well as to her, personally.

She included medical terms like “Intraductal Carcinoma in Situ,” “Multicentric Central Carcinoma,” “Lymphatic/Vascular Invasion,” “Invasive Tumor Necrosis,” “Modified Scarff Bloom Richardson Grade,” and more. She explained what each of them meant.

But to show how big this cancerous lump had grown, she posted a graphic (a simple circle, about the size of a baseball) that represented the actual size of the tumor, based on the dimensions described in the report.

In her blog post, she provided not one but three types of proof.

First, she provided factual proof. That is, she included actual medical terms, data, and numbers taken straight out of the pathology report.

Then, she provided evidential proof. That is, she included laboratory test results proving not only that she did have cancer, but also how big and advanced it was, and the fact that it has metastasized to her lymph nodes.

Finally, she provided perceptual proof. Facts and data are powerful proof elements. But with every one of them, she translated what those terms meant. For example, creating a graphic that demonstrated the size of the tumor was a part of it.

More importantly, she related what the data meant to her. While the data provided proof, my wife's story increased the perceived quality of that proof. It made it more credible by making the terminology easier to understand and internalize. And it made her story more concrete and real.

OK, back to my point.

Once my wife provided proof, the response to her blog shot up dramatically. It compelled people to respond. This doesn't mean they didn't believe her in her previous posts. But it did reduce if not eradicate any reasonable doubt.

This reminded me about all the elements of proof that can add more credibility and believability to your copy.

So I came up with a formula. I call it “FORCEPS.” Think of a pair of forceps, which is commonly used by surgeons for extracting. In this case, think of it as a way to “surgically extract” as much doubt as possible from your copy!

FORCEPS is an acronym that stands for:

  • factual
  • optical
  • reversal
  • credential
  • evidential
  • perceptual
  • And social

Let's take a look at what each one means.

1. Factual Proof

Factual proof is self-explanatory. Provide facts, figures, data, statistics, factoids, numbers, test results, dimensions, and so on. Facts of any kind about either the problem (i.e., anything that makes the problem more real and urgent in the mind of the reader) or the solution are powerful proof elements.

The more concrete and specific the fact, the more believable it is. For example, don't say “1,000 times greater.” Say “1,042 times.” Don't say “Hundreds of dollars.” Say, “347 dollars.” Avoid using rounded numbers or vague facts. Be specific.

2. Optical Proof

Lawyers argue that the strongest evidence is an eyewitness account. Similarly, optical (or visual) proof is the most powerful. Anything that can visually represent the product, the quality, the claims, or more importantly, the benefits gives your copy a strong advantage.

eBay reported that auctions with pictures have 400% more bids than those without pictures. Add a picture of your product or show it in action. (That's why videos are better.) Use different angles and lights, even with its original wrapping.

Best of all, use videos and before-and-afters. The more vivid the proof is and the more senses they engage, the more believable the proof will be.

With cosmetic surgeons, the most effective form of proof was showing before-and-after pictures of patients. They show not only the results but also the extent of those results through the element of contrast.

A business sells lighting fixtures. What did he do? He took a picture of a someone's living room with normal lighting in it, and then took a picture of the room with his product. Both unretouched pictures were placed, side by side, on his sales copy.

The contrast was obvious. The proof, astounding. The sales, significant.

3. Reverse Proof

Comparisons are powerful. That's why competitive analyses work so well. But this can apply to indirect competitors, too. For example, an airline's direct competitor is another airline. But an indirect competitor can be the train, automobile rental, bus, ship, etc.

But the best kind of comparison is the one that shows what can happen if people don't buy. I call it “reverse proof” because it shows the reverse effect, the potential downside in other words, if the prospect buys a competitor's product or fails to buy from you at all.

Some people call this comparing apples to oranges. You compare the price of your offer not against the price of a competitor's product (i.e., apples to apples) but against the ultimate cost of not buying yours.

For example, say you know someone who spent over $20,000 advertising a poorly written ad that had little to no response. If you sell a copywriting course for, say, $1,000, then you compare the price of your course to the cost of not knowing how to write copy.

In this case, you compare a small $1,000 investment to a potential $20,000 mistake.

4. Credentializing Proof

It's proof that demonstrate the credentials of the product, business, or person behind it. Education, expertise, certifications, associations, number of clients served, awards, mentions in the media, reviews, published articles or books, etc.

If you can namedrop someone who's a recognized authority in their field or even a known celebrity, and do it in an ethical and logical way, do so. Or better, ask them and let them do the talking for you.

In court cases, one of the most commonly subpoenaed witnesses are “expert witnesses.” Similarly, reviews from industry authorities, even endorsements from celebrities, though biased, also give your copy perceived objectivity.

For example, some of my clients have added to their copy scanned magazine covers in which articles by or about them appeared. Some even added the words “As Seen In…” before the logos of the publications.

Authoritative endorsements are powerful. A direct endorsement is one in which an authority directly endorses the product. But an indirect one is one in which there is perceived authority, or that the authority is implied, such as “9 out of 10 dentists agree.”

5. Evidential Proof

Evidential proof is evidence that compels us to accept an assertion as true. According to the dictionary, it's “a convincing or persuasive demonstration; or determination of the quality of something by testing or trial.”

Therefore, anything that can prove or test the validity of a claim, result, or promise, and anything that can justify, backup, or support a claim, in any way, is evidential proof. Like demonstrations, samples, trials, studies, tests, etc.

The author of Nothing Down, a book on how to buy property with no upfront money or collateral, Robert Allen was challenged to prove his claim. So he was randomly dropped him in the middle of nowhere with only $100 for food and water, and within 24 hours he bought several properties with nothing down.

Putting your claims to the test is evidential proof. This is similar to “controlled tests.” I'm not talking about the marketing kind. I mean tests that actually validate the process, the product, the results, the claims, etc.

You can do hard tests or soft tests. Hard tests are where you actually test your product to measure its quality. Soft tests are tests that do not directly validate the product but drive home a certain point about it or to prove an important benefit.

In the infomercial for a synthetic car oil called DuraLube, they had cars put up on cinder blocks, drained them completely of oil, and had the motor run until it seized. To fix the engine, one would have to invest in costly mechanical work.

Then they added one small bottle of DuraLube, drained it once more, and started the car, which was running on DuraLube's residue. Not only did the car start without any problems, but an elapsed timer showed the motor ran for hours without fail.

In the commercial for Oreck vacuum cleaners, they said their vacuums had unbelievable “hurricane force” suction. So they had the vacuum literally suck up a bowling ball. That's somewhat of a hard test.

The soft test was to show how lightweight it is (a benefit). So they placed the vacuum at one end of a large scale against the same bowling ball on the other. You saw the bowling ball plummet while the vacuum raised up in the air like a feather.

6. Perceptual Proof

Facts and figures can mean different things to different people. So perceptual proof helps to increase the perceived quality of the evidence, and strengthens how someone appreciates that evidence.

That's where anecdotes, stories, analogies, examples, metaphors, and personal accounts help to not only expand on and solidify the proof given, but also relate them to the reader and increase their level of appreciation.

My late wife didn't just list all the medical details and explained what they meant. She told them in the form of a story, and included a few metaphors to help her readers understand and appreciate what it meant to her. It made the proof more real and concrete.

7. Social Proof

We tend to give more credence to an idea or behavior when we see the masses approving or doing it. Social proof occurs when we make the assumption that others, especially by their numbers, possess more knowledge and therefore we deem their behavior as appropriate.

People tend to assume an idea is valid not by its objective evidence but by its popularity, following, or acceptance by others. The more people talk about it, endorse it, or buy it, the assumption is the more valid and relevant it must be.

Forms of social proof include testimonials, case studies, sales numbers, clientele size, number of endorsements, fan base size, and so forth. The more real you make them, the more believable they are (such as testimonials with audio, video, pictures, signatures, screenshots, graphs, etc).

Even the engagement level on blogs, forums, and social media are widely recognized and used as effective forms of social proof. If you have a post related to you, your product, or your business that's been liked and commented on by a large number of people, include it, too.

So, there you have it.

These are just some ideas. The bottom line is, the more proof you provide, and the more you backup your claims with proof of any kind, whether they are hard or soft, or objective or subjective, the more believable — and profitable — your copy will be.