Can Your Prospects Take An Oath?

Preamble: I wrote this article back in 2003 and I rewrote it in early 2005. Back then, it was meant primarily for a copywriting audience. Now that I specialize in SEO, and seeing how the concept of “funnels” is gaining popularity, I took the liberty to slightly update it.

One problem in SEO, copywriting, content, or any kind of communications, is that the audience is not targeted for the message or the message doesn't march the intended audience.

When it comes to SEO, if the content doesn't match the search intent and fails to align with what the user's searching for, the user will bounce back and search engines will conclude that your website doesn't meet the user's needs, which will impact and lower your rankings.

When it comes to copywriting, an untargeted, unqualified prospect won't buy, no matter how good the copy is. If the content is targeted, it can still miss the mark because it doesn't speak to the customer at the stage of awareness at which they happen to be.

It is absolutely essential to ensure that the your content or marketing message appeals to, qualifies, educates, and converts the user. It's about connecting with them at their level of awareness.

What are these “stages of awareness?”

There are four.

I've used these before I ever learned about their existence. Mostly unconsciously through researching a target market. For example, Eugene Schwartz talks about this and at great length in his book, “Breakthrough Advertising.”

Schwartz discusses the various stages of market sophistication, but I prefer to use an acronym so it is easier to remember and follow.

I call it “OATH.” As in, “Is your prospect ready and willing to take an oath?” It's a cool mnemonic to help you remember how aware is your market about the problem, their need for a solution, and of course, your solution specifically.

Here's what I mean.

Depending on what stage of awareness your reader is at (determined by their knowledge of the problem, the solution, and their desire to solve it), the amount of education, credentialization, and persuasion you need to provide will vary.

Maybe they're hurting right now and need a solution fast. Or maybe they're not there yet, which means they may not be aware they have a problem in the first place. Maybe they are aware, but they don't appreciate how big the problem is or might become, and the reasons why they should solve it.

With SEO, this is answered to some degree by the search intent. The way they search Google will say a lot about their awareness level. Your content or sales message should flow from, and follow with, that stage of awareness in order to bring them to the next stage.

I like to look at it this way: how prepared they are to take an OATH? Meaning how confident, ready, willing, and able they are to buy?

The answer is based on any one of those four stages.

“O” is for Oblivious.

At this stage, they're unaware of the problem let alone a need for a solution. They don't know. Or they don't know that they don't know. In the world of marketing funnels, this is often referred to as problem-unaware.

So in this case, your content needs to educate them about the problem. It's to bring it to the top of their minds. If you hit them too early with your solution, without being aware of the problem in the first place, you're only going to confuse them, push them away, or create unwanted hostility toward you.

Often, this is what happens when your copy is too short or presumptive. Or when your content discusses your solution as if they're already fully aware of it. If they simply have an unmet desire, an unmet desire is also a problem to be solved. But they're still unaware of it.

“A” is for Apathetic.

They know they have a problem but they're indifferent. They don't care, don't care enough, or aren't aware of how important it is (or that it can be solved). In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as problem-aware.

So your content needs to make the problem more real and concrete. Your content must educate them on the seriousness of the problem. It could be about the risks or drawbacks of not solving the problem, since inaction is a potential problem, too.

When you understand and cater to your user's stage of awareness, copywriting won't seem pushy but merely an attempt at preventing procrastination. The more aware they are, the more their inaction is about the need for reassurance than it is about the lack of desire.

“T” is for Thinking.

They know they have a problem and they're thinking about solving it. They're shopping around, considering solutions, and investigating options. In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as solution-aware.

So at this stage, when it comes to SEO, your content should take them from thinking about the problem to wanting to solve it. With copywriting, they're considering solutions, so you need to sell them on your solution and why it's better than others.

This is where you have to build value and differentiate yourself. Why is your solution the best solution? What makes it so unique, different, or valuable? What makes it better than all other alternatives? An alternative may also be a totally different solution that soothes the same pain.

“H” is for Hurting.

At this stage, they want to solve it. They're convinced they must fix the problem. They're acquainted with all possible solutions and considering your solution specifically. In marketing funnels, this is often referred to as product-aware.

So your job is to convince them, reassure them, and provide information that they can use to make a decision and take action. Perhaps it's understanding the risks and guarantees; your expertise and credentials as a medical professional; or social proof with before-and-after case studies.

Perhaps they don't know how or what payment options you offer. Perhaps they have fears you need to assuage first. Maybe they're overwhelmed, skeptical, or suspicious, or they've used other solutions unsuccessfully and are afraid.

At this stage, procrastination is the culprit.

If they're hurting, what do they need to get over the remaining hurdle? What objections or unanswered questions do they have? Your content may need to increase proof, reduce risk, and remove fear.

Often, it's based on the fear of making a bad decision. Your content or copy needs to allay that fear. To do so, you need to truly understand your patient at a deeper, more intimate level. You need to learn what information they need to go ahead, and then you need to give it to them.

In SEO, their search intent is often dictated by their level of awareness. Here are some searches as an example:

  • Oblivious: “hairloss” or “what causes stretch marks”
  • Apathetic: “how to stop hairloss” or “how to get rid of stretch marks”
  • Thinking: “micrograft before and after” or “tummy tucks Chicago”
  • Hurting: “hair transplant pricing” or “book consultation Dr. Smith”

That's the OATH formula in a nutshell.

Bottom line, your audience may be oblivious, apathetic, thinking, or hurting. In other words, they're unaware of the problem, aware but don't care, aware of the various solutions, and finally aware of your solution and ready to solve it.

Knowing this will tell you a lot about not only how much information you need to give your reader, but what kind of information and what kind of offer that will transition them into buying your solution.

It's not about serving content that meets their awareness level. If that was the cause, your patients would only need Wikipedia. It's about meeting them at their stage of awareness and taking them to the next.


How to Create Awareness With Your Content Funnel

In marketing, there are different levels of buyer awareness or “marketing awareness stages.” They go from one end of the spectrum where buyers are unaware of the problem they're experiencing (or will experience), to the other end where they are fully aware and intend to solve that problem.

It is critically important to know and understand this about your market so you may build brand awareness. That's why I created an acronym called OATH, which means the buyers are:

  1. Oblivious about the problem.
  2. Apathetic about the problem (i.e., they're aware but don't care).
  3. Thinking about the problem (i.e., they're considering solutions).
  4. Hurting (i.e., they want the problem solved).

When I teach the OATH formula, I tell my students to think of it as, “How prepared is your market to take an oath?” It's a simple way to remember.

In fact, I use mnemonics often. And since learning that I have ADHD and that it affects short-term memory, I now know why I love using acronyms and mnemonics so much. They're tremendously useful tools.

I came up with the acronym to help me remember. But I got this idea after reading Eugene Schwartz' magnum opus Breakthrough Advertising, in which he discusses the five levels of market sophistication. In short, they are:

  1. The Claim
  2. Amplify The Claim
  3. The Mechanism
  4. Amplify The Mechanism
  5. Market Identification

Here's a summary (also, this video explains it well)…

At the first level, the consumer is completely unaware of the product. So when marketing to them, you're going to be making a claim.

The second level is where they're aware of your claim. But they're also aware of your competitors' claims, too. So now you need to elevate your claim and make it better than the competition.

At the third level, you need to more than just better. You need to differentiate and make your claim stand out. You need to educate your market about your “unique mechanism,” according to Schwartz, or your USP.

Level four is where competitors are all doing the same. Everyone has a USP or unique mechanism. So now your goal is to prove the superiority of your mechanism and elevate it over others.

At the fifth and final level, this where a saturated market becomes skeptical, jaded, and numb. Your goal is to identify with your market, to create relationships with them, so they buy, remain loyal, and even evangelize for you.

These five levels are essentially the stages through which new products and services enter the market and become adopted.

But I prefer to be problem-centric than product-centric.

The reason I specifically created my personal formula was not just for helping me remember but also for helping me strategize how to approach, educate, and persuade audiences based on their awareness stage.

Not to boast (well, maybe I am a little), but I created this formula back when I taught marketing management in college, circa 1999-2000. The concept of “marketing funnels” wasn't as popular back then.

But I can't take credit for the idea. Remember, Schwartz wrote about it in 1966. Some even contend that the AIDA formula predates it when Elias Lewis first mentioned it in 1898 (i.e., Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action).

Whether it's AIDA, sophistication levels, OATH, levels of buyer awareness, or marketing awareness stages, or whether it's marketing funnels, content funnels, customer journeys, or sales pipelines, it's all essentially the same.

You're breaking down the buying journey into distinct stages and moving the buyer through them. It doesn't matter what you call them.

Today, the common marketing lingo, especially in SaaS circles, is “top of funnel” or TOFU (not the soybean curd kind), “middle of funnel” or MOFU, and “bottom of the funnel” or, you guessed it, BOFU.

(I'm French-Canadian. “BOFU” sounds like a clown's name to me.)

I like this explanation a little more because funnel sections often describe the four types of content that will serve as catalysts throughout the buyer's journey.

Before people hit the funnel — let's call them “out of funnel” or OOFU (I'm creative, I know) — they are oblivious, completely unaware of the problem. At TOFU, they are now aware of it. At MOFU, they are aware of the solution, too. And at BOFU, they are now product or service aware.

Therefore, the goal of your content should be to take your audience from being unaware of the problem (i.e., they're oblivious) to being fully aware and in need of the solution (i.e., they're hurting). To take them from unaware, to problem aware, to solution aware, and eventually to product aware.

What does this mean to you?

It means that, when you're creating a content marketing strategy, particularly thought leadership, remember that each piece of content has a goal and serves a purpose, which is to raise awareness and, ultimately, drive actions.

If you have funnelized your marketing, which you should, then you know what content you need. If not, here's an example to give you an idea.

OOFU (Oblivious) Content

This is content that invites your audience to come forward and enter your funnel. They want to know more about the problem they're experiencing.

By now, if they're not aware of the problem (the real problem), it makes no sense to hit them over the head with your solution right away. They're not hurting yet — or better said, they're not aware they're hurting.

For example, if you want to specifically target people with hairloss, saying you're the best surgeon will fall on deaf ears — particularly if they're not interested in doing something about their hairloss. (Remember, hairloss is not the problem.)

When I wrote ads for these doctors, the best headlines were not the ones that said, “we offer advanced hair transplant procedures” or “the most natural-looking results.” The best ones more often than not said, “Do you have hairloss?” Or better yet, “Are you suffering from hairloss?”

As a doctor, I would recommend writing articles about the causes of hairloss and helpful tips on how to treat it — including all the solutions possible. The goal is to get those who are interested to raise their hands and ask for more information (i.e., to enter your funnel).

TOFU (Apathetic) Content

This is content that, once inside your funnel, teaches your audience about why they need to do something about their problem. You're exploring the problem in depth, the risks involved, and the gravity of the problem (or of ignoring it).

You can write an article such as:

  • “10 reasons to consider hair restoration,”
  • “7 factors that make you a candidate for surgery,”
  • “The risks and costs of hair transplant procedures.”

Remember, hairloss is a problem but not the real problem. In this scenario, they've entered your funnel so they've admitted their hairloss bothers them. Outdated procedures with less-than-desirable results are the problem.

The goal is to get them to care about it. It's to take them to the next level where they're aware your solution, which is more advanced, more natural-looking, less risky, etc than the alternatives.

MOFU (Thinking) Content

Your content introduces the solution, makes them aware of the benefits, and motivates them to consider solving their problem.

Essentially, they want to do something. While they're considering the solutions, the goal is to get them to think about your solution. Therefore, your content needs to point out what makes your solution the ideal solution for them.

Using the same example above, you can educate them about your procedure, what makes it better than others on the market, and what are the specific results it produces. This is your “unique mechanism,” a la Schwartz.

For example, if you use powerful microscopes to transplant microscopic follicles instead of traditional, unsightly plugs, this is where you can discuss it and offer more detail in order to differentiate yourself.

BOFU (Hurting) Content

They're hurting and want to solve their problem. So your goal is to move them into action. You want to provide them with enough information to help them decide (e.g., case studies, social proof, ROI, etc).

For example, that doctor can explain pricing, share before-and-after photos, answer objections, describe what to expect, offer financing options, and discuss next steps — such as how to book the surgery.

A final point and a caveat.

In the end, remember that these are just examples and not the example. Plus, these stages are not perfect. The lines between them often blur, and they're not meant to fit people into neat little boxes or put labels on them.

A common objection I get is, “Where does my client fit in?” Or, “What if [this] or [that] puts them in one category when they should be in another?”

The thing to remember is, knowing your audience's different marketing awareness stages does not mean you must define your audience according to one specific stage or to fit them neatly into one stage more than any other.

It's to understand what they need in terms of information to help them get to the next level and eventually solve their problem — and to give it to them.


How I Write Copy in Seven Steps

A lot of people ask me how I write copy. I don't mean the actual writing process (such as how I come up with headlines, bullets, offers, etc), but how I tackle the actual task of composing a new sales piece from scratch.

Everyone is different. My writing process is one developed over many years, and many people may adopt or dislike the same techniques. But in the hope that knowing my process may be helpful to some writers, I'd like to share it with you.

Of course, if I were to describe all of the steps, there would be way too much information to squeeze into one article. But for now, I can offer you a basic look at my methodology by giving you a short list of the seven steps I take.

Here they are.

1. Gather Initial Research

For starters, with all projects I ask that my clients take time to answer an initial, 25-point questionnaire. Their answers will provide some background information. I ask several questions from four main categories:

  1. The customer
  2. The product
  3. The business
  4. The offer

The first one, about the customer, is the most important. It's where I ask questions like demographics and psychographics, and try to build a perfect prospect profile or what's often called a “buyer persona.”

The others include things like features and benefits, stories behind the product, testimonials, actual results, the buying process, etc.

(The questionnaire can be an eye-opener for many clients because it forces them to dig for the answers, and to see what's missing with their current copy and where some of the flaws are. Many have said that the questionnaire alone was worth the price of admission.)

I want to know as much as possible about the product, the business, and the offer. This includes competitors, non-competitors, alternatives, and reasons why people choose to buy from my client — as well as why they chose another instead.

Admittedly, this questionnaire is just a start. But their answers, which give me some direction as to where to conduct further research, give me at least a basic understanding of their business, the purpose of the copy's message, and its goals.

Yes, that's “goals” in the plural.

There is the obvious main goal, which may be to generate leads or make sales. But other, secondary goals may include to dispel rumors, answer questions, build credibility, eliminate misconceptions, differentiate from the competition, defend one's reputation, etc.

2. Conduct Exploratory Research

Then, I read and study the answers carefully, and I conduct some exploratory research. That is, I try to gather as much information as I can — especially about the target audience. When I write copy, the bulk of my time is spent on research.

In fact, if I ever get writer's block and run out of ideas, I go back to conducting more research. Because the more research you do, the greater the number of ideas you will have at your disposal. The chances that something will stick out and prompt your writing will be higher, too.

I surf my clients' websites. I research their competitors. I look at some of the trends in that particular product category, market, or industry. I do comparative analyses, including building a list of strengths and weaknesses (if my client doesn't have this already).

I hang out where their readers hang out. I check out some of the websites they visit. I spend some time in forums in which they're active. I try to get a grasp of their language, their challenges, their industry, their fears, their goals, etc.

When I come across an important piece of information, I copy it into a document (often a Google document I can share), where I can easily append extra pieces of information, include any corresponding URLs, make additional notes, and more.

I create a new project in my favorite project management service, where I give access to all the key players, and start populating it with the information I gather.

(Aside from being a repository, the service has many features that come in quite handy, such as to-do lists, message board, whiteboard, chat room, file uploads, milestone tracker, and more.)

The idea at first is to gather as much information as possible, including facts, features, data, results, etc. I add whatever information I find into the repository.

3. Pick, Prod, And Probe Further

Of course, a lot of it is also irrelevant. So I go through the information and pull out the important stuff. I compile, clarify, and expand. I cherrypick and highlight what's relevant, and file or discard the rest.

I might even repeat some of the earlier steps to make sure I've covered all the bases. After spending some time studying the information, I may ask for more clarification and dig deeper.

Digging deeper is a crucial step!

Sometimes, I do it to get a better understanding of the information. Other times, it's to get additional tidbits where I might uncover hidden gems I can use with the copy. You would be surprised by how much information clients keep from you because they feel it's irrelevant when oftentimes it's not.

But most of the time, it's to be able to later put what my clients tell me into words that specifically meet my client's audience at their level.

I tend to look at my job as “connecting the dots.” If the product is good and the demand is there, then my job is not to sell the product but to connect the desires and fears of the reader with the solution my client offers.

(Most of my clients are too “married” to their own products or businesses that they tend to be removed from their clients. So what they may feel is great about their product may not be a shared opinion among their target market.)

But here's my greatest tip…

Some of the best answers I get are in fact obtained while interviewing people. That's right: actually talking to people, whether it's the business owner or existing clients. In other words, picking up the phone and asking questions.

(Of course, I record everything and transcribe the interviews. I do this with the help of a conference call service and an online transcription service.)

This allows me to not only catch verbal cues and innuendos, but also to prod and probe further. I repeat what they say and sometimes end in a dangling preposition (grammarians be like “Oh, the horror!”) or conjunction followed by a pause, where the silence compels them to continue.

(For example, once my client answers a question, I'll say, “And?” “Or?” “But?” “So that…” “That's for…” “That means…” “Or else?” “In other words?” After that, I shut up. You'd be amazed by the kinds of answers they would give!)

I also try to speak with actual success stories. I interview satisfied clients, not just for the sake of gathering testimonials, and not just to ask a lot of open-ended questions to probe deeper as well, but also, and if I can, to actually get them to sell me on the product themselves.

These recorded interviews are worth a mint!

If I managed to get my interviewee excited and passionate about the product, in many cases they practically write the copy for me.

4. Create The Structure

Next, I try to find a storyline, a unique benefit, a certain angle, or a key piece of information. Some call it a “plot.” Others call it a “hook” or “the big idea.” It's essentially the one element on which the entire copy hinges.

This is the concept I often talk about called “storyselling.”

It may be a certain fear, a piece of news, a hot-button issue, a success story, a fascinating factoid, a sensational claim, a major benefit (even an unsought one), a sense of urgency, a “lie dispelled,” a secret, a myth, a hot trend, a controversial topic, an unexpected result, etc. You get the picture.

Once I've found it, I then create an outline. Often, I apply my QUEST formula, which is to “qualify” the reader, “understand” their problem, “educate” them on the solution, “stimulate” them on the value, and “transition” them into a buyer.

I don't write the copy just yet. I simply use the formula to create an outline that will guide me as to where specific pieces of information will be added.

The copy doesn't necessarily have to follow the exact formula, either. But it does give me some guidance as to what exactly I must cover, and where I must cover it.

Sometimes, I'll use it to create headers throughout the copy as the outline. These headers are not written in stone. They only give me some initial direction as to what, specifically, I need to cover at certain points in the copy.

Look at these headers as “guideposts,” if you will.

I also try to look at the copy from the perspective of a reader. For example, I'll ask myself, “What do I want and need to know at this point in the copy?” “What can potentially confuse me?” “What questions or objections might likely come up at that moment?” “What's going through my mind when I read this?” And so on.

At this time in the process, I write some notes on the copy, to myself, on what needs to be covered, what key pieces of information I must include, what ideas I want to expand on, etc. And often, I write these notes in point form.

5. Write The Copy

Next comes the creative part.

From the storyline and the guideposts I've set out above, I start writing the copy. I often begin with the headline or the bullet points, whichever is easiest. (It really depends on what comes to mind the fastest.)

Sometimes, a headline idea jumps out at me, particularly after doing the research and coming up with the “hook.” If so, I will start with the headline first.

The headline is not final, either. I sometimes come back and rewrite the headline once I finish the copy, even several times, because new and better ideas emerge later on as I write the body copy.

Both the headline and the storyline will give me a good indication of what I can write about, how to say it, as well as what options I have when I write it.

Sometimes, I just start writing and let it flow, and my writing takes a life of its own. When this happens, I allow myself the flexibility to just let go, but I will go back to it afterwards when I'm editing and rearranging the flow.

Remember, they are guides, not goals.

In terms of actual copy, I start writing and expanding.

  • I structure a skeletal offer (with premiums);
  • I create the opening or introductory paragraph;
  • I tell the story (based on the chosen storyline);
  • I list the features, advantages and benefits;
  • I expand on key items for the main body;
  • I incorporate or expand on story blocks;
  • I add Johnson boxes, remarks or sidenotes;
  • I reinforce key benefits and “reasons why;”
  • I build up the value and expand on the offer;
  • I form a logical and believable sense of urgency;
  • I inject credibility by adding proof elements;
  • I infuse testimonials in appropriate locations;
  • I write the guarantee (or guarantees);
  • I close with a call-to-action statement;
  • And I plug some “PS's” at the end.

Do I follow these steps every single time? No. Some people say copywriting is formulaic, and I agree to a large extent. But don't become so rigid that you write with blinders on and fail to allow yourself the opportunity to be different, to be interesting, and to connect better with your audience.

Look at a lot of salesletters these days. They often don't look like your typical “salesletter”. Salesletters have evolved to include multimedia, parallax (fly-in, dynamic copy), action-triggered content, mobile-friendly layouts, etc.

6. Rearrange The Flow

Then, I rearrange the content for flow. I don't edit the copy. I simply scan the copy to make sure it all flows nicely, and that the organization of ideas makes the reading pleasant, compelling, and easily understandable.

More important, I make sure the flow makes sense to the sale. Every new idea introduced must flow into one another and advance the sale.

I make sure to integrate headers at every two or three paragraphs to help break the monotony and compel scanners to start reading. If needed, I also copy, paste, and move blocks of text in locations I feel they are more appropriate.

(For example, sometimes it's better to credentialize the copy early on. Or some testimonials are best used as a way to handle objections and located where specific objections may come up. In fact, I use them where the reader might have a specific question that the testimonial answers.)

To help me, I work with multiple, tiled windows (i.e., side by side), all opened at once and each showing a different part of a same document. This is particularly helpful when I'm working with longer copy.

That way, I can easily scroll through each window to rearrange the content from one window to another (i.e., from one section of the copy to another).

From this cursory look at the copy, I can immediately sense if I need to also add certain elements, whether cosmetic (such as adding a grabber, a picture, or a graphic) or tactical (such as adding a sidenote, a proof element, or a Johnson box).

I also make sure that the copy follows the AIDA formula (i.e., attention, interest, desire and action). While it may seem redundant because of my earlier formula, I never forget the basics.

7. Edit And Expand

Once re-arranged, I then edit the copy. I read it to myself, slowly and sometimes out loud, to make sure it's easy to read and flows properly. If I stumble at any point or verbally struggle, I know that I need to rewrite that section.

(Whenever I can, I even record myself. It's amazing how many errors I've discovered from listening to myself reading the copy than from simply reading it.)

I then expand, cut out, tighten up, and add more. I emphasize where needed, rewrite certain sections, and cut out as much of the extra fat as possible.

In fact, the latter is the most crucial step.

Why? Because when I write, I usually write with abandon. I let it all flow. I write like I speak. I repeat myself often, especially when I try to make a point or drive home a critical point. I try not to stop myself, or else it will impede my train of thought.

(When I stop writing, it start thinking critically. I begin to edit myself too early, which blocks the creative flow. I eventually lose focus because I spend too much energy on making sure I've said things right rather than saying the right things.)

That's why I wait until after I'm done, and only when I'm done, to go back and excise all the extraneous filler. I try to cut out as much of the unneeded copy as I can. Or, if what I say is indeed important, I try to find ways to say the same thing but in less words.

(Editing is probably one the most important strategies in writing copy, but it's also the most overlooked because it's the hardest thing to do for most copywriters. That's why it's best to wait until the end.)

Remember this: write first, edit later.

Finally, I focus on the cosmetics, since certain visual “triggers” help to increase both readership and response. So I touch up the formatting, typestyles, tables, colors, graphics, pictures, layouts, fonts, and so on.

After that, I'm essentially done.

Bonus Step: Revise!

Before I deliver the copy to my client, I still get my staff to proofread it for me. But I don't limit them to the grammar or style. I also ask them to signal any part of the copy where they feel confused, lost, or disinterested in the story.

(I also ask them questions about the copy to see if they truly grasped some of its key elements. If their answers are not good enough, I know I need to edit it more.)

This is important, since I often make the same mistakes I made while writing it when reading it back to myself. Also, knowing what the copy is all about can cause me to take what I say (or fail to say) for granted, and accidentally skip over what may be confusing to others.

(Don't discount having a fresh pair of eyes look at your copy for you. Before handing off the copy to the client, try to get someone else to read it for you.)

After it's all done, I then upload it to my client's project interface for my client to read and offer feedback. I revise the copy according to my client's feedback. (In fact, I allow my clients a free revision.)

There is no way to predict how well my copy will do. For most clients, my work increases their response rates — often, like gangbusters, too. But for some, my copy turns out to be a downright dud.

Maybe it's because the storyline is wrong. Perhaps the headline is the bottleneck. Maybe the offer is poor. I don't know. If it's anything specific with the copy, the only way to know is to test.

But in my experience, when my copy failed, it was largely because the audience wasn't targeted or the offer wasn't appropriate for them. And in either case, the copy would have never sold well, no matter how good the copy was.

Failure does happen. It happens to the best of us. But failure is also an awesome opportunity — an opportunity to learn, improve, and grow. That's why I appreciate it when my clients keep me posted on their results.

If you were to hire a copywriter, remember that I would trust a copywriter who failed and succeeded more than I do one who claimed to have never failed at all.

Some clients who are fanatical testers prefer to keep me on a retainer after the initial project so they can have me rewrite parts of the copy, or offer any suggestions on how to improve it without contaminating the initial control.

Nevertheless, these are the steps I follow.

I don't necessarily follow them to the letter all of the time. But hopefully, they have given you some fodder on your quest for better response.


Remember These 5 Copywriting Formulas

I used to teach marketing and selling at a local college here in Ottawa. And one of the things I used to help teach with — I also use them all the time when I want to learn and remember new things, too — was mnemonics.

Mnemonics are tools or devices that aid retention.

Do you remember the little ditty to remember all the planets' names, taught mostly in kindergarten? It goes, “My very eager mother just served us nine pizzas,” where the first letter of each word represents the name of each planet in our solar system (i.e., Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto).

Songs, rhymes, formulas, pictures, alliteration, etc are often used as mnemonic devices. But my favorite form of mnemonic are acronyms. You've probably seen a few of them on this blog. That's because I often use acronyms to teach about copywriting.

I do this to help you remember, appreciate, and understand the process I go through when I write copy. Here they are, with their meaning (plus, each mnemonic is linked to its respective article on this blog, covering the formula in more detail):

1. UPWORDS Formula

“Universal picture words or relatable, descriptive sentences.”

“Up words” are picture words, mental imagery, metaphors, analogies, examples, allegories, etc so that all people in a given target market can quickly, easily, and intimately relate to and grasp, in their minds, your message and its meaning. More »

2. QUEST Formula

Qualify, Understand, Educate, Stimulate, and Transition.

As if your readers are going “on a quest” so to speak, it's the process your prospects go through when reading your sales copy. In addition to the famous AIDA formula used in advertising (i.e., attention, interest, desire, then action), it guides people as they progress through your copy until they take the prescribed action. More »

3. FAB Formula

Features, Advantages, and Benefits.

Simply, this one is to not only help remember but also understand what true benefits are. Features are what products have. Advantages (what people often mistakenly think are benefits) are what those features do. But benefits are what they mean — at a personal, intimate level. They are real benefits. You can also call them “end-results.” More »

4. OATH Formula

Oblivious, Apathetic, Thinking, or Hurting.

It's like asking, “Is your prospect ready to take an oath?” They are the four stages of your market's awareness. From not knowing they have a problem at all, to desperately seeking a solution, your market falls in either one of these. Knowing this helps to determine not only how to write your copy but also how much copy is warranted. More »

5. FORCEPS Formula

Factual, Optical, Reversal, Credential, Evidential, Perceptual, and Social proof.

Finally, these are the various proof elements you can include in your copy. While proof is always important in building trust, credibility, and believability, this is particularly helpful when your product is new or unheard of. Proof is the single greatest requirement in all sales copy, especially online — the lack thereof is the biggest killer of sales, too. More »

Of course, these are not the only mnemonic devices I've used on this blog. I'm sure you've seen a few more from time to time. But take some time to read them, perhaps even print them out and have them handy as you're writing your copy.

How about you? Do you have any formulas, mnemonic, or even acronyms you refer to to help you write your copy? I'd love to hear about them, and why you use them.


60-Minute Naked Truth Salesletter Formula

One of the most popular threads on my now defunct discussion forum for copywriters was one started by my friend Dean Jackson.

If you don't know Dean Jackson, he is a Torontonian, a real estate mogul, an information marketing millionaire (author of many programs, including the highly successful “Stop Your Divorce!”), and a darn-fine copywriter.

This post was extremely popular for a number of reasons.

In it, Dean shared his quick-and-dirty formula for writing salesletters really fast. It's a great shortcut if you want to write a barebones salesletter in less than an hour.

Above all, the idea behind this formula is to get you to start writing. Too many marketers and copywriters get stuck at the beginning, such as at the headline, and they fail to get any traction. They often blame it on “writer's block.”

According to Dean, this formula has helped him write several million-dollar salesletters for himself and others. With his gracious permission, I'm reprinting it here on this blog, along with some of my own editorial comments and tips…

Please note, this is not going to result in an extensive or exhaustive salesletter. But it will provide you with a skeletal outline you can either use as is, or easily expand from.

Remember, most people find that the hardest thing to do is to get started writing. It's easy to get caught up in trying to figure out the best hook or headline.

That's why its power lies in its simplicity. This formula is an easy, kick-into-gear way to get a really quick headstart. As Dean noted, “I'd rather be golfing than sweating out a sales letter, so I'm very interested in achieving quick results.”

It all starts with deciding exactly what you want someone to do. Once you've determined that, then it's to sit down for 60 minutes or so to write an unedited, rough-draft, handwritten letter baring the “naked truth” of what you really want.

Without any distractions. Without going into any tangents. And without stopping.

Dean suggests taking a pen and a legal pad, and start writing a stream of consciousness, by hand, to one individual person you imagine as your ideal prospect.

I personally don't mind using my computer, but I believe Dean suggests doing it by hand because it's harder to edit yourself when doing so. Editing as you write is one of the biggest crutches for copywriters that impedes their writing.

Also, getting to know your perfect prospect is crucial.

In our course, we share with you the exact process we go through to find markets and create “buyer personas” using spying techniques, sideways strategies, and unique and unconventional keyword research methods.

In it, we show you how to create a perfect prospect profile, a “buyer persona.” It's a perfect complement to Dean's technique as it will allow you to develop a clear understanding of who your prospect is, what do they want, and how do they want it.

Knowing this beforehand will allow you to sit down and write a salesletter faster than you've ever dreamed possible. The reason is, the information you uncover during that research will provide you with a ton of information you can use in your writing.

Nevertheless, the key is to write the letter as if they are the only person who is going to receive the letter. You write to that person and that person only. Personally, one on one.

At this point, you shouldn't concern yourself about the grammar, the look, or the techniques of copywriting.

As they say, “Write first, edit later.”

No one is actually going to see the letter at this point, anyway. You can edit it yourself afterward, or have someone else or hire someone else to edit it for you.

The key is to do it and do it as quickly as possible. Get yourself a timer, if you can. Limit yourself to 60 minutes. That way, you won't be tempted to stop along the way to edit yourself. Don't do it. Keep writing, and write like there's no tomorrow.

You must get yourself to sit down with the thought of having to get it all done in less than one hour. Write down just the essentials at this point. Keep it simple, keep your perfect customer in mind at all times, and keep it flowing.

Now, here's the 10-part letter formula.

Start with “Dear Dean,” which can be the name you give your perfect prospect. Remember, you can change it later. Don't worry about the headline at this point. Next…

1. Start with the purpose of your letter.

“I'm writing to you because I want you to…” Insert your naked-truth reason you're writing, as if you were making your request known to a lamp Genie who could grant your wish, like, “Take out your credit card and pay me $39 for my new book called…”

2. Reasons you are writing to this specific person.

“The reason I'm writing to you specifically is because I think you want…” And then list the reasons in bullet form, such as reason #1, reason #2, reason #3, and so on.

3. List the features and benefits of your product or offer.

“Here is a list of what you get when you [buy my book]…” Again, use bullets. First list the feature followed by the benefit after “which means,” such as “You get [feature], which means [benefit].” Write as many as you can drum up at this point.

4. Top 10 questions and/or objections.

You can say, “If I were to guess the top 10 questions or objections you will have about buying my product today, they would be these…” You then follow that by another bulleted list of the top 10 most asked questions or most pressing concerns.

5. Answers to those questions or objections.

“So here's how I would clear those up for you…” Same idea as point #4. List, in bullet form, the answers to each and every question or concern you've uncovered.

6. Explain the guarantee or how you are removing the risks.

“I want you to be completely without risk, so here's my guarantee…” Then explain how your guarantee works, how it reduces or removes the risk from the purchase in their minds, and how to take advantage of it if they need to.

7. The most important part: the call to action.

“It's really easy to get started. You just…” (whatever it is they must do, such as “click this button,” “fill in this form,” “call this phone number,” “return this coupon,” etc). Provide the exact, step-by-step instructions on how they can take action.

8. The result of their taking action.

“Once you decide to get started here's what's going to happen…” Describe what's going to happen once they go ahead. Educate them on how they will get their product, and how they will consume it. Tell them how to make the best use of their new purchase.

9. Add an element of scarcity or a sense of urgency.

“You need to do this right now because…” Tell them why they need to take action today. Is there a limit or a deadline? What will be the consequences if they don't take action? What are the ultimate costs of not going ahead today?

10. Finally, testimonials from satisfied customers.

“Here's a list of people who have already [done this] and exactly what happened for them…” Add testimonials or case studies from other customers. Of course, I don't need to remind you that they must be real and genuine. 😉

There you have it.

When you're done with this exercise in hopefully one hour or less, it's easy to start taking the barebone copy elements from it and dressing them up to take out in public.

You can add more, rearrange the elements, expand points, add proper transitions between each section, make it flow neatly, tighten it all up, and so on.

Once you've done this naked-truth, skeletal salesletter, headline ideas will naturally jump out at you. You will have some groundwork from which to come up with several headlines and possible hooks that will appeal to your perfect customer.

Remember, the headline's job is only one thing: to get your prospect to read your letter. Once you've accomplished that, the rest should be smooth sailing.

Tell me (or Dean Jackson) what you think! We would love to get your feedback.


The Seven Deadly Sins of Website Copy

Throughout my research, I'm always surprised when I stumble onto websites that are professionally designed and seem to offer great products and services, but lack or fail in certain important elements.

Elements that, with just a few short changes, can help multiply the results almost instantaneously.

Generally, I have found that there are seven common mistakes. I call them the “Seven Deadly Sins.” Is your website committing any one of these?

1) They Fail to Connect

Traffic has been long touted to be the key to online success, but that's not true. If your site is not pulling sales, inquiries or results, then why would it need more traffic?

The key is to turn curious browsers into serious buyers. Aside from the quality of the copy, the number one reason why a website doesn't convert is that the copy is targeting the wrong audience or fails to connect with them.

First, create a “perfect prospect profile.” List all the attributes, characteristics and qualities of your most profitable and accessible market.

Don't just stick with things like demographics and psychographics. Try to get to know them.

Who are they, really? What are their most pressing problems? What keeps them up at night? How do they talk about their problems? Where do they hang out?

Then, target your market by centering on a major theme, benefit or outcome so that, when you generate pre-qualified traffic, your hit ratio and your sales will increase dramatically.

Finally, ensure that your copy connects with them. Intimately. It speaks their language, talks about their problems, and tells stories they can easily appreciate and relate to.

Since this is the most common error that marketers and copywriters commit, and to help you, follow the following formulas.

The OATH formula helps you to understand the stage of awareness your market is at. (How aware of the problem are they, really?)

The QUEST formula guides you in qualifying and empathizing with them. And the UPWORDS formula teaches you how to choose the appropriate language your market can easily understand, appreciate and respond to.

2) They Lack a Compelling Offer

“Making an offer you can't refuse” seems like an old cliché, but don't discount its relevance and power. Especially in this day and age where most offers are so anemic, lifeless, and like every other offer out there.

Too many business believe that simply offering a product or service, and mentioning the price, are good enough. But what they fail to realize is that people need to intimately understand the full value (the real value and, more importantly, the perceived value) behind the offer.

Sometimes, all you need is to offer some premiums, incentives and bonuses to make the offer more palatable and hard to ignore. (Very often, people buy products and services for the premiums alone.)

Other times, you need to create what is called a “value buildup.”

(In fact, premiums are not mandatory in all cases, particularly when the offer itself is solid enough. But building value almost always is.)

Essentially, you compare the price of your offer not with the price of some other competing offer or alternative, but with the ultimate cost of not buying — and enjoying — your product or service.

This may include the price of an alternative. But “ultimate cost” goes far beyond price. Dan Kennedy calls this “apples to oranges” comparisons.

For example, let's say you sell an ebook on how to grow better tomatoes. That might sound simple, and your initial inclination might be to compare it to other “tomatoe-growing” ebooks or viable alternatives.

But also look at the the time it took for you to learn the best ways to grow tomatoes. Look at the amount of money you invested in trying all the different fertilizers, seeds and techniques to finally determine which ones are the best.

Don't forget the time, money and energy (including emotional energy) people save from not having to learn these by themselves. Add the cost of doing it wrong and buying solutions that are either more expensive or inappropriate.

That's what makes an offer valuable. One people can't refuse.

3) They Lack “Reasons Why”

While some websites are well-designed and provide great content, and they might even have great copy, they fail because they don't offer enough reasons for people to buy — or at least read the copy in the first place.

Visitors are often left clueless. In other words, why should they buy? Why should they buy that particular product? Why should they buy that product from that particular site? And more important, why should they buy now?

What makes your product so unique, different and special? What's in it for your customers that they can't get anywhere else? Not answering those questions will deter clients and impede sales.

John E. Kennedy, a Canadian fireman and copywriter at the turn of the last century, talked a lot about the power of adding “reasons why.” His wisdom still rings true to this day, and we know this from experience.

Once, my wife had a client whose website offered natural supplements.

It offered a free bottle (i.e., 30-day supply). But response was abysmal. Aside from being in a highly competitive industry, the copy failed to allay the prospect's fears. They thought it might be a scam or that there's a catch.

So all she did was tell her client to add the following paragraph:

“Why are we offering this free bottle? Because we want you to try it. We're so confident that you will see visible results within 30 days that you will come back and order more.”

Response more than tripled.

Similarly, add “reasons why” to your copy. To help you, make sure that it covers all the bases by answering the following “5 why's:”

  • Why me? (Why should they listen to you?)
  • Why you? (Who is perfect for this offer?)
  • Why this? (Why is this product perfect for them?)
  • Why this price? (Why is this offer so valuable?)
  • Why now? (Why must they not wait?)

4) They Lack Scarcity

Speaking of “why now,” this is probably the most important reason of all.

A quote from Jim Rohn says it all, and I force myself to think about it each time I craft an offer. He said, “Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.”

People fear making bad decisions. With spams, scams and snake oils being rampant on the Internet, people tend to procrastinate, and they do so even when the copy is good, the offer is perfect and they're qualified for it.

Most websites I review fail to effectively communicate a sense of urgency. If people are given the chance to wait or think it over, they will. Look at it this way: if you don't add a sense of urgency, you're inviting them to procrastinate.

Use takeaway selling in order to stop people from procrastinating and get them to take action now. In other words, shape your offer — and not just your product or service — so that it is time-sensitive or quantity-bound.

More important, give a reasonable, logical explanation to justify your urgency or else your sales tactic will be instantly discredited. Back it up with reasons as to why the need to take advantage of the offer is pressing.

Plus, a sense of urgency doesn't need to be an actual limit or a deadline. It can be just a good, plausible and compelling explanation that emphasizes the importance of acting now — as well as the consequences of not doing so.

For example, what would they lose out on if they wait? Don't limit yourself to the offer. Think of all the negative side-effects of not going ahead right now.

5) They Lack Proof

Speaking of the fear of making bad decisions, today's consumers are increasingly leery when contemplating offers on the Internet.

While many websites look professional, have an ethical sales approach, and offer proven products or services, the lack of any kind of tangible proof will still cause most visitors to at least question your offer.

The usual suspects, of course, are testimonials and guarantees. Guarantees and testimonials help to reduce the skepticism around the purchase of your product or service, and give it almost instant credibility.

(I often refuse to critique any copy that doesn't have any testimonials. It's not just to save myself time and energy. I would be wasting my client's money if the only recommendation they got from me was to add testimonials.)

Elements of proof is not just limited to guarantees and testimonials, either.

They can include the story behind your product, your credentials, actual case studies, results of tests and trials, samples and tours, statistics and factoids, photos and multimedia, “seals of approval,” and, of course, reasons why.

Even the words you choose can make a difference. Because, in addition to a sense of urgency, your copy also needs a sense of credibility.

Today, people are understandably cynical and suspicious. If your offer is suspect and your copy, at any point, gives any hint that it can be fake, misleading, untrue, too good to be true, or too exaggerated to be true…

… Then like it or not your response rate will take a nose dive.

So, help remove the risk from the buyer's mind and you will thus increase sales — and, paradoxically, reduce returns as well. Plus, don't just stick with the truth. You also need to give your copy the ring of truth.

To help you, follow my FORCEPS formula.

6) They Lack a Clear Call to Action

Answer this million-dollar, skill-testing question: “What exactly do you want your visitors to do?” Simple, isn't it? But it doesn't seem that way with the many sites I've visited.

The KISS principle (to me, it means “keep it simple and straightforward”) is immensely important on the Internet. An effective website starts with a clear objective that will lead to a specific action or outcome.

If your site is not meant to, say, sell a product, gain a customer or obtain an inquiry for more information, then what exactly must it do? Work around the answer as specifically as possible.

Focus on the “power of one.” That is:

  • One message
  • One audience
  • One outcome

If your copy tells too many irrelevant stories (irrelevant to the audience and to the advancement of the sale), you will lose your prospects' attention and interest.

If it tries to be everything to everyone (and is therefore either too generic or too complex), you will lose your prospects completely.

And if you ask your prospects to do too many things (other than “buy now” or whatever action you want them to take), you will lose sales.

Use one major theme. Make just one offer. (Sure, you can offer options, such as ordering options or different packages to choose from. But nonetheless, it's still just one offer.)

Most important, provide clear instructions on where and how to order.

Aside from the lack of a clear call to action, asking them to do too many things can be just as counterproductive. The mind hates confusion. If you try to get your visitors to do too many things, they will do nothing.

Stated differently, if you give people too many choices, they won't make one. So keep your message focused or else you will overwhelm the reader.

7) They Lack Good Copy

It may seem like this should be the number one mistake.

While it's still one of the top seven mistakes, it's last because the ones above take precedence. If you're guilty of making any of the previous six mistakes, in the end your sales will falter no matter how good your copy is.

Nevertheless, lackluster copy that fails to invoke emotions, tell compelling stories, create vivid mental imagery, and excite your prospects about your product or service is indeed one of the most common reasons websites fail.

Top sales trainer Zig Ziglar once said, “Selling is the transference of enthusiasm you have for your product into the minds of your prospects.”

Copy is selling in print. Therefore, its job is no different. In fact, since there's no human interaction that you normally get in a face-to-face sales encounter, your copy's job, therefore, has an even greater responsibility.

It must communicate that same enthusiasm that energizes your prospects, excites them about your offering and empowers them to buy.

Aside from infusing emotion into your copy, give your prospects something they can understand, believe in and act upon. Like a trial lawyer, it must tell a persuasive story, make an airtight case and remove any reasonable doubt.

Above all, it must serve your prospect.

Many sites fail to answer a person's most important question: “What's in it for me?” They get so engrossed in describing companies, products, features or advantages over competitors that they fail to appeal to the visitor specifically.

Tell the visitor what they are getting out of responding to your offer. To help you, first write down a series of bullets. Bullets are captivating, pleasing to the eye, clustered for greater impact and deliver important benefits.

(They usually follow the words “you get,” such as “With this product, you get.”)

But don't just resort to apparent or obvious benefits. Dig deeper. Think of the end-results your readers get from enjoying your product or service.

Do what my friend and copywriter Peter Stone calls the “so that” technique. Each time you state a benefit, add “so that” (or “which means”) at the end, and then complete the sentence to expand further.

Let's say your copy sells Ginko Biloba, a natural supplement that increases memory function. (I'm not a Ginko expert, so I'm guessing, here. Also, I'm being repetious for the sake of illustration.) Here's what you might get:

Ginko supports healthy brain and memory functions… so that you can be clear, sharp and focused… so that you can stay on top of everything and not miss a beat… so that you can be a lot more productive at work… so that you can advance in your career a lot faster… so that you can make more money, enjoy more freedom, and have more job security… so that (and so on).

That could have turned another way depending on the answer you give it, which is why it's good to repeat this exercise. Here's another example:

Ginko supports healthy brain and memory functions… so that you can decrease the risks of senility, Alzheimer's disease, and other degenerative diseases of the brain… so that you won't be placed in a nursing home… so that you won't place the burden of your care on your loved ones… so that you can grow old with peace of mind… so that you can enjoy a higher quality of life, especially during those later years… so that (and so on).

Remember, these are just examples pulled off the top of my head. But if you want more help with your own copy, my FAB formula is a useful guide.

Bottom line, check your copy to see if you're committing any of these seven deadly sins. If you are, your prospects won't forgive you. By not buying, that is.


Want Better Copy? Go On A Quest!

Writing copy usually involves two major things: figuring out what to say and then how to say it. The second part is usually the easiest, because figuring out what to say is often a whole lot harder than how to say it.

It requires a lot of research, creativity, time, and, of course, “sales detective work.,” as my friend and top copywriter John Carlton calls it.

But when I know what to write, when I figured out what I'm going to say, the question I'm often asked is, “Do you start with the headline, or do you work the headline last?”

Let me share with you a formula I use.

First, when I write a new piece of copy, I tend to start with the body copy, then create the headline and add headers/subheads throughout. With existing copy, it's the other way around: I start with a better headline — after reading the copy, and it's good — and then rewrite the rest.

Sometimes (in fact, a lot of times), my client's copy is already pretty good. The culprit behind a poor response, and this is true almost nine times out of 10 in my estimation, is a poor headline. And it's often the one element I test the most, too.

Reason is, the headline is the pivotal element in copy upon which the success of your copy will hinge. If people are not interested enough in reading the copy further after reading the headline, they will leave without reading any more — regardless of how good the copy, the product, and the offer are.

So I tend to try to find a good hook for the headline.

After a little bit of detective work, usually by going through some of the answers my client gives me after filling out my intake questionnaire, this usually comes to me after tinkering with the headline a bit, sometimes after writing several of them until I come up with the one I think will pull best.

Headers are usually parts of the copy — spread throughout where they make sense, create curiosity, and force the reader to stop scanning and start reading.

With new copy, I usually start with an outline, but I really don't write the actual headers. I often start with the concept or idea I want to introduce in specific sections of the letter, but then write copy and use headers at that point, all based on the flow of ideas.

Most of my salesletters focus on five core components.

What I usually do when I write copy is follow a “5-step guide,” if you will. It's sort of my take on (or a complement to) the AIDA formula: you grab their Attention, arouse their Interest, build their Desire, and then ask for some kind of Action.

My formula is this: I call it going on a “QUEST.”

  1. Qualify
  2. Understand
  3. Educate
  4. Stimulate
  5. Transition

It's like traversing a mountain, so to speak, when you start climbing the mountain on one side, reach the summit, and start climbing back down on the other side. And just like climbing a mountain, the incline is where much of the hard work is done. Almost all my salesletters take on this quality.

Here's what “QUEST” means:

Q = Qualify

You qualify the reader and weed out the non-buyers and tire-kickers. It's good to ask questions at the beginning or set the stage by giving a scenario they can immediately relate to, such as by talking about how terrible things are with “X” problem, or how nice it would be to solve “Y” problem.

You also try to denominate who usually has this problem, who this solution is for, and/or who it is not for. You can do this outright, but I often incorporate this into a story. The aim is to create awareness, qualify the reader, and more importantly, reinforce how qualified the reader truly is, in their mind, for the offer.

This is especially true where there's a bit of an education involved — where the prospect doesn't really know or is not fully aware there is a problem in the first place. Or they know about the problem and it may be in the back of their minds, but my job is to bring it to the top.

In fact, this is why the next part is crucial and flows from the first.

Because, the next step is to…

U = Understand

After qualifying the reader, you express how much you understand her. You connect and empathize with them. You expand on the problem and agitate their pain. You “add salt on the wounds,” so to speak or, at the very least, bring the problem to the top of their minds.

You not only get the reader to identify themselves with you, but also magnify the problem in their minds. You share their pain or in their pain, and you tell them how much more painful it is either because there is no solution out there, or because other solutions are insufficient for whatever reason.

You can also use this section to tickle their curiosity about a potential solution and insert specific benefits other solutions don't have but without fully disclosing “your” solution yet. Mention a unique selling point, a nice-to-have benefit, that will be linked with your solution.

I would include a story behind the product based on that fact because it's not only a great place to build credibility and give the reader reasons why they should keep reading, but a great way for readers to identify themselves with the author and build a certain affinity with her.

When you introduce the solution later on, you can tie it to all of these. It's like telling the reader: “Wouldn't it be great, if…” And later, your solution comes along and answers that very question.

And that leads to the next step, which is to…

E = Educate

You educate the reader on the fact that a solution exists. This is where you introduce your product or service — but not the price. This will come later. At this point, you expand on the fact that a solution exists, is perfect for their situation, and is unlike and better than all the others.

This is usually it's in the middle of the copy. It's where the reader has reached “the summit of the sales mountain,” if you will, on their quest to traverse it. It's also a great place to build on and emphasize credibility introduced in the previous “U” portion of the formula.

This includes credentializing the author and why should one listen to her. It's also a great location to talk about the features of your product or service, dispel any myths, and respond to any objections regarding the product or service.

It's also the location where I add proof elements, case studies, testimonials, etc. In fact, I tend not to add any testimonials until this point or further because they tend to be off-putting. (If they are vigorously aware of their problem and they're hurting already, testimonials a little early won't hurt.)

Once they're educated, the next step is to…

S = Stimulate

You stimulate the reader on the offer. I guess you can also say that “S” stands for “sell,” too, as this is the location where the bulk of the selling really takes place. This where the offer is made and the value buildup really starts.

You list and expand on the benefits. (In “E,” I start to talk about features and describe the product. But here, I talk benefits and link them to the features described in “E.” Also, it's a great location to add value to the offer, such as offering premiums, guarantees, value boosters, a sense of urgency, etc.

It's a great place to add comparisons, too, such as with competitive alternatives, as well as with the risks and costs of not buying — including missing out on the potential benefits, pecuniary losses, ultimate costs of not using the product, etc.

Use this section to link the offer to the rest of the formula. That is, you restate some of the problems mentioned in “Q,” how the solution answers the greater problems talked about in “U,” and how it links to all to the features and benefits described in “E.”

After that, you then…

T = Transition

You transition the reader from prospect to buyer. It's the “call to action” section or the close, in other words. This includes the order area or order form, and it's where you talk about the offer, the price, and the options if any. Above all, it's where you make the reader feel as if they already own the product.

It's a great place to summarize the offer, talk about the guarantee, and perhaps introduce new points not discussed to this point to spur action, such as adding an as-of-yet undisclosed benefit or bonus — also called “pot sweeteners.”

Now, I don't follow this formula precisely as I just explained.

QUEST is a guide, not a goal or a rule.

I usually start with QUEST as an outline first and use it to create a skeleton salesletter. I then refer back to it to guide me as I write. Once the outline is made, I expand on each point and “go with the flow” of what I think is best for the offer throughout the salesletter.

I also write header or subhead ideas in that outline, too. But when I expand the copy, if needed, I'll move ideas around for better flow or rewrite the headers as I see how they fit in the QUEST formula, all keeping the following in mind:

  1. The header introduces a new piece of information. It's specific and descriptive. It has an element of intrigue or curiosity. Best of all, it has an inherent benefit — whether it's of the offer or one in reading what follows. (Usually, it's the latter.)
  2. It helps to introduce the following section. It should make sense and read as if the person never read the preceding copy. It somewhat explains it as to not confuse and push people away. (But it doesn't explain it entirely, as the next point reveals.)
  3. Above all, it also piques their curiosity in order to force them to stop scanning and go back to the beginning of the copy — as people usually scan and read the headers when they hit a salesletter for the first time.

The third one is the one I use the most.

My favorite is when the header introduces a portion of an idea, sometimes followed by an ellipse. Or when it hints at a bigger payoff in the copy, like some kind of newsworthy topic — think of a newspaper's front-page headlines that force the reader to buy the paper.

Incidentally, some people may call this “clickbait.” Clickbait doesn't deserve the bad rap it has been given. The reason for the stigma is when it's used as a “bait and switch,” where the header promises but the rest fails the deliver. You don't need to lie or exaggerate. Just be intriguing.)

To continue my mountain-climbing analogy, headers are like “knots” or “hooks” in the rope, so to speak. They force people to stop and pull readers back into the copy (or keeps them reading and clinging throughout the copy).

Finally, don't follow the QUEST formula “to the letter.” Use it as a guide.

Just like there are different mountains of different shapes and sizes, there are different markets with different levels of awareness. Each climb should also be different. And the view is different at every vantage point along the way.