Categories
Copywriting

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.

Categories
SEO

5-Step SEO Content Strategy For Plastic Surgeons

If you're a plastic surgeon or cosmetic medical professional, and you want to build organic traffic to your website, you need content. But you also want content that attracts interested, qualified patient leads. Just adding content alone is not going to do this for you.

To attract quality traffic, you need to create quality content.

And for that, you need an SEO content strategy.

Defining a content strategy for your website is a foundational component of search engine optimization (SEO) — and once the foundation is built and it's solid, the rest can follow and work far more effectively.

So let's look at how to build a content strategy.

1. Understand Your Market

Sounds obvious, but this is more than simply learning who you're trying to target. You need to know what their problems are, how they're talking about them, and what they're looking for in order to solve those problems.

In copywriting, there's a technique that goes:

“Always enter the conversation already taking place in the customer’s mind.”

Robert Collier in The Robert Collier Letter Book

By doing so, your copy will connect with your audience, it will resonate more effectively with them, and it will have greater chances of being successful.

In SEO, it's no different. You need to create a content strategy that aligns with your patient's query and continues the conversation that's already going on in their mind. In other words, it matches the search intent as well as the user intent.

By doing keyword research, the goal is not to find keywords to stuff your content with. It's to understand your patient's thinking that went on when conducting their search so you can create valuable content that's relevant to them.

2. Define Your Content Architecture

During the first phase, a large part of the process will be to uncover topics (not search terms) your market is interested in and wants to know more about. While doing so, you will notice recurring themes, also called parent topics or umbrella topics, that various subtopics fall neatly under.

These are topical clusters.

The old SEO methodology was breaking a website into well-defined, isolated categories, often referred to as a “silo content architecture.” It still works today. But now that Google is becoming better at understanding context and not just content, a more effective technique is the hub-and-spoke architecture.

It's where pieces of content are interconnected through similar themes, ideas, or goals. Think of it as giving them labels instead of filing them under folders, like some email services for example.

The hub-and-spoke model centers around a single piece of high-value content, or “pillar content,” that covers a topic comprehensively and from which expanded content, subtopics, supporting content pieces, etc are developed.

The Five “Ps” of Plastic Surgery SEO

In my 30 years of being a marketing consultant with a large focus on cosmetic professionals and plastic surgeons, I've found that there are usually five major areas of content: Parts, Problems, Procedures, People, and Products.

The first three are the most common while the other two are optional and depend on the situation. They are:

  1. Parts: the body parts you treat (e.g., skin, face, breasts, hair, chin, forehead, stomach, legs, buttocks, nose, etc).
  2. Problems: the conditions you treat (e.g., psoriasis, drooping skin, sagging breasts, hair loss, rosacea, wrinkles, vitiligo, etc).
  3. Procedures: the treatments you offer (e.g., hair transplants, tummy tucks, breast augmentation, injections, liposuction, laser resurfacing, etc).
  4. People: the doctors and team members, including nurses, aesthetic professionals, and support staff (usually for larger clinics).
  5. Products: the products you sell (e.g., makeup and lotions, postsurgical compression garments, supplements, etc).

An effective website will appeal to all of these, but the first three (or at least the first two) will become the centerpieces around which the rest of the content strategy will be built. And they will connect with one another strategically for context.

For example, you might have a page on wrinkles and the various treatments for this condition. Each treatment mentioned is linked to its respective procedure page. Similarly, each procedure page might have a list of the various conditions this procedure treats.

This interconnection is part of the hub-and-spoke model.

One of my dermatologist clients had a website with content discussing the various procedures she offered. When I restructured and refined her content, and added a new navigation menu for all the conditions she treated, too, her organic traffic and leads nearly tripled.

3. Develop Your Pillar Content

Once you've defined your content architecture, next is to develop your pillar pieces or hubs, if you will.

It's too easy to write unfocused, self-serving content when you don't have a strategy. But having one will keep you from straying. This is where your research will come in handy, too. Knowing your market and how they search will give you a clear idea of who the content is for and why they should care.

I've met plenty of doctors who wrote their own content and their websites were unorganized, unclear, or untargeted. Either they were writing all over the place or their content sounded like boring academic papers written for their peers — or to make themselves look clever.

Your clients are your patients, not your peers.

So create content around the conversation that's going on in your patient's mind. A patient who just started conducting some research may be interested in understanding their condition (i.e., “problems”). Those who are more aware may be looking into options for treating their condition (i.e., “procedures”).

That's the key to conducting research. You want to understand what they're looking for and why. So focus on providing valuable content that's relevant and continues their internal conversation — and the journey they're on.

Choose high-volume, relevant keywords from your original research as your pillar topics. You can use complimentary keywords for developing additional content, either on the same page or later on.

In fact, you don't want to force-feed keywords into your content. Include them if they naturally fit, but the goal is the make the content valuable to the reader. If you do and you stay on topic, you will likely include, without knowing, related or similar keywords, anyway.

Variations, synonyms, and closely related keywords (often called “latent semantic indexing” or LSI keywords) will provide search engines with a good understanding of the content and its context — without having to stuff keywords that will corrupt your content and ultimately diminish its value.

Keyword stuffing will work against you. Guaranteed.

4. Add Supporting Content

Supporting content pieces are the spokes — subtopics that add value and depth to the main topic. Once you've defined your pillar content, you might have a list of related topics that expand on or support parts of the main one.

For example, say you offer tummy tucks and one hub piece is the procedure itself. Another hub piece might be the condition (i.e., sagging belly skin) or the body part (i.e., stomach, lower abdomen).

But spoke content might be blog posts discussing how to get rid of loose skin following a pregnancy or significant weightloss; what are some of the most common concerns about the procedure; how to select a tummy tuck doctor; what kinds of questions to ask when considering a tummy tuck; etc.

Your subtopics will delve into a question, concern, or issue that your patient is looking into, and hopefully, it will provide value and something authoritative that will lead them to investigate further and take the next step.

But invariably, it will contain related topical keywords, perhaps long-tail keywords that are less popular but far more relevant to your target audience.

When I specifically create an SEO content strategy for my clients, I create a list of pillar content topics and what they should be about or contain, along with a list of initial spoke content (such as three to eight articles). I also prepare an editorial calendar for content pieces to be delivered over time.

5. Link Everything Together

Of course, it's important to link all the content together. Aside from the navigation menu, doing so within the content will provide three major benefits:

  1. To create content relationships and add context;
  2. To increase dwell times and lower bounce rates;
  3. To boost signals through anchor texts within links.

The hub-and-spoke SEO content strategy helps to organize the relationship between pieces of content. Think of Wikipedia with its plethora of links to interconnected content pieces linked in specific, strategic parts of the article.

Similarly, interlinking articles together adds weight to your content by teaching the reader either the entirety of a particular topic or the depth of one or more of its parts. So add links between content pieces where it makes sense.

Also, when you subsequently promote your content (e.g., sharing it, posting it on social media, advertising it) or amplify it (e.g., repurposing it, extracting pieces from it, publishing in other formats), these internal links will also do double-duty, creating additional SEO signals.

So there you have it.

This is only a high-level look.

Ultimately, creating an SEO content strategy is not about developing content that will be picked up by Google. It's about providing value to your users at whatever point in their journey they happen to be, and subsequently helping them continue that journey on your site.

Categories
Copywriting

How I Broke Into Copywriting

My last post, where a disgruntled copywriter demanded “the truth” about creating wealth in copywriting, inspired copywriter Andrew Cavanagh to share the story of his beginnings on my forum:

“Here's how I made my first ‘money' in copywriting.”

Then one by one, other copywriters started adding their own. The responses were nothing short of amazing! Many of the stories show that there's indeed hope. They also show that we were all struggling copywriters once, too.

And we didn't all become overnight millionaires with million-dollar clients, as “Chuck,” the disillusioned copywriter, postulated.

I loved it so much that I posted my own story. I've decided to share it with you here. (By the way, the picture below is of me, circa 1991. A lot thinner, with glasses, and a lot more hair!)

Michel Fortin (1991)
Michel Fortin (1991)

Anyway, here is my story.

When I first started out, I was a salesperson. And the worst part was, I loathed cold-calling. Especially since I had this excruciating fear of rejection. I still have it. (If you know me, then you know about the story of my alcoholic father and how my fear was the result.)

Update: I first wrote this article in 2007. Since then, I discovered that I have ADHD and suffer from RSD, or Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, which explains why I fear rejection so much.

I accidentally stumbled onto copywriting not by chance or by education, but by desperation. You see, I dove into sales in order to fight my fears head-on. I was working on strict commissions at the time as a licensed insurance salesman. I also had a young family to support.

So I thought that the pressure would help kick me into gear. But I was doing so poorly that my family and I had to eat 25-cent ramen noodle packages for months! Eventually, I was forced to declare bankruptcy at 21 years old.

I remember that time like it was yesterday.

The humiliation and the hurt I felt was indescribable. In a matter of days, the car company repossessed my car, the landlord evicted us from our home, and my wife took our daughter and left me. (We eventually divorced.)

I was desperate to make money. So I had to find a way to get people to listen to my presentation. One day, the insurance company (Prudential Canada) requested feedback from sales reps for ideas to improve sales.

I may have feared rejection immensely, but I was always teeming with ideas. I didn't realize it back then, but I was a natural at marketing.

So I sent a suggestion to the company, which was to have a rider that people could add to their life insurance policies, which would allot a portion of their coverage to a charitable organization of their choice.

Prudential loved my idea and launched a new product called (if memory serves) Charity Plus. They sent me a letter to thank me for my “contribution.” I even remember the sales manager reading it out loud to everyone at the next sales meeting. I was blushing with pride. We were both proud.

Excited, I decided to write letters to people within my territory offering them a free presentation to go over this new product with them. It was an open door, if you will. A perfect opportunity to reassess people's policies.

That's when I had a lightbulb moment and realized that this — writing salesletters — was my “way out” of doing cold-call prospecting.

I could mail to anyone asking if they would be willing to set an appointment with me. That way, I no longer had to be rejected. (It didn't work at first. I tried several times and I was about to give up a number of times, too.)

But then, things “clicked.”

I started booking appointments and selling policies. I later became one of the top salespeople for this insurance company for about eight months in a row.

Problem is, I hated my job. I hated it because I had a poor territory (salespeople were assigned territories), and this was back in the old days when insurance agents also had to visit every single client each month to collect premiums.

(My territory was so poor, some paid their premiums with empty beer bottles!)

So I moved on.

Eventually, I found a job as a consultant for a hair restoration company. Some of their services included hair transplants and surgery, with a doctor on staff.

My main job was as a patient advocate, where I consulted clients on the appropriate hair restoration method for them. I was paid a very small base salary but with commissions on any sales I made.

Part of my job, among others (and similar to what I did in the insurance biz), was to help increase appointments of consultations with prospects.

That included writing copy for direct mail pieces, display ads in newspapers (with dense copy), information packages, and even infomercial scripts. Which is why I liked the job. I didn't have to do any prospecting.

You see, the way it works is that people first read the ad or see the infomercial on TV, and then they request a free information kit to be mailed to them. If the client was interested, they would call to book a consultation with me.

During my first year, I noticed something peculiar. Before every consultation, the clinic asked prospects to fill out a form (e.g., asking about their medical history and other forms of hair replacement tried, etc).

If a prospect went ahead and bought, a client file was created. But if they didn't, I would do some phone follow-up. And if that didn't work either, their consult form was simply filed away in a storage box.

One day, I stumbled onto a bunch of these boxes in storage (I think there were 30-40 of them), which contained several years' worth of filled-out consultation forms of clients who never bought.

That's when a lightbulb lit up in my head.

It reminded me of my experience at the insurance company.

I asked my employer to buy a computer. (At the time, the only person with a computer was the accountant!) We hired a data entry clerk from a temp-help agency, and created a database of all these people who didn't take action.

Next, I wrote a direct mail piece, which made a limited-time offer.

The direct mail touted some new hair replacement procedure that looked a lot more natural than its predecessor, as well as new advancements in the field of cosmetic surgery that were introduced since their last consultation.

That's when things started to explode! I don't remember the exact number, but this little direct mail campaign resulted in over a million dollars in sales.

(Keep in mind, the price range for hair restoration solutions ranged anywhere between $2,000 to $20,000, particularly in the case of hair transplants.)

I even remember on the last week of the promotion, there was a lineup outside the waiting room of people wanting to get a consultation before the promotion ended. I was obviously ecstatic. In fact, it was also my highest grossing week in terms of commissions. (It was around $7,000 Canadian.)

Since then, we repeated this feat several times. Many of my dense-copy display ads would get a ton of new clients and patients, and I was doing quite well.

My base salary at the time was $22,000. But I made a lot more than that in commissions. I think it was around $80,000 back in the early 90s.

Now, over the period of a few years, this company grew by leaps and bounds. I would say mostly because of my help. (Admittedly, my employer at the time, who was also my mentor, was a brilliant salesperson. I learned a lot from him.)

As the company grew, opening several franchises across North America, I was tasked with the job of hiring and training salespeople in them, and consulting their owners (including doctors on staff) on how to market themselves.

And yes, that included copywriting, too.

My employer flew me to almost every major city to conduct these trainings.

Here's the problem.

While I'm on the road training other people about marketing and consulting, I wasn't selling. So my income went back down to $22,000. I was getting worried.

He had hired another consultant to take my place, so I couldn't go back to selling. But I was working really hard while the company made a ton of money. “There's got to be something better than this,” I kept saying to myself.

So I approached my employer and asked for a raise. After much back-and-forth over several weeks, one day I was called into the meeting room. The office manager then said to me, “You're doing fine work, Michel.”

“Oh, great,” I said to myself. “I can feel something good is going to happen!”

She said, “I know you've been working hard training all these franchises while not making any commissions like you used to. We want to give you a raise for your hard work and dedication.”

“Your new salary will be increased as of today by…

(I was grinning with anticipation.)

“… An extra $3,000.”

I said, “Oh, $3,000 a month! Great!”

“No, no,” she said, “your new annual salary is now $25,000.”

I was so disappointed. And angry.

Don't forget, those were Canadian dollars (less than $17,000 USD) and nowhere near the $80,000 I made previously. As you can imagine, being partly responsible for their explosive growth, I felt rejected. And hurt.

Not willing to give up, I kept asking. But with every protest I made, they gave me a different reason as to why they couldn't “afford” to raise it more.

So I quit the very next month.

It was the best decision I ever made.

I went freelance, and shortly thereafter created a company called “The Success Doctor.” (I specialized in doctors since I gained a lot of experience in that field. So the name implied “I help doctors become successful.”)

I wasn't doing too bad. But I was still eking out a meager living charging anywhere between $100 to $500 per copywriting project. (My clients at the time were primarily local doctors with small offices.)

But some of them did work really well. My first royalty arrangement was while working for a hair transplant doctor in Toronto. I was getting paid a salary plus commissions plus a percentage of the clinic's profits.

One day, while working for one doctor, a sales rep came to the clinic selling advertising space on this thing called “the world wide web.” Their services included a web page and a listing in their directory.

My curiosity was piqued.

You see, part of my job as a marketing consultant was writing copy in different media to get exposure for my clients. I was a big fan of the yellow pages. So this seemed like a natural complement.

Plus, I've been using BBS services (dialup bulletin boards) since I was 11 years old. So I knew this would be a good medium to advertise in.

Plus, since a lot of people saw our TV infomercials but failed to call for our information kit, it made perfect sense to be in as many places as possible when they finally did decide to do something about their hairloss.

So I created my client's website in 1992.

Over time, I worked with other types of cosmetic surgeons. Then other types of doctors (e.g., dentists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, physiotherapists, etc). Then other types of professionals and service providers.

But as a result of that one sales rep's presentation (which sold me on having a presence on the world wide web), I decided that I should have a website for myself, promoting my freelance work.

So I signed up on this new thing called Geocities back in 1994, and created my first website. It was nothing to sneeze at. It was just a simple, brochure-like web page with contact information. (I later registered “SuccessDoctor.com.”)

The result? Nothing. Not a single request.

Years before, however, I wrote a booklet called “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning.” I used it as a way to get clients to hire me offline — the report was much like a salesletter in disguise. And it worked quite well.

So going online, I decided to digitize my report and offer it for free, especially if people joined my email list. (As far as I can tell, I was one of the first ones to do this way back then. At least in the freelance marketing or copywriting business.)

I started with some article marketing. I would chop my booklet into standalone articles, where the byline promoted the “rest of the articles” (i.e., the booklet).

It worked well. But the day my traffic and business really exploded was when I decided to let other people pass that booklet around. As a result of that little book, my site was bombarded with quote requests.

I was doing some salesletters and web page copy for as little as $300-$2,000 each. Mind you, I also did a lot of free ones at the time only to get my name out there and start building my portfolio. I also bartered a lot.

That's when things started moving very quickly.

It was late 1998, and I made a bartering deal for a well-known marketer. I did his long web copy for just $2,000 in exchange for getting referrals from him and for publishing my articles to his list, which was part of our arrangement.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Bottom line, it does take work. And there's no such thing as “overnight riches.” Thinking that this happens when you first start out as a new copywriter is an illusion. It took me the better part of 20 years to get to where I am today.

However, with so much training and information available, it shouldn't take that long for anyone with enough gumption, bouncebackability, and the right attitude to get there.

It may have taken me 20 years. But knowing what I now know, I can safely say that, if I were to lose everything once again, even overnight, I can easily make it all back — and then some — and do it in a lot less time.

To echo something my friend the late, great Gary Halbert once said, “If you're a good copywriter, there's no reason why you should be starving.”

There you have it!

Now let me ask you, what's YOUR story?

Categories
Copywriting

How to Target Your Perfect Customer

The most important part of your copy is not your headline, not your offer, and certainly not your benefits. The most important part is your customer.

Sounds obvious, right? But I've critiqued some pretty good copy. Very well-written and compelling, too. But if the conversion rate is low (hence, the reason why I was hired to do a critique consultation), it's because these websites do not target the right audience for the offer, or the copy fails to connect with their readers.

Researching your customer in depth is vital to the success of your copy. It's not only an important component of targeting and qualifying the best prospect for your offer, but also an effective way to discover new ideas, different angles, captivating storylines, unsought benefits, and appropriate length and language of your copy that will convert more.

The question is, how do you target and connect with your readers?

First off, if your product has never been launched before, hopefully, you have done enough research to know your product is viable. But if you have, then you should have a good idea of who your market for your product is.

Knowing who your market is, and how and where to target them, are two different things. Your goal is to discover the qualities, characteristics, and behavioral patterns of your specific (or greatest) market. Then market to that audience with the right message, and do so more than any other and as often as possible.

Create a buyer persona of your perfect client. Then write your copy as if you're talking to that one single individual, as if it's a letter written one-on-one, and they're the only reader that matters in the world right now.

Here's how to develop a “buyer persona.”

Typically, there are four main categories.

The highest converting websites and most productive marketing pieces are usually those who have spent a great many hours interviewing clients, spending time learning about them (maybe even to be with them), asking a lot of questions, and spending a lot of time learning about:

  • Geographics
  • Demographics
  • Psychographics
  • Technographics

Empathy Starts With Discovery

It was Ken Blanchard, in the One-Minute Sales Manager, who said: “Before I walk a mile in your shoes, I must first take off my own.” Brian Keith Voiles, in an interview I gave him regarding the power of empathy in copy, said it best:

“The first thing I do is try to live a ‘day in the life' of my prospect. What keeps him up at night? What are his biggest concerns or his biggest joys? What's the first thing he does in the morning as he wakes up? Does he read the paper? What kind of paper? What sections? Does he hurt? Is he frustrated? About what? In all, I try to put myself in my prospect's shoes as much as possible and really try to see what he sees, thinks what he thinks, feels what he feels. The more I do, the more empathetic I am in my copy — and the more I sell.”

Demographics are the basic qualities and characteristics of your market. They include age, gender, culture, employment, industry, income level, marital status, and so on. Does your product cater uniquely to women? Is it more appealing to a specific industry? Does your product complement another type of product?

Geographics are the countries, locations, and establishments in which your target market resides or works, or those it frequents or to which it travels. Is your market made up of French Canadians? Are they urbanites or rural folk? Do they commute to work in large, busy offices or are they working from home?

On the other hand, psychographics are made up of the emotional, psychological, and behavioral qualities of your market. They include the emotions, buying patterns, purchase histories, and even thought processes behind people's decision to buy your product.

What is their religious or political persuasion? What interests and hobbies are they're engaged in? What previous purchases have they made, and other related products they have consumed?

Finally, there are technographics, which are people's level of sophistication with technology and their specific use of it. Are they early adopters or laggards? Do they use mobile devices to make purchases or are they primarily desktop users? Are they technically savvy or do they need hand-holding?

Bottom line, who buys from you specifically?

Try to be as specific as possible. Creating a buyer persona may seem like you're ignoring other markets, and if your market is indeed made up of wildly disparate personas, you might want to create more than one. But for now, focus on who buys from you the most or the most often.

In fact, the more specific your defined audience is, the more focused your targeting will be, the greater the connection with your market will be, and the higher your conversions will be. (Sounds contradictory, but I'll come back this and explain later.)

Intelligence Gathering

The two most important elements are, of course, demographics and psychographics. You should have a good understanding of who your client is, such as their age, occupation, marital and family status, etc. Hopefully, you also have information about their interests, hobbies, culture, aspirations, etc. If you don't, then you know what you need to do.

Another way to look at it, demographics show who may need your product, while psychographics reveal who may want your product. These are different! To determine who wants your product is to also understand why they want it. Some of the best market research has to do with how your market interacted with you and why.

Ask your current clients. Call them. Probe further. Many will appreciate that you're taking an interest in them. Say it's about gathering feedback in order to improve your level of service, which in reality, it is. For example, here's a list of questions you should ask:

  • Who are you, exactly?
  • What's a day in the life of “you” like?
  • What's your biggest challenge?
  • What's your biggest success story?
  • Why did you buy my product?
  • Why did you choose me over a competitor?
  • Why did you buy at that specific point in time?
  • Did you buy right away (on impulse) or take your time?
  • If you shopped around, what exactly were you looking for?
  • What other products / services / solutions did you consider?
  • What do you like the most and the least about my product?
  • Would you refer me to others, and if so, why? Why not?
  • What specific benefits do you enjoy the most in my product?
  • If you considered an alternative before buying, what were their benefits?
  • And so on.

These are immensely important questions that can help you, guide you, or even cause you to change your approach altogether.

Don't discount the power of doing marketing research, especially within your own backyard so to speak. You want to know not only who buys from you but, more important, why they do. In other words, think psychographics and not just demographics.

To illustrate the difference between demographics and psychographics, here's an example pulled from my own experience as a copywriter in the cosmetic surgery field.

Hair transplant doctors cater mainly to men who have experienced hair loss and are able to afford such an operation — i.e., men and bald men specifically are potential patients because they may need of more hair.

Psychographics, on the other hand, go a little further. In this example, they are comprised of men who not only need but also want more hair — since not all of them do. (It's a matter of priorities, just as the type of clothing one chooses to wear.)

They may seem to need more hair, but they might not want more. So just targeting “bald men” is not enough.

To target your best market as precisely as possible and generate better leads, doctors must take the psychographic element into account, such as their patients' lifestyle, their interests, the type of industry in which they work (since certain industries are image-related), as well as their previous buying habits (such as men who have already invested in other forms of hair replacement solutions).

The more information the better.

For example, you have a headline that said, “Are you losing your hair?” That appeals to your demographics. People who have hairloss will probably read the ad. After all, they “seem” to need more hair.

The problem is, they may not care about it. But if your headline said, “Suffering from hairloss?” now your ad is targeting someone who not only has hairloss but also cares about it enough to want to do something about it.

Aim For The Bull's-Eye

Nevertheless, arm yourself with as much of this type of information beforehand and your chances of achieving greater success with your product will be virtually guaranteed. You will know how to craft marketing communications that will appeal as specifically and directly as possible to that market.

Next, knowing this information will also help you target that market. Developing a buyer persona should give you a pretty good indication of where they hang out, where they will see your ad, or where they will learn about your product or service.

The following represents The Audience Targeting Model (a format to follow when targeting an audience, or while engaged in any targeting activity). It's in the form of three concentric circles — like a bull's-eye.

Audience Targeting Model for marketing
Audience Targeting Model for marketing.

Applying the targeting model is simple. Each circle represents a different level in the targeting process — the center being the first, your main priority, and so on. As the marketing adage goes, “fish where the fish swim.” Find places, events, or publications that meet any of the three, from the center out.

The center of the bullseye should be your main aim. These are things, events, or locations that are centered on your buyer persona. The second level consists of places, events, or things that are related to them. The third level, while not related, consists of those that are oriented towards your perfect customer.

Here's a quick description of each circle:

The Center (Bull's-Eye), or Audience Centered: It's what pertains directly to your target market. In other words, it's anything that meets your buyer persona (and does so immediately and as specifically as possible). Things like demographics, psychographics, and geographics are included, here.

The Second Tier (Middle Layer) or Audience Related: It's what pertains indirectly to your target market. Stated differently, it's anything that relates to or logically fits in your buyer's profile. This includes things such as direct competitors, complementary products, related industries, etc.

The Third Tier (Outside Layer) or Audience Oriented: It's what does not pertain at all to your target market but somehow matches or is oriented towards any of its areas. Examples are unrelated industries with which your customer is associated, other businesses patronized by your customer, other unrelated products they consume (products that do not complement, replace, or supersede yours, but are consumed by them), common threads among your audience (even if they have nothing to do with your product), etc.

Here's An Example

Let's say you're in the computer sales business. Your perfect customer is a person aged between 20 and 35, earning around $40,000, living in the eastern part of the United States, and working in the high-tech field.

The center or bull's-eye would include computer-related magazines, shows, websites, tradeshows, email newsletters, forums, social networks (specifically computer-related groups and “cliques” on those social media), etc. Wherever your perfect customer is targeted, based on the qualities and characteristics of your product or customer, should be your first goal. Your main aim. The bull's-eye.

The second tier are areas that are indirectly related to your buyer persona. Your goal would then be to target places, events, or things that are similar or somehow logically fit into your target market as well — in short, other related publications, businesses, or areas that target your perfect customer, too.

Areas include software magazines, trade publications, technology websites, industry associations, non-competing businesses, etc. An example would be other websites selling computer peripherals or software your client would need or enjoy, such as an accounting software package.

The third and final tier consists of totally unrelated areas your buyer frequents, without having anything to do with your industry. You want to be in front of as many of their eyeballs as possible, even if where you appear has anything to do with your product, industry, or niche.

Let's say, through some research, you found out that a large percentage of your target market are coffee drinkers. Then areas you would seek are coffee-related sites, specialty coffee magazines, coffee product stores (e.g., coffee maker companies, mugs, espresso machines, etc), restaurants, books on coffee, and so on.

It means that, as long as the audiences of such websites and publications logically fit into your target market somehow, even if, in this case, they have nothing to do with computers at all, then you've got it made. In essence, you're still aiming within your “dart board,” in other words.

Don't Play Darts in The Dark

The bottom line is, in order to convert at a much higher rate, you need to have the right message in front of the right people as often as possible. You not only need to know who your perfect customer is, but you also need to understand her, connect with her, and empathize with her.

So before targeting your buyer, create a marketing message or campaign that appeals to their persona as specifically as possible. Think of that one person as you create your message. How will they react when they see it? Does it match with what they're thinking? What will they say?

As Robert Collier said in his book, The Robert Collier Letter Book, you need to continue the conversation already going on in their minds.

When targeting your market, even if you aim for the bullseye but you still land somewhere on the dartboard (like marketing computer stuff to coffee lovers, using the example I used earlier), you're still hitting your market.

If your message is right but your targeting falls outside of that bullseye's center, people who fit your buyer persona will know it's meant for them, and they will be interested in what you say, feel connected with your message, and buy from you — as opposed to generic, bland marketing with which your audience feels no connection, no matter where on the bullseye they fall into.

In short, the less targeted and the more generic your message is, the less connected your copy you will be with your market. You might as well shoot darts in the dark and hope you're lucky to land on the board. Maybe.

Categories
Copywriting

Forget Benefits, And You Will Sell More

What's the single, most important element in copywriting?

Let me say it another way.

You've done your research. You found a starving market. Your product fills a need. And your sales copy shines with benefits. If everything is so perfect, then why is your product still not selling? Is it the price? The offer? The competition?

Maybe. But not necessarily.

The fact is, these things are not always to blame for being unable to sell an in-demand product, even with great copy. Too often, it has more to do with one thing:

Focus. (Or should I say, the lack thereof.)

In fact, the greatest word in copywriting is not “free.” It's “focus.” And what you focus on in your copy is often the single, greatest determinant of your copy's success.

In my experience, copy that brings me the greatest response is copy that focuses on:

  1. One messsage
  2. One market
  3. One outcome

Here's what I mean…

1. One Message

The copy doesn't tell multiple, irrelevant stories. It doesn't make multiple offers. It doesn't go on tangential topics or provide extra information that doesn't advance the sale.

Copy should make one offer and one offer only.

Too many messages confuse the reader. And as copywriter Randy Gage once noted, “The confused mind never buys.” It confuses them because they don't know which offer provides them with the best value for the amount of money they are ready to spend.

Prospects want to spend their money wisely. Lose focus, and it is harder to think clearheadedly as to make a wise decision in the first place. Remember this axiom:

“Give people too many choices and they won't make one.”

You don't want to do what my teenage daughter does to me. When we go shopping for a dress, after hours of flipping through hangers and racks, she finally pinpoints one she likes, goes to the changing room to try it on, looks at me and asks, “How's this one?”

“Perfect!” I say. “You sure, dad?” She asks. “Yes,” I add. “I'm positive.” So we head to the cash register when, suddenly, she stops along the way, picks up another dress off the rack, and says, “How about this one? Or maybe this one? Oooh, look at this other one!”

We came really close to walking out of that store without buying any of the dresses.

2. One Market

I don't want to spend the little space I have for this article to extoll the virtues of niche marketing. But when it comes to writing high-converting sales messages, it goes without saying: trying to be all things to all people is next to impossible.

When it is possible, then your sales message must be generic enough to appeal to everyone, causing the majority in your market to feel you're not focused on them.

(There's that word “focus,” again!)

In order to appeal to everyone, your sales message will be heavily diluted. It will lose clarity. People will feel left out because you're too vague. You will appear indifferent to their situation, and to their specific needs and goals, too.

If you cater to a large, diversified market, I highly encourage that you segment your market and target each segment separately, and write copy that caters to each one.

That is, write copy for each individual and targeted group of people within your market. If your market is made up of two or three (or more) identifiable market groups, write copy for each one — even if the product is the same for everyone.

3. One Outcome

“Click here,” “read my about page,” “here's a link to some testimonials,” “call this number,” “fill out this form,” “don't buy know, just think about it,” “here are my other websites,” “here are 41 other products to choose from,” and on and on… Ack!

When people read your sales copy, and if your copy is meant to induce sales, then you want one thing and one thing only: get the sale! In other words, there's only one thing your readers should do, and that's buy. Or at least your copy should lead them to buy.

In other words, the ultimate outcome should be to buy — every call to action, every piece of copy, every page, every graphic should revolve around this one outcome.

Remember K.I.S.S. (i.e., “keep it straightforwardly simple”).

You would be surprised at how many salesletters I critique where the author asks the reader to do too many things, to choose from too many things, or to jump through so many hoops to get the very thing they want in the first place.

Your copy should focus on one call to action only, or one ultimate outcome. Forget links to other websites or pages that are irrelevant to the sale. Forget irrelevant forms and distractions. Why invite procrastination with too many calls-to-action?

In fact, I believe that the goal is not to elicit action but to prevent procrastination.

Because when people hit your website, whether they found you on a search engine after searching for information, were referred to you by someone else, or read about you somewhere online, then they are, in large part, interested from the get-go.

So your job is not to get them to buy, really. They're already interested. They're ready to buy. Your job (i.e., your copy's job), therefore, is to get them not to go away.

Ultimately, focus on the reader. One, single reader.

This is probably the thing you need to focus on the most. The most common blunders I see being committed in copy is the lack of focus in a sales message, particularly on the individual reading the copy and the value you specifically bring to them.

In my experience as a copywriter, I find that some people put too much emphasis on the product, the provider, and even the market (as a whole), and not enough on the most important element in a sales situation: the customer.

That is, the individual reading the copy at that very moment.

Don't focus your copy on your product and the features of your product — and on how good, superior, or innovative they are. And don't even focus on the benefits.

Instead, focus on increasing perceived value with them. Why? Because perception is personal. It's intimate. It's ego-centric. Let me explain.

When you talk about your product, you're making a broad claim. Everyone makes claims, especially online. “We're number one,” “we offer the highest quality,” “it's our best version yet,” etc. (Often, my reaction is, “So what?”)

And describing benefits is just as bad.

Benefits are too broad, in my opinion. You were probably taught that a feature is what a product has and a benefit is what that feature does. Right? But even describing benefits is, in my estimation, making a broad claim, too.

The adage goes, “Don't sell quarter-inch drills, sell quarter-inch holes.”

But holes alone don't mean a thing to someone who might have different uses, reasons or needs for that hole. So you need to translate benefits into more meaningful benefits.

You see, a claim always looks self-serving. It also puts you in a precarious position, as it lessens your perceived value and makes your offer suspect — the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish by making claims in the first place.

Therefore, don't focus on the benefits of a certain feature. Rather, focus on how those features specifically benefit the individual. Directly. Personally. Intimately.

There is a difference. A big difference.

The more you explain what those claims specifically mean to the prospect, the more you will sell. It's not the features that counts and it's not even benefits. It's the perceived value. So how do you build perceived value?

The most common problem I see when people attempt to describe benefits is when what they are really describing are advantages — or glorified features, so to speak. Real benefits are far more personal and intimate.

That's why I prefer to use this continuum:

Features ► Advantages ► Benefits

Of course, a feature is what a product has. And an advantage (or what most people think is a benefit) is what that feature does. But…

… A benefit is what that feature means.

A benefit is what a person intimately gains from a specific feature. When you describe a feature, say this: “What this means to you, Mr. Prospect, is this (…),” followed by a more personal gain your reader gets from using the feature.

Let me give you a real-word example.

A client once came to me for a critique of her copy. She sold an anti-wrinkle facial cream. It's often referred to as “microdermabrasion.” Her copy had features and some advantages, but no benefits. In fact, here's what she had:

Features:

  1. It reduces wrinkles.
  2. It comes in a do-it-yourself kit.
  3. And it's pH balanced.

Advantages:

  1. It reduces wrinkles, so it makes you look younger.
  2. It comes in a kit, so it's easy to use at home.
  3. And it's pH balanced, so it's gentle on your skin.

This is what people will think a benefit is, such as “younger,” “easy to use” and “gentle.” But they are general. Vague. They're not specific and intimate enough. So I told her to add these benefits to her copy…

Benefits:

  1. It makes you look younger, which means you will be more attractive, you will get that promotion or recognition you always wanted, you will make them fall in love with you all over again, they will never guess your age, etc.
  2. It's easy to use at home, which means you don't have to be embarrassed — or waste time and money — with repeated visits to the doctor's office… It's like a facelift in a jar done in the privacy of your own home!
  3. It's gentle on your skin, which means there are no risks, pain or long healing periods often associated with harsh chemical peels, surgeries and injections.

Now, those are benefits!

Remember, copywriting is “salesmanship in print.” You have the ability to put into words what you normally say in a person-to-person situation. If you were to explain what a feature means during an encounter, why not do so in copy?

The more benefit-driven you are, the more you will sell. In other words, the greater the perceived value you present, the greater the desire for your product will be. And if they really want your product, you'll make a lot of money.

It's that simple.

In fact, like a face-to-face, one-on-one sales situation (or as we say in sales training, being “belly to belly” with your prospect), you need to denominate as specifically as possible the value your offer brings to your readers.

In other words, express the benefits of your offer in terms that relate directly not only to your market, but also and more importantly:

  1. To each individual in that market
  2. And to each individual's situation.

Don't focus on your product. Focus on your readers. Better yet, focus on how the benefits of your offer appeal to the person that's reading them. And express how your offer benefits your prospect in terms they can intimately relate to, too.

Look at it this way:

  • Use terms the prospect is used to, appreciates and fully understands. (The mind thinks in relative terms. That's why the use of analogies, stories, examples, metaphors, and testimonials is so important! Like “facelift in a jar,” for example.)
  • Address your reader directly and forget third-person language. Don't be afraid to use “you,” “your,” and “yours,” as well as “I,” “me,” “my,” and “mine.” Speak to your reader as if in a personal conversation with her.
  • Use terms that trigger their hormones, stroke their egos, tug their heartstrings, and press their hot buttons. You don't need to use puffery with superlative-laden copy. Just speak to your reader at an intimate level. An emotional level.

Because the worst thing you can do, second to making broad claims, is to express those claims broadly. Instead, appeal to their ego. Why? Because…

… We are all human beings.

Eugene Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising (one of the best books on copywriting), once noted we are not far evolved from chimpanzees. “Just far enough to be dangerous to ourselves,” copywriter Peter Stone once noted.

He's not alone. My friend and copywriter Paul Myers was once asked during an interview, “Why do people buy from long, hypey copy?” His short answer was, “Human beings are only two feet away from the cave.”

(Speaking of Eugene Schwartz, listen to his speech. It's the best keynote speech on copywriting. Ever. Click hear to listen to it. You can also get a copy of his book, too, called “Breakthrough Advertising.” I read mine several times already.)

People buy for personal wants and desires, and for selfish reasons above all. Whether you sell to consumers or businesses, people are people are people. It's been that way for millions of years.

And nothing's changed.

Your message is just a bunch of words. But words are symbols. Different words mean different things to different people. Look at this way: while a picture is worth a thousand words, a word is worth a thousand pictures.

And the words you choose can also be worth a thousand sales.

Categories
Copywriting

Your Reader Wants To Know These 5 Things

The other day, one of my readers asked me the following question, which I found rather interesting: “Why should the author of a product be included in their sales copy?”

Seems like a pretty redundant question, right? Especially to any veteran copywriter or marketer worth their salt.

But the question didn't stop there. The reader offered the following insight, which explains why this issue was such an important one to him, and why I felt compelled to answer:

“Specifically, why do my readers need to know who I am or what I bring to the table? How does telling them my qualifications increase the strength of my copy? My product solves a medical condition. But I am not a doctor and I have never had this condition myself. I've spent a year researching the best method to cure this condition. I have a list of 20,000 people with this condition and converse with them a lot. I know pretty much everything there is to know about this condition and have made it into an ebook.”

The answer is quite simple, actually. In fact, in his attempt to defend himself (i.e., that he's not a doctor but has lots of experience and specialized knowledge about his market), the reader answered his own question. Let me explain…

Why should people buy from you?

This is not some new concept. John E. Kennedy, a Canadian fireman back in 1905, was the person who coined the term “Reasons-Why Advertising” in a book of the same name. (He was also the person who coined the famous term “salesmanship-in-print.”)

I'm a big fan of reasons-why advertising.

I always try to add as many reasons as possible in my copy, such as why the offer is made, why the author is making it, and why it's important to the reader.

Good, successful copy tells the reader why right upfront because they always ask. If you don't tell them, the irony is they're left wondering why you left it out. It is almost always a direct advantage to tell your prospects why they should buy from you.

Additionally, people want to know five different types of reasons. They are:

  1. Why you (the reader)
  2. Why me (the author)
  3. Why this (the offer)
  4. Why now (the urgency)
  5. Why this price (the value)

1. Why You?

Your copy should qualify the reader for the product you're selling and the offer you're making. As part of this qualification process, it should address why the reader is targeted to, and suited for, them — including in reading the copy in the first place.

For example, why is this important to them? Why is this copy, product, or offer perfect for them? Who is it not appropriate for? In other words, who should not read the copy?

2. Why Me?

Credentialization is an important element in copy. Your credentials — as the author, seller, or provider — are immensely important to build credibility and lower buyer resistance, particularly in this day and age of scams, cynicism, and competitiveness.

Tell your readers why they should read what you have to say. Whether you're an accredited expert or not, the more reasons you give, then the more credible you are, the more believable your copy is, and the more apt people are to buy from you.

(This is the section to which the reader's question above relates, and I'll come back to this in a moment as it is important — especially as it pertains to the lack of credentials.)

3. Why This?

Are you selling this product just to make money? Perhaps. But whether making money is the main reason or not, either directly or indirectly, your product exists and your offer is made for specific reasons. So why not put them in your copy?

Don't assume your reader knows or doesn't care about them, no matter how trivial you may think they are. If you don't include them in your copy, left to their own devices your readers will be the ones making assumptions. (And they won't all be positive.)

4. Why Now?

Jim Rohn said, “Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.” Whether it's direct (such as a deadline or limitation) or implied (such as missing out on something important), adding scarcity and reasons to act now is important.

But by itself, urgency is almost always suspect. So back it up with reasons why your readers should act now. Don't be shy in explaining why they must take advantage of the offer immediately, or what the consequences are if they don't.

5. Why This Price?

Why did you price your product or make the offer the way you did? Perhaps your price is based on industry averages. Or you're doing a clearance sale to make way for new stock. Maybe your product is new and you're offering an introductory price.

But do your readers know? Do they, really?

Don't be afraid to tell your readers why they should pay what you're asking for. Why is it valuable to them? At least compare your price to the ultimate cost of either buying an alternative (perhaps even competing) product, or not buying your product at all.

The bottom-line? The most important word in persuasion, according to Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion , is not “you” or “free.”

The most important word in persuasion is “because.”

Now, let me go back to the original question…

In this case, this person has quite a distinct selling point. They are what is referred to as the “anti-authority.” Non-experts. Lay people. And the fact that they are not a doctor, which means they are more like their readers, can be positioned as a major advantage.

They did all this research from a layperson's perspective. They did all the legwork for their readers, which not only saves them time but also is perceived as less biased.

They did all the searching for them. They analyzed all the data (from an outsider's vantage point) and cherrypicked the best answers. And they condensed and distilled their findings into one, easy-to-read, easy-to-find place.

Add to that the fact they conversed with over 20,000 people afflicted with this condition and know almost everything about it, makes them a lot more credible than some general practitioner who may have come across just a few hundred cases in their practice.

So this person is loaded with credentials, particularly unique ones, that definitely shouldn't be avoided or hidden from the reader. In fact, it should be not only communicated but also highlighted as a major benefit in the copy.

So, to the question “why you?” Because in the mind of the reader, you are the expert on this subject. Use your unique credibility and experience as a major selling point.

Categories
Copywriting

Copywriting Tips From Joe Valente

Freud on the Rebound

So I'm clearing out some space on my shelves to make a little room for hiding presents (or as my wife, Heather, likes to call it, “Thinning out the collection of crap”) when my mind starts to wander.

Now, this is not an unusual thing, because I'm a sentimentalist (a.k.a. “packrat”). So, as I sort through the boxes and bags, I drift, I remember the good times, I think about stuff, and I generally get a bit of a rosy haze going.

Ah, the good times we had…

I'm shaken from my bliss by the crash. It seems the box I had been balancing precariously on my knee while reaching for some sort of mounted singing rubber fish (where the heck did that come from? And can I regift it?) has forsaken its resistance to the gravitational pull of my floor, and has instead decided to meet the challenge head-on.

It was a noble idea, but the box loses.

Startled from my daydream, I look down to discover that finally, and bit disturbingly, some of my university text books have hit the top of the delete pile. Meaning, of course, that I need to find a reason to save them from this almost Stalinist purge. And fast.

I bend down and start picking them up, flipping through them as I do…

Here, a well-worn copy of Psychology Today (well, maybe not today, exactly, but it was au courant a scant 25 years ago)…

There a less-used copy of Today's Isms (a political diatribe no less weighty — not to mention out of date — than its psychology contemporary)…

And finally an exceptionally well-preserved 3rd Edition Abnormal Psychology.

Ah, at last, a book that is completely relevant today. I mean, have you been to the malls? Man, if that's not aberrant behavior, I just don't know what is. I'd love to tell you about the nightmares I've been having lately in which the overhead speakers just keep droning “An associate to Aisle 3 please, associate to Aisle 3…”

Okay, Joe, shake it off…

Anyway, thumbing through these tomes, I come across a section on Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego. And it occurs to me that a few issues back, I gave you the Pop Psychology 101 version of Freud's theory.

Did you miss it? I'll recap…

Freud said that the human being has but one steering wheel. Unfortunately, there are 3 crazed maniacs all clutching at each other to wrestle control of it for their very own. They are (in order of appearance):

  • The Id, who simply says “I want it,” when he sees something that gets him excited.
  • The Ego, who, being more practical, says “But you can't get to it,” when the exciting thing is out of reach.
  • And then the Superego, who says “And besides, it wouldn't be nice to just take it.”

Now, I realize I used a genderalization there, and that wasn't intentional. But thinking about it, I always kind of thought the Id was the classic impulsive male, the Ego, his more level-headed girlfriend, and the Superego — well, the jury is still out on that one.

Although I can't help but picture Sister Mary Louise from my kindergarten year. Don't ask why. You know, my knuckles hurt even typing that name.

Again, don't ask why.

And anyway, none of that is all that important. What is important is this: The Id, the Ego, and the Superego, they all have very specific motivations and hot buttons. And they all pretty much hate each other.

So it should come as no surprise that they also tend to be shocked or offended at what each of the others find attractive.

An interesting love triangle, no? Now there's a made-for-TV movie!

Look, I'm not a Freudian by any stretch, and his vision of 3 separate heads fighting over the steering wheel just makes me think of the final scene in Stephen King's The Tommyknockers (if you've read it, you know exactly what I mean; If you haven't, go borrow it from the library, and never look at D-cell batteries the same way again!) But it's interesting to me all the same.

I mean, think about it.

What gets the Id going? Shiny things! Get his heart pumping, and he reaches for his wallet. Get the adrenaline flowing and he's reaching for the bonuses. Get the sweat pouring, and he's buying the deluxe, 22-part, members-only, super-duper-never-to-be-repeated Diamond Package!

In other words, dear friends and faithful readers, for the Id, the hard sale sells!

What do the others think of that? Let's ask, shall we?

  • Ego: “Well, that's all well and good, but do we really need it? And what'll it do for me? Will it even fit in my garage?”
  • Superego: “How crude and morally repugnant that you should speak to me that way. Now don't ever call here again.”

Hmmm.

Well, I did mention that they weren't each other's best friends, didn't I?

So what makes the Ego reach for the Visa (or the Master Card when the Visa's maxed out)? Just the facts, ma'am. Ego doesn't want to hear hype and hyperbole. Ego wants to know the practical truth. Show ego a fundamentally important piece to her future plans and she gets interested. An excellent potential return with minimal risk, and she'll buy you dinner. A good cost-benefit analysis, and you'll be staying for breakfast.

And the others?

  • Id: “Screw that, where are the shiny things?”
  • Superego: “Getting warmer, but will it help me sleep at night?”

As an aside, is anyone else out there wondering just where the heck these ideas come from? If you figure it out, let me know…

And finally, how do you get after the Superego?

Dust off the halo, sprout some wings and sing like an angel. Helping the environment? Okay, here's a quarter. Helping the poor and underprivileged? There's an extra dollar. Saving mankind from himself (and that ghastly Id character) and… Well, will you take a check?

The others, of course, have a different take:

  • Id: “No! NO! NO! SHINY THINGS!!!”
  • Ego: “Yeah, yeah. But will it slice, dice, and julienne in just a fraction of the time?”

Yes, it's a weird little world that I live in.

But I'm kind of heading into a point here, and that point is this:

You gotta know who you're talking to if you want your copy to sell.

Seems simple, but we all too often completely miss it, because we are distracted by this other interesting fact: If you hit your target audience square in the chin, scoring a first-round knockout, at least one group who is not your target audience will despise you for it.

Or, more precisely, they will hate the way you've done your job.

Because no one really hates writers. We're the good guys, right?

Anyway, in this article, Mike talks quite a bit about the target audience dynamic, and shows you why it's not only good, but may actually be something to shoot for, to get hate mail about your copy.

Because chances are, if someone hates it enough to write a letter, there are a thousand others who love it enough to write a check.

Hey! Looks like maybe those books are going to survive another purge after all! Now I guess I'd better go through Heather's stuff if I'm gonna find more room for presents…

The Importance of Doing It With “Val”

There's an old saying: “Depending on the circumstances, any tool that comes to hand becomes a hammer.”

Now, let's start with a basic premise: When you write copy, you build knowledge, trust, and sales, and language is your hammer. Some might take that a step further and say that the point of your writing is to “nail” your prospects, but I don't think I want to go down that road today.

Instead, I want to talk a bit about your main tool of the trade, your proverbial hammer…

… Language.

As some of you know, I come from a corporate background, largely technical documentation and B2B marketing copy. In that world, writing is a very formal affair.

In my years as a corporate denizen, I've worked with several very talented people, professional writers who understood that they had to write differently for technical white papers than for tutorials, and that the way they spoke was vastly different from the way they wrote under almost all circumstances.

That's why it always amazes me when I get phone calls like this…

I got a call the other day from someone I used to work with. Seems someone I know knows someone she knows, and as a result of that small-world phenomenon, she discovered what I was doing these days.

So, in response to either morbid curiosity or pure boredom, she came to read some of the copy I've written over the last little while.

And then my old colleague, a militant, self-styled keeper of the sacred trust of the English language, called me up out of the blue to — well, the phrase that comes to mind immediately is “rip me a new one.”

“How can you write like that? You've butchered and bastardized the language at every turn! You've dangled participles! You've used contractions! You've sliced and diced sentences! And the Harvard commas — WHERE ARE THE HARVARD COMMAS?!?!”

Now, don't get me wrong, this is a very educated lady — she has an MA in English — and she generally knows what she's talking about. But that didn't stop me, because such things seldom do. I had been challenged, a gauntlet thrown down, my credibility called into question, and my reputation sullied.

My testosterone demanded — and formulated — a swift response. And for once, much to my surprise, it actually had the right answer:

“Maybe. And that copy sold 240-odd products at $60 a piece in less than 24 hours. How much did your last writing assignment sell?”

“It's not the same thing!”

“My point.”

In fact, my point exactly.

You all know that there are dozens of ways to speak English — “dialects,” if you will — and each one serves a pretty specific purpose. This is what I like to call Venue Appropriate Language, “VAL” for short.

Val is your very best friend, not to mention one of the most important tools of our trade.

And if you don't do it with Val, you're just not doing it right.

Think about it.

When you write letters to people you don't know, you are a lot stiffer, a lot more formal than when you write to friends. When you promote yourself for marketing jobs, you're a lot more playful than when you promote yourself as a technical editor. And sales letters selling financial products are more language-conscious than letters written to sell information products.

Why? Because whether you're trying to win the hearts or minds of your audience, you need the right language to drive your message home. Because what you say is about informing and persuading, but how you say it is about painting a picture that the client's buying motivator can recognize.

We sometimes use formal language to paint a picture of button- down logic. Sometimes we use warmer, less direct language to help the heart feel joy or need. And sometimes we write in a familiar, friendly way to help the reader feel comfort or hope.

Michel Fortin's latest article deals with the concept of using effective (as opposed to correct) language, and represents another little refresher that ties into last month's back-to-basics theme. Reacquaint yourself with Val, who is your supreme ruler.

If you don't make it with Val, you just might not make it at all.

So I guess the two things I'd like you to take away from this are these:

  1. Be very conscious of who you're writing to — the heart or the mind, the family or the individual, and so on — and make sure you use the right dialect, and …
  2. Before you follow in the steps of some of my old colleagues and jump all over the way someone has written, put yourself in their prospect's shoes and ask yourself: What do I feel when I read this? And what do I see?

Remember that it's more important to have the right language in your copy than it is to have the correct English. Because, while anything that comes to hand can be a hammer, there still is nothing like the right tool for the job.

Tool belts, everyone.

The Benefits Of A Good Chair

Spring is in the air again. I can tell by the way my grass is turning yellow with dandelions, and my hayfever is acting up.

Coincidence? You decide …

As the air warms in my backyard and the birds begin to once squabble at my wife's bird feeder over the remnants of last year's seeds, I'm at once overcome with the excitement of a brand new year — because spring always feels more like the beginning of a new year than New Years day, doesn't it — and at the same time struck by an odd sense of deja-vu.

Spring is the great conundrum, ladies and gentlemen. It's the time when we try new things, while still relying on the things we know work. It's when we hedge our bets by incorporating what we do successfully with what we're willing to try.

And it's a time when our comfort in the things we know gives us the courage to try the things we don't.

And it's perfectly natural. Take my dog for instance. Amber will be 15 years old this fall, and she has relied on an old tattered Bombay chair for daytime rest for as far back as I can remember. It's in that chair that she's acquired the nickname, “Roadkill,” but that's another story.

Anyway, that old tattered Bombay is her anchor, the center to her universe, and the home base she needs to have the confidence to explore the rest of her world.

No matter where she goes or what she gets into, that old Bombay is always there for her when she returns. It's her safety net, it's what she knows, and it's what works for her.

I once removed that old chair, and the poor old girl wandered restlessly through the house for a full 48 hours without sleep before I relented, and decided that the ratty old thing — the chair, not the dog — was really not all that ugly after all.

So the Bombay returned to the family room, and the dog returned to normal. But here's the thing: with spring has come a whole new sense of discovery in the old mutt.

Just yesterday, I saw her venture for the first time onto the ledge of our bay window to catch a snooze in the sun. She's never done that before. And after an hour or so of snoring blissfully in a position best described as “awkward,” she woke up, got back into her familiar chair, and promptly returned to doing her impression of a well-oiled chainsaw.

The point here is that everyone feels a little more daring in the spring. Everyone feels more willing — if not flat-out compelled — to try new things.

But you're most comfortable responding to this newfound curiosity and courage when you have the unshakeable knowledge that you can always fall back on what has always worked.

And that knowledge is your safety net.

Your own personal Bombay chair.

This month, in honor of this odd dichotomy of spring, my suggestion to you is to get a refresher on what makes great copy — and maybe just as importantly, what doesn't.

Scroll through some of Michel's articles lingering in the archive. We're sure you've probably heard a lot of the ideas in them before.

But if you're planning any new campaigns — and you should be, shouldn't you? — then now is the ideal time to review your websites, your marketing, your sales copy, and your general strategies to make sure you've got the basics covered.

It's also a perfect time to review some of the tenets of good copy, so that you apply those tried and true ideas to your new explorations. Think of it as a spring cleaning for your own personal Bombay chair.

You may now join Amber in the sun on window sill.

Stephen King and The Long Copy Debate

Life's too hectic. Go on, tell me I'm wrong. Well, maybe that's not so for you, but for me, there's just so much going on, such as:

Writing and editing web sites, technical manuals, tutorials… Car repairs, some done in my driveway, and some done by others, but always under my watchful eye (remind me one day to tell you about my Talon and the plans I have to get back into Autocross with it)… Household maintenance (thankfully the lawnmower died, buying me an extra hour!)… Hockey season (I coach and referee)… And of course, the band in which I'm the bass player and lead singer.

So it was quite a surprise when…

… For the first time in quite a while, I found the time not only to read a book for pleasure, but to actually finish it.

The book was Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King, the fourth novel in the Dark Tower Trilogy (yeah, yeah, I know…) and perhaps the weakest of the bunch in my humble opinion.

For those of you who aren't following this particular series of books, I'll give you the short version: A gunslinger sets out to find the Dark Tower, a sort of hub that binds several parallel universes together. It seems the Tower is in major need of repair — plumbing, I suspect, although that's not entirely clear — and the parallel worlds are beginning to feel the effects.

Anyway, the gunslinger meets and adventures with several characters along the way. By the second book, his posse (which you knew he would eventually have to have) is formed, and together, they carry on, following The Beam, a hidden structure that ties the worlds together through the Dark Tower.

So with that background in mind, I bring you into my living room just last night. The lamp above my favorite reading chair is lit, and my dog Amber is curled up between my knees on the ottoman.

The ottoman, as an aside, is the only piece of furniture on which she is allowed other than her own chair, and then, only by my own graces — Heather, my wife, scowls at me when she sees her curled up in my knees like that, but I'm an old softie and Amber keeps my knees warm.

I had just finished the fourth book, and felt oddly unsettled. I couldn't quite figure out what was wrong, but I had the distinct feeling I'd somehow been robbed. But my wallet and watch were still intact, so…

And then it hit me.

It was the book. I had waited years for this installment of the Dark Tower (there were five years between Book 3 and Book 4, and I hadn't seen Book 4 until this summer) and I had read it with a voracious appetite for the trail of The Beam first started way back in Book 1. But when all was said and done, I felt like I got nothing to feed my cravings.

Here's the deal: The book is largely a retrospective. It starts out in the gunslinger's “Today,” and then reaches back — way back — into his past, before returning to his “Today.” About 100 pages of current events on either end of the book sandwiching close to 500 pages of the gunslinger in his youth playing with characters that, so far, don't figure into his travels on The Beam.

I hate it when authors do that, I really do.

But the issue wasn't so much the 500 pages — it was a very well-told story with an interesting plot — but the fact that those 500 pages contributed very little to the gunslinger's current situation. It was a great story, but had little bearing on the adventure.

Those 500 pages were, in a word, irrelevant.

What the King of Horror had done, basically, was the old bait and switch. I wanted more of the adventure that I had been following, and instead, I got another adventure sandwiched between snippets of what I considered important to that book.

And I felt a little cheated.

“So what,” you may ask, “has that got to do with writing copy?”

Well, judging by that ageless debate going on in the world of copywriting, just about everything.

There's a thread in my forum in which the battle rages over long copy versus short copy. It's a fascinating glimpse into the different approaches taken by different people to copywriting:

On one side the argument is that only bad products require long copy, so long copy is a scam (badly oversimplified, that synopsis, but it serves well-enough).

On the other side of the argument is the idea that well-written long copy sells better than well-written short copy (again, oversimplified, but you get the idea).

In Michel's article, found here, Mike explores the two sides to the debate, and weighs in with his thoughts on the matter. We think you'll find the article more than just informative: We hope it'll prompt you to really consider the value of the words you're putting on that screen before you decide: Is more really more or is less actually more?

Or something like that.

Because long copy is often appropriate, and does sell better — when done right. But short copy is also sometimes the right tool for the job.

As for me, as your intrepid editor, it's not for me to cast my runes into the ring and tell you what I think, because you're the writers, and no one knows better than you what the current project really requires.

But I will tell you this: While reading that middle 500 pages of the latest Dark Tower novel, I seriously considered not finishing the book. Several times. Because the information felt irrelevant to the story. If that were a long copy ad and I had no reason to trust the author, that would have been a sale lost.

Just something to think about.

And now, Mr. King, let us return to The Beam, shall we?