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The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning

I wrote this booklet back in 1992. It was a way to promote myself in my early career as a marketing consultant but without having to “sell” or cold call anyone — two things I absolutely despised and still do.

Since my clients, mostly doctors and other professionals, are limited in how they can market themselves, I realized that this book was also an effective way to educate them on how they can use the same tactics, too.

Long story short, this book launched a very successful marketing career.

Power Positioning is a concept that brings together the art of positioning with the science of direct response. Since putting it on my first website back in 1995, it has been downloaded, distributed, reprinted, and passed around well over a half-million times. (I stopped counting after 300,000.)

This version may have been updated since its first edition, but that was before I launched my first website. So there's a few outdated examples and ideas. But the strategies and principles are timeless, many of which I still use today.

Enjoy the book. And if you like what you read and want more, subscribe to my free daily email newsletter where I send more articles, tips, ideas, news, and examples of marketing in action. Thank you.


Introduction

“Don't duplicate. Differentiate! Being the best in your field is not about being the best. It's about being different. Be unique, and you'll be perceived as the best as a byproduct.”

— Michel Fortin

“Success in marketing is simple … Find the right message, use the right media, and deliver it to the right market.” — Creator of “Magnetic Marketing,” Dan Kennedy, who's my mentor and the inspiration behind this book.

Welcome to “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning.” The following booklet is packed full of powerful marketing secrets that will help you and your business enhance its image and increase its business almost effortlessly. I invite you to come in and enjoy the many strategies it contains.

While this booklet is copyrighted, I give you permission to reprint these pages for your own reading convenience as well as use it as a lead generating tool in your business or website — as long as the book is not modified, refers to me as the author, and includes a link to this website.

I'm absolutely positive that these techniques will profoundly impact your results. After years of experience in marketing where most of my career has been dedicated exclusively to the professional services industry, these techniques were enormously beneficial to professionals of all types, including consultants, specialists, and even skilled workers and independent contractors.

Enjoy and thank you. Any suggestions or comments, especially those I can use in future works? Let me know!

Good luck and best wishes!

Yours sincerely,
Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin

P.S.: This book contains many examples to illustrate how the ten commandments of “Power Positioning” can be applied in various situations. Many names have been changed in order to protect the innocent (perhaps innocently successful, that is), and others are purely fictional. Similarities in any way were neither implied nor intended. If there are any, it's coincidental.

Also, as in all cases, individual results may vary from those depicted. Too many factors come into play. In addition, wherever the neuter is not used in this book, the male gender was used for simplicity's sake.

P.P.S.: Oh, and one final note. I am a business person just like you and not a lawyer by any means. Therefore, the advice contained in this manual is strictly for educational purposes. It should not be considered legal advice. If you wish to apply ideas contained in this manual, you are taking full responsibility for your actions. I strongly encourage you to first check with the appropriate professional or authoritative body if applicable.

Now, read on.

Warning!

This small booklet contains ten core principles based on my “Power Positioning” concept — a set of powerfully effective strategies that have made tons of profitable business for many entrepreneurs and professionals like you.

These ideas are distilled from my intensive training seminars that have cost some people up to $2,495 to learn. They are offered to you here for a much more moderate investment that, if applied properly, will surely return your investment many times over.

You may have purchased this book in order to find enough business or work until you've reached a comfortable plateau, or you may be like the many people who want clients to come crashing down their doors.

But whether you want a little more business or a lot more, these techniques are so simple that they can be easily applied by both types of entrepreneurs. Bottom line, these techniques work — and work exceptionally well!

You're reading from someone who's learned the hard way. I am continually on the frontlines, day after day, doing what most of you are trying to do — and that's getting more business. I preach what I practice, in other words.

I have oftentimes failed miserably, but I have also reached many phenomenal successes. These strategies are but the result of years of wisdom-building, hard-knocking, trial-and-error, fall-flat-on-your-face-and-dust-yourself-off experience — believe me, they are far from being mere puffery.

While these techniques are tried and proven, they do however require some work on your part. In other words, many of these systems are generic in nature and will require some creative effort for their specific application (of course, you could hire experts like me to do the work for you).

But it is not so much that these strategies are too vague, that they are too difficult to use or that they require a great deal of investment. They simply are guides to help you build your own unique style and, as a result, open the door to endless streams of new, repeat, and referral business. And they do so because they all come back to basic, fundamental marketing principles.

Long gone are the days of knocking on — and sometimes down — doors to get business, let alone just to get people's attention. Long gone are the days of using the phone to such an extent that your ear starts to shape itself into a phone's headset. And long gone are the days of bruised knees that came as a result of constantly begging your customers to give you mere table scraps of their business. In short, prospecting is out. Positioning is in.

So let's start and get right down to the nitty-gritty.

Before we begin, I must warn you: It's been my experience to know that some of you reading this book wish to project a certain image about yourselves into the marketplace. More concerned with looking good than making money, your ego may often end up in the way of following these practical steps. Consequently, making the money you deserve. As a mentor used to say to me, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be rich?”

Also, you are probably used to traditional, MBA-style, statistical-analytical types of knock-until-you-drop marketing approaches. For you, my street-smart “guerilla marketing” techniques may outright rub you the wrong way.

I am not implying that they are illegal, aggressive, or denigrating. Far from it. They are practical and terribly effective techniques that are essential to not only survive but also thrive in today's increasingly competitive marketplace.

If you want more business, then read on! These techniques will certainly help you do just that — and do so in a powerful and positive way. Follow these 10 commandments if you will. If not, violate them at your own risk! It's your call.

Top-of-Mind Awareness

Before we begin, you must understand the concept that underlies this book. In today's society, I believe we have experienced two major shifts that have almost completely revolutionized the entire business landscape.

The first and most important one is competition.

The mere fact that business is becoming increasingly hypercompetitive is an understatement. Businesses, particularly home-based businesses and self-employed professionals, are growing at an explosive rate.

This is not a mere trend, since it was the way things used to be up until the 20th century. Whether you were a farmer, a blacksmith, or a storekeeper, everybody was an entrepreneur in those days. There were no “jobs.”

But when the industrial age took over the agrarian age, more and more people started to rely on full-time, permanent, secure, pension-oriented careers. Today, “permanent” jobs are slowly becoming mere antiques! For instance, in the 40's people held on average two jobs during their entire lifetimes. But today, studies shows that the number has risen to 14 and still growing.

The entrepreneurial boom is far from being just a boom. And the reason for this stems from the second shift that has taken place, which is information.

Along with the eruption in digital technology, multi-channel broadcasting, and cellular telecommunications, the Internet is skyrocketing in population. The ability to retrieve information in nanosecond speed has caused entire layers of middle managers from huge corporations to fall the way of the dinosaurs.

The information age notwithstanding, with more and more employers facing disgruntled employees in today's highly litigious atmosphere, it is safe to conclude that the “job” is soon becoming a thing of the past.

So, what does all this mean? It means that, for a person or business to be able to be — and especially remain — in business, marketing strategies must be such that it places them at the top of prospects' minds at all times. It is not so much to look for more business but to be the business of choice.

For every business or type of product that exists out there, there are thousands of competitors fighting for the same market. Since the information revolution in our knowledge-based economy (including the Internet) has helped to educate people on what's available, there's really no longer a need to prospect for and persuade people in order to have them “buy into” an idea.

The goal, nowadays, is to be the one from whom they choose to buy or with whom they choose to do business — among all other possibilities. Marketing must therefore be such that, if and when a prospect needs a particular product, one's firm comes to their minds in an instant.

Stated differently, positioning is not to compete but to differentiate, to be unique. By doing so, this process helps to provide sort of psychological “anchor” to be placed into the minds of prospects so that they come to choose one business or product above all other choices.

“Top-of-mind awareness” is a term originally coined by Ellis Verdi, the once president of the National Retail Advertisers Council, and the owner of an advertising agency in New York. He said that what most people wrongfully seek to accomplish in their promotional efforts is to obtain short-term cashflow and not long-term results. And they usually accomplish this by offering sales, promotions, discounts and price reductions.

As he said at a recent conference, “Discounting is really like a drug. It brings in some business, and for some it may even bring in a lot of business. But the effect usually wears off and the company will soon find itself with the need to discount further in order to create more business let alone to stay in it.”

Top-of-mind awareness, however, is such that with it there is no need to use price-based promotional methods. What it does is two, important things: It psychologically impacts people so that the mere mention and knowledge of one's company, product, or service inherently creates a need for them; and it places one at the top of a specific market's consciousness so that one is instantly chosen when people want what that person or firm has to offer.

“Power Positioning” is a term I've coined, which is the result of creating top-of-mind awareness from a blend of the art of positioning and the science of direct response so that you, your business, or your products become powerful magnets that attract a greater response from better leads.

The following commandments all reflect this powerful concept — and it's one so simple and yet remarkably more effective, more affordable, and of course more effortless than any other marketing strategy. Are you ready?

Thou Shall Not Copy

If there's one problem in all advertising and marketing, it is the sheer fact that there is too much competition out there. Everything just seems to look like everything else. If one copies another company let alone another company's promotion, it only serves as a reminder of one's competition!

You don't want to remind your prospects about your competition, do you?

So, don't copy them — or as Earl Nightingale once said, “Don't copy, create!” Be unique. Be original. Be special. Be different. In fact, be so different that, if possible (and it is), your name or the name of your firm as well as the services you deliver become generic in the minds of prospects.

Have you ever heard a doctor say: “Take two acetylsalicylic acid tablets and call me in the morning”? What about facial tissue, cotton swab or adhesive bandage? Of course not. It's Aspirin, Kleenex, Q-Tip and Band-Aid.

And that's not all. Xerox, FedEx, Velcro, Kwik Kopy and Quick Lube also stick like glue in the mind. How is this possible? While there are many reasons for this, the first one is the fact that many of these firms created not only a new product but also a whole new category to place them in.

I'll talk about “categories” in the next commandment. For now, let's stick to the idea of “uniqueness.” This concept might seem a little far-fetched for the type of product you offer, but in reality it really isn't.

As expressed earlier as well as stringently taught in my consulting practice, top-of-mind awareness is the greatest key to marketing success in all types of business. Top-of-mind awareness is a process by which an “anchor” in the subconscious of prospects has been created and through which you position your firm or product above all other choices in the mind.

For instance, when deciding to find out about the type of product or service you provide let alone when deciding to buy what you offer, your name, the name of your firm, and/or the name of your product must come to your prospects' minds instantaneously. How is this done? Well, there are several ways to accomplish this, but let me share at least two of them with you.

The first and most important is names. Does your company or service name intrinsically reflect the type of service you offer and does so instantaneously? If not, you might want to reconsider renaming your company or service.

For example, if I told you “Kwik Kopy,” you will automatically think of a company offering quick copies! You might say, “Yeah, but that's only for big chains with big budgets!” People have told me this many times over. My answer is, “But how do you think they became large chains anyway?”

Today, it astounds me to see companies with names that mean absolutely nothing, such as acronyms (like “DFG Enterprises”) or names that do not reflect the competitive advantage if not at least the nature of the business.

If you are a computer network consultant, are you “Mike Fortin Consulting” or “Practical Technologies”? What's better: “John's Drycleaners” or “Spotless Cleaners”? The name of your firm should suggest what you do, what you offer and how you are different from the competition in just a few words.

This generally requires a great deal of creative effort. In my consulting work when I am refining a firm's corporate identity, some names will pop instantly into my mind while others take more time and effort.

So, here's a helpful hint. Try writing down as many names as possible — at least 20 — and pass it around among friends, family, and acquaintances. Ask them what pulls them the most. Look for the “Aha's!” or the “Wow's!” These are the ones you want.

If not, either you will have one that sticks out, or words from a combination of a few of your names that can be used wonderfully together. Listen to what your peanut gallery has to say, but also read between the lines.

In other words, many will tell you what they think looks best, but remember that your goal is not to look better but to get busier. So clue in on their facial expressions when they read your names. Ask them a few hours later what stuck in their minds and not just the ones they liked best.

However, I must point out that there are exceptions to this rule. For example, you are probably self-employed or home-based, and do not use a fictitious name. You may also be limited financially, since repositioning a firm with a new name is sometimes expensive — particularly if you're already established in the marketplace. In these cases, a second technique can help.

It is to add a tagline to your name. A tagline is a small sentence, preferably five words or less, that complements your name and says it all in one single swoop. I'm sure you've heard of “Enjoy the Ride (Nissan),” “Fights Cavities (Crest),” “Kills Bugs Dead (Raid),” or “The Midas Touch (Midas).”

You can do this with almost any name. For instance, a self-employed computer technician added some flair to his name by using a tagline in all his marketing pieces and correspondence, which read: “John Smith, Solutions Made Simple.” An interior designer, Gloria Tessman, now markets herself as “Gloria Tessman's Glorious Interiors.” A business etiquette consultant calls himself “Brian Whelan, Where Protocol Meets Profits.”

In either case, whether you have a unique name or not, try to add a tagline to your name, and choose one that truly communicates all that you are.

Make sure to use your tagline in all your communications, promotions and stationery. Additionally, every single nook-and-cranny of your operations — even breathing! — should become some kind of marketing process in itself.

Remember to look at every aspect of your business, whether it's answering your phone, writing your invoices, mailing your brochures, even handing out your business cards. Every business activity should emphasize in some way your uniqueness through your special name or tagline. Use them!

For example, do you have an answering machine message that says: “Sorry, but I'm not here to take your call right now”? Ugh! Don't do that. Make your machine work for you. Change it to something like…

“You've reached Terry Crawford, the ‘Teacher's Teacher.' I am out of the office right now currently teaching another successful ‘How to Make Mega-Profits Teaching Corporations Part-Time,' designed for college teachers. If you wish to leave a message or would like to receive my free report, ‘Eight Ways to Make Classes Cook for Cash,' give me your name, address and telephone number after the tone in case I need to confirm your address. Thank you for calling the ‘Teacher's Teacher!' (Beep)”

In the above example, several other commandments are followed. We will deal with these aspects in greater detail further in the book, but for now just realize that everything you do must become a part of creating top-of-mind awareness.

You don't need a huge budget to make this work. Once you've got this down, use it in all your communications. You have to live, sleep, eat, and breathe your new name and tagline — especially with your “Elevator Pitch,” which I will discuss later on. For now, don't copy. Make yourself unique!

Thou Shall Appoint Thyself

A recently understood segment of marketing is the immense power behind the product category. Often, many businesses build their entire marketing strategy around a particular brand and its better qualities within a currently known product category, only to have it all go down the drain in the end.

Remember the “New Coke”? In the 80's, Pepsi conducted taste tests called “The Pepsi Challenge.” Coke, on the sidelines, also heard from their own research that a newer, better tasting brand would beat Pepsi.

Only 77 days later, according to Coke's former marketing vice-president Sergio Zyman in his book “The End of Marketing As We Know It,” not only were they forced to reintroduce the older version as “Classic Coke” but they also had to eventually wipe the New Coke out. Better is not always better.

Jack Trout and Al Ries, the fathers of positioning and my greatest marketing mentors, have literally developed the product category concept into a science. In their provocative book “Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind,” they made what I believe to be the most powerful notion ever conceived: “Marketing is not a battle of products but a battle of perceptions.” My business mentor used to also tell me: “Perceived truth is more powerful than truth itself.”

Both are remarkably true. For instance, a survey was once conducted among the passengers of an airline company. And to the question, “If your food trays were dirty, would you assume that the airline also does poor maintenance on its engines,” the answer was, as illogical as it sounds, “yes” for an overwhelming majority! Thus, marketing is truly all about perception.

The greater portion of my early consulting career was focused on doctors, cosmetic surgeons, and medical practices. I often asked doctors this question: “Look at the leaders in your specific field — are they famous because they're busy, or are they busy because they're famous?”

For example, a particular hair transplant doctor is one of the first surgeons in Canada to perform hair transplant surgery and was instrumental in its initial popularization. In addition to the fact that he maintains a portfolio of celebrity patients, this doctor is still widely recognized among the public to be the best surgeon — and that, whether he is indeed the best or not. He even uses outdated techniques in a field that has progressed considerably!

However, superiority in cosmetic surgery is a matter of artistic ability and not of seniority let alone fame. But you see, when people perceive that you are the best, the leader in your particular category or industry, it is much more powerful than actually being the best in the first place. In other words, perceived truth is definitely far more powerful than truth itself.

If you have a product that you perceive as being the best, it may not be a shared perception among your target market. However, whether your product is better than your competition or not, if it's the leader in its field or category, people will automatically assume that it's the best. It's human nature.

For example, people will often say: “They must be the best, because they're the leaders!” People have the natural tendency to gravitate towards the leader of a given category and automatically conclude that the leader is indeed the best — even if that may not be true. For example, Coke outsells Pepsi, even though in taste tests Pepsi seems to be the better tasting brand.

Now, all of this is fine and dandy but you're probably wondering at this point how you can accomplish this. Before I show you how to do that, let me give you an example from Ries and Trout, from their book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.” (It's a book that I highly, highly recommend.)

If I asked you who was the third person to fly over the Atlantic in a solo flight, and if you're not a history buff, more than likely you will be stumped. Of course, most people know that Lindbergh was the first person to fly over the Atlantic. Being the first, he comes to mind immediately.

Rather than ask you who was the third person to fly over the Atlantic, if I repositioned that same person — that is, if I asked you the same question but rephrased in another way — by asking you, “Who was the first woman to fly over the Atlantic in a solo flight?” of course, it's Amelia Earhart.

This is the power of self-appointment.

One of my favorite marketing gurus is Dan Kennedy, author of the best-sellers “No B.S. Business Success” and “No B.S. Sales Success.” He stresses that “You don't need someone else's permission to become successful.”

When it comes to marketing, he is absolutely right. Many people try to compete and may even get the first commandment down pat, but where they often fail is in creating top-of-mind awareness by drowning their image in a currently known category. They try to be better than everyone.

Everybody knows who is the first in some category or another, but rarely do people remember who's second or third. And one of the biggest errors most businesspeople commit is in attempting to market themselves as a better firm, with a better product or service, at better rates.

Let me share with you a secret that might shock you — if I haven't done it already: Nobody cares. Nobody cares if you're the best. Nobody! Even when people say they have chosen a firm over another because they have a better product, they only think they did and were initially attracted to that particular company for other reasons — probably at a subconscious level.

Look at it this way: if they do in fact make a choice based on a firm's superior qualities, they will not stay with that firm for long, for they will quickly jump at the next “best” thing that comes along. Again, human nature dictates.

People want the newest, the latest, the fastest, the freshest, the brightest, etc. They want the leading product or service in any given field. They want the best! And when I say that they want the best, I don't necessarily mean the “best” but what people perceive as being the “best.”

So, what do you do in order to produce this effect? If there's no category you can be first in, create one! As Dan Kennedy said, you don't need other people's permission to do that. Creating your own category is powerful since it is impossible for others to copy you. In other words, don't compare. Create!

Be the first to cater to a specific market, the first to offer an alternative to an existing product or service, or the first to cater to a market in a unique way — such as by offering an ordinary product but with a unique twist. You can also customize a general product or service for a specific market. Look at your background, your business model, or your clients, and ask yourself:

  • Is there a common thread or something that stands out?
  • Is there something that's really different than anyone else?
  • Can I reposition myself to look unique, original, or different?
  • If not, are there any special awards I or my products have won?
  • Are there any unique references or endorsements I can obtain from celebrities, particularly endorsements my competitors can't have?
  • Do I or my company possess any unique accreditation, certifications, or memberships in specific groups that no one else has?
  • If so, then why, as specifically as possible, did I (or can I) get them?

You might be a travel consultant selling business trips exclusively to financial institutions and brokers — your biggest clientele. Market yourself as “the first to serve the financially inclined,” “the leader in business trips for bankers,” “we take the risk out of traveling for those who deal with it every day,” “the financier's travel agent,” or “the first traveling agent for the smart investor.”

Don't be the best in some category. Be the first in one!

Before we go to the next commandment, I must share with you a small tip that is relevant to the two first commandments. Do you an elevator pitch or speech? And if so, does it create instant, top-of-mind awareness?

An elevator speech is what you say when you introduce yourself, and it usually includes a sentence or two, no more than 30 words, that states clearly and concisely who you are and what you do. But refrain from bland, hackneyed introductions. Be different with your elevator speech as well.

How do you do that? Think benefits. What makes you different? Why should your clients hire you? Why should they buy from you? Why should they listen to you? And better still, why should they remember you at all?

When you introduce yourself to people, do give your name and tell people what you do? If you do, please take this advice: You must stop it right now! I know, I know. You're probably thinking, “What? He wants me to stop telling people what I do? But how will they know who I am let alone remember me?”

Before we go further, let me explain what I mean.

In my seminars, I teach something I call the “Ketchup Principle.” Let's say you've just met a salesperson. He gives you a stellar sales presentation. He is dressed absolutely impeccably. His spiel was stunning. He conducted a first-class meeting with you. In short, everything was perfect.

But all throughout the encounter, you couldn't stop but notice that he had a little spot on his tie — a little ketchup stain, if you will. Two weeks later, if I were to ask you: “What do you remember most about your meeting with this sales professional?” More than likely, the first thing that would pop into your mind is, you guessed it, the ketchup stain!

As the old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression!” That statement is not only true but it also applies even to the simplest of things, such as names, taglines, and introductions. How often have you met people only to forget their names only moments later?

So, the bottom-line is to stick in the minds of the people you've just met. Again, your introduction is not meant to persuade this potential client right on the spot to do business with you (or refer others to do business with you). The trick is to have you in your prospects' consciousness at all times.

Therefore, when you introduce yourself to others, use your unique name, your tagline, your unique category, and the benefits your provide — and not just your name and what you do. For instance, don't say: “Hello, my name is Mike Fortin and I do consulting work” or “I am a marketing consultant.” Rather, say: “My name is Mike Fortin, The Success Doctor — I help turn businesses into powerful magnets.” (By the way, that's my elevator speech!)

Not only will it arouse interest but it will also make your name stick in their minds, which is what you really want. That person will either remember you when needing what you have to offer, refer you to others when the opportunity presents itself, or talk about you openly especially when others bring up the subject. That's the power of turning words into “mind glue.”

Here are other examples. If you're a computer consultant specializing in network solutions, don't say, “I'm Elaine Wilson, I'm a computer consultant” or “I specialize in local area networks.” Instead, say, “My name is Elaine Wilson of Network Magic, I help relieve computer network headaches.”

Don't say, “Hello, my name is Jack Vidoli; I'm a management consultant specializing in accounting.” Rather, say, “My name is Jack Vidoli of A Knack with Knumbers, I help cut a firm's expenses of time, effort, and money in half by simplifying their accounting systems.” See the difference?

Don't forget to put yourself in a whole different category. It's important to not only being the leader in a category but being the leader in the mind. So use it in all your communications, especially when giving your elevator speech. If you're not the first in some category, be the first in one you've created.

Thou Shall Make The Ordinary Extraordinary

So, if you're following the commandments, you should now have a unique name, possibly a tagline, and established yourself as the first or leader in your unique category. What about the service or product you offer? Do you offer an extraordinary product or service, or do you offer an ordinary one?

Even if the service you provide is customary, traditional, and probably offered by your competition, you should make it appear unique just as well.

Remember that perception is more powerful than truth. You don't need to emphasize that your product or service is unique, better than the competition, or even the best for that matter. Doing so by declaring that it is can sometimes be worse than not saying anything at all, and the reason for that is that it makes your self-serving claim appear suspect, boastful, or exaggerated.

For instance, if you told people that your product or service is number one in the marketplace, your clients will probably either laugh at you or in the very least question your statement. But if you put a name on your product or service (and trademark it if possible), you will indirectly cast an aura of exclusivity and superiority, and do so without utterly flaunting it.

By the way, please note that unique trademarks don't need to be registered, unless you are looking for financial compensation if someone ever copies you. In that case, you must go through a trademark process to register your name. I am not a lawyer and please do not consider this as legal advice. I strongly recommend that you see a trademark or corporate lawyer for assistance in this area, especially if you're seeking to prevent any form of piracy.

However, once you've conducted a thorough search and as a result found that your trademark is indeed original, after formally registering your trademark you will be able to use the “(R)” (or registered trademark symbol) rather than the “TM” in all your communications — and deter copycats or even sue them should they ever use your names or taglines.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that perception is powerful. When it comes to the perception of a product or service, it will generally fall into either one of three categories. (This is especially true with services since they are intangible.) The first one is the “customary,” the second is the “assumed,” and the third is the “unique.” Let's take a look at each element in more detail.

The Customary

You might be a bookkeeper offering an income tax service as part of your portfolio — one that is widely offered by most bookkeepers these days. But don't just leave it like that. Say, “Ask us about our special ‘Total Tax Tranquility' service.” If you're a dry cleaner offering a tie cleaning service (as most dry cleaners do), don't just call it a “tie cleaning service,” call it, “Bring your ties out of retirement with our ‘Re-TIE-rement Reversal'.”

Before we go any further, you're probably thinking that you're a professional businessperson representing a high-class, high-quality product or service, and that this type of strategy is too “hokey” or that it doesn't apply to you.

When I started out in business, I was a marketing consultant specializing in medical practices. Dealing with a professional clientele, I heard this type of objection all the time. However, I still say that it is possible for you to use this technique, even in these circumstances — and probably more so since doctors and professionals are prohibited from claiming superiority.

For instance, I often search the local yellow pages, in the doctor and dentist sections, to find potential clients. One day, I was immediately struck by an ad from a particular dentist who specializes in pain and anxiety management. He has an anesthetist on staff, and uses intravenous and general sedation for his patients in order to make dental work a more comfortable experience. Most dentists offer this “ordinary” service. But what did his ad say?

The headline was made up of two simple words: “Dream Dentistry.”

Even if your service is customary or similar to that of your competitor's, by putting a name on an often nameless product you cast an aura of uniqueness and superiority — without having to state it outright. As one of my mentors used to say, “Implication is more powerful than specification!”

The resulting effect is that not only will the name keep you in the back of your prospects' minds but it will also create curiosity, arouse interest, and enhance desire. By and large, if people had to choose between a general product and one that implies a better or more unique kind of product (with some kind of added value), more than likely they will go for the second option.

For instance, if you owned an imported car that needed a brake job, whom would you choose: A general mechanic? Or one who specializes in imported cars by marketing itself with: “Are your brakes screaming in a different language? See us for your Quicker-than-Customs foreign car brake inspection”?

You get the picture. (Whoops! I'm getting ahead of myself again, since this example also reflects Commandment #4, which is the power of specialization. But I guess you're getting used to me by now, right?)

The Assumed

Speaking of mechanics, are you a mechanic and, as normal practice, offer free estimates? If you are a mechanic, you most likely do. Suffice it to say, pretty much everybody expects free estimates from mechanics or garages these days. However, as simple as it may sound, if you specify that which is usually taken for granted, you help to make your name stick in the mind!

For example, you might call your free estimate, “The Hassle-Free Fee Finder” or the “No Greater than Guesstimate Estimate.” Or your tagline could even be something like, “Where Smiles and Estimates are Free!”

It might sound silly but this process is so simple… And it works. People may or may not know that garages offer free estimates and, more often than not, they only assume that they do. But with a name in which people are indirectly told that estimates are free, people are now assured that they provide them.

In other words, you're turning an assumed product or service into an assured one in the minds of people. And in this day and age where people no longer have time to search for specific information, when they'll need a free estimate your name will pop into their minds instantaneously.

This simple technique is indeed remarkably effective.

As shown in the previous example, making the ordinary extraordinary is like turning the assumed into the assured. Assurance is a great marketing strategy. In fact, there is an immense power behind guarantees, and I love marketing on this remarkable concept. Some people think that guarantees are outdated, overused, and ineffective. Others think that they are not necessary or will increase returns. I know for a fact that that's not true.

People not only love guarantees, but as I said earlier, in today's competitive marketplace you need to stand out like a sore thumb. And a good way to do this is by offering a guarantee in one form or another so that, when placed side-by-side with a competitor, you will be the one who's chosen.

Guarantees sometimes frighten people because it involves taking a great risk on the part of the entrepreneur. The possible loss of revenue is a frightening idea for many people. But if you have a good product, have had good experience with it, and believe in it wholeheartedly, guarantees can become powerful weapons in building sales. They communicate instant credibility.

As a matter of fact, guarantees also help to reduce returns. Why? They are often perceived as an expression of confidence in the product or service. With scams, schemes, and snake oils rampant, people have a tendency to forgive far more easily businesses that are credible, have greater customer service, and have shown, through guarantees, to believe in their products.

Guarantees not only increase sales but also communicate confidence, trust, and superiority — including the perception of superior customer service.

Nevertheless, if you still wish to avoid guarantees or if your type of work stops you from doing so (as in the case of doctors who are legally prohibited from doing so), there are three key areas you may want to consider.

First, does your product or service provide a result that is quantifiable and measurable? Second, can your product or service be easily replaced or exchanged? And third, do you offer additional products or services outside your core portfolio that you can provide in order to satisfy your client?

If you're not prepared to give a full money-back guarantee, you might want to consider an indirect guarantee — such as by adding or subtracting something instead, something different that appeals to your clients.

Here's an example. You're a sales training consultant offering seminars on sales productivity. You might want to offer a guarantee that promises an increase in your client's sales results by, say, 25% following your seminar. If your client's salesforce doesn't meet this goal within a specific period of time, you could offer an additional seminar (or one-on-one, phone consulting) free of charge.

You may be a marketing consultant compensated on a percentage of the client's sales (also called “contingency consulting”). It's really a guarantee in itself. But as a name for your guarantee, you may want to call it the “Make-Money-Or-I-Don't Guarantee.” You might give a bonus product or service free of charge as a way to thank your client for their business. In this case, don't just offer it as a standard part of your package. Market it in the form of a guarantee, too.

For instance, if you are a project management consultant in the computer field, you could add a bonus-training seminar to be conducted after your consulting contract is completed in order to guarantee that people maintain your work effectively after you're gone. As a result, you can call it the “After-Project Assurance Plan” or the “Perfect Project Preservation Pledge.”

In essence, the idea is to guarantee that which is a generally assumed part of your business. If the prospect perceives that doing business with you has some added value, even if that which you offer is identical to your competition or included in a total package, you will be able to destroy your competition!

Often, the problem not only lies with what prospects perceive but also with what business owners perceive. They too wrongfully assume that parts of their products or services are not important, that marketing them is unnecessary, or as one doctor-client of mine once said, that “it all comes with the territory.” I'm sure you've heard the joke about what happens when you ass-u-me, right?

You get the picture.

By the way, that client of mine removes stitches from and follows up with his patients after surgery, and doesn't bill them for these seemingly ordinary services. In fact, they are common practice among cosmetic surgeons. I asked him to put a name on it. He now calls it his “Postop Progress Program.” Remember, if you turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, you will turn ordinary marketing into extraordinary results.

The Unique

Above all, you may still be offering some very special or unique product or service that your competition doesn't offer at all. If so, that's great! However, the same rule applies. Don't just leave it to a vague title or description, since it will still be perceived as similar at first glance or without knowing about it.

Put a name on it, even if it's not entirely new. If you're a management consultant offering seminars on how to get the most out of a particular software you've customized, call it the “Software-Savvy-is-a-Cinch Seminar.”

In fact, while having a unique product or service beats the previous two categories in creating top-of-mind awareness, it doesn't have to be entirely new. It can be copied and customized in such a way that it appears unique or new. According to Brian Tracy in his program “The Psychology of Selling,” many people have made fortunes by simply improving a current product by merely 10% yet packaged it in a different way. Remember the “pet rock”?

This goes back to the issue of perception. I once watched an Oprah Winfrey Show in which Oprah did an interesting piece on marketing. She conducted an apple juice taste test in malls across the United States.

While the program was focusing particularly on how companies can easily use false or misleading advertising, the results of the test revealed some interesting facts nonetheless about the way the mind works.

She had two bottles of apple juice. One was a plain, white plastic container with a label donning a picture of an apple. Very plain. Nothing fancy. The second bottle, however, was an intricately shaped glass bottle carrying a red label with the picture of a woman preparing apple juice in her kitchen.

When people were asked which apple juice tasted better, the majority said that the juice from the glass bottle tasted better. The surprise came when she announced to her audience that the juices from both bottles were exactly the same! (She actually showed footage of her staff filling the bottles from behind the counter.)

Not bad, isn't it? But it didn't stop there. When she asked her participants why they chose the juice from the red labeled bottle, their answers were astonishing. They said, “It tastes really good,” “it's much better than the other one,” “it's sweeter tasting,” or “it has more flavor.” When asked why, one said: “The picture of the lady preparing the juice in her kitchen indicates to me that more care and attention was given into making it, so it has to be better.”

It all boils down to the fact that perceived truth is indeed more powerful than truth itself. When it comes to your unique product or service, pay close attention to how you package it — the name and description you put on it.

This is how brand names have become generic in the minds of people. If it's perceived as unique or as the best through its name, then it is. However, it is difficult for me to give you specific examples here since the uniqueness of your product or service will determine your entire approach.

The key is to market your “original” product or service in such a way so that, if it is ever copied, your product or service's name remains firmly fixed in the marketplace and that your competitor's attempt to copy you will only but remind your prospects of you. If you can, add a guarantee or a tagline to your product or service, such as “Flat-Rate Fashion Facials, They're Flat Out Fantastic!”

Ultimately, make your product or service outstanding by making it stand out.

Thou Shall Find More With Less

The most common mistake newcomers to business make is to think that by expanding their portfolio they will secure more business. Conversely, they think that by narrowing their market they will also narrow their chances of getting more business. In either case, nothing can be further from the truth.

A management consultant who I believe had a knack for human resources also offered bookkeeping services, thinking that having more to offer will keep her busier — she then wondered why she wasn't getting any work!

The truth of the matter is the fact that specializing and narrowing your focus as much as possible will increase your likelihood of getting more business.

An accountant specializing in car dealerships will get more business than a general accountant will. An advertising consultant specializing in print media strictly for home furnishing stores will get more business than a typical advertising agent will. A photographer specializing in weddings will get more business than a regular photographer will. And the list goes on and on.

Over the years, this has been referred to as “niche” marketing. Today, niche marketing is fast becoming increasingly necessary. Why? If we go back to the two major shifts I mentioned earlier, you'll remember that the explosion in both competition and information are changing the entire business landscape.

As more and more businesses get started and more and more people jump into home-based and self-employed opportunities, the less time, energy, and money people will have to spend in choosing those with whom they will do business. This is not only related to new and repeat business but also to referral business. Brand loyalty is harder to fathom than ever before.

Let's say you have two friends who are both in car sales, and you're thinking of referring clients to only one of them. One of your friends is just a typical car salesperson. The other, however, specializes in first-time car buyers (e.g., students, young drivers, newlyweds, late bloomers, etc).

For example, she offers special creative financing methods for those new to credit, additional car-specific driver training information for new drivers, and copies of rate comparison charts that suggest insurance companies with the lowest premiums for new drivers. Now, let me ask you this question…

… To whom do you think you will refer more people?

This is the awesome power of narrowing one's focus. Think of a laser, which is basically a narrow beam of highly concentrated, amplified light. You want to focus like a laser on your niche and, when you do, you will consequently burn yourself into your prospects' minds. Now that's branding!

When you get down to it, as a consumer you will choose, when you have a choice presented to you, to go to a business that specializes in a unique area in which you have a specific need. Specialization is in itself a fundamental marketing strategy, for it helps to project an aura of superiority.

When you deal with a specialist, you will automatically assume that he or she has greater expertise, has greater knowledge about the field, and offers greater service since, by catering to a unique market, it implies that he or she will have somewhat of a better understanding of your situation, needs, and concerns. In short, specialization implies superiority.

Niche marketing is the wave of the future. And the greater the competition will become, the greater the need for more specialists. Why do you think there is a trend in specialty stores these days? There are stores selling only dry foods in bulk. There are vitamin and food supplement stores. There are electronics and computer stores. There are toy stores. There are specialty crafts stores. There are even mothers-to-be and baby-only clothing stores!

The need to specialize is obvious. Here's an example. Today, you can get a toaster from a department store, a home furnishings store, an appliance store, a kitchenware store, a grocery store, and a drugstore. Even a bank!

With all these stores storming you with information, your very limited time to be able to shop around for the best product at the best price will more than likely cause you to go the one that pops into your mind the moment you have a need for a toaster. I mean, all you want is a toaster!

But, if there were a store like “Toasters-R-Us,” you'd probably go there first!

Nevertheless, your goal is to find your niche, to narrow it down as much as possible, and then to hit it with all you've got. The narrower your market, the more business will come to you. In fact, the narrower your market, the broader your chances of success in a hypercompetitive, overcommunicated society. It's the paradox of “less is more.”

If you're new to business or hesitant about narrowing your focus since you want the ability to offer different products or services, focus on a specific niche to start, or create one as a “division” of your main business or focus.

And then, as business creates enough cashflow and confidence for you, look at expanding at that point. However, be careful. If you expand outside of your established area of expertise, your marketing will fall down like a house of cards and will have to rebuild from the ground up.

We will deal with this further, but for now, focus on your niche. And as stated in Commandment #2, become the specialist by appointing yourself as one!

Thou Shall Divide and Conquer

Expansion is far different than business expansion or extension. Extension is often referred to as franchising, licensing, line extension, or branching out. In this context, I am referring to expansion by division or core expansion.

If you're a specialist in your field — which I hope you are after reading this book — and you offer only one type of service, you can expand from within by dividing your core (your product or service) into multiple, smaller components.

This helps to do 3 things. 1) It doesn't take away from your category or specialization. 2) It increases your hit ratio when targeting clients, since some of them might be interested in your entire package while others may be interested in only a portion of it. And 3) it increases the aura of expertise you project because you refrain from spreading yourself too thin.

McDonald's are reputed worldwide for their hamburgers, pure and simple. Ray Kroc was a milkshake machine salesman and his clients were mainly fast-food restaurants. One day in the mid-1950s, Ray stumbled onto the little drive-in restaurant in the American Midwest run by a couple of brothers who were cooking hamburgers in a different way: the assembly-line method.

He had an idea and the result became the joint venture with the McDonald brothers that today has literally revolutionized the entire fast-food industry.

In the beginning, McDonald's had no more than three simple items on their menu: hamburgers, fries, and shakes. Up to this day and hopefully in the future, you will never find a hot dog at a McDonald's. But now they have hamburgers in almost every food category possible.

They offer hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken burgers, fish burgers, double burgers, rib burgers, and so on. They have small fries, medium fries, large fries, and super-size fries. That's the power of core expansion.

Nevertheless, how does this apply to you? Let's say you are a programmer and you offer consulting work. For instance, you may provide consulting, research, programming, implementation, testing, hardware installation, training, customization, upgrades, licensing — and the list can go on and on.

Obviously, all of these elements may probably be part of one global package that relates to an area in which you are specialized. But by dividing your core product into individual components, you may not have expanded in a direct sense but you have, however, expanded your possibilities.

Similarly, you may offer an entire package right now but fail to recognize its many different components — parts that can be individualized and offered separately. Look at what you currently offer. Take a notepad and write down every little component that's a part-and-parcel of what you offer. Then see if each part can be marketed, sold, and serviced separately and individually.

Once done, put names on each “division,” and include them in your collateral materials. Using the previous example, you could develop your own research division, development division, implementation division, training division, etc.

The word “division” means exactly what it says. And by doing so, you may stumble onto clients who may need the entire package and others who may only need a part of it — like, for example, a training specialist.

Keep in mind that you shouldn't digress from your specialization, but stick to your core and expand from within. You may have narrowed your niche, but by expanding your core the demand for your products or services will likely increase, even with prospects outside of your target market since you are now catering to different market segments.

You can also add new products or services to your portfolio that cater to your niche. Look at dry-cleaners: beyond dry-cleaning, they also offer tie cleaning, shoe repair, tailoring, winter clothing storage, and so on and so forth.

If you do expand in such a way, don't just leave it at that. Put names on your divisions that specifically describe each one. Like I mentioned in the first commandment, give each division a special brand or suggestive name.

Plus, aside from dividing from within (i.e., your product or service), you could also do it the other way around by dividing your clientele into groups. While they may still be part of your niche, you have classified them into different categories, which will increase your hit ratio, too.

In my ongoing consulting business, I make a distinction between three types of clients who might need my services. For instance, there are those who are low-key and only seek to increase their cashflow. There are also middle-of-the-road clients who want to possibly expand in staff, size, or scope. And then there are entrepreneurial types who want the whole “ball of wax.”

What's the benefit in doing this? A conservative client in need for some marketing assistance, but fears that he or she will go overboard in doing so (or is low-key, such as a doctor or lawyer), may be attracted to the fact that my services also cater to his or her specific needs as well.

And finally, let's say that your package is inseparable. In this case, there is still a portion that can be expanded by setting up strategic alliances with other specialists (I will deal further on this in Commandment #10).

For example, you're a wedding planner offering a package for helping couples prepare for the most important day of their lives. However, when it comes to stationery such as wedding invitations and reply cards, you use a local printer with whom you've set up some kind of strategic alliance.

This local printer gives a special price break offered exclusively to your specific clients as a way to create more business. And, more than likely, the printer is glad to help since he or she knows that by doing so you will constantly send that specific printer more clients. It's win-win.

You can call it your “Incredible Invitation Incentive,” which includes the planning and printing of wedding invitations. (Also, the design, mailing, and response management of those invitations could also involve the co-services of a graphic designer, mailing house, as well as the print shop.) You see, you are not competing with the printer but both of you are seeking and serving the same market.

That's it for now. Ultimately, remember that by dividing your core you will paradoxically multiply your chances of getting more business. Each one of your “divisions” can cater to its own individual niche. If you own and operate multiple niches, when added up they can become very profitable for you.

Thou Shall Take it Step by Step

A mistake businesspeople often make is when they try to sell their company directly in every communication they produce. (I'm referring to the idea that they try to sell their company as being merely open for business, also called “institutional advertising,” and not direct marketing, which is different.)

Institutional advertising will draw up immediate clients. When advertising, they spend hoards of cash on repeated, slick, and entertaining ads. When marketing to people for the first time, they blab on until the cows come home. When sending out information, they send beautifully designed packages that make shipping crates look like a joke!

They think that by selling themselves right in the ad, with clever punches and ideas, they will get not only an immediate response but also immediate business. This oftentimes backfires and can even take away clients.

Many clients I've dealt with usually get as a result of this type of approach a lot of calls but no business — or at least no long-term business. They end up dealing with a lot of people who are merely curious but never serious. In the end, because of hypercompetition, trying to look for pre-qualified prospects using this approach can sometimes be worse than a needle in the haystack.

A new concept (although it's been around for years but has recently become popular) is direct-response marketing. It is a process in which businesses seek an immediate response as a result of their marketing efforts. While it is often used to sell in the immediate sense, many use this technique to offer a free report, item, or service. Little do people know, however, that the direct response strategy is usually not the true goal of the advertiser.

For instance, have you ever seen an infomercial by Charles Givens? His ad explains who he is and what he does, which is to help people make or save money, and then advertises a “free” seminar in cities in which the commercial is being televised. Do you think he's really doing this for free and traveling across the country only to educate people? In a sense, yes.

But when people arrive at his seminar, they get tiny tidbits of information that will help them make or save money. They get what they were promised. But it's a certain kind of information that, if participants want to have it continually updated, or if they want more, forces them to join the Givens organization.

Membership fees range in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars, and additional products (mostly books and reports) are sold in the back of the room at his seminars. That's the power of pre-qualified lead generation.

People who came out to see him are not general, curious, and uninterested prospects. They have indirectly screened themselves. Once they show up, they are pre-qualified and highly targeted. And after they've been enticed with free information, they are also pre-sold and ready to do business.

As a consultant to cosmetic surgeons, this process is obviously essential if not vital. No one can call a person on the phone and outright ask if that person wants more hair — at least without knowing if that person is bald in the first place! However, doctors will televise an infomercial or place a print ad whereby the people who respond will naturally fit into a specific demographic.

And it doesn't stop there. A process called “multistep marketing” takes place.

The prospect who comes forward usually wants information mailed to him. The doctor sends a professional brochure explaining the procedure, the possible risks, and the potential results. But without any pricing. (For one, it is impossible to determine the cost until the doctor personally sees the patient firsthand in order to measure his degree of baldness.)

The package, therefore, along with its lack of pricing, causes the prospect to come forward once more to arrange a consultation with the doctor. In the majority of cases, those that at least show up for the initial consultation are identifying themselves as interested candidates, looking for more hair.

You see, people who may need your services may fit your demographics. They fit a profile of people within your target market. But people who actually come forward fit your psychographics, which are the characteristics of those who not only need your services but also want what you have to offer.

As in the previous example, the demographics for a hair transplant surgeon encompass people who obviously have lost hair. But psychographics, on the other hand, are comprised of people who not only have hair loss but also want to do something about it (since not all of them do).

In your case, if you offer a specific product or service that caters to a specific market, find out ways to make your market come forward with minimal effort on your part. This is called “lead generation marketing.” In my experience, one of the best ways to do this is to offer a free report of some kind.

The report doesn't have to be product-specific, occupation-specific, service-specific, or industry-specific. It doesn't even have to directly relate to what you're selling. As long as it targets and appeals to an audience that fits within your demographics somehow, you're ahead of the game.

A used car salesperson friend of mine placed a small classified ad in the local newspaper and it read something like this: “Is your car a lemon? Do you know that there are ways to turn your lemon into cash? Before you get rid of your clunker, call for my free report '10 Ways to Turn Your Lemon into Lemonade'!” He even used the pseudonym “The Lemon-Aid Institute.”

And guess what? People who answered his ad were not only in the market for a new car (which was what he wanted), but they were also frustrated with their previous dealership for selling them their lemon. They were enticed to seek more information from that specific salesperson and his specific inventory.

In the end, they were far more qualified (or pre-qualified, in this case) and also positively impacted by the valuable service the salesperson provided. Car buyers, therefore, placed more confidence and trust in that salesperson, and eventually also felt more comfortable in sending him referrals!

Let's say you're a financial planning consultant. Your services may include investments, mutual funds, and savings plans. Rather than place an ad that directly markets these services, you could place a classified ad promoting a free course, seminar, or report on helping people save money.

Let's say you're an image consultant helping people to enhance their appearance. You could offer a free kit including a makeover, makeup sample, consultation, or a special report on the best colors that will match one's unique complexion.

The idea is to have people come to you rather than you to them. Being in the information age, I personally prefer the “free report” style of lead generation. The incentive doesn't have to relate directly to what you do, as long as it logically appeals to the same target market.

If you recall from an earlier example, you can turn your answering machine into a 24-hour salesperson. Your free report offer should therefore be included in the message — they must be somehow invited to ask for the free report.

When it comes to advertising though, you shouldn't go into large circulation newspapers or general publications. There are a variety of reasons. I will deal with this issue a little further in the next commandment, but for now just remember that your main goal is to generate leads, not immediate clients.

The portion of the general public that fits into your demographics is merely made up of “suspects” (you suspect that they might need what you have to offer). When some of them come forward to get your free report, sample, or service, you've isolated the “prospects” from your suspects. Then, if they want more once again, they've now become “expects” (you expect them to do business with you). This can be done in virtually all industries.

I used to work as a salesperson for a music store specializing in pianos and keyboards. Older pianos usually require considerable repair since the wood inside holding the strings with which the piano creates its sound may be too old, cracking, and broken beyond repair. They constantly fall out of tune. A salesperson at the store had a small classified ad that said:

“Beware parents in the market for a piano!” [That was the headline.] “Many parents usually buy used pianos for their kids because they don't know if they'll love music and therefore want to minimize the risk of losing their money. However, to the unsuspecting buyer, many used pianos are internally broken beyond repair and temporarily ‘doped' in order to sound good and be sold quickly, only to become broken again when it's too late. Before you buy any piano, call for our free report ‘Don't Let Piano Problems Put Your Bank Account Out of Tune: 6 Ways to Find Hidden Problems with Used Pianos'.”

His report not only explained the possible faults commonly found in older pianos that can easily go unnoticed, but since he was catering to a specialized market (i.e., parents), his report went on to explain how used pianos fall out of tune quickly causing the child to learn the piano the wrong way and eventually to lose interest — let alone the parents money!

Of course, what the salesperson really wanted was to get these parents to buy new or professionally refurbished pianos from his store and especially from him. The resulting effect, however, was that the report not only brought prospects to his door but also instilled in them a greater confidence in the salesperson in addition to the reasons for buying a certified piano rather than a used one. Last time I checked, he made a fortune using this technique!

Look at lead generation advertising or multistep marketing as a form of job search. People often send bulky résumés to potential employers in an attempt to sell themselves as much as possible, when very often their attempts get filed away — into the “round” file, that is. (Sounds familiar?)

Career consultants stress the importance of summarizing a résumé as much as possible, of including past accomplishments and results (instead of responsibilities and duties from previous jobs), and of putting it all on one page. Why? The résumé is not meant to land a job but to land an interview.

Lead generation should be regarded in the same way. Your ad must be small, contain a concise message, stress an immediate benefit (something for free, for example), and offer a useful tool or additional information if the prospect wants to come forward and know more. And this can be applied in virtually all fields and for many if not all types of products or services.

What can you offer your prospects to arouse their curiosity and interest? What can you give away for free so to entice them to get more, thereby identifying themselves to you as interested, potentially qualified “expects?”

If you're giving something away, realize that what you're really doing is not giving away free stuff but generating better leads. Keep in mind that, in the end, the cost of free stuff can be far less than the cost of mass marketing.

Thou Shall Speak Softly but Carry a Big Stick

The following is probably the greatest commandment in “Power Positioning.”

Now that we've talked about lead generation advertising, the next step is where to advertise. And the trick to having as many pre-qualified prospects come forward is to have your ad noticed and read by such a specific group of people as much, as often, and as effectively as possible. General publications won't do that and they cost a lot of money. Cost-per-lead money.

Specialized publications, on the other hand, have the distinction of appealing to a specific audience and thus increase the chances of it being noticed as well as read. Why? If one newspaper has a readership of 100,000 but only 25,000 fits into your demographics, where another has only 40,000 readers but all of which fits into your demographics (because the publication is specialized), which one do you think will give you the greatest response?

In other words, rather than fishing for minnows in the middle of the ocean, you'll be a catching big fish in a small pond. Think of the specialized publication as a sonar that will help you to find the kind of fish you really want.

This is due to the fact that not only the readership of a specialized publication will match your demographics but also that people who buy these types of publications have a tendency to read them from cover to cover.

Unlike a general, mass-published, large circulation newspaper that will only be skimmed through (i.e., it is bought by many but read in its entirety by few), a specialized publication will be read more intently and thoroughly (i.e., it is bought by few but read in its entirety by many).

Your per capita hit-ratio will dramatically increase than if you would have advertised in a major publication that's too general or too vague. Your little ad can easily get “lost” in such large media or get drowned in a sea of ads.

These days, specialized publications exist by the truckloads!

For example, there are occupation-specific, special-interest-specific, or industry-specific publications, which can include newsletters, trade publications, ezines, journals, reports, corporate mail, magazines, specialty newspapers, catalogs, and communiqués from specific organizations. There are numerous publications for specific people or on specialized topics.

For instance, if you go to your library, you will find that there are magazines for home-based businesses, newsletters exclusively written for corporate executives, magazines purely about cigars, newspapers strictly published for firemen, and even magazines geared for, of all things, gerbil breeders!

As long as the readership somehow logically fits into your target market, this is where you will get the greatest bang for your marketing buck.

An advertising agent specializing in computer-based firms can advertise an offer for a free report in computer magazines or, better yet, in magazines read particularly by computer firms (such as hi-tech or Internet magazines).

A medical consultant, whose target market consists of doctors, should advertise in medical journals, health-related magazines, medical association newsletters, or medical equipment manufacturer catalogues — anywhere that puts him in front of as many doctors as possible. Anyway, you get the drift.

By the way, having your own newsletter is also a powerful way to attract quality prospects. If you are not yet publishing one, get on it. It may be offered for free or at a nominal cost to pay for the printing and distribution, but the idea is to have the people who read it want more and come forward.

You can sell advertising space in your newsletter to, or swap ad space with, firms also catering to your unique clientele (again, it's developing strategic alliances). Conversely, you can buy space in a newsletter written by another firm that also caters to your target market. The possibilities here are endless.

However, it wouldn't be right for me to end this portion without discussing the web. With information being one the major shifts the world has experienced, the Internet can help to make your presence known in a better, quicker, and cheaper way. If you're not on the ‘Net yet, you're losing out big time!

But if you are, your website and email addresses, which should appear in all your materials, should be made available to everyone with whom you come in contact, even as part of your signature on all forms of correspondence.

Email helps prospects to come forward in the privacy and convenience of their own homes or offices, and it also gives you a chance to respond to them immediately. It's truly a dynamic form of communication that, to this day, is still often overlooked. Permission-based email marketing is a goldmine!

For example, with an email announcement list, discussion list, or electronic newsletter (often called “ezine”), you have the opportunity to remain in constant contact with your clients (and thus maintain top-of-mind awareness), develop credibility, and build relationships with them. Also, you should invite people to subscribe to your email list at every chance you have.

If you haven't already create a landing page or “mini-site”. Many people think that this is too expensive or technical, which for a large sophisticated website it can be. But a single web page (or a smaller, more content-driven website with just a handful of pages) is different than a robust site in that it's usually a part of a greater website — a chapter of a book if you will.

These sites are usually called domains. Many Internet providers have domains on which your web page can be stored (many are free). Some non-competing strategic alliances with websites might host yours as well.

Nevertheless, while your “mini-website” may not be as large, as glitzy or as sophisticated as having your own domain, it's a good start. It's a low cost way to be on the web and it doesn't have to be slick with graphics.

The important thing is to maintain a presence. Your page can be strictly information-oriented identical to a book or newsletter. Your page can also be designed to advertise you, your company, and the products you offer.

But most important, it can be a wonderful tool for people to access your free report. If your report is written in a two-dimensional printed format, more than likely you will have a digital copy. Therefore, by having it available via the Internet, people can access your free information and print it themselves at home or the office, without costing any money, time, or postage.

However, don't make your free report available directly on your site. Many people who choose to use the multistep marketing process I described earlier (which I strongly encourage) want the names and addresses of those people coming forward for future follow-up and direct mail possibilities.

In this case, they have a special section of their site that includes their free report, but it is one to which only people who have a password can access. If you use this technique, and people have seen your site or your ad somewhere let alone your free report offer, they can write or email you to obtain their secret, free, and maybe time-sensitive password.

Once “inside,” they can read your report and do so instantaneously. They now have access to useful information and feel part of an elite group of educated members. Your newsletter can also be published on the web and made available through password-protected access, too.

And if your newsletters carry a subscription cost, you can charge people to obtain their password and you can bill them regularly for renewal. Again, the possibilities here are endless. The web opens many doors for you.

Remember that you're not trying to advertise with the hope of stumbling onto a trickle of suspects. You want an endless stream of pre-qualified, pre-screened, and pre-sold expects! In other words, you don't want to shout in order to attract prospects. You want to speak softly but carry a big stick with which you can lure better leads and “clobber 'em” (with your freebie offer, valuable information, or unique expertise) when they're in proximity.

For example, people who visit your site and read your web page will hopefully want more and come forward to get it. But even when only a small portion do, you know in advance that they are much more qualified, which saves you time and effort than trying to fish in a dried-up desert filled with unqualified suspects.

In addition, once you're on the web there are many more advantages that come with using this medium, such as search engines. Search engines are like electronic yellow pages that contain mostly every page available on the web. (However, there are ways to use engines effectively, and we'll come back to this in Commandment #9.)

You can also link your page to other sites and get your link posted on those that also cater to your specific market. Also called “reciprocal linking,” this method is simply another way to advertise through specialized means.

Nevertheless, it's all part of developing an effective lead generation system, and you know what “system” stands for, don't you? It stands for “Save Your Self Time, Effort, and Money!” Yeah. That's the ticket!

Thou Shall Become a Celebrity

In the second commandment, you learned that you should be the leader in your category or in your unique area of expertise. Now you need to be known as such. And one of the most effective ways to do this is through publicity.

I met a fellow once while working in New York City who ran his own show on cable television — his very own cable show! Cable and community television stations are wonderful mediums to get the word out effectively. This is an area in which you can get a lot of publicity at little or no cost.

My friend, a programmer, hosts a show called “Solution Sentral” on which he is either being interviewed or playing the role of interviewer. His guests ranged from employers looking for specialized technical staff to other consultants in similar areas. The show naturally appealed to the high-tech sector.

He also takes calls on the show and has a real-time, live email-in format where people can ask questions online to which he'll answer directly on the air. But keep in mind that the show is not meant to advertise him directly — if so, the station would charge him for it — but as a public service.

Publicity is different than advertising. But the idea behind publicity is not to market your business or product (or at least not directly). Your goal is to get yourself known and known as an expert in your field. There are many ways to get publicity out there let alone free publicity.

Why is it so important? Publicity is far more credible than advertising since it comes from an “objective” third party. If you have narrowed your focus to a very specific, highly specialized field, publicity will come easy to you. The media loves to receive information from people who are uniquely qualified in their specialty.

Do you write articles for your local newspaper or in the very least in the op-ed section? Do you send news releases to all the TV, newspaper, and radio stations in at least your area? Do you offer free seminars during fundraisers for non-profit or not-for-profit organizations? Do you offer to speak at luncheons, clubs, and organizations such as Chambers of Commerce? Do you offer free services to charities or sponsor community projects? The list goes on.

A hair transplant doctor sent out press releases to all the TV stations and offered to perform surgery live on the air as part of a medical documentary. With the patient's consent, cameramen filmed the doctor performing the procedure and the news reporter occasionally asked questions, such as: “What exactly are you doing now, doctor?” Or, “What's this for?”

But he didn't stop there. Not only did the news report cause his practice to get flooded with calls the next day, but the doctor also obtained the right to mass-copy the news report on videotapes, and mailed them as part of his information package to potential patients and referral-sources.

The show created a lot of “buzz” and the surgery was the talk of the town. I don't know if he actually did this, but if I were in his shoes I would have the tape digitized and available to be played on the web. People accessing his website can view the clip right from their own homes.

Some people I know have their interviews, speeches, or voices digitized and plug it on the ‘Net as well. Of course, everybody can do that. But if you're not on the web, yet have a copy of a TV or radio interview on video or audio cassette, get the rights to copy it and send it to everybody who wants one, including potential referral-sources and strategic alliances.

A temporary help agency specializing in government support personnel had a neat idea. Their clients are mostly purchasing agents and, one year, a golf tournament was being held for (believe or not) government purchasing agents! (It was to raise money for a charitable foundation.) The tournament was held in the middle of summer and it happened to be a hot day.

So the salesperson, wearing a T-shirt bearing their 1-800 phone number, rented a golf cart and loaded it up with coolers containing soft drinks. He drove his cart from hole to hole and offered free drinks to all the golfers in the tournament. In addition to the exposure this gave him, he was also given a chance to speak at the awards ceremony and mingle with the crowd.

If you're an expert (and by specializing, you are), get out-and-about and make yourself known as one.

For example, I know of an insurance agent who decided to specialize in life insurance for newlyweds and new families. His company didn't require it from him but he decided on his own to develop an expertise in this area. You'll often find him at bridal fairs, bridal shows, home-buyers seminars, home furnishing stores, banks, mortgage institutions, toy stores, baby clothing stores, car dealerships, and so on.

Now, for a typical, general insurance agent to do this kind of stuff may or may not be a waste of time. But how much more effective will he be if he promotes himself at those events or locations as an insurance agent strictly catering to new couples and new families? Yup. Much more.

Do you have your free report written by now? If so, then write a query letter to magazines and newspapers for an article you wish to contribute. If you don't know, a query letter is one in which you address the editor and propose to write an article around a topic on which you have an expertise.

Ensure that the headline of your query grabs their attention and makes them want to read it. Make your article somehow related to your free report, too. Explain how your article will benefit their readers. Give them a brief outline of your article along with a summary of your free report as “tickler.”

Don't forget to include in your query that you're not seeking any type of compensation (at least not now), but ask if you can add a byline. A byline is a small note at the end of your article describing the author and how he can be reached. Send the same letter to as many newspapers as you can, especially specialized publications read by your target market.

By the way, always ask for publishing rights so that the paper doesn't prevent you from having your article published elsewhere. Above all, make sure that your query addresses how your articles will benefit their readers. Keep in mind that the readers of a specialized publication are potential clients.

Now, write! While your article should be educational and not promotional, it may contain some highlights of your free report as a way to further educate the reader. Your byline can and should invite people to order it. It can say:

“The author, Michel Fortin, is the ‘Success Doctor', a direct response copywriter, speaker, and marketing consultant who specializes in marketing for cosmetic surgeons. If you wish to learn more about the ideas written in this article, you can obtain a free copy of the complete report, ‘The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning', by calling him [number], or by visiting his website at SuccessDoctor.com. You can also email him at [email address].”

Since your articles do not appear blatantly promotional, they help market your expertise subtly yet far more effectively, and as a result, carry far more weight than any self-serving advertisement. They grant you almost an instant and much greater credibility because, like publicity, which comes from an objective third party, they imply your superiority rather than state it outright.

And since implication is more powerful than specification, publicity will help to solidify your leadership in the mind and do so faster, more effectively, and for a longer period of time than any other form of promotion.

There's an old saying in the insurance industry that goes: “Talk good about me or talk bad about me. But either way, please talk about me!” So, get out and about! Get others to know you and talk about you.

Thou Shall Seek Out and Spread Out

I know that the yellow pages' people will hate me for this, but your yellow pages' ad, although an essential part of your entire marketing machine, doesn't have to be of a large size, in color, prominently displayed, or tied-in with other gimmicks that the yellow pages salespeople have to offer. While necessary, the yellow pages should only be used as support systems.

The concept of this entire book is to teach you that creating top-of-mind awareness (not “institutional advertising”) should be your main marketing goal. When people have seen your ad, heard about you, or have a need for your services at any particular time, your contact information may or may not be available to them at that particular moment. Therefore, you want the yellow pages to back you up and not use them as a full-blown marketing medium.

Yellow pages salespeople more than likely don't have to sell you on the need to be in their directory, but where they make their commissions is by making your transaction as hefty as possible by selling you on size, color, and other gimmicks. Quite frankly, you don't need it! Your mere presence is all that matters.

However, there are some basic rules that you should follow.

The title of this commandment is: “Thou shall seek out (support systems) and spread out (among them).” Indeed, I'm a fervent believer in support systems since, when creating top-of-mind awareness, your potential clients may not necessarily need you at that moment, but they may do so later when your contact information may not be available to them.

Whether it's local directories, specialty directories, occupation-specific registries, industry or trade directories, yellow pages, search engines, Internet directories, or trade publications, you should seek them out and list your company in as many of them as you can. The trick, however, is to spread out. Essentially, being there (and being everywhere) is all that matters. In short, be prolific.

Don't be prominent in size or display. You can have a small black-and-white telephone ad carrying the name of your company, your tagline, what you do (your specialization), your “unique” product, and your free report offer.

However, spreading out, especially within a single directory, is your best bet for higher visibility. Be in as many locations as possible. For example, if you're a hairstylist specializing in house calls, your ad can say:

“Meg Kessler of ‘Scissors on Wheels' is your in-house haircutter! Specializing in onsite special event hair management and the creator of ‘Hassle-Free Hair Job'. To see how I can make sure that your next event has a good hair day, or for a free copy of my report ‘Styles That Can Make or Break Your Next Public Presentation', call right now…”

Now, here's the trick. The yellow pages people might tell you to be in only one particular location of their directory. Don't. Try to be in as many locations that logically relate to your firm or your service, or that appeals to your market.

Your ad can be small but it should appear in as many sections of the directory as possible. For instance, beyond the obvious “Hair” section of the directory, the previous ad can also appear in “Weddings,” “Event Planning,” “Image Consultants,” “Modeling Agencies,” “Conference Planners,” “Color Consultants,” even “Senior Citizen Services.” You get the picture.

This also applies to the Internet, with search engines and directories like “Yahoo,” “HotBot,” and “AltaVista.” You should not only try to be on as many of the major search engines as possible, but also try to spread out as much as possible among them using keywords that appeal to your market.

For instance, a search engine is one in which you conduct a search based on a keyword — a word that you want the engine to search. It will scan their entire database and find as many web sites that contain your keyword.

You might register your website according to a specific set of keywords, but if you register it under numerous keywords your hit-ratio will increase dramatically. Keywords don't necessarily have to relate to your content.

Those that also indirectly relate to your content — let alone to your firm, product, or service — should also be included. They should comprise of any word that may be tied to benefits you provide and your target market.

For example, a baker specializes in cookies. She not only bakes different kinds of cookies but also creates different shapes, sizes, designs, and arrangements with them. One of her many creations is cookie baskets with bows and lettering for, among other things, weddings, bridal showers, and baby showers. So what did she do? She registered her page under “cookies,” “weddings,” “marriages,” “showers,” “baby,” “brides,” “grooms,” “party,” “cakes,” “church,” “gifts,” “family,” “souvenirs,” “ideas,” “shopping,” etc.

Another support system that is often ignored is the answering machine. It should not be regarded as simply being a means of taking your calls and messages. Turn it into a support system as well. In fact, turn it into a salesperson working for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Your message should invite people to do something. That's direct response in action! For instance, does your message ask people to just leave a message? Or does it invite them to place an order for your free report?

Telephone companies usually offer multiple voice mailbox services, giving the caller the ability to either leave a general message or press a number in order to leave a message for a specific recipient in another mailbox. There's also the option to choose the number of boxes you wish to have on your phone. But a mailbox doesn't need to be associated with an actual person.

Here's a sample message:

“Hi! You've reached Craig Jones of ‘Investment Mastery Inc.', where people learn how to be wise with their wealth. If you wish to leave me a message, press 1. To order my free insider's report, ‘Money-Making Magic: 8 Sure-Fire Strategies for Making Money in Stocks,' press 2.”

Ultimately, the object of “seek out and spread out” is to use as many support systems as possible. You want to be in front of your prospects often, but more importantly when they decide to buy from you. In other words, spread yourself thin. Don't be big. Be small, but be everywhere!

Thou Shall Make Thy Net Work

We've made it! You've now reached the last commandment. And what better way is there to end this book that's chock-full o' marketing secrets other than by telling you about something I truly hate. I hate networking. Really, I do!

I hate it because, in my experience, it hasn't brought me anything substantial in return. You're probably saying right now, “What? Is he crazy? Has he lost his mind?” But wait a minute, hear me out.

Networking isn't a bad concept. Far from it. If the previous commandments have been properly followed, networking can be a fantastic marketing tool to leverage them. If you can be at the top of your prospects' minds, you can also be at the top of your network's mind, right?

By using your special name, tagline, “unique” product, free report offer, lead generators, celebrity status, and support systems when networking can bring you an incredible amount of business.

However, here's the problem. Having a network and having a networking system are two entirely separate things. When you're only networking, for instance, often people will want something in return or else they will either stop sending you clients or simply lose interest (if you don't take the time to recognize their efforts, and that's if you have any time left at all).

So, how can you reward your network? Better yet, how can you turn your network into a networking system? The answer is by developing a network of strategic marketing alliances. Or marketing joint ventures.

All throughout this book, you have read about techniques in setting up strategic alliances in some form or another. They were included in the many examples you've read up to now. There are as many different forms of systematized networking opportunities out there as there are businesses.

I strongly encourage you to vigorously seek them out. In my experience, I have found that they mainly fall into three major categories. The first is what I call the info-network, the second is the auto-network and the third, the intra-network. Let's take a look at each one and how you can apply them.

Info-Networking

The information-based network is one in which a strategic marketing alliance is created in which information is exchanged in some form or another between parties. Basically, that information includes qualified leads that both you and your alliance share, or information about each other that is promoted to each party's target market or clientele (also known as “cross-promotion”).

As long as your strategic alliance logically shares the same market without directly competing with you, there is an immense potential for you.

For instance, I mentioned the power behind the free report and especially the newsletter. Advertising space can be sold at a nominal cost in order to pay for the printing and distribution of your newsletter, or it can be offered to those that might be happily interested in being directly promoted to your market.

In turn, you should seek out ad spaces in newsletters, corporate literature, brochures, or catalogues of potentially mutually beneficial alliances. The obvious advantage is that it can save you money by swapping ads.

This also refers to mailing lists where you can swap lists of prospect or client addresses. Mailing lists seem to have increased in popularity these days and, if used properly, can produce pretty good results. Mailing list brokers sell or lease mailing lists that you can use to conduct direct mail and telemarketing campaigns — lists of people that match your demographics.

However, beware: brokered mailing lists will be limited to the demographic data you specify and not the psychographic element of your target market — that's impossible to discern unless you or the brokers were psychics!

Also, electronic mailing lists are a little more complicated. Email is a more intimate medium and privacy is an increasingly important issue these days. Therefore, if you choose to use a broker's list for your direct email campaign (I don't recommend this), make sure to choose a reputable firm where you are guaranteed that people have voluntarily submitted their addresses and “opted-in.”

In order to curtail both problems, a better solution is to seek out strategic alliances and ask, rent, or buy their list of prospects and clients. (In the case of email, you are not sharing or swapping lists but exchanging endorsements and special offers emailed to each respective list.)

Most of them will approve especially when you trade your list of clients or prospects with them. But if you have to rent their lists, the cost will definitely be far less than that of one coming from a broker — they're not cheap!

Most strategic alliances are not accustomed to the idea of sharing their lists and will therefore be happy with just a few bucks. But the added advantage is that, since you know from where these lists originate, you'll have a better handle on the quality (i.e., the psychographic element) of the recipients.

As far as email and privacy are concerned, info-networking doesn't mean that there has to be an actual mailing list exchange. You can swap ezine ads, solo ad mailings, or exclusive special offers endorsed by each list owner.

Nevertheless, should you decide on using targeted mailing lists to market your free report offer, realize that it should yield a substantially greater result than ordinary, unsolicited, untargeted general public mailing lists.

For instance, mail directed to the public usually results with less than 5% in response, while direct mail to a predetermined demographic will likely produce more. But if your free report is used in your campaign, and if your goal is only to generate leads and not sales, your response rate will be a lot higher.

Auto-Networking

Auto-networking is the process of creating referral-sources that automatically supply you with good quality leads, automatically, without you having to lift a finger. Things like brochure stands, posters, flyers, coupons, and business cards can be placed at the offices of potential referral-sources.

Again, I hate networking, especially when I have to work for them (or, in other words, nurture them). So auto-networking doesn't mean to give out cards to a possible referral-source and then hoping it will produce something in return. It means setting up a system between both of you where, since you are both catering to the same market, you have made an arrangement to constantly supply each other with collateral materials, leads, and information.

Here's an example. A dry cleaner discovered that the largest clientele of a nearby restaurant was mostly made up of company executives having “power lunches” (those business lunches the tax people love to hate). The dry cleaner, knowing that her greatest clientele is also made up of executives who bring their shirts or dresses to have cleaned, saw it as an opportunity.

Coupons were made up and handed out by the restaurant's waiters and waitresses along with their clients' food tabs. They offered a 5% percent discount on dry cleaning services and the coupons could be accumulated up to a maximum of 25% — of course, they were valid for a limited time only.

In return, the dry cleaner handed out coupons (clipped to their clients' garment bags) offering a free appetizer or dessert at that particular restaurant — good for one per person per lunch — with every load of $30 worth of dry cleaning.

But it didn't stop there.

They exchanged posters, flyers, coupons, and printed materials (such as the restaurant's menu and the dry cleaner's brochure, which were both left on each other's counters). They also marketed the campaign under the banner of:

“Don't let the spot on your shirt from the juiciest roast beef in town at Carmicheal's Restaurant ruin that big deal! Bring it to Sparkling Cleaners, the first dry cleaner for the busy executive, because ‘Power Lunches Deserve a Clean Image.' With both Carmicheal's Restaurant and Sparkling Cleaners, you can take your clients to lunch… And take a bite out of dirt!”

By the way, I must take a moment to ask you a question. (“Here he comes with another pop quiz,” you say.) In the previous example, particularly in the marketing approach that the dry cleaner and restaurant took, were included some other commandments. Can you guess what they are? The obvious ones are hard to miss. They both carried the trademark symbols, indicated that they specialized in one area, and had taglines added to their names.

But the one that might have gone unnoticed is the category in which the dry cleaner placed itself. Being the first to offer an executive dry cleaning service is probably a little misleading, but by calling itself the first dry cleaner for the “busy” executive, it has created its own unique category. (All right, all right. I was just checking.)

Another form of auto-networking is, as the saying goes, “You can't teach an old dog a new trick, but you can surely teach a new dog an old trick!”

Creating networking systems with referral-sources who are either approached by competitors or already implicated in other commitments may be a difficult task. So, what can you do? Get them while they're just starting out, especially before they become potential targets for your competitors.

Previously, I showed you how important it is for you to get known in your industry as the expert — the celebrity in your field. By conducting speeches, seminars, guest lectures, sponsorships, evening classes, and the like, you are creating that all-important top-of-mind awareness. Many of the members in your audience should encompass potential referral-sources.

But referral-sources have to come from somewhere, don't they?

So, if you can approach them before they can be approached by your competitors, you can save yourself a lot of effort let alone grief.

For example, hairdressers are often the biggest referral-sources for hair replacement surgeons. I teach hair transplant doctors to become known among the hairdressing community and set up strategic alliances with them by, among other things, setting up brochure stands in their salons.

However, if they have been in the industry for a while, many of these stylists may have already been approached by other doctors or have a fixed idea of which doctor to whom they would refer their clients for cosmetic surgery.

In my consulting work, I help doctors to set up special presentations as “guest lecturers” at local hairstyling and beauty schools. Schools love it since it's part of their curriculum to teach future hairstylists on the biomechanics of hair growth and potential solutions for hair loss. Some provinces or states also make it an essential part of their licensing requirements.

As for the doctor, he not only gets his name inculcated into the minds of these future hairstylists but also has created an almost impenetrable barrier against competitors wanting a piece of the referral pie. By being part of their schooling, these doctors became a part of their minds!

This technique can be applied in almost every industry in myriad ways, with trade schools, business schools, community colleges, government services, unemployment insurance subsidized courses, skills training, and so on.

A government software designer can give a small presentation during courses the government provides to recently hired purchasing agents. A wedding planning consultant can give a brief talk during “marriage preparation” courses. An accountant specializing in corporate taxation can give seminars to young entrepreneur workshops offered by local chambers of commerce.

Intra-Networking

Think of Intranets (internal or private networks) and intrapreneurs (employees owning a portion of their employer's company). “Intra-anything” simply means two or more parts of a whole that are independent but also inter-dependent.

It's like a “network within a network.”

Basically, this is the old bartering system that goes back since the beginning of time. But in terms of intra-networking however, it is not a direct exchange of product for product or service for service (or even product for service), but an exchange of a service or product for promotion, clients, referrals, or leads.

For instance, a restaurant makes an arrangement with a local gas station to offer coupons to each client that comes to pump gas. They were given the permission to hang posters in the station, leave menus at the counter, and place fridge magnets on the pumps. For every 10 coupons the restaurant received, the employees at the station were given a free meal.

A freelance writer specialized in editing corporate newsletters. She will then have her articles and personal advertisements published for free in association newsletters that target her market in exchange for editing the publisher's business correspondence let alone the newsletters themselves.

An advertising agent specializes in elevator advertising. Hotels place the agent's brochures in all its executive suites, which are often rented by traveling executives, in exchange for free advertising space in elevators of other business office buildings.

What kind of product or service do you offer from which a referral-source may benefit, one who caters to the same market you do? Think of ways of being able to offer your products or services for free in exchange for pre-qualified leads or, as mentioned in info-networking, promotional efforts.

Intra-networking can also become powerfully effective if you were lucky enough to stumble onto another company that offers products or services that complement your products or services well, while at the same time sharing costs (such as advertising costs), leads, as well as clients.

Take the example of the strategic alliance between the printer and the wedding planner mentioned earlier in the book. Obviously, this might relate more closely to the auto-networking style.

But the printer can give a special price break to the wedding planner for their own printing needs in exchange for client referrals. If the printer agrees to print the planner's promotional materials, business cards, brochures, or letterhead for free or at a discount in exchange for a certain number of clients, that's intra-networking at work!

Altogether, info-networking, auto-networking, and intra-networking are powerful tools to help you create good referral-sources that never stop working. The idea is nonetheless to network but to do so wisely so as to be able to create as many leads and clients as possible with the least amount of effort.

Don't network. Make your net work for you!

Bonus! Thou Shall Put it in Writing

Here's a bonus commandment. I thought I'd make it a bonus because 11 would sound a little funny, wouldn't you think? And it is indeed a bonus since, with all that you have learned, you would never be as effective if I didn't give this extra piece of advice while implementing the first 10.

I can never stress enough, whether it's in this book or in my seminars that, in order to create endless streams of new, repeat, and referral business, you must turn every single nook-and-cranny of your business into an effective marketing system. Everything you do must become a marketing activity.

In other words, every step you take during the normal course of your daily business activities must include making yourself known as the expert in your field — at least in the minds of those who are in it. All your correspondence, literature, promotional materials, and advertising must contain at least eight or nine of these commandments — although 10 would be more effective.

The power of the written word has been proven to be of immense proportions. Roger Dawson, in his book “The Secrets of Power Negotiating: How to Get Anything You Want,” emphasized a universal law, which states that people will believe more what they see in writing than what they don't see in writing.

As Roger points out: “If it is said, it could be true. But if it is written, then it must be true.” Therefore, when positioning your firm or product, your efforts will be far more effective if they are done through the written word.

For example, writing your own book is indeed an effective if not essential tool for establishing your credibility. They say that you must “publish or perish.”

Today, that statement has greater meaning. In a society where people are constantly bombarded with marketing messages and leery of claims of any kind, the process of communicating your uniqueness, your competitive advantage, and especially your expertise through the written word (such as by writing books, articles, endorsements, reviews, and press releases) is far more credible and believable than any direct promotional message.

Nevertheless, start by putting things down in writing.

If you don't have a brochure or publicity kit, make one! If your services are not listed in a catalogue for all your clients to see, print one! If articles written by or about you have been published, make copies and pass them around! If you have reference letters written by clients who initially had concerns or objections, offer copies to prospects who have the same concerns! If you don't yet have a free report, newsletter, or lead generator, create one!

I may be overly emphasizing the importance of putting things down in writing, but I feel that I can never stress it enough. Realize that the above items, along with all of the tools that you've learned in the previous commandments, are crucially important to have in writing in some form or another in order to create lasting top-of-mind awareness. The written word is immensely powerful!

Let's take the example of the cosmetic surgeon one more time.

A patient being consulted for surgery has concerns about pain. Now, if the doctor says that the procedure is painless, his response will be somewhat believable. But how much more believable will it be if the doctor pulled out of a binder a testimonial written by a patient, one who had the exact same concern prior to his surgery, and in it claimed that the procedure was indeed painless?

Let me share with you what I do in my own consulting practice. For instance, in my car or in my travels, I not only carry a promotional kit but also usually carry several large briefcases that contain the following items:

A Business Portfolio

This is a large three-ring binder that contains copies of ads, books, white papers, booklets, business forms, radio scripts, flyers, direct-mail pieces, infomercials, sales letters, and commercials that I produced. In short, my portfolio provides samples of my work (some are now digitized on my laptop).

A Reference Binder

This binder contains just testimonials written by satisfied clients. But the neat part is that they are grouped into topics with letters from clients who had a specific or similar concern. The binder is neatly divided into sections for quick retrieval in case I need to convince a prospect with a similar objection.

A Presentation Binder

Being a computer lover, I use PowerPoint Presentations. But if my laptop doesn't work for any reason, I use my presentation binder. It contains an overview of my company, my brochures, lists of my products and services, lists of past clients, and sample contracts. It also contains charts, graphs, statistics, and “ticklers” that will help to sell me and my services.

And Media Kits (lots of them!)

I always carry around a large number of press kits that contain recent news releases, articles written by and about me, transcripts of interviews, brochures and business cards, books and reports that I've written, awards and letters of recognition, recent copies of my newsletters, and of course my résumés.

If you don't have a laptop computer, you can still create a larger presentation binder offering the materials that I just described. You can purchase a special binder that bends halfway and props up on a table or desk. While you don't have to have the entire package I just gave you as an example, you can fit most of it into your special binder and use it as your “bible.”

Finally, a quick word about written materials. Some years ago, I came across an article (I believe it was in “Entrepreneur Magazine”) that gave interesting statistics gathered from a recent survey conducted by a direct-mail marketing firm for a credit card company. ‘

The survey found the following results: documents that are high in contrast (i.e., dark print on light colored paper) have pulled a greater response over colored print on colored paper. And they also found that the higher the contrast is, the greater the response will be.

For example, it found that traditional black on white is best, yet dark color on white or black on light-coloured paper is acceptable. As long as you maintain a contrast between your text the paper you print them on, you're rolling.

The research also showed that borders (frames around texts) seemed to have increased readership by 20% over plain text with faint or nonexistent borders. It also found that certain words pulled more than others, including the words “save,” “free,” and “discover.” Using the right words that pull the best deserves a book of its own — or a copywriter like me. But for now, just remember to try using these words in your printed materials as much as possible.

(By the way, although I don't remember if this is true since this article appeared many years ago, it is my guess that one of these three words eventually became the name of that credit card company conducting the research! Can you “discover” which one it is?)

And more important, make sure they all contain if not stress your name, tagline, specialization, and unique category.

It is my sincere hope that these power positioning strategies will help you create endless streams of new, repeat, and referral business. I wish you good luck, both on your quest for increased business and greater business health!

Dynamically yours,
Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin

P.S.: Want more? Check out my blog to read my articles, subscribe to my free ezine, or better yet, join my private membership site and watch videos of me, in action, writing and dissecting other people's copy “live.”

Categories
Copywriting

How to Hook (More) Copywriting Prospects

Table Of Contents

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The other day, an aspiring copywriter asked me a question that I hear all too often: “How do I distinguish myself from other copywriters?”

The answer is not an easy one. It takes some thought, some time, and perhaps some inspiration.

But time after time, I have found that most people tend to overlook one of the most effective and frequently used copywriting and marketing tools. And that's your “Unique Selling Proposition,” or USP.

(I prefer to call it a “Unique Selling Position.” If you've read my book, “Power Positioning,” or if you know my personal story, then you'd know that I'm a big fan of positioning rather than prospecting.)

Your USP is also your “hook.”

A USP is what distinguishes you from the pack. It increases perceived value, expertise, and credibility — without needing to state it outright.

But since I hear this question often, particularly from copywriters just entering the field, it's because it's never an easy process. You either have to dig deep to find your USP, or create one from scratch. And that's why people need a little help in defining it.

I understand. So to help you, here's a tip.

In marketing, every product or service has three levels. They include:

  • The core product.
  • The product itself.
  • The augmented product.

What does this have to do with developing a USP? Before I share it to you, let me explain what these three product levels mean.

  • The core product is the actual end-result, the benefits, that the product offers. It's what the product does for people. As Theodore Levitt once said, people don't buy quarter-inch drills. They buy quarter-inch holes.
  • The actual product is what the product is and consists of. This includes the things that make the product a product. Those are the features, the components, the ingredients, even the packaging.
  • The augmented product is what is added to the product or offer to augment it. Things like free shipping, guarantees, customer support, premiums, etc.

Now, in the context of copywriting (the business or the service of copywriting, that is), you can look at it this way (please note this is an example and not the example):

1) Core Product: Generate and/or increase response.

That's the ultimate result, or at least the reason why most clients hire copywriters.

2) Actual Product: The copy itself.

Writing the copy includes research, writing the first draft, and delivering the final draft. It includes all the elements that help to achieve the core product: headline, storyline, bullets, product details, offer, response device, etc.

The actual product is also directly tied to the market. Therefore, it also includes the market you're selling to, such as focusing on a specific industry or audience, or a particular kind of copy such as sales letters, direct mail, websites, etc.

3) Augmented Product: Whatever you add beyond the actual product.

Things you add to the service to “beef it up,” such as extras, value-adds, add-ons, bonuses, premiums, gifts, additional promises, and so on, which can vary tremendously from copywriter to copywriter, and industry to industry.

For example, it can include formatting, graphic design, layout suggestions, project management, market research, rewrites, guarantees, split-testing the actual copy before the final draft, exclusivity, rush service for quicker turnarounds, etc.

How do you use these three layers to define a USP?

Think of these three layers in the form of a bulls-eye, where you have three concentric circles. The center of the bulls-eye being the core product, the middle layer being the actual product, and the outer layer the augmented product.

Now, here's the fun part. To develop a unique selling proposition, you can add, remove, change, or give a unique twist to any of these three levels.

The easiest way, of course, it to go from the outside in. (It's easier to aim for the outer circle than the bulls-eye itself.) That is, find ways to augment your product that few do or that no one does. It may not be one single thing. It may be a combination of them.

Bulls-eye analogy aside, why is this the simplest way?

Because coming up with different angles or variations of the center of the bulls-eye requires a bit more creative thinking. It's easier to add to the existing product or its market than it is to repurpose it, rebrand it, or redefine the market for it.

(Mind you, developing a USP from within usually produces the best “hooks,” the most prospects, and the greatest perceived value.)

Nevertheless, here's an example of working with the outside layer.

You can offer design suggestions, layouts and mockups, additional tips on how to best use the copy, offer free revisions, writing copy for other parts of the sales funnel (opt-in page, order page, thank-you page, autoresponders, etc), and so on.

Here's an extra tip.

Don't offer these willy-nilly. Always place a value on these augmented elements or add-ons. Why? Because if you don't, people will assume that it's part of your original offering. It may even decrease your perceived value.

The idea is to increase the perception of higher value. And to do that, you must not only add value to the core offer but also make it visible.

For example, don't say your copy comes with formatting and layout suggestions (or worse yet, assume clients will know the implication). Instead, say you will throw in formatting and layout suggestions, which are additional services, free of charge.

Plus, add a dollar value on those add-ons as if you were to sell them separately. Don't say your copy comes with one or two revisions. Say your copy comes with an additional revision, free of charge, worth $500.

Aside from the increase in perceived value, this tactic also helps to prevent freeloaders and deal-seekers from asking for concessions. If they want “a good deal,” doing it this way will make them feel like you're already making concessions.

If they start to haggle at any point, then you have tools to work with — by removing the extras and their associated dollar value. This is better than offering discounts.

(Never discount! Never.)

Next in the layers is the actual product.

What can you change, add, or remove from the actual product to make it unique?

For instance, how do you conduct your research? Do you interview the client or the client's clients? Do you have a preparatory questionnaire they must fill out before work commences? How is your copy written and delivered, exactly?

While it is easier to work with the augmented product first, there is also an easy way to work with the middle layer. Which is, of course, defining the market.

Specifically, niche marketing.

Niche marketing is “to find a niche and fill it.” But with an existing product, it's to focus on a particular audience segment, an industry, or a certain style of copy.

You could be a copywriter specializing in, say, health products. You could even hone it down to, say, nutrition and foods. You could even be a copywriter who focuses on diets and weightloss exclusively.

But don't just focus on industries or niches.

Remember, it's the “actual” product. What you choose to work on and deliver can also be specialized. You don't have to add or change anything, either. You can simply remove something to make yourself unique.

They say that less is more. In fact, offering less or focusing strictly on a certain type of copy can create instant demand and credibility, because being a specialist creates the perception of greater expertise and skill.

I know a copywriter who focuses strictly on catalog copy. I know another who does email campaigns only. I know a third who writes for social media. I know some copywriters who specialize in a combination of niches and copy types — such as direct mail for the financial industry. And they're doing extremely well.

But that's not all. Don't restrict yourself to the medium, either.

For example, you might be a copywriter who focuses strictly on headlines. As a result, you become known as the headline expert. When people (or other copywriters) need help with their headlines, they turn to you.

Or you might be one who only focuses on initial drafts in plain text. While that might seem like a lesser offering, you can say that this is a benefit since you're entirely focused on the research and the content — unlike other copywriters who offer too much, overextend themselves, and dilute their value as a result.

A neurologist is still a doctor. But you wouldn't have a general practitioner work on your brain, right? Much less a podiatrist or coroner. You want a doctor who specializes in the specific problem or area that needs attention.

Copywriters are no different.

Finally, the innermost layer, the center of the bulls-eye, is the hardest part.

Copy is copy. And copy has one principal function. And that's to sell. But let's say that your copy's goal is to increase the client's existing response, as it is with most copy. Ask yourself, what other benefits do you offer?

I don't mean additional benefits provided by the augmented product. I'm talking about the copy itself. What else does your copy do for your clients? What else does your copywriting service specifically bring to the table?

Sure, the ultimate goal is to boost sales and profits.

But perhaps it's to make the client look good as to increase referral clients. Maybe it's to increase visibility or generate more word-of-mouth. Or perhaps it's to attract qualified staff or potential investors.

You can and should think of all the benefits your copy delivers.

Don't just stick with the obvious.

Take some time (even write a list, if you have to) of all the advantages your specific copy offers. What kind of results have you achieved in the past? What other benefits (including unsought benefits) did your clients receive?

(Sometimes, asking for or re-reading client testimonials can offer some clues. If not, take some time to interview some of your past clients. Ask them what your copy or copywriting service did for them, beyond just increasing sales.)

Here's a “off-the-top-of-my-head” example. Say your client is also looking for copy that “sounds like them.” In other words, they want a copywriter with a knack for writing in their voice, their language, and their communication style.

In this case, it makes your ghostwriting ability far more effective than other copywriters. That's a USP right there. (As your “hook,” you might call yourself “The Chameleon Copywriter” or your copy service “The Copywriting Cloner.”)

What about you?

Again, you need to sit down and take some time to really think about this. It might not come overnight. For me, as an example, it took over a decade to find the various benefits my copy specifically brings to the table.

It won't take a decade. The difference here is, you have a leg up because you have some tips in this article to give you a headstart.

In the end, there are so many ways to develop a good USP. There are so many variants, too. Each way comes with a plethora of possibilities. The idea is to be a bit creative, a bit of a contrarian, and a bit different.

Sometimes, you have to look at and copy from (and not just think) “outside the box.”

See other industries. Look at other services. Check out non-competing products. You never know. In one of them may lie the seed of something amazing.

And being amazing doesn't have to require a massive change, either. Just by being 10% different, unique, original, or special is enough to make you stand out like a sore thumb in an overcrowded, hypercompetitive marketplace.

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
Books

The Death of The Salesletter

Back in late 2006, what started out as a New Year's series of predictions of sorts ostensibly became one of the most downloaded, most controversial, and most talked about documents in the history of my career.

It was in keeping with that annual January tradition, where a plethora of bloggers flood the Internet with their predictions about online trends, emerging technologies, Internet flops, growing industries, rumored takeovers, ad nauseum.

But I'm no futurist by any stretch. I'm a copywriter by trade.

But I've seen some tremendous changes, mostly “behind the scenes,” and I wanted to join in the tradition. Particularly, I wanted to share not only something I was passionate about, but also something I knew was going to affect online copy in significant ways.

Now that several years have passed, I'm astounded by how true my predictions were…

At the time, I saw where online salesletters were heading. I've witnessed some dramatic shifts and upcoming trends, which I predicted would change the way we sell online.

It was something I truly believed in and still do, and something I had a lot to say about. But what started out as a blog post turned into a 50-page document! (Well, 52, to be exact.) It became more like a manifesto, which I entitled: “The Death of The Salesletter.”

I knew it would be controversial, due to the fact that I'm a copywriter and my career depends on salesletters. That's why I said at the time, “It's going to blow some minds, turn some heads, cause some yawns, provoke some fits, or waste some bandwidth.”

Up until now, you could easily download my manifesto. But now, and for the first time ever, I've also decided to republish the document, in its entirety below, without the need to download anything. The linked table of contents is listed below.

I encourage you to pass this report around. Download it and give it away, or just point people to this blog post. Either way, it doesn't matter. And there's nothing “covert,” here, too. There are no sales pitches or hidden agendas. I just wanted to get this off my chest.

If you've read it before, go back and read it again. See how many of my predictions came true or are about to. Rants or raves? Post them below. I'd love to hear from you.

Genesis

“If you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get: We are not seats or eyeballs or end-users or consumers. We are human beings — and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it.”

The Cluetrain Manifesto,” Harper Collins, April, 1999.

“One of the best kept secrets in America is that people are aching to make a commitment, if they only had the freedom and environment in which to do so.”

John Naisbitt, author of “Megatrends” and “High-Tech, High-Touch”

My initial intent wasn’t to write this report. It’s the result of a post I was envisioning for my blog. The problem is, the blog post be-came so long that I felt a need to do either one of two things.

I had to either: edit my post and shrink it down to a bare minimum (preferably around 500 words), or break the article down into several installments.

The former was not possible because there’s so much information I wanted to share, along with so much misinformation I wanted to clear up, that writing a single blog post wouldn’t have done this topic justice.

Some of the changes I’ve seen, personally experienced and scientifically tested are so significant, that I was quite eager to share this information with you.

However, my passion and enthusiasm for the topic got the best of me: although posting the article in several installments was a more viable solution, trying to pick what part do I post first was more of a challenge than choosing what to cut out if I were to post it all into a single yet highly edited article.

I believe this information is important and timely, particularly with the New Year and the plethora of online predictions of late, along with recent events such as the whole Web 2.0 buzz that’s creating quite a frenzy online.

Thus, I wanted to deliver my report as expediently as possible. (Posting this article in several installments would have delayed it even more.)

So I decided to go with neither of these.

Instead, I’ve decided to post the entire report as is. But knowing that some people may find this cumbersome, as it is longer than most blog posts, I’ve decided to convert it into a portable document. The result became this special report.

But there’s another reason: since I get so many emails asking me what I think about this whole Web 2.0 thing, why people are starting to see low response levels with their salesletters, what are my predictions for 2007, and what do I think of the many reports of late (such as “the death of this” and “the death of that”), I’ve decided to answer them all in one fell swoop.

Moreover, I’m also giving you the permission to pass this report around. Provided that you leave this document untouched, you can offer it to your list, give it away as a download, add it as a bonus to your current offerings, or post it on your own blog. Feel free to distribute it.

I want as many people, copywriters, marketers and buyers alike, to get this information, because, as a copywriter for many of the web’s top marketers, I’m seeing a significant transformation occurring that simply cannot be ignored.

(And it’s not what you might think.)

I also want to make sure you understand that I didn’t write this report as a way to make sales, build a list or create traffic for myself. While it may happen as a byproduct of this report, it’s the least of my intentions.

I simply want to share some of my views on the latest trends affecting online businesses, specifically as they relate to salesletters, and to give back to a community that has been so generous to me.

If you think that I’ve written this report because there’s something “brewing” in the background, don’t worry. I’m neither going to pitch you something in this report, nor do I want your contact information to promote something in the future. There’s nothing going on, other than my sincere willingness to share.

So let me to be clear: I’m not going to ask you to buy something, or ask you for your email address or contact information, at any point, in this report.

In fact, I’m not even going to ask you to click on any of my links inside this report. Do so if you wish, but you don’t have to. Most of the links are provided as references only, and not as part of a pitch of any kind.

Also, you may be wondering why I, a salesletter copywriter whose livelihood depends on writing salesletter copy, would ever dare write a report entitled “The Death of the Salesletter” that could potentially jeopardize my career and my business, along with those of my colleagues.

(That’s far from being the case, and you’ll soon understand why.)

There are several things to note, here. First off, salesletters are not dead. They never will be. They are here to stay. However, what I am referring to are not salesletters as a sales process, but specifically long-copy, long scrolling web pages, particularly in their current state.

You know the kind, right? I’m talking about the big, bold, red headline; the multitude of multicolored Johnson boxes throughout; the bullets that seem to never end; the tons of hackneyed testimonials, often by the usual suspects; the countless PS’s at the end; and the poorly designed headers, inconsistent fonts, lackluster typography and stock graphics plastered throughout.

That said, those are some of the things that exist because they work and have worked for a long time. I’m just as guilty of this. And the fact is, they will continue to work but mostly in new, untouched niches that have likely never seen a salesletter before, although even that possibility is becoming increasingly remote.

I’m a copywriter. If you know me, then you know that I’ve written top-producing salesletters for a lot of the most successful marketers online, from John Reese, Frank Kern and Kirt Christensen, to Armand Morin, Shawn Casey and Stephen Pierce (and many others).

However, I’m not only a copywriter by trade. I’m also a business person and marketer like many of my clients, owning several websites that sell goods and services on the Internet. I write my own copy, and my wife Sylvie Fortin and I have been blessed to have reached a considerable level of success, too.

But what you may not know is that I’m also a fanatical tester. Not only am I privileged to have written for top marketers and am privy to the many split-tests conducted by them, but also I personally test constantly.

As a result, I’m seeing some interesting test results that are showing trends happening right now — results that I want to share with you in this report.

Some of it might be ho-hum to you. Some of it might not. Either way, it is my hope that this report will offer some tidbits, insights and a different perspective that can help you and your business reach higher levels of success, particularly given the current trends we’re experiencing.

However, there is a caveat: this is not some ominous, pessimistic outlook on both the nature and future of online copy. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. It’s a positive look at some of the changes we’re facing, and how we can take advantage of the many opportunities that such changes are presenting to us.

Don’t stop learning copywriting. Don’t stop using salesletters. And by all means, don’t stop applying good copywriting to all your websites. Stopping anything is not what I’m saying. (In fact, once you read this report you’ll soon realize how copywriting is going to be even more important over time.)

But what I am saying is, you can apply just a few tiny changes, and channel some of those copywriting skills, tools and knowledge you have gained, into these latest trends and opportunities as a way to maximize your online sales potential.

Finally, I hope this report provides you with some ideas on how to increase your sales effectiveness (or inspires you to create some of your own). You may agree with it or not. And you may take what I say with a grain of salt. But for now, all I ask is that you read the following with an open mind.

(I welcome and appreciate your feedback. So please feel free to post your comments on my blog. Search for “Death of the Salesletter,” the blog post where I offer this free report, and use the short form at the bottom.)

OK, are you ready? Seatbelts please…

Web Two-Point… What?

So what exactly is Web 2.0? I’m not an analyst or some dotcom pundit. But being online since 1991 (or since 1982 if you consider bulletin board services), I’ve witnessed enough to have a good grasp of what’s going on.

So here’s my perspective.

At the dawn of the Internet the web was primarily a unidirectional, one-way communications process. The web was comprised mostly of static web pages, filled with hypertext and links. It was akin to the direct mail industry, only this time it was served up on a computer monitor rather than on a piece of paper.

In fact, web pages that worked the best, especially in a direct marketing context, were ads and salesletters that closely mimicked the long-copy print salesletters we often get in the mail.

For many years and until recently, this was true.

The most effective web salesletters, based on split-test results and actual response rates achieved, are those that looked similar to direct mail pieces. They’re displayed in white, fixed-width centered tables, with colored backgrounds. Just like a salesletter you would place on your desktop. (The top of a real desk, that is.)

Why? It’s because people hate change. We all do. Change is scary. We hate getting out of our comfort zones, and studies prove that we’ll even react hostilely to something that’s different and threatens that zone.

In fact, David Ogilvy, in “Ogilvy on Advertising,” gave some wonderful advice on this subject. He said: “The eye is trained from an early age. Move away from what the eye is used to, and you stop readership.”

So at the dawn of the Internet, people were used to magazines, newspapers and particularly direct mail. Therefore, websites that initially mimicked that to which people were accustomed were those that naturally produced the highest sales. This was proven in test after test. And to a great degree, they still do.

However, things are changing.

The Internet is no longer “new,” or at least not as new as it used to be 10 or even five years ago. The Internet is noted as being the fastest-growing medium in history, reaching over 500 million users in only five years, as opposed to the 13 it took for the TV or even 20 for the radio.

While the web is still in its infancy, it’s no longer a baby. It’s more of an independent, peer-seeking, moody, sometimes angst-filled, authority-challenging and demanding teenager that just graduated from grade school to high school.

(Web 2.0 is just another fancy way of saying the web is growing up.)

We’ve had over a good decade of it now, and we can no longer say that people are not used to the Internet anymore. In fact, while the Internet keeps growing, a recent study in the UK shows that TV audiences are on the decline, most likely because of the Internet. (Many other studies seem to parallel their findings.)

Just recently, the Internet has reportedly reached the one-billion user mark. It has become so pervasive in our culture that we now take it for granted. It’s such an intrinsic part of our lives to the point that we would be lost without it.

So if we keep insisting that the web is still “young,” we’re lying to ourselves… and more importantly, to our prospects.

But Web 2.0 is more than just a label on a medium that’s growing up. The way the web has evolved is just as important, going from a one-way, linear, static communications medium, to a two-way, bidirectional, dynamic conversation.

This isn’t new. It was predicted many years ago. For example, I wrote about it as early as 1999 in various articles. But I’m far from being a visionary. I just saw where we were heading based on what others have foretold before me. In fact, the coming of Web 2.0 was predicted as far back as 30 years ago.

Chris Locke, co-author of the book “The Cluetrain Manifesto” first published in April of 1999, claimed that the web is not comprised of computers, companies, or even consumers for that matter, but of conversations.

This thought-provoking book, which can now be read online for free at Cluetrain.com, contains some of the most innovative ideas about the Internet. (They certainly were at the time.) In fact, some of the first bloggers on the Internet, even before “blogging” was coined as a term, were the authors of Cluetrain.

But it goes further back than that, even before the Internet.

In the late seventies in his book “Megatrends,” futurist John Naisbitt wrote about several significant future shifts — one of which predicted that our society will become not only more high-tech but also more high-touch. (And that was close to a quarter of a century ago!)

Largely due to the rise of the Internet in our increasingly fast-paced culture among other things, Naisbitt saw it important enough to write a spinoff book a decade ago entirely dedicated to that single “megatrend,” appropriately entitled, “High-Tech/High-Touch.” Here’s a brief synopsis from Naisbit.com:

“Focusing on the effects of technology in reshaping society, the book brings together a mountain of evidence implicating technology in relentlessly accelerating our lives and stirring profound yearnings for a more emotionally satisfying existence. In our craving for emotional authenticity, Naisbitt locates the great challenge of our frenetic era.”

John Naisbitt, author of “Megatrends” and “High-Tech, High-Touch”

Nevertheless, what does this all mean?

While Naisbitt never mentioned it directly, my interpretation of his trend is this: the more technology-driven we become (i.e., the more automated, static, robotic and impersonal we become, as is the case with the web), the more we will crave and seek out human interaction.

Why? It’s just human nature. We are social animals. We need to communicate, interact and socialize with other people. It’s just who we are.

While the Internet was mostly technical, uninviting, and daunting in its early years, the now millions of people online have jumped on the bandwagon for a reason. As Locke said in Cluetrain, “They came for one thing: each other.”

Online, these predictions-cum-reality take the shape of tools and technologies that help facilitate that interaction, as well as actions marketers take to humanize their digital presence by giving their electronic façade a human face.

From as simple as a blog, a message board, an ezine or a discussion list (and now audio and video), to as complex as customer relationship management technology, marketers do and should do what they can to humanize their websites.

When we observe what’s going on, we can get a sense of where things are heading, such as by watching the increasing popularization of social networking sites, and the creation of new interactive technologies aimed at facilitating user-rated content, user-submitted content and user-reviewed content.

Now, while such things are affecting the Internet as a whole, and how people browse and use it, do they also apply to how they buy from it?

Astute marketers are paying attention, because these trends do offer some interesting clues into human behavior, as well as how they will eventually and ultimately affect salesletters and sales-driven websites.

Again, from Naisbitt.com: “In a High Tech world with an increasing search for balance, High Touch will be the key to differentiate products and services.”

Bottom line, people want to connect with other people. They want to deal with, trust more and buy from other people, not computer monitors. In fact, what they really want is to feel more secure and comfortable. As a result, they are screaming for credibility. They want more proof. They want to believe.

And they most certainly want to buy.

Think “social sites” don’t really apply to salesletters? Think again.

If they can’t get the proof they seek from the businesses themselves, they will look for it elsewhere, whether they do so consciously or unconsciously — including, and probably more so, social networking sites.

Why do you think there’s an explosion in blogs? But don’t think they’re limited to some rank-and-file netizens spewing senseless diatribe about their meandering thoughts “du jour.” They’re certainly not.

For example, take a look at how they’re also used with affiliate marketing, particularly promotions based on recommendations and peer reviews.

(Just think of all the videos now popping up all over the Internet offering a product demo or review, often used as a way to recommend and pre-sell products currently sold on a, you guessed it, long-copy salesletter somewhere.)

People are tired of hype and scams. But contrary to popular opinion, they are not moving away from salesletters. They simply want to believe more, they want to trust more, and they certainly want to buy more.

If people seek proof, credibility, opinions, feedback and recommendations from other sources like these “gathering sites,” or if they tend to buy more with the help of these videos, demos and reviews during product launches or in affiliate promotions before they see the salesletter, then the question is…

… “What about the salesletter itself?”

Ah, yes. There’s the kicker.

Hype or Hope?

The next question is, what does Web 2.0 have to do with salesletters, if anything? And how does it affect them? For marketers, Web 2.0 presents a number of new opportunities and avenues that allow more interaction.

More specifically, tools created by Web 2.0 can help to not only humanize but also magnetize a website, which, in turn, gives marketers the ability to create better relationships with prospects, and supplies them with better tools to offer more proof, communicate more effectively and develop that trust they so seek.

In terms of marketing, it can leverage a viral marketing campaign by creating a certain buzz about the business, which can enhance a website’s traffic, exposure, stickiness and, to some degree, believability.

But in terms of salesletters specifically, which is what I really want to focus on, it can serve up a sales message in the way the user wants, not how the business behind it wants or thinks their users want.

Rather than being sold, people are literally telling you how they want to buy. And this brings a whole new level of interactivity to websites that either was previously unavailable, or, until the emergence of new web applications and the penetration of broadband, was impractical or expensive to do.

These web applications include audio, video, scripts, interactivity, personalization, database-driven content and data fetching and delivery tools.

A lot of the hype surrounding Web 2.0 is mostly generated by the creators of those web apps that facilitate interactivity. Either that or it is most often if not always inspired or instigated by someone who wants to make money from it.

(Ah, yes. Good old capitalism.)

But is this whole Web 2.0 just hype? No.

While the concept of Web 2.0 is overused, don’t let it steer you away from what it really means, particularly when it comes to web copy: interactivity.

The evolution of the Internet (which led to the creation of the applications that fed the buzz and created the frenzy in the first place) simply cannot be ignored, because it’s radically changing the landscape of the web — and above all, salesletters online (or more specifically, how people are buying online).

Let me explain by giving you a few insights of my own about what Web 2.0 means, how it’s changing things in terms of copywriting, and where it’s heading.

First off, you might be expecting me to make some “predictions.” I hate Internet predictions. Why? It’s because the Internet is, at its core, mostly unpredictable. It has become more user-driven (as it should be), and therefore, much like the stock market, volatility increases when more players enter the game.

(If it was predictable, we wouldn’t have gone through the dotcom bust.)

Some copywriters, like John Carlton among others, have recently said that Web 2.0 is a bunch of hoopla, and that copywriting and salesmanship are the same — regardless of the medium or how the medium evolves.

He’s not the only one. Dan Kennedy has been touting for years that the Internet is just another medium, and that salesmanship is salesmanship.

I agree, but to a degree.

I’m not contradicting these guys, who are actually my mentors. And I’m not saying that salesletters and salesmanship are dying, either. Not at all. And I’m also not saying that it’s not about salesmanship. It certainly is. Both Carlton and Kennedy, as well as many others, are 100% right.

However, there’s more to it than that. I think just relying on those statements alone, at least without a proper understanding of what’s really going on (and how Web 2.0 is affecting online sales mostly in indirect and subtle ways), is incomplete for a variety of reasons.

The salesletter is not dead. Of that I am certain. But the online salesletter with long-scrolling copy, especially the poorly written, lackluster, hype-filled salesletter, is indeed on its last legs.

What I am seeing is, better results with salesletters that are getting shorter, stronger, pithier, cleaner, and more “nichified.” But there’s even more than that.

They’re also becoming more dynamic.

Salesletters are changing not because people are changing — they are changing precisely because human behavior will never change.

New tools and processes have entered the ether, which allow us to cater to human behavior far more effectively. But such advances are subtle and not as dramatic as some of the Web 2.0 pundits have stated them to be.

Yes, there is a lot of hype and hoopla. But it’s actually because of the hype that the real changes are happening so subtly yet significantly, mostly behind the scenes, clouded by all the dust kicked up from the Web 2.0 buzz.

However, no matter how many times I hear people say “the Internet is just another medium,” I tend to ignore it or reflect on the true purpose of such a statement. (Admittedly, I have been guilty of saying this, too.)

True, the Internet is a medium. But human behavior is human behavior, and that will never change, regardless of the medium. So applying the rules and fundamentals of salesmanship, on any medium, won’t change things.

But the Internet really is different.

Let me give you an example.

Are infomercials salesletters? I mean, can you put a long-copy written salesletter on television, and force viewers to read it, to buy your product? Of course, not. You probably could, but you wouldn’t put up a long-copy salesletter on TV because, obviously, it would be nonsense for a variety of reasons.

Unlike a print ad or salesletter, television has movement and sound. It’s active and engages more senses than copy written on a piece of paper. And when people flip channels, their attention needs to be captured and their interest needs to be engaged far more vigorously than, say, a plain, static direct mail piece.

So if you don’t put a salesletter on TV, then why put one on the web?

Well, it’s because, in the days of Web 1.0, the Internet was similar to direct mail. It was originally regarded as an electronic version of the direct mail piece.

It simply offered a new opportunity to direct mail marketers to tap new markets and deliver more of their sales messages. It was easy to use the Internet as a form of direct mail, and not necessarily because it is or has to be like it.

So the web was, and was very successful at being, another “direct mail medium,” if you will. And given the very limited tools at the time (e.g., browsers were once only text-based), and the fact that slow dialup connections were the norm, text-based direct mail was perfect for the Internet.

But that was then.

(Keep in mind, when the Internet began it was fragmented and mostly used by geeks from Universities and institutions that interacted with each other using tools like bulletin boards, Gopher, and Usenet newsgroups, all of which evolved into the Internet of today. And “interaction” is the key, here, and I’ll come back to this because it’s truly important.)

When people say that “the Internet is no different than direct mail,” they’re not trying to sway people to using the web as a direct mail process. They’re referring to human behavior, salesmanship and the fundamentals of copywriting as being the same — regardless of the medium.

And that is what they really mean.

As a communications medium, the Internet is no different than direct mail, the radio, TV and so on, because they are all received by human beings. The way people respond to a direct marketing message is no different on the Internet than it is with a print salesletter.

But here’s the thing: it’s not the message that’s changing. It’s the delivery. The way people get interested in and respond to that message is what makes the Internet completely different. It’s how people interact with the message.

Let me put this in another perspective: in direct mail, you have one choice and one choice only. You read it or you don’t, period. It’s what Gary Halbert calls the “A-pile, B-pile” sorting process. That is, when you go through your mail, you sort the must-read mail (the “A pile”) from the junk mail (or “B pile”).

Two simple options… one choice… no interruptions (other than environmental distractions, such as background noise, gatekeepers, the reader’s busy schedule, screaming kids in the background, whatever).

Radio and TV are different, but just slightly.

For example, with television your options have multiplied by the number of channels available — from 12 in the antenna-based VHF/UHF days, to 50 with cable, and now to several hundreds with satellite and digital TV.

While you have several options to deal with, it’s still just one choice. Your choice is what one show will occupy your attention at that moment in time. From all the channels available, just one show on a single channel, at any given point, will be the one on which you focus your attention — for as long as it keeps it.

Now, enter the Internet.

How Is The Internet Different?

Nowadays, it’s no longer a choice between the A and B piles. It’s no longer a choice between hundreds of stations or channels. It’s a choice between millions if not billions of options called “websites.”

But there’s something else.

The Internet has multiplied not only the number of options but also the number of choices, too! (If you want a hint, think of those choices as “applications.”)

From millions of web pages (as opposed to just hundreds of direct mail pieces, TV channels or radio stations), to various delivery methods for each one (e.g., text, audio and video), to additional applications that equally demand attention (on the web as well as on a computer desktop), a user’s choices have therefore become exponentially more complex.

In other words, your web salesletter is now competing not only with millions of other websites but also with email, instant messengers, RSS feeds, web-based applications, and desktop programs, all of which are vying for your reader’s attention, as well as their input.

Thousands of new interruptions are notifying them of something they must attend to, such as the latest email, some instant message or a recent blog post. And that short list is more of a minimum than it is the norm, I’m afraid.

Let me share with you my situation to give you an example (and keep in mind, being a copywriter I’m not as active as most marketers). Aside from the applications I mentioned earlier, as well as the typical antiviral and anti-spyware programs running on my desktop, I also have:

  • Numerous statistics programs running in the background that track my websites, analyze my server logs and manage my split-test campaigns;
  • A Clickbank® program that notifies me when I made a sale, manages my affiliates, publishes my sales and commissions reports, and more;
  • A PayPal® monitoring software that instantly notifies me when a sale is made or when someone makes a payment to my account;
  • A Google AdSense® tracking and reporting tool that notifies me, every 15 minutes, about my current earnings on all my websites;
  • Helpdesk software that keeps me in constant contact with my support staff who handle all my orders, queries, contractors and billings;
  • Fax software that allows me to send and receive faxes from my computer desktop at a moment’s notice; and more.

And that’s just an iceberg’s tip. They do not include web applications online that are competing for my attention, too (including word processors with which I write my clients’ copy, as well as programs that manage and run my promotional campaigns, mailing lists, websites, you name it).

As the saying goes, we are being “pinged” from a variety of sources.

That’s why I call this the “ping factor.”

We are constantly being pinged. But if the ping factor isn’t enough, Web 2.0 makes it even more complex. Just as satellite TV has pushed standard cable TV to new level, so is Web 2.0 pushing the ping factor to a new level as well.

MySpace has its own proprietary messenging system. Google Talk and Skype allow you to make and receive phone calls via the Internet. Browsers are now tab-based rather than window-based, allowing you to have a multitude of websites open at the same time that flash when they need your attention.

And the list goes on.

Nevertheless, let’s take a closer look at how Web 2.0 is not only changing the Internet but also distancing it even more from other media.

Hype notwithstanding, if “Web 2.0” exists it’s because something is indeed going on, whether we realize it or not. After you peel all the layers of controversy away, you’ll start to notice how Web 2.0 is really affecting our industry.

But the changes are not as overt as you might think. While the hype may have been instigated by creators of new web applications, the hype itself didn’t cause these changes to occur. In fact, they were the result of them. The buzz simply brought it to more people’s attention.

So if you’re trying to cut through the hype and trying to understand how things are really changing, simply look at the underlying patterns, trends and behaviors on which the hype was created in the first place.

I know this personally, as I’ve seen and experienced some of these changes firsthand. Tests are starting to show a shift in the way people surf, read and, of course, buy online. (It started gradually, but the momentum is building.)

For example, I’m seeing long-copy salesletters losing their effectiveness, and shorter copy starting to outsell them. As a proponent of long-copy salesletters myself, you can imagine how much of a wakeup call this was for me. And if you’re a copywriter or a marketer, it should be your wakeup call, too.

Is it truly the death of the salesletter? Not really, so don’t go sounding the alarm bells yet. They’re not disappearing. However, the current long-copy, long-scrolling salesletters that are so pervasive nowadays are indeed being replaced.

Perhaps it’s better to call it a new “sales process” rather than a new salesletter, because the salesletter, in principle, is here to say. It’s just the way the message is delivered, and how people read and respond to it, that’s really changing.

With web 1.0, static messages were thrown at the user in the hope she will read it, get moved by it and act upon it. And the popularity and level of success of a website, beyond response, were largely based on traffic and pageviews.

While pageviews will always remain a useful statistic, as more sites become dynamic, database-driven and “widgetized,” pageviews will become less valid over time. (I’ll come back to what “widgetization” means in a moment.)

Simply put, the web is turning into a more interactive medium, as it was meant to be from the get-go. As a result, we’re going to see fewer pages serving up more content on the fly and in different formats, than in single, long-scrolling web salesletters or opt-in forms.

Sure, technology will play a big role. But Web 2.0 is not about technology, as some might suggest. It’s about people. And human nature will never change.

Therefore, the tools, processes and applications we now have at our disposal are not going to create a massive transformation. They are simply offering us an opportunity to analyze audiences more effectively, deliver messages more effectively and obviously sell them more effectively.

In turn, they grant our prospects the opportunity to do what they always wanted to do, from getting the information they want in the way they want it, to choosing how they want to buy, rather than how you should sell them.

For us marketers, giving the user a voice and more control over their content means letting them tell us how they want to be sold, rather than interrupting them with your sales message in the hope they will read it and respond.

That last paragraph is crucial, so it bears repeating: Web 2.0 is about giving the user more control and selling them in the way they want to be sold.

Or let me rephrase it differently so that you truly understand its significance: it’s about what someone wants when they visit your website (judging by what they say or do), rather than it is about what we think they want (judging by what pages they visit or what links they click on).

So now that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at what all of this really means in more specific and concrete terms.

Shorter Salesletters But More Copy

Long, scrolling salesletters are dying. It’s a fact. There are two main reasons for this. Remember, I said an evolution and a revolution are currently taking place. And both of these are contributing to the death of the salesletter.

The evolution is this: users are demanding for better quality, more content, more proof, less hassles and greater interactivity. New technologies therefore help to enable that experience. And really, that’s what it’s all about:

It’s about the experience.

As more and more people enter the web, get broadband, and gain access to groups of people who they can connect and interact with, as well as with the preponderance of applications that fight for that person’s attention and interaction, the long-scrolling salesletter no longer works as effectively as it used to.

Recent research and split-tests show this to be true. It’s not that less copy will sell more (although that may be the case). It is how that copy is delivered.

The web is not like radio, TV or direct mail. It’s all of them combined, with the added element of interactivity that other media don’t have, which is what makes the Internet so unique.

So it’s only natural that the web, which initially started out as a digital form of direct mail, is evolving into a multifaceted, interactive, multimedia experience.

But that evolution is happening not just because it was a natural, unfettered progression of the medium. (It is, but only in part.) It’s also brought on because, like it or not, people are slowly getting fed up.

You see, there’s a quiet revolution going on.

The web is literally crammed with poorly-written, long-scrolling salesletters that swipe each other in incestuous markets that are becoming more and more bombarded by, and tired and leery of, these red-headlined, hard-hitting, salesy, hype-filled, multicolored, stock-graphic-donned web pages.

The snowball has just begun rolling downhill. More and more people who hit online salesletters are going to be turned off by them, and there’s no end in sight — unless, of course, your salesletter is:

  • For a product launch that has created wide appeal, delivered quality content and generated massive anticipation beforehand (think of the multitude of product launches using social proof, buzz and joint ventures);
  • For an existing, highly targeted market that has an existing relationship with the author, and established a certain level of trust and credibility with them already (think of targeted email lists); or,
  • For pre-sold markets, often through existing relationships (think of joint ventures or affiliates notifying their lists about the salesletter, and recommending the product to them).

But even in these cases, I submit that salesletters are falling out of favor as well. Lately, we’ve been bombarded with product launches. We’ve been hit with opt-in pages. And our inboxes have been inundated with long, template-based, copied-and-pasted emails promoting the “next best thing.”

Add to the mix the constantly increasing number of spams, scams and snake oils, as well as their salesletters that look as if they were put together by preschoolers, it’s no wonder that people are demanding more credibility.

However, if and when they do work, I also submit that many people do not read them from tip to toe. (This is not just a wild guess. Tracking studies as well as market research have proven this to be true.)

Some of these launches, like the salesletter I wrote for TrafficSecrets.com for example, are so anticipated — and the market so targeted, primed and pumped — that, even if the salesletter uses well-written long copy, a great percentage of the people will simply skip it and look for the “buy now” button.

Now, are salesletters still important during product launches? Absolutely.

While it’s important to be sensible and realize that the copy isn’t the predominant factor behind the success of a well-executed product launch, I think it’s just as important to understand that the salesletter is indeed crucial, and that it’s not the purpose of the salesletter but its presence that makes it so.

I did a call with Sterling Valentine and Mike Morgan about the whole salesletter-for-product-launch phenomena, and posted the recording on my blog. In it, we offered proof that salesletters during an anticipated launch can outsell a short or poorly written one.

But my thinking is that the market wanted a salesletter as a way to answer specific questions they had (and used the salesletter more as a reference tool than a persuasion tool), and to feel more secure about their buying decision.

Granted, some people will read the salesletter. But many will only read certain sections, and most won’t even read it at all. I do this myself: I skip the bulk of it, scan for specific pieces of information I need, or just look for the order link.

(If I can find a simple review elsewhere, whether it’s an email, a blog post, a video or even a demo, that’s even better — of course, that’s if I didn’t get one before hitting the salesletter in the first place. It saves me time from having to wade through a mass of copy to finally get to the information I really want.)

Nevertheless, here’s what I mean when I say that the mere existence of the salesletter is part of the marketing process. I call it “UPA,” or an unconscious paralleled assumption. That is, people unconsciously assume there’s a parallel between one part and its whole.

For example, if a retailer has dusty shelves, people will be turned off and likely never buy from it — even if, unbeknownst to them, the product and customer service are great. Why? It’s because people will tend to conclude, “If they can’t take care of themselves, how in the world are they going to take care of me?”

The reason is, people want to feel secure in their purchasing decision. Similarly, the salesletter makes the prospect feel comfortable about buying from it, whether they actually read the letter or not at all.

Look at it as a sort of “safety net,” if you will.

They can go back to the salesletter at a later time, they can use it as a backup, or they can skim it for pertinent bits, even after they make the purchase. They also think that, “If the author took great care in selling the product (or in this case, took the time to write a salesletter), then they will take great care of me.”

On a call several weeks ago dedicated to “online predictions” by top marketers, five of the most well-known marketers joined in to prognosticate about the future of the Internet in 2007. One of them was my friend John Reese. John threw in his “death of” spin by calling his prediction “the death of ugly websites.”

Long-scrolling copy that’s poorly written and poorly designed is pushing people away. Why? It’s because they are communicating a lot more to your audience than just the words — albeit unconsciously.

In this case, the prevailing UPA is that the salesletter, if it looks as if it was put together hastily, poorly and clumsily, with no care given to its quality or presentation, then the product must be just as shoddy.

Add to all that the fact that there are so many shoddy-looking salesletters out there, particularly those selling scams and downright poor-quality products, a well-written salesletter that’s pithier, properly formatted, and professionally designed will stand out from the crowd almost instantly.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The point being, long-copy salesletters are just not as appealing anymore. But don’t just blame the copy or the copywriter. Let’s not forget the reader, too. In today’s fax-email-microwave world, our time is becoming fast-paced, overburdened, and significantly scarcer.

Bombarded by marketing messages and applications all competing for our attention, we’re under an enormous amount of pressure. Even with all the new technologies that are supposed to help us organize our time more effectively, it’s only getting worse and not better. (Remember the “ping factor?”)

Let me ask you a question: how many salesletters have you read, word for word, from beginning to end? Answer that question honestly, now, even with salesletters from which you’ve actually bought.

Not many, if any, I’m sure.

Granted, a reason may be the fact that the salesletter may have been poorly written, untargeted or uninteresting. But even when they’re not, with so much taxing our time nowadays, reading it all is just too labor-intense.

When you’re faced with a 5,000, 3,000 or even a 1,000-word salesletter, reading anything that long, particularly if it looks anything like a salesletter, seems incredibly daunting — even just scanning through it can be exhausting.

Shorter salesletters are more effective. That is, pithy, brief, to-the-point copy is showing better results in split-tests than the converse. But be careful, here. When I say “shorter” copy, I don’t mean less copy.

What I mean is, less textual copy.

Salesletters offering even more content but delivered in other ways are actually outpulling long-copy salesletters with endlessly scrolling text.

Here’s an example: you may have a 3,000-word salesletter on one hand, and on the other you may deliver that same message but with 800 words of text, a 200-word sound bite, and a 2,000-word video (which could very well end up in delivering even more copy when all these formats are combined).

Long-copy salesletters don’t have to be shorter. I’m a big believer in long copy and will continue to be. However, long-scrolling copy is being replaced by a sales message that delivers the same if not more copy but in different ways.

Why? Again, it’s because the Internet is different than other media. A web page no longer has to mimic a direct mail piece. It doesn’t need to.

As a matter of fact, because of all the options the Internet offers, you now have the ability to deliver even more copy than you would, say, in a dense-copy display ad, a direct mail piece or a TV infomercial. Plus, the Internet has grown in popularity precisely because it offers so many different options.

(Remember all the talk a few years ago about “convergence?” The buzz may have died, but we’re definitely seeing media converging right now. Just look at all the music stations you can now “listen to” on satellite TV, or all the TV shows you can now watch on your computer, on the Internet.)

Look at the evolution: you can only read print. Radio is a step up from print, as you can listen to it. Television is another step up, as you can watch it, too. But the Internet is yet another step up, above and beyond all of those things, because you can read, hear, watch and interact with it, as well.

Some people learn better by watching… others, by listening… and others, by doing. The Internet therefore communicates more effectively because it allows people to respond to information in the way they feel most comfortable with.

So why not give it to them?

(This is important, so let’s look at this more closely.)

Multisensorial Salesletters

Video is said to be Web 2.0’s killer app. But is it video itself? Not really. It’s interactivity. Video engages all the senses. Ample split-tests show that the more you engage the user’s senses, the greater the response.

When I used to teach professional selling in college, we used a textbook called “Personal Selling: An Interactive Approach,” by Ronald Marks, Ph.D.

In it, Dr. Marks makes the case that using audiovisual aids in face-to-face sales presentations can increase a person’s sales effectiveness. (And remember, this book was written in the 80s, before laptops became popular.)

That’s not breaking news, I admit. But here’s what I’ve found fascinating. The author states that multimedia-generated sales presentations — with a mix of text, graphics, photos, animation and sound — capture attention and arouse interest more effectively since they appeal to all the senses.

Marks also claims that, with multimedia presentations, prospects are 43% more likely to be persuaded, will pay 26% more attention, learn 200% faster and retain knowledge 38% better. Learning time is also reduced by 25-40%.

He also added this interesting tidbit: “Audiovisual aids are especially valuable to the salesperson who sells intangible products.”

On the Internet, isn’t most if not all that is being sold intangible to a degree? You bet it is. Unlike a face-to-face sales presentation where you can bring a sample to the meeting, we can’t physically inspect products online.

If using audiovisual aids and even computers in sales presentations weren’t possible, Dr. Marks suggested the use of flip-charts, slides, exercises and forms as alternative tools in face-to-face encounters, particularly to engage the prospect.

(Can you see where this is going?)

I’ve said it before: texts tell but pictures sell. That’s why eBay once reported that auction listings with pictures get the most bids (and I’m guessing it’s the also case with audios and videos, now).

It’s more than just for engaging all the senses. It’s for giving more proof — proof people are so desperate for. It’s substituting any of the senses lost in the sales experience that are otherwise possible in face-to-face presentations.

We can’t see, touch, taste, hear, smell or inspect products online. So audiovisuals are giving back to the prospect some of what’s largely nonexistent.

That’s why Amazon.com has been in existence since Web 1.0, has survived the dotcom bust, and has been touted as one of the greatest success stories in online retailing, mostly because books are books. They only need to be read.

Additionally, scientific research and eye-tracking studies show that our eyes are naturally drawn to movement. My friend Alex Mandossian, a copwriter whose clients range from Thighmaster (Suzanne Summers), RONCO (Ron Popeil), Topsy Tail and many more, calls this giving your salesletter “eye gravity.”

Online, this means video and audio added to your salesletter will sell more effectively because they engage more of the senses.

Some call them “multimedia salesletters.” But I prefer to call them “multisensorial salesletters,” not just because they engage the senses but also because multimedia alone fails to include another dimension, another sense if you will, that the Internet allows (and that the TV, radio and direct mail don’t allow, either).

And that’s interactivity.

We’re seeing an increasing emergence of more video, more audio, more content and more controls than ever before with salesletters. And by “controls” I mean more opportunities to interact with the sales message, such as a simple “play” button on a video, or forms on a sales page that can personalize the user’s experience, and not just mere graphics and links.

Think tours, samples, reviews, demos, user-rated content, user-submitted content, widgets and, above all, personalization.

What’s a “widget?” Web widgets are pieces of content that are flexible and dynamic. (Some people call these “ecosystems.” They include RSS feeds, movable panels, drag-and-drop content, form submissions on the fly, and so forth.)

Content can be moved around, slide in, or “open up” on a web page, on the fly without refreshing the page, based on a user’s choice — whether it’s through forms, controls, or even as simple as scrolling or mouse movement.

For example, widgets often refer to tools used in Web 2.0 or community-based sites. They’re mostly used for browsing, organizing and using the web.

(Widgets are not as significant in the sales process, but for now and in terms of how they can work with salesletters specifically, just remember that the same technologies that make widgets possible will have a lot to do with personalization, which itself is a significant factor in sales overall, as time goes on.)

Let’s go back to videos, for a moment.

Salesletters that have videos are going to increase over time. In fact, those with mini-infomercials embedded throughout not only are showing to be more effective in terms of sales but also will become increasingly popular, too.

We first started to see this with videos used for testimonials on a salesletter, or with “tours” that showcase the product being sold. But now, we’re seeing copywriters and marketers getting increasingly creative in how they incorporate videos in the sales experience.

(Surf around eBay for a bit and you’ll see what I mean. Another great example is John Reese’s Traffic Secrets, which was one of the first salesletters on the Internet, if not the first, to feature video snippets of the many DVDs it offers.)

Videos are now used to offer samples, demos, reviews, actual sales presentations, slideshows, viral marketing tools, and tutorials — including tutorials that teach people how to buy, consume the product, or use customer support.

This is not only a short list of the many uses for video, but also giving rise to what I call the “samplification” of the web.

The “Samplification” of the Web

“Samplifying” is a term I’ve coined to explain the growing (albeit always existing) need for more proof. The more samples you offer before you sell your product, the more you will invariably sell.

Blame it on the need to feel more secure about a purchase decision, or blame it on the pervasive lack of credibility with most websites these days, the reality is that people want to know exactly what they’re going to get before they buy.

Sure, copy can fill that need, but only to certain degree.

Also, by “samples” I don’t mean just free trials, either. They also include videos, audios, online demos, customer support chats, and interactive tools that allow the user to get a sense of what they’re buying (think of 360-degree virtual tours of homes on real estate websites, among others).

Fact is, the demand for more samples (or more specifically, more proof) will continue to grow. Like it or not, people not only want more proof but will demand it, which is why they’ll try to find it elsewhere if they can’t get it firsthand.

The user-driven nature of Web 2.0 is part of this “craving.” That’s why we are seeing more user-driven content online, which in turn is the factor that led to the emergence of social networking sites, communities, blogs and websites in which users can connect, opine, share, comment and interact more.

Sure, these sites are in large part for entertainment purposes and do nothing other than stroke a user’s ego (we all love to see ourselves, our pictures, our videos, or own content up online, such as on MySpace, YouTube, blogs, etc).

But if you pay attention, you’ll notice that many of them are places in which people congregate not only to interact with others but also to find out what people are talking about, what they are saying, and what their experience is, such as with products or websites, among others. And what they are buying, too.

(For example, Technorati features the most popular blogs. YouTube lists the most viewed videos. Del.icio.us showcases the most bookmarked sites. People are literally telling the world what’s happening — unlike corporate-fed taxonomies, these sites form a “Google Zeitgeist” of the people, if you will.)

So if people want more feedback, samples, credibility and proof, why not preemptively give it to them before they resort to such sites?

Thus, in terms of salesletters specifically, samplification allows copy to be transformed into dynamic messages, served up from a database, based on a user’s experience and/or choices, while they are in the midst of that experience.

It’s giving people the opportunity to choose the way in which they want to be sold. Along with widgets and applications now at our disposal, users can now create their own salesletter, on the fly, based on what they want.

I’m far from being a programmer. But I am a bit of a geek, and I do know enough about technology to know that you can samplify your salesletter a lot more than you can with what was previously possible.

(Other than audio and video, there are also web applications and scripts that are growing in popularity, many of them based on platforms such as Ruby on Rails, XHTML and RSS feeds, PHP, AJAX, and a slew of others.)

However, you don’t need to be a geek or need to be that complicated — at least, not yet. It can be as simple as using web forms, buttons and checkboxes to determine the content your prospects want (or that’s best for them).

But what’s exciting is that you can make this process dynamic, and fill in the gaps for them as they move along, on the fly, throughout your salesletter.

One of the most popular ways to accomplish this is by using database-driven content served up on the fly with the help of AJAX — i.e., page-based, user-controlled DHTML, or dynamic HTML, which is a combination of javascript and HTML — with scripts you can get for free at Script.aculo.us.

(If you want a good example of what’s to come, take a look at what Scott Stevenson is doing with interactive salesletters. This is just the tip of the iceberg.)

But technology aside, what does this mean?

It means that the salesletter has the potential of not only becoming more personalized but also, and more importantly, becoming more individualized — and to become so quickly, easily and dynamically.

Individualization is far more than just personalization, which itself is proven to increase response and sales. In other words, it’s more than just adding a person’s name to the salesletter, or redirecting people to specific salesletters based on the choices they make. It’s creating almost entirely different salesletters (or more specifically, sales experiences) for each and every individual user.

As copywriters, that is what we need to seriously think about.

Plus, adding interactivity is not limited to textual content, either. While the result is less copy that’s more individually targeted, of higher quality and less cumbersome to read, you can serve up audios and videos that the user is specifically requesting (or needs, based on their choices).

Think of it this way: long scrolling salesletters are long because they mimic direct mail. And they are long for good reason. With direct mail salesletters, you want to give people as much information as possible to cover all the bases.

But in face-to-face encounters, you have certain luxuries you don’t have in a one-way medium such as direct mail. You can qualify your prospect beforehand, engage them in a conversation, and ask targeted questions throughout.

This allows you to dig deep to find out exactly what they want, what makes them tick and what concerns they have. Copywriters typically do this before they write their salesletters while conducting their research. But in an in-person meeting, you can do this during the sales presentation itself.

In turn, this allows you to determine what pieces of information will be best for them as the meeting progresses, and to give them only those pieces of information so that you can modify your presentation on the fly.

In other words, based on their answers or reactions, you can handpick those features and benefits that are the most suitable to them, handle their specific objections preemptively, and even change the words you use that will be most appropriate and compelling for the prospect.

In direct mail, you don’t have the same luxuries you normally have in sales encounters. On the Internet, it’s the same — although Web 2.0 changes all that.

You can now cut through the fluff and filler, and get right down to the core message that most appropriately fits the prospect’s unique situation, and answers their specific needs, their most pressing goals and their most burning questions — dynamically, as they go through the sales “experience,” just as you would if you were in front of them in a face-to-face encounter.

Let me show you how long copy can sometimes backfire.

Handling objections can be a double-edged sword. While answering questions that users might have can prove useful to the sale, covering all the bases in a long-scrolling salesletter can also create doubt when there aren’t any to begin with, and thus become counterproductive.

If you’re handling a nonexistent objection, you need to be pretty effective in handling it, because you’ve now created more doubt in the mind of the prospect. And what do we often do to deal with this? Of course, we add more copy!

But with on-demand content, the user has more control over how they want to be sold, and they don’t have to read everything to be enticed into your offer.

Rather than a long-copy salesletter that’s purposefully long to cover all the bases, you can now use technology to serve up pieces of content that specifically individualizes the sales experience for that one prospect at that moment in time.

Just like in a sales presentation done in person.

Personality-Driven Sales Experience

People have different buyer personality styles. In fact, according to behavioral science, there are four: drivers, analyticals, amiables and expressives. Sometimes, they are labeled differently, but they are nevertheless the same.

For example, Dr. Tony Alessandra, in his best-selling book “The Platinum Rule,” calls them “thinkers,” “socializers,” “directors” and “relaters.”

But regardless of the labels used, this means that different people communicate, relate and buy differently, based on their predominant personality style. Drivers prefer end-results. Analyticals are persuaded by facts. Expressives are moved by feelings. And amiables seek out relationships.

I’ve written about this on my blog and in several articles. But my suggestion, at the time, was to create a salesletter for each personality style, if and when your target market is comprised of more than one predominant personality.

This is not just about niche marketing, such as writing a salesletter that caters to a specific industry, group of people or product category.

If your sales copy specifically relates and caters to a predominant buying personality, your chances of connecting with your audience, at a deeper, more psychical and emotional level, will invariably increase your sales.

(Are you starting to see how powerful Web 2.0 is? Rather than having 2, 5, or 10 different salesletters where each fits a prospect’s particular niche or personality, you can work with one and one only, dynamically serving up the content to appeal to that person, without any additional websites, links or pages.)

By the way, some people say that choosing better, more compelling, more emotional or more “appropriate” words is manipulative. And by “appropriate,” I mean words that are conducive to making a sale with that particular prospect.

Manipulative? Maybe. But not in an unethical way.

It was Paul Myers, who said it best when he said: “Split-testing is not about manipulating people but about finding out what they really want.” I would add to that: “It’s about finding out how people want to be sold, and giving it to them.”

Look at Web 2.0 as a more efficient, highly compressed and dynamic form of split-testing. You serve up content exactly as the user requests it, when they do. You don’t have to run split-test campaigns, then wait and see what people like. You give it to them as they want it, when they want it.

If you want to see how simple this can be, here’s a small test you can run right now. Keep in mind that I’m oversimplifying for the sake of this example.

Just add a few forms or buttons (like HTML drop-down menus, radio buttons or checkboxes) on your sales page, in strategic locations. But rather than waiting for the forms to be submitted, simply hide the extra pieces of content (or variants thereof) throughout your content using “DIV” tags in the HTML code.

(In other words, wrap <div> and </div> tags around the extra content you want to hide. This content becomes unhidden based on that person’s choice as they go along by clicking boxes or buttons, which is done with javascript or CSS. In fact, you can associate them with videos and audios they interact with, too.)

Test to see the kind of results you get. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Again, I’m simplifying for the sake of the example, here. If you’re more technically inclined than the norm, you can figure out how to do it yourself, or just have someone else do it for you. There are many free scripts on the Internet that can help, including AJAX from Script.aculo.us, which I mentioned earlier.

If your prospect is a driver, then forget all the fluff and get your salesletter to serve up only the bottom-line results after they click just a few checkboxes. If your prospect is an analytical, then have more facts and data about your product drop in automatically into the salesletter. With amiables, have more testimonials show up throughout the salesletter in strategic locations.

Nevertheless, I submit that adding simple interactivity can increase the effectiveness of any salesletter. Is this true in all cases? Probably. Probably not. I haven’t seen it used in all industries to make an empirical guess.

But given human behavior and everything you’ve read thus far, my guess is that it’s going to increases sales in more cases than not. Plus, what you may not know is that this is currently being done by some top marketers. And let me tell you that their results are nothing short of amazing.

I’ve seen conversion rates more than double with interactivity. And this is not limited to the content on the sales page proper, either. Look at the entire “sales experience,” from beginning to end. For example, you can:

  • Dynamically insert opt-in forms;
  • Mold offers and price-points on the fly;
  • Redirect users to different order forms;
  • Add upsells or downsells to the order page;
  • Make additional offers on the thank you pages;
  • Play multimedia automatically once the user scrolls to a certain location, or once they fill out specific forms, such as on the order page;

And much, much more.

Ultimately, based on a user’s preferences the salesletter becomes individualized, engages the reader and offers the content they want, thereby selling them in the way they want to be sold, and does it all dynamically.

It can also present that content in their modality of choice, whether it’s audios, videos or demos. In fact, audios, videos and demos are catering to an even greater behavioral style — one not just based on buying personalities but also on the user’s preferred method of communication.

You’ve heard of “visual,” “auditory” and “kinesthetic,” right? And you probably have a good idea of what those are. If you don’t, or if you want to know how they relate to Web 2.0, then let’s take a closer look at these. Shall we?

Sensory-Driven Sales Experience

Online video has exploded. But it’s more than just the demand for video. It’s interactivity. Videos offer sight and sound, but online they also offer touch since they have controls like “play,” “pause,” “fast-forward,” etc.

When you combine this with my earlier statement that multimedia engages more senses and therefore appeals to more people, video specifically allows you to deliver your message in a number of ways that appeal to different modalities of communication, if not all of them.

“Visual” means that people learn or communicate by seeing. “Aural” means they do so by hearing. (It’s often mistakenly referred to as “auditory.” Auditory means what can be heard and not how one perceives by hearing.) And “kinesthetic” means people understand better by “feeling” or “doing.”

(In face-to-face encounters, for example, salespeople are often trained to watch out for signs that hint at what the prospect’s preferred mode of communication is. For example, visuals will say “I see what you’re saying,” aurals will say “I hear you,” and kinesthetics will say “I have a grasp on the situation.”)

Yes, video is both visual and auditory, since it includes both sight and sound. But online video specifically also has a kinesthetic component.

Basically, online video has control buttons that need to be pushed in order for the user to view it. But now, with Flash® technology that allows forms to be added to the video, online video therefore caters even more so to all modalities.

(Just take a look at the new Camtasia 4.0, for example, at Techsmith.com. Camtasia, which is a screen-capturing software, not only records your desktop but also its new version allows you to add forms, surveys and quizzes to your videos. Even better, it allows you to provide feedback and even jump to specific locations in the same video, based on a user’s answers.)

But will the online video infomercial replace the salesletter? No.

Unlike TV for instance, online we have the ping factor I talked about earlier. So if your video is too long, the user will definitely be interrupted during the process, whether it’s by their email, instant messengers, RSS feeds or whatever.

They will get distracted, lose interest and never buy. (Or you will need to work harder at getting them back on track. Thus, it defeats the purpose of including video in the first place. Unsuspecting marketers will either blame the video for their low conversions, or — you guessed it — feel a need to add more copy!)

Not only that, but if an important, salient point in the video is being mentioned (one that could literally clinch the sale with that particular prospect) while that person is being distracted by something else that’s pinging for their attention, you’ve just lost the sale.

Long infomercials don’t work online just as much as long-scrolling copy doesn’t work — or doesn’t work as well as it used to. The Internet is different. Just as you shouldn’t use the Internet as another form of direct mail, you shouldn’t use it as another for form of TV, either.

It’s best to use small snippets of video, throughout your salesletter, to grab people’s attention, move the sale along, support or emphasize key points, samplify your offer or product, and/or provide extra elements of proof.

If the audio or video is too long, you’re failing to get them involved in the sales experience. They’re in listening or watching mode, and they’re no better off than if they were to watch TV or listen to the radio.

You’re not engaging all the senses, which is offering them an invitation to be distracted and, above all, to procrastinate and not buy.

Instead, use bite-sized chunks, like 5-minute to 10-minute increments, throughout your salesletter, in strategic locations. That way, you can engage the user more effectively and get them busy interacting with your sales experience.

Plus, by doing so you also give them the ability to choose those specific videos they want to watch. (Be careful, however. Too many choices will only confuse your prospect. Remember that, if you give people too many choices, they won’t make one. Let their actions make those choices for them.)

Where do you put videos in salesletters specifically?

To give you a good idea of where to add video, think of the AIDA formula. Use videos to grab attention, create interest, increase desire, and induce action. In other words, use them near your headline, in your product descriptions, for your product demos, as elements of proof, with before-and-after comparisons, in your testimonials, on your opt-in page, on your order page, and so on.

For instance, even if it’s just as simple as showing a screen-captured video of how to process their order, adding videos to your order forms adds a whole new dimension to your sales experience. It’s something I’ve personally tested with some pretty impressive results. (Here’s a tip: use the video to highlight the guarantee on the order form. This alone has increased conversion rates in split-tests.)

Part of the reason why I believe they work so well is that they not only educate people on how to buy, but also show what’s happening after they buy, such as giving them a peek at the resulting “thank you” page after the order is processed.

Regardless of how intuitive the ordering process is, it doesn’t matter. People still want to be led, whether consciously or unconsciously, and whether they actually need direction or not. It’s just human nature.

You’re giving the prospect an idea of what’s on the “other side,” so to speak. By showing them what they will see and get once the order is processed, it helps to increase confidence in your offer. It also helps to reduce buyer skepticism, which leads to order abandonment and even refunds.

Using videos during the ordering process, whether on the order form as they’re buying, or on the thank you page after their order is processed, is also a great opportunity to teach the prospect on how to consume the product.

Look at it as a multisensorial “stick letter,” if you will. (If you don’t know what a “stick letter” is, essentially it’s a letter that not only thanks the prospect for their purchase after they buy but also educates them on how to consume the product. Sticks letters, or in this case “stick videos,” help the order to stick, thereby reducing potential refunds or returns.)

It’s all part of the samplification process I talked about earlier.

The more proof you can provide your prospects, the more comfortable they will feel in buying from you, and the more sales your salesletter will generate. And videos are proof in themselves, not only in their content. Why? It’s because of that UPA I talked about earlier. Videos give your salesletter instant credibility.

When I first began my career as a copywriter, I specialized in cosmetic surgery. And a plastic surgeon’s greatest “ace in the hole” is their ability to let prospective patients see before-and-after results.

Even though a doctor’s profession has a certain level of intrinsic credibility, before-and-after pictures are always more credible than the words from the mouth of a physician, no matter how convincing they are.

When I consulted with plastic surgeons, I often recommended the use of videos. I told them to get willing patients to come to their offices so we can record their results. That way, the doctor can simply pop in a video showing before-and-after case studies while in consultation with a prospective patient.

(Better yet, if doctors can get prospects to meet with willing patients to see the results for themselves, up close and personal, the higher the number of surgical procedures they will book as a result.)

Similarly, look at videos as your salesletters’ “ace in the hole.” They’re a perfect opportunity to show exactly what you offer, from “every possible angle,” to give the prospect a clear and deeper understanding of what they’re buying.

The Demise of Dull, Drab, and Dingy

With “user-driven copy,” the fact is, people can choose what they want, how they want it and when they want it. And that is what’s working really well right now, not because it’s new but because it’s natural.

The progression of the web (regardless if you call it Web 2.0 or not) is simply an extension of how people behave. Businesses and websites are finally waking up. And they’re giving their users what they want, ask for and prefer.

Here’s an example.

In Web 1.0, we were limited by text, graphics and links. When cookies came along, they helped to customize the user’s experience to a degree. But cookies are still limiting. They are static in nature, require more pageviews to make them useful if at all, and as we all know carry risks such as privacy and security issues.

With Web 2.0, we see the emergence of tools that not only allow but also encourage interaction without the use of cookies. If content can load up dynamically on the same page, without refreshing it, the more comfortable, secure, efficient and interactive the user’s experience will be, and therefore the more apt the user will be to buy and enjoy the buying experience.

As a result, we’re seeing less pages, links and cookies, and more buttons, forms, graphics and “controls” to serve up database-driven content, on the fly.

The evolution is part of the revolution, too. It’s more than just a confluence. They are independent but also interdependent. They feed each other as well as allow the other to flourish. The more evolved the tools become, the more people will see a need for them and want to use them.

A good example of this is broadband. In the days of dialup, web pages became so memory-intense, people were screaming for more bandwidth. Broadband came along with its bigger “pipes.” But now, video, audio and more are filling up those pipes, which are starting to burst at the seams.

(Nature abhors a vacuum, right?)

So is the case with salesletters. See, the increasingly cynical user (who’s tired of labor-intensive sales processes, stale or inflexible buying experiences, and the plethora of scams and hype) is demanding for better quality, more content and greater proof. What we’re seeing is the wheat being cut from the chaff.

Reading long copy is labor-intensive, even more now because of the nature of the Internet. The greater the potential distraction is, the greater the need becomes to write better copy that grabs their attention and gets them to start reading.

Therefore, the “death of the salesletter” is not in any way a call to stop writing copy or to stop learning how to write good copy.

Actually, it’s quite the opposite.

You not only need to learn copywriting for different media (because it’s all copy, really), you now must learn good copywrtiting if you want to keep up with the changes — and your prospect’s demands.

As a member of my now defunct copywriters forum said so eloquently:

“No question, in some instances a sales letter is the best possible vehicle for converting someone… but the more audio-visual and interactive the web becomes, the greater the need for direct response copywriters to be versatile.”

People are not demanding more proof. They are screaming for it. And that proof is not just limited to elements added to the salesletter to substantiate your case. It also includes the salesletter itself, the image it projects and the quality of the copy overall. It’s perceived proof — or better yet, perceived credibility.

(And yes, it’s all about perception.)

The UPA, if you recall, communicates proof in the form of perceived quality of your business or product based on the quality of your sales experience. If the salesletter is well-written and looks professional, not only does it make it easier to read but also readers will assume that the quality of your offer is equally high.

In 2006, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of poorly designed, poorly written and poorly delivered websites, let alone poorly created products. It’s no wonder that long-scrolling web salesletters are instantly regarded as “snake oil” by the majority of online users, nowadays — even when the copy is perfect.

I believe we’ve hit critical mass. But I don’t think long-copy salesletters alone are to blame. Their prevalence is unfortunately paralleling the growth in spam and scams (just take a look at how phishing attempts have grown in the last year alone), which in turn makes any salesletter instantly suspect.

Thus, long-copy salesletters (or more specifically, salesletters that look like a salesletter) are slowly desensitizing netizens to automatically assume they’re being sold, they might be scammed, they will be hounded with non-stop marketing messages, or they will be buying low-quality or incomplete products.

Don’t look at it as the beginning of Web 2.0 being the end of low-quality websites (most salesletters fall into that category). Look at it this way: Web 2.0 is the Internet's way of throwing up their arms in the air, shouting “we’ve had enough!” and imploring for better quality.

The question is, are you listening?

While John Reese predicts the “death of ugly websites” (my friend Armand Morin calls these “cartoonish” salesletters), they’re not the only ones. Mike Filsaime wrote about it in his report, “The Death of Internet Marketing.” John Barker, also known as “Mr. X,” wrote about it in his “Death of Crap” website.

All these “death of” reports, including mine, should tell you something.

The revolution has started…

Show Me The Goods

The “Google Slap.” You’ve heard of it. You were probably affected by it. Essentially, Google, the world’s largest search engine, recently penalized a whole bunch of sites because they, too, judged them to be of poor quality.

Either they diminished their pageranks into oblivion, or they increased their AdWords costs by jacking up the prices if the campaigns led to poor content. (And as you probably know, this has driven a lot of marketers out of business.)

But keep in mind, Google didn’t make this change by pulling it out of thin air or to dictatorially decide what’s good for the Internet. They’re simply following what people want and giving it to them.

(In fact, when Google makes such major changes, let it be a good indicator of what’s going on in the marketplace.)

People want information. But more importantly, they want good information, just as much as they want more proof and credibility. Whether you have a junk site using black-hat techniques, or a long-scrolling salesletter or opt-in page that doesn’t offer anything of value in itself, it doesn’t matter.

Google is not slapping you, people are. And if Google doesn’t, people will.

Similarly, people prefer to buy than to be sold. This is nothing new. It’s always been that way, and most people know this at least to a certain degree.

So why are we still trying to sell people using hard-hitting, salesy, long-scrolling, poorly written and clunky-looking copy? There are a few reasons. One of them is because they worked. (And they still do to a degree.)

One of Dan Kennedy’s mottos is that clunky salesletters outpull clean ones. In my estimation the reason is, in a world stuffed with fancy design and shiny packaging from big advertising agencies, people have become somewhat jaded. So clunkiness is new and refreshing for a lot of people.

But I don’t think they buy from a clunky salesletter because it’s clunky. I think they buy because: a) they know the author, b) the clunkiness catches their attention, c) it’s different, and d) it communicates, to an extent, the UPA that the author invested more time and money in the product than on the packaging.

Dan Kennedy taught us well. Too well, perhaps. Being a mentor to many copywriters including yours truly, Dan influenced a lot of people with his advice.

The results speak for themselves, too. Clunky salesletters did sell more, but sales are declining. And what people fail to recognize is that when Dan made that statement, he was essentially talking about direct mail, not the Internet — and certainly not Web 2.0. (Remember, the Internet is different.)

Another reason is pure laziness. We slap up an opt-in page or salesletter, and we don’t care about what it says, what it looks like or how it’s read. As long as it converts, we’re happy. Right? But at how much? And at what cost?

Complacency often starts at conversion rates as little as 1%, as we tend to forget that 99% never bought. And no matter how you spin it, 99% is still a significant number. So rather than trying to give what people want to make their experience more comfortable, we often resort to surreptitious tactics to boost response.

The problem is, we’re only looking at increasing the conversion rate rather than lowering the non-conversion one. This is an important distinction, because we tend to focus on how we can get more people to buy, rather than trying to find out what’s causing them not to buy.

Did you know that the highest increases in response rates, aside from the sales copy, have nothing to do with covert subtleties? (By those I’m talking about tiny changes, such as different colored-headlines.)

Granted, these things do increase response. But why? Is it because they’re hypnotically inducing more sales? Maybe. But my thinking is, they’re communicating greater credibility or proof, at least to some degree, for whatever reason.

Nevertheless, the highest increases in response I’ve seen are those that resulted from changing the sales experience — that is, from testing different ways of making the buying process as easy, as comfortable and as safe as possible.

If people want more content, then give it to them. If people want more proof, then give that to them. If people want less copy, then give them less. And if they don’t want to be sold, then listen to them.

Let me give you an example.

The Google Slap notwithstanding, opt-in pages are no longer as effective as they used to be. My friend John Reese, on that same “online predictions” call I mentioned earlier, said to look at the evolution of the opt-in page, which is a great illustration of how the web is growing up.

In the early days, the web was so new for so many people that offering a free email list was as easy as pie. All you had to do is ask for people’s email addresses, and that’s it. People would literally clamor to be on your list.

(In fact, when I first started on the Internet, I remember being subscribed to more email lists than you would care to count. We’re talking thousands, here.)

After a while, opt-in rates, which were initially quite high, were starting to decline. So what did people do? They created opt-in forms with a bit of copy that asked people to join. Nothing fancy, but opt-in rates did start going back up again.

Then, as soon as they began going down, people created opt-in pages offering a “free email newsletter.” They added more copy that persuaded people into joining the newsletter. Signups went back up again, but only temporarily.

So next, they started bribing people. They offered multipart courses and email series instead of just newsletters. They offered free reports and bonuses as gifts for signing up. They used long copy to tease them about what they’re getting.

Same thing happened: opt-in rates went up, then down.

Today, what we’re seeing is a flip-flop. We’re seeing better results by offering people the content upfront (which is what they want in the first place), whether it’s an article, newsletter issue or free report, or even an audio or video, and then asking them to join our mailing list.

This is called the “Reverse Opt-In Process.”

You sway them to join your email list with the quality of your content rather than the effectiveness of your copy — let alone the value of your bribes. Hopefully, your content is good enough and enticing enough that it makes them want more, which they can get by joining your mailing list.

A great example of the reverse opt-in process is Brad Fallon and Andy Jenkins’ StomperNet launch in 2006. StomperNet, if you don’t know, is a coaching program that teaches specific strategies for creating top search engine rankings, resulting in massive traffic, and of course, more sales.

Now, SEO (or “search engine optimization”) is a highly competitive industry. So trying to get people interested in an SEO salesletter let alone subscribing to a mailing list about it is a rather daunting task.

But at the onset of their campaign before the launch, Fallon and Jenkins offered a video. It not only offered a deeper understanding of the power of “natural search engine traffic,” but it also gave a few inside tips along with actual search engine results, which they did by showing a live demonstration using Google.

The video was only the first one in a series of three, but the other two were yet to be recorded. So they gave people an opportunity to join their list to be notified not only when the other two videos were ready but also when the actual product behind it would launch.

While the videos did offer some actionable tips and ideas (which added more valuable content to the videos), they focused primarily on the proof of their SEO strategies than anything else. (There we go with that “proof,” again!)

In other words, they gave people the “what” and not the “how.” And the more powerful and valuable the “what” was, meaning the more proof they provided, the more enticing and compelling the “how” became.

(Needless to say, history shows that their attempts were tremendously successful, resulting in millions of dollars in sales on launch day.)

Nevertheless, this is just one example of samplification and where we’re heading. You need to focus on content. You need to show your prospects more proof and credibility. And one way is to give them the goods upfront.

After you establish a certain level of trust, you have their permission to sell them. Some people say this is no different than Seth Godin’s “Permission Marketing,” or Dan Kennedy’s “Gathering of the Herd.” That’s true to an extent.

The implication is not so much to bring attention to the process but to put it in perspective in light of Web 2.0, and the need for copywriters to hone their chops more effectively than ever before because of it.

In fact, let me share with you a few tips to give you some ideas on how all of this applies to salesletters and copywriting in general:

  • Turn your salesletter into a non-salesletter (or at the very least reduce the appearance of a salesletter as much as possible);
  • Be more newsy rather than benefit- or sales-oriented, or make your salesletter more article-, editorial- or press-release-like;
  • Give more great content first (even if it’s a salesletter), and sell them on the power of that content, not on the value of your tease or bribe;
  • Tell more stories, and learn how to tell better, more captivating stories that, in themselves, offer powerful content beforehand;
  • In fact, use copy to connect with your reader and empathize with them more, on different levels, rather than thinking linearly or unilaterally;
  • Be discreet in your selling effort, and try to focus more on the newsworthiness and value of your information, rather than on the hype or hormone-pumping claims that seem too good to be true;
  • Focus on building credibility, believability and, above all, relationships with your readers, rather than selling them too hard, too fast;
  • Turn your sales process into a sales experience by adding interactivity through the use of programs, controls, forms and dynamic content;
  • Use brevity, cut down on your copy’s length, and edit your copy to be stronger, pithier, and more to the point;
  • Incorporate multimedia and audiovisuals in your copy, even if it’s as simple as giving the same copy but in different formats;
  • Offer more proof, whether it’s in the form of copy, audio, video, demos, samples, reviews, or whatever (remember, you want to give them the “what” but sell them on the “how”);

This is far from being an exhaustive list by any stretch. It’s just what came to my mind right now as I write this. I hope it stirs some new ideas for you or at least gives you some new things to test in your salesletter.

Bottom line, never stop learning how to write great copy, never stop using salesletters, and certainly never stop testing. But while you should stick with the tried-and-true, don’t be afraid to try new things and go against the grain, too.

If you see a lot of salesletters using red headlines, surely this tells you that they’re working. But if too many people are using them, their effectiveness will eventually wane. So try something else. Test a new color. Test a new headline. Or even better, test a new way to experience your salesletter.

You might be pleasantly surprised.

So, What’s Next?

“The truly important events… are not the trends. They are changes in the trends.”

Peter Drucker

First, my thoughts on the whole Web 2.0 “social” craze: websites that offer social interaction, such as MySpace, Squidoo, del.icio.us, YouTube, Digg, blogs, discussion boards and so forth, do not affect salesletters directly.

Fact is, they are simply tools that help people to organize, simplify and optimize their browsing experience (and not necessarily their buying experience). I’m not trying to discount them. Not at all. They can be very useful in branding, establishing credibility, driving traffic, marketing, offering social proof and more.

But how are they useful when it comes to copywriting? Here’s the thing:

See how people use these services, and what they pull from them. Watch how they interact with others. You can learn a heck of a lot from simply seeing what’s popular out there, and why those tools are so popular. Because, the bottom line is, it all comes down to that fundamental denominator that pervades all markets, all salesletters, and all “web versions.” It’s…

… Human behavior.

Want to learn how to write better copy? Want to see how you can transform your salesletters into higher-converting pieces? Then learn what people want and what they do. In other words, learn good old-fashioned human nature.

Regardless of how things change, whether it eventually leads to some Web “whatever-point-oh” or not, human nature will seldom if ever change.

Granted, these changes we are seeing are important to note. But “The Death of the Salesletter” is by no means trying to suggest that you should stop learning how to write copy or that you should stop using salesletters.

It’s quite the contrary. The demand and need for greater, stronger, more skilled copywriting is going to invariably increase. Web 2.0, if anything, is forcing copywriters, marketers and business people alike to be more versatile, and to be more skilled in the art and science of direct response copy.

But as I said before, look at Web 2.0 as your wakeup call, telling you that you not only need to understand the fact that the web is indeed different than other media (and to start shifting your thinking), but also to get better at copywriting.

Audio is still copy. Video is still copy. Even programs that demand interaction are still copy. It’s all copy. And it’s all about salesmanship.

While Web 2.0 offers new tools with which you should get acquainted, don’t get bogged down by it all, don’t get caught up in the hype, and certainly don’t stop learning how to write good copy because of it. Copywriting will always be more important than and because of any new technology.

Remember, technology is only a byproduct of what people want and not the other way around. So rather than getting caught up in the hype of anything new, focus on learning human behavior as a result of using that technology to discover what they want — and how you can use that technology to give it to them.

That way, you’ll always remain a step ahead of anything new.

Enjoy the ride,

Michel Fortin

Michel Fortin

P.S.: Thank you for reading this white paper. How many predictions do you think came true, or how many do you feel are about to come true? Don't be afraid to share your thoughts, comments, or criticisms below. I'm listening…

P.P.S.: Remember that you can also download this report. And, if you do, you may redistribute it freely — or simply point people to this blog, specifically this link.

Categories
Marketing

Narrow Your Focus to Broaden Your Sales

In the competitive marketplace of the new millennium, the demand for specialized products or services will increase. If your site sells everything or to everyone, chances are that your audience will not perceive any greater value in shopping from you than anyone else.

The more generic you are, the greater your competition will be since you've placed your offering in the same ring as the Wal-Marts, Targets, and eBays of the world.

To borrow the fishing analogy, some people say that going after a larger market is casting a wider net. Not so. (The net is really your website.)

Rather, it's like fishing in a larger body of water where there are more fish, the fish are more spread out, and there are more competitors going after the same fish you are.

Unless you are trying to be another Wal-Mart, there's no point in competing with them. The sheer size of such big box Goliaths gives them a sizeable competitive advantage — particularly purchasing power, both in terms of products sold and advertising dollars.

In addition to being able to buy more ad space than small businesses can, they can buy their stock at considerable bulk discounts, ostensibly giving them the lower price-point advantage against which most small businesses cannot compete.

So how do you increase your sales in such a competitive, price-sensitive marketplace?

Before I give you some helpful ideas, let's talk about price for a moment.

Price is never an issue. What's important is the value behind the price. Price only becomes an issue when your value proposition is the same as those of your competitors.

When you're trying to compete with the big guns and there's nothing different about you, the lowest common denominator will be the price. And if there's nothing else to compete with or compare to, naturally the cheapest alternative wins.

Here's an example: you walk to your local home furnishings store. You ask the sales clerk, “How much for that washer?” to which he responds, “$600.” “Wow! That's a lot of money,” you exclaim. “The price is way too high for me. I just can't afford that.”

This is a typical knee-jerk response.

Moments later, you walk by a car dealership and notice that favorite new car you've been itching to buy for the last month and a half. You walk in. “It's $25,000,” says the salesperson. “Wow! That's great!” And you drive it off the lot that same day.

Now tell me, if you said you could not afford the $600 washer, then why could you afford the $25,000 car? Being able to afford something is not based on how much money you have but on how much money you're willing to spend. Big difference.

And how much money you're willing to spend is based on how much you want what is being sold, which in turn is based on how valuable the object of your desire is to you.

So, price is never an issue. Value always is.

Price is an arbitrary figure that merely represents the value of an offering. Affordability is often the result of both price and value matching up in the minds of the market.

In the case of the car, the perceived value matched or surpassed the price, which wasn't the case with the washer — i.e., the washer was too pricey based on its perceived value.

And perceived value is such a personal, subjective, and immeasurable thing.

Take the weather, for example. When you meet someone for the first time, the weather will likely be a topic of discussion. After all, the temperature is the same for everyone — 70 degrees is 70 degrees. But whether it's “hot” or “cold” is different for each person.

Similarly, price is a common currency to which most people can relate. That's why it's often the first thing people look for or want to talk about when considering a purchase.

The problem arises when price becomes the chief metric — and sometimes the only one — used because there's nothing to which one can compare your value. If there's nothing different about you, then price becomes a purchase criterion by default.

Of course, price is not the only metric, but it is the most common one. It's the lowest common denominator. Units of dollars make more sense than “units of value,” which is often more personal.

But I digress. Here's the point I wanted to make…

The more unique you are, the less competition you will have. The less competition you have, the less substitutable you are. And the less substitutable you are, the less important price becomes. (In business schools, they call this “price elasticity.”)

Being unique or different doesn't mean to be better than your competition. And claiming that you're better than your competition doesn't make you any different, either.

Why? Because, if you try to copy your competition, or trying to promote your offering as one that's better than your competition, like it or not you're only reminding people of that which you are better than… your competition!

It's better to be different than it is different to be better.

So don't compete on price — unless price is your competitive advantage. Compete on value. And one way you can do that is to narrow your focus (i.e., your message, website, copy, product, offer, or audience) on a smaller niche.

A lot of people tend to appeal to large markets with multiple or generic offerings in an attempt to secure more sales. Sure, doing so will likely help you to stumble onto a few who will visit your site and respond. That's the age-old law of averages.

For instance, sales managers motivate their staff using the law of averages. They say that the more “no's” you get, the closer to your “yes” you will be. So the trick to making more sales is to keep finding more people to sell to. Makes logical sense, right?

But the law of averages is wrong. (Not the law itself but its application.)

Sure, if you ask more people (other than improving your conversion rate), you increase the likelihood of making more sales. But if you qualify your audience more and target better prospects for your offering, chances are you will get more “yes'es” than “no's.”

It's the same as your website. If you increase your traffic, you will increase your sales. But that's not the problem. The problem with such an approach is the fact that you must generate a large number of visitors in order to produce a certain result.

It is absolutely true that, if you want a lot of sales, you want your site to be in front of as many eyeballs as possible. But what about quality? Would it matter if your site generates an incredible quantity of uninterested visitors that will simply never buy from you?

To find more effective and cost-efficient ways of selling online, then attracting a higher quality stream of website visitors — interested, pre-qualified, genuinely interested visitors who are ready to buy — is definitely a better alternative.

Sure, where you advertise is part of it. But I'm also talking about targeting your market with your message — and how congruent your message is with them in the first place.

The more focused you are on your market, the more congruent you will be. And the more congruent you are with your market, the greater the value you will communicate.

Conversely, the more general or broad you are, the more you will need to paint your website with broad brushstrokes in order to appeal to everyone. In the end, the traffic you do generate will be just as general or broad.

Even if your product is a perfect fit for most visitors, if you attempt to target everyone only a small percentage of your market will see that fit and take action.

Additionally, even if your product has mass-market appeal, the broad nature of your offer and the generic image you project will likely convey your value is equal to that of others, and there's no added value in buying from you than in buying from others.

Out of the small handful of qualified prospects that hopefully hit your site, a large number of them — if not all of them — will likely leave due to your apparent lack of empathy and understanding of their specific needs, goals, and concerns.

In short, dilute your value and you will dilute your sales.

As a sidenote, let me clear up another big misconception.

Some marketers tout that niche marketing is all about targeting smaller, denser markets. Not necessarily. Sure, it is the most common form — it's the easiest and most effective one, too, for beginning marketers. But niche marketing is not limited to niche markets.

The word “niche marketing” means a hole in the marketplace that needs to be filled. That hole still can be filled by a product with mass-market appeal, but one offered, sold, and delivered in a unique way or with a unique twist.

In other words, you don't have to just go after narrow markets to be a niche marketer. You can narrow your message, your theme, your product's features, your offerings, the results you promise, or a combination of any of these.

By narrowing your focus considerably lessens the need to produce a sufficient quantity of visitors to produce similar results.

Let me explain.

If you're an offline retailer, for example, being everything to everyone is understandable to a certain degree since, geographically, you invariably reduce foot traffic to your store.

Online, however, marketing to smaller niches can work well since a market will expand and is easier to reach.

But it's a double-edged sword. The web may increase your target market, but it also increases the competition as a byproduct. Again, cast your net in a larger body of water, and the likelihood you won't be the only one fishing in it will be higher.

Offline, location is important. And a competitor next door can be your biggest headache. But online, thousands of competitors have instantly become your neighbors.

Thus, niche marketing is even more important online since, by narrowing your focus, you both increase your target market and decrease your competition!

Let's say that your best client is the corporate executive earning $50,000 annually or more, and your site receives approximately 10,000 unique visitors per month.

If your site's message aims for the public at large, there will be only a small percentage of that ideal market that will hit your site. And an even smaller percentage will genuinely be qualified for, and interested in, your offering, too.

Let's say this percentage is 1%. That means that, out of 10,000 monthly visitors, only 100 will fit your perfect customer profile — and that's a very optimistic figure.

Since your site is too general or too vague, an even smaller percentage of those ideal prospects — say another 1% — will be truly interested in your offer and eventually buy. In this case, 1% of 100 qualified visitors would equal to one sale for an entire month.

Still following me so far?

Looking at it in reverse, it means that, if you want to achieve just one sale a month from this ideal market, your site will thus require at least 10,000 visitors monthly.

So based on the law of averages, to produce two sales you will need to double your traffic, and therefore double your advertising and marketing, to generate twice as many visitors — i.e., you need 20,000 visitors to make two sales, 30,000 for three, and so on.

In other words, you will need to multiply your marketing efforts exponentially in order to create a high enough quantity of traffic to yield acceptable results.

Now, take the example of another website dedicated exclusively to corporate executives earning over $50,000. However, this site receives a meager 1,000 visitors per month.

Admittedly, it's not a lot, especially when compared to the other. But in this case, the percentage of those 1,000 that fall into that site's target market will be 100% — that's around a hundred times better than the other.

Furthermore, the percentage of interested leads in a much better position to buy will be far higher by virtue of the fact that the site centers on their specific needs, goals, and concerns. The perceived value will be greater in the mind of those specific prospects.

To be conservative, let's say that this percentage is only 5%. It means that out of 1,000 visitors per month, one can achieve 50 sales — that's almost 50 times more sales!

But let's be a little more conservative for a moment. Let's say only 1% buys. It's still a remarkable improvement over the other, as 1% of 1,000 visitors equals to 10 sales per month — that’s almost 10 times more sales than the other with only a 10th of the traffic.

Of course, the above example is simplified and with all things considered are equal. I agree that there are many variables, here. And my math may be skewed a bit.

But the spirit of this illustration is clear.

By narrowing one's focus, it took an equal if not lesser investment of time, effort, and money to achieve as many as 10 times more sales than it did to achieve a single one.

Incidentally, when I first wrote this article a reader shared this interesting story with me that paralleled this example. It was from Jim Banks, who started selling carpets online in 1998. He admitted that, at the time, he knew nothing about it…

“I thought that it would be a non-competitive market (‘who would want to sell carpet online?' I asked myself) and it would allow me to learn about this whole new Internet thing.”

At first, Jim floundered…

“I showed carpet on the website, sent out samples, and used a wholesaler in Georgia to deliver the goods. I made some money, but it was a lot of hard work. In fact, a lot of hand-holding of customers was required, and my time was a limiting factor in how much money I could make.”

But then, Jim had an idea…

“I had read one or two of your articles at the time where you stressed the importance of niche marketing. And after thinking about that, and applying it to my industry, I came up with the idea of selling carpets and area rugs with children's designs (e.g., animals, letters, game boards, etc). Today, things are going very well!”

(That site, by the way, is KidCarpet.com. I'm not sure if Jim Banks still owns it, but the site still exists. And, since it does, I imagine is still doing relatively well, too.)

Obviously, you should first find a niche and fill it. If not, then narrow your focus to a specific outcome, audience, theme, offer, or product. Or to continue the earlier fishing analogy, if you want to fish in a bigger lake, bring a sonar with you.

By zooming in on your market, you will proportionately magnify your sales.

Categories
Copywriting

How to Write a Persuasive News Release

The most profitable and often overlooked free publicity generator is the news release (also called “press release”, although news release is a better term).

News releases are not only great marketing tools but also far more credible and believable than advertising since they appear to come from an objective third party.

While publicity is the most powerful promotional tool there is, it is the one that is the least effectively used.

All too often, business owners view news releases as a form of advertising. The copy is self-serving, promotional in tone, and one-sided, and offer no real value to a news-reading audience.

Don't get me wrong. The media's goal is to report on stories that affect, or are of interest to, their readers or viewers. So, news releases are their best friends — but only if they follow a few important guidelines.

The media are constantly on the lookout for good stories that are of interest to their audience. Reporters, writers, producers, and editors have a particular interest in reporting on stories that help to enhance sponsorship interest in the medium that they represent.

The first and most important thing to keep in mind is, news releases are not ads. The media are not in the business to provide free advertising. If you're guilty of this, they will most likely tell you that you should have called the advertising department instead.

But if done right, they can provide an incredible amount of free exposure, generate instant credibility, and persuade audiences more effectively than most paid advertisements can.

So, what makes a good story?

While the answer to such a subjective question can be difficult, here are a few pointers in order to guide you in writing and targeting your news releases.

Be Newsworthy, NOT Promotional

Reporters are always looking for newsworthy items on which to report — that's what reporters do. But they specifically like human interest stories, stories that are related to current events or important issues, or those that have some emotional appeal.

Larger media also like stories that appeal to a wide audience. Targeted or specialized media, on the other hand, love to report on stories that appeal to their specific market and thus help capture more of it. In turn, they can qualify interested prospects far more effectively than some mainstream, large-circulation medium.

Of course, the foundational component of the news release is the news aspect. A good story must be newsworthy for it to be considered.

While there are thousands of ways to present a news release, there is no one “correct” way of doing it. There are as many different ways to present a news release as there are publications out there.

For example, in my experience the news release should not tell the entire story. If you do have a good story to tell, your news release should provide enough information to generate interest and it must say just enough to incite the media to want to know more.

A news release is like a resume, which is not meant to land a job but to land an interview. In the same way, a news release is not meant to get instant media coverage but should be used as a tool for sparking interest and curiosity among a very busy and exceedingly leery staff of reporters and editors — and it must do so quickly and efficiently.

Therefore, the headline as well as the first few lines should instantly communicate something worthy of their attention. In fact, news releases should at least possess certain key elements, which are:

  • A strong, compelling headline;
  • An appealing, informative story;
  • A professional, tasteful appearance;
  • A number of quotes and reactions;
  • And the sender's contact information.

More important, your news release must be devoid of any conspicuous fluff. Unlike hard-hitting, hype-filled salesletters, news releases are more intriguing, content-driven, and informative or educational in nature.

Remember that a reporter is not just a middleperson whose job is to report your story for you. Your release must sell the reporter on your story as well. Therefore, write it to read like a story. Look at it from the reporter's perspective. In other words, write the story for them.

An excellent news release can also be a powerful business tool for gaining free media coverage for your company, product, or service — and keep in mind that media coverage tends to be a more effective form of promotion than advertising since it is coming from an objective third party.

It can be used for announcing important company changes, special events, new appointments or recruits within your organization, or the launch of your company's new product, service, or website.

Be Unique, NOT Superior

Focus on leadership rather than superiority. This can be easily achieved by being the first in some category. When you're the first in something or in some way, you not only attract attention but also generate implied superiority, which is more powerful than some nebulous claim or platitude.

Other than using controversy, or better yet riding the coattails of a major news item or an important social issue, being unique in some way helps to generate a lot of buzz almost instantly. It's an effective tool that can also help spark more interest in your news release.

Remember, your news release is selected because — and often, only because — of what it can do for the medium.

Buzz generates higher readership. Since the media profits by selling advertising, and prices it based on their audience size, then the more interesting your story is to their readers the greater the chances will be they will select your story.

For example, if you can support the fact that your product is the first in its category, that your service is the first to be delivered in a certain way, or that your event is the first or largest of its kind, you can and should use that information in your news release.

Obviously, a company claiming to be the best is never a news item. But a company claiming to be the first at something always is. Capitalize on it when approaching the media. Look for ways to market your story differently by presenting it with a different angle or a unique twist.

For example, think of the times you've seen a story about someone starting a business. While it may sound trivial or insignificant, if that person is also a local politician, suffers from a disability, or has 10 children, then the story isn't as trivial.

In other words, bring your own unique angle or experience into your news release. Never discount the power of telling your own personal story.

Here's a real-life example. One of my clients was an inventor and entrepreneur. His product was a backpack with special, large straps that made carrying it a little more comfortable.

The funny thing is, after some questioning I later discovered that he lost one leg in a car accident. After some prodding, he confided that his invention was the result of wanting to lessen the pressure of the backpack's weight on his shoulders because of his single leg.

At first, he felt his story was insignificant. Since most hikers are two-legged and comprise the bulk of his target market, he concluded that his story would take away from the benefits of his product.

Well, I told him to capitalize on his seemingly “insignificant” story.

Even though he wasn't a hiker, the news release talked about his lack of one leg as being the inspiration behind the creation of his backpack. The headline? “One-legged man lightens hikers' loads.”

The key is to be able to capture the interest of reporters who are bombarded with literally thousands of news releases each and every business day.

As in this case, human interest aspects are wonderful tools to spark interest. Adding a special human element or some emotional appeal — even blending it with an important social issue — will up your chances.

Don't Inform, Connect!

For a great sample of an effective news release, take a look at this one by work-at-home mom Leslie Spencer. She operates an online professional association called “Home-Based Working Moms (HBWM),” which offers education and resources for mothers who run home-based businesses.

Her goal was ultimately to get exposure to, and to increase memberships of, a specific target market. (By the way, Leslie follows another important rule of online marketing — niche marketing, which is also a great way for gaining attention from the media.)

She wrote an excellent news release that successfully tied-in the benefits of her business with the current challenges faced by most stay-at-home moms — women who want to be more involved with their children while at the same time contributing to the family's income.

Her news release, entitled “The New Entrepreneur: Shorts, Shirt and… a Stroller? Moms Find Ways to Combine Career with Children,” provides the media with a great story to tell.

That said, you may feel that you're not a skilled writer — either that or you probably don't have the time to write one let alone distribute it.

The following are great sources for help in writing, targeting, and distributing news releases, particularly electronically. Many provide the full service while others only provide guidelines as well as lists of media contacts.

Target Your Market… And Your Media

A news release sent to the general media often gets lost in a sea of others. Most often, it will end up on some editor's desk where your story will be screened and, if judged newsworthy, passed along to a particular reporter in the organization.

However, special features writers, columnists, radio show hosts, news anchors, specialized media representatives, special interest publishers, trade publication editors, specialty channel producers, radio show (or segment) hosts and so on are particularly beneficial.

First, a news release sent to a specific person (and not the general newsroom or media entity) has definitely better chances of being noticed and reported — it doesn't have to go through so many hands.

While it may require a little research, remember that the media are made up of people too. They like the personalized approach just as much as your clients do.

Second, targeting your news release is far more effective, for the results you want your release to achieve will be substantially higher when reported in a medium that targets your specific market as precisely as possible.

Ask the following: “Where does my niche or target market hang out? What do they read? What shows do they watch? What programs do they prefer? To which ezines or blogs are they subscribed? What websites do they surf? On what discussion boards or forums do they participate? With what associations or trade organizations are they affiliated?”

The media's greatest concern is their audience and especially their ratings (because it leads to advertising revenue), not the stories on which they report. Therefore, targeting your media is just as important as targeting your market.

Often, specialized publications or media will be much more receptive to your news release than a larger, more generic entity, since it specifically and more directly relates to their audiences.

But the added benefit is, not only your chances of being reported will increase, but also you will, in turn, attract qualified, targeted prospects.

Categories
Interviews

Gary Halbert Interview #2

Second Call with Gary Halbert

This is the 2nd call with Gary Halbert, a few weeks after the first one. It's about two hours long and the recording is split into 30-minute segments. You can listen to each part, download the MP3s, or read the transcripts below.

As with the other calls, keep in mind that, in the early 2000s, broadband wasn't fully adopted yet. The call was also maxed out at capacity. So quality is less than desirable and the split was to help with downloads.

Links to other calls and resources mentioned on the calls: