Categories
Copywriting

How I Broke Into Copywriting

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

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

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

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

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

Michel Fortin (1991)
Michel Fortin (1991)

Anyway, here is my story.

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

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

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

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

I remember that time like it was yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then, things “clicked.”

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

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

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

So I moved on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It reminded me of my experience at the insurance company.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes, that included copywriting, too.

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

Here's the problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I was grinning with anticipation.)

“… An extra $3,000.”

I said, “Oh, $3,000 a month! Great!”

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

I was so disappointed. And angry.

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

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

So I quit the very next month.

It was the best decision I ever made.

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

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

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

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

My curiosity was piqued.

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

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

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

So I created my client's website in 1992.

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

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

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

The result? Nothing. Not a single request.

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

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

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

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

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

That's when things started moving very quickly.

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

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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

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

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

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

There you have it!

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

Categories
Copywriting

Risk-Reversal’s Role Reversal

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

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

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

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

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

But length doesn't always mean strength.

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

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

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

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

It sold out in just a few hours.

Ultimately, guarantees exist because we fear making bad decisions.

And a purchase is a buying decision.

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

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

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

Customers are satisfied when you met their expectations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online, strong guarantees are more than just sales tools.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But generally, guarantees will increase sales.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, that's significant.

But look at the increase in sales…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Copywriting

When And How To Use An Alias In Business

A member of my coaching program asked a question about the legality of using a pseudonym or alias when writing marketing communications.

In other words, can he use a pen name?

Stated differently, is it legal to write the copy in the voice of a fictitious character? Or telling the story of, say, a fictitious character enjoying the benefits of whatever you're selling? The short answer is, it depends.

Using an alias or fictitious characters in business is a common practice. However, if you're considering using one, there are a few things you need to know to avoid getting in hot water.

I'm not a lawyer so this is not legal advice. But with my years of research and experience in writing copy, I know enough to say this…

Using an alias or pseudonym is generally fine, as long as within the intrinsic nature of the alias there's no false or misleading information, mentioned or implied, meant to induce the consumer to buy based on that information.

If the alias is used to misrepresent the facts, or indirectly does so by its mere existence, you're breaking the law.

It's like the difference between making a promise versus making a claim.

If your story implies what your clients will get, then you're making a promise. And a promise made by a fictitious character is fine since the character represents the business making it. As long as you deliver on your promises.

(And keeping promises is a different legal ball of wax.)

But if it states what your past clients have done (results they have achieved by using your product or service), then it's a claim. Because the fictitious character represents an implied testimonial, or presents information as fact.

Therein lies the difference.

So ask yourself, does your alias make a promise? Or a claim? If the latter, is the alias a part of that claim? In other words, is the claim fake, too?

Here are two examples to clarify.

1. Alias as Narrator

Your marketing material tells a fictitious or dramatized story of a person who benefits from your product or service.

The story shows your prospects what they should do, and what kind of results they should expect, by watching the story play out. The teller of the story, or the person in the story, is completely fictitious.

This is fine as long as what is promised is true, and you deliver on your promises.

For example, remember this commercial? John Doe gets into a car accident. He picks up the phone and says, “Uh oh, better get Maaco!” The screen fades to a scene in the future with John and his repaired car in the background, shaking hands with a Maaco mechanic and a huge smile across his face.

How many times have you seen commercials like that?

Now, here's the exception…

The fine line is when the story doesn't imply what one should do to benefit from your product or service, but what one has actually achieved, which represents or implies what the person will get based on what was represented as fact.

In other words, it's no longer a promise.

It's a claim.

Stated differently, when the advertisement states or even just implies that John is an actual client, a real person who got that exact service, in that exact way, with those exact results, you are misleading the public.

The story implies people will get the same. Specifically, it is no longer a story but a testimonial. And testimonials, by law, must be true.

The subsequent sale, should any occur, is therefore acquired fraudulently, because people believe that John is a true client and offering a real testimonial for Maaco. The story is presented as fact when it is not true.

And that's illegal.

Remember the story of the Wal-Mart couple who drove their trailer across the United-States, going from Wal-Mart to Wal-Mart, camping out in Wal-Mart parking lots, and blogging about their (seemingly only) positive experiences?

The backlash was massive. And merciless.

Legality aside, it became a PR nightmare. Some argue that the stunt would have been safe — and even that's arguable, too — if the blog had a proper disclosure informing readers that the characters were fake.

(In fact, the massive backlash inspired the popularity of the terms “flog” and “flogging,” which means “fake blogging.”)

2. Alias as Provider

If you call yourself a pen name to tell or narrate the story in your copy, and this pen name doesn't mislead, you're OK — as long as it is clear that people are not buying from your fictitious character but from the business it represents.

They are buying from a real business with a real business name. For example, you don't buy burgers from Ronald McDonald himself, right? You buy it from McDonald's restaurants, the business Ronald represents.

Here's a scenario.

When a sales letter is signed by “Mr. X,” and if Mr. X is telling the story in the role of a narrator (not a business entity), then you're fine. In this case, Mr. X is telling the story, and the promise is made on behalf of the commercial entity you're doing business with.

The fine line, in this case, is when you state that Mr. X is a real person, and that person makes claims or presents information as fact on behalf of the commercial entity, such as past experiences, clients, or results.

Generally, this is OK too, as long as the facts are true, and the alias is not the provider with whom you're doing business.

But if you do this, you not only need to include real facts in your story (as always), but also be fully prepared to prove them when asked by either the public or government.

If the FTC ever comes knocking at your door, you better have proper documentation and real proof to back up your claims and save your anatomy!

What about a business name?

Having a business with a fictitious name is definitely legal, provided that you have filed the proper documentation (such as registering your business, incorporating, or filing a “doing business as” statement), and carried out the proper trademark searches.

This is a normal part of doing business, even vital for branding purposes.

The issue is not with the name but when the existence of the business, its actual clients, or any results achieved are works of fiction.

Ultimately, the question to ask is, does it tell a story to make a point? Or does it tell a story to mislead in an attempt to make a sale? Whether intentionally or not, the latter is fraud.

Using an alias is fine as long as you are not making claims as that alias and the alias is responsible for those claims.

You, using your real name or your real business name, can make claims until the sun goes down. You own them and you're on the hook for them. And people know who to turn to if the claims are false.

For example, an alias can state a guarantee if it's doing it on behalf of a company. But the alias is not the one making the guarantee directly, and the company is not trying to hide behind it.

Also, if you use an alias to tell a story, whether dramatized or written in a sales letter, you're generally safe. However, if you make claims under an assumed name, then it is illegal when the assumed name is presented as fact.

Of course, before you ultimately decide to use an alias, particularly if you're concerned about whether or not you're crossing a line, consult with an attorney.

I'm not a lawyer and the above should not be construed as legal advice. Plus, this article should be viewed only as a partial or general opinion and commentary, as every individual case is unique.

It is based on my years of experience, especially working with doctors and lawyers in my early career when I first established my company, originally called The Success Doctor, Inc., which used to focus strictly on doctors and service professionals.

Finally, props go out to my friend Mike Young, Esquire, an Internet marketing lawyer who reviewed my response. (Thanks, Mike!)

Categories
Copywriting

Forget Benefits, And You Will Sell More

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

Let me say it another way.

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

Maybe. But not necessarily.

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

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

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

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

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

Here's what I mean…

1. One Message

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

Copy should make one offer and one offer only.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. One Market

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

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

(There's that word “focus,” again!)

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

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

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

3. One Outcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And describing benefits is just as bad.

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

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

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

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

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

There is a difference. A big difference.

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

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

That's why I prefer to use this continuum:

Features ► Advantages ► Benefits

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

… A benefit is what that feature means.

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

Let me give you a real-word example.

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

Features:

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

Advantages:

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

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

Benefits:

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

Now, those are benefits!

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

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

It's that simple.

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

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

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

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

Look at it this way:

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

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

… We are all human beings.

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

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

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

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

And nothing's changed.

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

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

Categories
Copywriting

Your Reader Wants To Know These 5 Things

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

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

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

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

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

Why should people buy from you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Why You?

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

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

2. Why Me?

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

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

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

3. Why This?

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

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

4. Why Now?

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

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

5. Why This Price?

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

But do your readers know? Do they, really?

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

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

The most important word in persuasion is “because.”

Now, let me go back to the original question…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Copywriting

Headlines That Pull, Persuade, And Propel!

When writing direct response copy, a few things can maximize the responsiveness of your message. The first and most important element that can turn any website, salesletter, or advertisement into an action-generating mechanism is, without question, the headline.

But lately, I'm seeing more and more headlines that are limp, bloated, or simply dead wrong.

A headline is meant to do two vital things.

No more and no less. First, it needs to grab your reader's attention. That's the primary and most important job of the headline. It's not meant to summarize an offer or be a paragraph in and of itself. It's not meant to make a sale, either.

You know what I'm talking about, right? Headlines like these make me twitch…

“Stomp Out Yo-Yo Diets For Good When You Apply The Amazing Accidentally Discovered Secret Weightloss Strategy That Can Literally Triple Your Energy, Boost Your Immune System, And Shed Unwanted Pounds of Pure, Stubborn Fat Without Moving A Single Inch And While Eating Everything Your Heart Fancies — Even If You Carry The Fat-Magnetizing Genes Of Someone Who Can't Lose A Single Ounce After Running Back-To-Back Marathons… Starting As Early As Tonight, 100% Guaranteed!”

Ugh.

Double ugh.

People not only won't read it all, much less your salesletter, but it also immediately sends off alarm bells way too early that your copy is a blatant sales pitch.

In today's fax-microwave-email world, people want everything fast. Their attention span is smaller than an subatomic particle. Online, they surf the web in a click-happy state, ready to open and close browser windows at the blink of an eye. Literally.

For example, they tend to scan web pages quickly, even many of them simultaneously. Your site is but a blur to them. So, your headline must be prominent, effective enough to stop them, and efficient to do so in a very short span of time.

And the headline's second job is, it needs pull the reader into the copy.

To do that, it must create curiosity. It must be interesting enough to pull the reader in and push her further into the copy. It must be pithy enough — not necessarily short but straightforward enough — to do its job in the least amount of words possible.

And finally, it must cater to a specific emotion or a relevant condition that speaks to the target market at a personal level, and does so immediately and with as little thinking as possible — one to which the reader can easily and instantly associate.

Before I give you some examples, note that most of these headlines were enormously successful for my clients, not because they were tested and tweaked, but because they were actually stolen from other, equally successful ads or salesletters.

All copywriters worth their salt do this. They steal. Recycle. Copy. Model. Swipe.

But above all, they adapt.

Of course, they mustn't be copied verbatim. When I say “steal,” I mean to do it in an ethical way. There's a big difference between plagiarism and modelling. But they can be easily adapted to fit the market, the offer, and the message.

I have a large swipe file that contains copies of ads, websites, direct mail pieces and salesletters I come across. I then turn them into templates or “fill-in-the-blanks” formulas.

Here's a list of “triggers,” coupled with actual examples I used in the past:

  • Curiosity (“Revealed! Closely Guarded Secrets For …”)
  • Mystery (“The Five Biggest Mistakes to Avoid By …”)
  • Fear (“Over 98.4% of People End up Broke When …”)
  • Pain (“Suffering From Needless Back Pain? Then …”)
  • Convenience (“How to Increase Your Chances With …”)
  • Envy (“How Fellow Marketer Pummels Competitors By …”)
  • Jealousy (“They All Laughed When … Until I …”)
  • Sloth (“Slash Your Learning Curve By 57% When …”)
  • Love, Lust (“Make Her Fall in Love With You With …”)
  • Shock (“Finally Exposed! Get The Dirty Truth On …”)
  • Greed (“Boost Your Income By More Than 317% When …”)
  • Pride, Power, Ego (“Make Fellow Workers Squirm With …”)
  • Assurance (“… In Less Than 60 Days, Guaranteed!”)
  • Immortality (“Reverse The Aging Process With …”)
  • Anger (“Banks Are Ripping You Off! Here's Why …”)

Study and model successful copywriting as much as you can.

Dan Kennedy, a successful copywriter, teaches this exercise: buy tabloids, such as The National Enquirer, on a regular basis. Of course, the publication may be questionable for some, and it may not necessarily fit with your style or cater to your market.

But here's the reason why.

Ad space in tabloids is excruciatingly expensive. If an ad is repeated in more than two issues, preferably copy-dense ads and full-page advertorials, common sense tells you that the ad is profitable. Rip out the ad and put it into your swipe file.

(If you don't have one, a shortcut is to copy someone else's, like this list of headlines from Jay Abraham, or swipe from proven list of successful headlines. But also, don't discount supermarket magazines, like Cosmo, Vanity Fair, Men's Health, and the like.)

Then, copy the headlines into a document. They can be easily converted into “fill-in-the-blanks” formulas. Keep in mind, you need to understand why the headline worked — simply swapping in a few words here and there doesn't mean it will work.

Swiping, done correctly, can work well with almost all markets. I've tried these types of headlines on both low-end and high-end clients, from simple $10 products to six-figure investment opportunities. And they worked quite effectively in both situations.

The cosmetics of a headline is equally important if not more so. The type must be bold, large, and prominently placed, even written in a different font or typestyle, if possible. It must draw attention. It must grab your readers “by the eyeballs.”

Remember, your first job is to catch their attention. Then, and only then, it's to get them to start reading your letter. And the headline is often the best tool to do this.

Specificity is also quite important. The more specific you are with your headline, the better the response will be. Use odd, non-rounded numbers because they are more believable and pull more than even, rounded numbers.

(For example, in its commercials, Ivory Soap used to say that it was “99.44% pure.” Otherwise, if it used “100%,” it likely wouldn't have been as believable.)

Whenever possible, be quantifiable, measurable, and time-bound.

For example, don't say “how to increase your income” or “make money fast.” Words like “income” and “fast” are vague. Instead, say, “How six simple sales strategies helped me stumble onto an unexpected $5,431.96 windfall — in less than 27 hours!”

The bigger the numbers are, the greater the impact is. If the same number can be presented in a way where the numerals are larger, then use the larger one.

For instance, if you say “five times more,” replace it with “500%” (or better yet, “517%” or “483%”). Don't say “one year,” say “364 days.” The brain thinks in pictures, not numbers or words. Both terms may mean the same thing, but one is perceived as bigger.

Using some of the triggers mentioned at the beginning of this article, here are some examples of being specific with your headlines (see if you notice them):

  • “Nine Jealously Guarded Techniques That …”
  • “Here Are 17 of My Most Prized Recipes For …”
  • “How I Made $42,791.36 in Only 11 Days With …”
  • “Boost Your Golf Drives By 27 Yards When …”
  • “A Whole New Way to Lose 45 Pounds in 7 Weeks With …”
  • “Marketing Toolkit Contains 35 Powertools That …”
  • “Follow These Eight Magical Steps to …”
  • “Read This 22-Chapter, 376-Page Powerhouse …”
  • “The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning …”
  • “Chop Paperwork By as Much as 47% When …”
  • “Slash Your Learning Curve By Four Weeks With …”
  • “… And Start Within Only 33 Minutes!”

My favorite headline formula is one I call the “gapper,” which is based on the pain-pleasure principle. In sales, it's often referred to as “gap analysis.”

(Dan Kennedy calls it “Problem-Agitate-Solve.” That is, you start by presenting a problem. You agitate your audience by making the problem “bigger,” more significant, and more urgent. And then you present your solution in the offer.)

There's a gap between a prospect's problem and its solution — or a gap between where one is now and where that person wants to be in the future. But many prospects either don't know there is a gap or, because it is one, naturally have a tendency to ignore it.

It's simply human nature.

So, a headline that communicates the presence of such a gap — and particularly one that helps to widen it — will likely appeal to those who can immediately relate to it. That is, the people who happen to fit within that specific site's target market.

For example, a headline for a diet program might say:

“62% of Americans Are Only One Hamburger Shy of a Heart Attack, Doctor Reports.”

This headline speaks to the gap of a health-conscious market who are obese and want to do something about it, and widens it by instilling a sense of danger and urgency.

(In addition to the headline, this can be accomplished through other components, such as a surheadline, subheadline, “lift” copy, sidenotes, deck copy, or lead sentences. For instance, a subheadline to the above might say: “Here's what you can do about it now.”)

By opening the gap or widening it helps to reinforce a sense of urgency in the mind.

After the headline, visitors will want to know how, by reading further, they can close that gap. And the wider the gap is, the greater the desire to close it will be — and the more valuable the gap-closing solution, which is your offer, will be as well.

Why? Because it appeals to stronger motives.

Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist who developed the hierarchy of human motives, stated that the foundation of all human needs is our need to survive. Once satisfied, the next one is our need for safety. Our need to be with other people is next, followed by our need to feel appreciated. Finally, our need to be challenged is at the top.

The “pain-pleasure principle” states that people either fear pain and try to avoid it, or crave pleasure and try to gain it. When given a choice between the two, however, and according to Maslow, pain is almost always a superior motive.

Our need to survive and feel safe, which are at the bottom of Maslow's pyramid, rule over all other needs, which are social, esteem and self-improvement needs.

So a headline that communicates a problem (i.e., a painful situation or a potentially painful one that may arise without the benefits of your offer) will have more impact.

People who associate with the message will feel compelled to read more, which also helps to qualify your readers — it isolates the “serious” from the “curious.”

You heard it before: there's a difference between “needs” and “wants.”

When I work with plastic surgeons, I often tell them to use as a headline, “Suffering from wrinkles?” That way, it pulls only qualified prospects into the ad because it appeals not only to people with wrinkles but also to those who suffer from wrinkles (i.e., they want to do something about them, since not everyone who has wrinkles are bothered by them).

A web salesletter I recently wrote for Michael Murray talks about the fact that he is a college student stricken with cerebral palsy who's “made it” online. The copy and most of the headers use some of the triggers I mentioned earlier.

Below is a brief list. Can you identify them?

  • “SPECIAL REPORT! Want to cash in on …”
  • “… But don't have a product or a website?”
  • “How a ‘Physically Disabled' Teenager …”
  • “Earn a $2,000-to-17,000 Monthly Downpour of Dollars …”
  • “… On a Shoestring Budget!”
  • “Jealously guarded ‘secrets' are finally revealed …”
  • “Get your hands on dirt-cheap products to sell …”
  • “You'll never have to create your own products!”
  • “… Model after actual websites ‘making it' BIG TIME!”
  • “PLUS, for a limited time only, the next 500 orders …”
  • “And if I can do it, I'm sure most ‘abled' people can!”

At the time of writing the letter, Michael was a 19-year old with cerebral palsy.

Also known as the “Bill Porter” of online marketing, Michael and his story moved me personally. But in choosing his headline specifically, my biggest concern was, most people have become so desensitized with opportunities of this nature.

So, in order to beef up the attention factor, I used what John Carlton often calls “the incongruous juxtaposition of seemingly irrelevant ideas, things, or events,” and catered to people's emotions by using Michael's disability as a psychological “hook.”

I wanted the headline to stop people in their tracks and force them to say to themselves, “If a teenage kid with cerebral palsy can make that much money, then there must be something in here I need to know more about…”

Ultimately, ask yourself: “Does my headline effectively stop people from scanning, capture their attention, and trigger their emotions in order to pull them into the copy?”

More importantly, ask yourself, “Does my opening statement beg for attention, and genuinely cater to the dominant motives and resident emotions of my market?”

If not, change your headline, even with the same copy.

Sure, it may be a small and insignificant change overall. But sometimes the smallest changes in your copy can be the ones that create the most dramatic changes in results.

Categories
Copywriting

Apply The Law of Contrast to Build Desire

In a recent critique for a coaching client, the issue of “gap analysis” arose. Gap Analysis is something I learned in sales, and it was heavily taught by sales trainers like Brian Tracy, such as in his course “The Psychology of Selling.”

Gap Analysis is an immensely powerful selling technique. It's also an important feature of copywriting. Most people will know a variation of it, which is often called “Problem-Agitate-Solve,” a term coined by top copywriter Dan Kennedy.

I prefer “Gap Analysis” because it drives home the relationship between those three elements. So what is Gap Analysis and how can you apply it to your sales copy?

A gap is the perceived difference between the problem and the potential outcome. That is, you have to describe life with the problem and life without it.

Your product, which is your solution, is the bridge between the two. Showing the benefits enables you to position your product as the bridge over the gap.

Once the gap is established, your words can widen the gap by aggravating the problem, or by pushing away the solution — i.e., making it seem less achievable or reachable.

I know this might sound contradictory, but a great strategy is to start out by making your prospect feel uncomfortable and raise their level of discomfort. You do that by exacerbating their problem or pushing the solution as far away as you can.

Specifically, once you identify the gap, you should widen it as much as you can — in their mind. Your sales copy should make your prospect as uncomfortable as possible and any solution for the problem it solves as unattainable as possible.

Why? The reason is, once you widen the gap, then when you do eventually present your solution, it will become far more compelling, desirable, even mandatory.

You're turning what was once a desire into a necessity.

Your product becomes like a cool, refreshing oasis in the middle of a scorching desert, as if magically appearing only after walking for miles under the sun's blistering heat.

Granted, you must first identify your prospect's problem before showcasing the benefits of your solution. But just defining the problem and presenting the solution is not enough.

You must give your readers a clear, common vision of what relief from the problem will mean to them on a personal level. It's an essential step in the sales process — the one that fosters desire and increases the need and the urgency to find a solution.

Thus Gap Analysis is a powerful tool that should be included in your copywriting toolbox.

A large part of its power is in it's simplicity. It boils down to only four steps:

  1. Introduce the problem.
  2. Introduce the “other side”.
  3. Widen the gap.
  4. Bridge the gap.

Here's a very simple example.

You qualify the reader by introducing their current situation into the conversation. Relate to the issues presently facing your prospect. You can discuss how bad things are or at least how bad things are as it applies to the problem you are introducing.

Once the problem is introduced, you will want to present the other side. That way, you also introduce the gap. For example, you might say things like:

  • “Wouldn't it be nice if…”
  • “What all of us dream of is…”
  • “Would you like to know how to…”

Followed by “avoid,” “leapfrog over,” “skip,” “eradicate,” “reduce,” or “solve” [problem], and “achieve,” “enjoy,” or “picture enjoying” [the benefits of solving the problem].

Now that you've created the gap, you can work on widening it.

You can make the problem appear bigger by focusing on it, exacerbating it, and making it more real, concrete, and painful. Or you do so by making the solution seem unachievable and describe the frustration of not having access to it.

To push away the solution even further you can remind them of how great it would be if they get benefit, benefit, benefit. You can do that by painting pictures of them enjoying the benefits of solving this problem — or of not having it in the first place.

You also emphasize how urgent it is to solve the problem. Talk about the importance of solving the problem quickly, or the downfalls of not taking action right now. Use vivid descriptions and mental imagery to enlarge the effects of the problem going unsolved.

Then you can move on to the final step.

Now, with perfect timing, you release your solution.

Just like the mounting pressure of a soon-to-erupt volcano that has built up over a period of time, growing, expanding, and festering with no end in sight, your solution comes along to finally relieve the ballooning stress and pent up frustration.

It's at this point that your solution will be far more in demand. By finally bridging the gap, they can grasp more fully how achievable “the other side” really is, and this increases their desire to buy your solution in order to reach it and relieve that pressure.

It's applying the law of contrast, really.

If I offer a solution to your problem, you may be apathetic about it, regardless of how fantastic the solution is or how great its benefits are. Why? Because the problem is not as important to you. If it is important, it may not be as urgent.

In other words, even if solving the problem is important to you, you may be shopping around for alternate solutions, or the solution may not be as desirable since solving the problem is not at the top of your mind at the moment.

(For instance, when do you think about seeing your doctor the most? Before a problem happens in order to prevent it? Long after a problem has happened and is now in the back of your mind? Or while the problem is happening and hurts you the most?)

But you will be a lot more excited about the solution if the problem is indeed at the top of your mind at that moment, and if you know how bad the problem really is — or you know how bad things can be if the problem is left unsolved.

Now that's the power of Gap Analysis.

Also, it also helps you to apply the law of contrast in another way.

Since paying for your solution is a problem in itself (money is security, and nobody wants to lose their hard-earned dollars), then by widening the gap the problem of not owning your product is now a lot larger in comparison to the smaller problem of paying for it.

In other words, by blowing up the problem, you're also shrinking the problem of making a decision to buy. You're reducing the price in their minds and its psychological impact.

Of course, you can and should lower price sensitivity by increasing the value of your solution. But by using Gap Analysis and the power of contrast, you make the pain of paying for your solution a lot more bearable in contrast to the pain of not owning it.

The pain of the problem is greater than the pain of paying for the solution.

Ultimately, by now it's probably quite clear to you how important it is to introduce both sides of the gap during a sales presentation. It's the only way to provide your readers with a complete picture of how impressive an impact your product will have on their lives.

Remember to use your target market's most basic yet dominant desires — we all hate problems — as emotional highlights to your descriptions. It's important to elicit an emotional response in your reader, and “widening the gap” has the potential to do so.

An added benefit is, the whole of this process works to build your relationship with the reader, and by extension the reader's relationship to the product.

By presenting the gap effectively, you connect with your reader by relating to their predicament as well as their dominant desires, while inflating both at the same time.

So that, when you finally reveal your product, they are not only ready for the solution, but also predisposed to accept it, desire it even more, and eager to buy it.

Obviously, you will want to practice and perfect this technique.

Just remember the four steps outlined. Mind the gap, and it will help if you keep a solid picture of your target market so that you use words, phrases, situations, stories, and “reasons why” that your reader will be able to relate to, appreciate, and be compelled by.

You'll soon find that “widening the gap” is a natural part of your copywriting repertoire.

Categories
Copywriting

Digital Scarcity: Does It Still Convert?

Scarcity is an effective tactic often used in copywriting to create a sense of urgency in an effort to convince the undecided reader to make a purchasing decision.

After all, people procrastinate, and they do for a variety of reasons. It's simply human nature. So the goal of applying scarcity is to prevent prospects from procrastinating.

As online consumers become wise to these direct-response copywriting tactics, one question often arises:

“What about digital product downloads, like ebooks and software? How can you create a sense of urgency for something that, in itself, is limitless or perceived as such?”

Here's how to use scarcity selling effectively with digital products:

Limit The Offer

Many people use this strategy ineffectively. They say the offer will only last until midnight. However when a visitor returns to the website the next day, the offer is still up.

Another example of scarcity done badly is to follow through on the promise and the offer is no longer available on that particular website. However, it is still available on another website, through affiliates, or via another Internet marketer.

Consumers are more sophisticated than ever before, and nowadays they tend to easily notice this tactic, shun it, and even react hostilely to it. It lessens your credibility as a business person, and makes any other offer you promote suspect.

However, one of the ways to add scarcity to a digital download is not by actually limiting the quantity or time, which can be seen as irrelevant for a seemingly “unlimited” product, but rather by limiting the offer, its many components, or the promise of its availability.

For example, rather than placing a limit on the quantity or putting a deadline on the offer, you say the package, the price, the premiums, the guarantee, or any additional services (such as support, upgrades, consulting, etc) is only guaranteed through a specific date.

You continue by stating that, if they wait or return after that date, the offer may change and may even be no longer available. So they run the risk of losing out if they don't buy now. Of course, always give a believable, logical reason to justify your sense of urgency.

(This is important, so I'll come back to this with some examples.)

Now, here's how this tactic is different and why you don't lose credibility. Even if your product is still available after that date, you're not contradicting yourself because you only guaranteed that it would be available until then.

You didn't outright promise that it wouldn't be available after the limit or deadline has been reached. You only raised the potential risk of losing out on the offer, at least as it currently stands, if they procrastinated and failed to buy now.

For example, you can tell potential customers that the price is limited to the first 1,000. After 1,000 copies are sold, you may change the offer by raising the price or removing the premiums, or even stop offering it altogether…

… At any time, without warning or notice.

Update The Product

Take advantage of the features of digital products.

Digital products have something in common: they are constantly being updated. It's simply the nature of technology. Software keeps updating with new versions all the time. Ebooks, therefore, can operate in exactly the same manner.

So don't be afraid to put a version number on your digital product, just like you would on a piece of software. When a new version comes out, even if slightly edited, the older one no longer becomes available or becomes obsolete by default.

The good thing is that updating a book is as easy as editing or adding a few paragraphs, inserting an interview, attaching an updated chapter, including a guest contribution, injecting extra appendices, or upgrading the resource list — especially bookmarks.

(We all know how websites and links change all the time. Some URLs can change, redirect, move, or become unreachable. So by upgrading the bookmarked resource list, among others, your list stays fresh and your links remain valid.)

Let's not forget the ubiquitous “alpha” and “beta” stages most software products go through. These can be applicable to ebooks and digital information products as well.

Plus, they don't have to be applied to an entire product. They can be used with specific chapters, add-ons, premiums, tools, or even membership sites.

Additionally, they don't have to be called “alpha” and “beta.” Use your imagination. For example, call it a “pre-release version,” “launch edition,” “introductory version,” “2007 format,” “early bird deliverable,” “advanced copy,” “pre-market issue,” etc.

If you sell an ebook with “free updates,” then that is the element that's scarce. To add more scarcity to the offer, you limit the bonuses or the free updates for a specified quantity and/or time, and not the actual product itself.

Make It Time-Sensitive

The third tactic is to add a chapter or a bonus that's time-sensitive. I'm not talking about a deadline. I'm talking about content that's timely and more valuable based on its freshness rather than content that is released with a deadline.

This can be done practically with every information product out there.

For example, if you're selling a principled, evergreen, or theory-based ebook that, in itself, can't go out of style or become outdated, then add a few extra pages, like a list of resources or specific tactics, that are relevant at the time of writing the product.

However, the best way to do this is to include information that, directly or by implication, makes it scarce. It can be something tied to a specific event, activity, trend, or news item. If not, and if you wish to keep your product evergreen, then specify it in the copy.

Say you sell a book on how to grow bigger, redder tomatoes. Your book can have a chapter or a bonus report that talks about how to enter and win a certain annual, well-recognized, and popular “tomato-growing contest,” which has a set date each year.

This information therefore becomes time-sensitive, because, if they buy after the contest, then the book holds less value — at least in the way it's positioned in the copy.

Another way is if it relates to a season or period of the year, such as a book on how to coach youth basketball. The book will have a time-sensitive element a few months before basketball season starts, and little or no value once the season is over.

Ultimately, think of how you can add scarcity to the product itself by adding either content or add-ons (like premiums or bonuses), or by how you position it in the copy, to make it time-sensitive somehow — without having to limit the offer directly.

For instance, can the value or perceived value of the product depreciate over time or after a certain number of downloads? If not, how can you incorporate this element (whether it's through extra content, premiums, or add-ons)?

Use your creativity, here.

In my experience, practically every digital product, no matter how timeless or evergreen it may seem at first, can be made scarce or urgent in some way, or made to appear so, that's independent of any limits you otherwise impose.

Technological or Resource Limits

Done properly, this is a very compelling and clever use of scarcity, because you are essentially using technology or time against itself. Here's how it works…

An example that's also the easiest is where you tell prospects that the item is limited because you need to conserve or limit the bandwidth. Many hosts limit accounts by filesizes or allocate a certain number of bytes transferred per week, month, or year.

As a result, you may need to revise the offer or raise the price to cover your growing costs at a certain point in the future, as greater resources are consumed. Not only that, but maintenance and support costs proportionately grow, too.

“Of course,” you might say, “everyone knows that.” Yes, but they don't necessarily realize this may directly affect the offer, price, or availability of the product altogether.

So the idea is to specify it in your copy. Tell your readers that, as more and more people buy and download your product, the costlier it becomes to maintain.

Price increases are inevitable, and therefore they must act now to take advantage of such a “low price.” If they wait they might lose out on a great deal or on the product altogether as it may be taken off the market to conserve resources and control costs.

The trick is, you can specify a certain date or quantity sold by which you will revise your offer to ensure it appropriately reflects and covers your costs at that time.

That's why the scarcity, in this case, is not so much a promise that an increase in price is imminent, but the promise you will maintain the current offer as it stands for a predetermined period of time only. After that, anything can happen.

Now, while that might seem logical for software, sometimes this tactic might not be as convincing in the case of digital products. (Especially in the case of a very short ebook, among others.) In this case, try to make your digital book dynamic.

Again, this doesn't have to apply to an entire product or to the product itself. Certain parts, chapters, or bonus add-ons only can be made dynamic.

For example, some PDFs now have forms and quizzes. Some ebooks contain streaming audio and video. Others are compiled as standalone executables but pull content from the web. And let's not forget membership or password-protected websites.

Dynamic content obviously uses more resources than simple one-time downloads. And it may be common knowledge. But the goal is to communicate this to your prospects.

Nevertheless, aside from products themselves, there's the most scarcest resource of all.

And that, of course, is time.

There are only so many hours in the day or so many clients you can serve at any given time, right? Therefore, if your product comes with, say, free consulting or coaching, such as critiques, reviews, email consultations, etc, you could then say:

Due to the growing demand on my time, I can only accept a certain number of individuals. So I guarantee that the next 10 clients only who buy this product will get [add-on service].

Bottom line, and pardon the pun, but don't just limit yourself to the product proper. Look at the features or parts of your product, the delivery method, any add-ons or bonuses, the offer, the resources required, or the service-based components.

Digital scarcity works quite well, even when the product may seem to be limitless. Because the possibilities are only as finite as your creativity.

Categories
Copywriting

Want Better Copy? Go On A Quest!

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

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

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

Let me share with you a formula I use.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of my salesletters focus on five core components.

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

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

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

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

Here's what “QUEST” means:

Q = Qualify

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

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

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

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

Because, the next step is to…

U = Understand

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

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

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

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

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

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

E = Educate

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

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

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

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

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

S = Stimulate

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

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

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

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

After that, you then…

T = Transition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The third one is the one I use the most.

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

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

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

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

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