Categories
Copywriting

Can Your Prospects Take An Oath?

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

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

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

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

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

What are these “stages of awareness?”

There are four.

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

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

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

Here's what I mean.

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

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

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

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

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

“O” is for Oblivious.

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

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

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

“A” is for Apathetic.

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

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

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

“T” is for Thinking.

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

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

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

“H” is for Hurting.

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

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

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

At this stage, procrastination is the culprit.

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

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

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

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

That's the OATH formula in a nutshell.

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

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

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

Categories
Copywriting

How I Broke Into Copywriting

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

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

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

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

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

Michel Fortin (1991)
Michel Fortin (1991)

Anyway, here is my story.

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

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

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

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

I remember that time like it was yesterday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then, things “clicked.”

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

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

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

So I moved on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It reminded me of my experience at the insurance company.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes, that included copywriting, too.

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

Here's the problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I was grinning with anticipation.)

“… An extra $3,000.”

I said, “Oh, $3,000 a month! Great!”

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

I was so disappointed. And angry.

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

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

So I quit the very next month.

It was the best decision I ever made.

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

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

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

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

My curiosity was piqued.

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

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

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

So I created my client's website in 1992.

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

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

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

The result? Nothing. Not a single request.

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

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

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

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

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

That's when things started moving very quickly.

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

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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

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

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

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

There you have it!

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

Categories
Copywriting

How to Target Your Perfect Customer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Typically, there are four main categories.

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

  • Geographics
  • Demographics
  • Psychographics
  • Technographics

Empathy Starts With Discovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom line, who buys from you specifically?

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

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

Intelligence Gathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The more information the better.

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

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

Aim For The Bull's-Eye

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

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

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

Audience Targeting Model for marketing
Audience Targeting Model for marketing.

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

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

Here's a quick description of each circle:

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

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

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

Here's An Example

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't Play Darts in The Dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Copywriting

How I Write Copy in Seven Steps

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

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

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

Here they are.

1. Gather Initial Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, that's “goals” in the plural.

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

2. Conduct Exploratory Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Pick, Prod, And Probe Further

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

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

Digging deeper is a crucial step!

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

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

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

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

But here's my greatest tip…

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

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

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

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

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

These recorded interviews are worth a mint!

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

4. Create The Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Write The Copy

Next comes the creative part.

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, they are guides, not goals.

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

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

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

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

6. Rearrange The Flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Edit And Expand

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

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

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

In fact, the latter is the most crucial step.

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

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

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

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

Remember this: write first, edit later.

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

After that, I'm essentially done.

Bonus Step: Revise!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, these are the steps I follow.

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

Categories
Copywriting

It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It

Copywriting is often labelled as “wordsmithing.” A wordsmith is someone who uses words to sell a product, a service, or an idea.

But, is copy only about words?

Copywriting comes down to two fundamental tasks: knowing what to say and then how to say it. The first part is the most crucial. After all, the success of your copy hinges greatly on coming up with the right message — i.e., the right angle or story — that moves your readers and makes them move.

To do this, you need to choose the right words to communicate your message, express your story, and connect with your audience.

The second part is just as important. Choosing the best words to not only say what you mean but also add meaning to what you're saying is a wordsmith's most prized weapon in making copy significantly more potent.

Sometimes, the right message isn't enough. It needs to jump out at the reader, grab them by the eyeballs, and shake them into action if not reading further.

So knowing how to say it is communicating the right message in the right way.

But what about formatting, visual aids, graphics, and cosmetics of the text? What about the “design of the copy”? Are words alone enough, especially in today's visually driven world? Some copywriters claim they distract and take the reader's focus away from the message. But I disagree.

Words are extremely important. The words you choose can make or break the sale. But don't discount the cosmetics.

Copy cosmetics give your copy eye gravity. They help to direct the reader's eyes into the story and throughout the page. They also help to drive important points home and may even influence how people perceive you.

But above all, they help to replace the cues, nuances, and nonverbal subtleties that occur in traditional, face-to-face sales encounters.

In my early career as a teacher of professional selling in college, I taught about the nonverbal aspect of communication that can dramatically affect sales.

There are four: Paralinguistics, Kinesics, Haptics, Proxemics, and Chronemics.

Chronemics

Chronemics is the science of timing, which is an important aspect of nonverbal communication. Things like speed of speech, pausing (in sales or professional speaking, it's often called the “pregnant pause”), pacing, and punctuality.

All of these convey deeper meaning and may alter the meaning of the message. Think of comedians: timing is the single, most important aspect of their standup routine. As they say, “It's all in the delivery.”

Poor timing can make any good joke fall flat. Even with theatrics, from tragedies to comedies, actors use timing skillfully to captivate their audiences.

Proxemics

Proxemics is the science of personal space. It's the implied message communicated by the distance between individuals during, for example, a conversation, a meeting, or a shared activity.

This isn't some “Feng Shui-ish” thing. I'm talking about our psychological (and often subconscious) reaction to the distance we maintain with other people.

When someone speaks so closely to you that their nose is almost touching yours, you feel uneasy, as if they're invading your personal space. It's also our tendency to avoid people by standing in the opposite corner of an elevator.

In sales, for instance, sitting across from someone at a desk may unconsciously convey that the other person is being confrontational. That's why some sales training programs tell you to sit side by side with your prospect.

Haptics

Haptics is the science of touching. Psychologists have studied the effects of touching during conversations and how it can influence others.

Like proxemics, too much can seem like an invasion of personal space, and certain parts of the body are obviously off-limits. But a little, done respectfully and appropriately, can add a whole new level of understanding to a message.

For example, they tested how people would react when they were told a certain statement. Here's what research discovered.

A speaker would simply tell the listener a story. Then, they were told another story, but this time the speaker would touch the listener on the forearm lightly and for only a few seconds, particularly when saying something important.

According to the study, subjects in the second test felt the speaker was more believable. They had higher recall scores. Physiologically, they felt more relaxed and comfortable with the speaker. They felt a certain “connection.”

Kinesics

Kinesics is the science of body language. Nonverbal gestures, postures, and facial expressions that communicate nonverbally with others various physical, mental, or emotional states.

Uncrossing of the arms or legs. Raising of the brows. Rubbing of the chin. Leaning forward. All of these can indicate that you're interested in your client — or if the client does it, it can tell you she's interested in your offer.

Kinesics (all forms of nonverbal communication, for that matter) can support, emphasize, or contradict what is being conveyed.

Paralinguistics

Paralinguistics is the most important one. It's how we convey urgency, subtext, intent, and emotion in and of a message. Things like intonation, volume, inflection, resonance, and pitch can affect and even alter the meaning of the message, sometimes quite dramatically.

In a face-to-face sales presentation, these verbal cues are often used to drive important points and emphasize key benefits, which go beyond words.

Here's an example I use in my class.

Inflection is the musical quality of the voice — the verbal ups or downs a word, a syllable, or a series of words. In selling, vocal inflection is probably the most used form of nonverbal communication. Why? Because it can virtually change the entire meaning of a message, even when inflecting a single word.

Take, for example, the following sentence: “I didn't say I love you.” It's pretty straightforward, right? But if I stress one word each time I said it, like this:

Then it could change the meaning completely:

  • Inflecting the word “you” could imply I love someone else.
  • Emphasizing the word “love” might imply I simply like you.
  • Stressing the word “say” could mean I said something else.
  • Accenting the word “didn't” might imply I never said it at all.
  • Or focusing on the first word “I” could mean someone else said it.

It's not what you say, but how you say it.

It's Not What You Say, It's How You Say It 1 | nonverbal communication

In copy, we're limited, not by what we want to say but how we want to say it. That's where cosmetics, formatting, and certain visual triggers can become enormously helpful.

Don't add graphics willy-nilly to your copy. Be judicious and strategic.

If you can add a photograph of your product (or if you sell a service, a picture of you in action delivering that service or a client enjoying the benefits of your service), you will likely achieve greater results.

But graphics and pictures aside, the look of the copy is just as important as the words themselves. That's why, when I write copy, I usually pay close attention to the cosmetics. I even call it “copy designing.”

Incorporate visual triggers, cosmetic “commands,” and response devices into your copy, usually with formatting, in order to boost readership and response.

Use it to emphasize certain keywords or keyphrases. I'm not talking about going crazy with different fonts and colors. Otherwise, it will do the opposite of what you intended. Emphasize everything and you emphasize nothing.

I'm talking about strategically placed bolds, italics, typestyles, font sizes, boxes, bullets, colors, white spaces, borders, and so on. (Take, for instance, the way I emphasized certain words in the inflection example earlier.)

As copywriter Martin Hayman noted: “Michael Fortin is right. The way the copy is set out on the page makes a massive difference to the way the reader responds. Typographic practitioners have known this for, oh, centuries.”

Here's just one example.

Over 60 years ago, Frank H. Johnson, a direct mail copywriter, started a new technique to boost the readership and impact of his salesletters.

He would highlight the offer in a centered, rectangular box placed at the very top of the letter above the salutation. Why? Because he wanted to summarize his offer upfront in a way that saved his readers' time and hassle.

Instead of forcing readers to wade through a mass of copy before making the offer, he gave them the essentials, right upfront. The results were astonishing.

Direct mail copywriter Ivan Levinson reports he has seen claims that adding a “Johnson Box” to a plain letter can shoot response rates up by 40%.

You can apply this technique to boxes placed within the heart of the copy in strategic locations, such as right before any call-to-action or when highlighting some of the most important points of your copy.

If your readers skim and scan your copy, J-boxes can often stop them in their tracks and force them to read their contents. They help to inculcate key points you want to drive home.

Consequently, these are perfect locations to put your bonuses, premiums, guarantees, testimonials, factoids, key points, stories, and sidenotes.

There's little your prospects will remember from your copy. But if you use Johnson Boxes, the likelihood they will remember their contents more — and over any other point stated in the rest of the copy — will be stronger.

Nevertheless, the moral is this:

Copy is not just about what you say. It's also about what you mean to say.

Categories
Copywriting

How to Hook (More) Copywriting Prospects

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

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

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

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

Your USP is also your “hook.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Actual Product: The copy itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's an extra tip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Never discount! Never.)

Next in the layers is the actual product.

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

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

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

Specifically, niche marketing.

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

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

But don't just focus on industries or niches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copywriters are no different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don't just stick with the obvious.

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

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

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

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

What about you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Copywriting

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.