Categories
Copywriting

Why I Switched From Copywriting to SEO Consulting?

Ever since I stopped accepting copywriting clients over a decade ago, it’s a question that seems to come up again and again. It's understandable as I was quite prominent in that world throughout the 90s and in the early 2000s.

I really didn’t stop writing copy, but I left the business of copywriting and now focus on SEO, particularly after years of being a “top copywriter” — a label my peers often give me, although I never really considered myself to be one.

But the question about my departure has once again resurfaced, particularly after I appeared on a YouTube show talking about the shady side of the world of copywriting. I realize I should probably write something to explain it. So I'm going to answer that question once and for all in here.

To do this, I need to give you some background to put things in context.

If you don’t know my story, here’s a quick summary.

My Copywriting Life in a Nutshell

I got married at 19. My wife had a two-year-old daughter whom I’ve virtually adopted. (She's now in her late thirties and still calls me Dad.)

Being a father was redemptive somewhat, as my alcoholic father abused me when I was young. After my mother left, the state institutionalized him; he had Korsakov’s Syndrome (also known as Korsakoff’s Psychosis), a mentally degenerative disease caused by years of alcohol abuse.

But because of my childhood (or so I thought), I had a tremendous fear of rejection. When I learned that I have ADHD at 52, I discovered that a common symptom among people with ADHD is “rejection sensitive dysphoria” (RSD).

It explains the tremendous fear of rejection and my many childhood struggles. So my father wasn’t to blame. Not entirely, anyway. In fact, ADHD is genetic. My father likely had it, and he turned to alcohol to deal with it.

(People with ADHD are highly susceptible to addiction. Luckily, mine is coffee.)

Around the time I got married, I wanted to fight my fears of rejection and dove into sales to fight them. After all, as Emerson said, “Do what you fear and the death of that fear is certain,” right? You get rejected a ton in sales!

But of course, I failed. And failed miserably.

Working on straight commission, I accumulated a mountain of debt, bought groceries on eight different credit cards to survive, and declared bankruptcy at the tender age of 21. It was a big mistake; I know. But I was young, foolish, trying to be a good father (unlike mine), and desperate to “succeed.”

Back in the 80s, the common practice in the insurance business was selling door to door. I moved to the countryside in a tiny little town where my wife grew up in. So I inherited a sales territory in which I knew absolutely no one.

Naturally, referrals were non-existent. I had to find a better way to get leads.

How I Discovered Copywriting

I tried something different. Fueled by anxiety, desperation, or both, I wrote and mailed salesletters offering a free policy audit. Only a few people called to book an appointment with me. But I was ecstatic. I also had an open door to follow-up to see if they received my letter. So no more cold-calling!

The best part was, I also no longer had to face rejection.

That year, I became the top salesperson in my district and then in all of Canada. It was short-lived as many salespeople in my company crushed my results later on. But for a fleeting moment in my life, it felt as if a door opened up and success was possible. Plus, copywriting piqued my interest.

But insurance was tough. In the late 80s, there was an increasing outcry against whole life insurance policies as more people switched to term insurance.

So a year later, I took a job as a consultant for a hair replacement company that also offered surgeries through a partnership with a hair transplant surgeon. I also worked on commission there, too. But it was a growing industry, and I knew about it as my first wife was a hairdresser.

By applying the same tactics from my insurance job, I wrote direct mail letters, created full-page display ads in newspapers, and even produced 30-minute late-night infomercials on TV. Bookings and sales were skyrocketing. My employer was a happy camper, as was I.

At 22, I made more money than I ever made in my life!

How I Became a Copywriter

I eventually became a “marketing consultant” for other cosmetic surgeons, which became my preferred niche. (The reason I say “marketing consultant” is that copywriting wasn’t the only thing I did, and medical doctors would never hire a “copywriter” much less a “sales consultant” back then.)

In the early 90s, I convinced clients to create a “web page” on this newfangled thing called the “world wide web.” I told them it was like an electronic version of the yellow pages, and it was becoming increasingly popular. Since most of them had invested in yellow pages before, this was an easy sell.

So I wrote copy for the web. This was circa ‘92 to ’94.

A few years later, I designed my first website in ‘95 and incorporated myself as “The Success Doctor” in ‘97. The name came about because I helped doctors become successful. (I also had aspirations of becoming a motivational speaker. But marketing and copywriting was more fun, I later found.)

I eventually became quite busy as word got around. Other doctors hired me, too, including chiropractors, weightloss doctors, nutritionists, acupuncturists, etc. I expanded to include lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, and other service providers. But cosmetic surgeons remained my largest clientele.

Over time, more and more clients hired me to write copy for the web, including landing pages, websites, and email marketing campaigns. I guess you can say that this was when I was becoming more well-known as an online copywriter and Internet marketer than a mere copywriter.

But there was a problem.

Clients Would Screw Up My Copy

I love copywriting. But I remember clients messing things up.

Once I gave them my copy, they would put it up on their websites. And it would look awful! The formatting was completely wrong, the layout was atrocious, and the selection of graphics and images didn't fit what I had in mind.

So naturally, conversions sucked. Particularly with projects that paid me with royalties. I was usually the one to blame, even though I believed my copy was good. But my ADHD and fear of failure compelled me to do something.

That's when I included formatting, web design, even landing page development along with copywriting so that my salesletters would look the way I wanted.

So I repositioned myself as a copy “designer.”

I always hated the word “writing,” anyway, because most people think of writing as putting words down on paper. But they have a tendency to neglect the sales and creative aspects of writing. They ignore that it’s about strategy. I spent just as much time on the look-and-feel of the copy as I did on writing it.

I became obsessed with the copy’s performance. For me, getting the right audience to read the copy — one with the right level of awareness and intent — was important. Also, the cosmetics that drive the eyes into the copy, or the copy cosmetics, were just as important as the words themselves.

That's where my work evolved to include other aspects of online marketing.

Enter The World of SEO

I consulted clients on their traffic and demand generation tactics because I wanted some level of control over the quality of the traffic that hit the copy. The market is just as important as the message. So I did a lot of traffic generation, affiliate marketing, email campaign management, and so forth.

Clients increasingly hired me to do SEO (search engine optimization), including SEO copywriting, to help increase their conversions. I also did CRO (conversion rate optimization), which people often refer to as “conversion copywriting.”

So, what does SEO have to do with conversions?

Attracting audiences with the right search intent at the right awareness stage can skyrocket conversion rates. It's about matching the right message with the right market, or “message-to-market match,” as Dan Kennedy would say.

This thinking, along with the way the Internet was evolving, became the impetus behind my writing “The Death of The Salesletter.” Back in 2005, I knew that this is where Internet marketing and copywriting were heading. It was also the beginning of my disillusionment with the industry. (I'll come back to this.)

In my manifesto, I talked about personalization, dynamic content, behavioral targeting, sales funnels (before funnels were a thing), micro-conversions, etc — things that are commonplace today in the world of digital marketing — replacing the long-form, direct sales-driven copy.

I wrote code since I was 11 and designed websites since I was 22, so technology and how marketing was evolving online always fascinated me. Besides writing copy, I also loved developing websites, designing them, doing SEO, and making sure the user experience (UX) was as optimal as it could be.

Then, My World Turned Upside Down

Let me backup a little.

In 2003, as my copywriting career was exploding, I met my second wife who was in the customer support industry. I initially hired her to provide support for my copywriting business. When we realized we shared many of the same clients, we slowly merged our businesses. And eventually, our lives.

But from the news of her cancer diagnosis right before our wedding in 2006 until her passing in early 2015, my wife’s disease grew to become, over the course of our marriage, the center of attention instead of our client work.

I was kind of lucky in that, in 2008, my mother had the same disease as my wife (i.e., breast cancer). It gave me a glimpse into what was to come. In other words, the experience showed me what I was getting into with my wife and helped me to prepare and to grieve before I knew I had to.

In 2011, my mother's cancer became terminal, and we set up a hospice in our home. She passed away later that year on the morning after my birthday.

And sure enough, my wife's health took a turn for the worse a year later. Her cancer came back with a vengeance, spreading to every major organ.

However, shortly before she passed in early 2015 (in fact, it was just a month prior), my father, while still in the institution, passed away, too. His heart stopped during his sleep. The weakening of the heart muscles is one of the many comorbid issues caused by Korsakov’s disease.

So you can say that 2015 was probably the worst year of my life.

But it didn't stop there.

My sister who was my only sibling struggled all her life with multiple ailments, including diabetes. My parents' passing, let alone years of my father’s abuse, affected her deeply and I cannot imagine what she went through. In 2017, she, too, passed away in her sleep. Just like my dad.

Distaste For The Copywriting Industry

I didn't have the headspace or motivation to return to freelancing. So I took a job in a digital marketing agency as an SEO manager and director of marketing communications. We were a Google Premier Partner agency, and I supervised an amazing team of content writers and web developers.

While grief played a role, another reason I didn't want to go back was that I became increasingly disenchanted with the copywriting business. Specifically, I'm referring to the business of writing copy for the Internet marketing and business opportunity (or “bizopp”) industries.

It started many years before then. But it culminated around the time my wife was undergoing her final chemotherapy treatments for her cancer.

I wrote about the scummy side of the business and the reason I left. But long story short, my late wife and I had to deal with a growing number of clients whose business practices were becoming questionable, unethical, and borderline illegal. Even the FTC sued some of them for deceptive practices.

The reason is, they were selling “business-in-a-box” programs.

It's no different from a chain-letter, envelope-stuffing scheme.

They would sell a course teaching people how to make money by creating a business. Sounds legit at first. But they would use the very course people bought to create a business and make money with. When I learned they included my salesletters with their “businesses,” that's when I decided I had enough.

SEO Consulting for Plastic Surgeons

After a few years and being in a much better place, I got remarried, left the agency world, and started freelancing again. But this time, I was doing more SEO work. Sure, copywriting is still a part of what I do to an extent. But now it's about how it can help attract and convert targeted traffic.

I also returned to my roots by working with plastic and cosmetic surgeons. I did it for several reasons. It's an industry I love and have a lot of experience with.

Creating phenomenal user experiences that lead to sales starts with how qualified the user is. SEO is key for that reason. A user's search intent hugely determines their level of awareness and attention prior to hitting your website.

The quality of your conversions is directly proportional to the quality of your traffic, the quality of your content, and the quality of the user experience.

That's where SEO comes in.

Also, being a geek who loves coding and web design, SEO satisfies my dual nature, i.e., both “sides' of my brain — the creative and analytical aspects of marketing. Today, I do 360-degree SEO audits, with technical SEO (coding and hosting), on-page SEO (HTML and content), and off-page SEO (external signals).

All these components work hand-in-hand.

Yes, my work still includes writing copy. But it mostly includes helping my clients generate the right kinds of traffic. In other words, it's about having the right message for the right market — or in this case, the market with the right intent.

Categories
Copywriting

Copywriting Productivity Tools to Boost Your Writing

These days, I do a lot of SEO consulting and content strategy work. But a big part of my career was in copywriting. And when I write copy, some tools help me tremendously. Whether it's doing research, writing the copy itself, or working with my clients, there are certain resources that help.

I previously shared tools I use for SEO work. I use some of them for copywriting, too. Below are some extras that I specifically use. You don't need to be a copywriter. But these resources may help you either write your own copy or, when you outsource it, know what to look for or how to fix it.

Before I dive in, a caveat. These are my tools. They don't have to be your tools. By all means, use whatever you're comfortable with.

Google Docs

I use Google for pretty much everything. I used to do most of my copy work with Microsoft Word, but when Google came out with their online version (MS wasn't there, yet), I switched. It's not just for writing. It's great for sharing and collaborating, especially with clients, editors, associates, etc.

Google Sheets

Same thing with Google Sheets. With Excel, emailing files back and forth was a nightmare. Which version is correct? Where did I save it? Did I email a copy? Instead, I prefer to use one document in one central location. Plus, the beauty is that it can also import and export in a variety of popular formats.

Google Keep

Research is a critical part of copywriting — or of any marketing endeavour for that matter. I often come across a ton of passages, sources, citations, images, etc I want to use or reference in my copy. With my browser plugin, I can select and save as I go, and add comments and notes to them.

Google Drive

I used to use multiple tools for online storage. The problem was that things got scattered. I prefer sticking everything in one place. And since I use Google for everything (I use Google Workspace for my practice), Google Drive makes it easy to save, share, collaborate on, and associate files with.

Slack

I admit that, for the longest time (particularly when I ran my own agency), I used Basecamp to manage my projects. But as an advisor, I don't need it as much. Slack is simpler. Communication is the key benefit, with the ability to share, connect with Google assets, other apps like Zoom, etc.

Loom

Loom records my desktop and allows me to do copy critiques, project walkthroughs, demos, etc. It's a great tool to communicate questions to clients, staff, suppliers, etc. But it's also a great way to keep personal notes and record ideas. The fact that it integrates with Slack makes it a no-brainer.

CleanShot

Quite simply, CleanSot takes screenshots. But it's quite effective at that job. It allows me to annotate, edit, and store clippings to the cloud. It also makes it easy to add copy elements such as social proof, create GIFs, and even has a timer if I need to use my mouse during recordings (such as mouseovers).

Q&A Sites

I visit question-and-answer websites for my research all the time. They're rich sources of information for market research and ideas, too. To write compelling copy that connects with your audience, you need to know the questions people ask and how people talk about the problem you solve. My favorites include:

Grammarly

This is my favorite writing tool. I prefer it over Google Docs' built-in grammar and spellchecking tools. I occasionally use Hemingway App when I want to check my writing, or when I need to express something with more clarity and conviction. If I do use it, it's usually with the finished writing.

Headline Analyzer

Offered by CoSchedule, a marketing and editorial calendar, this tool provides a number of scores on your headlines, including readability, sentiment, skimmability, and engagement level. It also counts characters, which is good for headlines in ads and subject lines. I use it all the time.

RhymeZone

I've been using RhymeZone for ages. It's helpful to find rhymes, related words, poems, quotations, literary references, and word variations. With Google Doc, I use several add-ons like PowerThesaurus.org to find synonyms. But when I need to find a related word, a variation, or a descriptive word, I use RhymeZone.

Descript

This is the newest tool in my arsenal. Often, I need to transcribe recordings to use as content for my copy. I often use Otter.ai for my transcriptions, but Descript takes it to whole new level. Its machine-learning capabilities are truly revolutionary, like cutting out all the “ums” and “ahs” in one click.

(I wish I used Descript more. But since upgrading to Mac's Big Sur, it's not working anymore. They have said they're working on an update, so I'm patiently waiting. In the meantime, visit Descript and watch the video. It's impressive.)

There you have some of my most commonly used tools. I have more, but hopefully this will get things started. What are yours? Let me know.

Categories
Copywriting

Helpful Hints for Writing

Preamble: This post was originally written in late 2006. It's my answer to a common question I get quite often. It needed an update, so here it is.


Someone recently asked me this question: “I was wondering, ‘What keeps Michel Fortin writing?' I mean, Michel, what is your 3, 5, or 7-point formula to get an article on paper? What are some of the specific steps you follow?”

1. I Subscribe to Stuffs

I try to stay on top of my industry.

I'm subscribed to many newsletters and blogs, and I read every day. The wonderful byproduct of being immersed in my industry is that something I've read will stir a few ideas in my mind about something worth writing.

Pocket is my best friend. So is my RSS feedreader, Feedly. They have a folder and tag system that I love, which is great for saving and organizing articles.

Not only that, but Feedly's premium version has a built-in machine learning tool called “Leo,” which, based on my reading history and saved articles, will prioritize my feeds so I first read articles I want or prefer. If I don't have much time, at least I get to read as many of the most important ones.

I have feeds filed in several categories, including SEO, PPC, Copywriting, Marketing, WordPress (my preferred CMS), Google (all things Google), and Psychology (including ADHD).

I can also do an external keyword-based blog search so that Feedly finds feeds I might like to follow. Of course, I also have a search based on my name, my clients' names, and any brands I follow.

As for email, I file newsletter issues that I may use in the future and delete the rest as soon as I read them. But nine times out of 10, I will view the online version of the email and save it in Pocket.

In terms of software, I have used Ulysses, Grammarly, and Google Docs. But these days, I write directly into WordPress (Gutenberg). I might also use my text editor, which is UltraEdit for Mac.

Aside from Pocket and Feedly, I also use Google Keep. I used other note-keeping tools like Evernote and OneNote, but I still come back to Keep. It's simple. I also use a few Chrome extensions that add some needed features, like color-coded categories, adding indents, “save to keep,” etc.

The latter is important. If come across an article that has a passage I want to cite or need, rather than saving the whole thing (and forgetting what passage I wanted or why it was important), I select it with my mouse and right-click to save the selection to Google Keep.

2. I Start With The Skeleton

Articles ideas don't have to be new. What's new is my take on it. Something on which I want to opine or express my point of view. So a new article may be as simple as my own way of looking and expressing an existing topic.

I start with an outline, a skeleton article, with a series of bullets to prompt be about things I want to talk about. Sometimes, there are quite a few of them. Other times, there are none at all. I just start with a story or goal.

But if I do start with a skeleton article, I write down bullet points that represent what I want to cover in that section. Basically, they're idea blocks. But they're not written in stone. I prefer to remain flexible since, after I start writing, the flow might take me in a different direction.

The skeleton allows me to see, at a glance, the overall flow. I reorganize them if I feel there's a better structure and organization of ideas. Some points are best mentioned in strategic locations (whether it's storytelling, pacing, or clarity), and the outline allows me to do exactly that, even before I start writing.

I write in two ways:

  1. I start writing and let it go. (Cue Frozen soundtrack.)
  2. I start with the outline and expand each idea block.

The first often occurs when I have a pretty good idea of what I want to write about. Sometimes, I'll start with a personal story — something that happened or came across — that I feel will be a fitting idea to discuss.

Confession: I never put “ideas” aside for future content topics. I know some experts do this, like Jonathan Stark and David C. Baker (but I think David uses a dual approach, like this one).

I only use the articles I save (see previous section) to prompt me. When I get an idea to write something, and it's really good, I try to write it then and there. Largely because of my ADHD, my short-term memory is atrocious. So when I have an idea, if I don't write it the moment I think of it, I'll forget it.

If I'm really pressed for time, I'll save it and make notes. I'll create a new post in WordPress, add the skeleton points I want to cover, and save it as a draft.

But I try to avoid this because, when the idea hits me, I tend to think of a hundred things I want to go over in that article. So even with the notes, I'll forget the bulk or depth of ideas that I wanted to address. I then get frustrated, which impedes my writing.

3. I Put Meat on Them Bones

Writing keywords in bullet form to expand on into full paragraphs is a way to give me a high-level view of the article structure at a glance — much like I do when I create content architectures for SEO purposes.

The bullet points are based on topics I want to cover, but the flow is important to make sure the reader gets the point I'm making. I'm not fabulously skilled at this, but it does help. I also write copy the same way. And essentially, the bullet points often become headers, too.

But bullets point are prompts. Guideposts, not goals. I might change them or go in another direction entirely if I feel there's a better idea or storyline.

I start with a key idea or point, perhaps a lede or hook, but might change this once I expand on the bullets and realize there's a better way to start the article.

I finish with a simple recap, as you may already be aware. But sometimes, it's a key point, an actionable step, a question to ponder, or a cliffhanger (maybe leading to another article).

I temporarily put my “critical editor” hat aside and I just keep writing. It's not easy, but I try to simply let it flow and don't even stop to read what I've written. Once done, I stop, read again and edit for style and grammar — of course, with the kind help of Grammarly or Google's spellchecker.

Sometimes I'll take whole sentences out I feel were just fluff. Other times, I'll add new ones in for more depth. I'll also rewrite passages I feel aren't clear. And I'll cut and paste some paragraphs where I feel they belong best.

In terms of proofreading, I re-read. But when I have a chance, I read the article out loud. I do this because I often miss things that are blatantly obvious. I read like I write. So I will miss things that are easier to spot when I “hear it” instead.

Plus, if I pause, fumble, re-read (because it doesn't sound right) at any point, then I know that I need to rewrite it for clarity.

There you have it.

It's not as magical as some people make it out to be.

Remember to be a sponge in whichever field you're in, and to squeeze the sponge when you need to. Thought leadership comes from having insights, but you can't pull any insights out of thin air.

If you ever feel you have writer's block, it's usually an excuse. It's your inner critic trying to force what you want to say to be perfect. As Dori Clark once said, “It doesn't need to be perfect, it just needs to be good and to be done.”

Once you start, even if you don't know what to say, ideas will start flowing.

But if you feel you truly have nothing to say, then that's a clue that you need to read more, get more information, learn more, subscribe to more stuff, and do more research. Because the sponge, after a while, will become so full that your ideas will be more than flowing, they will be overflowing.

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

Does Your Copy Have Personality?

Some people don't mind hard-hitting copy, while others prefer newsy copy. Some people prefer long copy to get as much information as possible, others prefer short, brief, to-the-point copy. Some like drama, stories, and testimonials; others data, statistics, and facts.

Does it all matter? Absolutely.

What makes one style of copy more favorable than another? Why does one person buy from one type of copy and not from another? It really comes down to the buying behavior of your market. And in fact, there are four major personality types.

Before I tell you what they are, remember that the style you choose will not appeal to everyone. It never will. Roy Williams, author of The Wizard of Ads, once noted, “Even some of the best ads miss the mark with at least half of their target audience.”

You may have heard me say this before, but it's important. Don't be all things to all people. If you do, you have no choice but to paint your copy with broad brushstrokes in order to appeal to everyone. Instead, give your copy personality. Even if it offends some.

Otherwise, ads crafted so as not to offend anyone will be counterproductive. They may even backfire. And more importantly, they might be more offensive than you think.

When your target market reads your bland, vanilla copy, it will often shrug it off because they feel you are not catering to them specifically — even if what you're selling does.

Therefore, the more you try not to offend anyone, the more generic you become with your copy. And the more generic you are, the more your copy will be disconnected from your audience. In short, appeal to everyone and you will appeal to no one.

In other words, to your prospect, you appear as if you don't understand them, because your copy doesn't cater to their specific, individual needs, goals, concerns, budget, and unique set of circumstances. Even if the product is perfect for them.

As a result, you alienate most of your market that way.

Sure, your sales copy may avoid offending a minority. But in turn, by genericizing it you inadvertently offend the majority — perhaps in a subtle, indirect, or unconscious way — because you appear as if you simply don't care.

You see, ads are distinctive. They're alive. They're like pieces of art. Each one has a certain personality. And no matter what you do, like it or not that personality may attract some people and repulse others at the same time.

Your goal, therefore, is to directly and distinctly appeal to the majority, in spite of the minority. Otherwise, try to be too general (or better said, “too generic”) with your copy, and the result will be copy that's bland, anemic, and unproductive.

Your copy offers more than just information. It also presents that information in a way that the majority of your target audience better appreciates, absorbs, and acts upon it.

Catering to the majority won't just be conducive to the greatest results but also begins the all-important process of building a relationship with your market.

A lot of marketers think that targeting your market means you must put your ad in front of qualified buyers. But it means more than that. It also means to write and mold the copy in a way that the message targets them, too. That is, it targets their personality.

Therefore, it's not only best to target one market at a time but also to target one predominant buyer personality at a time, too. That way, your information is presented in a way that your market feels the copy is centered on them. And them alone.

So how do you do target your market's personality?

Over the years, psychologists and behavioral scientists have categorized personality styles. They may have labeled them differently, but they are generally the same. They all come down to essentially four different personality styles.

Is this some new science? No. Around 400 B.C.E., Hippocrates, in “Air, Water And Places,” dubbed these four types as Sanguine, Phlegmatic, Choleric, and Melancholic.

In recent times, Roy Williams, in one of his articles, calls them Spontaneous, Humanistic, Competitive, and Methodical. Behavioral scientist and motivational speaker, Dr. Tony Alessandra, labels them as Directors, Socializers, Relaters, and Thinkers.

They are essentially all the same.

(For more, visit Dr. Alessandra's “The Platinum Rule.” The Golden Rule states that you should do unto others as you would want to have done unto you. But Tony defines The Platinum Rule as: “Do unto others as they would want to have done unto them.”)

However, the most common labels given to them — the ones most marketing textbooks use, including the same textbooks from which I used to teach marketing management in college — are: Driver, Expressive, Analytical, and Amiable.

Those are the labels I prefer and will be using for the remainder of this article.

Where do these labels come from and what do they mean?

Essentially, personality styles are defined by two key behavioral characteristics, which are assertiveness and responsiveness. The category — or label, if you will — is based on one of four combinations of how assertive and responsive they are.

For example, a person can be:

  1. High assertive and low responsive, or a driver.
  2. High assertive and high responsive, or an expressive.
  3. Low assertive and low responsive, or an analytical.
  4. Low assertive and high responsive, or an amiable.

Responsiveness, which is expressed outwardly, is how well a person responds to others. Assertiveness is expressed inwardly, and it's how well they assert themselves.

For example, some people are task-driven while others are results-driven. Some people are more emotional than factual, and others vice versa. Some are ego-driven and self-absorbed, others are people-pleasers and focused on those around them.

But to explain it visually, and one of the more popular models (and the best one for copywriting purposes), is by looking at these styles in the form of a quadrant. The key is to determine where one's level of responsiveness and assertiveness intersect.

With all things being equal, your target audience will predominantly fall into one of these styles. Granted, it may not precisely fit into a single, neat category, and your entire market may not fit one specific style.

But keep in mind, the keyword here is “predominant.”

(If they do fall into multiple categories, you might want to create different products, offers, and sales copy for each one. The more congruent your message is with your market, the more sales you will make. I'll come back to this later as it is important.)

Nevertheless, depending on your product, your industry, and both the demographics and psychographics of your target audience, it is safe to say that the majority of them will likely demonstrate one particular style more than any other.

To give you an idea, here's a brief look at them:

Drivers Prefer Results

They are practical, impatient, and time-sensitive. A Driver is a person who usually is more concerned with the bottom-line. They want to know how long does it take to get your product, what kind of results they can expect, and how much does it cost.

Bankers, sales managers, purchasing agents, businesspeople, corporate executives, and so on are typically Drivers. They don't care how to get from point “A” to point “B.” They just want to know if and when you can get them to point “B.”

Analyticals Prefer Details

They don't care much about results. They're driven by facts and far more interested in the inner workings of your product. They might want to know what is its exact size, where and of what is it made, what are the ingredients, what features does it possess, what kind of guarantees do you offer with it, and what, precisely, makes it work.

Scientists, developers, mathematicians, engineers, computer programmers, doctors, and so on are mainly Analyticals. They want facts and just the facts. So give them statistics, data, specifications, ingredients, measurements, etc. The more, the merrier.

Expressives Prefer Feelings

Status and recognition are important to Expressives. How they perceive things and how other people perceive them take precedence. They are mostly impulsive, colorful, ego-centric, undisciplined, and spontaneous. They prefer to talk than to listen.

Actors, teachers, musicians, artists, graphic designers, movie directors, comedians, etc fall in the Expressive category. They buy mostly for the sake of prestige of ownership, or to boost their standing in their communities, organizations, or peer groups.

(For instance, Expressives are the types of people who intentionally park their brand new luxury car on the street so that the neighbors can see them.)

Amiables Prefer Relationships

They are emotional, caring, and humanistic. They're social-minded and care deeply about the relationships they hold. How your product will help others and strengthen the relationships they maintain with them will be of utmost importance to Amiables.

It's not uncommon for Amiables to hold careers as salespeople, social workers, human resource personnel, consultants, and so on. If your product solves a problem, that's good. But if it allows your prospect to solve other people's problems, that's even better.

So how do you appeal to your buyer's personality?

At this point, you should have an idea of how to cater to buyer personality styles.

With Drivers, be pithy and give them the bottom line. With Analyticals, offer cold, hard information rather than hype and stories. With Expressives, tell them how you will make them look good. And with Amiables, use testimonials, stories, and anecdotes.

For instance, avoid lacing your copy with feelings and emotions when your audience is comprised of Analyticals. Be specific, objective, and factual, and refrain from hyperbole or drama. Analyticals are also highly skeptical, so offer as much proof as you can.

Sure, you can — and must — be emotional. All humans are. Even analyticals make purchasing decisions based on emotion first. But don't do so at the expense of facts. Back it up with logic and lots of it with which they can justify their decisions.

While an Analytical will never have enough information, don't drown your visitors with needless details when they consist of Drivers. Be quick, pithy, and straight to the point. If you use long copy, make sure it makes a point and sticks to the point. Consistently.

However, be sensitive and friendly when pitching to Amiables. Use stories, case studies, and testimonials. Take your time with them. Be warm and interactive. In fact, your relationship with them is just as important as the benefits of your product.

For Expressives, talk about how the product will make them feel, boost their status, and get others to notice and compliment them. Or how the product will make others around them cringe in horror, turn green with envy, or even be humiliated.

Here's a real-life scenario. A patient visits a dentist for an initial consultation.

The Analytical will be preoccupied mostly with the details of dental work. Knowing precisely how much freezing will be applied, which specific teeth (and parts thereof) will be repaired, and what kind of filling will be used are of enormous interest to him.

On the other hand, a Driver will want to know how long will the procedure take, how fast can he return to work after the procedure is done, and, of course, how much will it cost. Everything else is unimportant and irrelevant.

But for the Amiable, they are mostly concerned with their ability to please their spouse, friends, or boss with their improved appearance. They want to know if going ahead will improve their relationships and make others happy, as well as secure others' approval.

The Expressive, however, will be interested with how good will their new teeth look, how much pain such a procedure might incur, how their teeth will change their appearance, and how attractive the procedure is going to make them.

Again, your market will likely fall into one predominant category. In other words, the majority of your market will fit into one category more than any other.

Depending on your type of industry and the kind of product you're selling, the style of your message should chiefly appeal to that one specific personality style.

For example, if your product caters to expectant mothers, you will definitely speak to them differently than if you were to cater to entrepreneurs or sports fanatics.

But what if your market consists of more than one?

What if your market consists of strong, identifiably different groups? In other words, what if you have more than one predominant personality type in your target audience? If so, I submit that you can have a different ad or salesletter directed at each different market.

It's market segmentation, pure and simple.

You split your market into groups, and cater to each one separately and individually. Large corporations and retailers have been doing this for years. Take Coke versus Diet Coke, or Levis' Red Tabs sold in high-end stores, versus Wal-Mart's Orange Tab Levis.

Even if it's the same product and they happen to fall into more than one category in high enough numbers, then you might want to cluster your market into groups, and create a new offer and sales copy that target each distinct segment.

For example, a clever entrepreneur can take a product and package it, price it, and sell it to two different audiences on two different websites — and thus maximize sales from all potential market segments. Even creating her own competition, in some cases.

The bottom line is, give your copy personality, and your response will shoot through the roof. Sure, you might alienate a few. But what would you rather have: generic copy that pleases more but sells less? Or targeted copy that offends few but sells more?

As the late, great copywriter, Gary Halbert, used to say in response to his detractors regarding his pointed, discriminate personals ad: “Don't be so preoccupied with upsetting the dogs when you're trying to sell the foxes. Concentrate on the foxes.”

Categories
Marketing

Are All Business People Dishonest?

Seems I'm ranting a lot these days, and a little more opinionated than the norm. Perhaps it's my back problem, which is killing me, that's making me more sensitive or irritable. I don't know.

But something someone recently said in my copywriters forum irritated me. And it's not what this person said specifically, but the mindset behind it that's bothering me.

In a thread about an Internet marketer who was recently arrested (yes, it had something to do with forced continuity, but it had more to do with refusing refunds and avoiding customers than it had to do with forced continuity itself), one member said:

“There is NO such thing as an honest business man. (…) Ask any accountant.”

Now, I have no clue as to why this person said this. And my opinion here is not about this person specifically. Again, it's about the thinking process that some people have when they make such assertions.

Personally, I believe this view of business people is skewed, off, and wrong. It's destructive, too.

In fact, copywriter Marcia Yudkin said it best. In her reply, she said this gem: “I feel sorry for you. That is a terrible philosophy to hold, hurtful to you and hurtful to the honest people who deal with you.”

Well said.

I know what the original commentator was trying to say, but I wouldn't have said “dishonest.” I believe the word choice is wrong because of the implication. Are all business people really dishonest?

Saying it that way can be easily misconstrued. And it can also be easily misinterpreted, too.

That's the power of words. That's what makes us copywriters, too.

We choose our words carefully. The words we use can be incredibly powerful — both good and bad.

If “dishonest” is referring to communications, I'll be the first to admit that we do exaggerate from time to time. We try to put our product in its best possible light. We focus more on the benefits than we do on the downfalls.

But you know, that's not reserved to business people only.

We do it when we try to explain a movie we love to our friends. Or when we bolster our ego talking about a great deal we got at the local store. Or when we court a potential life partner.

It's human nature.

Words have emotional impact. Even with the most logical, analytical people out there. Our choice of words can make or break the sale, whether the product is good or not. Just as words can make or break relationships, court cases, even wars.

For example, real estate agents will say they sell “homes,” not houses. Dentists will say they create beautiful “smiles,” not “teeth.” We tell stories to communicate a product's purpose or brand. We use words that paint vivid mental pictures.

(I recommend Seth Godin's book, “All Marketers Are Liars.” By the way, Seth is referring to the power of telling stories in marketing.)

But to say all business people are dishonest, and even implying that one should ask any accountant, is a terribly skewed vision of the world. And I'm speaking generally, not just about business itself.

Business people do try to make maximum profit with every transaction, and they will try to do it at the least amount of expense.

That's business.

The difference is, the honest ones will do so at the service of others, while the dishonest ones will do so at the expense of others.

Making a profit can be seen by a lot of people as “dishonest.” I'm a capitalist through and through, and I believe in win-win. I don't see anything wrong with mutually beneficial transactions, which is what business is and should be, in my opinion.

We sell products and services that benefit our customers. But just as much as we are responsible not to mislead, lie, or deceive, customers are just as responsible for their own lives, their own decisions, and their own actions.

What I have a problem with is, some people do see any kind of marketing, or any kind of selling, as dishonest.

And for some reason, that bothers me.

For example, in the same vein as “all business people are dishonest,” some have said, in the recent forced continuity debate, that all marketing is unethical.

They say that a product should sell by itself based on its own merit. And that marketing and selling (and to that I would add copywriting) exist because it's the only way to sell a poor product that can't sell itself.

Oh, really?

If so, then we must be all psychics, because we should know about all the good products in the world. We should rely only on word-of-mouth — we all have friends who will tell us what we need to know, right?

And we should all buy everything that “is good” (even though “good” is subjective and personal) solely because they alone merit our attention, our patronage, and our money.

Forget about life getting in the way.

Forget about competition.

Forget about our innate fear of loss.

Forget about the state of the economy.

Forget about the need for marketing to help better decide how we spend our money.

And forget our natural proclivities to want to be secure, to procrastinate, to avoid making bad decisions, and to save our money to buy only what we need — not what we want. (Goodness forbid we buy what we want, not what we need!)

Obviously, that's wrong. At least to me, it is.

My opinion?

(Here comes the rant.)

In my experience, people who think all marketing is unethical or that all business people are dishonest are usually people who feel everything should be free.

Now, I'm not trying to start a political debate regarding capitalism versus socialism. I'm talking about people who have a sense of entitlement, especially those who whine and complain all the time.

People who bitch about businesses exploiting them are just as much trying to exploit businesses themselves by always trying to find, or haggling for, a good deal.

This is called “projection.” (I'll come back to this in a moment.)

People who feel that they deserve great products and great customer service (which is a given and expected) but for the least amount of money possible.

People who feel they should get the most by working (or paying) the least.

These people who have a sense of entitlement blame others all the time, never take responsibility for their own circumstances, victimize themselves constantly, and whine all the time about how unfair the world is.

To them, not only are all business people dishonest and all marketing unethical, but also everything costs too much. They automatically assume that all marketing is a scam, and that they, in turn, will do their darnedest best to scam businesses, too.

They will suck them for freebies. They will never buy anything. They let coupons and deals dictate their lives. And they will be the first ones to pounce on any mistake a marketer makes — such as a grocery store accidentally pricing an item too low.

They're the ones who think, “if it's that good, then it should be cheap… Or free.”

They try to get the most by paying the least (now tell me, how different is that from the business owner who tries to make the most profit with the least expense?).

People who make such assertions should look in the mirror first.

In a recent blog post, one of my favorite authors and speakers, Larry Winget, talked about banning one of his blog commentators who was toxic, always negative, and went out of his way to badmouth Larry.

This person was so incensed, even to the point of going on Amazon and giving every book Larry wrote a bad review.

In that blog post, I commented that, if only the bad commentators would put as much work into, well, working on their own success, I betcha they wouldn't find the time to bitch.

They would be too busy being successful.

Larry once noted that the hardest thing one can and will ever do in their lives is to look at themselves in the mirror and say, “It's all my fault.”

These “bad commentators” aren't looking in the mirror as they should be. And I would venture to say that people who don't look in the mirror expect everything else to be one. (That's what I mean by “projection.”)

Remember the old Einstein saying that, when your only tool is hammer you see every problem as a nail? It's the same idea, here.

That is, when these faultfinders blame others, they are projecting their own self-loathing onto others.

Similarly, what I found is that those who whine and complain are usually the ones who aren't happy with themselves, and feel the need to blame others.

And they put a lot of work, effort, and even money into dragging other people down, or into whining about how bad things are (e.g., how broke and tired they are, or how scammed they've been).

Why don't they spend all that energy and money on getting ahead instead? Or dare I say it, into starting a business, and — here's a novel concept — marketing and selling themselves?

Go figure.

In Larry's program, “Success is Your Own (Damn) Fault,” he quotes the Sanborn Maxim, which goes: “The customers who are willing to pay you the least will always demand the most.”

While that might be true in terms of money, I think it's the same with everything else.

For example, “The people who are willing to pay you the least respect will always demand the most.” (And I believe they're the ones who deserve it the least, too.)

I agree that there are some business people out there who are dishonest. Thinking that all of them are honest is just as skewed as the converse.

But that kind of thinking can be a lot more hurtful and damaging than the simple comment “there is no such thing as an honest business person.” Damaging to oneself as it is to others.

In conclusion, let me quote something Michelle MacPherson said, a marketer I admire a lot, which sums it all up beautifully:

“If you don't take responsibility for your own actions in life and instead hand that responsibility (in the form of blame) to someone else, you have no power (you've effectively given that power to someone else, since it's ‘not your fault'). If you have no power, you'll never have success — you'll just spend your days blaming others for your lack thereof.”

Thanks for listening.

P.S.: What do you think of the new blog design? Just a larger font, more whitespace, and less “busyness.” It's based on your feedback, which I appreciate immensely.

Categories
Interviews

John Carlton Interview

Call With John Carlton

This is a call with John Carlton. It's about two hours long and the recording is split into 30-minute segments. (In the early 2000s, broadband wasn't fully adopted yet, so the split was to help with downloads.)

You can listen to each part, download the MP3s, or read the transcripts below. Here are links to other calls, including Gary Halbert and a list of resources mentioned on the calls:

Categories
Interviews

Gary Halbert Interview #2

Second Call with Gary Halbert

This is the 2nd call with Gary Halbert, a few weeks after the first one. It's about two hours long and the recording is split into 30-minute segments. You can listen to each part, download the MP3s, or read the transcripts below.

As with the other calls, keep in mind that, in the early 2000s, broadband wasn't fully adopted yet. The call was also maxed out at capacity. So quality is less than desirable and the split was to help with downloads.

Links to other calls and resources mentioned on the calls:

Categories
Copywriting

Copywriting Tips From Joe Valente

Freud on the Rebound

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

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

Ah, the good times we had…

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

It was a noble idea, but the box loses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, Joe, shake it off…

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

Did you miss it? I'll recap…

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

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

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

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

Again, don't ask why.

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

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

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

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

I mean, think about it.

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

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

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

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

Hmmm.

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

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

And the others?

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

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

And finally, how do you get after the Superego?

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

The others, of course, have a different take:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Doing It With “Val”

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

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

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

… Language.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It's not the same thing!”

“My point.”

In fact, my point exactly.

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

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

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

Think about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tool belts, everyone.

The Benefits Of A Good Chair

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

Coincidence? You decide …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that knowledge is your safety net.

Your own personal Bombay chair.

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen King and The Long Copy Debate

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

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

So it was quite a surprise when…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it hit me.

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

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

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

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

Those 500 pages were, in a word, irrelevant.

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

And I felt a little cheated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or something like that.

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

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

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

Just something to think about.

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