Category: Writing Style

Find the writing style your target customer will respond to.

What’s The “Big Idea?”

bulb.png What’s the single toughest secret you’ll ever learn, if you hope to blow the doors off the world of writing sales copy?

For all the clever metaphors you’ll ever come up with, for all the phrases and images, the formatting breakthroughs, the clever taglines, and everything else… nothing will pack more career-building punch for a copywriter… than mastering the art of coming up with “big ideas.”

By no coincidence, that alone could take you a lifetime of writing.

Great copywriter and originator of the “big idea” idea himself, David Ogilvy, once claimed that he came up with only about 20 so-called “big ideas” in his entire career. And yet, that was enough to more than create his fame and fortune.

So what does a “big idea” look like? I’ve seen many try to define it.

Here’s one more list of filters to add to your collection…

* Big Ideas Have Instant Appeal:

Have you ever had a ‘gut’ feeling about a person? Have you ever asked a long-married couple when they decided to get married, only to find out they ‘just knew’ after just meeting each other?

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “Blink,” calls it ‘thin-slicing.’ And it’s what we do, naturally, whenever we encounter something new.

Your target audience will do it too. Which is why you have ZERO luxury for trying to convey a complex idea in that very first instant your copy flashes them in the face.

They’ll “thin-slice” you, as a reflex.

They’ll compress all their judgment about whether to read on into that moment. If you don’t manage to win them over, in milliseconds, say hello to the trashcan.

So, the Big Idea is an idea that can be sorted, absorbed, and understood instantaneously. Which is why cleverness and complexity in advertising can be so dangerous for even the most skilled of copy wordsmiths.

* Big Ideas are Tightly Expressed:

Just because an idea has impact, doesn’t mean it has to be dense. In fact, the opposite is the idea. The more insightful the idea, the tighter you can usually sum it up.

And you should aim to do exactly that. Preferably in 8 words or less. And as early as possible, so that your reader knows as soon as possible what you’re getting at.

* Big Ideas Have Momentum:

Gladwell has another more famous book that I’m sure you’ve read, “The Tipping Point.” He starts off talking about a suede shoe.

It was big in the ’70s, and then disappeared. Suddenly, over 20 years later, it came back with a vengeance. First, on the hip street corners of Manhattan’s East Village. Then across town… uptown… then to young and artsy areas in cities across the U.S. Why?

Nobody, even the shoemaker, could tell.

Only that an idea started to build. It spread. By the time everyone noticed, it suddenly petered out again. It was too late. The trend had come and gone, elusive to all who’d tried to do anything but hang on for the ride.

Ideas are like that.

They catch on, they build, and then, just when you least expect it, they can recede out of popularity again. The best marketer is plugged in enough to see the swell of the wave coming, before it crests.

* Big Ideas Are Timely:

Related to the idea of momentum is the timeliness of an idea, especially when you’re selling information products. How so?

I write almost exclusively, these days, for financial products. My best promos tend to hinge on what’s happening in the markets.

For example, when oil sold at $147 per barrel, anything I wrote about oil and energy related investment products was almost a sure bet to do well.

In the mid 1990s, the market’s mind was elsewhere. You couldn’t say anything about investing without talking about the Internet, telecoms, or biotech.

When that market crashed in 2000, the tide of desire had shifted over night. Trying to write tech pitches suddenly became about as tough as talking a tabby into taking a dip in a hot tub.

Of course, the greatest asset you get by finding the timeliest ideas is that timeliness brings with a sense of urgency to your message. Maybe as a warning. Maybe as an unfolding opportunity.

But either way, you’re much better off when you’ve got that element to whatever you’re writing.

* Big Ideas Are Original:

Ideas feel biggest when you’re among the first to deliver the message. When you’re playing catch up to everyone else, not so much.

Even an idea that’s already current, already popular, and already talked about… gains new life when you can make it even more ‘new,’ simply by finding the extra twist.

This is why headlines built on “secrets” are so effective. We naturally want to read the story nobody else is telling.

The new angle… the new information… the overlooked discovery… there are many ways to do this. All of them, almost always, are buried in the unique details of the story you’re telling.

* Big Ideas Have Depth:

Yep, I said that ideas need to be simply and clearly expressed. But can you have clarity and substance, even in a short line?

Absolutely, you can.

When we say that Big Ideas need “depth” what we mean is richness and life-altering impact. Ask yourself; does the Idea suggest major change ahead? Is it something that will shock, awaken, or fascinate your reader?

If not, why would the reader want to read on? And why would you want to get the success of that letter… or your business… on something that thin?

* Big Ideas Are Emotionally Stirring:

Too often, we mistake the preponderance of proof behind an Idea as all the “Bigness” we need for selling.

With smugness, we script any old headline, knowing it’s just a set up to hit the reader with blazing, double guns of the most rock-solid bullet points and factoids you’ve ever seen.

Sure, proofs matter in persuasion.

But, in the end, the one thing that makes one Big Idea compelling beyond any other, is it’s ability to sneak behind that locked door of the mind, where the emotional reasoning resides.

It must make a connection with that core, unspoken, and perhaps unrecognized place where the reader’s heart really resides.

Are there other ways to know if you’ve got your mitts on a “big idea” or not? Absolutely, there are. But this is a pretty good start. Try putting your next piece of copy through these paces and see for yourself.

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Five Punctuation “Mistakes” You Should Make

punctuation

Even after 16 years working as a writer, I still make grammar and punctuation mistakes. But at least some of my “mistakes,” I make on purpose. If you want to write powerful sales copy, I suggest you start making them too. Mistakes, that is.

How so? Consider…

1) The Mercurial M-Dash – You know the “m-dash.” It’s the long hyphen-looking thing that helps set apart — and even frame — a key thought in the middle of a sentence. (See what I just did there?) Copywriters use them all the time — maybe too often — to really emphasize a point they don’t want the reader to zip past. (Would you look at that? I did it again.)

 2) The Parenthetical Pull of Parentheses – Good writers frown on overusing, even abuse, of parenthetical remarks (you know the type). And really, parentheses are not used much in sales copy either. 

But sometimes (for instance, after a headline or in a sentence where you need a kind of “wink, nudge” aside to the reader) it doesn’t hurt to throw a comment inside parentheses. Done right, you can use this device to highlight the conversational, even conspiratorial tone sales copy sometimes needs to take.

 3) Culling Interest With Quotation Marks – We’re not supposed to use quotation marks unless we’re actually quoting someone who said something. Like, for instance, Frank Lloyd Wright. He once said, “I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.” Sharp fella.

 Still, quotation marks have a strange power over readers. Even when they’re not surrounding a “real” quote, they have a way of pulling readers in. Copywriters sometimes use that phenomenon by putting headlines and subheads in quotes. Or even words they just want to “emphasize.”

 (Go ahead… this is where you should make that little, cynical “I’m putting quotation marks here” sign with your fingers… ala Austin Powers and Dr. Evil.)

 4) The Evocative Ellipsis – The ellipsis, you’ve seen… haven’t you?  It’s that… how do I explain this… series of little… you know… dots that copywriters use so often in their copy. The ellipsis is supposed to just indicate missing text in a phrase. Especially where that text can be implied without being stated.

But we use it… and abuse it… in so many more ways.  Why?

Because it helps approximate the halting way many people speak. We let ideas trail off… we dance around a notion… we come back to the beginning. And we use these things, the “…,” to help us do so more fluidly and gently then you might if you were a whip-cracking grammarian. Try it. Ellipses are like potato chips. Once you start using them, you’ll find it hard to stop.

 5) The Ambitious Apostrophe – Contractions aren’t just for the delivery room anymore, my friend. Where a formal writer might frown at casual, contracted terms like “I’d”… “isn’t”… even “ain’t”… they also go a long way toward making your sales copy more casual and conversational.

Naturally, you don’t want to use these recklessly. They’re garnish on a piece of prose, spice to make it interesting. And a little something to give all those over-zealous copyeditors something to sweat about.

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Analogies Gone Wild

brainpain1I love a good analogy.

But, like the people who send marriage proposals to jailed serial killers, I sometimes fall in love with a bad one. A bad analogy, that is. Not serial killers. Point being, analogies can be a powerful tool when used well. But they can sabotage your message when they’re bad.

Below, you’ll find yet more of some of the most widely circulated and worst analogies proferred by our young American progeny. Read ’em and weep…

On Experience: “He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience,like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.”

On The Power of Pavement: McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup.”

On the Alternative Universe: “From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie,surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and “Jeopardy” comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.”

On Detail: “He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.”

On Greater Detail: “Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.”

On Too Much Detail: “Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.”

On The Obscure: “The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.”

On Teeth: “They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.”

On Theater: “The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.”

On Confusion: “His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.”

On Imagination: “The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.”

Okay, that’s it. I’m now officially fresh out of analogies; like, you might say, a trayful of chocolate frosted doughnuts that didn’t survive the Policemen’s picnic.

(Oh boy, I think I need some aspirin.)

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Sales Secrets from a Novel Writer

books2Do rules of writing great fiction come in handy when you’re writing to make a sale? Conventional wisdom might say no, since sales writing isn’t really supposed to be “art”… and your average fiction writer would shiver to share a table with copywriters. But the truth is, they’ve got plenty in common.  

For instance, we all know one of the greatest ways to draw somebody into a sales pitch is simply by telling a good, well-constructed story. Here’s what fiction-writing great Kurt Vonnegut had to say about that…

First rule: Don’t waste the reader’s time.

Then, he says, the fiction reader needs a character they can root for. In sales, I’d say that’s equivalent to giving the prospect HOPE that you can solve his problem. Which is what sales teasers are all about.

 Vonnegut also urges fiction writers to write sentences that “reveal character and advance the action.” The analogy here is also easy. In sales, your every sentence reveals a little more about the proposition… and tempts you to read on.

 One more good tip that translates, “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible… to heck with suspense.” What he meant was not that you blurt out the punch line, but that readers need to know early why they’re investing themselves in the story. Obscuring that only risks making the tale you’re telling seem not worthwhile.

 So, instead, try dangling that in front of them right away. In your first line, give them a glimpse at the heart of your message. Maybe even of the ending you’ll drive them toward. Done right, you’ll almost guarantee that they’ll read on.

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How One Big Idea Trumps Lots of Small Ones

“Shut up and listen,” I said. I was talking to Michael Masterson, the great copywriter, publisher, and best-selling author.

Had I lost my mind? Not at all.

Rather, I was summing up the core idea behind one of the best-selling books of all time, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

That, in my opinion, is the key idea behind that book. And the fact that it’s so easily defined has a lot to do with its success.

Michael came back with another example… I delivered a third… and the volley went back and forth, until we ran out of ready examples.

It wasn’t a game.

See, Michael and I — along with another brilliant copywriter, Bill Bonner — had just finished running four straight days of an intensive, private copywriting bootcamp.

It happens every year.

We meet in a French country chateau. We drink wine. And we stay up late, playing guitars. During the day, we work on copy.

We had around 25 writers attending. Some with years of experience, others just months. Some had just been hired, weeks earlier.

We rehashed lots of fundamentals. We even came up with a few new breakthrough discoveries, some of which I may — or may not — share with you here in the months ahead.

But over and over, in the classic writing samples we looked at and in the new copy our workshops produced, one thing was abundantly clear: The tighter and more isolated the core idea, the more powerful the result.

Without exception.

One Big Idea, Clearly Expressed

Think about it.

When you have a “great” conversation read a “great” book… or see a “great” documentary… what grabs you? Is it the litany of small details? Or the golden thread that unites them?

More often, for most of us, it’s the latter.

And the more you “get” the core idea behind a story, a speech, a revelation… the more memorable that one core message becomes.

This is just as true in sales copy.

One message, well developed, just has more impact than ads — short or long — that are overloaded with competing ideas.

Don’t believe me?

100 Headlines That Prove The Point

For this article, I decided to go looking for strong ads that featured single secrets, single solutions, and single ideas… to see if that list was as long or longer than one showing a much wider reaching,
more thinly spread approach.

First I looked in a digital “swipe” file I have on my desktop. In there, I have over 200 snapshots of winning direct mail and print ads. Some old, some new.

Overwhelmingly, the theory proved true.

But I had  picked up a lot of these sample ads randomly. Would the theory hold up if I went to a more recognized resource?

Maybe you’ve heard of Victor Schwab.

Advertising Age calls Schwab the “greatest mail- order copywriter of all time” and a pioneer in advertising research.

Nobody, arguably, has ever been a more devoted tester of headlines, layouts, offers, and copy appeals than Schwab.

He was also one of the first copywriters to lay down a persuasion “formula” for sales copy, in 1941. And his classic book, “How to Write a Good Advertisement,” is a must-read staple on the bookshelves of ardent copywriters everywhere.

One of the things you can find in Schwab’s book is a list of what he called the “top 100 headlines.”

It made no sense to scan the list for only single- idea-driven examples. They were the majority, by far.

Instead, I looked for only headlines that looked more like the multiple-idea type. And get this — out of a list of 100 headlines, only 10 were NOT clearly single-idea based.

Something else: Even those 10 multiple-idea ads still clearly had an implied “golden thread” that bound the whole thing together.

Take a look.  And remember, this is the list of headlines that DON’T appear at first to fit the single-idea theme we’re talking about…

  • “Do You Make These Mistakes In English?”
  • “Five Familiar Skin Troubles — Which Do You Want
  • to Overcome?”
  • “Have You These Symptoms of Nerve Exhaustion?”
  • “161 New Ways to a Man’s Heart — In This
  • Fascinating Book for Cooks”
  • “Do You Do Any of These Ten Embarrassing Things?”
  • “Six Types of Investors — Which Group Are You
  • In?”
  • “The Crimes We Commit Against Our Stomachs”
  • “Little Leaks That Keep Men Poor”
  • “67 Reasons Why It Would Have Paid You to Answer
  • Our Ad a Few Months Ago”
  • Free Book — Tells You 12 Secrets of Better Lawn Care”

Would they have worked even better if each focused on only one thing — rather than a list — right here in the headline? Maybe. But notice that even though they don’t, each clearly points toward a
single, over-arching theme.

Meanwhile, out of the 90 single-idea headlines, just ake a look at how instantly clear and engaging these “core big idea” examples are…

  • “The Secret of Making People Like You”
  • “Is the Life of a Child Worth $1 to You?”
  • “To Men Who Want to Quit Work Someday”
  • “Are You Ever Tongue-Tied at a Party?”
  • “How a New Discovery Made a Plain Girl Beautiful”
  • “Who Else Wants a Screen Star Figure?”
  • “You Can Laugh at Money Worries — If You Follow This Simple Plan”
  • “When Doctors Feel Rotten This is What They Do”
  • “How I Improved My Memory in One Evening”
  • “Discover the Fortune That Lies Hidden In Your
  • Salary”
  • “How I Made a Fortune with a ‘Fool Idea'”
  • “Have You a ‘Worry’ Stock?”

Here’s an added benefit: Starting off in the headline with just one, simple idea makes writing the rest of the sales letter easier..

How so?

Finding the core idea, of course, is the hard part. It has to be precise, not scattershot. You have to know your audience and know them well. Or you risk missing your target completely.

But hone in on the right promise, the right hook, the right singular theme at the start… and writing the sales copy that supports it underneath suddenly gets easier.

You know where you’re headed. You know which tangents to look out for. And you know, too, when you’re ready to wrap up your pitch… because you’ll know when you’ve said all you need to say.

I think back to my own promos and it’s true. Those that worked best were the most focused on one message. Those that flopped were those that wandered. I’ll bet the same is true for you.

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The Dark Side of Testimonial-Driven Sales Copy

cheesyman.png In my experience, testimonials almost always enhance a promo package… except… when they don’t. What might make for a
bad time to use a testimonial?

Most often, when the testimonial itself just plain stinks.

For instance…

When it’s emotionally unsatisfying and vague:
“I found your book very useful.”

When it’s too gushy:
“I love your book! It’s the best one I’ve ever read! The exclamation point on my keyboard is stuck!!!”

When it’s too polished or pretentious:
“We delight in your intrepid and yet profitable handling of territory so treacherous as options investing.”

When you’ve used stock photos instead of real ones:
(Rule of thumb: Most of your customers probably do NOT have bleached teeth or airbrushed faces. And most of them do not wear t-shirts that have been pressed and dry-cleaned before the photo shoot either.)

When they’re a legal risk or just plain fake:
“I’ve secretly used this investment newsletter to pick stocks for years. I’d be working at McDonald’s without it.” – Warren Buffet, Omaha.

Or when the customer seems too embarrassed to sign it:
“I like your stuff, really I do. – Anonymous”

We could go on finding many ways testimonials won’t do what you want them to do. But how about how to make sure you get good testimonials and use the properly?

Here’s a truism based on experience:

Good products, first and foremost, are the better your chances of getting good testimonials. But even then, you need to identify the person on the team that’s got enough passion for the product to cull and archive a strong testimonial file. This could be the product manager, but more likely, they’re getting their best stuff from the front lines. That is, from the people who deal most directly with the customers.

Don’t be afraid to ask customer service if you can look at their letters or if they’ve seen something good. Often the good stuff is buried in letters asking support questions.

If the company is going to do surveys, make sure they leave room for open-ended questions at the end. And if they’ve done surveys already, look for ones where you can follow up to get enthusiastic customers to elaborate. A day of phone calls to buyers can pay off with testimonials you’ll use for years.

If the company corresponds via emails or an online customer forum (and who doesn’t these days?), ask if it’s okay to follow up with buyers electronically. Or better, ask the product manager to follow up, since replies to their requests might sound more natural (customers have a tendency to fancy-up their praise when they find out it’s going to go in a sales letter.)

Bottom line: There’s no way to get good testimonials without applying a little elbow-grease and a little creative harvesting.

That said, copywriting legend John Caples had a tip. Try running a testimonial-gathering contest. Caples liked to give customers a chance to fill in the following line:

“Finish this sentence in 25 words or less: I like (name of product) because…”

And in return, he would offer every participant a small prize.

Here’s another great idea, based on an insight from friend Michael Masterson, over at www.earltytorise.com: “Ask them what their life was like before they got your product… what their life is like now… and, specifically, how your product helped them make that change.”

Good ideas, don’t you think?

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Nine Rules For Writing Blogs & Ezines

I’ve written the “Copywriters Roundtable” ezine for many years. I’ve worked with many others who write ezines. And I’ve received ezines galore. What have I learned that’s worth sharing with you?

A lot, I hope.

But there a few things leaped immediately to mind when I first sat down and thought about it. And since it’s  pretty tough these days to find anyone who doesn’t write a blog or an ezine, I figured you might like if shared those ideas with you.

Ready? Here we go…

1) Always remember that your reader is much smarter than you think. Even while educating or informing, never talk down. And never think the readers won’t notice when you haven’t done your homework.

2) Your readers prefer stories to lists of facts. “Everyone likes a story,” said novelist E.M. Forster. We’ve seen this elsewhere in this course, too. You’ll find it a lot easier to hold onto human interest by putting plenty of human interest angles into the articles you’ll write (e.g. marketer Joe Vitale recently ran an article, “How Mark Twain Would Write Online.” He could have just listed points. But instead, he gave his lesson a face we could all identify with.)

3) Your reader respects – and expects – conviction. This point can’t be emphasized enough. The email relationship demands you to take a position. Readers don’t want more information. They can get that anywhere. Instead, they want someone to make a judgment about information so they can know what’s essential and what is not.

4) Your reader expects profundity. Remember what we said about the value of complexity. The deeper you can take your reader, the more you can expand his mind, the greater your editor-reader relationship will be, the more he’ll recommend your ezine to friends (right?). And the longer he’ll stay active on your mailing list (yes?).

5) Trust encourages action. Relationships like the ones we’ve been talking about are built on trust. Earlier in this course we talked about the value of “authenticity.” This is one of those places where it comes into play. The more the reader trusts you, the more genuinely he regards your message, and the more likely he is to take the action you recommend. Including acting on the offers in the promos you attach to the ezine (only if you want to of course… and you DO want to, don’t you?)

6) Your reader expects imperfection. There’s a reason we laugh hardest at comedians who aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves. Showing an occasional weakness actually confirms your strength of character. And gives your writing a personal, human appeal.

7) Your reader expects emotion. Getting personal means getting emotional. But be careful in two ways. First realize that even zealots can only go so far. Be passionate about your position, but not crazed. Second, good writers express the full range of emotions over time (fear, greed, anger, desire, vanity, etc.) You can’t fake this. But don’t suppress it in your ezine copy either.

8) Give both need-to-know AND want-to-know information. No question, the most valuable ezines educate readers. But remember your ezine subscribers will want to be entertained as much as they’ll want to be informed. Think of it like the difference between the college professor who bores listeners at a cocktail party… and the master storyteller who builds a circle of guests around him, all leaning in to hear more.

9) Reinforce the old, introduce the new. When you’re writing an ezine, it’s true you’re almost always “preaching to the choir.” Which means a lot of your ezine copy will appeal to the suspicions, opinions, and principles you and your readers already share. But just as much, you have to make sure you introduce, amplify, and illuminate a new direction for your readers to take.

This last rule is especially important.

By repeating core ideas, you reinforce your reader’s good feelings about your ezine. By saying something new, however, you also provide understanding. And for that your reader will be eternally (one hopes) grateful.

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How Sid Sold So Many Suits

monkey in a suit.png Sid and Harry run a tailor shop in New York City.

If you can picture it, Sid is the salesman working the floor, while Harry works over the inventory in the back.

A customer comes in.

“Excuse me sir,” he says to Sid, “how much for this suit?

“Let me ask Harry,” says Sid. “Hey Harry, how much for the black three-button suit?”

“For that beautiful suit?” shouts Harry from the back, “$42.”

Sid, hand cupped to his ear, looks confused for just a second. Then he turns to the customer and say, “Harry says this one is $22.”

The customer, eager to capitalize on the ‘mistake,’ plunks down his money and make a quick exit with his new purchase.

Now, I don’t know if Sid can really hear well or not. There’s even a good chance — let’s say “high likelihood” — that Sid and Harry meant to sell the suit for $22 all along.

But you get the idea.

The story comes our way from master copywriter and multi-millionaire businessman, Michael Masterson, who credits it in turn to persuasion expert Robert Cialdini.

Simply put, Sid’s story demonstrates the “law of contrasts” at work. The law of contrasts is where you underscore the greatness of a product, and offer, something… by comparing it to something else.

In Sid’s case, the $22 price of the suit sure seemed like a deal when compared to the $42 it seemed SUPPOSED to cost.

Suddenly, without really offering a discount or changing any of the details of the original offer… the contrast with a higher price alone makes $22 seem like a great bargain.

Now, of course, Sid and Harry’s story is an old one (who would wear a $22 suit today?). But consider, in the next offer you write, is there a way you could make the simple power of contrasts work for you?

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How to Write Faster

Regardless of what kind of writing you do, says a study from the National Writing Project of Louisiana, three key components seemed to have the biggest influence on how creatively productive you’ll be.  What are those components?

1) A More Consistent Working Environment:

Almost all of the writers in the study had a designated ‘place’ where they did all their best writing.  Simply being there gave them focus. I concur.  I can write almost anywhere — but I prefer dark, quiet spaces.  I travel a lot, but have a designated spot in each of the five spaces I typically find myself in during a given year.

I also need certain “supplies” to get going.  A long yellow legal pad or a tab of French graph paper.  Black Bic pens.  My ever-present Macbook Pro.

Environment includes sound, of course.  Personally, I work best with dead quiet.  Or sometimes, music.  But anything with lyrics is poison.  I know other many other writers –including copywriters — who agree.

Classical or jazz.  Bach Cello Suites or the Goldberg Variations.  Chopin Etudes.  Beethoven’s piano sonatas.  “Kind of Blue” or “Some Day My Prince Will Come” by Miles Davis.  Old Coltrane (but not the crazier, more recent stuff).

(Caveat: I know at least one brilliant copywriter who keeps the TV droning on in the background!  I couldn’t do it.  But it works for him.)

2) A Set Time For Working:

If you’re a freelancer, working outside of an office environment, this might be a hard truth to face. Yet, almost all the writers in the study said they wrote better if they did so at a certain time, the same time, every single day.

And best of all, if you write in the morning. I know, I know. I sympathize with anyone who says they prefer to work at night. I used to be one myself. But having young kids, who don’t understand why Dad won’t come away from the computer, has changed that. And for the better.

Not only am I much more productive when I get good work done early, but I’m happier too. And yes, all the best copywriters I know also get started early.  And not just early, but make sure the first thing you do is start working on your largest project, too.  No e-mails.  No phone calls.  Writing first, trivial stuff later.

(Remember when there was no email? Could you imagine wasting two hours a day sending and receiving faxes with your buddies? Of course you couldn’t. Just because email is more automatic doesn’t mean it’s any better for you.)

And then there’s the intelligent use of deadlines, as long as we’re talking about time for writing. Even daily deadlines. It’s the pressure — the end goal — that makes you move more quickly. Consider the famous Eugene Schwarz story. Everyday, to get himself started, he’d set his egg timer to 33.33 minutes. Then he sat down to write, even if it just meant staring at the blank page until beads of blood formed on his forehead.

3) Last, Rituals that Boost Confidence

This last component — writer’s behavior rituals — was the broadest category of observed creativity patterns.

It’s critical to how productive you are.  Unfortunately, it’s the most ambiguous.

For instance, some of the rituals writers had in the Louisiana study didn’t seem to have anything to do with writing at all.

Sharpening pencils.  Wearing lucky sweaters.  Using a certain coffee mug.  The theory was that the consistency of the rituals bred confidence, and helped melt away potential “writer’s block” anxiety.

That may be true.  What seems just as true is that some rituals manage to mildly distract your senses so your subconscious can get to work.

Walking, for example, seems to work for writers. The next time you’re feeling around for an idea, fast track it by filling up your mind with information about what you hope to sell… and then stepping outside for a stroll.

If not that, then a drive.  Or a shower.

4) Bonus Tip:

You say you’ve tried all that and you’re still stuck?

Try re-working your diet.  The January 19 issue of “Science” reports a single protein in the brain – SCN – that controls your entire ‘master clock,’ allowing you to feel awake or tired, hot or cold, bleary or focused, etc.

Just two days of tinkering with eating schedules in lab rats threw off the SCN balance in the brain.

Eating a light, protein-centric breakfast can help you stay focused on anything.  Lunch, on the other hand, should be light or even skipped. A lot of people claim they can think better on an empty stomach (yours truly included).

I hope all those ideas help.

Okay, some more last minute ways to get jumpstarted — most of them, a rehash of ideas we’ve talked about in past issues.  Ready? Write out ideas on index cards.  Talk ideas into a tape recorder. Sketch out the pages of your promo, even before writing a single word.  Copy a strong lead paragraph two or three times. Go to bed early tonight.  Study the outline behind your last great promo.  Start re-reading your pile of research from top to bottom. Good luck!

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14 Ways to Make Your Prospect Relax

chill pill.jpg I’m not unveiling any big secret by telling you that a lot of what you’ll do when selling is all about emotion. And it has to be that way.

Why?

Because we humans — the thinking animal — are perversely also designed to be jumpy, reactionary, over-zealous, anxious organisms. If it were ever in my character to use the term “hot mess,” this is where I’d use it (but it isn’t.)

However, if there is absolutely a time in any selling “event” where you cannot afford to let your prospect’s emotions get ahead of you, it’s on the order form. Yet, too often, exactly that can happen. Your prospect can become too nervous to pull the trigger and place an order.

Fortunately, this too is something you can learn to control. Today, I’ll give you fourteen things you could try.

Keep in mind, as you read through, that this list is by no means complete. Nor is it a checklist. You can try one of these things… all of them… or a mix.

And remember, the goal for each is to simply help your prospect scale that last wall of anxiety he or she might have before pulling out a credit card to order…

1) We all know putting a guarantee box on your order form can help ease worries. But in today’s age of online marketing, what about using a recorded “video guarantee” instead? Right there on the form.

2)Are their trade organizations or guilds related to what you’re selling… or if the product pitch is local, is there a trade union you could join? If yes, pay your dues and put the logo (with permission) right there on your order form.

3) Along those same lines, this is an oldie but a goodie… try adding more or larger “secure offer” icons (e.g. not just “Verisign” but “McAfee Secure” and “BBB” and a whopping big, well-designed “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” icon). Aim for at least five icons per reply page.

4) Test placement of these trust logos from the last tip. Some research says that the single best place isn’t at the top of the page or at the bottom, but rather right under or next to the “Place Your Order” button.

5) Try putting a callout box containing a testimonial — with photo — right next to submit button on the form.

6) In fact, if you’re selling online, try putting a recorded video testimonial or testimonials on the side of the reply page.

7) Here’s a twist on the “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” that might work with mid-priced items and higher: “100% + a Buck.” That is, offer a total refund if requested, plus a dollar. It’s just an extra and not too costly twist to up the ante on your guarantee.

8) If your current order form has a lot of “buy now” urgency in the language, try testing it against a “Take your time to decide, there’s no pressure — that’s what the full money back guarantee is all about” version. Urgency is good, but not so much it forces paralyzing panic.

9) Try posting a box on the order form that lists shipping/other service costs… then slashes through them in red and says prominently “Please do not worry about shipping or other service costs. We will assume that responsibility entirely.”

10) Try the same as in the last tip, but even simpler, with a callout logo that says “Free shipping on all orders, guaranteed.”

11) If there’s a discount on the offer, show it graphically and make it actionable. e.g. Instead of just saying “Get 20% Off!” before detailing the deal, say something like “Click Here to Get 20% Off” or even more official “Redeem Your 20% Savings By Clicking Here” and maybe even add a better deal with “Redeem Your 25% Savings By Clicking Here” as a second option.

12) Again especially for online offers, but when the reply page opens — or on the page, in a box — flash a callout that says, “Use this discount code to get 10% off on a two year order: LS4736.” And then auto enter that code on the order form, as though someone typed it in for your buyer.

13) Again with the reply-page testimonials, try testing between reassuring testimonials about the product… and ones directly about the shipping process, e.g. “I got my reports instantly, minutes after I ordered” or “When my order arrived, it was all there as promised… and I really liked the bonus gift you included.”

14) Before we show the reply page, flash a box that says simple, “Before we help you process your order, what name would you like us to call you during the process?” and then personalize the order form that follows according to the name they provide.

Again, just a few ideas.

Feel free to add to the list using the comment email address in the footer of this issue.

Hope you find ’em useful!

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