Category: Copywriting Secrets

Trade secrets of the most successful copywriters, exposed.

A Lucky Accident

mail1I got a note awhile ago from consultant Bob Serling

Bob writes:

“Years ago, I was using a print broker for some of my mailings. She had been referred to me by a direct marketing legend whose identity I’ll protect.

“At the same time the broker was sheperding my mailing, she was also doing a large project for “the legend”. The job was so large that she split the printing between two different printers.

“I was a seed name on the legend’s list and when I received my copy of his sales letter, it turned out that it had been stuffed with the pages completely out of order. I alerted both the legend and the print broker of the error. Checking with other seed names confirmed that one of the printers assembled and stuffed all their pieces out of order.

“But here’s the kicker: the piece that was out of order pulled a stronger response than the piece with the pages in the correct order! I told the broker at the time that I could only assume that having the pages out of order forced the reader to dig through the piece and pay more attention.

“Final point: The legend then had the gall to ask the print broker for a make-good on the improperly ordered pieces.”

Thanks Bob. Gotta love it when a mistake suddenly shows you something about the customer you never expected. And when one of my CR readers (if you haven’t signed up yet, drop your name in the email box to the right of this page) writes in with a great lesson worth sharing!

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How “Free” Really Works

In this season of giving, let’s look at that most sanctified of direct mail phrases…  “FREE GIFT!”  How does it work to boost sales? This is actually a very big topic.

Let’s try to tackle it first with a story:

It was lunch time in Paris…

I was crossing a square by the Pompidou Center. French merchants had set up stands to snare tourists and shoppers.  And most of those stands were ignorable.

 But one that caught my attention had two dozen bins of Italian chocolates.  I didn’t want chocolates.  I didn’t need chocolates. So how was it, just a few minutes later,  I walked away with a half pound of them in a bag? It started the moment I stopped “just to look.” The woman behind the counter wasted no time in holding out a chocolate caramel extended in my direction.  “Please,” she said, “Take and try. No charge.”

How could I refuse?  After all, it was “free”… right? And it was good. 

Suddenly, something changed. I felt I couldn’t leave without buying… something. The candy sample couldn’t have cost more than pennies. But I felt obligated now to shell out some cash. And I did. 

Sound familiar?

Why We Sometimes Feel Obligated To Buy

Colleagues of mine call it the “Krishna Principle.”  I’ve also heard it called the “Rule of Reciprocity.”

The idea is that, by giving something or offering to give something, you open up the customer to give you something in return. Does it work?  All the time. Take these examples from Robert Cialdini’s famous must-read marketing book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion“…

 Christmas Card Obligation: In a 1976 study, a market researcher sent Christmas cards to complete strangers.  What happened?  He got a flood of Christmas cards in return.  Not one questioned who he was or why he had initiated the relationship.

Gift-driven Supermarket Sales: Why do supermarkets have “free sample” tables?  Not just to lure you into the store.  But because they skyrocket sales.  In one small case, an Indiana supermarket put out a wheel of cheese and a cheese slicer.  “Cut your own free samples” said a sign.  Result: The store sold a 1,000 extra pounds of cheese over the next few hours.

Cornell University Study: In another small study, a researcher posing as a student was asked to sell raffle tickets.  To half the sample group, he offered a Coke before giving his pitch.  To the other half, he just started the sales pitch without the Coke.  The group that got the gift first bought twice as many tickets.  Sometimes more.

Door-to-door Sales: Amway Corporation’s career manual states, “… leave the free samples with the customer for 24, 48, or 72 hours… just tell her to try the products.  That’s an offer no one can refuse.” I don’t have to tell you how successful Amway is, thanks to that one technique. 

Giving Throughout History: Archaeologist Richard Leakey credits a social need to give and receive as key to the sharing of technology, food, and other survival skills among our ancestors… all the way back to the caveman.

Point being, when someone gives us something valuable — or even offers to give us something valuable — the sales pitch that might follow is much harder to resist.

Not so long ago, I edited a collection of some of the best direct mail sales letters of all time. 

How many focused aggressively on “free” giveaways in the offer?  Roughly 65% to 70%.

This doesn’t mean “free” has to be the centerpiece of every offer you right.

But when it does, there are a few rules you’ve got to keep in mind.

For instance… 

1) If you have premiums, ask yourself if they’re really worthwhile.  How well do they represent your client’s product? How tightly do they link your prospect’s needs to the benefits the product has to offer?

 2)  If the FREE part of your offer is indeed good, then ask yourself this:  How well featured are your premiums featured in your sales pitch?  You might try polishing that emphasis with a few earlier mentions and more prominent sidebars.

 Of course, questions about how the offer and FREE gifts work will have to be negotiated by marketing managers, not just copywriters. But make sure it’s something you work out before you start writing your first draft.

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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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Does Sex Really “Sell?”

3D0B602E-F0D3-41E0-9CA2-F5EFE30307C5.jpg Does sex really sell?

Not necessarily.

In a poll that showed up on BizReport.com, the older the prospect you’re targeting, the more likely they are to dislike s*xy ads.

I say that, by the way, thinking it’s more complicated than people being offended. After all, a lot of men told the Adweek pollsters that they wanted to see more skin, not less.

But that doesn’t mean the ads themselves will be more effective. Just more fun to look at. And there’s a difference.

Here’s another way such copy/marketing decisions can be complex: I remember years back, hearing from some marketing consultants that worked with a clothing catalog company.

The target customers were older men of means. Golf wear, cruise wear, and the like. On the cover of one catalog, they showed a 60-or-so year old guy in his sailing clothes, on the deck of a sailboat.

As a test, they tried putting a trim and shapely 30-something woman at his side. She was, in a word, a babe. Did it help sales?

Quite the opposite. Response plunged.

Why? The consultants asked customers and got back the answer that (a) it was the wives of the men who did most of the catalog shopping for their husbands and (b) those wives thought the woman in the photo looked like a mistress.

Whoops.

The company tested the cover again, this time with an attractive woman of a more appropriate age. And maybe, if I remember, standing a little closer to the helm.

It boosted sales considerably.

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The Two Best Ways to Beat Writer’s Block

twriterAn interviewer once asked me, “How do you tackle writer’s block?”

“Writer’s block?” I said. “What’s that?”

Seriously, I don’t much believe in writer’s block. Oh, there have been times I don’t know what to write. And even times I’ve felt a little desperate about that. But I’ve never been afraid or unaware of how to plow right through it. Why? Because I don’t think blocked writing is where the problem originates.

See, most of the time, I believe what stops a writer from writing isn’t a lack of output at all. It’s a lack of input.

When I find myself losing steam, I stop and read. Then I start taking notes. Before I realize it, I’m chasing a new and original idea all over the page. And more often than not, an idea that doesn’t appear at all in the thing I first picked up to read for inspiration.

That’s the most immediate “cure-all.” Then, like any ailment, there are long-term steps you can take. Some include other ways to get more input. Like making sure you stick around people who will talk intelligently about what you’d like to write about. Pick up the phone, raise the topic in the right company, invite smart people to lunch and get them chattering.

But one of the best “curatives” many writers overlook is to simply try writing — anything — more often. How’s that? So many writers, especially newbies, imagine they get blocked when they pour out too much of their best stuff onto the page. They think of the well containing a limited quantity of ideas.

Nothing could — or at least should — be farther from the truth.

What really happens when you write often, preferably on a fixed schedule, is that you get more accustomed to the habit of writing and your brain is mixing and matching all those inputs you come across, in constant preparation for the next scheduled session in front of that blank, blinking screen.

Try it. You’ll be surprised.

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The Science of Love and Persuasion

kissQuick — what do testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin all have in common? They’re the chemicals of “true love.”

 Yep, some jerk has reduced romance to a science.

What’s this got to do with selling? Plenty, it turns out.

Just ask Prof. Robin Dunbar of Liverpool University. Dunbar — according to the BBC — spent the last half of the 1990s studying personal ads. And no, not because he was lonely.

Rather, Dunbar discovered that the copy used in all kinds of personal ads, from people of all different kinds of backgrounds, shared a strikingly similar subset of “hot button” words. And virtually all those words fell into just five categories: Wealth, Commitment, Sexiness, Social Skills, or Attractiveness.

These are, of course, some of the same basic drivers we lean on when we write copy for “products” other than a date with a significant other (“Double Your Income in Less Than a Year,” “Win Friends and Influence People,” “Look Sexier This Spring”… and so on).

 But here’s where Dunbar’s research gets even more interesting…

Once Dunbar had the categories, he then asked 200 men and women to rank the appeal of ads that contained a mix of the most common buzz words.

 Women responded most to “Commitment” heavy ads. Then, in order, ads that emphasized Social Skills, Resources, Attractiveness, and — last — Sexiness.

 Men put attractiveness at the top of the list. Perhaps no surprise. Was sexiness second? Not at all. Instead, they focused on ads that suggested Commitment followed. Then Social Skills, Resources, and — last again — Sexiness.

 Surprised? Other than men putting “attractiveness” at the top of the priorities, the lists are virtually the same. And even the ad copy personal ad writers created for themselves — to attract mates — reflected that, pitching the traits they instinctively knew would be important to their prospects. But then, in follow-up interviews with the men and women in the study, Dunbar found deeper shades of difference.

 For instance, both men and women in the study placed high value on “a sense of humor.” But to each gender, it meant different things. Women said it meant they wanted someone witty and quick to make others laugh. The typical man, however, said he mostly wanted someone who could get his jokes so he would seem like a funny guy.

 Which actually works out well for both parties.

 Likewise, the average woman wanted a man about five years her senior. The average man, on the other hand, wanted women that at least looked younger — with smooth skin, glossy hair, and the like. Not coincidentally, say the researchers, they’re all signs of high estrogen levels.

 But here was something surprising. Older women that looked younger had a better appeal to men then women with a fresher birth certificate. Possibly, say the researchers, because the younger looking women just seemed like they came from a better gene pool.

 (Hey, I’m just reporting the results here!)

 There’s more…

Younger guys, in general, have less wealth to offer. They also seem to have lower requirements than older men. Likewise, older women polled suggested they were more open to less handsome or wealthy men. But younger women, on the other hand, have lots of youthful beauty as an asset. And, it happens, end up being the choosiest of all.

 And all this, it turns out, adds up pretty neatly to creating ideal conditions that work best for cranking out offspring. Which is, after all, how the species survives. Cold, perhaps, but that’s over a decade of research doing the talking. Kinda puts a different light on that romantic candlelight dinner you had planned for tonight, doesn’t it?

 One last thing: The one thing both men and women wouldn’t stand for in the ads… but encounter all the time… was lying. Instinctively, match-hunting advertisers know what prospects want. They will even bend the facts to promise it. But it almost always backfires in the end. Just like it would in any other kind of advertising.

Do I personally believe love and romance are as cold and scientific as all that? Well, let’s just say I would LIKE to believe it’s not so simple as all that. The heart, said Pascal, has its reasons which reason knows not of. And Dickinson, the fact that love is all there is is all we know of love.

 I’ll agree… but can’t promise you that it’s not just the oxytocin talking.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Seven+ Ways to Keep Your Clients

shake.jpgOver the years, have I written my share of crotchety emails to product managers, traffic managers, legal assistants, publishers, and graphic designers?

I confess — I have.

A tiny handful have even made it past the “send” button… most, after sitting in my “draft” folder to cool, have landed in the trash can.

But rather than air out my own dirty laundry, let me share some insight from my friend and fellow marketer, Lori Allen. Lori runs Travel Writing and Travel Photography seminars for our mutual pals over at American Writers & Artists Inc.

She deals with lots of copywriters and other freelancers. So much that she once gave a
presentation at the famous AWAI boot camp, “Confessions of a Marketing Director: 17 Ways to Keep Clients Coming Back.”

Here are some of the highlights she shared…

1) Don’t complain or badger the client.

Imagine waking up from surgery only to have the doctor hovering over your bed, complaining about the mess you made in the operating room. You’d feel a bit, er, put out.

Yet, one copywriter Lori hired wrote her a letter complaining about the migraines and sleepless nights… she had “caused” because of the project she’d given him.

Guess what — she never hired him again.

Likewise, it’s not a good idea to badger clients for feedback. Sure, sometimes a response comes way too slow — I know, I’ve been there — but a gentle nudge is better than a searing cattle prod, in the long run. Believe me. I’ve been there too.

Of course, the longer and better you get to know the clients, the easier it is to be frank about what you need to get the job done. But even then, don’t mistake familiarity for a license to act like a jerk (Believe me, I’ve been… ah, you get the picture).

2) Offer to help not to destroy.

If your marketing client has a mailing control you think stinks, what should you do? Write them, of course, and tell them what idiots they are… right? Wrong.

Yet, Lori has letters from copywriters who say exactly that. Outright, they try to get new business by telling her that their layout stinks… the headline is insipid… and so on.

Is that the way your mama taught you to behave? Nope. And you shouldn’t behave that way with a client you hope to keep or win over, either.

One of the great things you learn as a seasoned writer is how to TAKE criticism… and if you’re lucky, you learn how to GIVE a critique better too. That means knowing when your critique is welcome and when it isn’t. It also means knowing how to make suggestions that get your clients looking forward hopefully… rather than feeling defensive.

3) Emphasize past successes, not failings.

How many poor chumps have you seen trying to “get the girl,” only to lapse hopelessly into awkward self-deprecation? Bottom line: you can’t go far by hiding your light under a bushel.

Talking to a new client? Then let them know what you’ve accomplished. If you’ve got great controls for one company, get samples and share them with the rest of your clients. There’s no need to be modest.

Talking to a longtime client? Don’t forget that the quality of your business relationship is built on reselling yourself to them, too. With discretion, make sure they don’t forget your greatest hits.

What if you lack experience? Don’t cringe in the shadow of your own innocence. Instead, be bold, eager, and well-informed. Be honest. And shine the light on what you’re GOING to do for them instead.

4) Know when to call instead of write.

Like I implied earlier, writing is often an isolated profession. You start to cherish working alone, and might even start using e-mail as your buffer against a disruptive world.

True, email can save you lots of time… sometimes. But here’s the real weakness of working solely by e-mail: It can make you think you control the conversation, when you really don’t.

That’s a problem.

Especially when you’ve got a complex idea to get across… an opinion that could be misread… or a sensitive question to ask.

There’s no way around it — you have to know when to pick up the call instead of write. Better yet, know when it’s best to meet in person. I know, that whole “face-to-face” thing seems like old technology. But you’ll be surprised by how much better it works, compared to, for example, brainstorming by Twitter.

5) Always include your contact information.

Okay, this isn’t about e-mail etiquette exactly. Except in the sense that it’s always right to make
your introductions. Obvious? Perhaps.

But Lori showed us an e-mail from one copywriter that would astound any self-respecting schoolmarm.

He asked her to mail something to him via the postal service… at a new mailing address he didn’t provide… while writing from an e-mail address he said he didn’t usually use. And he signed the message only “J.” And that was it.

Nice going, bonehead.

6) Understand the technical side of the business.

This isn’t so much etiquette either. But it pays, says Lori, to know enough about the print side of the direct mail business. Just so you can talk the talk when necessary. This is especially true when working with graphic designers. Nothing will help you sound more like a seasoned marketer. By the way, this is also true when you’re working with online copy. You don’t need to know HTML, but it helps to know the technical options afforded to you.

7) Get excited about the product.

Again, not an etiquette point. But essential for every communication you’ll have with a copywriting client. If there’s anything that will really make your copy work well and your clients willing to respect you, it’s a sincere understanding and appreciation of the product you’re writing to support. The enthusiasm flows from between the lines. And this will make your writing job much easier, to boot.

In the title to today’s piece, I said “+” after the “seven.” What’s that stand for? Well, naturally, the easiest way to keep a client is to write great copy that sells.

But that’s way too obvious, right?

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How Curiosity Can Save a Copywriter

questionsSomebody once asked David Ogilvy for a list of traits that matter most when hiring copywriters. Above all, he said, they have to have an unwavering, overpowering, enormous sense of curiosity.

I can’t help but think that has to be right. Why?

Because sometimes you need to dig deep — really deep –into a product, a target audience, and so much more to find that one gem that’s going to make your ad sing better, louder, and more in tune than all your attention-seeking competitors. And frankly, those who are uninterested in the world too readily give up before they find that one gem.

Of course, that means you stumble across a lot of stuff you don’t need too. And a lot of trivia that just grabs hold of you. And you never know when that trivia is going to come in handy, popping up in your copy when you least expect it. This is one reason, of course, why you never want to play Trivial Pursuit against a very good copywriter.

But it’s also why I’ve piled up a lot of little facts that I don’t know what to do with. Except maybe, share them here. Are you ready? File these, if you like, in the drawer labeled “truly useless information”…

  • Did you know that King Louis XIV once locked up a nine-year old boy in his dungeon for making a joke about his Royal Highness’ bald head? Yep. And he kept him there, too. Agents of the court told the distraught and wealthy parents the boy had simply disappeared. But they knew where he was — in the basement of Versailles, for the next sixty-nine years. Sheesh.
  • Did you know, too, that you’ll never see a rainbow in mid-afternoon? They only appear later in the day or in the morning, when the sun is 40 degrees or less above the horizon (that’s position, not temperature). Meanwhile, there are approximately 1,800 thunderstorms in progress at any given time during the day. And at lest 100 lightning strikes on the planet any given second.
  • Did you further know that, while nearly 25% of the world’s population lives on less than $200 per year, it costs more to buy a new car in the U.S. than it cost Christopher Columbus to equip and undertake not just one but THREE voyages to the New World?
  • Peter Mustafic of Botovo, Yugoslavia, spoke nary a word for 40 years. Suddenly, he broke the silence. When asked by a local newspaper why, he said, “I stopped speaking in 1920 to get out of military service.” Yes, they prodded, but… uh… then what happened? “Well,” he answered, “I got used to it.”
  • Please read the following passage quietly to yourself for the next 30 seconds. Ready? Here it is: “ .” Congratulations. You have just performed the entire Samuel Beckett play, “Breath,” first introduced to the stage in April 1970. Without actors or dialogue. Even the original presentation lasted only half a minute.
  • Don’t wear blue unless you like mosquitoes. They’ll target blue twice as often as any other color. If it’s a female, she’ll even bite (since it’s only the females that do.)
  • Did you know that Peter the Great had any Russian who wore a beard pay a special tax? Good thing Chopin wasn’t living in Russia then — apparently the composer/pianist habitually wore half a beard. Reason? “When I play, my audience only sees half my face.” No kidding.

Will you ever find a use for these tidbits? Maybe. Maybe not.

Here’s hoping you do.

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