Category: Copywriting Secrets

Surprising Psychology Secrets for Marketers

psychbrainWhat’s more persuasive, email or face-to-face communication?

Per a UK psychology study published on this fascinating British psychology blog, gender roles make a difference. So does the level of familiarity. Friends can persuade us more easily, generally, than strangers.

But when familiarity levels are low, email is more persuasive for men than it is for women. And when familiarity levels are high? Women still react better to face-to-face interaction. At least, better than men.

But overall, you get your best results when “oneness” levels are highest.

“Oneness” is simply the idea that the better you feel you know someone, the more doing something for them feels about as good as it does doing the same for yourself.

 The researchers tested this by giving two test groups a set of personality tests.

In one group, the results were faked so participants would believe they shared identical personalities to fellow test-takers. In the other, the faked results showed a vast difference in personality types.

 After the test, the participants were asked to try to convince one of their test-taking counterparts of different assigned arguments. In the “like” personality group, persuasion was a breeze. Between dissimilar types, not so much.

 If I had to tie this back to the email or face-to-face question, I’d say that — at the very least — this confirms what a lot of us have already suspected. Which is that, the more you build that personal connection, often the better your results.

Especially in business-to-consumer marketing.

From the same psychology blog, want to persuade a group that your opinion is actually the majority opinion?

Turns out that all you might have to do is repeat that opinion at least three times. Doing just that, it can have 90% of the same effect as three other people voicing the same stance. For marketers, this just underscores another accepted truism: there’s value in repetition.

If you’ve got a key message and you’re writing long copy, especially, look for more than one way to express that point. Not so the meaning changes, but so that it’s fresh and easy to absorb each time. Same goes for reinforcing your big benefit. Come back to it naturally in the copy, throughout, when you can.

Speaking of psychology tricks, here’s a set of some insights a little more for the “useless but interesting” file.

First, try this: do the following math quickly in your head… 2+2, 4+4, 8+8, 16+16. Done? Good.

Now QUICK pick a number between 12 and 5. Great. You picked the number 7.

Weird, isn’t it? No, I don’t know why it works.

Here’s another one: What is 1+5? 2+4? 3+3? 4+2? 5+1? Now say the number “6” as many times as you can over the next 10 seconds. Done? Boy, you follow directions well. Now QUICK… name a vegetable. 

Was it a… carrot?

Only 2% of those tested this way ever say otherwise.

No, I can’t explain that one either.

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The World’s Toughest Girl Scout

girlscoutJennifer Sharpe can kick your butt.

Jennifer, in case you haven’t heard, is a 15-year-old Girl Scout from Dearborn, Michigan. And Girl Scouts, as I’m sure you know, have sold cookies – from the chocolate mint wafers to those puffy marshmallow things – for decades.

Maybe you’ve bought a box or 10 yourself over the years.

If you live in Dearborn, however, there’s a chance you’ve bought even more than that – especially with Jennifer working the market.

See, Jennifer sold not just 10 or 100 or even 1,000 boxes of cookies, but a stunning 17,328 boxes. How did she do it?

Apparently, just by showing up.

According to MSNBC – and her mother – Jennifer was quiet and shy about talking to customers. But she set up on a street corner and just kept at it. Before long, she had her pitch down… her confidence up… and sales that would make a career pitchman green with envy.

And here’s my point…

So many of the great marketers and copywriters I’ve known over the last 15 or so years didn’t hone their chops in business school… or with the help of literary aspirations. Rather, they got good and then better at what they do by… doing it. Anyone who has ever sold anything door to door, for instance, is often a natural at copywriting.

There’s just something about selling face-to-face that polishes you and makes you focus on the person you’re selling to. The hesitation you feel when you’re just getting started is more often your own than it is the customer’s.

Before I got into copywriting, I wanted to write novels. Maybe I still will, someday. But, honestly, that didn’t do much for my copywriting. Much less, actually, than the time I spent during college summers working as a sales clerk in a hardware store and then as the owner-operator of my own house-painting business.

What if you have no sales background to draw from? Here’s one suggestion: Call your alma mater or a local charity and offer to get on the phones for the next donation drive. You’ll get to face up to the selling challenge – asking for donations – in a no-risk environment, where you can do some good without worrying about getting canned if you can’t master it.

Or, here’s another idea. Call the Girl Scouts and offer to sell some of their cookies. (I’m just kidding, of course. But if you do… I’ll take a box of the Thin Mints.)

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#486: A Sweet, Dark History of the Promise Lead

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candies.pngYou’ll remember from the last post, I’m showing you guys some of the raw material for a book on six types of leads.

And we’ve been looking at what my co-author Michael Masterson and I call the “Promise Lead.”

Admittedly, this is a tough one.

Why, you ask?

(Don’t look at me all confused like that… I HEARD you ask something… right?)

After all, don’t ALL sales leads have a promise implied inside them somewhere?

Yes, they do.

And we said as much last week.

But haven’t pure, flat-out promises been so overexposed in sales leads that the world is chock-a-block with skeptics who no longer hear said promises anymore?

Yes, that too is true. Well, mostly true.

My take on that last point is this: First, Promise Leads work very well with a certain kind of customer.

No, dear reader, not the stupid ones.

They work best, rather, with a prospect that’s sitting on the fence… ready to buy, but still awaiting that last nudge.

Any more ready, and you’d just hit them with a juicy “Offer Lead,” right out of the gate.

Any less ready, and you’d try something a little more subtle first, so as to shut down those filters we all wear to guard against an onslaught of too-much-the-same, unbelievable messages.

But in those moments, with an almost-ready prospect, busting through the saloon doors armed with a big promise can be an excellent choice.

So this week, let’s pick up where we left off.

Again, this is raw stuff… fresh out of the oven, not yet dressed for the table. Proceed at your own risk…

How a Promise Made This Candy Famous

When writing a Promise Lead, where should you start?

The default for most marketers is to study the product and just figure out what it can do best. We’ve all heard, after all, the lesson about “features” versus “benefits.” First you make a list of the products best features, and then you translate those into what they will do for the customer.

Simple.

It’s a lesson you may have heard connected before with one of the most successful product pitches in history. Forrest E. Mars grew up in candy maker’s house. And with some big shoes to fill. His father’s home business grew to invent and sell some of the world’s most famous candy bars, including Snickers, Mars Bars, and Milky Ways.

But Forrest’s father didn’t want to expand the business and Forrest, fresh home from Yale University, did. So he sold his share in the business back to Dad and moved to Europe. That’s where he took up with other candy makers.

It’s also where he first spotted the breakthrough that would help change the chocolate business, the course of World War II, and millions of kids’ birthday parties — and indirectly, the advertising industry.

It was a tiny pellet of chocolate, wrapped in a candy shell, found in the field kits of soldiers fighting the Spanish Civil War. The chocolate gave them quick energy, the shell kept it from melting under harsh conditions.

We know it now, of course, as the M&M.

Forrest took it back to the States and patented his own formula for the candy in 1941. Within a year, the U.S. was committed to World War II. And not long after, M&Ms made their way into soldiers’ field rations. When the soldiers came home, the candies were a hit with the general public.

But sales were about to get even bigger.

Forrest realized that television — making it’s way into the mainstream at that time — was the next place he wanted to go to sell M&Ms. He hired a copywriter named Rosser Reeves to do it. It turned out to be another groundbreaking move.

Reeves, at the time, was already a success. He was both copy chief and vice president of his agency in New York. But when he sat down with Forrest Mars to talk candy, he listened and took notes like a first-year copywriter.

“He was the one who said it,” claimed Reeves in the version we’ve heard told. “He told me the whole history and then I pressed him and he said, ‘Well, the thing is they only melt in your mouth, but they don’t melt in your hands.'”

That was all Reeves needed.

Within four years, Mars was selling one million pounds of M&Ms per week. M&Ms have since gone on Space Shuttle flights with astronauts. They’ve been the official candy of the Olympics. And according to Business Week, they’re the best-selling candy in the world.

Mars died at ate 95 in 1999, with a $4 billion fortune. And his candy company takes in over $20 billion per year, with 30,000 employees worldwide.

It’s no accident that Reeves went on to his own kind of fame. And not just because Reeves happens to be the real-life model for the character of Don Draper on TV’s series, Mad Men.

You might know him even better, after all, as the father of what every copy cub and professional advertiser memorizes as the “Unique Selling Proposition” or “U.S.P.”

To Find the Promise, Find This First…

When Reeves first wrote about it the U.S.P. in his book Reality in Advertising, he was writing down the formula you can use to write any effective Promise Lead.

Reeves formula had three parts.

The first part, for Reeves, also meant starting with the product. And only if that product was actually good enough to almost sell itself. As a preacher’s son, Reeves was fundamentally honest and felt all advertising should be too. The product must be able to do what you’ll say it can do.

But an even better reason for starting with the product is the second part of Reeve’s formula. What the product does and by default will claim to do has to be original. That is, the best products do something competitors won’t or can’t. That’s key because the U.S.P. — the promise you’ll make — has to sound and feel different from everything your prospect has heard before, too.

Then there’s the final part of Reeve’s formula. This is the one most forgotten, but it’s impossible to overlook if you’ve got any hope of coming up with a powerful promise. Every promise must target your prospect’s core desire. That is, they have to already want what you’re promising.

This is worth repeating.

Reeves believed, and so do we, that you can’t create desire in a customer. You can only awaken what’s already there. This is especially true in a pure Promise Lead, where you have nothing but the claim pulling all the weight. The more tightly you can target those core desires, the more likely your ad will work.

It’s that simple.

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10 “Speed-Copy” Secrets

speedy

The better you get at writing good copy, the more clients will want access to your time. In the beginning, you’ll want to give it to them.

But as time goes by, you won’t be able to.

You’ll try to cherry pick projects, taking on only those that won’t bog you down disproportionately to what you’ll get in return.

But what happens when you have no other choice than to just… write… faster?

You can try these tips…

1) Really DO Cherry-Pick Projects

It’s great to be eager.

But you’ll find there really are some copywriting jobs that just aren’t worth it. Which ones? Be wary, for instance, of poorly baked products with no clear audience or no clear benefit for the audience they’re meant to target.

Likewise, look out for projects without a passionate champion on the client side. If there’s nobody who can sell you on what you’re supposed to be selling, there’s a good chance you’ll have a hard time selling it to prospects, too.

And finally, look out for projects that don’t have at least 85% of the pieces in place before you get started. Unless, that is, you’re also being paid to help develop the product… a different and more involved job than just writing the sales letter.

2) Know Your Load

Four solid hours of writing, day in and day out, with rest of the day for calls, meetings, and email is actually a pretty solid pace. Sure, one can go longer when needed. But writing can be physically draining, if you’re doing it right.

Copywriter Bob Bly once told me that, while he also logs only about four hours on each project per day, he stays fresh by working keeping two projects going at once and switching to four hours on the second project in the

I’ve tried that. And sometimes it works. But frankly, once I start working on something — anything — I get too caught up in in it to let it go. So I actively try to avoid other projects until I’ve got the first one completed.

Your style will be up to you.

3) Gather Your Resources, Part I

One of the best ways to accelerate the pace on any writing project is to feed it the nourishment in needs to get started. That nourishment is information.

Read up, interview, discuss.

Call the most central figure for the product that the client can offer and do a phone interview. Record it and start typing as you play it back. You’ll need other resources along the way. But this is where you’ll need to begin, if you want to make sure you burst out of the gate with as much power as possible.

4) Build Your Framework

Once you’ve got a grasp on the general direction you’ll need to take in the promo, you’ll want — no, need — to make an outline. Too many early writers skip this step. Many say they don’t need it.

Yet, for all but a rare few, unstructured writing shows. The benefit of an outline is that you know where you need to go. But you also know, as you pile up research and ideas, where you DON’T need to go.

And that’s equally important.

5) Gather Your Resources, Part II

Once you’ve pulled together a rough outline of where you’re headed, you’ll immediately start to see the additional holes you’ll need to fill.

Now it’s time to go out again and start digging. Pile up links, magazine clippings, notes from studying the product and the customer base. Notes from talking to the client.

Just for the record, the research part of your copywriting process should almost always take the most time. How much longer?

A fair breakdown, if you’re working with a product you don’t know well, is about 50% of your total time available spent on research. And then 30% on writing the first draft. Plus another 20% for polishing and revision.

6) Try Writing in 3D

You would think that writing the beginning first, the middle second, and the end last would be the best way to go. And for many writers, that’s precisely the path the follow. However, I’d personally recommend creating a writing system that’s a little more non-linear.

What do I mean?

Research, ideas, phrases… tend to arrive in a disorderly fashion, just like a conversation that leaps from one topic to another entirely.

So what I do is write in sections. I actually create separate, labeled parts of my file in Word. These sections match my outline or “mind-map” of the message I’d like to deliver.

Then, as I research and revise, I jump back and forth between sections, adding to one, tightening another, copying and moving pieces of ideas.

Each area fleshes out at roughly the same time, then I reorganize them to fit the more logical, linear outline that will underlie the final piece.

7) Write Your Close First

Here’s an interesting idea — start at the end. And I can give you at least two solid reasons to do this.

First, because the offer you write will, word for word, have more impact on the prospect than any other section of the promo — save for the headline and lead. If the offer stinks, you haven’t got a chance no matter how brilliant your copywriting.

Second, because knowing specifically how you’ll close the sale gives you a target to shoot for. This, too, is a great defense against the tangents that can knock you off the trail of your sales message all too easily.

8 ) Give Your Lead Room to Breathe

I know perfectionism is a killer problem for a lot of new writers. Get over that. Really. Why?

Because you’ll kill yourself and your career trying to get the right word line-by-line. Especially when you sacrifice writing the bulk of the rest of that promo while you tinker and tinker… and tinker… with the lead.

Here’s an alternate idea… put the headline and lead copy in a separate document or somehow cordoned off from the rest of your promo. Open that alternate writing area whenever you’re working on the main document.

Whenever you have an idea about how to make the lead stronger, dip into that alternate writing window, make the changes and then jump back to the rest of the piece.

I do this a dozen or more times while I’m writing, with the headline and lead changing 10… 20… or more times before I’m through.

9) Learn to “Copyify” Your Notes As You Research

This takes practice. But you’ll through your copy much faster if, when you take notes from resources you’ll use, you record the notes directly into copywritten form.

For instance, not “Mention last year’s booming commodity market to support resource buying op”… but rather “Last year’s booming commodities market is the perfect example. Had you subscribed to my ‘Dirt, Rocks, and Other Investments’ advisory service then, you’d already be up XXX% on Mud Futures alone by now.”

You get the picture.

If you can record your ideas quickly in a form that’s close to the sound you’ll want for the final draft, obviously that cuts back future writing time.

10) Use Markers and Shortcuts

This last one is a small thing. But very, very handy.

Let’s say you’re writing and you need to cite a stat you don’t have at your fingertips, try just dropping in “XX” where that falls.

Or let’s say you need a subhead to transition between sections but the perfect one escapes you at the moment. Don’t get stuck. Instead, drop in “[SUBHEAD HERE]” and keep moving.

The idea is to preserve the momentum at all costs. Just make sure you search the replacement phrases and fill things in after the writing is done.

This list could go on, of course. But that’s a pretty good start.

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Writing Ads That Let You Sleep at Night

crossies.pngThe unflinching principle of all successfuladvertising… all marketing… all business… and all relationships… is also one of the oldest success secrets in the world.

What is it? Quite simply…

“Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You”

Relax, Bubbles. I’m not trying to get schmaltzy.

I’m merely suggesting that a certain formulaic functionality
directs the course of all humanity: Namely, you reap what you
sow.

Sure, cynics will disagree.

Which is why cynics often get treated so disagreeably.

Unfortunately, it’s the cynical view of ad copy that prevails. A “good ad,” say many people who don’t know better, is only one that tells the most convincing lies.

Yet…

Nothing Could Be Further From The Truth

Don’t get me wrong.

There’s good reason for old ladies to clutch their politics when some copywriters walk into the room.

Think car salesmen. Think insurance agents. Think Sony.

You remember “Sony-gate.”

One week after they got caught using fake reviews on ad posters for Sony releases The Animal and A Knight’s Tale, they got
caught again…

This time for a camera interview of a couple who had just seen the movie, The Patriot. The couple raved. They gushed. They called it “a perfect date movie.”

The couple, it turned out, happened to work for Sony.*

Think Pentagon, too.

The Pentagon opened a new “Office of Strategic Influence” back in the early ’00s. This is a propaganda wing. The stated motto? “Let a thousand lies fly…”

Misinformation, one could argue, has its place in warfare.

What gets me is that they staffed the agency with… you guessed it… ex-advertising industry workers. (Maybe they should have staffed it with ex Wall Street analysts?)

Nonetheless, liars be damned, where some people think an obligation to tell the truth puts a restriction on ad success, the opposite is always true…

Good Advertising Is Indeed Truth Well Told

The secret formula for good ad copy is almost this simple: Build trust, offer solutions, give the customer a way to order.

How do you write copy for those products that DON’T have any merit? Simple answer there, too: You don’t.

If you’re in the position to improve the products, do. If not, make the judgment and politely move on. That’s not easy to do all the time.

But if more of us drew that line, copywriters wouldn’t find themselves scorned at parties (you are scorned at parties aren’t you? Or is that just me?) The truth is, good copy principles walk the line more than most might think.

To demonstrate, I’ve plucked some prose from the websites of the New York Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission.

Notice the overlap between what they advise and what you’ve read over the last several months here in the Copywriter’s Roundtable:

The Better Business Bureau on ‘Puffery’:

* “Superlative statements, like other advertising claims, are objective (factual) or subjective (puffery):

* “Objective claims relate to tangible qualities and performance values of a product or service which can be measured against accepted standards or tests. As statements of fact, such claims can be proved or disproved and the advertiser should possess substantiation.

* “Subjective claims are expressions of opinion or personal evaluation of the intangible qualities of a product or service…. Subjective superlatives which tend to mislead should be avoided.”

Good Copy Principle:

The more proof you can offer, says the above, the better. But we know this from testing, too. Statistics, studies, proofs all work better than vague, blanket claims. For the diligent marketer, no warning necessary.

The Federal Trade Commission On Disclosure:

“The FTC looks at what the ad does not say – that is, if the failure to include information leaves consumers with a misimpression about the product. For example, if a company advertised a collection of books, the ad would be deceptive if it did not disclose that consumers actually would receive abridged versions of the books.”

Good Copy Principle:

A promo that sells product but also sparks a flurry of refunds is not a good promo. Refunds are just delayed sales you didn’t make. And when customer don’t receive what you advertised, refunds are what you’ll get. Far better is to promise strong but deliver stronger.

The Better Business Bureau on Testimonials:

“In general, advertising which uses testimonials or endorsements is likely to mislead or confuse if it is not genuine and does not actually represent the current opinion of the endorser… It is not quoted in its entirety, thereby altering its overall meaning and impact… It contains representations or statements which would be misleading if otherwise used in advertising … Broad claims are made as to endorsements or approval by indefinitely large or vague groups, e.g., “the homeowners of America,” “the doctors of America…”

Good Copy Principle:

The Better Business Bureau warning goes on, but you get the idea. If you use testimonials, make sure they’re from credible sources… real sources… and specific sources. But you don’t need a moralist to tell you that. The more real a testimonial, the more persuasive it is too.

The list of incidental copywriting advice goes on…

“Layout of advertisements should minimize
misunderstanding by the reader…

“Before a company runs an ad, it has to have a reasonable basis’ for its claims…”

“Ads that make health or safety claims must be supported by… tests, studies, or other scientific evidence that has been evaluated by people qualified to review it”

All of these are principles not only of honest copy, but of persuasive copy too.

Check here to see the Better Business Bureau’s full list.

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The Secret to Selling to Seniors

goldenWhat do you know about marketing to the older generation? It might not be enough. Check this out:

  •  According to the last U.S. Census, the FASTEST growing market includes people 50 years and older. Right now, that’s about 37% of the total U.S. population. By 2015, that should hit around 45%.
  • Nearly 30% of these people are on the Internet. Unless, that is, we’re talking about those in the top third of the income bracket. Among this crew, an incredible 80% are online.
  •  How much money do these folks have to spend? About 70% of all the disposable income in the U.S. Or around $1.6 trillion. Overall, they have a combined household worth of around $19 trillion.
  •  Of that, the over-50 crowd — just in the U.S. — spends about $7 billion per year online.
  •  They also buy 40% of all new cars, 80% of all new LUXURY cars, 74% of all prescription drugs, and another 80% of all leisure travel.
  •  By the way, this same crowd — of which close to 75% are grandparents — ALSO buy 25% of the toys sold in the U.S.

Now, I’m the last person to tell you that demographics are destiny. After all, to lump together the “older generation” is to include every race; every economic, religious, and political background; every level of income… you name it.  Almost every marketing niche in existence somehow overlaps with the post-50 set.

And it’s about to get even more diverse…

 According to the Census, between 2005 and 2030, the total market of consumers between ages 18 and 59 will only grow about 7% larger. Meanwhile, the market of people over 60 will grow 81%. That’s huge. Somewhere around 20.5 million more customers.

 With all those folks going grey — with such diverse interests and needs — what to sell?

 Creams, lotions, pills, and wheelchairs?

Not hardly. In the 1930s, it made sense to think of 65 and up as the age of obsolescence. Not anymore. If there’s one clear trend with the older generations it’s this: a whole new concept of what it means to be older has evolved.

 By and large…

 1) Today’s Older Generation is Healthier

 There’s lots of talk about how life expectancy is soaring. Hogwash. Science doesn’t expect anyone to live past 114 years. And that’s the way it’s been for a long time. What’s changed, though, is how well we’re living and how long we’re doing so.

Only about 5% of the older population lives in nursing homes, according to agingresearch.org. We’re shifting from acute to chronic ailments that may make life a little tougher, but don’t stop us from doing and accomplishing all kinds of great things, regardless of age. We’re also getting in shape and staying in shape a heck of a lot longer.

 And we’re discovering that heredity has less to do with bad health than bad habits. And that diet and exercise can even hold off diseases we might otherwise be susceptible to.

 If you’re marketing to this crowd, you’d better throw in adventure travel, fitness products, vitamins, dignified fashions and sportswear, and in general a lot more “younger” products and sales pitches than you might have imagined 20 years ago.

 2) Today’s Older Generation Wants To Learn

 Age-related memory loss and brain function is way over-estimated. New research even suggests it has a lot more with how you EXPECT to age rather than any actually mental or physiological changes (see today’s second CR).

 But more importantly, we’re all just a little more aware of learning opportunities today. And the opportunities are more accessible than ever before. That’s as true for the older population as it is for the rest of us.

 There’s a booming market for mail-order education, seminars, educational travel, and more. Heck, my own grandfather learned to speak conversational French at 76 years old. That’s better than I’m doing at 39!

 3) The Older Generation Wants To Work

 It too many cases, economic pressures force some people to work longer than they want to.

That’s a problem. 

But there’s also a huge segment of the older population that just WANTS to keep on working, regardless of an opportunity to retire. Some never quit, some volunteer, still more launch second careers. And that may help explain why products that teach new skills and let people launch home businesses can do so well.

 The bottom line?

Check your assumptions about the senior market. They’re a lot younger than you might think.

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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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Seven Ways to Say Thanks…

Screen Shot 2011-11-22 at 3.05.52 PM.png ‘Tis the season of giving — giving “thanks” that is, at least in the U.S.

Yes, it’s Thanksgiving week, where my American compatriots are prepping to stuff turkeys, stuff themselves, and welcome family and friends into their homes.

And while we’re at it, why not take the opportunity to talk about another kind of ‘thanks giving’ in this week’s CR — the thanks you should be giving your customers for, well, being your customers.

Why thank customers?

The short answer, of course, is “why not?” Unless you were raised by wolverines, it’s a common courtesy you’re proud to offer… am I right?

The longer answer is that it’s practically money in the bank for future business, because customers that feel warm and fuzzy come back tenfold for more (give or take a fold or three).

So, in the spirit of the season, let me give you at 14 ways to make your customers feel appreciated.

We’ll start with these seven…

1) SEND A NOTE – I once dated a girl who sent thank you cards almost as automatically as breathing. I swear to you, the girl would pen notes of gratitude in the car, as we pulled out of driveways from dinner parties. “Because that’s what you’re supposed to do,” she would explain.

Why not do the same for your customers? Not in the perfunctory, here’s an auto-reply “thanks for your order” email (which you should also probably do) but an actual note that gets mailed as a stand alone message. “I just wanted to thank you personally,” says the owner of the business in the card, “for giving our [specific product name] a try. Welcome on board and please enjoy.”

2) MAKE IT A B-DAY CARD – There’s a story I’ve heard floating around, about the world’s best car salesman. Seems he took the time to note the birthdays of all his past customers. And every year, he would send a birthday card.

No cloaked sales messages, no ‘special inventory’ hype… just the birthday greeting. And he personally signed each card.

Result? He had a referral business like you wouldn’t believe. Not to mention customers that came back to him over and over again when it was time to buy a newer model.

These days, I get lots of automated B-Day wishes from online sources. And admittedly, it loses it’s specialness when it’s a computer sending it automatically. But even then, I admit, it feels at least a little flattering to be remembered.

3) GIVE A JUMPSTART – When your customer comes on board, what’s the first thing he gets? If it’s the product, that might be fine. But consider, you’ll have an even happier customer if he knows how to use what you’ve just sold him.

What more considerate way to make sure he can do that than by ‘thanking’ him with a simple well-guided tour around what he just purchased?

Maybe it’s a ‘user’s manual’ or maybe it’s an online video that walks through the steps. Maybe it’s just a brainstormed presentation on ways to use the product he might not be aware of.

Bottom line is, this kind of thorough start-up advice not only helps but back on early cancellations, but it also gives prospects that warm and welcoming feeling you’re hoping for.

4) GO “GINSU” AND GIVE MORE – I’m sure you know the “but wait there’s more” line from the “Ginsu Knife” commercials. To thank you for buying the knives, the sellers kept throwing in gifts.

If you weren’t spurred to action early, the extra bonuses would help seal the deal. Or so was the intent.

But imagine how grateful the buyer was every time he used one of those extra gadgets (I’m assuming they worked). “And,” he reminds himself, “I got this thing for free!”

5) SURPRISE ‘EM – What’s better than the gift that comes with your order? How about the gift you weren’t expecting.

If you bank on repeat business, thank a customer with a little extra, unannounced somethin’-somethin’ that shows up not too long after the actual product gets delivered or starts arriving (if, say, it’s a subscription product).

By the way, gifts to subscribers don’t HAVE to be high end. In the days of easy info delivery, a helpful e-book or the like can be a great way to deliver value on their end while keeping costs low on yours.

Along these same lines…

6) DELIVER 11th HOUR “TWIST” ON THE DEAL – Try making a customer feel appreciated by coming in, after the deal is almost done, with a last-minute deal, as in “Just to thank you for considering this offer, let’s do this…”

And then you can follow with a special break on the price you just used to close the sale, put a buy- one-get-one-free deal on the reply card, or throw in a donation to a popular charity.

All will seem like more sweetener for the offer, but these too will increase the warm and fuzzy factor, helping your prospects to feel appreciated.

And here’s one more…

7) HONOR LOYALTY – Ever since credit cards, airlines, and donut shops started rewarding repeat customers with visit stamps and reward points, the customer loyalty program has become ubiquitous. And this is a good thing.

But there are lots of other ways you can also thank customers for coming back. For instance, my main client once invited long-time customers to a gala party. Out of this came special “reserve” and “alliance” clubs, with other perks for long-time members only.

If you can, put your long time customers on a special list and send them occasional notes. Create special services, either free or a good but paid deal, that come with special “club level” designations and VIP treatment. Give them a special hotline number for customer service, no waiting.

The point is, they’re family. Make them feel it.

I’ve got more of these ideas, which I’ll share with you in the next issue.

Meanwhile, let’s close with this: If you set out to try any of these, do it with the right mindset. And that mindset is, of course, gratitude.

Nothing sells better than sincerity. A “thanks” that’s delivered with only manipulation in mind is no “thanks” at all.

Okay, more coming in a week.

Until then, best wishes to you and yours for Thanksgiving if you celebrate it… and hey, the same wishes even if you don’t.

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The One Thing Good Copy Can’t Fix

blueprintIn an interview, someone asked me for a “must-have” list for a  good piece of copy. I hit all the basics in my answer…

1) Benefits

2) More benefits

3) Specific and even shocking stats and proof

4) Third-party validation of your claims

5) Credibility building testimonials

5) Some track record of product success

6) A nice strong offer and airtight guarantee

7) And a firm push to get the order.

 Not a bad set of tools. But I left something out.

No copy will work if it isn’t build on top of a good sales effort STRATEGY. Now what exactly do I mean by that? I have to credit this insight to Roy Williams and his “Monday Morning Memo,” where he asked the question, “Which do you think would work better, the brilliant execution of a flawed strategy… or the flawed execution of a brilliant one?”

 Of course you know the answer. Think about it. Have you ever seen a movie with a great director… an all-star cast… and a screenplay you wouldn’t use to line a litter box? No matter how good the direction and performances are, they can rarely save a miserable script.

 On the other hand, get a great screenplay with a terrific plot and insightful, natural dialogue… and it’s hard for even a ham actor or egotistical director to screw it up.

 Something similar is true in sales copy. Strategy — a great product paired with a great offer and the ability to fulfill orders beyond the buyer’s expectations — is the cornerstone. If it stinks, it doesn’t matter how clever… how well printed or designed… or how stylistic your ad… because it’s still likely to flop.

 Meanwhile, a great strategy — which includes a great product, a great offer, and a strong guarantee, among other things — can work even in the hands of semi-amateurs.  Not always, but often.

 How do you know you’ve got a strategy problem?

If ad after ad isn’t working, no matter how good you ‘thought’ it read before going out the door… step back and look at the guts of what you’re doing. This is why it’s nice to have clients you work with over and over again. Especially those whose agenda you can anticipate… and who will listen to your input if you sense the strategy behind a product is weak.

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