The Harpoon or the Net: What’s the Right Copy Approach for Your Prospects?

image of victorian fishing boats

Once you decide to learn more about the craft of copywriting, you quickly find out there are two schools of thought.

One school hammers the reader with red headlines, yellow highlighting, and aggressive copy that grips the reader like a terrier shaking a squirrel.

The other school develops a compelling personal voice, nurtures a relationship with the reader, and uses soft-sell techniques to nudge the reader down the path to purchase.

So which one is right?

Well … they both are.

How to harpoon a customer

It’s easy to make fun of traditional sales pages, but they’ve been widely used because for a lot of years, they worked like crazy. And there are still versions that work well today. Like infomercials and Cosmo headlines, they may look dopey, but they’ve convinced millions of people to take action and spend money.

Traditional sales pages are ugly because they’re designed to hold and keep attention. Attractive design is completely secondary.

Readers for these pages typically arrive from an ad or, somewhat less commonly these days, an affiliate referral. The prospect tends to make up his mind in a split second about whether or not he’s in the right place. He then spends another three or four seconds deciding if this offer is going to meet his needs.

Red headlines, yellow highlighting, irritating pop-ups and pop-overs, and the other tricks of the trade are all ways to grab a stranger and focus his attention on what you have to offer.

Sure, long sales pages can be cheesy, but if you only have one shot at the prospect, they can work very well. A well-written traditional sales page acts like a harpoon. When a likely prospect swims along, if the writer’s aim is good and she gets enough power behind that harpoon, she can make the sale.

Is a harpoon always the right tool?

Harpoons work great when you need to strike quickly. But they have a few problems.

First, the “ugly” version that used to be widely used gives an impression of shoddiness and a lack of ethics.

That impression isn’t always accurate — long sales pages have been used for great stuff as well as junk. But unless you’ve already established credibility with your audience, the prospect can’t tell the difference. If the reader doesn’t urgently need what you’re selling, she’ll hit the back button as fast as she can.

Second, it’s really hard to write a good “harpoon” sales page that can convert a prospect in one shot.

The difference between effective sales letters and miserable failures can be surprisingly subtle. If you aren’t already Clayton Makepeace, you may find that although your letters look like his (to your untrained eye), they don’t work like his.

Third, cheap traffic is getting hard to come by.

With competitive pay-per-click keywords going for a few dollars instead of a few cents, these single-shot long sales pages are becoming less and less effective. The masters can still pull it off, and do … but you have to be a master.

If you’re still inspired to learn this strange and fascinating form, study the crusty old guys who developed the original techniques. Gary Bencivenga, Joe Sugarman, Clayton Makepeace, and Dan Kennedy all have resources out there that can start you on your apprenticeship.

You could also use a net

There’s an alternative approach you might want to consider.

Instead of hurling your single-pointed communication as forcefully as you can, consider encouraging your prospect to wrap himself in a friendly, supportive net.

In other words, rather than trying to harpoon customers with single-shot sales letters, snare them in a net of useful, relevant content.

Strong content will keep luring your prospect back for regular bites. Each bite builds a little more trust. Each bite builds your reputation as a friendly authority.

Whether it’s a freeform stream like a blog or the organized sequence of an email autoresponder, a well-crafted content net not only snags your prospect for this sale, it keeps him fat and happy for the next one.

And you’ve probably noticed that it’s very handy for things like SEO and social sharing as well. The more connected we are with communication technology, the better the net works.

How to use a net without getting tangled up

Great single-shot copywriting is usually the result of many years of work and study.

Creating a net of great content over time, on the other hand, is a lot easier to master. You don’t have to get every word perfect. You don’t need an arsenal of sales tricks.

It’s mostly a matter of figuring out what your customer wants and needs, then getting out of your own way. And the copywriting techniques you do use can be “pretty good” instead of “The next incarnation of Gary Halbert.”

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the content net is the copywriting method we favor here at Copyblogger. You’ll still benefit from a well-crafted landing page (not an ugly one, please, we’re in 2012 now). But frankly, the fish are a lot easier to catch when you’ve been keeping them happy in your content net.

If you’re interested in finding out more specifics on how to do that, I put together a free, 20-part course called Internet Marketing for Smart People that can give you a solid head start.

It talks about the delicate balance between audience relationship, selling, and traditional copywriting. Go snag it now, and start weaving a net of your own.

Editor’s Note: This is a Copyblogger Classic post, originally published in June, 2008. We’ll be republishing classic content from the archives from time to time, updated — as this post has been — to be sure the advice is as relevant as ever.

About the author

Sonia Simone


Sonia Simone is co-founder and Chief Content Officer of Copyblogger Media. Get more from Sonia on Twitter and .

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  1. I think that the best copy blends three “C’s” and the balance depends on the market, the purpose, and the goal of the copy…

    1) Copy
    2) Content
    3) Connection

    Copy that reads like content is a great tactic, and we’re seeing a lot more long-form salesletters reading more like stories and editorials than they do salesletters.

    But the third C, “Connection,” is probably the most important of the three.

    In my experience, having the right APPEAL (regardless of the type of copy or content) is what will make a salesletter’s response to shoot through the roof.

    And that’s the connection I’m referring to.

    Does your copy connect with the reader?

    The Golden Rule states, “Do unto others as you would want to have done unto you.” But in sales (and I would also say in copywriting), I prefer sales trainer Tony Alessandra’s “Platinum Rule,” which is:

    “Do unto others as they would want to have done unto them.”

    As long as your copy does this precisely, your going to get powerful results.

  2. Hi Sonia,

    I see that your thoughts are well thought out. Still, I felt like something is missing.

    Your original question of which school of thought, aggressive harpooning or nurturing soft-sell, is the best to use…….was self answered as “both”.

    I agree but the article doesn’t really delve into why or how to tie the two methods together.

    Personally, I think it is essential to have both. If you don’t have aggressive copy on your main order page, you may lose the people who you haven’t had the chance to be coddled with your nurturing emails and blog tips. They may have just ended up there from a simple search.

    The ones who have been nurtured into trusting you will eat up the sales page because it will cement everything you have been leading up to. It’s almost like a verification that what you are selling will live up to everything you have been telling them.

    Plus, another thing to consider…

    If you DO nurture your prospects, when they finally do see your sales page, many will skip reading the copy all together and just hit the order button. They were sold a LONG time ago.

    That’s why I agree that you should use both methods. The ones you’ve nurtured will likely forgive the cheesy sales pitch once they are there. It will be hard to sway them because they won’t feel like they were “sold”. They will feel like THEY have already made the decision to purchase.

  3. The answer to which ones is ‘right’ ultimately comes down to which one nets the most revenue per visitor.

    Some sales cycles take longer and need a more long-term, relationship-building approach — which seems to become more and more the case online.

    It also comes down to the BUSINESS MODEL.

    Many sites (specifically blogs) aren’t really SELLING something. The renenue model is based on getting repeat visits and monetizing those page views with advertising.

    But if a business SELLS products and services, ultimately, that company must SELL.

    So many people think ‘selling’ is a dirty word. And so many marketers don’t use enough copy, or take as an aggressive approach, to try and make maximum sales.

    Now certainly being too aggressive (almost seeming desperate) can work against the marketer, but in most cases marketers don’t sell hard enough.

    If you don’t make an offer, you don’t make sales. The more you make your offer, the more sales you make. These are proven, scientific principles.

    Every business marketing online needs a solid, educational, great content foundation. It needs to be offering more information related to its market and industry. And part of this great content gets interwoven throughout the marketing. AND this certainly improves relationships and can increase the rate at which people buy.

    BUT… if a company is going to maximize the revenue they generate from selling their products and services, it takes a FULL COURT PRESS of copy crafted solely to pursuade people to pull out their credit cards and buy.

    And this doesn’t necessarily having anything to do with font styles, highlighting, or formatting. But it does come down to the selling approach.

    I believe if someone isn’t willing to “go for the sale” then they’re losing sales. Period.

    Just my two cents.

    -John Reese

  4. Jason, I can’t speak for Sonia, but my bet is she left things open-ended in order to prompt great responses from you, Mr. Fortin, and Mr. Reese (and that’s just so far).

    Sometimes the real action is in the comments, and Sonia’s a smart blogger. :-)

  5. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if sales letters are necessary online. I really think Internet Marketers use them simply because their experience has always been in the direct mail segment & that’s what they know. In fact, sales letters may even be more work than needed.

    While some sales letters have great content (which can be used on a website), most are too overloaded with hype – making for a skeptical customer. We are SO exposed to marketing messages that customers don’t trust it at all. I for one have read too many sales letters about how one simple pill can help me lose weight, increase the size of certain parts of the anatomy, cure cancer, build muscle, etc. to the point I don’t believe ANYTHING they say.

    That’s why the net is so powerful. It’s all about interaction & relationships. It’s balanced – meaning as a marketer you can say whatever you want – but it better be true otherwise customers are going to, as Lewis Black says, “rise up & slay you”.

    Keep in mind, the net is not a broadcast, stagnant thing like a sales letter or ad. The web is interactive & reactive. Customers can write reviews & tell others this product is good or crap. This links to other customers who make the decision for themselves. If it’s expensive, many people will even do a search on the product BEFORE buying it because it’s so simple to go to Google & find feedback. So that feedback better be good.

    So isn’t it a far better strategy to have a net handy for online marketing? The items I have bought online didn’t come from a sales letter. It came from the relationship or interaction I developed from the free information the marketer/business shared with me BEFORE they asked me to buy. When it comes to internet marketing it’s really about TRUST & providing great content.

  6. You mentioned the late Gary Halbert but provided no link.

    The Gary Halbert Letters… Awesome!
    http://thegaryhalbertletter.com/

    Another no non-sense copywriter is John Carlton-The Marketing Rebel
    http://www.marketingrebel.com/

  7. JT, I had dinner last night in Vegas with John Carlton. In addition to being a genius copywriter, he’s totally hilarious.

  8. It’s so great to see some true master harpooners in here. Welcome, gentlemen. As Brian says, half the fun of blogging is the comment conversation, so thanks, all, for bringing such depth.

    Jason, excellent points — I think all of that is spot on. Great point about your buyers who scroll down and just click “order”–I’ve experienced that myself on both sides, as buyer & seller. The best approach (or balance of elements), IMO, depends entirely on where that buyer is on a trust continuum with you. Don’t send Adwords customers to a blog page about your cath’s health problems. And don’t send a list you’ve been emailing every 3 weeks with warm fuzzies to a superficially hard-sell squeeze page. Yes, you can sell them, and you can sell them pretty hard, but it should still feel warm and fuzzy.

    The product launch crowd–Jeff Walker, Frank Kern etc., are masters at looking warm and fuzzy while still selling the holy hell out of their stuff. Using conversational content model doesn’t *at all* mean you don’t sell. It just means you get more shots.

    Michael, I don’t think I ever put connection and appeal together in quite that way, thank you. The only point I’d add is that if your appeal never gets read, it can’t do the work it needs to do. But it’s great to be reminded that if the appeal isn’t there, the rest of it really doesn’t mean anything.

    John, I couldn’t agree more. If we aren’t willing to go for the sale, we lose the sale. A lot of the more content-heavy marketers tiptoe around making *any* call to action, which I’ve written about here. But there’s more to be said, for sure.

    Mark, I think there are probably environments where the single-shot sales letter is the best venue. It depends on your market, how you’re finding them, what their emotional state is when they get to you, how much Internet marketing they’ve already seen, etc.

    I think that the art of writing sales letters that don’t look like sales letters will only get more valuable. The greatest F2F salsespeople I know are the ones who don’t *seem* like they’re selling at all. John R. makes a great point, though, that you still need to learn the techniques of effective salesmanship. The mark of a true craftsman is not seeing the effort of the craft, just the result.

  9. JT, thanks much. I didn’t include the Gary Halbert link because the site is down for me about 1/2 the times I’ve clicked on it recently, but it’s a great resource.

    And yeah, I subscribe to John Carlton’s stuff and he’s absolutely fantastic.

  10. This post reminds me of about a year ago, when SEOmoz had their landing page contest. The one that ended up winning in terms of converting the best was… you guessed it, a typical long-copy sales letter approach. And it didn’t just beat the competition as I recall, it TROUNCED them.

    But people who click through on PPC ads looking to break into internet marketing (SEOmoz’ target) are in a certain mindset and fit a certain psychographic profile. (I’m guessing, a mix of Achievers and Needs Driven, both of which would probably respond better to long copy).

    But then, you look at the community there, and it seems largely made up of folks who might respond better to the net approach…which is probably why their blog and YOUmoz isn’t going anywhere soon.

    Anyway, interesting post. :) And interesting conversation in the comments.

  11. In addition to the length, focus and intensity of the copy, there’s something else that’s been going on in the world of internet marketing that factors very strongly into the nature and length of the copy.

    And, that is…the moving of the “free line.”

    In addition to using a series of shorter, more casual contacts, one of the things that keeps people reading and coming back for more is that each contact is delivering more “free” information, tools and genuinely useful stuff than ever before.

    The Stomper crew delivers up a killer SEO analysis tool and hours of truly educational video for weeks before asking for the sale.

    Eben Pagan offers up free psychic sale letter software. John Reese (who’s already shared some great insights above), Mike Filsaime, Jeff Walker and the other leading-edge IM guys are all raising the credibility and likeability bar massively by delivering tremendous value up front.

    And, Brian’s doing it by simply offering tremendous, high-value content right here on this blog on a daily basis.

    So, by the time the big ask comes along on product launch day, they’ve built up so much anticipation, good will, credibility and primed the reciprocity pump like never before, it’s a near slam dunk.

    Moving the free line has, to a certain extent, become an alternative to copy wizardry. Not a replacement by any means, but it adds so much value and can make up for less than stellar early-stage copy.

    But…

    Even with all the spoon-fed short messages and insanely valuable free stuff, look what STILL happens on launch day–BIG, HAIRY, MASSIVE, BAZILLION PAGE SALES LETTERS!

    In the end, nobody’s ready to give up the power of a really killer long-format sales letter. Because, just as Sonia and everyone above has shared, they just plain work like nothing else.

    Sure, a small group of people will be waiting to sign up the moment the sales letter goes live, but another really big group still needs that final push. So, it’s not so much a “what’s better” issue as it is a “how is the process evolving” issue.

  12. Jonathan, that was incredibly well put. And that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about — the perfect mix between valuable content and solid salesmanship.

    I also heard about the results of experiments with video sales letters, and they’re converting like you wouldn’t believe. Why?

    People can’t skim. They have to watch the whole video (and therefore hear and see every last wonderful benefit and offer element), or they can choose to “buy now.” Seems at least for now, if you begin with a captivating opening on video, people get sucked in.

    And remember… most people don’t like to read anyway.

    I’m getting deeper and deeper into multimedia copy, so I’m sure we’ll be talking about this a lot more.

  13. *sticks an irrelevant comment so he can keep track of the conversation via subscribe…*

    Actually, I do have something to say. I don’t mind long sales copy. I *do* mind sales copy of any form, short, long, content, communication, relational, etc, that lacks integrity and respect for human intelligence.

    I once read a sales copy piece Brian wrote for real estate (was that in Teaching Sells, Brian?) – bloody hell. It was long. It was emotional. It hit all the triggers. And I don’t know a damned thing about real estate, nor do I care.

    What I *did* care about was that the piece did NOT MAKE ME FEEL STUPID or condescend to my intelligence.

    I don’t care HOW you sell. Sell WELL.

  14. Brian brings up a good point about video sales letters. I think so many are doing it because it’s become another tool – an interesting way to sell. Why? Because sometimes hearing & seeing someone makes it latch into our brains because of the real, human emotion. You can tell when someone believes in the product & presents a compelling sales message.

    That goes into what a few here have said – the ability to sell & knowing how to do it well trumps all else (when it comes to a piece being a success or a failure). Sometimes the method of delivery can make a difference.

  15. Interesting post and comments here.

    I think that, as Jason Anderson has already pointed out, these two methods referred to are by no means mutually exclusive.

    For instance, Kat French mentioned the SEOmoz landing page competition and that is one example of how you can even go so far as to net AND harpoon people on exactly the same page (in quick succession) :-). That was certainly more or less my thought process when I created the winning page (albeit hurriedly).

    However, as others have already alluded to, the rewards can often be much greater for us when we first of all begin the conversation (net) with video content, a blog, or other forms of information/content that prospects really value… and then close the sale (harpoon) at a much later stage when people are already hooked and thirsty for more.

    In other words, the better your “net” the easier it is to “harpoon” people later. I think this is a big reason why long copy sales letters are becoming less popular/successful… the content is doing all of the heavy lifting these days.

    For example, just look at how good/valuable Brian’s “Copyblogger” site is and how easily he harpooned people with “Teaching Sells”. People were throwing their credit cards at him before they even knew the price (so I’ve heard).

    Anyway, I’m not blogging right now but you can follow me on twitter where I will begin to “net” you, slowly.

    http://www.twitter.com/paulrobb

    Best,
    Paul

  16. We’re all smart enough here to understand that what works is tailored to the audience, and is irrelevant to what we like personally.

    Bloggers and tech-savvy people respond to the net approach. I had seen program after program come out by people I didn’t know or trust, and I never bought them. Brian has been casting his net for a while here on Copyblogger, and when Teaching Sells arrived, I did not hesitate. That tactic worked on me and it was masterfully done. What Eben Pagan recently did with Guru MasterMind was brilliant, and the Stomper folks are geniuses at this stuff.

    I still feel like a baby in this area, but I’ve done a little experiment where I’ve written long but not hyped-up copy on my new program’s blog’s pages. The posts are still just informative blog posts (net), but each page has in essence become a low-key sales letter (harpoon). Time will tell if it works, but in light of what I read in Sonia’s excellent article here, it seems like a bit of a cross-over tactic.

  17. Can we call the mixture between harpooning and netting “non lethal selling” – you know, kind of like the non lethal nets shot from cop cannons to ensnare bad guys. ;)

  18. I think you would get more bang for your buck with the net technique. I would also use the harpoon method for higher, larger sales. But the net technique allows an idea to appeal to a larger audience, and to be more useful, longer.

  19. I very much prefer the net technique. I’ve been a sucker (as a potential consumer) for the sales technique for so longer that I know get completely turned off if I see another one.

    I also feel better now, when I know that people are buying from me because of the value I provide and not because of some outlandish promise!

  20. Why not combining the best of both worlds? That’s what most harpooners do.

    Nurture them with content, move them closer to the buying decision, invite them to the sales letter to read as much as they wish. Long sales letter means clarity.

    Find approach that works for you. Great content in the email autoresponder, free e-books and others are not optional in any case.

  21. As a novice on the sales side here’s 2 cents from my experience at the university of hard knocks.

    I launched a newsletter in 2005 and built a warm relationship with many thousands of readers, about 20% of whom I had met personally. In 2006 I launched a podcast which reached number 1 on iTunes for a significant keyword I was tracking. Thousands of downloads daily according to Feedburner.

    I wrote a book which reached number 2 on Amazon, blasting previous books I’ve written out of the water.

    I assumed readers and listeners would flock to my subtle sales links. I prayed they would click on the subtle sales links. But no.

    It wasn’t until I added long sales letter pages (and one for every service or product) that I began to have greater success winning business over the internet. And I’m still learning how to do this. This is not easy.

    My niche contains many hype-averse nationalities and professional groups, some of whom tell me that my sales pages are a big turn off.

    But I’m not going to drop the long sales pages. That would be like taking the cashiers out of the supermarket and turning Wal-Mart into a showroom.

    I guess I’m agreeing violently with Jonathan and Paul above. This is not an either or question, it’s both and. Selling on the internet means we must be persistent and determined. We have to craft a net of credibility and loyalty before we earn the right to sell.

    Looking at Chris Garrett’s recent survey of bloggers I wonder if perhaps we’re reluctant to sell? I know I was, and for the longest time. But I won’t go back to praying for a sale.

  22. The difference between the harpoon and the net is the difference between selling and pre-selling…

    Both are necessary on the net (no pun intended).

    Pre-selling properly allows greater monetization options and allows you to squeeze more value per client over the life of the relationship (and that’s a strategic consideration).

    Selling, on the other hand, just has to happen. It nails the “ready to buy crowd” immediately.

    Tactically minded entrepreneurs will chafe at having to spend that much time, effort and patience on casting the net.

    Strategically-minded entrepreneurs will lick their lips in anticipation of the long term windfalls the relationship will bring them.

    So what if actual selling (long copy) annoys a few?
    Most of the properly pre-sold and some of the “passers-by” will buy.

    That’s what we all want isn’t it?

  23. Great article. I graduated college with the goal of working as a “creative copywriter” for a big ad agency in New York. Once I was in the world of small business and realized every ad dollar needs to be spent wisely, I became attracted to direct marketing.

    I would read the likes of Jay Abraham, Ted Nicholas, Bob Stone, and John Caples. I feel that all four provided me with solid copywriting knowledge. I began to really study copywriting and I would scrutinize every piece of direct mail I could find. What bothers me the most, and ultimately pushed me away from the “harpoon style”, was the lack of creativity I would see. So many people copy each other and it is sickening. There is not a whole hell of a lot of difference between the “copywriting guru” for Chiropractors as there is for the “Real Estate Copywriting Guru”. Good copy does not have to look like it came from some seminar back of the room sales kit. Does the Harpoon style work? Yes…sometimes. Does it help grow a companies brand image? Hardly. The best copywriters are the ones who can mix in both styles. Make it look professional, make it impactful, and call for the action. Direct/Online Marketing does not have to look so cheesy.

    Sorry for the rant – my original intent was to recommend John Caples if you are not familiar with his work. You can check out his book at your local library and although it is an old book, the principles hold as much value today.

  24. Simone, fantastic article! The one little jewel I grabbed on to was YoureAPoorLoser.com, I did an entire post about it, combined with your take on Harpoon vs. Net marketing. Thanks for the laugh and the insight.

  25. As stated, I think both the “harpoon” and “net” are effective in different spaces–but as so many other marketers are wont to say, only if they are telling the right story.

    Sales pages can work if they tell a compelling story about the benefits offered. Long pages are fine, but it has to be relevant content.

    Networking / social pages do they same thing, only the story is less about the intrinsic, direct value of the product as it is about the relationship of the company to its place within the world at large–however broad or narrow that is. And you can positively advertise about your company and services in a social network, it’s just about building awareness and not about triggering an immediate buying response.

  26. Brian Killian :

    Something has been bugging me about those “harpoon” sales pages for a while. People always justify them with the claim that they work. I don’t doubt that they work, but I’m sure they could work a lot better if they didn’t break about a half-dozen web usability principles.

    I don’t believe for a moment that there are clever reasons for why they look the way they do, the authors simply don’t understand the difference between paper and the web. Why would you go to all that trouble to ensure there are no obstacles in your copy to make the sale, only to completely mess up the medium you’re in?

    The web is not an electronic piece of paper! Yellow highlighter does not work on the web the way it does on paper. The web is not a totally linear medium, and I have to believe that people get annoyed at reading those simulated-paper sales letters with their “eternal scroll”. Forget about Web 2 — figure out Web 1 first?

    Another problem is that many copywriters just are not good writers. They are forced to imitate the style of others in contexts where is not always appropriate. They also can’t separate the basic principles of good copywriting from particular styles or other time-dependant elements.

    If a sales-letter (we shouldn’t even be thinking in terms of “letters” on the web) appears to be “cheesy” or “hyped”, something is wrong. That is a defect. What does it mean that a letter is too full of hype, but that is is unbelievable? One of the primary rules of copywriting is that the copy should be believable, so they fail on that score as well.

    Let’s not defend bad writing and the unacceptable misunderstanding of the medium of the web. Are simulated-paper sales letters losing their effectiveness? My interpretation is that it’s because they do not respect the web.

    Thank you and forgive me for ranting. :)

    • Good point, Brian. I have also wondered this myself. I just ask myself, “do they have to go with these atrocious designs for these sales ‘letters’”? Why not make them more–I don’t know–easier on the eyes? Why do they have to look like something out of 1994? Is ugly a particualr visual selling technique that’s proven to work?

      They don’t look natural and they sometimes look creepy to me. You’re right, sales letters could do a lot better. Why don’t the “pros” just give them a face-lift then?

  27. Sonia,

    This is a masterpiece of an article! You really capture the power of writing sales copy and the difference between aggressive selling and soft-selling techniques!

    I especially like the answer to your own question, “Which one is right?” When it comes to these types of questions… I am a die-hard believer in your answer… it’s “BOTH!” In fact, I recently wrote an article on the topic, “Train Your Brain to Think ‘AND’ ” http://tinyurl.com/5mjsrv

    Now… time for me to go check out your blog!

    Doyle Slayton
    Sales and Leadership Strategist
    http://www.SalesBlogcast.com

  28. @Brian Killian – I’ve seen plenty of long-form direct response copy online that isn’t cheesy. It’s outnumbered by the cheese 10 to 1, but it’s there.

  29. One main problem I see is many copywriters are not good writers. Plain and simple.

  30. Great point by John Reese, most marketers are not selling hard enough.

    Profitable marketing has its roots in quality content delivered in its communication with the prospects. I believe a reasonable proportion of prospects are more prone to ignore the hype when they see them.

    More like an automatic filter in their heads. But the wise marketer knows how to pass through these filters and achieve his ultimate goal; SELL.

  31. Another keeper! Thanks! (I will try to see between the cheesy yellow highlights for the good of the harpooning…can I bring myself to it in 2008?)

  32. I typically like to use kind of a combination of the harpoon and the net.

    I think using big claims is great – as long as you can back it up with more proof.

    But I think it’s great using big claims, along with the proof – and at the same time giving them great content they can use even if they don’t buy…that way you build trust.

    Also, I’m very quickly coming into the idea of giving free information before selling ANYTHING.

    Jeremy Reeves
    http://www.controlbeatingcopy.com

  33. So glad I found this thread. I’m doing research on a new ebook I’m writing, “Do I Really Have To Sound Like a Used Car Salesman To Make Money Online?” (working title).

    http://www.helpmerhondamarketing.com
    http://www.kidsawakening.com

  34. Very interesting article, dynamite comments as well. Thanks.
    Just thought I’d mention, the think the woman in the photo is holding is not a harpoon, it’s a boat hook. Not metaphorically inappropriate in the context here, ha ha, but different.

    Happy New Year!

  35. Nice! :)

  36. David Ogilvy was a pioneer of the soft sell (the “net” approach), and some of his lessons- brilliantly expounded in his book “Confessions of an Ad Man”- still apply today online. A worthwhile read.

    -KPS

  37. Great way of explaining the squeeze page. I hate them and usually immediately click away when I see them, but I acknowledge that they have some effective techniques. I was wondering if wimping out not wanting to use them, but this clarifies it for me that I’m more of a “net” approach person. I think in one of my niches, if I used a traditional sales page, I’d lose credibility with my community.

    • You may find that you can use some techniques from those more traditional pages, but with good design and tone down the hype/intensity just a bit. A landing page does not have to be creepy. :)

      The Copywriting 101 tutorial and our 20-part email newsletter give lots of thoughts on how you might do that!

  38. What a terrific post Sonia! The harpoon vs. net helped clear things up for me. The great discussion that ensued added extra depth to the subject. Great to see some big players giving their priceless 2 cents.

  39. @ BrianK and John – I wish I could write as badly as those famous copywriters, who are not good writers :)

    Sonia – This is a fab post. And what you say makes perfect sense. Netting folk you’ve already built a relationship with through blogposts and newsletters is always going to work – especially if they’re not ready to buy right now.

    And if you’re paying for Adwords ads to attract folk who are ready to buy now, it makes sense to use a long sales page, as it may be your only opportunity to sell to them.

    • Good copywriting and good writing are sort of two different critters, aren’t they? :)

      The smartest marketers are actually sending their AdWords traffic into an email autoresponder, so they have multiple chances to make the sale (and more room to establish value & credibility). You need some “harpoon” skills, though, to get them into that autoresponder in the first place.

  40. Wow, I’m learning new techniques each time I read a post to help me to become a better business minded entrepreneur and copywriter.

    Thanks for all the good content.

  41. And like a good fisherman, you have to always keep mending your net or in this case, improving your content on y our blog or site.

  42. As a customer, I can’t stand it when I receive a long sales form or am taken to a long sales form web page. I’d prefer a one page or page and half (maximum) sales letter that gets the point — gets to the ‘bottom line.’ I guess that’s the accountant in me. It’s important to know ‘who’ your target audience is and what they need and want from you. You may have to dig deeper (take a poll and or survey; use a focus group) and go beyond standard information such as demographics. You may be surprised that ‘your target audience’ doesn’t like long sales forms.

    • I wouldn’t use a poll or survey for that — everyone will say they want a shorter form. Instead, I’d run two versions of the sales page — a long one and a more concise one. Watch what buyers do, not what they say.

      The long one nearly always wins. But not every time. Every combination of audience, product, offer, and marketer is different.

  43. While I will admit that the occasional infomercial at 2am works on me, but regardless the harpoon isn’t a realistic tool anymore. People are tired of being sold too endlessly (we are exposed to more advertising than ever before), so you have to gently lure them in.

    P.S. This is one of the best analogies I have seen in some time.

  44. No, I wouldn’t ask my audience if they’d want a long or short sales form. I was thinking about using a poll and or survey to gather information that would help me ascertain what they ‘really’ need and want, what problems do they have that need solving, that type of information. I’m brainstorming.

    I agree that the long sales form usually wins out, just not with me. I’m a customer too. :)

  45. “snare them in a net of useful, relevant content.”
    I think creating content that connects with a potential customer along every step of the buying cycle is the way to go. You want to create as many touch points as possible and become a trusted resource.

  46. Hi Sonia,

    Using this same headline you could write another great post–

    When I read “The Harpoon or the Net” I immediately thought this article would be about the fact that many bloggers are often trying to catch the wrong NUMBER of visitors.

    I am continually explaining to bloggers the difference between catching a lot of visitors at once (like using a net) vs. using their blog to go after a few big fish (like using a harpoon). Many people who should be using “harpoon strategies” when finding their clients are instead obsessed with getting a lot of traffic through “net strategies” and they’re hurting their business.

    Interestingly enough, you rarely see it the other way around.

    I can promise you a post like that would help your readers tremendously. I can’t tell you how many bloggers are getting this one wrong.

    Thanks for being awesome as always Sonia.

  47. Harpoon them, net them, snare them?? It is customers that we’re talking about, right? ;)
    Don’t mind the cheeky guy in the room. :)

    Best regards,
    Robin
    @robindickinson

  48. Hi Sonia,
    I love how you use fishing terms to relate to how to convert readers into customers. Another great way to look at it, is that if you chum the water (throwing lots of food in) and then drop your hook in using the same food as bait, you are more likely to catch a fish than you are if you just throw your hook and bait in by themselves. The chum brings the fish to you, and then all you have to do is wait for the fish to bite your hook. Giving people lots of great valuble content, and then throwing a sales pitch in every-now-and-then seems like a great way to make sales.