There’s an interesting fitness guy I follow on Facebook.
He’s very smart about health. Every day he posts quite long, thoughtful discussions about avoiding health fads. (Actually, I wish he’d read our post about making your content more reader-friendly. A few subheads and line breaks wouldn’t kill you, man.)
He’s sane. He’s calm. He’s kinda spiritual, even.
And when he’s doing a product launch, he turns into PSYCHO HIGHLIGHTER SIX PACK ABS SALES PAGE DUDE.
Which takes all that thoughtful, careful content he shares the other 340 days a year and, to some degree, tosses it in the trash.
The first time I saw it, I literally thought his account had been hacked. The same guy counseling against listening to hypey, “magic bullet” gurus had turned himself into a hypey magic bullet guru. Why? Because, I’m sure, he’s been told, “Well that’s what works.”
A truly authoritative, thoughtful online presence takes time to build.
But you can tarnish it in no time at all.
Today, let’s talk about how you can do better — how you can use the copywriting techniques that are effective, without turning into a lame informercial version of yourself.
Let’s talk about infomercials
When most of us think of the infomercial, we think of overly aggressive, high-hype sales messages.
Why? Because infomercials are a classic, distilled harpoon sales environment.
Infomercials are expensive to produce and to air. So they need to make as many sales as they can with a single “shot.”
That means they trot out every conversion technique in the book, and they press them hard.
Most of the time, there’s no real reputation to protect. No one minds if their ShamWow was sold with hype that would have made P.T. Barnum proud. If it does a good job cleaning up spills, then no harm is done.
A typical infomercial is a pure sales message, with the only goal being to sell enough widgets to make a good profit.
You don’t live in that world
Infomercials aren’t bad. It’s a bad thing if they sell a defective or dangerous product, but in and of themselves there’s nothing “wrong” or “right” about them.
But they do call on some of the sharpest minds in direct response copywriting. The traditional “harpoon” copywriters are very much in demand, with the best getting a royalty on how much product is sold. It’s a terribly difficult style to master … get it even slightly wrong, and the audience simply flicks their attention elsewhere.
Undiluted selling also paints a business with a certain reputation. We don’t use the word “ShamWow” to mean a very effective or popular product. We use it to mean a pitchfest.
When you combine this level of aggression with the thoughtful, steady material that makes for a good content marketing program, you set up a Jekyll-and-Hyde feeling. It’s a bit like when an acquaintance becomes suddenly very friendly and invites you to a party at his home — that turns out to be a MLM event. All of the overtures of friendship become suspect, and your trust is entirely compromised.
Yes, you can sell without having a split personality
The key to using effective persuasion techniques (like the ones they use on infomercials) is to make sure they’re in alignment with your marketing communication as a whole.
Your tone and message need to feel consistent across all of your channels. So if you’re breezy and laid back in your daily content, don’t get intense and overly dramatic (which will read as hype) in your sales material.
If you’re positioning yourself against “quick fix” gurus in your daily content … don’t use words like “instant” or “immediate” in your sales copy.
A strong content marketing program begins by defining who you are, what you stand for, and whom you serve. Once you’ve spent the time to think that through (and write it down), you’ll be much less tempted to go off the rails just because it’s time to close the deal.
When you know yourself, you can use these five “informercial selling principles” in a way that’s completely integrated with your core message, instead of fighting it.
1. Testimonials and case studies
These are the cornerstone of a great informercial for one reason: It’s much more convincing to show a prospect that “this can work for someone like me” than to just tell them.
Testimonials and case studies let the prospect envision what life would be like if she used your product or service. And they can be used to overcome objections and illustrate benefits and features — in a story-focused way that hooks the prospect in like little else can.
For more specifics about what goes into a great testimonial, check out Sean d’Souza’s 6 Questions to Ask for Powerful Testimonials.
To stay out of Cheeseland: Keep most of your testimonials firmly within the realm of what normal, real customers experience. We all want to highlight that one customer who went insanely above and beyond what anyone could have expected. It’s cool to have that person, but be sure you represent plenty of your more “typical results” as well.
Not only is this more ethical (and better for avoiding legal problems), it’s actually more convincing. If all the testimonials I see are from superstars, I’m going to think that I need to be a superstar to use your product or service.
2. Agitate the problem
The time-honored copywriting principle of “Problem – Agitate – Solve” can be used to great effect.
If your business solves a serious problem for your prospects, don’t be afraid to dig into that problem. Really uncover where the problem leads if it’s not resolved. Ideally, you’ll have some testimonials that show people with an advanced case of your customer problem.
Fully exploring your prospect pain gives you the opportunity to empathize, to relate, and ultimately … to solve their problem and get them back where they want to be.
To stay out of Cheeseland: Don’t take it this far.
One thing informercials aren’t afraid to do is hammer the message home with repetition.
Too many content marketers, who devote so much time and attention to our content, imagine that our audiences are glued to our every word.
Don’t be afraid to repeat your key messages, both in your daily content and your sales material. If it’s important enough to say once, it’s important enough to repeat.
To stay out of Cheeseland: Some repetition is important, because people have other things to do besides reading your marketing content. But that doesn’t mean that if a little is good, a lot is better. Respect people’s time.
The best way to repeat yourself is to re-frame your message from a different angle. You can repeat the same themes over and over, as long as you come up with a new analogy, story, or metaphor to do it with.
4. Legitimate scarcity
You could have a product that granted immortality, robust health, unlimited wealth, and a lifetime of great hair … and people would still put off adding it to their carts.
No matter how excellent your product or service, there needs to be a serious reason for prospects to buy it today, rather than tomorrow or the next day. Scarcity is the persuasion principle of limiting what you have to offer — either limiting the total number of items available, the time that prospects have to act, or both.
Of course, respect your audience’s intelligence. One legendary marketing teacher offered a “scratch and dent” sale on damaged CD and video packages, but also extended it to ebooks. Because he was known for his chutzpah and dry sense of humor, he got away with it. Without those elements of his overall message, the promotion wouldn’t fly.
To stay out of Cheeseland: Don’t lie about scarcity. If you’re only offering 500 spots, don’t keep “finding” more available spaces. Fake scarcity shows that you don’t respect your own word. It also lets people know that they can pick up your “killer offer” whenever they feel like it — which usually will translate to “never.”
5. Clear call to action
This is the one that will make you feel like you’re an infomercial when you’re doing it, but to your audience it will seem entirely natural and normal.
When you want your audience to take a particular action (like calling you, signing up for your list, or clicking the Add to Cart button), tell them exactly what to do.
It’s worth paying attention to how infomercials handle this. Normally the message is “Call 1-800-CHEESE-ME” which is emphasized with repetition (see above). You’ll often find that at the end of the infomercial, you can repeat the phone number yourself by heart, it’s been so clearly and frequently re-stated.
Subtlety is a lousy quality in a call to action. Make it unmistakably clear, make it prominent, and don’t be scared to repeat it.
To stay out of Cheeseland: Don’t. The call to action is an easy place to wimp out and start selling from your heels.
If you’re not a natural salesperson, it might feel a little awkward or even pushy, but this is the place to exercise your courage. If the rest of your marketing message is respectful, consistent, and resonates with your audience, a clear call to action won’t bother them a bit.
Next, do this
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How about you?
Ever see a technique on an infomercial that you wished you could snag, but it just seemed too cheesy? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see if we can de-cheese that for you.