It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever. ~ Kyle Reese, The Terminator
Remember the first time you saw it?
The yellow highlighter? The centered red headlines? The fake handwriting and the blinking arrows?
You thought the same thing everyone thinks. “Who in their right mind would give this person a credit card number?”
You didn’t realize what a ruthless, efficient machine you were looking at.
In case you don’t know the genre, what many people call those awful sales pages are the internet version of an old copywriting tradition known as long-form copy.
Long copy isn’t new to the web. Decades ago, successful direct mail copywriters like Gary Bencivenga and Gene Schwartz noticed that “the more you told, the more you sold.”
In other words, the more relevant, compelling information they could cram into a piece of physical mail, the more likely it was that the customer would buy. Bencivenga in particular liked to push things to almost absurd extremes with direct mail pieces called “magalogs,” which were sometimes nearly as long as the books they were designed to sell.
But if direct mail was the birthplace of long copy, the Internet was responsible for bringing the form to tens of millions of new readers.
The ugliest web pages in history
About 20 minutes after the development of HTML, some clever copywriter worked out a formula to use long copy to sell stuff on the Internet.
The layout was hideous, but since everything on the web was hideous back then, it wasn’t a major impediment. Subheads were marked up in bold red type to make the copy easy to skim. Key selling points were highlighted with a yellow background or other eye-catching formats.
The format spread because it worked startlingly well. It let the reader skim quickly to figure out if the page would solve his problem, then go back through and read the points that would answer his questions and address his objections.
If he wanted to solve his problem badly enough, and if the copy addressed his concerns, he bought.
No one wanted to change the format because, against all common sense and design decency, it works. At least sometimes.
If you’re selling to cold prospects with a specific problem to solve (the kind of customers you’ll find with a pay-per-click campaign, for example), a nice long-copy sales page is a great tool. It gives prospects a way to navigate a large amount of information and figure out if this product is something that will help them, and doesn’t provide any distractions that would lead them away from the sale.
But pay-per-click is getting expensive. The prevalence of viruses and malware have raised users’ defenses about what they find on the net, especially if they don’t know you. And high-pressure squeeze techniques turn off an unacceptable number of potential customers.
The Terminator has been thrown off a 47-story building, flattened by a steamroller, and liquidated in a vat of molten metal. So it’s dead, right?
What do you think?
Take a look at the best persuasive content you’ve been seeing lately.
You’ll find lots of video. White papers and special reports. Tips, tricks and an ever expanding “free line” of material that’s actually useful.
Product Launch Formula founder Jeff Walker came up with an interesting way of describing the new approach. His friendly, conversational email sequences became a “sideways sales letter.”
Walker is a great example of a sharp marketer who knows he has a better shot at his prospects if he gently ropes them in with a net of high-quality, relationship-building content, rather than trying to harpoon the sale in a single shot.
The copy is just as long (or longer) than the lengthy pages created by more traditional copywriters. It does all the same work—answering the most frequently-raised objections, building rapport, presenting benefits, building urgency.
But it’s delivered over time, and in a friendly, relaxed tone of voice. It doesn’t seem desperate. And it doesn’t burn out the prospect. Even if the prospect doesn’t buy this time, he’s in a great mood to buy something else down the line.
The next time you say that you “hate cheesy long sales pages,” start paying attention to the sales copy that does persuade you. See if you can spot the classic persuasion techniques when they’re presented in a new wrapper.
The Terminator will never give up, but it does change form every once in awhile. This particular incarnation is a lot more attractive (and, in my opinion, more fun) than the old version.