In spite of being a literary snob, when I was first introduced to the world of direct-response copywriting … I fell in love.
I fell in love with the thought of using my writing to influence and persuade people.
I also fell in love with the idea of getting rich. (I wanted to be a wealthy snob).
But the road between loving it and actually writing with great skill (and making obscene amounts of money) is a long one. And I had one particular road block: I was the poet, but certainly not the killer …
That would’ve been beneath me.
See, as a new copywriter I wanted what I wrote to sound so good that people would cock their heads, grin, and say, “Boy, you are so clever!” In other words, I wanted my ego to get stroked because of my creativity.
Unfortunately that desire held me back.
I didn’t write effective copy until I humbled myself and became that killer. And I didn’t become that killer until I understood the following ten principles behind effective sales copy …
1. The only purpose of advertising
Advertising is nothing more than a planned and purposeful neglect of everything except making the sale.
This means you need to include things in sales copy that support that plan — exalting benefits, building trust, overcoming objections.
Discard anything that doesn’t achieve those purposes. If you walk away from this post with only one lesson, let it be this: Good advertising is defined by actual revenue.
2. Treat sales copy like a salesman
Since your single goal is to make the sale, treat your copy like a salesperson and evaluate it on performance.
Does it sell or doesn’t it? If it sells, keep it and attempt to squeeze even more out of it. If it isn’t selling, fire it.
Here’s the thing. A salesman can only sell to one person at a time. Sales copy can sell to thousands at a time. The corollary to that truth is that a bad salesman can only harm your company a little. But bad advertising can harm your company a lot.
3. Sell in person first
When I was 14, I was offered a job as a canvasser for a home-improvement company. The guy who offered me the job was very friendly. I was going to work with a close friend, too. But I never showed up for my first day.
When I was 18, I took a job selling newspaper subscriptions. It was a trial run. I was supposed to call 100 people. I called two people. I was supposed to work eight hours. I took the offer to leave — without pay — after four.
It wasn’t until I was in my third or fourth year as a professional that I sold anything. Over the phone. And I spent two weeks as the customer service manager. It was difficult — but very rewarding. It’s being in the hot seat … thinking on your feet … that cuts a potent copywriter.
Before you try to sell your product online with sales copy … try to sell it in person first.
4. Use copy that would help a salesman
Now that you have had experience at selling … use what you learned to help you sell in print.
Would telling a joke help a salesman? Possibly. Would sharing the benefits of a product help? Absolutely. Would identifying with the customer’s pain point help a salesman? Yes. Would showing empathy help? Definitely. Would an example of social proof help? Yup. What about trotting out an authority? Indeed.
5. Clear, concise, and compelling conversation
Good salesman are not verbose. They do not use fancy words. They speak like an aged rural sheriff. Calm, confident, and kind.
They are patient, good listeners, and fantastic storytellers. Each word is pronounced properly. Each story is trimmed of excess. It’s a spell-binding time spent with a good salesman. In fact, you don’t even know you are being sold.
6. Literary writers are rarely good copywriters
William S. Burroughs. Lew Welch. Joseph Heller.
All writers who were once copywriters. They came from the educational ranks, did the responsible thing, and got a job. That job taught them the most important thing about writing: be clear, concise, and compelling.
It’s not the other way around. Literature doesn’t have much to teach copywriting. Tell a good story. Give your reader what she wants. Literary writers (like me) have to be broken to become good copywriters.
Interestingly, though, what you’ll learn is that copywriting will make you a better literary writer, too.
7. Ignore the “Brief Copy” thumpers
There’s a pervasive thought (typically from non-writers) that sales copy should be brief … a paragraph or two … and the images should sell. This comes from the same person who has no problem reading a 3,000-word article in Sports Illustrated or a 70,000-word novel.
It’s not the length that matters. People will read forever if you make it about them.
If it’s interesting and solves a meaningful problem, it wil get read.
8. Avoid the strange and unusual
Imagine you walked into an auto dealership. You’re in the mood to buy a new car. It’s snowing outside, so the salesmen are idle, chatting behind the Volvo SUV in the showroom.
One walks toward you. He’s wearing a black vest, massive, billowing white scarf, white baseball pants, and a pair of pink Adidas running shoes. He doesn’t introduce himself, but asks you a riddle instead. It has something to do with caterpillars and pillows. You ask if he’s the mascot. No, he’s a salesman. Did he miss his morning medication? No, it’s who he is. You ask to see someone else.
Listen, I love me some dysfunctional. Some unusual. But when it comes to selling — be plain and simple. Black and white.
9. Don’t think of your audience — think of her
When it comes to selling online you are not in a conference room (with a chandelier) working a crowd of one hundred … or a crowd of ten thousand. When you sit down to write, picture yourself selling to one person.
You need to woo her and her alone.
A salesman does the same thing. He works on one customer at a time. Sure, he may be juggling a handful of prospects. But he never addresses these prospects as a group. He focuses on each prospect individually.
10. Study your customer
The best salesman and the best copywriter are both unapologetic students of the customer and product. Another way to put it: it’s not about you.
A good copywriter digs into the customer’s history, her likes, and dislikes. He studies her friends, her habits. He drills her with questions, bounces ideas off of her. He spends a great deal of time listening and good deal time of shutting his mouth. He never objects to what she says, but finds everything fascinating.
And then he studies the product. He looks for the angle — the hook — that will attract the attention of his customer, stir her desire, and build her interest in the product as if she feels that the product was made for her — and her alone, so not purchasing seems rather silly.
Your turn …
Great sales copy isn’t going to impress your writing professor. It probably isn’t going to win any awards.
What it will do, however, is persuade people to buy your product. And make you a good deal of money. That’s the “killer” way.
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