How to Navigate
the Body Copy Minefield
Without Being Blown to Smithereens

Dear Business-Builder,

Good, nitty-gritty stuff in this issue …

We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about grabbing your prospects’ attention with powerful headline and opening copy in past issues of THE TOTAL PACKAGE – and for good reason: In today’s hyper-competitive world, making that initial "attention" sale is absolutely imperative.

If you fail to get your prospects’ attention, you’ll fail to deliver your benefits and offer. And if you don’t deliver your offer and ask for the sale, it’s pretty much a slam dunk that you won’t get the sale.

And so, we copywriters work our fingers to the bone, beating the bushes for the theme that’s likely to resonate best with our prospects … crafting headlines that stand the best chance of grabbing them by the eyeballs … and slaving over opening copy that is most likely to convert that hard-won attention to readership.

We know that if we do these things well, we’re probably about 70 percent of the way to a promotion that will blow the doors off the competition.

But, alas, in long copy promotions – especially in the 24-page magalogs and tabloids that are my stock and trade – the headline and lead represent only about four percent of the total volume of sales copy required.

There’s a ton more stuff that needs doing after you’ve seized your prospect’s attention. Important stuff – like juicing up your product’s benefits … proving your case … presenting your offer … relieving risk … selling the heck out of your premiums … asking for the sale … closing the sale … and more.

The trick is doing all that without allowing your prospects’ mind to wander even for a second. Or worse: Making a mistake that turns him off entirely – and gets your sales message instantly tossed into the nearest virtual or literal trash can.

In a very real sense, your body copy is a minefield that must be navigated with the greatest of care: Every word, sentence and paragraph of body copy represents the chance to either intensify your prospect’s focus … or to completely lose him.

Meet Your Harried, Distracted Prospect

Imagine for a moment that instead of selling through the mail or over the Internet, you’re delivering your sales message door to door.

Visualize yourself sitting at your prospect’s kitchen table. You have your sales pitch down cold. You have a ready answer for every objection your prospect could possibly have. You know beyond the shadow of a doubt that once your prospect hears your sales message, he will hand you a check.

The only problem is, your prospect is hopelessly distracted …

  • In the next room, his kids are fighting over the remote – and the right to control an unbelievably loud TV …
  • The family dog is in hot pursuit of the family cat – knocking over chairs and tables as they careen from room to room …
  • The phone’s ringing off the hook and the next-door neighbor is ringing the doorbell …
  • His wife resents your presence – she wants to talk to him about her day …
  • And he just can’t seem to keep his eyes off that stack of big, colorful, alluring mail on the table in front of him.

At a time like this, it’s not enough just to get your prospect’s attention. It’s essential to keep his attention until you’ve presented all your sales arguments, have asked for the sale and have his check securely tucked away in your pocket.

Lose him, even for a split second, and you’ve probably lost him – and the sale – for good!

Now, if that’s true with face-to-face selling – when you’re physically in the room – it’s even more true when you’re attempting to deliver a sales message via e-mail, the Internet, direct mail or print.

The fact is, you have no idea what will be going on in your prospect’s life – let alone in the room – when he’s reading your sales copy.

One thing you can count on, though: You’re going to be competing for his attention every step of the way.

Three Unforgivable Sins Ad Writers Make
When Crafting Body Copy

To my way of thinking, there are three ways to convince a prospect to give up on your promotion long before you ask for the sale. You can: 1) Confuse him  … 2) Bore him, or 3) Set off his BS detector.

The good news: In most cases, following these seven simple "Golden Rules" should help you avoid all three …

Golden Rule #1:
Keep It Logically Organized

Humans are NOT logical animals. But when we’re reading or learning, we generally require that the material be presented in a clear, logical way.

That generally means starting at point "A" … progressing to point "B" … moving on to point "C" … and so on, until you have reached your ultimate conclusion: That only a drooling moron would even think of passing on this generous offer.

To do that, you must build your case logically and methodically – much like a mason builds a brick wall.

You must lay a solid foundation and then build upon each completed argument with the next … brick by brick … in a logical order … until the only rational conclusion a reasonable person could reach is that NOT ordering would be idiotic.

Here, for example, is how I did it recently in an advertorial for a newsletter that helps investors profit from the rise in gold prices …

Point #1: We’ve already bagged profits of up to 800% on gold stocks (romance the profitable recommendations the editor has made and how much richer his subscribers are as a result).

Point #2: But that’s chicken feed. You can do even better in 2006. (If you missed out last time around – sorry! I did everything I could think of to get you on-board. I mailed millions of bulletins like this one to anyone who’d listen. But there’s no sense crying over spilt milk – the greatest gains are still ahead – here’s why …).

Point #3: Soaring demand means gold prices will continue to explode higher (describe the enormous new demand slamming the market from China, India, weaker U.S. dollar, terrorism, etc.).

Point #4: Dwindling supplies mean gold prices will continue to skyrocket (dimensionalize how tight supplies are).

Point #5: Ordinarily, this kind of soaring demand alone would be enough to double gold prices. (Normally, these tight supplies alone would be enough to drive them sky-high. Now, with demand soaring and supplies tightening at the same time, it’s a no-brainer: Gold prices and gold stocks are going to soar whether YOU are ready to profit or not!).

Point #6: To make sure you do NOT miss the boat this time, I want to send you a report with the hottest gold stocks to buy now – FREE with your no-risk trial subscription to my monthly newsletter.

See how air-tight that chain of logic is? Can you see how each point builds logically upon the point made before? Do you get how the prospect feels as though each point brings him one step closer to the wealth he desires?

Now, imagine how it would have been weakened if I had interrupted this clear, cold, irrefutable logic with a wild goose chase on the beauty of gold … or how it has been coveted by mankind for 10,000 years or some other soybean filler.

Instead, I asked myself, "What must my prospect believe in order to make this purchase?"

And then, I asked myself, "What must my prospect believe first … second … third … and so on, in order to conclude that this is the opportunity of a lifetime?"

Golden Rule #2:
Keep It Moving

When a prospect’s eyes first fall upon your promotion, a little stopwatch starts ticking in his head. If at any point, he feels you’re not moving along quickly enough, you will lose him.

Creating a sense of momentum in your sales copy is absolutely essential for maximum readability. Here are three ways to do it …

  1. Creating and following a "chain of logic" outline helps a lot in this regard – by ensuring that you make each point once, then move on. If prospects feel like you’re going back over stuff you already covered, any sense of momentum you may have established is instantly destroyed.
  2. Check the momentum of each draft by reading it aloud. Mark the places where you – as a reader – begin to become distracted or bored.

Then read your ad again – this time, imagining that you are in a busy, noisy family kitchen and have the attention span of a 14-year-old. Kids are yelling, the phone’s ringing, the TV’s on.

Once again, highlight any sections that begin to lose you.

Each of these sections will kill readership and response if they’re still there in the final draft. Edit them or excise them.

  1. Making each section of copy shorter than the one before is a great way to create momentum.

For example – let’s say you have to make ten sales points in order to make the sale. You could spend 1 1/2 pages making your first point … 1 page making your second … 3/4 of a page making your third … 1/2 page making your fourth … and then wrap up the final six points in a series of bullets covering a single page.

Golden Rule #3:
Keep It Simple

Never ask your prospect to work in order to figure out what you’re saying.

Two-dollar words, esoteric references and complex sentences are killers in sales copy. Subtlety, nuance and complexity are for poets – NOT copywriters!

Try to limit yourself to one complete, clearly presented thought per sentence. When you connect two thoughts in a sentence, make sure they connect directly and clearly with each other.

Also be sure to avoid inserting undeveloped or underdeveloped thoughts in sentences or paragraphs. They’re like little booby-traps in the copy. They stop readers’ cold.

Here’s a great little technique for keeping things simple …

  1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them: The Chinese government’s increasing hunger for gold is enough to drive prices through the roof all by itself.
  2. Tell them: Look: The Chinese government is aggressively increasing its gold reserves to compete with the West …
  3. Dimensionalize or prove what you told them: But to sock away even one tenth as much gold as the US holds, it will have to buy more of the yellow metal than the whole world supplies in a year.
  4. Tell them what you told them: Needless to say, that would drive gold prices through the roof in no time flat!

Golden Rule #4:
Keep It Fat-Free

Readers should feel as though they’re getting good value in return for the number of words they’re made to read. Your challenge is to never use three words when two will do the job.

Here are three ways to say more with less:

  1. Use more precise word choices: When you fail to use the word that most precisely and accurately communicates a thought, you wind up using five, six or even ten words instead.

When I find myself struggling to find just the right word to use in a passage, I find that checking similar words in a thesaurus often gives me the answer I’m looking for.

  1. Eliminate unnecessary words: Example: The preceding paragraph is a great example of how not to do it.

It would have communicated the same thought with about half as many words had I simply said …

When searching for the most precise word, checking synonyms in a thesaurus often gives me the answer.

Here again, reading copy aloud really helps. Much of the time, for example, I find the word "that" is totally unnecessary. When in doubt, leave it out!

  1. Avoid unhelpful repetition: Repetition of key sales points – a USP or major benefit, for example – is a beautiful thing. Repeating minor thoughts only slows the copy and bores the reader.
  2. Figures of speech can help you say more, faster: If a picture is worth a thousand words, metaphors, similes, and other figures of speech are as well.

Golden Rule #5:
Keep It Believable

I’ve written reams on this, so no point in waxing verbose on the subject.

Your prospect is already skeptical. Making grandiose claims that you can’t (or don’t) prove beyond the shadow of a doubt will only confirm what he already suspects: That you’re full of beans …

… And will get your promotion trashed in a heartbeat.

Golden Rule #6:
Keep It Potent

One of the fastest ways to lose your prospect’s attention is to fail to focus on his favorite subject: HIM!

The word "You" has been called the most powerful word in the English language – and for good reason.

Finding ways to personalize body copy – applying each passage to how it affects the reader – is a key to keeping his attention.

Allowing yourself to fall into the trap of talking about "other people" is a sure way to lose him. Personalizing statistics is a key here.

Instead of saying, "My subscribers earned 800% profits on xyz stock" … say: "If you had followed my advice to buy xyz stock last fall, you could have bagged an 800% profit in just 7 weeks!"

In the same vein, look for ways to ramp up the excitement and power of your body copy by raising the intensity of the words you use.

An investment can "increase" in value – or it can "rise" … "jump" … "soar" … or "skyrocket." Here again, a trusty old thesaurus can make you some serious money.

Golden Rule #7:
Avoid Unintended Impressions

Here’s where insisting that civilians read your copy can pay huge dividends …

By the time you’re ready to stick a fork in your new promotion, you can almost recite it word for word – frontwards and backwards.

That means you’re too close to it to catch things that may be misread … even things that may raise objections or implant an erroneous impression in your prospect’s mind.

I wonder if the well-meaning folks who wrote these classic ad copy bloopers had any idea how others would read them …

A housekeeping service:
Tired of cleaning yourself?
Let ME do it!

A used car dealer:
Why go elsewhere to be cheated?
Come here first!

A swimwear shop:
Our bikinis are exciting.
They are simply the tops.

A restaurant:
Dinner Special:
Turkey, $2.35; Chicken or Beef, $2.25; Children; $2.00

A mortgage company:
Ask about our plans
for owning your home

A dry cleaner:
We do not tear your clothing
with machinery.
We do it carefully by hand.

A furniture store:
Our motto is to give our customers
and workmanship.

Yeah … you’re giggling now – but it’s not so funny when you spot something like this in your sales copy!

One gaffe like any of these – any sentence that could be read two or more ways with very different meanings – is more than just embarrassing.

It’s a stopper that will cost you both readership and response.

Bottom line:

Your body copy is only as strong
as its weakest link

… And that makes it essential to get downright obsessive about every word, every turn of phrase, every jot and title.

Anything that could confuse or bore your prospect or set off his BS detector must be addressed. If that means reading the entire draft aloud to yourself or someone else, so be it. If it means showing it to five, ten or 20 friends, that’s cool too.

Yeah … it takes work. But do it right, and the rewards can truly be spectacular.

Yours for Bigger Winners, More Often,
Clayton Makepeace Signature
Clayton Makepeace
Publisher & Editor

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10 Responses to How to Navigate
the Body Copy Minefield
Without Being Blown to Smithereens

  1. adams says:

    Terrific one today Clayton. Your copy is so good, even your \’example\’ makes me want to invest in gold. By learning this craft better, I guess I am.

  2. Bob Clarke says:

    So many great chunks of information, thanks.
    And most interesting is the sudden end, as if it was a short ride, but it wasn\\\’t. Also not a long slobering goodbye, a quick to the point – it\\\’s over – hope this helps, your outta here.
    Perhaps you could talk of you way to end or tell me where you have talked about it.
    Or perhaps it\\\’s part of GR #2?

  3. This is timely! I’ll be printing this out for my email I have to write later on today. The “ABC” connect-the-dots logic train is the one that so easily slips off the tracks.

    Kudos to you for making it so easy for me to digest and actually put into practice.


  4. Fred Black says:

    I think I use that same dry cleaner!!!
    Great article.

  5. mike logan says:

    Great information! Right to the point and very informative and useful. Thanks!

  6. Hi Clayton

    Thank you! I will be printing this and adding it to my file on “how to’s” of Copywriting.

    All the best

    Susan Connors

  7. Jeremy Reeves says:

    I love your tips about reading it outloud Clayton. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve noticed some HUGE blunders in my own salesletters when I was reading them out loud.

    Thank god the client didn’t see it before I started my exercise of reading them outloud! :)

    Jeremy Reeves

  8. Steve Gill says:

    Wow, thanks Clayton. This article is just what I needed.

    Steve Gill

  9. Daniel Eke says:

    Hi sir,
    Had i known about this site before my first site i would have made or built a better site.thanks for this.this stuff is invaluable.

  10. Sean says:

    Wow! Writing sales copy is one of the toughest ventures I’ve ever set out to do! Not that that’s a bad thing! Your article really opened my eyes and fired up some inspiration, time to get writing!

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